Shane and I go back a long time, twenty years in fact. That we managed to find each other on the anniversary of our first encounter is no coincidence. I’ve never believed in such things; there is a reason behind everything, whether we’re able to comprehend said reason is another thing. When he asked me to do a guest spot on his blog and tell his loyal followers a little something of the kid I knew back at the arse end of the ‘80s I at first felt quite honoured, but then reality set in and I realised I hadn’t really thought much about those days in nigh on ten years. The only things I had distinct memory of were the events that led to the parting of the ways for Shane and I; it’s curious how easily we are able to recall the bad times. So I took it as a challenge to myself; for just over a year we had some good times, and got to know each other pretty damn well. Indeed, we became best mates; therefore the good memories had to be juggling around in my mind somewhere. And just like all my worthwhile writing projects, this meant a little research.
I left White City in 1991. It’s always struck me as odd that a concrete jungle with roads named after Commonwealth countries, and houses named in honour of participants of the Commonwealth Games, should be called something with such obvious racist undertones. An historical irony, perhaps? Even more ironic considering the confluence of culture that pervades every aspect of that housing estate. But this is not about the place, so much as how it pertains to the relationship between Shane and I. For some inexplicable reason I’ve never been able to decipher, since 1991 I would return to White City in my dreams. No matter where I was living at the time, no matter what friends I had about me, White City would always resurface in that darkest of subconscious arenas.
In this dream I’d be doing my thing with my friends, usually the most mundane stuff, and we’d start off in whatever given place I was living at the time. Then, as if stepping out of the back of the wardrobe, we’d be in White City. And it always seemed the most natural thing; after all the dreamscape of the unconscious mind rarely entertains the notion of logic, and so having my current friends in the place of my teen years made perfect sense. But I never ended up in just any part of White City, always I’d step into the forecourt of Wolfe House, the red brick block of flats in the shape of a capital L, signalling the truth of that place. The home of Lost Souls. Within seconds I’d be jumping up to the fourth floor, like Superman taking a single leap, and coming to rest outside a door in the corner of that L. I never lived in this flat, that much I knew, yet I would enter as casually as if it were my own home. The interior always seemed dark, shadows dancing around. I’d never think to look around the flat, after all there was a familiarity about it that I’d find comforting, and so I’d walk up the hallway, passing both the kitchen and the living room, until I came to this one white door. Knocking never seemed necessary, and so I’d walk into the room beyond. Empty but for the sparse furniture and posters on the magnolia walls; one poster in particular stuck out, a group of men in tight jeans and t-shirts, with the words Skid Row printed jaggedly above. From there the dream would segue into a new place, and I’d be back with my current group of friends.
An odd dream, one full of meaning but little understanding. For the longest time it made no sense to me; why would I keep returning to this place? Recently, though, some clarity has come my way. When talking to Shane on the phone the other day, going through remembrances some two decades old, he reminded me that his flat was number 40, and in a flash I saw that corner flat of my dream. For the best part of eighteen years my dreamscape would take me to the place Shane lived with his mother, brother and dog. A place where, for the best part of year, I could most often be found. It seems that even though Shane and I had parted company in a terrible way, a part of me kept returning. I had not let go of the friendship we once shared.
I forget exactly how we met, but I do remember that I first met his mother. I was living at my sister’s at the time, on the second floor of Wolfe House, and she had struck up a friendship with Lesley, Shane’s mother. Tracey tells me that she met Lesley through Gary, my sister’s then fella, who provided Lesley with ‘draw’ (cannabis). As I was living at my sister’s I’d often see Lesley popping in for a coffee and a chat, or as the old cliché goes, to borrow some milk or sugar, and just as often Tracey would pop up to the fourth floor to return the favour. I seem to recall that my first encounter with Shane was brief; his mother was having coffee at my sister’s and Shane popped in for some reason or other. Memory’s a funny thing, and two decades is an awfully long time. My fist impression was of this quiet kid, a little younger than me (exactly three years to the day, as it turned out), who had a certain sparkle in his eye. It’s what I would now call a cheeky glint; the kind of look you see in the eyes of those for whom mischief is never far away. And me being me, I was attracted to that straight away. Looking back the source of the attraction is abundantly clear; it was recognition of a familiar. We soon got to talking, little more than small talk at first, something which both Shane and I suck at, as I popped up for coffee with my sister. In those first few days Shane was something of a mystery to me; this wraith that would appear from his bedroom, say a few words, ask his mother for something, and then would disappear back into his room. I think it was me who made first contact proper, sticking my head into his room and striking up a conversation. I’m not sure if I’m remembering that, or if it’s merely something I’ve since convinced myself happened as it is the kind of thing I’m prone to do.
Nevertheless a friendship was quickly struck, and it came to pass that Shane and I were more often together than not. It was a pretty standard friendship really, one full of hours talking about random things; music, books, and all kinds of arty stuff. Even back then we were both creative types. Every night we’d be out in Greyhound Park, the overgrown former grounds of the infamous White City Stadium, once renowned for dog racing before it was torn down in the early ‘80s and the ground bought by the BBC, walking his dog. Even now I can see Shane clearly walking beside me, while his dog ran around. Back then Shane was prone to talk quietly while we walked, head lowered, shoulders hunched, thin and tall, dressed in dark clothes. With hindsight and some understanding of body language, it’s obvious now that the signals he was giving off were clearly a clue as to what was going on within. This was a teenager living mostly in his own private world of pain, and as much as I got to know Shane, there was always more to know. But there was so much that he would not let me in on. He often alluded to something nasty in his past, but would clam up whenever I asked him what. Still, those brief moments of potential darkness never harmed our friendship. And yet, for reasons now clear to me, our friendship was a doomed one.
Shane was a volatile young man, always on the verge of courting danger, and this side of him often caused me concern. But again it was something I understood, for I had my own issues going on and there was a heart born of rage bubbling within. That we were kindred spirits was beyond doubt, but he was heading down a path I could not walk, at least not then. We were ultimately too alike; both intelligent, with enquiring minds, prone to mood swings, and bouts of depression. The main difference between Shane and I, though, was his willingness to dance on the side of darkness, a place I couldn’t allow myself to go. I had my family about me, disjointed as they were, and they continued to anchor me. Shane and his family, however, were living in a world of hurt that my teenage mind couldn’t begin to comprehend. As the months past by and 1990 came about, the feeling in the Levene household began to turn grim. They had two lodgers living there; people whom Shane was spending more and more time with. Perhaps it was because they were new and thus more interesting than I, whom he already knew? Here were two adults, two men, doing the kind of things Shane was used to seeing around him; drinking, smoking dope and generally being loud and obnoxious. They probably thought it was funny; Shane certainly seemed to. Drugs became a regular fixture; to my mind it was usually only light drugs, but I suspect it might have been more. I was wonderfully naive about these things back then! I was spending less time there, the welcoming atmosphere diminishing with every visit. To this day I am convinced it wasn’t a malicious act designed to oust me from Shane’s world, rather a moment of life where a single path was meant to split in two.
Shane’s mother was drinking more and it was becoming nigh on impossible to talk to her with any expectations of common sense; and with her drinking came a more maudlin woman talking about random things from her past. In truth I thought she mostly making it up; the brain addled by the excess of alcohol or dope. As for Shane? Well, I saw him around, but we didn’t spend any time alone any more. I do vividly recall one night where we went out to walk the dog and we had this almighty row about something trivial, Shane refusing to talk about what was troubling him, issuing forth sarcastic comment after sarcastic comment. I was left with a sinking feeling in my heart. The loss of a kindred spirit is a harsh reality, and it cuts to the core. I spent most of that night awake, probably crying.
Over the following few months I became the object of much verbal bashing from Shane, almost always when he was with his neighbour whom I suspected was doping up with Shane on a regular basis. It began to wear me down, even though I still held some hope that Shane and I would be able to rekindle the friendship that had been torn away from me. I still popped up to see his mother from time to time, most often when Shane was not about, always sounding her out to see if reconciliation was around the corner. But nada. I had the misfortune of being there on occasion when Shane did come home, and received the darkest and dirtiest looks, usually accompanied by some slur. It was a hard time, seeing this person whom I once considered a friend now treating me like some intruder in his world. The old sparkle in his eyes had started to dim, and now an evil glare seemed to be cast my way.
It all ended one evening in Greyhound Park. Others had got involved in the growing animosity between us. And so egged on, the rage was beginning to burn. Finally we decided, mutually or not I forget, to have it out once and for all. In mind I still see this moment clearly, although I suspect time has altered my perception slightly and built it into something a lot more dramatic than it actually was. But the moment replays like this:
Shane one side of the park, me on the other. Shane’s crowd of onlookers is notably larger than mine. Shane begins shouting obscenities at me, and I think ‘fuck this’, yet at the same time wondering how we had come to this. I know for sure that I do not want to do this. Then I notice Shane has the dog chain in his hand, and so I rip a wooden slat from a rather feeble fence. We literally run at each other, like two wild animals. None of this sizing each other up, provoking the other into making the first move. As I near him I throw the wood away; still I do not want this. But I am on some inexplicable course than I cannot pull away from. We clash, and I rip the dog chain from his hand (possibly the reason for his broken finger), and we lay into each other. There is none of those fancy moves you see on TV, just two teenagers scrapping, tumbling around on the floor while others jeer us on. At some point Shane is on his feet, and someone hands him a skateboard, which comes crashing down on my collar bone.
After this I remember very little of the fight, I still can’t even remember how it ended. But end it did and for the next week I was walking around thinking that my shoulder was only bruised. At that point I’m not actually aware that a skateboard had been used, I only discovered this later. I saw Shane around still, but I refused to be cowed, although I noted his hand has been bandaged and I felt a guilty glow of satisfaction. But it was a temporary thing cause I knew that whatever we had was gone.
I left White City in 1991, and that was the last time I saw Shane on a regular basis. By this point he was a stranger, his hair long, looking more drawn than I ever saw him before. It weighed heavy on my heart that I no longer knew him, that we’d pass in the street with barely a nod of acknowledgement. When coming home I’d usually walk behind Wolfe House, cutting across the grass and past the rear of No. 1, but Shane often hung around there as he was friends with those who lived at No. 1, and so it became a habit to go the long way home, just to avoid any further hostility and emotional hurt.
For eighteen years I was left with a lack of understanding as to just what had gone wrong. But recently we have got back in touch, and in some ways it’s like we never parted company. But what is most amazing of all is that in the intervening years we have been on very similar emotional journeys, even living through closely linked events, like the deaths of loved ones (a step-brother and a friend in my case), and we’ve found ourselves to truly be the kindred spirits we sensed in each other twenty years ago. Only now more so. And we’re still as arty as we ever were, Shane with his paintings and fiction, and me with my own fiction.
I look back, and now having some context on the events going on in his life at the time, I understand what happened between Shane and me. We saw too much of ourselves in the other and neither of us were at the place we needed to be to accept those similarities, to rejoice in and embrace them. Shane had decided he had to be a certain kind of man for his mother, and so did what he had to do to become that person. He isolated himself from the friend who really cared, turning instead to easier more spendthrift friendships, with people who could offer him exactly what he needed at that point in his life, and so continued down his own path, the one that would lead to the point he is at today. And so that path we were once on, the one that had split so abruptly back in 1990, has finally merged once again. And now, finally, there is true understanding.
As a postscript, let me add that since Shane and I have found each other again, my dream world has not once returned to White City and Shane’s old home. Curious, isn’t it?