800 Days

…..since I lost my beautiful friend. Exploring the personal human cost of systemic inaction and indifference over men’s violence against women. 

by Aoife Lyons

I have started writing this a hundred times. I have filled pages, typed and deleted, because nothing seems adequate. In some ways this has become a fixation, but at the same time, it is hard, and feels like it could be dangerous to delve too deep, as the cork might pop off, releasing in a chaotic flurry what I’ve been so busy bottling for two years.

I met Jill in Dublin in 2007. Something seemed to click: I loved the fact that she appeared to have no filter, would speak her mind, and reach her own conclusions. She came across as so self-assured, although the truth is always more complex. I was in silent awe of her confidence, of how she would do almost anything for a laugh, dredge up anything, from teenage ridiculousness, to adult stupidity, and mould it into a funny story, at once exposing and inoculating herself to embarrassment. We shared the same irreverent sense of humour, and would spend nights engaged in the most profound and ridiculous conversations, laughing at our own pretentiousness.

She and Tom eventually moved to Melbourne, but it took me two years of intense procrastination to follow them out. It was as though we hadn’t seen each other for a week or two, aside from the abundance of stories, which, told in the flesh, are always funnier than by email. That first night in Australia – me, my boyfriend, John, Jill and Tom, sitting on the balcony of their apartment in Brunswick, drinking beer, several varieties of duty free whiskey, and enjoying a selection of cheeses, like real grown-ups – was pregnant with possibility. We just picked up where we left off, and the conversation ebbed and flowed, wheeling wildly between philosophy, politics and comedy, or three all at once. We drew up a shortlist for future trips, places to eat and drink, museums, parks, the unlimited possibilities for grown-up, and not-so-grown-up larks. There seemed to be so much time.

Then, one Saturday morning, Tom texted to ask if Jill was with me. We had found an apartment within shouting distance of theirs in Brunswick, a short detour off the pub-to-home route. The next days were an indescribable mix of adrenalin and unspoken panic: the strangeness of police interviews, and the mounting media circus entrenched outside the apartment building. You can’t expect the unexpected, so I knew it was going to work out – it had to. These things may happen in every cop show on TV, in innumerable books, games and films, where the disappearance of young women serve as the central plot device, but they didn’t happen in real life.

When the reality began to take shape my internal monologue changed from one kind of denial to another, until there was no more denying. Her picture was everywhere. The story played out on TV like any other story of that sort, but profoundly different, at once distant and intensely personal. It was a waking nightmare; I would drink myself to sleep every night, descend into an eight hour blackness, to emerge tired, confused, and almost manic in search of distractions.

The anger came later. When someone you love has been designated a ‘victim’ in such horrific circumstances, it is just one aspect of the surreal smorgasbord that is to follow. There’s an intense numbness, interspersed with boundless panic and disbelief. Then the anger. I thought I knew what it was to be angry, but I had never even touched its surface. It was immense, metastasising uncontrollably. It was a Revelation, in the Old Testament sense. It was a deluge which drowned everything, to subside revealing a mutilated, alien wasteland. It was damnation, brimstone, pestilence, and Retribution. Especially Retribution. The events that followed were a vortex of unknown and unknowable feelings, of the procedural necessities, the pantomime of justice, that was, at least, over comparatively quickly.

It’s much easier, though destructive, to be angry than sad. It is easier, in turn, to direct that anger at a faceless bureaucracy – a system based on box ticking and finances, not the utopian ideals of Justice. That a human being raped and murdered my friend spawned in my consciousness later. That this human, who had spent a quarter of his life in prison for the rape and attempted rape of eight women (consider that only one in six rapes are reported), was paroled after completing a sex offenders program, is a source of great anguish, and impotent rage. That the parole board have apologised for not revoking parole after an assault on a man, rather than for granting parole in the first place, shows a catastrophic failure, and inexplicable naivety of a system that is supposed to exist to protect the community. (Or, their failure to apologise for granting parole is merely a cynical exercise in judicial blame avoidance.) His ‘good behaviour’ in prison was taken into account by the parole board, though he was incarcerated away from his female targets; his ‘remorse’ was recognised during sentencing, though weeks later he appealed on the basis that 35 years was unduly harsh. It would be comic were it not so tragic. All that stands between women and violent, recidivist sexual offenders is a paper tiger, a check-the-box ‘rehabilitation’, and a judicial system and parole structure that is as effective as using a croissant as a toothbrush: it doesn’t get the job done, and it makes a fucking mess.

The last two years have been a struggle. I have had to juggle the sadness of her loss and the anger of how she died. No one is equipped for this. Jill was three months younger than me: she came to my 30th in July, but didn’t live to see her own in October. Her life should have been lived parallel to mine, so the landmarks of my life seem tainted – any happiness is edged with sadness and guilt. Until quite recently I drank as though I were trying to drown myself, and I was. It is a private, isolating hell.

I quoted Martin Luther King at Jill’s funeral: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” I suspect those words should mean more, or resonate more, but they seem to be predicated on forgiveness – a stage I will never reach. More fitting words came from Christopher Hitchens: “We were living in two worlds. The old one, which never seemed more beautiful, had not yet vanished; and the new one, about which we knew little except to fear it, had not yet arrived.” And from Joan Didion: “There were no faint traces about dead, no pencil marks.” And from Oscar Wilde: “There are times when sorrow seems to me to be the only truth. Other things may be illusions of the eye or the appetite, made to blind the one and cloy the other, but out of sorrow have worlds been built, and at the birth of a child or star there is pain.”

The only shred of hope for me is that something positive can be wrenched out of this madness; that changes to the parole system may prevent this from happening again, even once (although, I’m cynical about the long term effectiveness of knee-jerk, politically motivated revisions); or that something worthy of Jill, something creative and joyous, can be eked out of this mess – the star born out of the pain.

Jill is not a cautionary tale. She is not a tragic fairy-tale character, a bleak warning to young women to be constantly afraid. She is now a public symbol of the shortcomings of a judicial system that seems to have motivations other than the protection of the community – grubby, pathetic excuses like lack of funding, and overcrowding, that we absolutely must not continue to tolerate. Jill demands that we must claim our due from the system, and not be afraid and passive, kowtowing to authority, meekly accepting that this is the way of the world.

While I try to cement my memories of Jill against fallibility and malleability of memory itself, her identity has been subsumed by the tragedy of her death. The person she was has been usurped by the circumstances: She is “ABC employee, Jill Meagher”, or “murder victim, Jill Meagher”, or “angelic”, or “unfortunate”. She was not this one dimensional caricature, defined by her job or by what happened to her, but my friend, the funny, gorgeous ball of energy. She was my self-deprecating, intelligent, ambitious, shameless, adventurous friend, who managed to be childlike and mature in the same breath. She was the brassy, curly-headed, devilish sense-of-humoured girl I met in Dublin in 2007. She was the reason I moved to Melbourne; the caring, thoughtful, gregarious, honest, hilarious friend, for whom I would save up stories of my everyday encounters in the hope of making her laugh. This was my Jill, though these words are laughably inadequate.

It has been almost 800 days, and I am still surrounded by things that can trigger a cascade: the movie we saw in the cinema in Melbourne, the sequel to which is out now; the books we talked about, Jill’s recommendations to me, and mine to her; the music (we both claimed to have discovered how singing Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights was the only way to get an annoying song out of your head); the myriad things that are linked, however tenuously, with Jill. I hope I will eventually be able to remember the remarkable influence her life had on me, without the poisonous recollections of anger and trauma – these are totally out of step with what Jill was for me, and I resent their imposition.

Eventually I will be able to consider myself lucky that she chose me as her friend, rather than unfortunate to have only a few years of memories, some hazy and beer-soaked; of staggering from Smyths in Ranelagh, or from the Brunswick Green in Melbourne, to her house or mine, still thirsty and too awake; of laughing at the absurd clicking of her high-heels, worn down to the nail; of her innumerable tales of ludicrous antics, her openness to a universe of experiences, and mischievous disregard for rules. This, and so much more, is my Jill.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to 800 Days

  1. maggie Dean says:

    Stunningly beautiful yet poignant words Jill was truly blessed to have such a wonderful friend

  2. So beautifully written. I am so sorry that you lost your friend. x

  3. Mary Perry says:

    So well written. Now maybe hopefully some can heal by reading this. Her whole family is amazing.

  4. IntoTheWild says:

    Well written Aoife. You’ve captured the emotions past and present perfectly. I lost my beautiful, funny and equally adventurous friend Catherine in similar circumstances two years ago and I couldn’t have put the roller coaster of thoughts, feelings and questions any better. May you always remember the happy times with Jill and may the memories of shared times bring a smile to your face. Xx

  5. Rohini Nayyar says:

    You have bared your heart my friend.I can relate very well to your sadness coupled with anger feelings.Having lost a loved one unexpected untimely on it’s own is so hard.Forgiveness doesn’t even seem right but a change that you can bring as an outcome will possibly bring peace to your heart and Jill’s. Sending you love.

  6. John Byron says:

    Thank you for writing and sharing this. I am so, so sorry for your trouble.

  7. Prue says:

    Thank you for sharing this.
    I wish you peace.

  8. DCL says:

    absolutely powerful and poignant…my heart goes out to you, Jill’s family, friends and of course her very amazing husband Thomas. The devastation, loss and anger. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” I understand your point about forgiveness and not being willing to do that, that’s your decision to own and not in the hands of that “animal”, that’s within your control. all the very best and i hope in time you do get to just sit back and smile thinking about the wonderful memories of your amazing friend. x

  9. Jane Every says:

    Darlin, I had EMDR therpsy to process traumatic events of 09/10 that I lived. Clinical psychologists do EMDR, not all so find one who does. Best wishes for processing your trauma so you can grieve xxxx sounds very much like Jill was lucky to have you.

  10. Nearlybel says:

    Your words are so powerful, poignant and beautiful, well done xxx.
    ‘The pantomine of justice’ just a perfect description of the family courts here in Ireland and the courts all over the world where violent male persons ( I refuse to call them men) are always given an easier ride when the victim is a woman or gay or are not ‘white’.
    The Saturday Irish Times this week have an account of a convicted rapist with 9 previous convictions most including violence against women had a judge refusing to jail him for breaching his bond (again) and said she was ‘willing to give him a chance’. For what? I wouldn’t like any woman to have to meet him, ever. Past behaviour is a pretty good indicator of future behaviour. We have Mr Lillis who killed his wife Celine Cawley able to benefit financially from her death, property is far more important than a woman’s life here in Ireland. I’m in the district family courts for the past 2 years, trying to sort our lives out after a lifetime of cruelty from a perpetrator of abuse, cattle mart comes to mind. There is no respect for the women brave enough to take steps to defend themselves and their children from their abusive partners. The women have no idea when their case is heard, no guarantee that it will be heard, and no judge granting them legal aid as is the case in the criminal cases, long complicated forms have to be completed. And the solicitors and barristers seem to divvy out the goodies between themselves with no regard to the suffering this causes to the children. It’s a disgrace how they treat it as a game, to be won or lost. Next time I’m in court I shall think of Jill, and know her most wonderful spirit, as ye described so beautifully will stand by me. Thank you and every good wish to ye xxx

  11. Thank you so, so much Aoife for such an amazing piece, my sincere and deepest sympathy for your loss.

  12. sue mills says:

    True friendship is a precious gift, you are a beautiful friend and I truely hope your pain heals soon x

  13. What a beautiful read, I honestly think about Jill all the time and her husband Tom, I wonder how he is doing, how he is coping, I can never imagine what he is going through, although I get emotional at the thought of their dreams, plans and life in Australia, like us we came here for a life full of adventure and fun, you were lucky to have Jill in your life, but it must be so dreadful to have this lovely girl not in your life anymore! You have done her proud, keep Jill’s memory alive, I will continue to think about you all xx

  14. Angela says:

    aifo, you are right to be angry. Every single person involved in letting that filthy b%stard out on the street should be in jail right now, charged with accessory to rape and murder. If it weren’t for their patheticness, that creep would have been in jail when Jil was walking home that night. The judges, lawyers and parole board in this country are a big fat disgrace! It is their fault Jill is dead as much as that creep who committeed the crime.

  15. Jessica says:

    Jill should still be here with you today but I am sure she is right beside you through all your milestones. Thank you for sharing Aoife x

  16. Pingback: After Jill Meagher and Tugce Albayrak | thesecondplanb

  17. Wendy says:

    Beautiful words. Jill sounds like she was a truly wonderful person. In all honesty, reading about her positive attributes has stuck more in my mind than her tragic demise. After reading what other people have had to say about her, it’s inspired me to work on bettering myself and to be the type of friend Jill was.

Comments are closed.