In April 1974 my brother was killed in a tragic accident, he was strangled on a rope swing near our home. I saw the aftermath, I went down to the green to see two neighbours desperately trying to revive him using CPR… the image is seared into my memory… the blueness of his perfect skin, and so on… As a teenager, dealing with hormones and changes to your body, you are not really equipped to deal with extraneous horrors. These days it would have a label, ptsd or post traumatic stress disorder, and I would probably be offered counselling, but back then, you got nothing. I was expected to be able to deal with it all and get back to school. I went to his funeral on the Friday and back to school on Monday. I walked out of school at lunchtime, and pretty much played truant for the next 18 months. Nobody tried to find out why I wasn’t going to school, I was left to my own devices. This is not the story I wish to relate, it’s just the background.
A family friend came to stay for a week in the summer holidays. She was very much like my younger sister, she had been on holidays with us to Wales, she liked to be part of our family. She was a replacement for my lost brother… In that, when ever I used to go out to play in the holidays, my Mum used to say take your brother with you.
“Aw mum!” was always the answer to that instruction. Little brothers could be a pain in the ass. A lead weight which tied you down to doing sensible things, and not more dangerous and exciting exploits which your Mum would be mortified by, when your little brother dobs you in.
” What were you thinking of ? Climbing into the electricity sub station to get a ball? What kind of example is that to show your little brother?”
That year, it was Yvonne who became my little brother. A proxy chaperone to stave off my natural desire to do ridiculously dangerous things. Given that my Mum had already lost one full-hardy son, I didn’t complain as vocally as I would when it was my brother who was used as an anchor.
So I took Yvonne out with me on one of my little adventures.
I took her down the park, showed her the best places to catch frogs and toads, but couldn’t find any. Given that it was High summer, frogs and toads are not found in their usual places, in spring they are all around the ponds and streams, basically intent on mating, whereas in the summer they are hidden away, under rocks and in long grass, intent now on finding things to eat and avoiding the perils of predators and young boys catching them.
So after finding little of interest to catch in the park I told Yvonne of another place which only I knew about. There was a brick building on one of the out-lying farms which had been built in the 18th century to encourage amphibians and other fauna to amass, there by giving the naturalist Erasmus Darwin a place to study them all the year around. Don’t ask me how I found this place, I have no memory of the hows or whys or wherefores, suffice to say, my wanderlust would out last that of my mates, so that many of our adventures would eventually lead to me sallying forth on my own. Usually accompanied with sweary curses, and or, fisticuffs. I was a renegade, I didn’t care what anyone else thought or said, I would just follow my own path.
It was a hot summer’s day and when we got to the bricked in covered pool, which Darwin had built for his studies, we were delighted to fine the depths full of amphibian life. Newt and frogs swam in the deep water with free abandon. I said to Yvonne,
“I’m going in.”
I stripped down to my underpants and slipped effortlessly into the cool deep water. To my surprise, as I arose from the depths, after unsuccessfully trying to catch frogs, I saw Yvonne entering the water in her bra and pants. She yelped at the cold water and didn’t last long in there, as the bricked hut above the pool gave it a claustrophobic air.
After this brief splash about in the pool we sat on the corrugated roof in our underwear and spoke of serious things… As much as any teenagers can.
I opened up to her about my feelings towards my brother’s death, more so than I had to even my own parents. I told her that I simply didn’t know how to live anymore. That with death coming so ridiculously easy, I didn’t see the point of anything. Why try to do anything, to be anyone when it can all go in an instant? I don’t remember her replies to these tortuous proclamations, she was Thirteen I didn’t expect her to provide a meaning for Life… but the point was that she was ready to listen. And that’s it really. No perfect moral, no answers, just the fact that someone was prepared to listen to me babble on about my feelings. She was as good as a sister to me, just for that.
I had many more interesting experiences with girls, mostly salacious, mostly self-serving, yet this vignette is what comes to me now. The reason why?
I find myself in the same situation now as I was then. 45 years on, I find that I see no point in existence. I had mapped a future with my beloved… I had no plan B. So I am finding moving on to a new understanding excruciating. Thinking just makes me sad.
So for months I painted day in day out, for eight hours a day. Then I stopped. I took up fishing. I now spend all my waking hours wanting to be bankside. Weird. I’m not that obsessive. I know that this is just a therapy. It stops me sinking back into the depths of despair.
it’s touch and go, but I have a supportive family, and good friends, and I am trying to find a reason to carry on… That’s as much as can be expected of me, under the circumstances.
Dale Beloved Partner of Marie.
ps Please do not think I’m suicidal, I am not! I’m trying hard to find a way to carry on.