I have a theory that all your friendships teach you something – Sam’s certainly did for me. I should explain that I met Sam back in October ’99, when we were both coming to the end of our first week at Reading University. We met through my next door neighbour in Halls, who was probably a very nice bloke, but he did have a tendency to go on about his fondness for roleplaying. And by that I don’t mean he liked playing roleplaying boardgames; oh no, he was a fully paid-up member of the ‘dress like up a medieval dwarf and go nuts’ brigade. Nowadays it’s called ‘Cosplay’ or ‘LARPing’ but in those days it was called… well, let’s just say he was into all that stuff and we weren’t
Now it would be wrong to suggest Sam and I got on from the start. Indeed, when we were introduced, I thought he was a bit of a dry lunch as he left the bar early and he thought I was a knob for hanging out with Roleplay Guy. Ah, to be young and foolish…
But we got over these initial hurdles when we found out that we shared a love of Otis Redding’s music and the brutal prison drama Oz, which they used to show very, very late on Channel 4 and tended to be watched only by the most serious insomniacs. Early on he showed me the generosity of spirit that would prove central to his character, when he taught me how to use a washing machine, with only minimal teasing that a 19-year-old should need such advice. Well, he might have been a bit more scathing, but then a wasp flew into the laundry room and I honestly thought he was going to have a fit! Yeah, 6 ft. tall, in possession of a wiry strength and a constitution of iron, but show my mate Sam a wasp and he’d be off faster than Ben Johnson during a time trial!. Still, we all have our weaknesses; he could laugh at himself, though, which is a very important quality in a close pal.
So as we hung out, drank and mocked each other, it became clear that Sam was a decent sort of bloke, someone I could turn to in times of trouble as well as when I wanted to test my body’s tolerance for large amounts of bathtub liquor. He was a stand-up guy who’d help you if he could, even to his own detriment, which was possibly the root of his depression; the strong brother / dependable son who can look after himself etc. It’s a story I now know to be common, but it was new to me then. As was the whole idea of therapy, actually. In all seriousness Sam and Tony Soprano probably saved my life, as they made it ‘acceptable’ for me to talk to someone about my own problems.
We basically spent our whole first year together, hooking up with a few other reprobates with whom I shared more laughs than I can recall, as well as some more traumatic moments. And I don’t just mean the time that we brewed our own beer with a kit from Boots and Sam and I were the only ones who could actually stomach it…
Sam first attempted suicide in 2000. I’ll always remember sitting by his bedside with our two close friends, Steve and Mike, as Sam told the Dr he could say anything he had to say in front of us – he had no secrets from us. That was the greatest compliment anyone had ever paid me at the age of 20 and I held back the tears then, but I let them flow freely now. He looked so frail, lying there in the hospital bed, but he was still being strong for other people.
Though we drifted apart over the last decade, there was a time when Sam was one of the two people in the world I really trusted – and given that the other one is someone I’ve known since I was 12, that was really saying a lot.
We shared a fondness for macabre literature (the works of American Psycho writer Bret Easton Ellis being a favourite) and I found that for an engineer, he had a finely textured appreciation of music, nice booze, quality food and had the ability to make “even the most expensive clothes look everyday – it’s a gift, Manu”. I still find myself quoting this, and many of his better (and far less printable) lines, even years after he’s gone. And I admit I find the fact that his Facebook profile is still there comforting, as it reminds me that while his life was hard in ways I’ll never truly understand, he did have a lot of friends and some good times to go with all the heartache.
Sam died suddenly, by his own hand, in 2010, after ten years of living with depression and crippling agoraphobia. In one of our last drunken chats he told me he had been housebound for a 2-week period before, and he couldn’t stand another two weeks of that. I wouldn’t have wanted that for him either, even though it breaks my heart to type those words. As I said at his funeral, which is when I really should have said all of this, he just ran out of road.
I said before that every friendship teaches you something – Sam’s taught me that it’s ok to ask for help. That’s why I’m back in therapy after 10 years. It’s been over a year now and my life is looking hopeful again, both personally and professionally. I just wish he was here so I could thank him.