A moment that changed me: ‘My best friend and I were going to clubs and dreaming of a glamorous destiny. But then she died’ | Friendship
Alison and i were 15 years old when we decided to leave our school, fueled by this reckless and unstoppable force typical of teenagers. Any qualms we might have had about a wasted education were snuffed out by our impatience to sidestep boys our own age, find true love, and fulfill our glamorous destiny. We wrote comic poems about these quests and about each other, which showed at least some self-awareness of how gloriously lost we were. My mother – a teacher – knew there was no rationalization with teenagers. She made the wise decision to keep me close and let things play out.
It was 1989 when Alison joined the girls’ school I attended in central London. She had a low-key mystique about her, but once you were allowed to, she was deeply fun and curious. We wanted to go clubbing. We pored over photos in Vogue and Face magazine of people who fascinated us – musicians, designers, filmmakers, models, beautiful “wild child” Amanda de Cadenet – mingling in places with silly or postmodern names like Wall Street or MFI club. The first party I tried to get into was called Xanadu, in Clerkenwell, but my friend Jane and I didn’t stand a chance, with our baby faces and lack of fake IDs. When Alison and I tried together, however, we somehow managed to get past the red strings. Maybe her Bianca Jagger appearance helped us look less like the kids we were.
Alison was smarter than me. She looked both ways as she crossed the road, she had never smoked or stoned herself and barely had a drink. She had decided to live with her father after her parents divorced, partly because he let her come and go as she pleased. Within months, we were regulars at various clubs. On a Tuesday at Earl’s Court, we would occasionally visit a gem venue hosted by legendary promoter Steve Strange, outside of which Strange would wade through the queue lamenting, “Where are all the beautiful people?” They were already inside: Duran Duran, Wham!, De Cadenet. Thursday nights at the Wag Club in Soho were our favorites – we could shore up the bar, watch the hilarity unfold, and end up dripping sweat on the dance floor. As underage girls, we learned that clubbing was cheap. We got on the guest list for free, got a vodka or two and oranges (it was pretty intoxicating just to be there) and took the night bus home.
After my GCSE, I had to contribute to household expenses. I got a job in a shoe store in Covent Garden, while Alison went to college halfheartedly. Standing all day while being trained to approach customers in a deceptively casual way got old pretty quickly, but I had Alison and clubbing and our dreams.
Alison and I spoke several times a day – we were like life partners. But about a year into our adventures, around Christmas 1990, she disappeared. I figured she had met an old friend and was having a long slumber party until after a few days without a word, an uneasiness took over. Where could she have gone? After a week, her brother saw a call on local television about an unidentified woman in a coma, showing Alison’s bracelet, scarf and keys. The next morning, her father called with the devastating news. She had been hit by a motorbike while crossing a dangerous stretch of road. She remained unconscious until her family arrived, then she slipped away.
I dreamed that she wasn’t really dead and I was carrying her secretly in my pocket. I listened again and again to his last message on our answering machine, in which she was chewing cucumber in blissful ignorance of her fate. I found some of her curly hair on my rug and taped it in my journal behind a photo of us, along with her most recent poem about me. I tore out the front page of our phone book, on which she had drawn caricatures of us, to preserve it. It was impossible to let go.
Without it, the shine of clubland and just about everything else has faded. We had played grown up and it was only really fun when we made lists together of all the handsome men we had met, or listened intently to the gossip among the rotating brotherhood of Wag’s loos.
I stayed home alone on Christmas Day. As my brain raced, trying to explain the brutal randomness of Alison’s death, I wondered darkly if she had been taken because, like me, she had no solid plans. As a survivor, in the months of loneliness and grief that followed, a sense of responsibility arose within me not to lose myself. I saw cold, hard truths: that you really can only rely on yourself, that I wasn’t special, and that I wasn’t about to sprout any precocious talent or legs either. and the cheekbones of a top model. I was too sweet and rudderless to embark on an exciting career through clubbing or falling in love. I enrolled in sixth form college, where I was able to continue growing. But I will never forget or regret mine and Alison’s early break for freedom, wandering amber-lit London at night, when the city seemed to be ours alone.