My friends mean the world to me, and I am absurdly loyal to them -- but never clingy. I'll often go off and do my own thing, and I accept that they go off and do theirs as well. It just means we have that much more to talk about when we do catch up with one another again. However, sometimes life gets in the way and you don't see each other for a long, long time; and that's sort of what happened to Nicole and me. But as I said, we've been in regular contact again since last summer, and it seemed natural to call her as soon as I'd heard the news about Peronne. After all, Nicole and Joost knew her as well, albeit slightly, as someone on the periphery of their own circle of friends. Anyway, as soon as I'd blurted out my news, Nicole decided I was to come and stay with her and her family directly after the funeral.
And so it was that after 7 years (or almost), I caught my first glimpse of Joost as he was pottering about in the kitchen preparing his signature dish and my favourite, peanut soup; and I can't describe how happy I was to see him absorbed in this mundane task. You'll remember that earlier this year, I begged for your prayers and good wishes as he was to undergo brain surgery for the removal of a massive tumour. And there he was, all strong and healthy looking, greying at the temples and with the rest of his black hair growing back across his scalp, almost succeeding in hiding the scar running from his ear to the top of his head and down into his neck, but otherwise unchanged. His smile was the same, too, as he came over and enveloped me in a bear hug.
After the children had been put to bed, we had dinner and sat around the fire and talked for a long time. The next morning, Nicole and I took the children to school, then went back for a communal breakfast. On her way to work, she dropped myself and her husband off in town, where I spent an hour and a half window shopping while Joost had to keep to his physiotherapy appointment (his surgery has left him half-blind and partially paralysed down his left side). I met up with him after he'd finished and as the weather was fantastic, we had lunch al fresco at a little restaurant Joost recommended. Because it was such a nice day, he suggested we go to the town's 'statue garden', which is as the name implies, a garden full of statues. The plants and flowers there all have special meaning too, but unfortunately neither I nor Joost are particularly well-acquainted with the language of plants. Luckily, a friendly gardener helped us out a bit. The garden belongs to the town's RC church, and the statues are all bronzes representing figures from the Old Testament, several saints, a Pieta and a Stations of the Cross. The garden spills over into the cemetery, where we visited Nicole's brother Richard's grave; he died a few years back from a parachute jump gone horribly wrong. Hours later, we returned to the house and made ourselves a big pot of tea, never for a minute stopping to reconnect and enjoy each other's company. Then, in the early evening, I took the train back home, feeling so much better for having spent so much time with people who mean so much to me.
I am bearing up under the loss of my friend, although I am still incredibly sad. Jobsworth sent me home this afternoon, after my tear-stained face persuaded him that perhaps I shouldn't be at work just yet. Well, what do you know? He can be quite decent when he wants to be, too.
ETA: for those not well-versed in Dutch: the name Joost is pronounced Yoast. It's basically the Dutch version of Jocelyn.