The Fourth Brother

justin (2)
Image Courtesy Caleb Broomhall

I always tend to think of Justin as my fourth brother.

He was always there to listen, especially when my youngest brother was in a coma after being knocked off his bike.

He made me feel safe, and was there to dry my tears and check that I was okay.   He was a true buddy who asked for nothing but respect and gave it in return.

I made friends with him in the later years of high school.

He was an amazing artist.  He had hazel eyes I think, and dark curly hair.  He was very pale skinned and delicate, and looked every bit the artist.  He wasn’t a great sportsman, and a very poor swimmer, but he had so many other gifts, especially that of making people laugh.  He invented a creature called the pogni, which was easily made with one hand, which then became like a puppet.  He loved to draw pognis everywhere.

Justin played Malvolio in our school’s production of Twelfth Night and all agreed he was simply amazing in the part.  The rest of us were just supporting actors I think.

Justin’s best friends were Rick and Caleb, but especially Rick, who he’d been to primary school with. For a brief time another boy Ted was in their group and also a very close friend, he was a Canadian cyclist who all the girls at school tended to swoon after. They all used to make me laugh, and Caleb was good at art as well and had been a primary school pal.  They loved to wear trench coats, even when it was warm because they liked to look ‘cool.’

Justin knew who I had crushes on and I knew who he loved as well.  However, we never ever thought of each other as more than friends.

Yet, for the high school leaving formal in year ten it was me he took so I wouldn’t arrive on my own or fret too much about my broken heart, thinking more of my disappointment than his potential date.  This act of kindness was typical of Justin.

One year, he and a friend, it might have been Caleb, gave all their ‘sisters’ Valentines.  They wrote silly little messages in them to make us laugh. All of them began with ‘Roses are Red and Violets are Blue.’  That was my only High school Valentine’s Day Card.

Another time he drew portraits of how he saw a few of his closest friends.  Caleb, Rick, me and a girl he loved with all his heart. I remember he drew a stick figure in a raincoat for Rick.  This was a friendship that required no effort. For me he drew a globe face, a whole world, with large eyes, and lots contained within.  I hope it meant he saw my love for humanity and that was how he portrayed it.  I was very touched to receive such a personalised gift and for many years kept the picture framed and on my dresser.  I still have it somewhere in a box.

On the night of our year ten formal Justin came with his Dad to pick me up (as neither of us drove at that stage) dressed in a navy blue suit and with a corsage.  I was in a yellow lemon dress with my first pair of low heels.  He complimented me on my dress and shyly said:  ‘You needn’t have gone to all that trouble for me.’ And then gave me the corsage.

To which I said, ‘You needn’t have gone to all that trouble for me.’ This made us both giggle.  No need to say it, we knew this was not a date, but two friends going to meet their other friends at a formal.

We met up with all our other friends, and danced the night away to lots of eighties hits.  The heel of one of my shoes broke.  I took them both off and danced in bare feet, until it was time to go.

I often wish I had photographs of that night.  I know his Dad took some.

I remember visiting Justin with Nicki and S. at his home and he was a gracious host, but I think his Mum and Dad wondered why Justin had the girls flocking, although he was really only interested in one particular girl.  Really it was the haven he provided for all; he was an artistic agony Aunt and confidante, a nice boy with a big heart.

I remember one time I was house sitting for Rick, and Justin came to visit me there and chat.  We spoke of what we would do in the future and where we would be.  He was finally with the girl he had admired all through high school.

He was happy and hopeful.  He could see a whole future ahead of him.  He was on top of the world.

When we went to college (year 11-12) through, sadly I grew away from my dear friend.  He had his close girlfriend now that he spent a lot of his time with and Caleb went to another college across town.  He still hung around with Rick.

I was making new friends, and keen to move out of town, as soon as I finished high school.

At college, other girls saw Justin’s gentle qualities and would ask me about him but I knew he was spoken for and would like a protective sister, tell them they simply had no hope he had met his Goddess and worshiped her.

I was making new friends, and moving on to University, so also was Justin’s true love, and Justin was going to stay in Launceston.  I think he hoped to follow her.

In my first year of University Justin came to visit me with Rick.  It was like old times.  We chatted and laughed in my dorm and then they were both gone.  I suspect to visit a whole group of friends, as Justin tended to do that, spread that spirit and that love.

I wasn’t to know that would be the last time I would see him.

A few months later, across the radio there came news a nineteen year old had been drowned at the Basin, Launceston Gorge.  They were dredging for his body, the name they read out . . .Justin . . .

I can remember the shock going through my body.  Radio is not a great way to find out you’ve lost a friend.

***

Justin’s funeral was an opportunity to say goodbye.

I wished that more of his friends had spoken.  However, it was sad because they had been swimming with him when he disappeared in the water, and I think they weren’t invited to.

It was a tense funeral.

I remember a speech from the priest and very sombre music, which seemed to be forced to stop at one point as if it was Justin saying ‘that music sucks.’

Justin was a big U2 fan, that’s what should have been blaring out.

I have many other fond memories of Justin and wish I could remember them all so much more clearly, because he was one of those who burn brightly for a short time.

I do know he used to come to Baha’i youth camps with Caleb and the three of us would have a ball.  Justin liked to act, and he acted in the plays we put on.

He was a bit of a clown when he hit the stage.  He hammed up the death scenes.

I like to think our children would have been friends.  Caleb’s daughter and mine have met and formed an instant bond.  So much so she offered to take us in if the cyclone destroyed our house and we had nowhere to go.

I think Justin would have liked the fact my daughter loves drawing so much, she too has dark curly hair and a kind spirit and big heart, but like me she has rich olive skin, and like her father David, who I am sure Justin would have approved of, she has a talent for maths and science.

Only Rick and Caleb were able to make the wedding.

My first conversations with my to- be-husband David were about the loss of one of the best friends I ever had.  David was my new shoulder to cry on, and new friend to laugh with who turned out to be more than a best friend.

I haven’t seen Rick or heard of him for many years, but after cyclone Yasi we went down to Melbourne to see family and  Caleb’s daughter and mine (who were by now often corresponding on skype and gmail) met up with us and we all walked through the Melbourne zoo.

I like to think our old friend Justin was somewhere watching and walking with us.

Even now when a U2 song plays I think of Justin, that dark haired boy with the big heart, who was always a shoulder to cry on and a friend to laugh with.

I made some revisions to the above story after this email from Caleb:
Hi June,

Thank you for the message. Coincidentally Tim  was visiting me when your message arrived, we both have many fond memories of Justin and remember him often, as does Deb.  I enjoyed reading your piece…the mutual respect, tenderness and tragedy.   I would definitely agree that Rick and Justin were closest friends (and Ted later on), but Justin was an individual and infectious personality who brought laughter with him.  Up until recently I had some of Justin’s drawings (including a couple of Pogni….remember them?) but I am unable to find them. I have attached a photo of Justin for you that I took at my parents house.

(It reminds me how primitive kids camera’s were back then!) I hope that you and your family are all well.

All the best,

Caleb.

Inspired by the Who Shaped Me project for ABC Open, this month’s  Pearlz Dreaming blog theme will be about the people who inspire me and there are lots of them! Goal 19 pieces on Who Shaped Me.

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