Jay turns 18 next week. Little Jay, who used to call me ‘Bebbie’. Dan’s first best friend. The two of them played, fell out, made up and played some more, on repeat throughout Dan’s life. In high school they’d disagree, argue loudly with each other.
‘Now come on, you two…’ a kind friend tried to intervene once, in class.
‘KEEP YOUR F**KIN’ NOSE OUT’
The friend quickly scuttled away.
Dan and Jay looked at each other and creased up, argument over, normality resumed.
That was the kind of relationship they had.
Although Dan often demonstrated insight beyond his years, he could not quite understand the profound loss Jay experienced as a nine-year-old, when his dad died of a heart attack, aged 50. Dan and Jay were at different primary schools at that point, had different friends, went to different after school activities. They didn’t see anything like as much of each other as they once had. Jay now, who’d always been the wind-up merchant, became moody, constantly spoiling for a row, deliberately provocative, and then he’d sneer and laugh when others’ tempers frayed. It made it hard to be his friend, and for a while Dan let their ties loosen to the point of being almost worn away.
But time worked some magic. By the start of high school Dan realised that Jay was grieving, and that it was expressed in petulance and anger. Jay too began to carry his grief less awkwardly. They started to take up some of that slack again, slowly, and mostly through the medium of football. Here, Jay had the advantage. He had talent and skill, had played for teams since being a tot. Dan simply brought a sponge-like approach to learning everything about the sport. It was Jay who encouraged Dan, played with him on the fields by the cemetery, who took pride in Dan’s small achievements such as Dan’s first game for school. And though Jay would always be the better player, Dan became the super-fan, full of statistics and fun facts about all their favourite players (and the potential transfers, and the team below them in the league, and all the fixtures for the next six months…). Their mutual love of the game tightened those bonds as firmly in later teenage years as they had been in the days of SuperDan and BatBoy, of ‘you be the red Power Ranger and I’ll be blue’, of ‘you can BOTH be Lightning McQueen…’.
Jay’s taller than me now. He’s got a job. He’ll be an adult in a few days. Thank goodness one of them made it.