remember any affectionate moments with your mother?”
was probably feeling an awkward silence that I was blissfully unaware of while
I attempted to route through a few decades in under a minute.
said, “Mammy wasn’t touchy feely. Just sometimes if she had an itch she might
ask me to rub her back.” It was true that Mammy wasn’t the kind of Mammy to
have us on her knee or give us a hug, but there were things I would remember later,
maybe too late.
That day in
Dun-Laoghaire when we went to the bakery and she told me to pick out whatever bun
I’d like, and I had the chocolate éclair. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to eat it on the spot. There was the torture of carrying it to the bus stop in its paper bag and holding it on my knee until we had completed our journey up the hill on the number 7A bus to Sallynoggin and then the ten minute walk home until I could tear open the bag at the kitchen table and demolish it with a cup of tea that Mammy poured from the same tin teapot that everyone else on our street had. I remember biting into it and some of
the cream oozing into my mouth, with the rest of it falling from my lips to my
chin. Bits of chocolate breaking away, but never getting as far as the floor,
and that light choux pastry, all air and chewiness, slaughtered by the captor
of my mouth.
other things I remembered. The time I was so sick that I couldn’t get off the
sofa, and Mammy got a bucket and every time I got sick she emptied it into the
toilet. The bucket was orange and Kay from next door was called in because she had
a book where you could look up any kind of illness that a kid had. It was
called the Dr. Spock book. You knew that if your mother went next door to
consult from the book that it was serious. The time with the bucket was apparently
a stomach virus. I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded good.
I was a bad
daughter from the start. Mammy went in next door all up in arms one morning because
I had such acute lower abdominal pains. Kay looked it up and diagnosed a kidney
problem. The doctor was summoned. Neither the doctor nor the Dr. Spock book
could diagnose that I’d been up until the early hours of the morning, straining
my back, reading ‘Tom Sawyer’ with a torch under the sheets. I didn’t dare tell
the truth. I had too much to lose. As the years went on, I missed copious amounts
of school suffering from the insomnia induced by my secret reading habits: Enid
Blyton, Patricia Lynch, Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain, are but a few of the
bad influences who weakened my academic prowess. Thanks to the Dr. Spock book,
I was unable to get through the day due to anaemia: “ look at the black rings
under her eyes”, which sounded too professional to contest. I was on a roll, I
could do all nighters at the age of nine and was already cute enough to know
that the best policy was to keep shtumm. It worked.
always looking for a sad story, and if you are the victim in it, even better.
People who do therapy all have the same story. It is ‘look at how damaged I was
by my terrible parents and look at how well I have overcome it.’ My story is
different. My parents were not the only perpetrators of my childhood misery and
traumas, and quite frankly, not many people would have survived my childhood as
well as I did. In my case, therapy helped me remember things from both sides,
and ultimately all I could do was to thank the above mentioned authors for saving
me. When the real world was too overwhelming to deal with, reading became a form
of escapism. There was the real world, and the other world , the one I lived
in, full of books - novels, poetry and
even the odd Dale Carnegie thrown in, that might have wandered in from my
father’s bookshelf to my grubby child hands. My favourite though, was Patricia Lynch
‘King of the Tinkers’. Granny gave it to me for my tenth birthday, along with a
book of Irish fairy tales by Sinead DeValera. By ten it had become official
that there was no point in giving me anything other than a book. One cousin was
creative with a cookery book, and for about three years I managed to combine reading
with making peppermint creams – a hideous paste of caster sugar, water and
peppermint essence, rolled into little round coinlike discs.
probably dozens, even hundreds of kind and loving things that my mother did for
me, but the relationship sets the tone, and it was always strained. A difficult
marriage, the demon drink and a basic lack of parenting tools were things that
set the scene when I was a kid in the 70’s. I may not have been alone in this,
the only thing that set me apart was the fact that my mother never really liked
me. For whatever reason that may be, and there is a plethora of possibilities,
it shaped our relationship and I never managed to find a way back.
though. She may have a different story. Her prodigal daughter. No respect. Breaking
with convention. A lesbian. Every mother’s nightmare. Maybe getting married and
having children was a last attempt to win her over. And when the whole thing
backfired, it was nothing but a confirmation for her that her daughter was a no
good loser. Might she have influenced my decision not to follow my other true
love, my passion for writing, in order to look good in a capitalist corporate
role? Status, money, power. Not really. That was something that she only valued
as something a man does. The woman really only needed to ‘mary well’. I didn’t.
But who really knows what makes us do the
things we do? Not even the shrink. Not even ourselves most of the time. Life
happens, and if we decide to navel gaze we can come up with all sorts of concoctions.
In life she
was quite the drama queen; in death she was very amenable. A short illness
without much pain, one that meant we could say goodbye. There were nights on a
recliner chair in the nursing home. There were long days where all we could do
was sit around her bed and wait. But what were we waiting for? Does your mother
ever die? Now, years later, I have discovered that no, she doesn’t, she is
always there, and no matter how difficult the relationship was, she is still
your mother, and yes, even if it was the hardest love you ever had to fight
for, you loved her.
right. I’m a bad daughter. It’s taken me four years to get the ball rolling to
have her gravestone heading engraved. Since 1979 it boasts my father as a permanent
resident. She has been there with him since 2015, unbeknownst to strangers who
like to roam graveyards reading the epitaphs.
gravestone engraved is not easy. We edited and reedited and found multiple errors
before realising we had forgotten to add that she was also a grandmother, and
then the issue that her name was not written in the same size her husband’s
was, which her feminist daughter was not going to let happen. Then, there it
was. A sentence that said Mammy was there with Daddy, in St. Fintan’s graveyard,
on the other side of the bay, the place they grew up before they got married. All
of the lettering correct perhaps, but is that where she lies when I can hear
her right here beside me, egging me on to eat an éclair or retreat to read a
book, still whispering into my ear that I need to be respectable, that I’m a
lost case, her ghost handing me a gin and tonic to keep my grief company in
the only way that she knew how to deal with it. Just this time round, instead of giving her an angry lecture
on the evils of drink, I let her off, raise the glass and say ‘Cheers’. Rest in Peace Mother, see you another time.
You would think that telling a storyto a bunch of listeners is safer than writing one down. When I was in New York a few years
ago, I told a story about an exciting sex adventure with a lover who was 20 years
younger than me. As the mother
of 3 millennials there is no way I was going to have that story told anywhere
other than a continent away from my children’s ears and nowhere that it could
be found online. In Seattle I went on stage with a story about
a dildo, andthis time I
even ventured to
give a tamer
version of it in Germany, at the Loose Lips storytelling event that was
being hosted by no
other than myown son.
Telling a story is safe becausethere is no real evidence other than other
people’s version and interpretation of it. No matter what you tell, all that
can be passed on are other peoples version of it, combined with my denial of
ever saying anything remotely close to what I really did say.
So when the
topic last week at Loose Lips was Forgiveness and/or
Betrayal, I began to
get stuck. -Forgiveness! The very cornerstone
of who I am, I could take over the mic for the whole night and give a keynote
speech on the topic. Again, it was being hosted by no
other than my son Eddie. The day before the event he explained that he had
chosen this topic as he wanted to see if people would come along not only with
hilarious stories, drinking stories and fun anecdotes. Now was the test to see
what kind of sad and deep stories might come up.
The way Loose Lips works is that there are
always three or four planned story tellers and then, after a short break, the
stage is open to members of the audience to come up and tell a story for about
5 minutes - a true and mostly unrehearsed story. The most exciting thing about
the evening is that you just don't know what's coming. Exciting to the audience
that is, and absolutely nerve wrecking for the host of the shownot knowing just what is coming next.
So I was
all gung ho with my forgiveness tales, and yet when he called me up I found
that I couldn't bring myself to getting up and telling
that one sad story, possibly
one of the experiences that I see as a great milestone in my life, and I realised that actually, when it comes to the sad endingmaybe it is easier to
write about it than to take the wind out of a fun evening by sharing a therapeutic
past experience with an audience that are waiting for a laugh.
So I told the story of the ex boyfriend
who was a serial liar and how indignant he was at being ditched just for
telling a few lies about two timing me. It managed to get a laugh and I
followed it up with a short lecture on the topic of forgiveness. You see I have
this theory that forgiveness is not really something that you decide to do or
not do, it has to come. Well,
to me it does.
For many years I could never find a reason
to forgive the man who abused me as a child.( In Ireland we use words like abuse and molestation to soften the blow
of hearing about child rape.) And in Ireland, abuse was not a very uncommon
thing when I was growing up. In fact, looking back today, on the abuse
histories that have become public, I hardly make the grade – it wasn’t a priest
or a person of authority, or better still a Rockstar or celebrity like say
Jimmy Saville or Gary Glitter. I was a huge fan of Gary Glitter at the age of
ten. If I was going to be abused, why the hell could it not have been him, I
even had his poster on my bedroom wall. No, it was just a random uncle. Not
even a blood relative, one that married in to the family. A boring chef who
looked a bit like Elvis and made me feel like it was all my fault that he had
become a paedophile. But that’s Irish
guilt for you. We were reared on it.
I decided to confront the bastard. I had just returned to Ireland after many
years abroad and by now I had kids of my own. This guy was still on the loose and I wondered
what my kids would think of me when they were older if they asked me ‘hey mom,
what did you do about it when that uncle molested you?’ What if my answer was ‘nothing’?
That thought drove me to the cops and then the whole thing was exposed. (Pardon
When the was confronted with it and not only vehemently denied it,but tried to claim that it must have been my father
(who died when I was 14) who had abused me and that I was all confused now,
what with the passing of time, I was even more sure that forgiveness did not
belonganywherein this story. He knew what he did, and it wasn’t as if I was out to get him, Ihad only wantedit acknowledged and to
get an apology. I expectedthe typical
Irish bigoted schmuck behaviour that I grew up with. That he'd say something
like 'ah well, it was different in the 70s, and I was drunk and frustrated and
blah blah I'm sorry luv...' I was expecting to listen to that and to name and
shame him in public, or
at least make sure that all of the family knew, and
that would be it. Of course it didn't happen like that at all though. The plot only
thickened. As soon as he denied everything and made me out to be a liar and tried to pin the guilt to a
dead innocent man, he became the family hero. Of
course, it was easier for them to believe him as it meant that they wouldn’t
need to come to terms with having a paedophile in the family. The case was
dropped and over the next few years two of my cousins approached me
privately telling me that they had also been victims, yet neither of them
wanted to make a statement or stand behind me, even though they knew the truth.One of them beratingly told me that
she didn’t think it was a good idea to upset the harmony in the family. Harmony? Hello? Interestingly, another of
these cousins is a therapist, which I found pretty scary, knowing that by not
coming forward all they were doing were protecting a paedophile. Families are
erm, so harmonious...
years later, in 2013 when Nelson Mandela died, there
were a lot of tributes paid to him. Let's face it, this man was the crown prince of
forgiveness, something that I couldn’t understandgiven that he had been so brutally tortured. Yet, he forgave the prison officers whohad tortured him over
many years. I remember reading somewhere that they would put him standing in
front of a desk and slam the
drawer of it closed on his testicles. What
part of this is forgivable?
Then one day I heard someone on the radio
quote something he had recounted about forgiveness. He said "As I walked out the door toward the
gate that would lead to my freedom, I know if I didn't leave my bitterness and
hatred behind, I'd still be in prison." So in other words he was saying that
if you don’t forgive people, you will never be free. Damn it, the man was
right. Here I was years and years later, still not free, while my rapist was
probably out for a round of golf, or more likely a round of beers.
So that was it. If I wasn't able to
forgive this person, I would never be free of what happened. Istill didn't decide to
forgive himthough, not because I didn’t want
to, I’d gotten that far, but because I just couldn’t.
Then one day
it was as if it happened all by itself. Instead of feeling the way I imagined Jesus might have felt when he said things like ‘forgive
them, for they know not what they do’, ( I imagined he would feel a bit like a very humble Rockstar)
I realised that instead of feeling pain, grief and anger and all of the feelings you might expect to have from time to time when dwelling over a lost childhood, all that I felt now was sorry for this
patheticexcuse of a human being. How
awful it must be to come into this world and be nothing but a lying conniving
paedophile who knows how to make choux pastry. And I felt thankful. Thankful
that I was never sold into his behaviour and never believed that it was a good
idea to protect a paedophile in order to play at happy families. A whole layer
of pain slipped away, I was a caterpillar who turned into butterfly all of a sudden, and a whole new era began, one that he didn’t feature in.
When I recently read his death notice
citing how he would be sadly missed by his niecesand nephews, etc., I thought about writing in
condolence book that this niece will not sadly miss him due to what he did.I decided not to, I think it belongs to the whole forgiving thing.
It was because whatever I write or think or do, it truly does not have a place with anyone else. There are people who cared for this person and believed his lies, there
are others who knew his crime and protected him, and there is me, who knows
what happened, me, who couldn’t tell this story out loud in public. Me, who
knows that if I hadn’t forgiven him, he never would have died.
There’s a thin line between reaching a state of inner peace
comparable to that of a Buddhist monk and being bang on in the middle of a
nervous breakdown. Thing is, I’m never sure which state I currently find myself
in. It’s true that one feeds the other at times. You need to have a proper
meltdown to let the storm settle and find your peace. And peace wouldn’t be
peace if you didn’t allow the true tempest of this life to enter your accepting
and non-judgemental state of whatever you want to call not letting stuff get to
The buzz word nowadays is ‘Mindfulness’. If I understand it
correctly, it means that you should mind your mind, like think of it as a place
where you set yourself up for feeling good or bad, and as with all of these pop
psychology hits, it’s about living in the now. Like Buddhism it involves meditation
and sitting cross legged on a straight-backed chair, and then you have to
focus, focus, focus…
So far, I’m pretty good at not sweating the small stuff. I don’t
worry about the mess, in fact, I’m fond of my clutter, and fortunately my body
image is not dependant upon what people or media say it should be. (But unfortunate
for those who have to look at me on a regular basis). I’m the high priestess of
detachment, as soon as I find love I begin hatching an escape route. Having
moved house roughly 20 times in my life – and that’s not counting the in-between
places, clutter just doesn’t have a chance to raise it’s little head.
When finances are low, I live in the moment by maxing out my
credit card. Because in that moment the transaction goes through, and past and
future there is none. And so on…
And yes, I know that that’s not the way you’re supposed to
do it, and maybe that’s why doing it also ends up in a near nervous breakdown,
or burnout as they like to call it in Germany, pronounced ‘Bern hout’. Here’s
the thing though, surely this condition of being on the verge of a breakdown is
the most honest and realistic state a human can experience? It means you are
not trying to fake everything being all happy and rosy. It is real. Life is
hard, even the Buddha himself said that. If you want to live life to the full, embrace
every challenge, accept yourself, live on your terms and be true to yourself,
believe me, it’s going to be damn hard. That is the secret that you won’t read
about very much, because who the hell would be stupid enough to write a book on
the doom and gloom of self-realisation.
So what to do? Cross your legs and meditate? Shop online for
stuff, stuff and more stuff? From Dale Carnegie to modern day Mindfulness, it
all boils down to the same thing – if you can just be fine with yourself the
way you are, even on the days when the roof seems to be caving in, then
everything else will fall into place.
There’s a woman who walks up and down the streets around
West 82nd and Amsterdam Avenue asking people if they’ll give her a
dollar. I’d put her around 80. Small, wiry, bent, wispy hair. Brittle bird legs
in black tights, but still a follower of fashion in a knit skirt with a tartan
pattern, more the kind of skirt you might see on a 20-year-old Asian student. Pale
pink lipstick, and a crimson red blouse topped with a cream overcoat despite
the muggy August New York heat. I wonder what she does with the money she
collects. She doesn’t look like she eats anything, can’t tell if she drinks.
She’s sober when she pushes her trolley bag up and down 82nd, asking
‘do you have a dollar for me?’ I don’t give her one.
I keep my dollars for the MoMa. My feet are killing me after
walking into the city, but I’m scared of the subway. I did make a weak attempt,
but have no idea what they mean by uptown and downtown. Both of these expressions
mean the same thing where I come from: Uptown – as in, I’m going up the town to
get some shopping. Downtown – as in, I’m going down the town to get some
shopping. And there’s no way I’m going to ask a stranger what it means. After
all, this is New York, I might get shot.
The first thing I see in the MoMa is a long way from art. It’s
an obese ageing woman with poor dress sense and flat shoes. Myself. There I am,
my reflection scaring me in long glass window as I make my way over to find
Jackson Pollack. And I’m on my own. This is a recipe for becoming depressed and
lonely, but it’s New York, a place where people go out of their way to
translate anything negative into the positive. For ‘no’, they say ‘I don’t
think so’, ‘yes’ is ‘of course’, so that translates my sad reflection in American speak as something like: an interesting and
rather unique lady of a certain age. That sounds better.
And how emotional this interesting woman gets when she walks
right into the massive Jackson Pollock painting. You see, this is the man who
made me fall in love with art, not just now as a distraction to my unique self,
but towards the end of the last century when I bought a book of poetry, having
fallen in love with words. The cover of the book had this amazing painting
screaming out at me, all colour and splash and alive and hungry and happy, it was a picture of how I wanted to say I
felt. And somewhere at the back of the book in tiny writing it named the artist
as Jackson Pollack. So there I was, touched by beauty on the cover of a second
hand poetry book at the age of 17 and now, decades later, standing in front of the
real thing, wishing I could have met this genius, if only just to tell him ‘Thank
you for creating this and not Microsoft Excel, because this makes so much more sense in my attempt to understand the universe.’
But I will never get to talk to this man who died before I was born. Jackson
never got old. Killed in a car crash aged 44.
The Great Art Revolution
I have to keep doing a reality check. Up to a few years ago the
thoughts of walking around the MoMa on a Wednesday afternoon seemed about as
likely as riding a unicorn through the desert to a gay ice cream parlour with massage chairs
and chilled champagne. So given the difficulty in accepting that this is
actually for real and that I’ve made it to New York, there is nothing about it
that can possibly be complained about, not the queues, or ‘lines’ as they call
them here, not the obnoxious family with the mom picking on the dad and the dad
picking on the kids and the kids picking on each other. What the hell made them
feel it was a good idea to appear in public is beyond me, unless, of course,
they are a live art installation or something. Not even these awful sensible shoes that are still pressing into my bunion and giving me an ever so slight painful and embarrassing
limp, no, nothing can take away the excitement of the MoMa NYC. Everything is
Matisse’s dancers spread across another wall, a vibrant
spread of color and movement, in one way so simple and yet, this is the art
that influenced radical contemporary art of the 20th century. I sit
back from it for a while and let it wash over me, trying to absorb it in
combination with the flow of people coming and going. It’s loud. The world is
alive and free, in the painting and all around me.
A drabness of Art Lovers
The place is full of the greats that have inspired me since
my teens. This is the art that made me love art. I feel high. A large group
have gathered around a small painting, I stroll over and realise that it’s a
Salvador Dali, ‘The Persistence of Memory’, which I had always thought was just
called ‘Time’. It is surprisingly small, given that I’m used to seeing massive
prints of these dripping clocks. I’m not a Dali fan, I don’t like moustaches
and I just don’t get him, but apparently most people visiting this gallery are,
and a drabness of art lovers surround the painting, holding up selfie sticks to
create hideous snaps alongside the painting – after all, what could be more
exciting than seeing a real Dali, other than getting a photo of it with your
own face taking up half of the phote. I decide to join the mob and politely ask
the gallery attendant standing beside the paining, ‘would you mind taking my
‘Sorry Ma’m’, he replies, ‘I’m in uniform’. So that’s me
told. I assume him being in uniform means he cannot take a photo, so I manage a
selfie of my face, which I don’t particularly like, alongside a painting that I
don’t like at all. This is wild, I think, just wild, and limp on without
questioning myself as to why I just took a photo that I am never going to post
on any social media site.
The Art of the Cloakroom
There’s no way I can take in as many painting as I’d like
to, so I watch people dropping their bags at the cloakroom for about half an
hour, not sure it this too is art or just a practical necessity. There are two old dears, I mean ancient old dears serving
at the random information desk, and they are most definitely art, no doubt about
that. I walk a few blocks, venturing my way down the steps of the subway, and
manage to navigate my way back by public transport without being shot or
murdered even once.
It’s almost dark, and as I walk along Amsterdam Avenue I see
her from behind. She’s still at it, been walking these streets all day. Yes, it’s
the same old girl asking people ‘would you give me a dollar’? I’d love to know
more about this woman’s story, but I don’t dare approach her. I pass her on the
left, and she doesn’t need to ask, because yes, I would give her a dollar, and without
much eye contact, I awkwardly slip one into her hand and keep walking.
One of those big red Hop-on/Hop-off buses passes along the
street. It’s showing people the highlights of New York. I’m glad not to be on
it. The streets of New York are a work of art, and here I am, in the very
I shouldn’t be writing you this letter. I should be hearing
about you from my son, your childhood best friend. It should be about some
course you are doing, or a plan that you all have to meet up. But that’s all
gone. Now there’s just that awful day that you went missing. The day a boy
was seen jumping off the bridge. Next time I saw you, you were in a coffin,
your body, bashed up by the waves; bruised, broken, dead. The boy who told me ‘be
nice to nerds, you’ll be working for them some day.’ The boy who I watched grow
up, who I held great faith in. Dead at 18.
And what’s left? The rest of us. Your inconsolable friend,
his sister and his mother, travelling back to the West of Ireland for your
funeral. Sitting in your home. Going into your bedroom and picking up your
things. Yesterday this was your camera, these were your pyjama bottoms, that
was your sketchbook. Now they feel strange to the touch. Relicts. And we, who
never shut up, are silent. There are no words for our despair. This anger,
confusion, grief that we carry, all ends with the fact that you are gone, and
we didn’t save you.
Look, I’m sorry if there’s anything I could have done but
didn’t. You do remember how I told you that I preferred chatting to kids than
adults, right? That kids were more interesting and didn’t judge me the way
grown-ups so often did. You were five when we made friends, and by barely nine
or ten we were having our chats about god, gays, politics and chocolate. You
were a clever kid with the dry wit of an adult, but you were still a kid, and even if I
was raging when I caught you gliding down the stairs in a plastic laundry basket, I loved how brave you were. Always. Everything.
Remember the Lego, the Bionicles, the Forts, the Pirate Ships?
Cinema visits and the time you kids got the bus into town on your own and came
back so late that I almost had the police out? I assumed that all of that was a
preparation for decades of adulthood.
And then the pre-teen years of Vans, Canterbury pants and Game Consoles. You
were brilliant. When the real teenage years hit, you were level gazillion at
any game you wanted to be. School was a doddle and you could crack codes so
well that when the legal department of some American gaming corporation called your
home to track down Pakka al Sharu, your mother politely explained that this was
the fake ID of a 14 year old boy.
But something happened along the way. Why will I never get
to work for you? I agonize over what killed you. Were you too sensitive? Was it
society with a heap of expectations that you didn’t want to live up to? Was it
because of us liberal parents allowing our kids to think for themselves?
And that medication they gave you. Did it really work? Did
your hormones attack your sense of reasoning so badly that you couldn’t see
beyond that dark place you had come to? You had your issues; maybe they
overwhelmed you, and blinded you to how much you were loved and admired. If
only I could have seen it coming. If only, if only.
But understanding it won’t bring you back. Believe me please
that I’m not mad with you. Not anymore. Just heartbroken.
I think about all the
fun we had when you guys were kids, and try to accept that all those years of
you coming in and out of our house, the shared driving to school, the kids
parties, the sleepovers, playground politics and books and games so carefully
chosen to help you kids think and learn new skills, that all of it was not
about you preparing to be an adult at all, in fact that was it: those were the
days of your life.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but sometimes
one child raises the whole village, teaching it that this world, the way it is
now, cannot save everyone.
If I could go back in time, there is only one thing I would
ever want to change. I would slap you alive again and convince you not to jump
off that bridge, insist that you give life a chance, believe me that in order
to love life you must despise it sometimes. Be that nerd who we all end up working
But that’s not going to happen. So, I guess I’ll do my crying in private
and write you sometimes.
The art of the wallet for personal, sentimental, important and irreplaceable belongings seems to have survived the revolution of the electronic everything else. So being robbed when away on business can make life very awkward, especially at 11pm at night in a train station.
It's not like thinking your phone is gone and then finding it after you look for the third time and find it down at the bottom of your bag. Well not in my case anyway. My ex-wallet was big and bulky and flowery and heavy and generally not to be missed. But still, when I got into the taxi and saw that my handbag was swinging open, I immediately checked to see if my wallet was there - no. So what did I do, looked again. Still not there. So I got out of the taxi and sat on the side of the pavement and went through my bag again. And then again. Despite my efforts at cognitive dissonance - otherwise called denial, I eventually came to the conclusion that I had just been robbed.
Then came the helplessness. In a flash I went from being respectable business lady about to take a taxi back to her hotel, to penniless bag lady on the side of the road. What to do?
Somehow, I found, or got guided to the police station. It was right there at the train station. In fact, I think they call themselves the train-station-police, but it was a bona fide German cop-shop, hats and bats and guns and all.
There was a queue - one other person. A very perplex young Indian guy who had had some sort of run in with his friends and was now missing his wallet. Whereas I tend to implode in a stress situation and just go quiet and pale (I was sitting on a bench staring into space with a white face), this guy was all hands and arms waving about the place and basically coming to the conclusion that since his wallet had been stolen, his life was now ruined. In fairness, he had some good arguments - his I.D. card was in the wallet, and he needed it to register for his upcoming exams, but now he would have to stay back a year, and his girlfriend was at home waiting for him and she was pregnant and she wouldn't believe that he was robbed and would leave him over this, and he would never make it home anyway because his travel pass was in his wallet and now he would have to walk 15 kilometres and that would probably kill him, but first of all the guy who he owed ten euro to would probably kill him since his fortune of 15 euro was gone.
I was a bit luckier. I had only been robbed of 180 euro, my credit cards, bank cards, Bahncard100 - which gives me free travel across Germany, my health insurance card, and basically any card that is vital for my survival. A different cop came and took all my details, and it was like, incredible what you have to tell the German police about yourself in order to report a theft. They needed to know how old I am, what I work at, and my marital status. I told them I was divorced, had a partner, a secret lover, a lesbian liaison and the occasional visit from a Brazilian call boy. Look, if this information will help find my wallet, then hey…
Actually no, I told them that my marital status is 'divorced but complicated' and that they now know more about me than Facebook does. The policeman laughed. Yes, as in sense of humour. The Indian guy was pacing the floor at this stage, and starting to get a bit too hectic. Another cop asked him to take a breathalyser. It was 1,4 promille, with the guy repeatedly telling them that he had only had two beers.
I myself had had two beers that night, and I was tempted to ask if I could do the test too, but no, I waited patiently for the policeman with the sense of humour to come back with the 25 million official forms that stated not only had I been robbed, but had now been legally and officially robbed.
But then it got interesting. I was done, but I had no money, no travel card, no relatives, no friends, no Irish embassy - no way home.
And that's where the unexpected twinge of humanity happened. The cop looked at me and said 'hey, you know what, I'll lend you 20 quid of my money if you like. I just feel I can trust you. I'll give you my bank details and you can send it back whenever.' Then another cop said 'hey, we're not that busy, c'mon, we'll drive you home.'
I'm not sure what the hotelier thought about me arriving back at 1:30am with a police escort, but I definitely felt cool. I didn't take the offer of a loan from the cop, but I did tell him that when you've just been robbed, a gesture like that helps one to see the good in the world again.
I wondered if I was slowly going mad when I decided that whoever stole my wallet is either on drugs, so not in their right mind and not ethically in tune with what they are doing, or else someone who is down on their luck and doesn't have the same opportunities as me, so hence, the thief must be forgiven.
Next day I took a taxi to the bank to get some cash and I told the taxi driver my story of woe. He was a big old teddy bear with a foreign accent, and embarrassingly, he was almost in tears when I explained what had happened. He then told me that he often takes people who have no money and promise they will come back with it tomorrow, or send it, or whatever.
'And do they?' I asked. 'Mostly not', he replied. 'But then why do you do it?' I asked. 'Because you have to believe in people' he said, 'if you don't, you're lost.'
I have often cursed the wisdom of the taxi driver, but this time, I was on a learning curve. Yes, you have to believe in people, even the ones who rob you, for they will force you to find goodness where you never expected it. And if you don't, you're lost.