Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The words are simple

"Paul died this morning at about 8:30". We have been watching the progress of his illness, expecting it. He had cancer, diabetes, heart disease and then a stroke. He also had what is now called 'bi-polar disorder'.
Paul was one of those people with whom a relationship is best described as "not exactly but almost" a friend. My father and I had known him for years. We know his wife and his business partner. His sister-in-law, who let us have the news, is much closer still.
My father knew Paul from Paul's university days - when Paul was struggling with the ups and downs of his turbulent emotional life. They were opposites in just about everything but they had a common love of literature and they both trained as teachers.
My father was suited to it. He still loves to teach. Paul was not suited to it. Few people would be suited to trying to teach Shakespeare to 1F and 1G but Paul was even less suited. He left class teaching as soon as he had worked off the bond required of teachers back then. He was married by then and his wife went on teaching while he tutored on an individual basis. Even that was difficult so Paul turned to what he knew best - books. He began a second hand book business. There was no nonsense about being 'antiquarian'. Paul simply went out and found books people no longer wanted, bought them and then sold them again. The business grew. Word spread. People would 'phone and he would go out and buy an entire deceased estate, the library of someone moving into a nursing home or someone moving interstate or overseas. He would sort and price and then offer the books for sale at venues of growing size. He taught himself about the books he bought and their commercial values. Gradually he bought storage capacity and the book sales became major events held several time a year in a huge hall. His wife retired early from teaching to help and they took on a partner. He added a "press" to his business, wrote and published several biographies. They were competent but it is unlikely that a mainstream publisher would have taken them on.
He could be rude, impatient and patronising. He liked to be in control. It was all part of his mental state.
My father returned to the city about this time. He was on the mailing list for announcements about the book sales. We would go seeking out of print books to fill in the gaps in our collection. I gave Paul a long list of out of print children's books I was searching for. He never computerised but he found all but two of them. Children's literature however did not really interest him. He would leave abrupt messages for me and I was never sure if he really thought much of me. He once told someone that he liked something I had written but, when we were discussing it, he was highly critical and I was left with the impression that he loathed it.
The last thing Paul wrote was a sort of autobiography. Much of it is, strangely, taken up with his acquisition of an artifact that he had wanted to possess from late adolescence. It is a strange little book and, if you know Paul, it is very moving in places. It shows him for what he was, a confused person who wanted people to like him but was unsure how to like them in return.
When, as I know I will be, people ask me if he was a friend I will have to reply, "Not exactly, but almost." There should be a word for it.


Adelaide Dupont said...

And even if I don't know Paul, it would be moving.

Most of us have had the experience of looking for something we have wanted.

The thrill of the chase, the hunt.

Love a straightforward second-hand shop!

catdownunder said...

Yes, not usually of the same size or significance.
I am in two minds about second hand books - and try to buy only out of print books I need because authors need people to by new books.

Rachel Fenton said...

Awe, Cat. My mum suffers with depression but I think the people around people with depression suffer more. There's a lack of empathy which seems to accompany the illness and that can make it heartbreaking for those who want to be close to depressives. I think it's hard to be anything but "not exactly but almost".

You were more of a friend to him than most I imagine. I am sorry for your loss.

catdownunder said...

I have to confess I rarely saw him but, when we did, there would always be something interesting between us. His wife once said, "You can talk to him." I don't think that was right - he did the talking. I think you have to be able to listen in all sorts of ways. I wish I was better at it!