Thursday, 29 March 2012

Jamibu: Rest in Peace my Friend

Words are funny things; they fail you just when you need the most. A friend of mine passed away last week and I’ve been trying to find words to describe how I’m feeling, words to express sorrow and sympathy and support. I’ve tried lots of different words, but not a single one has felt adequate. Not even close. So I’ve decided I will just write words and not worry about whether they’re adequate, because they probably never will be.

Jamibu was a very good friend of mine. There was one time when I probably knew him better than anyone. It’s been a long time since we were that close, but that kind of friendship leaves its mark. Jamibu was a good man; he had many friends and touched many people’s lives. He was also far too young for life to be taken from him. He had been ill for a long time, but that doesn’t ease the burden.

I met James Bullock, though he will always be Jamibu to me, at University, at the Science Fiction Society. I am almost certain he was the one who signed me up, but my first proper memory of him was in the second week of term; we were stood in a group outside Hugh Stewart bar having one of those getting to know you conversations. He introduced himself as Jamibu and my friend John told me I should call him Strawberry, because it would wind him up. I never found out why he hated the nickname so much.

I lived with him, for almost two years. There’s a certain level of friendship attained by seeing someone in their slippers and dressing gown with not much underneath almost every day for that long. A certain level of friendship and ease that is never really lost.

He was delightfully good fun to wind up, which is a trait in friends I find quite appealing, whatever that says about me. He was always so wonderfully easy to talk to. We talked about everything; sci fi, romance, science. I told him some of my deepest darkest secrets, and he told me some of his. There are some things I know about that man that I don’t know how many other people know. He was the person you needed if you wanted advice on new tech, or maybe just a good (really bad) pun. He got me eating eggs after a lifetime of hating him. He urged me to push my boundaries, to go outside my comfort zone.

When I say I went through hell when he got diagnosed with cancer, I’m not really using much hyperbole. Only a few people know that I spent some time in counselling because of it. I couldn’t cope with learning cold, clinical facts about cancer drugs while my friend was living the realities every day. I couldn’t deal with the idea that I might lose him. It almost cost Sam and I our relationship, but I’m glad it didn’t. Jamibu would have never wanted that.

I have been remarkably lucky in my relatively short life, to have been relatively untouched by death. I’ve always been somehow removed from the deaths I’ve known, either by time or by distance. This is the closest it’s come and I’m dreading the day death comes closer than this.

When I found out that Jamibu had passed away, I have to be honest, my heart clenched but I wasn’t that surprised. I knew he’d been ill and the mental preparation had been made long ago and stored away. So for a while, I was alright. I had a few drinks in his honour, and gave my energy over to worrying about Sam. Part of me felt that it was some sort of elaborate hoax, some sort of horrific joke and I’d see him pop up on social media somewhere. Rationally I knew that people don’t kid around with shit like this but it had been a long time since I’d seen him every day, so his absence didn’t hurt, it just made it feel unreal.

Telling people made it harder, made it feel more real, and it started to hurt. Sometimes I’m fine, and he’s just a constant thought in the back of my mind. Most of the time it’s like there’s a dull ache in my chest. Sometimes, depending on where I am, what is happening and who has said what, the dull ache deepens to an almost physical pain in my chest. There are times when it feels like a wound, raw and bleeding. It hurts, but I have not yet shed any tears. I worry about whether that means I don’t care, but it’s entirely possible that the tears will fall during or after the funeral. It might also be something ridiculous in six months’ time that sets me off, I really don’t know.

I think human beings have a tendency to focus only on the good traits of a person after they’ve died, as if including their personality flaws somehow constitutes speaking ill of the dead. I don’t see it that way; Jamibu was a wonderful person, but he had traits that I didn’t like, disagreed with or that wound me up. And I don’t think it is disrespectful if I talk about the flaws that he had, quite the contrary; I believe it disrespects the man that he was to ignore the fact he wasn’t perfect.  I loved that man, but at times I also hated him, because he wasn’t some paragon of humanity. He wasn’t a bland action hero, he was a human being. I want to remember the whole person, as much as I can, for as long as possible.

To preserve his memory, I have done the best thing I know; I have memorialised him in my skin, in tattoo form. I had it done on Tuesday, a week to the day since his passing, which I thought was fitting. I was scared about getting it done, because although I have a number of tattoos already, this is the quickest I’ve gone from idea to actually getting it done, but it felt right. It is the perfect way to preserve his memory for me, and I just know he’d be amused (and playfully annoyed) that I have chosen to immortalise him as a strawberry.
My tattoo at a few hours old. Elvish lettering saying
 Jamibu with a strawberry underneath

One of the things that makes me saddest about his death is that I cannot share the strong faith he had. In fact, his passing to me provides evidence that the God he believed in does not exist. I wish it were otherwise. I don’t have faith or prayers to offer to those who loved him. But I do have hope. I hope that he was right and I was wrong, and that he’s up there somewhere being extremely exasperated at me for my choice of tattoo. I hope he was right so that one day we might meet again and he can say “Really Tonks, a strawberry?”  Until such a time as I can claim to have faith, I will keep this hope close to my chest.

Jamibu’s passing was sad, and tragic, but I think it is a testament to the man he was how his friends have banded together for support, especially those who knew him through Sci Fi. His life and death touched a great many people and we are all doing our best to support each other in this trying time. Last night we held a minutes’ silence at the AGM, a beautiful and fitting tribute. I’m proud of the way we’ve all come together to support each other, and I know he would be too.

James 'Jamibu' Bullock
1987-2012
"I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar."

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