Today my heart hangs heavy. All I have talked about this week is when I was in year 10 at high school. I generally don’t have fond memories of high school. I was one of the invisible. I had minimal trouble with bullies. Someone would need to notice you to pick on you. I was expecting year 10 to run about the same. I dragged my brooding, angry, teenage self into English and found a seat. I learnt that day that you don’t need to be able to speak English to teach it. “Orright youse lot! Shaddup!”
It was also on that day that a guy named Pickle came and sat next to me. I knew him but was surprised that he knew me, and sat there anyway. Some the other “Cool” kids were at the back of the room calling him over. But he just waved to them, quick laugh and joke and then sat next to me. From that day on we were mates. I remember clearly, visiting one day, I borrowed Pickle’s older brother Pat’s mountain bike and we went for a ride. Almost back again and I went up and over the handlebars. Straight into the bitumen. Blood pouring from my elbow, knee and bit of a dribble near my eyebrow. Pickle never hesitated. Got us back to his place and patched me up.
I did some other silly things that year. Most predominantly, I failed. I went from getting an award in year 7 for having 5 A’s on my school report to a not so gradual deterioration every year through to year 10. So, as Pickle moved into year 11, I repeated year 10. Not long into year 11, Pickle got a job and left school. Our worlds got further and further apart and we lost contact.
A few years later we randomly bumped into each other back in our home town. We just so happened to be at the same pub at the same time, amazing when you consider how many pubs are in Ballarat and the fact that neither of us even lived in Ballarat anymore. I was then working in a paint shop in Melbourne and he was driving trucks between Melbourne and Perth. I then didn’t see him for a long time.
I frequently thought of him and when we started having school reunions a few people went to great lengths to find him but to no avail. In December 2013 I wrote a blog. Even though I mention no names I can tell you honestly now that I was thinking about that first week of year 10 and Pickle when I wrote it. Click here to read Sometimes Someone Feels The Need To Thank You But You’ll Never Know That Maybe You Just Saved Their Life.
Probably not long after that I got a very excited message from another friend from school, Sue.
“I found him! I found Pickle!”
She gave me the contact and at the first opportunity Michael (Pickle) and I organised to catch up. We met at a Vegan restaurant in Brunswick. It was nearly 30 years since year 10 but we recognised each other straight away. Sure, I was carrying a bit more around my middle and he was carrying a bit less on his head but his smile and laugh hadn’t changed at all. The added bonus was I got to meet Michael’s wife Sharon. Sharon would be the only person on the planet who could present a challenge to Michael’s levels of likability. In fact, looking back, since reconnecting I have probably spoken to Sharon more than Michael.
The thing’s these 2 have been up to over the years are legendary. Time on the Sea Shepherd stopping illegal whalers. Building villages in poor communities. Putting things in motion to stop poachers. Protecting endangered species from illegal market sales, etc, etc, etc, etc.
Since I have been back in contact they are out educating people on animals, staying out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night to try and find and count different species. Possibly discovering a new breed of frog which I haven’t had the chance to confirm. They were both part of my short film Not Yet and they were at my door with next to no notice to watch our older 2 children when Hayley was first admitted to hospital and my wife Leia and I were at Royal Children’s Hospital waiting to find out what was going on.
That’s what made it so hard to understand how or why when Sharon posted on Facebook on Saturday that Michael had terminal cancer. It has been a very fast whirlwind of emotion. What Sharon and Michael have been going through in a matter of weeks. Another friend Nathan visited Michael on Monday morning and rang me afterwards. Things didn’t look good. I organised flights and was able to visit Michael on Tuesday. I wasn’t there long but it was longer than I thought I’d get a chance to. More and more family started coming to the hospital. It was a family time and so time for me to leave. I got my chance to hug my mate one more time and say goodbye.
What I would give to be back sitting on his bedroom floor while Pickle sat on the side of his bed with his metallic blue, electric, acoustic guitar. Listening to him playing Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive. To go back to wishing my hair would sit the way his mullet did. We both had pretty much the same cut but you wouldn’t know as my greasy mop, flopped and stuck to my head while his rivalled 1980’s John Farnham. To go for a ride on the mountain bikes. To have another karate lesson together. Or more recently, to listen to the description of one of his latest paintings or admire his incredible photography from around the world. I sound more like a fan than a mate and maybe there is a bit of truth to that. I’m going to miss you brother. So much love for you and Sharon. Don’t worry mate, we will make sure that we catch up with Sharon for some bubbly and shenanigans.
There are so many memories flooding through my head but I would be typing for days and never hitting publish. Maybe, one day, when I don’t have to continually stop typing to wipe the tears, I might tell you more about him.
Added 10th March 2019
Your infectious smile and constant laughter will be heard well beyond your days in this world. There is no more need for you to fight the pain. It has now left your body as have you. Although we lost contact more often than we kept it, I was always comforted knowing someone like you was out there.
R.I.P. My Brother.
21st July 1971 – 10th March 2019