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  • Geoff Cordner

Scar Tissue

In early December 2019 Linda and I were attempting to finalise the plaque that we would be placing in due course on Ben’s gravesite. The wording was now set in stone, as it were, but the size, colour and detail of the plaque itself had yet to be determined.

On Friday, December 6 I had decided to make a visit to the Cemetery we had chosen as Ben’s final resting place - to look at other plaques, and to get some first-hand idea of the various options, with a view to helping us decide what might look fitting as a permanent memorial to Ben.

That morning, as is my habit, I was looking at the news headlines on-line. Somewhere in amongst the doom and gloom, the celebrity gossip, and the advertorials that masquerade as news these days, I spotted an article that caught my attention. Apparently Flea (of Red Hot Chilli Peppers fame) had just released an autobiography, one that focussed on his troubled childhood.

I was intrigued by the piece for a number of reasons. Firstly, because I had read, some years before, Scar Tissue; the fascinating autobiography of RHCP’s frontman, Anthony Kiedis. If Flea’s book was half as good a read as Scar Tissue, it would be well worth getting I thought. Secondly, because I seemed to recall having heard somewhere ‑ perhaps read in Scar Tissue, but maybe not ‑ that Flea had been born in Australia, and had spent many of the early years of his life here. Yet in the blurb I was reading about Flea’s book, entitled Acid for the Children, not a word appeared to be said about his antipodean origins.

And somewhere in the back of my mind, in a place I could not yet seem to access, there was a nagging feeling that somehow Flea and Ben were connected.

So I did what everyone seems to do these days when faced with these sorts of intellectual pebbles in the shoe. I asked Dr Google. Straight away the good doctor slapped me square in the face. Flea was born Michael Peter Balzary on 16 October 1962. Yes, that’s right – he shares Ben’s birthday. (Flea had been born in Melbourne just a few months before my parents laid eyes upon me for the first time in that same city. However Flea and his family moved permanently to the United States when he was just four years old ‑ not long before my family and I moved permanently to Sydney ‑ which explains why his book does not devote too many pages, if any, to that period of his life).

Now I am sure I had never been aware of Flea’s birthday, right up to the very second I read that fact on Wikipedia. So I was equally sure, remarkable as that coincidence was, that this was not the “thing in common” that had been nibbling away at the crust of my consciousness. And then it hit me.

In Scar Tissue Anthony Kiedis had written of something he and Flea used to do in their delinquent teenage years; namely, jumping off buildings into swimming pools. At least I thought that’s what I remembered. Or was my brain just messing with me? Because if I was right, that would now make two things Flea and Ben had in common. And two pretty significant connections at that.

I went looking for my copy of Scar Tissue, and set about tracking down the relevant section. It took me a while, but finally, on pages 66-67, I found the passage I was looking for. It confirmed that when Kiedis and Flea were 15 they jumped from the roof of an apartment building into a swimming pool (not for the first time?), and that, on this particular occasion, Kiedis sustained serious injuries to his back, resulting in him being hospitalised, because he misjudged the distance of his jump, and his heels landed on the edge of the pool.

This double dose of coincidence within the space of a few minutes left me, literally, shaking my head.

Later that same day I made my anticipated visit to the Cemetery. Having started at the planned location of Ben’s plaque, still pristine, like so many of the sites around it, I decided to move progressively further afield – searching for plaques that I thought would be a suitable tribute to a vibrant young man lost to the world in the prime of his life. In particular, I was interested in looking at those plaques that were something other than a funereal black, or a drab lifeless brown; those being the most common colours represented in the area around Ben’s gravesite.

Which makes it all the more inexplicable that I would find myself a few minutes later standing in front of a plaque that was the very same drab brown colour I had been seeking to avoid, reading the name of a person I knew. A man whose death had been completely unknown to me until that very moment, but who I had shared a classroom with for my first four years of high school.

David and I had not been close friends, but nor had we been enemies. He was an unusual guy in many respects; a bit of a loner, but intelligent, with a sense of humour, taller than average, particularly as a teenager, and with some talent on the basketball court as I recall. The discovery shook me to an extent that, even now, I find hard to explain. I guess spending time in a cemetery looking at plaques for your dead son’s grave is an activity fraught with emotion from the outset.

But there was more to it than that. Here was the resting place of someone I had spent four of the most important years of my life with, transitioning from short pants to shaving, and I didn’t even know he had died. It was nine years since our 30‑year school reunion, and for more than seven of those years David had been dead. And here was I, courtesy of an extraordinary confluence of events, looking at his gravestone, and experiencing an overwhelming sense of sadness. It proved too much for me.

Of course it should be no great surprise to find oneself in tears in a cemetery, but when the day began I had no idea David had even died – let alone that I would be standing at his graveside. After a minute or two I composed myself, and continued my searches, but not for long. I just couldn’t get past the amazing coincidences the day had already produced.

That evening, having returned home, I was recounting the day’s events to Linda and Tim, still somewhat emotional, and a little bewildered I suspect, when Linda raised a perfectly reasonable question: “Are you sure it was the guy you went to school with whose grave you were looking at?”.

Of course I was convinced that it had been. David is the only person with his surname that I have ever met, and his death in 2012 at age 49 put him absolutely in the correct age range. But she was right. It just might be someone else with the same first and family names. But what about David’s middle name? I had seen it on the plaque, and had noted it particularly because it was a less usual version of a name that is itself not especially common.

Then I remembered I had a resource at hand that would allow me to confirm once and for all that this David was indeed my former classmate. My old school, in celebration of its 100th anniversary some years earlier, had published a book containing the names of all students who had passed through the institution during the course of its first century, along with a short biography of their time there. Now, doubting myself for the first time, I went to our bedroom and located my copy of the Centenary Register on the bottom row of the bookshelf, looked up David’s surname in the alphabetised index, and turned to the relevant page.

And there he was – full name, address (at the time of entering the school), details of prizes received, teams played in, and clubs joined. Along with, of course, his date of birth. The names matched. First, middle and last were all as I had read them on the gravestone that afternoon.

But it was the date of birth that made me draw in my breath for, at least, the third time that day. Not only was David born on October 16 ‑ the same day of the year as Ben, whose grave lies just metres from his own ‑ but his full date of birth (October 16 1962) coincides exactly with that of Michael Peter Balzary, more commonly known as Flea, whose recently published autobiography had been the catalyst for my original researches less than 12 hours earlier.


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