I have this mate. No, let's get this right. I had this mate. Not a close friend, just a mate, who I would bump into here and there and we would have a bit of a yarn.
But if we didn't see each other for a while, it didn't matter.
Eventually we would catch up. So with this and that in my busy life he, like a lot of similar mates, was never on my mind. Until I finally bumped into his missus, not him, this week.
I saw her coming and she looked a shocker. So walking with one foot in my mouth and the other trying to see if it could fit, I said to her: “Jeepers Jean, has the useless bugger been giving you the run-around lately?”
She almost collapsed into my arms. “Steve’s dead, Col,” she sobbed.
Now you know how hard it is to grasp some subjects, even when you have just been belted over the head with them.
“Dead? Dead? What do you mean he's dead?” I stammered. “Was it an accident? Had he been sick? I didn’t know he had been ill.”
Which hit the tragic nail right on its bloodstained head.
The story almost spewed out as Jean kept crying while desperately trying to hold herself together.
It wasn't an accident. But it turns out he had been ill.
Nothing you could see though, especially when you were an occasional mate and too often distracted about things you were doing, and things in your own life, when you did catch up.
So taken up with your own interests, your eyes saw; but your brain didn't see.
Steve had killed himself. And, just as clearly, had killed a huge part of Jean. How their children were, or would cope, I did not know.
I tried to string together a few sincere condolences, and they were sincere, but they tasted sour even in my own mouth.
The old Curmudgeon had nothing to say that, at that moment, would offer Jean anything.
As a wife, her life was over.
As a woman she would fight on, and a fight it will most certainly be, to try and shield her children, to protect them and guide them to adulthood.
Things had been tough for Steve for a while, I knew that.
No tougher though, I had half thought, than for a lot of others.
But after I left Jean and went to find a quiet corner to have a bit of a sit down, I could not help but think back to the last time I had bumped into Steve.
He had actually asked if I had time for a chat, but I was in a bit of a hurry, not a rush mind you, just a bit of a hurry, and on that day I can't even remember where I was hurrying to.
Perhaps Steve was looking for someone outside his immediate circle that he could open up to.
I hope not, but I will never know.
Maybe he just wanted someone to put a hand on his shoulder, look him in the eye, I mean really look, and ask him how things were going. And then really listen to the answer.
Would five minutes with me have made any difference to the abyss into which his mind must have been sinking? I can tell myself that sounds unlikely, even trivial.
But I am still here to have those thoughts.
He is dead.
The ripple effect of Steve’s suicide was already spreading.
His family’s little world had been torn to bits; Jean was blaming herself for not seeing, not understanding.
When I got home my missus would be there.
Some of the boys might have dropped in, maybe even left behind a grandkid or two to have a bit of mucking around with their old Curmudgeon.
Suicide is like a plague in rural Australia. A plague where the survivors are the ones who will actually suffer the most.
So I gave the missus a hug, at which she gave me a flea in the ear and said if I had nothing better to do I could bring in the shopping from the car.
I was going to tell her about Jean and Steve, but something stopped me.
Did she need to hear another disaster?
But was I suddenly part of the problem because I was already starting to bury the truth?
I hope not.
But unlike Steve, I will have plenty of time to make up my mind.
If you or someone you know needs help, Lifeline can be called on 13 11 14. This is a confidential telephone crisis support service available 24/7 from a landline, payphone or mobile.