Dear Jen: This is the email that I never got to write to you.

Dear Jen,

This is the email that I never got to write to you. Last week it was your birthday, and that means it has been two years since you died. You weren’t a beating around the bush type of person; you called a spade a spade, and a wanker a wanker. So you haven’t passed on, you have died.

I didn’t get to see you in your last year. You got cancer in London, and I got pregnant with twins in New Jersey. Both events consumed us wholly, and left us pretty much immobile. But we kept emailing, and I think you may have liked being able to compartmentalize some of the friends in your life. I know I do. The arms reach of an email to someone you don’t see regularly but still care about.

Jen, the last time I saw you was October 2010. I was over in London still buzzing from quitting my job that summer (and happy to recount the straw that broke me), and in the final year of my degree. You were in the midst of battling your viva, and resubmitting your PhD thesis. We were both full of plans. You and Mark were doing up a house to flip. You had your usual grand travel plans which you always followed through on. We tubed it down to Richmond to meet our friend Gee (and her baby) for lunch.

We obviously ate at Wagamama because I made everyone I met in London eat at Wagamama, and I ordered the same meal every time: chicken katsu curry. You ate something veggie. You always ate something veggie because you’d sworn off meat as a teen when you wanted to save the world. (I fucking loved you for that answer when anyone ever asked you why you didn’t eat meat it was so you.)

It was a good lunch. Gee’s baby cried a lot, and Gee was tired but happy. Now, I totally get what Gee was going through, and she was an Amazonian for coming out to meet us for lunch.

We got the tube back together, and as usual I rode further on down the line to your stop and dog legged back. I always did that when I came over for a visit. I always missed my stop because I wanted to spend more time with you.

The next time I was over was in May 2011 to sit my exams, and you were too sick to leave your house. So it was just Gee and I (plus her baby) who met for lunch in Chinatown. You didn’t know what was wrong with you. Gee and I talked about it over lunch. Something gastric. Waiting on further tests and a diagnosis. I offered to come to you but you weren’t up to it. I wonder why I didn’t push harder but was busy with finals, and you had a laid back way of making everything not a big deal. You always wanted to put your friends at ease.

I can’t bring myself to read the emails from later that year. They were the beginning of your end. I remember waking up and checking my phone (as is my habit), and lying in bed sobbing. I probably texted Gee or she texted me to make sure I’d seen the email. You’d also told Richard (our old boss and one of the best people out there) in the same email. There were a lot of emails and texts, and crying. The girls were born in the October of that year, and you kept emailing. You bought me a diaper genie because you couldn’t get me a real one. Jen, I’d have given you my three wishes in a heartbeat if I could.

We came over as a family in February 2012 for my brother’s wedding. I was so fucking tired with four-month-old twins. It’s a blur, but we wanted to see you and we made plans to but you weren’t up to making it, and even right up to the wire you had a laid back way of not making a big deal of it. We had lunch with Richard and Jane, and Gee and her family, and we talked about you and our love for you.

In the spring we were in a mall (Short Hills Mall for New Jersey millionaires and tired parents who want a nice space to push a stroller around), and I checked my phone and read the email from Richard. He broke the news, and I cried. But because of Zoey and Nomi I had to rein myself in and get back to functioning.

It’s taken me two years to sit down and write this because I have small children who need everything from me, and there’s not much left at the end of the day. But I’m writing now and that’s what’s important.

We met in the summer of 1999 at Sea Container House when I joined you, Gee and Richard (our glorious leader) in the heady world of container leasing. You’d graduated from Manchester a year or two ahead of me so we may have waited for a bus together on Oxford Road or jostled for drinks at Jabez. Had we met and chatted back then I think we’d have hit it off. You with your dreadlocks and dungarees, and me with my pink hair and ripped jeans. Nice middle class girls. We both remembered the girl who walked bare foot around campus, and it was always good to talk about student days in Manchester.

But we met in an office that had originally been built as a hotel so was rather grand in an old fashioned way, we were dressed in office casual with nose stud and extra earrings removed. You, me and Gee livin’ la vida loca for container leasing. We were likened to The Witches of Eastwick as there weren’t that many of us under fifty let alone under thirty in the company. We may not have been as polished as the Orient Express gals on the other side of the floor: more Top Shop than Karen Millen but we had fun. We had laugh after laugh, drank cup of tea after cup of tea (decaf for you from your own stash), and had a fabulous view of the river from our desks. We all called our mums at 5pm, and went home at 5:30pm. We got to go to container balls at posh hotels, and danced the night away to bands covering The B-52s. We screamed “LOVE SHACK” and threw our arms in the air. The food at those balls was always awful, but the bands and the dancing were the best.

Like all good things the spell of 20ft and 40ft boxes broke, and we all went our separate ways but always staying in touch and meeting up when I was over. I miss your emails, Jen. I miss your humour and your humanity. I miss planning to see you in London and getting to talk optimistically about the future. I miss that I am no longer part of a container triumvirate (there were three reefer tanks in the fleet we informally named after ourselves).

You were one of the coolest, bravest and funniest people I have ever known. You said fuck it and went traveling, and then said fuck it again and went back to containers when you went back to university to get your MA.

I will re-read your emails because I want to relive your adventures, and hear your voice in my head again. Your soul is in my heart, Jen. I’ll take you everywhere with me.

Much love,



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Lori
    Jun 01, 2014 @ 11:37:23

    such a beautiful portrait of a friendship — made me cry like a baby xoxoxo



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