I knew you did not want to go, otherwise why would your final words have been 'Help me'? Or did I imagine that?

Dear Sean,

I'm picking up pen and paper to tell you these obvious things. That I think about you every day, have long conversations with you in my head, and dream about you nearly every week. Sweet dreams now. In the last one we were in a deserted ballroom, waltzing gently, so I got to hold you again, which made me very happy, though, as usual, I awoke cheated and empty, which is how the dreams of the first year left me.

In those dreams you were always outraged and angry, pulling tubes from your arms, the mask from your mouth, screaming at the doctors, which is bizarre, because that was not how it was.

In real life you never complained. You were a joke jukebox, gags and one-liners and acidic asides tumbling out, even when every breath was an impossible event, and the morphine pump's best efforts could only hold the pain, not eradicate it. The sound of your breathing dominated the dreams of that first year; as the fluid in your lungs built up, it became a wet, insinuating gurgle and, when you laughed, it was joy escaping from a blocked drain. Joan, that nurse you kept winding up, said to me: "He's drowning", and that's what I would hear asleep in the dark. You going under.

I can tell you this too, as the second anniversary of your death closes in. When Joan said that, my reaction was "Then hurry up and drown", for I could not bear your agony half as well as you did. Of course, a minute later the very idea of losing a single moment with you wouldprompt panic and something much like guilt.

How could I wish my best friend away? We had known each other for so long; as children, as teenagers, as people who pretended to be adults. You were -you are - the only person I have ever felt entirely comfortable with. We had been through so much together: coming out,those early, lousy love affairs, leaving Belfast for London, living together - brothers in arms. And later, I loved that we might not see one another for weeks, yet when we met we would fall right into those old, familiar rhythms; neither time, nor space, nor the most badly chosen boyfriend could disrupt our bond.

I could not grasp your departure and my abandonment; my heart rejected it so utterly that for months I would reach for the phone to call you. On one occasion I did dial and actually waited for your voice, that playful, wicked singsong, anticipating gossip, support and trips down memory lane, because we were each other's libraries, histories, cross-references. The phone rang and rang, until I realised my mistake, a mistake I keep repeating. I would see films and read books and listen to music and think: "I must tell Sean", and then reality, fact,truth, would come crush the thought, just as it killed the illusion of spotting you in crowds and running for buses and cruising along Old Compton Street. Your small, compact frame, the short cropped hair, the moustache, the denim uniform ... For a while you were everywhere, raising my hopes, dashing them down.

It has taken me two years to face your passing, even though you died in my arms. Ray cradled you on one side, I held you on the other. You were yellow skin and hollow bone, and your beautiful but blind green eyes would not focus. Yet they registered ... surprise. You seemed startled by what layahead. I knew you did not want to go, otherwise why would your final words have been "Help me"? Or did I imagine that? I put my ear to your lips in case you repeated it and caught your death rattle instead. Help was no longer required.

I swear, as I tightened my grip, I felt you ease yourself free of that used envelope and post yourself to parts unknown.

Afterwards I sat with Ray and said meaningless things. And your family, who would not visit, did not call, never wrote, were not there to mop up your shit and vomit, suddenly asserted their "rights", claimed your body, took you back to the village where you were born.

You left us twice.

I'm sorry I did not stay in contact with Ray. I tried, but somehow it made the wound gape ever wider. I had to avoid him, like I had to avoid the places we went to: I could not bear your presence and I could not bear your absence.

Sean, nothing's been the same since. My insides are stainless steel. These days I can cope with anything. I do not mean that your dying made me a better man - knowing you is what made me a better man - only that my life divided into two parts: before and after.

After: a few weeks ago I finally visited your grave. It was just as Ray described. Your plot is at the top of a hill and there is (camp touch) a weeping willow drooping immediately above your headstone. And I stood in the shade, told you how much I missed you, would always miss you, and admired the view.

The view is spectacular: the grass is exactly the colour of your eyes. I really enjoyed it. Are you enjoying it, too?

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