By Liam Mongelard
Text – 14/07/2017 – Sam
hey man, sorry i’ve haven’t spoken in ages, the last month has been really fucking rough, some of the shit i’ve got to tell you is crazy, are u free this weekend sometime for a catch up, hope you’re well mate
Text – 14/07/2017 – Liam
I’ve been worrying about you for the last 6 weeks man. Im in france atm. Il be back next Friday so gimmie a call whenever and ill answer. I’m really sorry to hear things have been rough bro, i hope you know i’m here for you in those moments more than all others.
Text – 22/07/2017 – Liam
Hey im back, you free?
Text – 22/07/2017 – Sam
Just gonna make a brew then i’ll call ya mate
I will never forget the conversation Sam and I shared following that text. I was stunned by it afterwards. I remember walking into the lounge after finishing the call.
My wife Charlotte looked at me; “what? What is it?”
I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head, semi-baffled; “Sam…he’s been homeless.”
At this point I need to rewind, to catch you up.
Sam and I had met as teenagers at college, we instantly hit it off.
Though we were different – I was loud, he was quiet, I was irreverent whilst he was considered, we were both social chameleons, teenagers learning how best to camouflage ourselves.
I had fashioned a front and Sam had built a shell. However, what brought us together was that we saw through each other’s attempts, we recognised we were on the outside and were happy to be outsiders, together.
Soon our friendship will be almost two decades old. In that time, we have talked almost daily, certainly weekly but never about our mental state, our anxiety or our depressed days.
On the rare occasions one of us would sense something was off and dare to break protocol and ask the vulnerable question, it would usually go like this:
“How have you been mate?”
“Argh…pfft, you know, working loads, but I’m alright. You?”
“You sure you’re alright?”
Ask a third time…and well…that could be awkward, conflict and resolution – don’t want that, don’t know how.
So, we’d talk about the world and all the things happening within it, just not about what was happening within ourselves. Fast forward through 2017 to 2018, for better and worse, things would change.
Sam would fall into a deep hole of depression. It would be brought on by a social anxiety he had been burying since before I knew him.
There is one fundamental thing I have learned over the last two years. Most men still do not talk, I mean truly talk.
The modern man might oil his beard, squat low in a supermarket aisle looking for the best blackhead cleanser and enjoy bantering away over a pint of beer – but talk about his emotions? Admit to exhaustion? Show vulnerability? Ask for help? That would imply ‘weakness’. Better to ‘suck it up’ and ‘man up’.
These masculine sentiments have existed long before the veil of the screen, before the ease of reading an uncomfortable text and choosing simply to act as if you had not seen it.
Now, with our interconnected technological age, the issues of communication and connection are ten-fold complicated and loneliness is just tenfold.
In the months before the phone call, in which Sam revealed his homelessness, I had been messaging him through social media, asking in round-about ways, whether he was ‘ok’.
Of course, I knew the answer already, he was not ‘ok’.
How severe was it? I never dared to ask. He had been growing distant to me and other people in his life. He had quit jobs, given up on opportunities and just generally withdrawn from life events.
In fact, less than two months before his homelessness he had been at my wedding, one of my two best men.
He had made speeches, danced and drank, no one would have had a clue at the demons he was battling within himself. Hell even I, his best friend, didn’t really have a clue.
Then came Sam’s call and his story.
Sam and I love stories; life, history, civilisation and much more. But sometimes we can enjoy the telling of the story more than listen to the lessons it has to offer.
Because Sam’s story had been remarkable, I heard it as such. He’d quit his job, lost his flat, lived rough and encountered rougher people and come out the other side with a new job in a renowned restaurant. Things were looking up, right?
I believed it, only Charlotte reminded me:
“It’s amazing about the job but that doesn’t solve everything. Has he learned anything? Why didn’t he ask for help? Why did he get like that?”
He never had told me the why, just that it was in his rear-view mirror now. Only it wasn’t, it was sitting alongside him in the passenger seat, safety belt on.
In the months to follow that belt would slowly slip loose until the inevitable crash arrived. I could see it coming, with each text unanswered, each call left to voicemail and people asking after Sam.
We had gone from speaking every two days to not speaking for four months. I grew sick with worry in that time, I would re-read old texts looking for answers, I would lie awake at night gnashing my teeth. I would even share emails with his mum in which she confessed her fear that she was losing her son to some invisible force.
For the first time in years of knowing Sam I decided to send him a letter, think a Jackson Pollack painting only emotions instead of paint.
I expected a hurt reaction, anger even and at best a dialogue about what he was going through. What I didn’t expect was his silence but my letter’s good intentions had been lost in my own hurt, in my pride and I had said things I feared had put the final nail in the coffin of our friendship.
So, I resolved to use the technology at my fingertips to reach out to him, response or not, with love, to show him he was loved still.
Text – 11/11/2017 – Liam
I love you with all my heart bro and i’ve been thinking of you every day we haven’t spoken. Reach out, I’m always just a call away.
Im sorry mate for what i wrote. I was critical of you when I should have just be there to listen. Talking helps. I’m here. Xxxx
Text – 13/11/2017 – Liam
Remember when we were 16 and we used to adorn our bedroom walls with pictures and paintings and sayings of thinkers. My favourite was on your wall, by Francis bacon “friends are thieves of time”… i miss my partner in crime mate. Im lonely and it makes me sad. Im gona keep ringing you each day on the off chance that you pick up.
Text – 16/11/2017 – Liam
10 years of friendship.
What is happening????
As you can see my new found empathy and patience had lasted exactly a few days. I downed my cocktail of fear, shame, guilt and worry and with Charlotte we headed to London to find Sam and to break out of the screen-to-screen and see him face to face.
Only the face I would find answering his bedroom door would not be one I remembered. His eyes were heavy set and hidden away. He sported a craggy beard and his skin was an ashen colour.
Hardly had I said, “hey”, before he pushed past me and rushed down the stairs. I called after him but he kept his eyes to the ground muttering over and over, “I can’t, I can’t do this.”
I half-yelled, “you’re seriously gonna do this, we’re here, you’re just gonna leave…SAM!”
The shutting door stupefied me.
Then it came as easily as breathing; “fuck him”, my mind said, “you’ve come all this way, for what? To be rejected again”.
And just like that years of masculine socialisation reared its meaty head, urging me to close up and shut down and revert to anger, telling me that vulnerability hurt, that my pride was at stake and that emotions are an effort – “and there goes my friend”.
Thankfully Charlotte brought me to my senses, “come on! We have to go after him”, already putting on her shoes and opening the door.
I hurried to follow her, into what would be one of my worst memories yet to be lived. We would chase Sam through pouring rain, I would shout hurtful nonsense; “hit me if you don’t want to speak.”
I didn’t so much as lose my good intentions, rather I set them on fire and did a haka dance around the pyre.
Our ‘intervention’, if you would want to call it that, ended with Sam lost in the rain, Charlotte in tears and I…seething might be a word, what the feeling was, I still struggle to explain.
Charlotte and I would leave that night, with no sign of Sam returning home.
It was during the following two months, with no contact whatsoever, that I would turn to writing a book about Sam that I called: Screen to Screen – Conversations with my closest friend.
It was a messy but honest look at us as men, our communication and the modern tools we use to communicate. In the absence of my friend, the book helped me a lot, but always in the back of my mind, I feared what Sam would think if he knew how I was laying bare our friendship.
Then quite out of the blue:
Messenger – 19/12/2017 20:02 – Sam
Hope you guys are having a great time in Mauritius, send my love to everyone there, I just wanted to send you guys a quick message to say thanks for all your messages of love and support, I couldn’t wish for greater friends, I’ve started to feel like myself again over the last couple of days and cant wait to catch up with you guys when you’re back, have a great hols and great Christmas, love sam
The message felt like a great big hug. But it would take months still for Sam to emerge out from ‘the warm blanket of depression’, as he would later describe it.
All the while I was terrified to tell him of this book, which could bring us together but could also drive him away, over the horizon.
But what did I know?
When we finally talked for the first time in what felt an age, Sam didn’t even blink at the idea of the book, to quote him directly; “It’s a great idea man.”
“W…what, you serious?” I replied.
“Yeah I love the idea of using our private messages.”
That statement blindsided me. Sam was socially anxious with learned behaviours that forced him further away from people, yet he was willing to lay himself open on the page for complete strangers to examine.
I couldn’t comprehend how Sam had come to embrace this vulnerability. But he would later write to me.
Most of the time we expect a story to have an arc, the hero’s journey and a happy ending. But I’m certainly no hero and this is no fairy tale, just a quiet battle against despair.So the remedy for all of this?
It seems ubiquitous on social media. Everyone is on their “journey” of self-worth, individual discovery.
They preach self-love, self-importance and individual gain but I now know pushing you away was the worst mistake, something Charlotte messaged me resonated so much – “Your personal inner strength comes from people who truly love you.”
But I had to learn the hard way, that my saving grace is my friends.
Liam Mongelard grew up in London, never much loving the rat race. He moved to Norwich where he studied Literature and Creative Writing at UEA.
He now lives in Brighton, where he’s started a part-time career as a chef but writing remains his life and he continues to seek publication for his novels.
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