I was always a shy kid, but never really had any trouble making friends. I had the same best friend throughout primary school and high school; a girl named Rachel whom I met when we were both in grade one. We went to different high schools and made other friends, but remained close throughout those awkward teenage years and then beyond.
We eventually grew to a group of four with the addition of Rachel’s boyfriend, Andrew, and a mutual friend, Nick. They were great times, probably the happiest of my life. I was fresh out of high school with my whole life ahead of me. I was young, healthy and enthusiastic about pretty much everything. It was around this same time that I became interested in policing and a year or so later, was selected to start recruit training.
The group pretty much dissolved when Rachel and Andrew broke up. I remained friends with all three, but it was never the same. Rachel got a new boyfriend, Daniel, and spent more time with him and his friends. Then Nick got a girlfriend whom he later married.
Nick was the best guy-friend I ever had and probably the only gentleman I’ve ever known. And I’m talking well-spoken, immaculately-groomed, door-holding, coat-taking, bill-paying kind of gentleman. I always felt we could talk about anything. We stayed friends for a while after he married, but I knew his wife must’ve hated it and who could blame her? No woman wants her husband hanging out with another woman. I tried to befriend her too but the resentment was always there, suspended between us like a thick, omnipotent fog. She resented the time I spent with Nick, she questioned it and was confused by it. It was just not possible for that simple friendship not to be perceived as something else. It was never discussed, but he knew it, she knew it and I knew it, so that was it. Nick and I saw each other less and less, the phone calls and text messages ceased, the relationship starved and eventually died.
Rachel spent more and more time with Daniel and eventually we fell out. I couldn’t help but feel that I’d been discarded and gradually got more and more shitty with her. So, I immersed myself in being a cop and concentrated all my energy on getting through those first eventful years. I heard nothing from Rachel until many months later when she phoned me up one day to tell me she was getting married. She asked me to be her maid of honour and I accepted.
It’s strange when all your friends start marrying and having kids – even more so when you have no particular interest in following suit. This is probably the first time in my life I felt I was on the outer. I was pursuing a career, not a family and had become, virtually overnight, “that single friend”.
I caught up with the girls from high school every now and then, but it was always kind of awkward. We’d meet up for dinner somewhere and they’d all take turns talking about their perfect husbands and their perfect houses and their perfect babies. I would sit there quietly, smiling and nodding along to their exultations as the aromas of Thai beef salad and my own inadequacies enveloped me. Eventually, the attention would shift my way.
“So, Cath, how’s your… life going?”
“Work is good,” I’d say. “Although, the other day wasn’t so great. I went to a suicide and he’d been hanging there so long his eyes were all eaten away.”
“Have you… met any nice guys through work? Any hot criminals?”
“No,” I replied. “They’re mostly all scrotes.”
Wow, I thought, as I applauded myself in my own head. Nice dinner conversation. Expect to receive fewer invites from this point forth. I had officially become, “that weird single friend”.
But getting back to Rachel, we fell out again after her wedding, but got back in touch after the birth of her first child. Things kind of improved after that. It wasn’t that we were seeing more of each other – we definitely weren’t. It’s just that I had learnt not to get shitty with her over it. She had a family now and that was her life. I had… my job and that was my life. We caught up when we could for coffee or lunch, she went on to have another child, and things were pretty good between us over the next couple of years.
In August 2011 things took a turn. I was well over a decade in the job, had experienced the highs and lows of it all and adjusted to it in typical cop-fashion. I had become a little… how shall I say? Jaded. Everything was fucked. The job was fucked, people were fucked. It was all just fucked. I was well and truly “seasoned”.
I was working nightshift when it happened. I had spent the day trying to sleep and, as was usually the case when working nights, had my phone switched off. I didn’t think to switch it back on again until much later that night, when I had just arrived at work and was upstairs getting changed. I had several missed calls and a voicemail message which I listened to as I made my way downstairs to begin my shift.
“This is Bec,” a female voice said through tears and I had trouble recognising the voice. “I’m just ringing to see how you are. Call me.”
The only Bec I knew was a friend of Rachel’s, but her words made no sense to me whatsoever. Then I looked through my missed calls and saw they were all from Rachel’s husband, Daniel. I called him back and this is what he told me:
“Rachel’s been in a terrible accident. She was run over this afternoon and is in a coma. It’s not looking good.”
And just like that, I went to pieces. This was my first experience with grief and It. Was. Merciless. It grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go, ripping the strength from my legs, the air from my lungs and all the light and sound from the world around me.
My sergeant didn’t know what else to do so he sent me home. I got changed and drove straight to the hospital. There I found Daniel sitting outside the ICU. We had nothing to say to each other so just stood there crying in each other’s arms. When he was finally able to speak, he told me what had happened.
Rachel had been walking her bike across a pedestrian crossing that afternoon when a truck went straight over the top of her. The driver must’ve took the corner wide, because apparently, he never even saw her as she went under the back wheels. He certainly didn’t stop.
Her legs were shattered and she lost all her skin from the waist down, which, in medical terms, is called de-gloving. She remained conscious right until the moment the ambulance got her to hospital.
Daniel took me in to see her and I stood there wringing my hands and sobbing. He told me it was okay to touch her, so I stroked her hair and whispered, “I love you.” I sat with her for another hour or two, then went back to work. I just didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t go home. I didn’t want to be on my own.
At work, the guys looked after me as best they could. They shielded me from any form of human contact and were kind enough to look away every time I started crying. At 7am I went home and collapsed onto my bed. I couldn’t even get my clothes off.
That afternoon I got up, showered and dressed, then drove straight back to the hospital to be by Rachel’s side. Then I went straight to work. This was my routine for the remainder of the week, at which point it all became physically and mentally unsustainable. My boss then allowed me to take some long service leave, effective immediately, which made everything a lot easier. I was able to spend most of my time with Rachel, but also had some time away from the hospital with Daniel and their two small children, his parents and Rachel’s parents.
Rachel spent two weeks in the ICU before being stable enough for her surgeries to begin. They credited her survival to the fact that the accident happened so near a hospital. Then became the slow, difficult process of putting her legs back together. Her battles continued when they brought her out of the coma and the medication took a severe toll. She became manic and suffered hallucinations so severe her parents asked me to stay away until after they had subsided.
I remember the first day I was allowed to visit her, and the look on her face as I entered her room. “Are you okay?” she said, her eyes wide.
“Am I okay?” I replied, with an equal measure of disbelief.
“I could’ve sworn you were dead.” She went on to explain that one of her hallucinations involved her receiving the news that I had been shot dead at work. She just couldn’t believe I was really there.
The visits continued over the coming weeks and she soon returned to herself. She had her bad days of course, more surgery and countless dressing changes that caused her unspeakable pain and distress. Some days we talked and some days we just cried together.
Rachel is the smartest person I’ve ever known. She studied science at uni, went on to get her PhD and at the time of her accident, was lecturing in dental science. She had always been healthy, fit and strong and I think this played a huge part in her recovery.
After about six months, Rachel left hospital and returned home. I continued to visit her regularly and watched as she grew stronger and slowly regained some use of her legs.
About one year after the accident, I was due to catch up with Rachel for my birthday and found that I just couldn’t face her. I couldn’t do it. Things had been going steadily downhill at work and by that time I was feeling completely worn-out. It was as if I had nothing left to give to anyone. So, I missed our scheduled lunch, then switched my phone to silent when it started to ring. I couldn’t even talk to her.
Rachel’s accident happened just a few weeks after Eliza turned her back on me and basically, it all became too much. After treading water all that time and just trying to keep my fucking head above water, I suddenly felt as if I were about to drown. I felt myself dipping under for the first time and knew that my only chance of survival was if I started to shed some layers. So, I shed Rachel. I shed our friendship as if it were a heavy coat weighing me down and dragging me under. My best friend. My longest, truest and most enduring friendship and I simply didn’t have the capacity to keep it going.
I knew she would be okay, or I wouldn’t have done it. She had Daniel, after all. She had her kids, her parents, her doctors and therapists and other friends from work and uni. She would be hurt and angry with me, but otherwise okay.
I always hated myself for what I did and tried to reach out to her a couple of years later. I sent her a card on her birthday, told her I missed her and wanted to see her. I wanted to try and explain, but I never heard back.
Maybe one day, she will forgive me.
(All names have been changed to respect the privacy of those concerned.)