I owe you an apology, son. Even as a child you were a real character, so funny and lovable. Sometimes your energy overwhelmed me: I was tired and anxious in an exhausting career and didn’t give the right attention to you and your elder brother, though you both loved my bedtime stories and giggled at my fake Scottish accent.
We moved to the country to enjoy more space and less of the London angst. You revelled in the big house and garden, but later told us (jokingly?) that you couldn’t forgive us for leaving the city.
Your mum and I supported state education, and you went to a lovely little primary school in the village, but when you moved up to comprehensive school the attention was less personal and you began to rebel. I fought my instinct to transfer you both to a private school; the cost would have hurt, but they might have helped you better. Parents evenings were a litany of misbehaviour and “could do better” – just like my own, so I didn’t worry too much. At home, you were mischievous, but that was your searching mind, always alert for new things, new experiences.
You became more distant during adolescence, but that’s what growing boys do, striving for independence. You had a problem with self-esteem, having to wear spectacles, being a late grower and less of a girl-magnet than your brother. Didn’t you see that your mind and your smile were your assets? You joined a group of school-avoiders with whom you formed some sort of identity. We should have spotted it, and the school wrote you off without involving us. We only later learned about the skipped lessons and the minor drugs.
You left school with limited qualifications but worked hard at a local college and made it to university, though you eventually dropped out. You shared a flat with some friendly lads, but in a culture of party drugs and booze. You broke their taboo on hard drugs and scored from some squalid pusher in town. I was blind to it, even through your stories of lost wallets and rent arrears.
Did we do wrong? We gave you a stable home, we love each other and our boys. You had a lot of freedom; perhaps we “spoiled” you, whatever that means. My paternal instincts suffered from my own ill-treatment as a child and in an argument I stupidly admitted disappointment in your academic achievements; I worry that you think I’m disappointed with you in general, but that’s just not true.
With extraordinary effort you rebooted yourself and taught English abroad, but you lapsed. Your lovely girlfriend saved your life but couldn’t take the worry, so you came home and detoxed in your room with the help of your doting mum, while I plodded on in my cocoon of denial. And you made it, you brave, uncomplaining boy: you became clean.
You moved to the Far East and were such a success that your language school promptly gave you a permanent job. We had a great holiday there last summer, though your mum and I were having problems, and I found your chain-smoking laddishness irritating. “Different generations, Dad,” you explained, and you’re right. But your energy revitalised us (zipping around on scooters at our age!), and your generous love was self-evident.
We went back again five weeks later to fetch your body. You’d been tempted and couldn’t resist; that’s how those parasites get you. It seems you took something alone. You knew it was crazy, but you were so full of vitality, optimism and hubris. You lived life on the edge and you fell off. At least you died peacefully.
I would love to believe you’re watching us from Paradise, but really you are in a little urn on a tray of petals, safe at home. Your future is lost and the mosaic of our lives will for ever have holes where you should be. I cry every day, screaming at the fields: “Oh, my darling, why? I love you so much.”
I know our pain would horrify you. I fear I contributed to your vulnerability, and wonder if you knew just how much I love you and how proud I am of you. These doubts will torment me until I die. You are by far the better man, and I should be in your place.
We miss you so much. Rest in peace, my wonderful, brave, bright, beautiful son.