When I worked with Jason there were just five people in the studio so I got to know him pretty well. He was quiet and a little awkward but no more so than anyone else working in IT. We tried to include him in the usual office banter which he enjoyed despite never really fitting in completely. He was there as a student placement for his degree so I suppose he hadn’t seen enough of the working world to become as cynical and brutal as the rest of us. He didn’t seem to have any sort of monitoring system controlling how much personal information he revealed to us – didn’t know that a group of men working in a creative and pressurised environment will instantly snatch up any potentially embarrassing information like a seagull on a chip. Then they’ll fly around your head with it, waving it in your face as you flail and stumble.
One such incident took place in the pub, after work. We were all talking about our hobbies and Jason said that he liked photography. The first thought that occurred to a table full of designers high on Barnsley Bitter and their own sense of importance was, naturally, porn.
‘What sort of photography?’ said the studio manager, coyly.
Christ Jason, shut up now – don’t say any more.
‘Yes. I really like the female form.’
It was as if someone had thrown a hand-grenade onto the middle of the table. Poor Jason didn’t have the instinct to take cover or defend himself, he was too naïve and innocent for this. It was like attacking a rabbit with a howitzer and I knew whose side I needed to be on. I parried the verbal barrage on his behalf, fired back with shots aimed well below the belt, provided distractions, diversions and feints to the bar but it didn’t do much good, the photography conversation had given them too much ammunition.
The great thing about Jason however, was that he didn’t seem to mind any of this in the slightest. He went far past the point where anyone else would have become aggressive or, at the very least, gone to have a little cry in the toilets. Through it all he carried on smiling and enjoying the banter until, eventually, someone else spilt a pint and the emphasis shifted away from him.
I worked with Jason for about a year before I left the company to go travelling. Out of everyone I knew, he was by far the most enthusiastic about my trip. I told him all about my preparations, what a hassle everything was and he asked where exactly I was going and what I intended doing. He supplied me with lots of helpful and interesting websites – he even encouraged me to set up a travel blog so that I could gloat about what I great time I was having.
We promised to keep in touch but of course, we didn’t. No matter how close you are to somebody when you’re working with them, as soon as your circumstances change you lose that common bond, that shared experience. Inevitably, you make new friends and the people you used to work with aren’t as important to you as they once were. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with many wonderful people and I’ve lost touch with every single one of them.
When I returned a year later, I ended up working for the same company but many of the faces I knew had gone. One of those was Jason’s.
According to the bosses, not long after I’d left, he’d started behaving strangely. Apparently, he’d been rude to clients, sat reading magazines all day, walked out of the office at random times on extended lunch breaks and made a badly judged pass at the receptionist.
This all seemed very much at odds with the quiet, polite and innocent lad that I knew.
Eventually he stopped turning up for work at all and someone from the University came to speak to the bosses. It turns out Jason had a history of mental problems and was under pretty close psychiatric care. The changes in his personality were because he’d suddenly stopped taking his medication and suffered a breakdown. Nobody at the office had the first idea about any of this.
A few months later I bumped into him in a shop. He introduced me to the friend he was with who didn’t say anything and moved away to a polite distance as we stood talking. Jason certainly wasn’t surly or unpleasant or miserable – but he wasn’t really the lad I had known before either. He seemed upbeat and chirpy – but chirpy in the way that born again Christians or the very lonely are chirpy; as if they’re trying to convince themselves as well as you that everything’s great. It was good to see him but I could tell something wasn’t right. It was the sort of conversation that, when it ends, you walk away from with relief and think: ‘what on earth was that all about?’
The next time I heard about Jason was in 2009 when I saw his name in a local paper. He went missing on 27th December 2008. Three days later the Police found his car parked near the Humber Bridge.
Thinking back to our conversations in the studio, I remembered how enthusiastic he’d been about my trip. I hoped that he’d decided to travel too. I hoped that he’d been selfish and inconsiderate and opted to avoid all the hassle of preparation by just taking off suddenly. I hoped that he was on a beach or in a foreign bar talking about photographing nude women and smiling at other people’s banter. I hoped that the worst thing that was troubling him was a guilty conscience about all the family and friends he abruptly abandoned.
Sadly, this didn’t turn out to be the case.