I would like to tell a story. This is something that I have been struggling with for a very long time.
I am not okay.
Here is why.
As a kid I was unbelievable shy. The idea of wearing any colour that wasn’t black scared me because I didn’t want anyone to see me.
Yeah, attention scared me.
My first job was in a tomato pack-house - my step-mum was one of the bosses there and that’s how I got the job.
On the run up to my start day I had my dad’s friends jokingly tell me, “Oh you’re gonna meet Raz.” And “He’s gonna make you his pet!”
This terrified me.
Mostly because the idea that anyone would take interest in me scared me.
In the beginning I was working Saturday and Sundays- two weeks had passed and as far as the job went, I felt okay with it. There was nothing there that really freaked me out. I kept quiet and did the job.
One Saturday morning I was on the factory floor waiting for the shift to start.
For some reason I look up and look towards the entrance to the factory floor.
In walks this man - this guy. A man with long hair forced under a hairnet. Big avatar glasses, a bright shirt, platform (hippy) shoes and flared jeans.
Flared jeans with flowers.
Later on he would tell me how happy he was that he found these jeans. Years ago if he wanted jeans with flowers on he’d have to put them on himself- he was so happy that he could just buy them and he really didn’t care that he bought them from the women’s section.
Looking back I remember him going out of his way to speak to certain staff. At the time I thought nothing of it but in the years to come he would tell me why he made the extra effort for certain people.
Raz could be… difficult. He was German and if something was being done poorly from management level, he would tell them. And if nothing was resolved, he would keep telling them that they were doing something wrong. And if they were doing something that was going to hurt the staff, Raz would speak calmly - and then there would be very loud fights.
These people hated Raz because he stood up to them and didn’t let things go. So he made the extra effort of greeting them every morning.
Later he would tell me that is was simple body language and human nature. If you are talking to someone and you start nodding as you speak, the chances are you will make the other person nod. Same goes for smiling. So every morning he would greet these people he knew hated him- and he would make them smile as they said, ‘morning, Raz.’
In the years that followed, Raz became the most important person in my life. He wasn’t just my work college, he was a dear friend, an amazing teacher and yes, sometimes a royal pain in the backside.
I could spend hours telling you stories about the man. Hell I’ve already deleted two drafts where I did just that.
There are stories where he showed what a friend he was. Others’ where he showed what a father he was to me. Stories where he save my ungrateful backside. Or where - after he gave me a cooking lesson, we would watch a film and before each scene he would pause it, explain it and then we would watch it.
Then of course he would call out to the TV as if he hadn’t seen it before.
Instead I want to highlight what he did for me.
The world we live in has a very rigid view on what a ‘real’ man is. If a guy goes outside those boundaries then he ‘isn’t a real man’.
Men can’t show emotion or cry or have anxiety or depression without getting judged.
My hero did and had all of these and he didn’t care what people thought about him.
He had poor health and struggled with mental health. He was a recovered junky and borderline alcoholic in his darker days. With these chains around his neck he went above and beyond for his friends. A couple of doors down from him was a woman with two girls. Raz fit into the Father roll so easily.
He always encouraged the kids to be kids. He encouraged their imagination and their stories.
I don’t think any of us really appreciated how much of a positive influence he was to us.
Raz brought out the best in me. He stripped away my ability to hide and showed me how to be proud of who I am.
At this point I tell you the hardest part of all this - and why I am referring to Raz in the past tense.
Around 2:15 in the afternoon, Raz took a walk alone the pier on Deal seafront. He got half way up, took off his hoodie, folded it and placed it on a bench. He took off his shoes and jumped into the water.
Everyone in Deal knowns about the riptide on the beach- because of this, no one jumps of the pier.
Doesn’t matter how strong of a swimmer you are, that riptide wins every time.
That night there was a storm. There was a hell of a story.
The next day, the life boats pulls most of a body out of the sea.
A week or so passes.
It’s the afternoon and I get a call from my mum.
This is not something that happens very often.
When I answer the only thing I can hear through all the tears is, “It’s him. It was Raz.”
At this point I have no idea what the hell she is talking about but I can feel my heart sink. As she calms herself enough to tell me what was going on, I shut down.
I have no idea what she said. I don’t know what I said.
I remember being on the bed with my partner at the time sat with me.
When I get off the phone to my mum I ask my partner if she wants a cuppa. She declines, but I go downstairs and make a cup of tea.
Drink in had, I site out in the garden.
I stay strong when I know people are around but as soon as I know I am alone I break.
The worst was due to a dream.
It was the first dream that I had about Raz.
In my dream I am waling through the streets of the nearby city. I turn to see Raz walking out of a government building- something similar to a court house.
I run up to the man and through my arms around him. I yell at him for making me think that I had lost him.
He tells me that he had to fake his own death as the Government was hunting him.
I wake up and before I had wiped the sleep from my eyes I reach for my phone.
I go into my phone book, favorite contacts and get Raz’s number up.
I’ve gotta call him. I’ve gotta tell him about the crazy dream where he faked his own death and and … oh
That was my exact thought. And that was the first time I broke down hard and cried while hiding under the covers.
The reality is, it’s not the bad dreams that are difficult to cope with. It’s waking up from the good ones knowing that he isn’t here.
While writing this, Linken Park: One more light, came on.
That nearly stopped me dead from writing.
This is not my best work- not by a long shot, but I needed to write this for a very simple reason. No one else should ever tell you how you should be. If you need to break then you shouldn’t keep forcing yourself to carry on.
Breakdown and cry. Tell people that you really aren’t okay and you don’t know if you ever will be.
Society has taught me that men don’t cry. That real men act a certain way and anything else is to be mocked and shunned.
My hero taught me that I was a weirdo - and that is the best thing you can ever be.
My hero wore flared jeans with flowers.
My hero fought his demons and ultimately lost to them.
I am a freak and a weirdo. Raz taught me what a real man is and it is nothing that society has taught me.
I have depression. I breakdown. I am not okay.
And that is okay, because I am also not alone.
Neither are you.