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A Page From My Life: Three stories of love, parenthood and revelation from Irish people

Read three people’s personal stories taken from A Page From My Life, which is nominated in the An Post Irish Book Awards.

Ray D'Arcy Show

IN THE MIDST of the Covid crisis, Ray D’Arcy invited his RTÉ Radio One listeners to send in ‘A Page from My Life’: 500 words on a memorable event, or a story simply worth sharing. The response was overwhelming – over 2,500 entries were received. 

The stories created a picture of Irish life in microcosm, from funny moments to sad stories, to proud memories. A Page from My Life gathers 150 of these stories, both fiction and non-fiction – and it has been nominated in the TheJournal.ie-sponsored Best Irish Published Book of the Year category at the An Post Irish Book Awards.

Here are three of the non-fiction stories you’ll find in the book. Have a tissue handy…

Keeping in Touch, by Frances Harney

I’m fiddling with the tuning dial, trying to reconnect with RTÉ Radio 1 and a Richard Ford interview. ‘Bloody thing keeps sliding out of tune,’ I complain, more to myself than to Liam.

Suddenly the ancient transistor surges into clarity: ‘A marriage only survives if you can keep the conversation going,’ the writer declares authoritatively. 

My reclining husband rouses into voice: ‘What a load of rubbish!’ I wasn’t sure if he was referring to this eminent author or the actual radio set. ‘Everyone’s an expert on everything these days. Who wants a “surviving marriage” anyway? Does he mean a “living marriage”?’

I was about to answer, but he had already drawn his own conclusion. ‘I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, words only serve to confuse understanding!’ Liam has never
been a big conversationalist. The transmission fades to an unintelligible whirr. I feel him smiling beneath the discarded T-shirt he has placed over his face. I click the dial, and we lapse into a lazy silence.

We are lying semi-naked in the ‘den’, Liam in his illfitting boxers and me in my mismatched bra and knickers. We are lying in the sun, together, apart. This summer
practice is now in its 38th year. With closed eyes, we bathe in the warmth, sheltered in our ‘sanctum sanctorum’.
 
Our cadenced breathing attunes to nature’s own voices, humming, buzzing, chirping, singing, translucent in harmony. I drift on sounds of grazing cattle in nearby fields. Snippets of conversations carry on memory’s wavelengths – my mother’s voice – ‘Do you think she’ll marry him?’ My father’s tones resonant and decisive.

‘They’re a total mismatch, him and his motorbikes, her and her books. He’s a townie, she’s a country girl. I don’t even know if he goes to Mass. You’ll have to talk to her.’

The petal touch of Liam’s hand on mine draws me back to the present – skin on skin – and I reawaken. His gentleness talks as our fingers intertwine, reaffirming his promise ‘to take my hand’. We stretch palm to palm, reciprocating tenderness – ‘I take thee.’ He rhythmically strokes the moist folds to my fingertips turning my dial, megahertz spinning – ‘to love and to cherish’.

His thumb caresses my palm with perfect frequency. I cup it and thrill at its firmness within my soft embrace – ‘to have and to hold’. Our hands pulsating in the most
ancient of all languages copulate in scintillating communion. My heart bursts into full bloom – ‘for all of our lives’.

No words to confuse understanding as these two hands fit one into the other, perfectly matched, each bathing in the warmth of the other, totally satisfied.

These hands, snug in their snuggery, have held each other through births and deaths, disappointments and joys, sickness and health, good times and bad. If marriage survives on conversation, it lives on the language of the touch of love. No need for fine-tuning.

The reception is strong with conversations that will last a lifetime.

Two Things, by Eoin Pól Ó Rúis

There were two things I had to say that weekend, to confess. No – to tell, not confess; after all, I’d left those days behind. It’s tempting to say, ‘that was a different me,’ but I have always thought people dispense this phrase too readily, too easily. In my case, it wasn’t a different me.

As I sat on the edge of the chair in my bedsit on North Circular Road, puffed with pride at how far I had come, I was still the same me. The same me that made a decision on a balmy summer’s evening in Piazza della Repubblica, the sunset glittering through the frolicking fountain, piercing bubbles in glasses of prosecco on the tables underneath the stage whilst Rome’s equivalent of Frank Sinatra crooned ‘I Did It My Way’. It was precisely at that moment that I knew. After months of doubt verging on despair, I suddenly realised what I needed to do. That evening, I packed my bags and turned my back on the seminary, turned my back on five years of studying for the priesthood. A whole new life lay before me.

And here I was. I had found a job in Dublin and felt that I had begun to put down some semblance of roots. The Catholic Church didn’t exactly cultivate the needs of the individual; you were part of a collective, a bigger picture, living a communal life. You can imagine then the joy and freedom for me having a place of my own. And, as I turned the key in the big red door and headed towards the city centre, I knew I had made the
right decision. There were just these last things I wanted to – no – I needed to tell.

My mother was already there, standing outside Bewley’s Oriental Café, keenly watching the world go by, cigarette in hand. Meeting up on a Saturday was a regular occurrence, as she would often spend the weekend at my brother’s place in Drogheda and we would meet up in the Big Smoke for a latte and a squishy bun. I never led her to believe that today was any different but, as we hugged, I noticed an extra glint in her eye. It was almost as if she knew.

We went in and sank into a big red booth. 

‘I’m gay,’ I announced before her coat was off.

‘I know,’ she said. ‘You might as well tell me your hair’s a different colour. It doesn’t make a difference. I love you. I love you as you are, as God made you.’

My heart exploded in gratitude and tears slid down my face. She held my hand and listened and listened and listened . . .

Suddenly, she jumped up. ‘Oh, my God, what time is it? We’ll miss Mass!’

I couldn’t bring myself to tell her my second secret, that I no longer went to church. Judging by her smile as we sat into the pews of St Teresa’s, though, I guessed she already knew.

She, by Kate Durrant

It’s easy to pass 25 years.

It flies by in a blur of school and work and the mundane busyness that is the bread and butter of day to day life.

Of tiny teeth left under sleepy pillows, of parties and chickenpox, and children with bit parts as angels in Christmas concerts.

Of shepherd’s pie every Tuesday, of homemade cards too precious to ever discard, and slammed doors and broken teenage hearts.

The good times resonate, the bad times less so, although undoubtedly they are the times that shape us more.

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The first step, the first time a tiny hand clasps yours, the first time you hear that most beautiful of words: ‘Mammy’. 

All those firsts, all those little miracles, all those long days and short years, bring us all too soon to our goodbyes.

Those of us lucky enough to have kept our children, to still have them in our lives, to have with them the relationship we had always wished but at times never dared hope for, get the privilege to say goodbye as they shed us and grow their new skin.
 
The dramas of life, at the time so terrible, now become the anecdotes of Christmas Day lunches and wedding day speeches.

And it’s true to say that the drama that temporarily divided us along the way is the same drama than binds us so tightly now.

So today I say farewell to her, my first-born, my best, and toughest, of teachers, as she moves away and properly loosens the ties that bind us.

She who must go and make her own firsts, her own wonderful mistakes and huge triumphs.

She who taught me that others’ opinions and thoughts were theirs and theirs alone.

She with the big, beautiful heart, and the ability and will to change lives.

She who will always try to do the right thing when doing the wrong is easier.

She who passionately stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

And as she moves away into a life that is only beginning to reveal itself, I hope that she learns to be as kind to herself as she is to others. 

That she learns early, and often, that it’s OK to say no, and remains true to what she really believes in but is open to the truths of others.

That she takes pleasure in the minutiae of life, for therein lies the really important stuff, and that she finds love and great friendships and gives them her all, as love never grows in a cold climate.

I hold back my tears and wave as she passes through the portal of passport control and I offer up a silent prayer that she will always remember that whatever and whoever comes to pass, the door to my heart and my home, to the heart of she who loved her first, is only ever the turn of a key away.

A Page From My Life is published by Harper Collins Ireland. The book is nominated in the TheJournal.ie-sponsored category at the An Post Irish Book Awards – Best Irish Published Book. To vote for your favourite nominated books, visit this link. 

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