Posts Tagged ‘ childhood ’

Valentines day Massacre

This is a true story.

I woke up this morning, and for one reason or another, a rather traumatic childhood event replayed itself in my mind. I’m not sure why, but the time has come to finally record these thoughts… and perhaps lay them to rest finally, we’ll see

A little backstory to flesh this thing out…

In Ireland, school is divided into the following years, from the ages of roughly five to thirteen, you are in Primary school, which lays the basic foundations for… wait for it, Secondary school (imaginative bastards at the board of education eh?) which consists of five (optional six) years of schooling from the ages of thirteen to eighteen. Now when I was thirteen, I couldn’t get access to the local secondary school all of my friends had applied and successfully managed to get into due to a lack of space… So during the summer, at the last minute, (My parents kind of forgot I needed a school…) My father managed to enrol me in a secondary school just down the road from his workshop in the centre of Dublin city, it was in the most deprived economically disadvantaged area of Dublin at the time, anyway… To make a long story short, I was somewhat out of place. It was quite a shocking year for me in many ways, but that’s not the subject of this mornings blog, what is the subject however… Is a single day in that year, Valentines day, about halfway through the school term, here goes.

Every morning, at lunch time, the school would let us all out for lunch and I would make the short trip up the road to my fathers workshop, there he would give me too much money to go and buy my lunch at a local cafe that served some rather yummy food (now that I look back on it) So off I would go, armed with too much cash, walking up Brunswick Street, where I would pass the collection of  bums and broken folk that lined the street begging, one in particular… and I don’t know why, I struck up a sort of connection with, everyday for some time, I would either give him half of the money my father had given me, or I would buy him some food (soup, bread) depending on if he already had his large plastic bottle of cider that he was slowly killing himself with, but on this day in particular, Valentines day… He sat on his bum with his knees against his chest, at the corner of an old stone building they’ve been slowly demolishing in that oh so old part of Dublin for years now, but in 1995, this old building was still there., and so was this old man (probably in his fifties, but he looked a lot older due to his living arrangements and lifestyle). Anyway… I planned on walking passed him on this particular day as he seemed to not want any attention, at least that’s the vibe I got. How wrong I was… He called me over in that drunken mumble so favoured by the homeless alcoholic, and although we had never even had a conversation, much less exchanged names, he asked me to do a very personal thing for him. He asked me to read a Valentines Day card his estranged wife had given him.

Now you are asking yourself, why would a grown man ask a child to read something to him? Well the answer is obvious enough, this man was illiterate, he could neither read, nor write, I was too young to understand the significance of what he had asked me to do, but being the little bleeding heart that I’ve always been, I gladly obliged him, so I crouched down beside him, taking the cheap card into my hand, it had hearts on the front, I remember that much visually, though I don’t remember what the printed greeting said, something about love I imagine, but I do remember, quite vividly, what his wife had written for him inside, I read the words aloud to him, my voice was shaky from the sudden emotion that gripped me, even if… Again, I was too young and naive to fully understand or process what he was asking me to do for him.

To My Dear Husband

For all the years together

hard as some have been

lots of love

*Name omitted*

I remember looking at his face after I read the words aloud, through eyes half blinded by tears, he looked at the ground, tears of his own streaming down his filthy face, they formed a sort of dual carriageway down his cheeks, skin slightly brighter than the darkened unwashed features that were his constant mask, I didn’t know what to say, I handed him back his card and for the briefest of moments I contemplated placing  a hand upon his shoulder, something… Anything to break the terrible feeling of I don’t know what at the time, I was so very confused, but I was too frightened by what had just happened, and as I told him I had to go… My mind raced with thoughts, how could this man, Who obviously had a woman who he loved very much, be living in the gutter like this? Homeless people don’t have such things… they’re just, homeless… Right?. I was actually that naive, I couldn’t put it together at the time, but as I walked away… I stormed through a million thoughts, but looking back, with the perspective of the intervening years, this was obviously just some normal man, who had a normal home, a normal wife and life, probably a normal job at some point… And even though he couldn’t read or write (Illiteracy would have been very common in his day in Ireland,  shameful as that is to say,  but far less shame than this poor man would have felt I imagine) For whatever reason, he had trusted me with the task of reading the most intimate thoughts of someone he had now obviously lost, but someone who still cared for him deeply.

So onwards I went to get my lunch, somewhat disturbed, wiping any tears from my eyes before I entered the Cafe to get my Vegetable soup and bread roll that kept me warm on those cold February days. When I was returning to school at 1.30pm, the homeless man was nowhere to be seen, and I must admit… I was relieved, I didn’t know what I would do or say if I had to walk by him again. So back in that hell hole I went, classes until 3.30 and I was finally released again, though I wouldn’t get to go home until 5pm, having to wait for my father to finish in his workshop for the day, this happened quite a lot that solemn year, so I found myself wandering the streets around old Dublin on a near daily basis, having little else to do in the meantime. I decided to take the walk back up Brunswick Street and onto Manor Street, where my favourite cafe was located… why I do not know, probably to buy some sweets or some such, but as I turned the corner from Brunswick Street to Manor Street, I was struck with a scene I doubt I will ever forget.

A small crowd had gathered outside one of the pubs right beside my cafe, as a child of thirteen years, this is the equivalent of a naked flame to a moth, so eagerly I ran to see what the commotion was about, to this day, I wish I had not. The image is eternally roasted into my minds eye, it was my Sponsored Hobo. Pale as a ghost, laying prostrate across the pavement, his arms outstretched to the side, laying weakly limp. A deep crimson red poured from his wrists and formed little pools under his hands, his life was bleeding away in front of my eyes, the card I had given him earlier could be seen jutting out of his old coat pocket. I was stunned, a wretched feeling of  shock and for some reason… Guilt,  twisted my insides, like I had been the one to slash his poor wrists, the strange thing was, no one helped him, they just stared… Like they were waiting for him to die, he didn’t make a sound, either he had passed out (most likely) or he was fully at peace with the decision he had made, and awaited that sweet oblivion that will one day claim us all. I wanted to jump down beside him, hold him, tell him everything would be fine, but I was too frightened. What a wretched little cowardly boy I was. I beat myself with that thought secretly for a long time. As we all watched him slowly die, the medical services arrived, they didn’t seem to be in that big a hurry, and even though I willed them on in my minds eye, he was casually placed on a stretcher and dumped into the back of a waiting ambulance, what a nuisance he was, disturbing the peace of the street with his broken down ways, best cart him off… Out of sight, out of mind. As the crowd began to disperse.. I was left watching those two pools of blood… Lost in thought.

What if I had placed my hand upon his shoulder earlier that day?… what if I had said just a few kindly words, perhaps he would not have given up like he had, perhaps he would still be alive, but now, some wife… Some woman who loved him so, would never see her broken love again, he would probably be placed in some John Doe grave, having no identification save the Valentines card in his pocket, maybe her name could be traced I thought… If someone cared enough to do the tracing. I know now that all of these thoughts running through my head at the time, the guilt… most importantly, were not mine to bear, at least not then, I was just a child, too young to be dealing with such thoughts, but had them thrust upon me in the chaos of life. I’m not sure what to draw from these memories except perhaps closure… Finally, another tangled weave unknotted from my past.

There is a flip side to Valentines Day, to all the expressions of love and joy and hope, a dark mirrored image of broken hearts, broken lives and broken people, I think out of all of us, they need it the most, love that is.