I rarely look back, preferring to keep the door to so many painful episodes firmly and unshakeably sequestered. However I fully realise the power it has, both for yourself and others, to share your experiences in words. Here is one episode, from many moons ago, which I think is the main purpose of auto-biographical writing. To proudly leave a reminder that yes,you did pass through the universe once, and it mattered!
April, ’91 ; I just spent the last seven excruciating weeks at home. The day was loosely scheduled around the Gerry Ryan show (morning radio programme).This kip (home) is a no phone zone, so I haven’t seen or heard from anyone, since that time.
I’m too embarrassed, to be seen staggering around like a drunken fool. But forget about that detail, the danger even of zig zagging across a busy road has proven too much.
So, I rallied (or snapped depending on how you look at it) today, decided that my walking wasn’t so bad, and tried school again, if only to escape another slow motion cycle of abject introversion.
Am practicing a new way of walking: lift right foot and come down with the heel, but keep left foot as flat and unmoving as possible. As bizarre as it sounds, it appears to be working, or maybe its all just psychosomatic, and I sure as hell know how powerful that connection can be.
I have thankfully spent half of those weeks, conked out in bed and sweating profusely. When I stagger in, relieved to be away from the monotony of home, things are noticeably different. New friendships have been forged, and even seating arrangements have changed. Paddy F****e is in my long held seat, and they wear a look of inconvenience as they shuffle back to their previous line-up.
At break, I’m talking to Tara E*****t, and she tells me that recently, they had elections for prefects for next year, and that both she and Imelda L*** voted for me. I could cry! Its one of the nicest things I have ever heard. They remembered me, despite everything that has caused me to keep my distance, from their chaotic and steaming teenage lives.
The pace is too quick here, as the bell sounds and I watch everyone disappear in different directions, confidently with their piled up books or groaning bags. My legs are letting me down again. Perhaps I should have listened to mother’s warning that I had just spent the last two weeks in bed, and I wouldn’t be able for this.
The corridors are eerily empty now. Reverberating silence is the very last thing I expected from today, and I am distinctly unprepared for it. I certainly can’t stagger into class now, late, and with all scrutinizing eyes totally focused on the latecomer.
So I head around the square shaped building, until I pull myself up onto a desk, forgetting that it was near the principal’s office, and attempting to mentally gauge when the class will be over, and noisy life will return. Eyes studying the ground, mind busily hovering. This day had not lived up to expectations at all.
“Eric, I think we need to talk” said Sister Joan, standing before me in the corridor. It surely wasn’t just the words, or the tone with which they were conveyed, but they did the job of opening this tidal wave of emotion. I followed her into her very modern, and organised to perfection office, knocking off her pen holder in the process.
This Cambridge educated head nun, with the icy reputation, was at an uncomfortable loss, at the sight of this shaking, red faced pubescent in her midst. She said that she would re-organise the class timetable, so instead of trekking to individual home-rooms, that the scenario would be reversed, and that the teachers would come to me.
“I wish I’d been born paralysed” I angrily blubbed, thinking that you never miss what you never had, and that surely it was infinitely better than watching your abilities slowly turned into hostile challenges.
“No, at least you’ve had the feeling of sand between your feet. We never get what we want”. She told me about an aunt of hers, who used to give her something like a rain jacket as a birthday gift. Buoyed by practicality, but deflated by a child’ expectations. A rambling parable, but I greatly appreciated the effort.
She was a wonderful woman. Not because she was a principal or a nun, but rather in spite of these facts. For a brief time she gave me a glimpse at her rich, and seldom displayed humanity.
I’d never met or spoken to her before. She had taken sabbatical to Chile in my first year, but her reputation had definitely preceded her, even though I was not seeing any of the much trumpeted negatives. The reorganizing of the timetable did work for a time, my classmates being especially happy at the convenience of it all.
There were no blatant attempts (at least not within my earshot), to discover just what had prompted this energy saving turn of events, scant summers alongside more physical decline, meant that I didn’t go back to secondary school until October of sixth year. It was both the last and a deciding year for our futures. Once the initial strain of my classmates curiosity wore off, I was back in the engaging fullness, and throbbing of student life.
The start of yet another monotonous and painfully long summer break. That summer marked even more physical decline, ruling walking out of the question, forever as it turned out. I could no longer delay finally giving in to the permanence of a wheelchair, and it was not until an intervention by a teacher (who had polio) and some friends, that I went back at all.
I often think of those classmates, even though they are now long scattered by life. I wonder did they appreciate just how emotionally intelligent they were, and how I benefited so richly from them.