As far as I could tell there were two types of depressive people: those who burdened others with their problems and those who hid them so well, you might never know they had any. The first type bored me. I found them draining, whether it was when they entered the room or when they opened their mouths.
Jillian was in my second category. She intrigued me and scared me. I found her enigmatic and unpredictable.
Although we had lived on the same country road all our lives, I never knew her as more than a little kid until she started travelling on the secondary school bus. She was fourteen then and I was sixteen. She hated all things male but I was quietly intrigued by the female species.
She would not sit at the back of the bus or at the front of it. Driver policy stated if seats were available you sat in them. Jillian was nearly always last on and without a lot of choices it became the norm for her to sit by me. Her backside may have been next to mine but her face was always turned away talking and laughing with the other girls.
My shyness was a distinct repellent to most people which meant I always sat by myself. In fact I spent the entire year sitting by myself … next to Jillian, me imagining deep and engaging conversations between us, with her captivated by my wit and intelligence. Truth was she totally ignored my existence. Although I didn’t appreciate her attitude towards the opposite sex, I did envy her ability to mix with the crowd and I continued to fantasise about our relationship.
Standing in the rain at the side of the grave, surrounded by blank and unbelieving faces, I shuddered, reflecting back to the first time I had discovered Jillian’s secret.
It was dark as I set out on my nightly ramble along our country road. I saw her step out onto the bitumen only metres in front of the vehicle. The car swerved wildly, obscenities hurtling out the open window, as it knocked its victim sideways towards the gravel verge.
I knew the driver. It was Tanko—rightfully named for his ability to be inebriated at least twice a week. For him to stop would be self-incriminating.
I ran as fast as I could. When I realised it was Jillian I screamed at her, letting a years’ worth of pent up passion pour out over her seemingly lifeless body.
She screamed back ‘Piss off creep face! Leave me alone!’
Stunned and relieved I began laughing at her as she continued to abuse me.
I helped her hobble back to her home and left her at the gate post, not daring to enter further into her private life. I never asked her why she had yelled at me and perhaps that’s why things changed. No one knew about our meeting. Tanko had no idea whom he hit—if he remembered running down anyone at all.
The second time I found her she was drunk. Real drunk. I knew then something was deeply troubling her. I sat beside her on the edge of the jetty while she vomited into the lake. I remember cringing at the sour smell of alcohol as it dissipated into the water.
It was dark again. All our meetings had been at night. Even the planned ones.
It was at one of these rendezvous that Jilly shared her secret with me. I was horrified and showed it. How could I protect her from her own family?
Her own father?
Her shame was so powerful she seemed convinced she’d somehow brought it on herself.
I wanted her to run away. I wanted her to run away with me.
How stupid I was to think that would solve the problem. I was hardly able to cope with my own inadequacies let alone those of a suicidal fifteen year old. But I was angry and that had brought about a new energy. What to do with it I did not know.
I stared across the grave, the rain blurring my vision.
Would Jilly be at peace now or would her torment continue? I couldn’t answer.
Was it destiny or chance that had brought Tanko and Jillian’s father together that night? Or was it me, for fronting him and having him chase me up the road, swearing and thrashing the air with his fists?
I wondered what the police had thought when they surveyed them jammed together in the hedge, Jillian’s father pressed between branches and bonnet. His fist through Tanko’s windscreen. Tanko sprawled over the steering wheel with his face just inches from the fist.
No witnesses. No explanations.
Just the lingering smell of alcohol.
I squeezed Jillian’s hand as we turned and headed for the exit. Her secret safe within me.