Cricket has started a new blog called Slice of Life Sunday where she provides a series of prompts to choose from which her readers can use to submit relevant experiences from their lives. This week one of the prompts was A Forbidden Love. Believe it or not I have actually had such an experience. Yes, it freaks me out too. Here is my story….
When I was 19 I had a bit of a bad year. I think the best way to describe it was that I was steeped in disenchantment. I don’t really know what triggered it but as I have mentioned before in my late teens my mother became intent on curing me of depression. I was subjected to a variety of treatments and supposed cures which left me, even awake, feeling like I was in the midst of a nightmare.
So I fled to Ireland and the comfort of my Grandmother’s arms and my cousin, Patrick’s, anarchic attitude to life, both of which did a great deal to cheer me. I was burnt out, I was faded. I held my breath as the chill air from the North Atlantic settled on my skin, but it restored me.
Patrick had a friend from University. Aiden O’Flaherty was typically Irish. Tall and lithe with a crop of black hair that looked like it had never seen any side of a comb. He walked with ease through the village. I feared he was too sure of himself but people treated him with affection.
As I got to know him I experienced something other than the feeling that the earth was oppressive. For the first time in months. I grew ardent, exuberant. My Grandmother’s expression grew stony.
For those of you who didn’t grow up in Ireland in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, I need to explain to you that a type of civil war existed at the time. Catholic was pitted against Protestant under the guise of seeking a unified Ireland.
I saw some horrible instances of violence and bigotry which still shock me when I think about them. All in the name of religion.
Although an extremely devout Catholic, my Grandmother could be open-minded when necesary. When Aunt Jo got divorced from her alcoholic, abusive husband she was supportive. When my Catholic mother married my Protestant father she swallowed her misgivings and opened her arms. But when she learned I was seeing Aiden she assumed the guise of vengeful Angel.
‘He is not welcome in this house,’ she said. ‘Under any circumstance.’
At first I couldn’t figure out why she was so adamant, why she had taken such a dislike to someone she barely knew. Aiden was bright, good-looking, studying Economics at a prestigious University. Then Patrick filled me in. Two words – Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein is the political arm of the IRA. It seems that Aiden’s father had worked for a while as an advisor to Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein. It was anyone’s guess as to where his sympathies lay but the connection was enough for my Grandmother. You see she hates the IRA. It is the only time I have heard her use the word. Hate. Ever.
It was often assumed that if you were a Catholic living in Ireland back then that you were completely in agreement with everything the IRA did. That was actually a bit of a fallacy. Hardly anyone I know sympathised with the brutality of their methods. I remember being horrified at some of the things they did in the name of the Irish people.
My Grandmother never forgave them for the death of her brother who was caught in one of their blasts in the 70s when visiting friends in Northern Ireland. She referred to them as murderers from that day forward. ‘We are all Irish and we’re fighting each other,’ she often said. ‘For what?’
I was starry-eyed and careless. I didn’t believe for a moment that Aiden had any ties to the IRA. He was a free spirit. We walked on the beach, eating hot chips from newspaper, talking of art and music, laughing at The Young Ones. He was just like me. He cared about people. He could never condone violence of any kind, especially brother against brother.
As my Grandmother’s eyes grew colder I decided to broach the subject with him, to see exactly where he was coming from. ‘We’re fighting our own people,’ I offered as we discussed recent problems in Belfast. ‘They’re as Irish as we are. It’s wrong to hurt them. To kill them.’
‘No,’ he countered. ‘We’re more Irish. They’re British lapdogs. They’re nothing.’
His eyes were black, pitiless. My head was filled with a roaring sound which I thought was fear but later realised was dismay.
For a few days, a week, I played with Aiden’s limitations, hoping things would change, but the wind grew raw and the light grew sallow. And my heart grew sad. And I knew I had to choose. It’s the first time I’ve ever put my principles ahead of what I felt in my heart and it hurt like hell. But I knew at some place beyond where my heart lay, that my Grandmother was right.
So Aiden and I parted. He protested, painting a picture of a happy life. I asked him one more question. It was a test the way a maiden tests a knight.
‘Would you save the life of a man who was a Protestant?’ I asked.
Aiden didn’t answer. I was full of grief and could do nothing but see how it really was. The air was quiet with loneliness but I couldn’t refute his position. I didn’t stay.