Today is the birthday of my missing friend. Her name is Beth Cunningham. Beth and I first encountered each other in 1989 when she was living in the Middle East with her husband and she sent a short story in to Loving Magazine, when I was Fiction Editor. I published it, Beth, a talented writer, wrote more and then, when she came back to England, we met up and became friends.
Beth was one of those off the wall people who fizzed with new ideas, who had her own distinct image style that invited open-mouthed stares of admiration. Then her world collapsed due to a personal tragedy. Yet Beth bravely picked herself up. She started writing a book. She attended workshops to become a stand-up comedian. She travelled. She became bright, fizzy Beth again and meeting her felt like getting your batteries recharged. Some people are energy drainers. They are a like a negative magnetic force. Beth (and myself, I have been told), are positives; we are the putter-outers, the people who charge others (though one has to be careful not to be around too many energy-drainers as then you can get too drained yourself). When we got together, ideas zapped around our heads and nothing seemed impossible. Lunch with Beth was like a mini holiday.
One day, Beth announced she was moving to Scarborough, a place she had always liked very much. And then... I simply never heard from her again. At first I thought she was just settling in and would be in touch when she'd got herself sorted. But when months went by, I gradually came to the realisation that I'd been dumped. I couldn't think why. Our meetings were always so positive. We had laughs, we had fun. She told me I inspired her as far as her writing was concerned, and she certainly inspired me. I suppose she had her reasons and perhaps one was that she wanted to cut herself away from all reminders of her past and make a completely fresh start. This is a very brave thing to do. It's one I have often contemplated, but never had the courage to make the move - and anyway, there are too many people I couldn't bear to sever my ties with.
A wonderful poem I knew as a teenager and have been unable to trace since, was about just that: someone taking a train to a new place (To London the train gallops...) hoping to find change and happiness but instead discovering that what was waiting to greet them at the other end was none other than themself: My callow faith in movement ends. Perhaps/I am the place, and not the places me. I once ran to Paris to escape the trauma of having been dumped by my baby's father and being forced to have her adopted. I spent a week sitting miserably in a hotel room, crying, with the sunshiney streets of Paris outside meaning nothing to me. I hope Beth had the strength within her to break the bonds and build up a happy new life.
Wherever you are, brave Beth, I miss you. Happy Birthday!
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