Dear John…

I’m not sure I can put a number on this monument. It’s closest to my heart for the moment because of the way life has panned out lately. A week ago, after visiting my cousin, I was driving around her neighbourhood. I was exploring and trying to find my way to the main road when I came across a familiar stretch of road. I drove past a familiar entry point to a cemetery. I pulled over, turned around and parked by that entry. Then I hurriedly got out of the car and went to see John.

When we moved to Christchurch from Porirua, there was one particular family we built strong relations with. My dad had a soft spot for his younger sister so we spent a bit of time with her and her family. Her eldest son John became particularly dear to us. He and my brother Rob were great friends. On the rugby field, they played for different teams. I think that was the only time they were ever enemies. Even then, it was all a big laugh.

John was the funniest guy any of us had ever known. I remember he decided to take his dad’s bike for a spin and ended up biking over the motorway to get to our house. When he showed up, dad told him off and taught him the proper bike path. He used to call everyone a Chinaman, because to him, everyone was the same. It was no mock of Chinese people, it was that wisdom that underneath it all we’re all just people. Plus, I come from a part-Chinese family so to him, it was even funnier. And we’d make up actions to every pop song and convert English words to Samoan. Man we thought we were hilarious. We had this stupid saying where whenever someone turned up, we’d say “just in time for the breakfast time” even if it wasn’t breakfast. But this one time, John and I had made breakfast for everyone and Rob walks in and we both say in sync “just in time for the breakfast time.” We totally hadn’t organised it so we laughed for ages. Everyone thought we were lame but we thought it was funny as.

One day when I was 12, my parents decided to pick my bro Rob, Sina (my sis) and I up from school. This was a little bit out of character because usually we walked. Dad stopped by the dairy, bought us each a pie and took us the rest of the way home. Then when we were half way through our pies, he sat us down and said, “we’ve got some bad news.” Mum seemed pretty sombre. My aunty was having an operation on her foot so we thought something might have gone wrong.
“It’s John.”
I stopped mid-pie, chucked in the oven, went to my room and wept. Rob was in shock. Neither of us were expecting it at all. Just the weekend before, we were all laughing and joking around. A little over a week later, he was gone. My parents said he was playing cricket, when he skidded on a rusted nail while fielding. His blood was poisoned and a few days later he was dead. He was only 15.

So last weekend, I hung out with John for a while. Another grieving man came and stood with me a while and we shared stories. Turns out he went to school with John and he was visiting his brother who had died last year. Grief brings people together, even strangers. Samoans are pretty good at remembering their dead. I often forget. I even forget that every moment could be the last moment you spend together.

Dear John…

I miss you.

Lani

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