Often the things that we fear don’t happen and we find ourselves sucker punched by miseries, misfortunes and disasters we never gave any attention to before. This is why though we often worry and are frequently anxious we seldom experience dread. Dread requires the underlying realisation that the thing you fear is doomed to come about, must come to pass. Soren Kierkegaard, surely one of the most perfectly named of the existential philosophers, connected the concept of dread with the desire for the thing one fears to happen in much the same way that it is said that vertigo represents the fear of the desire to fall, that seductive pulling feeling experienced looking down from a great elevation which gives momentary rise to fantasies of flight, rather than the fear of heights.
That was the feeling Jack was unburdening himself of that evening as he walked with the great dog in the dim evening light in the Phoenix Park. He had experienced the dull miracle of knowledge of his own future- through a blossoming headache darkly.
That night, as he slept he scratched the small black marks on his thigh till they bled.
Over the next three years Eoin’s illness showed itself to be painfully severe and Jack himself had the fact confirmed to him that he also had the condition.
In Eoin’s case the disease fulfilled every terrible promise it could with a cruel consistency. He had trouble walking, the bones of his legs and hips did not develop fully and his gait was painfully laboured and difficult. His sight was poor and he was sensitive to light and prone to debilitating headaches. His skin was further and further marked and spotted and began to be painful and irritating, a constant low-level torment for the child.
Worst of all he continued to suffer from fits. The memory of all the fits he had suffered and the spectre of the next and the next were set in a constant loop in his parents’ minds. It seemed that nothing effective could be done and that nothing could be experienced separate from this never-ending horror. They did not learn to live with it, they simply lived with it. Eoin’s little body was a battle ground for the forces of disease and medicine over which none of them had any control. They did not feel brave, they felt ground down by the constant attrition, physical and mental from which there was no hope or promise of escape.
In Jack’s case the disease affected his sight, caused severe headaches and caused a significant level of tiredness. He squinted and blinked in a way which he knew looked strange and was off-putting to clients.
And so the day came when he could no longer drive. They put him in the office at O’Sullivan’s for a while.
His economic and career descendant mirrored the fortunes of the Irish economy. The celtic tiger did happen in the mid to late 1990s but largely by chance. The nation caught up a little to its neighbours in Europe and was influenced by the boom in the American economy of the same period.
That was the real boom and we had very little control over it. The property bubble was a fiction built on top of that. Most of the 2000s the Irish economy was in actual decline as the prices of properties rose and rose in a game of pass the parcel played with debt where the person left holding the parcel when the music stopped owed all the money. Of course, as this game was rigged, the big players got out at the top and the little people, the mortgage holders, were left to pay the price.
I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet but I recognised most of this at the time and in a brilliant personal economic strategy, stayed poor.
Jack, on the other hand, had a mortgage and a family.
Eoin’s disease was just as expensive as it was painful so Jack tried to deal with office work as best he could, hoping for an improvement in his own condition, but he couldn’t hold his place there and he didn’t want in his heart to stay in this diminished capacity which constantly remained him of what he had lost. By 2009 the property boom that had feed the expansion of O’Sullivan’s was not only dead but its death could no longer be hidden and when Jack left the company, though he was terrified of how he was going to find the money to keep up the mortgage and they were personally sorry to see him go, both parties were also relieved.
Jack and I became friendly because of his eyes and my teeth- and a shared love of bagels. Well, it’s too early to tell you that. To put things in their proper context then:
Firstly, you will have noticed that I haven’t been telling you everything. You may be composing a review in your mind and thinking that there is a lack of psychological detail or depth in my descriptions. That’s true. It’s because I don’t know the detail and the depth. I learned about this story in conversation with Jack over a period of only a few months. We knew eacth other. We worked together. We liked each other. I was fond of him a the way you can get very fond of a work collegue very quickly when both of you feel embattled or alienated in your work place.
You form an alliance. Most of this though is what my mother calls ‘kitchen talk’. In your own kitchen you can tell a story without needing to be entirely objective. You can say things that you wouldn’t say in other places. In many ways ‘kitchen talk’ is like ‘pub talk’, but it results in fewer broken noses.
“Circumstances alter cases; broken noses alter faces” as my grandmother used to say.
So, to continue the story, Jack lost his job with O’Sullivan’s in early 2009.