On Friday morning, I woke up to the news that a very old friend, Sally / Alex, had died from an accidental drug overdose.
It would be wrong for me to claim that I’ve been close to Sally in recent years; in fact we probably haven’t spoken much for more than a decade. However, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t saddened to hear about her death and I’ve had all the profound emotions that come with such a loss.
I was 16 when I first met Sally. I say “met” but we were internet friends before we ever actually met face to face. I was a lonely kid who really struggled to find people who I connected with or understood on a meaningful level. It wasn’t until I left home and moved to Cardiff that I found myself surrounded by like minded people but before that, I found a home in this small tight knit online community on the Placebo newsgroup, alt.music.placebo.
Despite it being the band that brought us together, we rarely actually talked about them. We marked posts OT for On Topic to signify that post would actually be band related. The rest of the time it was just us, talking out the shit we were going through.
Sally was the first person I met there who really made me feel accepted for who I was and someone I felt a genuine connection with. The first time I travelled far away from home on my own was to go and visit her five hours away in Shrewsbury. She took me out in Wolverhampton and we went to see Pantera on what would end up being their last UK tour.
In a strange coincidence, she died in the town I was born; less than an hour from where I was living at the time we met.
We’ve all drifted apart over the years but Facebook has helped us keep in touch or at least keep track of each other. The outpouring of grief from our little group over the weekend has brought back a lot of memories from back then. But it’s clear that many of us have a story of Sally being there for us when no one else was.
Our matriarch Heather put it better in words than I ever could by saying that we were a family, the first one we belonged to where we weren’t related by blood but that it wasn’t just something we were a part of, it was something that we forged, aggressively, for and with each other. Even now, some 17-18 years later, I still feel a very strong connection to each of them.
She also said that she associates us with the indestructible and immortal feeling of being a teenager which is why Sally’s death feels so wrong.
But I actually see it as the opposite. We were a bunch of really fragile, lost kids. We found something in the compassion and solidarity of our a.m.p family that we’d never had before, maybe not in our own families but rarely in the friendships we’d made up til then.
Fragile kids do grow up into strong adults. Having to overcome those insecurities and doubts makes you feel like you can overcome anything. But deep down we’re all still pretty fragile and when things are hard, it’s easy for those feelings to come back. Some of us deal with it in different ways, for Sally, that was drugs.
I’m sure all of us have sought that connection with others and over this weekend I’ve been able to realise how genuinely lucky I am to have people in my life that I feel that level of closeness to. It’s been great to see some people I haven’t had a chance to for a few months and it’s come at exactly the right time.
And I got to dance my butt off to Pure Morning at Judder and that really helped too.