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  • My good friend Martin died 3 years ago today. That’s him there, playing guitar. You can’t see it, but across the chest, his jacket says “All Messed Up”. From a time when being messed up was a state you hoped for, not a situation you dreaded.

    The band was called Modelizer. My girlfriend was the singer. The year of that picture: they played Glastonbury. Only a small stage, during the day. But still…Glastonbury.

    He was 35 years old when he died. He left a wife and a baby.

    The last time I saw him he was unconscious. It was the day after he’d married his wife, and I’d spoken to him briefly on the phone as I was dashing to the airport to get back to London.

    The last time I saw him he was unconscious. A few hours later he was dead.

    Of course, none of us know how to deal with death. We have rituals and habits and words that make it more bearable, or at least give us a structure when normality dissolves and it feels like there’s nothing left to hold onto. Like everything could go the same way. But really to embrace and accept it and not just turn away from it. We don’t know. We’re never ready. So we do what we can.

    Afterwards, I remember walking down Tottenham Court Road, with his wife, his mother and father, his sister. It was late, and we wanted to get a cup of tea, something manageable and reassuring. Something normal, so we didn’t have to contemplate what had just occurred. But there was nothing, just strip clubs, and bars, and nowhere we wanted to be. In the end we circled back to the hospital.

    At his memorial, people shared stories about Martin. It was strange to hear about a time before I knew him, from people I’d never met.

    Later we released balloons from the rooftop, as his music played loud. We drank. His father danced in the centre of the room.

    In August, half naked and crisp from the desert sun, Queenie and I scrawled his name on the Temple at Burning Man, and wandered dazed and silent as people around us cried for their losses.

    We do what we can.

    Now, I don’t live in the same country as his family, or most of his friends. I rarely talk to anyone who knew him. I think about him at odd times, when music or words or gestures strike the right note and memories surface.

    I don’t know if this story is right for Cowbird, although it seems many people here use it for exactly that: a resting place for old photos and stories of the departed.

    I don’t know if it’s something I should share or keep to myself.
    I don’t know what he’d think about it.
    I don’t know if I should have asked his wife first.

    I do know: that inevitably time makes everything further away. New events get in the way of how things were. People you love who are no longer here become more distant. And anything you do to slow that down, just a little, must be okay.

    It’s all partial though.
    Photos like these, which I don’t look at often enough.
    His music, which I should play more.
    The eyes of his child, who I see maybe once a year.

    Reminding me of his restless imagination and haphazard hair.
    Reminding me of waterparks in Spain, sunrises at Glastonbury, football in Brixton and chaos in Shanghai.
    Reminding me of wonderful disconnected conversations that drifted across topics and theories.
    Reminding me of his eagerness to get involved in everything out there.

    It’s all fragments now. Jumbled together.

    It’s all messed up.

    I have that jacket now, hanging in my closet.

    I’ve never worn it, but it surprises me every now and then with its words.
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