"Oi, MacBean, you've left your hard drive on my desk, mate."
What hard drive? I don't have one of those?!
"Then what's this shiny metal box connected to a USB plug, you dickhead?"
Oh! That's my new heated tea coaster. Keeps my cuppa nice and warm.
Beano swaggers over, full of energy from his morning Earl Grey, gleefully swipes his Nerd Coaster off my desk and returns across the room. He's the hotshot young reporter, with the corduroy reporter's jacket and lean-back-in-your-chair confidence to match. Hitting the phones, chasing down a yarn, finding a fresh exclusive.
ABC News Online was breaking new ground. We'd evolved from a digital bulletin of TV and radio programs to a discrete, publish-first, news-gathering operation. At 23, Nic MacBean was the star. A born storyteller, with the work ethic to make the most of his natural talent. He would soon win a Young Walkley and later become one of the most gifted photographers in the organisation.
Almost as soon as Nic sits down, he's back on his feet. Perhaps it's that I'm calling him a massive nerd from across the newsroom and he's crafted the perfect riposte. Perhaps it's that his beloved English football team Gillingham FC managed a surprise late goal, giving them a glimmer of hope for promotion from League Two. Perhaps there's a back-up coaster sitting in my filing cabinet that he wants to take home with him.
But there's no particular reason. He just loves a chat. Laughing about something a colleague said, comparing beard growth, plotting our formation for indoor soccer this week. He reminds me to put into practice the combination we'd conjured in the newsroom on Sunday night after we'd finished covering the A-League. I'd managed to score (the boss's office door was the goal). I'd take an airswing and miss in the real game. He'd smile back -- that big, beautiful smile -- and give me shit about it at half-time.
Beano loved everyone and everyone loved him. When we met I envied him. Same age, same education, same ambition. Yet he had a magnetic charm that instantly moved the needle in every room. He walked upright, confident and strong. Quick-witted, kind. Women loved him. Terrific girl-bait at the pub. He was a smooth operator, yet there was a real human being behind it. That's what endeared us to Nic. He was a charismatic character; a good night came naturally to him. But it was Nic's sensitive, deep-thinking side that really appealed to me. We became mates through banter; we became close friends through conversation. He confided in me early that he experienced depression.
You're always shocked to learn that someone so gregarious and vivacious could be mired in personal conflict. We talked about it many times and he became someone I could trust and rely upon. One night at the Normanby Hotel in Brisbane, Nic engaged me over several jugs of XXXX. He'd known for a while that I had problems of my own. Of course, I'd never done anything about it. He looked me in the eye and explained to me, as a friend, that it was OK; that I would never regret seeking help. With an arm around the shoulder and a few misplaced dance moves upstairs, he got through to me. Months later I would be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. That conversation with Nic changed my life.
I'm fortunate I had the opportunity to tell him that. Eventually our lives would take different paths; mine to a new life in Sydney -- his in Brisbane. He possessed the most amazing character and will to be alive. Every setback was an opportunity for him to grow. To get better. He did everything you're supposed to do. He wore his illness on his sleeve. He talked about it and listened to others. Really listened. He always had space in his deeply troubled heart for others. That's what they tell you about mental illness. You have to talk about it. He gave himself to the cause -- sharing his own story and helping others tell theirs.
Once I visited Nic in hospital and we had lunch across the road. He looked tired, but he smiled and we laughed. I asked about his treatment and his progress. He told me about a famous footballer in rehab down the hall who always wanted to change the TV channel. But whenever you talked about him, he would rather be talking about everyone else.
"Anyway, how are you going, man? You taking care of yourself? How's everyone in the office? God, Australia's bowling attack sucks at the moment. Let's get everyone together and go to the next Test."
Nic recently left hospital for the last time and went straight to the Gabba with his old man to watch the cricket. He posted a picture to Instagram, that smile broad across a refreshing face. Happy days. I ought to call him, I thought. Been a while since we caught up.
But I didn't call. Probably went to brunch and it slipped my mind. There'd be next weekend. Call him then, when he's getting back into the swing of things.
I would receive a call that week, but not from Nic. A mutual friend was on the line. It was bad news. Nic had taken his life. There wouldn't be another chance to catch up in Brisbane. No more banter. No more award-winning journalism. Just silence.
I'd never understood that suicide could be a relief. A release. It seemed too drastic, too unthinkable. But Nic was in the deepest pain. Now he's finally at peace. I truly believe that. He doesn't have to wake up tomorrow and live his hell. He doesn't have to drag his wearied heart through another day of agony. He's the bravest soul I've ever known. I'm so incredibly proud of him.
I'll always wish I could have spent more time being Nic MacBean's friend. Especially over the last few years. We can't get that time back. But he'll always be the friend who put his arm around me, poured me a cold beer, and told me it was all going to be OK.
I hope you're OK now, brother. Rest easy. I miss you. x
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