The circumstances of Elly’s disappearance, well the fact of it, kept me reading one particular passage and looking to it for answers. It described an act of suicide, an overdose, done like some sort of cult thing: religiously. Or maybe it was just that there was a ‘Godfather’ involved that made me think that. The qualities of ‘ceremony’ and ‘significance’ were Elly all over. She liked to write; she liked to express herself. I’d have liked the opportunity to express myself, but I felt shut down in her company; I had done for years. And yet, during those years of vicarious contact, reading her mind in her diaries, I’d felt some connection at least: shattered now.
It was, thankfully, clear to me by the time I read this one, this Godfather monologue, that she hadn’t in fact taken the suicidal route out of the village; it was fiction. But then I worried that it wasn’t completely made-up, and that she had tried, at one time, to take her life. It was a possibility I couldn’t even have considered until she’d gone, until the unthinkable became normal. Maybe there hadn’t been enough tablets, or they hadn’t worked. She’d often been away from home for weeks at a time before she finally went and didn’t come back, so I mightn’t have been aware at all. That’s probably why it took me and her dad, Jason, quite a long time to think that anything was up: I mean, to realise that she had disappeared.
The pills reminded me of one of our conversations about placebos; she talked about their power to cure physical conditions. She’d objected to my banal comment, and she even named it that, “banal”, that surely a placebo could only help when the problem was in the mind. She informed me, in her edgy way, that, even supposing the mind and body were so easily separated, placebos actually have physical, physiological, effects. So, I began thinking, what if this suicide she’d written about was a kind of experimental act? Would ‘placebo poisons’ have the power to kill? But maybe knowing what the passage signified was a futile wish anyhow, since it was way too late to do anything for Elly, nor Becky or Rose for that matter. These had been her two most enduring friends. They weren’t good for each other, but that didn’t seem to be important to any of them.
Elly was, is, an individualist. She went her own way, but she was never actually alone in it. Others went with her: first Becky, then Rose. With Becky she seemed to have a kind of authority or dominance that I was a bit nervous of, because when Elly got carried away she needed an anchor to hold her back. Not that I ever could, I wasn’t the right sort of person to anchor anyone, even myself. There was more parity with Rose; more mutual influence. They certainly took chances, and probably didn’t let us know the half of it. But that’s youth for you.
Elly was quite pretty when she was young, but in her teens she started on a mission to change herself, cropping her hair and wearing unflattering clothes, that kind of thing. But it was her attitude rather than her looks that singled her out. Most of the time she was confident, maybe too confident, but occasionally she was raw with a kind of imploding humiliation. I couldn’t get close either way, nor, I suspect, could many other people.
Becky seemed for the most part to take it as it came with Elly, although, apparently, at home she had an awful temper and smashed things up. She was about the same height but with a much darker complexion and a more athletic build. She expressed herself physically, rather than saying, verbalising, anything much. Rose was entirely different. She was talkative, tall and large, putting on a lot of weight over the Summer before starting secondary school and never losing it until college, when she started to yoyo between fatness and thinness. She always had a trendy haircut, and had exotic Greek eyes. She was, as Elly was, confrontational.
Elly had been gone for almost a year by the time the suicide monologue was in my hands. It was a shock to find out about this other character: ‘Godfather’. He was even abbreviated to ‘GF’. Now why would she do that if he wasn’t real? I couldn’t rule out the possibility that he was behind her disappearance, but nobody took me seriously. After all, the time for casting the widest net was when she disappeared, ten months previously. Back then anything was possible and everything was relevant, but now we needed to mellow. We needed to move-on to the next stage. I railed against the whole idea of that, since we still didn’t know anything.
It was distasteful from the start; for the village, their very own sensational mystery. But that was better than something more concrete, at first. I’ve never had what it takes to manage grief, so I can’t even listen to the kind of dramas that try to get you there: ones where children die, or suffer at all. So how could I possibly think of Elly suffering? “That girl”, and most of them who didn’t know Elly in person would nevertheless know it was her, “did you know that she’s disappeared? Just gone”. It made me angry to hear it but at least I had that feeling as a barrier from them and protection from my grief.
We’ve been in the village for most of her life, since she was a baby, and by now most people who’ve been here any time themselves know her. The majority of them made up their minds about her when she was quite young. Likewise with Rose; they were both tarred the same. I tended to hear her name all over the place after she’d gone, as though everyone had been using it in such a familiar way before. “Elly” I heard one of them say “was bound to do something else unusual at some point”. I could just imagine the next move: ‘just because she was unusual didn’t mean that something unusual hadn’t been done to her’. After all, they might think, it wouldn’t be the first time – ‘No, not in this village, granted, but in ones just like it’. They talked it out and round, mining it for hints of humanity and in-humanity; finding explanations in Elly’s past, in her family, in us. I didn’t know how to react, how I should do. I was bereft, but about what exactly? I didn’t know what had happened but I had to make assumptions, and the ones I made would force me into an attitude that I’d have to see out. I didn’t feel up to it. How could I assume anything at all? It felt like a choice between various combinations of sacrilege and complacency. I went over and over the past five years, well even further when I think about it, trying to see deeper into them, and reaching for something new to pin Elly’s decision onto; something that would offer logic to my hope that it was a decision – Elly’s decision – that had brought this about.
Things had been quite hard since she was a teenager. It was just after her fifteenth birthday when it all started. Ever since she’d left junior school she and Becky hadn’t got on. All I knew about their relationship was that Elly had been Becky’s closest friend and they always went around together, but that changed when Rose came on the scene, when they’d just gone up to secondary school. So far as I could see Elly didn’t look back, well not until she was fifteen anyhow and hers and Becky’s paths crossed again. It was after Elly’s birthday party: Becky took an overdose of paracetamol. Perhaps she hadn’t known how dangerous that was. She had barely survived. She was left with multiple organ damage. Now whose fault was that? It was a divisive question that made the rounds at the time, though I honestly think that the accusations hurt me more than Elly. That was the first time Elly’s diary became a public document. I’d read it myself by then, but it became much more public than that. I felt as violated as she did by what happened to it.
Becky was in Intensive Care. Had Elly said anything to us about her, the police wondered: eventually, after a few visits, asking me “did she keep a diary perhaps?” When they asked Elly the same question she handed it over without betraying any of the disgust she expressed later. The police made their copy and probably still have it today. We got our computer back, and Elly got her phone. I don’t suppose there was anything to find there though. Anyhow, at that point, when we had the first police visit, the first official intrusion, Jason and me were completely ignorant of the reason for it. Yes, we knew that she went with Phil, Becky’s boyfriend, at the party, and that this had blown things apart for Becky, but what was that to do with the police? We were told. There was a history of bullying here, apparently, and a very real and present victim who was now well enough to voice her distress. Did we know anything? Well we didn’t.