Sometimes you meet people in life who have a little more sparkle that everyone else. Not in a jazz hands, My Little Pony kind of way; these are just people who you remember forever, after one meeting. Teachers will remember them, shop assistants, your mum. I met Carsten on the first day of secondary school aged 11. I was a ridiculous looking kid, with massive hair, awful clothes, and a passion for Enid Blyton books. Carsten was tall- ridiculously tall- popular, clever, on the football team. Our last names were next to each other in the alphabet, so we sat next to each other in every class. And although we were at opposite ends of the school food chain, Carst took me under his wing. If anyone bothered me, he’d tell them to piss off: ‘leave Bellerby alone, she’s with me’. And everyone listened, because everyone loved him.
I fancied him a bit, truth be told, and he fancied me a bit too; the world’s biggest flirt, he’d serenade me in textiles lessons, singing Feeder songs over the hum of our sewing machines. Nothing ever came of it though, and we slipped into a special kind of friendship. People would say ‘oh, Lucy and Carsten have a THING’- especially when I had stopped being a massive geek, and we moved in the same social circles. The reality was that our ‘thing’ was some sort of friendship chemistry. Carsten noticed something in me that first day. I was already starting to struggle with life, constantly anxious and scared. He went out of his way to cheer me up every morning, and noticed when things were becoming too much. I didn’t know where his own mental health would go in the coming years, but he knew about me.
On our last day of school in year 11, we went to Flamingo Land, this crappy little theme park with a few miserable looking zoo animals. I remember sitting on the coach on the way there, on the seat behind him, hearing his laugh boom and echo around the bus (seriously, the man’s laugh was enormous), and feeling like I had to speak to him before the day was over. I was going to college, and he was staying on at school. I felt like I needed to confess things, to tell him how I felt before we all moved on. I wasn’t going to confess my undying love: although I did love him. I didn’t want to be his girlfriend. I just wanted to tell him how my school years wouldn’t have been the same without him. But I was 16, we all were having too much fun. Carsten in particular, having got pissed and stuck on a pedalo in the middle of a lake; and I couldn’t find the words.
We were out of touch for a while, as he went to play football and then to university, and I stayed in York, penned in by my anxiety. Eventually he came back, suffering from issues of his own, and we started talking again. One highlight of those years was when he turned up at my Halloween party dressed as the Incredible Hulk: top off, green paint all over his chest, in late October. He must have been freezing, but as usual was too busy laughing to care.
We had some deep chats. We fell in and out of being friends, in the way that you do in your early 20s. I took it for granted that he’d always be around, that we’d reconnect in time. I told him more about my situation than I’ve told most people, even some of my closest friends. He just got ‘IT’. He told me about how hard things had been for him, and was endlessly positive about how we would both get better.
It is completely horrendous and unfair that he didn’t.
Yesterday would have been my friend Carsten’s birthday. Would have been, because he’s not here anymore. Something like that makes you reassess everything. I wrote in my last post that my mental health issues have stopped me from living a normal life. That is still the case, but Carsten’s words are never far from my ears. He lived a short life, but he really, really, lived it. He loved and laughed and partied. He put his own shit aside to be there for me when I needed it. He was a brilliant man. And whoever you are reading this, if you didn’t know him and you’ve never even met me, there’s still something you can take away from this: we should all try to be a little bit more like him. If you have mental health problems too, talk about them. Take courage from how he lived. People with that much sparkle don’t come around very often, and living our lives knowing that means he’ll never be forgotten.
Happy Birthday Carst.