By Ken Bruen
Someone close to me has been in hospital for the last 2 weeks and is in an open ward….private rooms are not so much expensive as just impossible to get
And ok………..they do cost
We have the trolley situation here, that means, if you can be admitted to a hospital, you’re on a trolley for 2 days , in a public corridor and lucky to have it
The new Ireland, just after we’d been declared the 2nd richest country after Japan, we treat our nurses and hospitals like total shite
Most days, I sit by her bed and am ……….just there, as she is heavily sedated and I dunno if she even knows I’m there
So, I’m a writer, I do what writers do
Wish I didn’t
There is a woman across from us, aged 80……….I know, she told me
And she has had two strokes
She doesn’t know that
She tells me, as I hold her beautiful weathered, worked line hands
“Amac ( son), you have ferocious cold hands”
And let her finish
Her whole face lit up
Every day, I try to bring her some small trivial item and she grabs my hand when I bring the Claddagh angel, says
“You’re a lovely man.”
I look at my friend opposite and wish she could have heard that
Better, probably, she didn’t…………..she’d have said, in the way only Irish women can
“And you’d have believed that?”
The woman, of the strokes?
She spent 50 years working in Croydon as a bar lady and said
“Tis a wicked place, I hated every moment of it.”
But she did it
Paid to put her family through college and she smiles, that Irish melancholy, not one trace of bitterness, adds
“They don’t talk to me now”
Now Croydon is a bad Detroit and if you live in Detroit, I mean no offence, it’s just a place where they chew you up and spit you out, the English version is worse, all cement and coldness and as I don’t expect to be doing a reading there anytime soon, that’s how it is
Her husband Larry…………I swear, on me child’s head is ninety, and looks like an Irish Clint Eastwood, all lined face, gravitas, and dignity and he is going deaf, so he has a hearing aid
He sits by her bed, I think, nine hours a day and holds her hand and she’s yapping away, he can’t hear much but looks at her as if he is hanging on her every single word
Now fuckit…………….that is love
What do I know about it?
Indeed……….when you’ve lost your marriage, you’re hardly the expert on the topic
I do know when I see such care, warmth and affection, I’m seeing something rare, I look at them, with ok, yearning and
They kill me
I’m downstairs in the coffeeshop, grabbing some respite when Larry comes along, sees me and adjusting his hearing aid, asks if he might have the honor to join me?
I say of course and go and get him a cup of tea…………..I just know he’d never have drank coffee his whole life and I add a slice of Danish
He looks at it when I put it down and reaches for his wallet
I say, not shouting , but clearly
Tries the tea and I know he thinks it’s shite, a weak tea bag and piss poor water……….he says
“Isn’t this grand”
He really means it
He has the most amazing blue eyes I ever saw, full of knowledge, and deep, deep sorrow.
He’s wearing an impeccably white shirt, not a speck on it, a carefully knotted tie, blue blazer, a little the worse for wear, and grey pants with a crease you could shave yer own
I’m wearing a t-shirt with the logo Head Games
And me faded blue jeans
Guess how I feel?
He says, adjusting his hearing aid to max
“You were very kind to Mairead”.
I mutter she is easy to be………..kind to
He tries the Danish, his false teeth having trouble with all the sugar, say’s
“She thinks she is going back to Croydon.”
And I say nothing…………..not one word
“She hated the feckin place.”
After my friend is released from hospital, I buy a large bunch of flowers, go to see Mairead and her bed is vacant, I ask the nurse where they moved her, she says, her whole body screaming
from too many shifts and without any malice or bitterness, just the facts, the words
“Oh she died.”
She is too tired to be nice
I stand there
The flowers in me dead hand
Tom Russell’s rendition of Bukowski’s Crucifix in a Dead Hand unreeling like a slow snake in me mind
I remember when Craig Mc first introduced me to TR………..and how blown away I was by him…………without music, there is no heart, only the void
Think of Mairead, think of that smile when she saw the tiny angel
Thank god she’s not in Croydon
I give the flowers to another nurse who says
“I have a boyfriend.”
Let’s hope he has half the stuff of Larry
I get outside of the hospital and it’s pissing down, like teeming, I have me hat but you know, for one moment, I just stand there, the rain lashing down and I’m not going to go deep…………..say………gee…….it was cleansing or I felt I knew the answer
Mainly I was thinking
Now and again, you get the chance to meet people like them………….is it a blessing or a curse?
Base a whole doctorate on that.
A man passing says
“You’re getting fucking drenched there”
I give him the look, say
“What’s it to you?”
Wonderful man……………right, I’m so relieved that Mairead never got to know me, the temper, the insecurity, the depression…….yada yada………..who I really am…………. she saw a simple surface , I’m so glad she never knew I was a writer and all that entails …………… Maybe I’ll move to Detroit
And yes, me hands are cold
Sandra and I are glad your friend is getting better.
I think there is so much pressure to be a writer. A lot of time spent in solitude and you’re never sure if the next book will be the breakout or the beginning of the end, a crowd of people who watch your every move and are happy to slander you because they resent your success, well-meaning fans who expect your range of emotions to go from happy to very happy and complain if you were in a bad mood when they met you.
A snapshots of moment in time is not the way to measure a man. When all the pictures are seen together, we see who he truly was.
Life is terrible, wondrous and mundane depending on the moment. I think being willing to look into your heart and face the darkness, well, that is the most courageous act there is.
“Now Croydon is a bad Detroit and if you live in Detroit, I mean no offence, it’s just a place where they chew you up and spit you out, the English version is worse, all cement and coldness and as I don’t expect to be doing a reading there anytime soon, that’s how it is”
I’m from the Detroit area and I LOVE that expression. (A bad Detroit must be very bad indeed).
Ken, I think losing your marriage teaches you a lot about love–in fact, I’d bet you are an expert on the subject.
Ken,You know alot about love; you’re a parent.
About Mairead . . .I think she — and Larry — gave you a moment of utter grace and that you can hold it, relish it, and use it to remind yourself of true beauty in this world.
Don’t waste that glory on self-recrimination. Sometimes strangers see us much more clearly than we see ourselves.
Mairead saw the best you.
“Sometimes strangers see us much more clearly than we see ourselves.”
Pari hit the nail on the head. You have the most amazing experiences because of your soul. I mean, honestly, how many people would go back after their friend was discharged? That should be your sign right there, and our signpost.
Mairead was lucky to know you. And you her.
I’m sure she’d rather not be in Croydon now.
Ken, of course you were meant to meet her; she and Larry were a gift to us from you. We’ve all gotten to meet her now, and Larry. Mairead lives at least a little, here, with us and in these words you’ve given. I think it would please her to know she did.
As always, moving.
Seems like the Croydons and Detroits of the world produce more folk like Mairead and Larry, than do the enclaves of the more fortunate.
Perhaps their union endured those many years because they were focused on each other, rather than the endless pursuit of bling and bullshit.
Thanks for the reminder that there are indeed some fine folk scattered among the savages.
Mostly we only get to see bits and pieces of each other. You saw a bit of her and she saw a bit of you. The other stuff (anger, depression, whatever else) can’t negate the part of you that Mairead saw and loved, the part her husband appreciated as well. And sometimes, I think those unexpected interactions show us the parts of ourselves we’ve forgotten even exist – the good & the not so very. We humans are complicated creatures, no?
That was the best yet, boyo.
Hi Ken. Thank you for this post. It made me tear up. And I don’t tear up much, these days. Kathryn
Ken,Beautiful.At the start of the three months my dad was in hospital dying, he had a 25-yr-old roommate from St. Lucia named Andre — sickle-cell anemia, locked in the cancer ward. He and dad talked fishing in the Caribbean, and God only knows what else. Andre was lovely — stayed about five days and was released. Two months later, dad was moved to the death ward about a week before he died, and a few days in, Andre checked back in, went looking for dad, and told the nurses, “Mr. Dill is very shy, and he’s comfortable with me — you should move me to his room.” Bless them, they did.The night my father died, Andre was there — and came out into the family area with my mom, my half-sister, my dad’s girlfriend and me, and he was the only one sobbing. We were grieving, but he was the one showing it. My father’s last friend.Trust me — you have no idea what you meant to those lovely people. Andre is what love means to me.And thank you for this and all of your posts. Such courage. I don’t want to sound insipid, but it’s inspiring.Best wishes for your friend’s continued recovery.
Blessing or curse? That’s the question, isn’t it? Little bit of both, like a great deal of life.
What bothered you wasn’t Malread’s and her husband’s class; it was the walking away from it. And yes, they knew exactly who you were Ken 🙂
We all have to walk away from what little light we encounter. Does the pain we feel mean we should avoid the light altogether? I know some of us make careers out of haunting the darkness, dodging anything positive that we might regret losing.
Malread and her husband had each other. It ended, but somewhere on the space-time line that happy young couple existed, all into each other and lovey dovey in their old school Irish. Their existence ended, but the fact of it can never be erased. That’ll have to be enough, cuz its all we got, and the only alternative your preferred method of self-ending.
Thanks for writing it Ken.
About ten years ago we moved into a house on the edge of a public golf course in Cambridge, Mass. Our new neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. Corcoran, a couple in their late eighties at the time–tiny people, blue-eyed with silky white hair.
Mr. Corcoran had been the city manager for a long time, years earlier, and every weekend morning in the summer he’d hold court at the edge of the golf course, sitting in an old lawn chair with a hat to protect him from the sun (he’d been in the Seabees in the South Pacific in WWII, said his fair skin had never quite recovered).
All the young politicians would take a break from their games as they passed by to pay homage to him, and he had a kind word for everyone.
Our houses were also on a very busy road with no crosswalk, and the schoolbus only stopped on the other side.
After the first week of school, the phone rang. It as Mr. Corcoran, saying, “dear, we see you running across that awful street every morning to catch the schoolbus, and we worry about you and your two lovely little girls, with your husband traveling for work so much… can’t they stop the bus on our side of the road?”
I said that I’d asked and had been told it was impossible.
“I’m awfully sorry to hear that,” said Mr. Corcoran. “Let me see what I can do.”
He called the mayor.
We got our own schoolbus the next morning, a little van that pulled right into the driveway. Mr. Corcoran came over and shook hands with the driver, all smiles, then turned to me and said, “I made sure you got a nice Irish girl. She’ll take good care of you.”
Kindest man I ever met in Boston, and I wept like a kid at his funeral a year later.
Damn that was a good read. Thank you.
Ken. Thank you.
Ken. Thank you.
Hi KenIt’s ironic that the inadequacies of the health care system (substitute any Western democracy) in regard to private rooms gave you the chance to meet Mairead and Larry, and them you.Just an awesome post – once again, Ken, you inspire me to write.