I hope I can prove he was my everything because 19 years after he died I still take a pilgrimage every Christmas day to Timaru, the place where a youthful vow became set in stone. Back in 1993, we decided, as angst-ridden teens, that we would spend every Christmas together fishing, because that’s what we were doing at the time.
I went on a trip to Christchurch – to write a great novel, yet to materialise – and he dutifully came down to maintain the pact. We hit the road in all of the spirit of the great Kerouac novel that inspired me. We got as far as Timaru for Christmas and fished unsuccessfully on the wharf. We drank and dreamed of ways, thankfully unfulfilled, to free the elephant at the circus ready to perform at Caroline Bay. He died six months later.
We hitch-hiked around the South Island, chasing fun and girls. The former with success. It was not the greatest time of my life; it was normal. Just him and I.
For the years he was alive we were two. Invite one to a party, and the other was always there. We were inseparable. I couldn’t have loved the man more. I knew it but never had to say it. Not until I said it to the corpse in that coffin. A bad time to say it. We were bullet proof. At least we thought we were.
For a young man, he was generous. Always generous. On the trip to the Bay of Islands, he as an apprentice plumber and me as a student, he paid for whatever I couldn’t afford. But we were broke. As always, though, we had enough. We carved our names into the sandstone around the road to Russell. Sandstone fades but he will last longer, I hope. I carved him into the dedication of the book I finally wrote. I always knew I would. Even when dusty and forgotten he will live. Unfitting, perhaps, but in years his name will live on. Chris Hallam. It’s the best I could do.
For months after he died I could not drink without crying. My heart was always heavy but when I drank it flooded. I found the pain in so many ways honest. I hated and loved it. Time dulls that, thank god, but each year I go to Timaru to fulfill a promise. Sometimes I wallow in old feelings and I can’t help but cry. Other times I just sit in the car and then drive straight home. A quick thought, then off.
So much has changed, mate, yet I still come to that little town. And now I have started to cry. To this day I couldn’t miss you more. I hope you would be proud of me. I was always proud of you.
It’s our Christmas.