Jack, My Friend

© Shelley Hansen

Winner – Traditional Verse – 2018 Sutherland Shire Literary Competition, NSW.

“Remember,” said my sister Jan, “the boys who lived next door –
our ginger-headed playmates – Jack and Jed?”
    I saw her features alter –
    her words began to falter …
“I hate to break the news – but Jacko’s dead.”

“How awful, Jan!  Just thirty – he would not be any more,”
I said.  “How come he passed away so young?”
    The next words I was hearing
    were just what I’d been fearing …
“He killed himself.”  And then she added, “Hung!”

At once the scene receded as I thought of how we four
could hardly wait for Saturday to play
    bright games of backyard cricket –
    the dustbin for a wicket,
or sometimes we would fly our kites all day!

And Jacko was the one who had us rolling on the floor
with laughter.  He would always play the clown.
    And yet I had an inkling
    behind those eyes so twinkling
a secret sorrow festered deeper down.

Old Henry Jones the grocer died – he owned our corner store.
We stood beside his grave and wished him peace.
    Then Jacko said, “This dying –
    why should it cause such crying?
It seems to me to be a sweet release.”

It worried me to see the strange expression that he wore.
His gaze absorbed a vision far away.
    But how could I be knowing
    the darkness that was growing
and moulding his resolve like potter’s clay?

Back then I didn’t understand depression’s burning core –
dismissing it as just a “bout of blues”.
    I knew it pulled him under
    but didn’t stop to wonder
just how it felt to walk in Jacko’s shoes.

The seasons flew and new directions swept the paths of yore
aside, as we established our careers.
    Though Jack was bright and clever
    and studied hard, he never
could seem to leave behind his childhood years.

Part-sage, part-wistful elf, like Peter Pan of fairy lore,
he drifted and just couldn’t seem to rest.
    But now and then I’d meet him
    and take the time to greet him.
One day he broke his silence and confessed …

“Some days my life is beautiful.  My spirit seems to soar
like rays of light that leap to kiss the sky.
    Then, swallowed up by sorrow
    that’s when I fear tomorrow.
Don’t ask me to explain.  I don’t know why.

They’ve tried to help with therapy.  I’ve swallowed pills galore
with side effects that border on bizarre.
    I’ve weathered their intrusion,
    but come to the conclusion
we’re better off just being who we are.”

We gathered at his graveside on a bleak day – wet and raw –
united by a single grieving voice.
    Beyond the tears I tasted
    regret lest I had wasted
a chance – just one – to influence his choice.

He must have felt so lonely as he waged his inner war
unseen behind the brightness of the smile
    that made him loved by many
    with no idea that any
dark demons dogged his footsteps, mile for mile.

I wished that I could turn back time, to capture and restore
a snapshot of the days we left behind.
    but then I thought – reliving
    would be so unforgiving
for Jack, in search of peace he could not find.

We’re often quick to judge and to apply a common law
to how we think that others should behave
    and see the world around us.
    Then, what it takes to ground us
can come too late to save some from the grave.

The years have passed.  The loss of Jack encouraged me to pour
my studies into mental health to gain
    the best of all my chances
    to try to find some answers
so Jack, my friend, may not have died in vain.

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