Notes on twenty years

A tribute to a friend.

My pal John died a few weeks before his twentieth birthday.

It was a stupid death. He was discovered at his family home at the bottom of the stairs. He chatted to me on MSN Messenger one evening (berating me for going to the gym and warning about what happened to Douglas Adams), and was dead the next.

It was 2003. He was an early web enthusiast. He had domains, servers, ran a little forum for his friends probably using phpBB. His personal website was very Web 1.0. It had a page listing the games he used to play in lectures with his friends, another page about his infamous leather cowboy hat.

He had a guestbook. In the weeks and months following his death people would often post on his guestbook, sometimes coming back again and again on arbitrary dates - the first month, the sixth month, the first year.

I often think about him still. He’s trapped as a nineteen-year-old, an eternal teenager, an enthusiastic gig buddy. He’s the person I’d call when I had an idle evening during my gap year and drive to the cinema to see whatever was starting at that time. He’d be the one who’d find MP3s of upcoming albums for me, often giving me a MiniDisc of music ready to go.

It’s been twenty years since he left. He’s missed a lot. I know he’d be a reluctant Facebook user who’d still have an account now to stay in touch with his family. He’d have loved Twitter and made all sorts of bots and cross-posting feeds. His Github reps would be chaos but he’d be able to send me something from 15 years ago without pausing. He’d have cables trailing all over his flat, and still play in a local brass band, and be teaching kids karate, and would still be wearing that damned leather cowboy hat.

He’s now been dead for longer than he was alive. Which is so incomprehensible.

I don’t want to list out how guilty I felt at the time, how that guilt still linger now. On a day of remembrance, I celebrate him. This weekend I went to the cinema to see the first thing that was showing next, just like old times, and I discovered a new favourite. This evening I’ll be going to see Ben Folds, a guy we saw together and loved a lot back in 2002.

And, like we did back in those dark days, I’ve come to a little place online and I’ve written him a note.

John, I thought I’d write, I thought I’d let you know.