Two close friends, happy on a cruise together
I think I am still in shock. I don't know what or how to feel. I have cried, I have screamed. Because on 4 November 2016 I got the terrible news that my beloved friend Stephen, in my book (The Clouds Still Hang) known as James, had succeeded in taking his own life aged just 35. My readers know he had tried before on a number of occasions and luckily each time I was there to hold him safe.
A young death is a tragedy, but a young suicide even more so. I knew Stephen for ten years, over which time he and I became close friends, the person I knew best and cared for most outside of my family. He told me he was closer to me than he had been to anybody, the one person he knew he could trust absolutely. He told me of the abuse he suffered at the hands of the man we have to just call CD. He was a damaged young man, and he knew it. We talked endlessly of course, but even to the end, when he wrote in that last letter to me he left the words, "I don't know how to feel loved" Tragedy.
I have many memories of him of course. I can still hear his voice saying, "Patrick, make us a cup of tea." Endless cups of tea. The pain too. He had a burning sense of injustice throughout his life, both for the abuse he suffered and for the way he ended up.
Tuesday's child is full of grace, the saying goes. I managed to get behind that prickly, defensive shell, especially when we were away together, filming or on a cruise. He was often self-centred, but never selfish. Like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, the shell and the anger would fall away and there was the Stephen I knew. Clever, witty, funny - a loving, caring and gentle man, and yes, gracious. He loved to help people, to be needed and wanted. The Stephen that might have been.
With me he began to travel, sometimes in this country when they were filming, but also when we went away on Mediterranean cruises. He loved these annual holidays and his sharp intellect was awakened by travel. In Rome he was fascinated by the Coliseum. His appetite was whetted to see the Parthenon on the Acropolis too, though he never managed it. In Italy we visited Pompeii, where again his interest was stimulated, and despite his asthma climbed to the top of Vesuvius. In Genoa he learned the art of haggling, and in Kusadasi, Turkey, couldn't resist the genuine fake Rolex watches that were on offer. The architecture of Gaudi in Barcelona prompted the characteristic response from Stephen: 'Well that's certainly different'. There we also went to Camp Nou, where Stephen was very impressed by the football team's collection of silverware, and also a bit rueful about the contrast with his beloved Sunderland.
A number of factors may have acted as the trigger for the latest and final suicide, but of the twenty pages of the letters he left me, 80% are about the abuser CD, what CD did, how Stephen felt and how nothing was ever going to go right for him, how he couldn't shake it off and he wanted the nightmares to end. Alienated from his family, who had made no contact with him for the past thirty months, he felt he had no future, despite my promises of continued support. Other triggers were the icing on this cake, but the primary cause of his decision, the cake itself, was the lifelong trauma of his abuse by CD that stole his childhood and ultimately his life.
I will treasure my memories of him, and I end by quoting a small part of the twenty page letter he left for me:
"Patrick I appreciate everything you have done for me. You've been there for me through thick and thin, and when no-one else would. You have been more than a friend, and I want to say thank you. Even though I went through so much, I pushed myself to get through it all and make something of my life - and I did. I became an actor and I loved it and was becoming more and more successful. In fact, you told me that I had been asked to two castings - one for a TV programme which would have been for a six-figure sum. "
Read my poem, Death in Custody.
Patrick C Notchtree Homepage