Friday, May 01, 2009

Regrets? I've had a few, and then again....

His name was Aidan and he was the youngest of five motherless boys. Their mother had died of cancer when he was only five, the eldest was twelve, the fourth boy was eight and the twins were ten. His father, who was an engineer by profession and of some means, hired one of those miraculous factotums that don’t exist anymore. The plain no-nonsense middle-aged single sister of a colleague who was looking for a ‘position’.

In those days in Ireland a ‘position’ was a status symbol for unattractive spinster women of an uncertain age. They’d move into a motherless household and raise the children, do all the housework and laundry, oversee the gardens and make sure Himself was well taken care of. In hindsight, I’ve often speculated that this might have included some bedroom duties. It probably did.

If the women were extraordinarily ‘lucky’, they would capture the heart of Himself and get to marry him, thus increasing their social status and in some cases the size of the brood. But also foregoing their monthly paycheque, of course. A poor bargain in my mind.

I would play with Aidan the odd time when we were around ten and eleven and our fathers would get together on business. Usually at Aidan’s house as it was large and afforded a study for manly meetings and from which children and females were completely banned. Our entire house would have fit into their kitchen, where the factotum ruled, with bags of room left over.

Aidan was blonde, tall and sensitive and read the “Katy” books which I had a passion for. We’d talk Katy to each other and Enid Blyton and “The Water Babies”. I remember that distinctly as none of the boys of my acquaintance would read such ‘bilge’ but were into the Dandy and Beano comics and fart jokes.

It came as no surprise when Aidan went off to be a priest at the tender age of seventeen.

But it came as a very big surprise when I was at a party one night a couple of years later and there he was in the flesh, still tall and blonde but very uncomfortable in the social setting. He was delighted to see me, hugged me fraternally and asked me for a date. All in the space of about four minutes.

We went to the Lee cinema on Washington Street which featured foreign films. A lot. We loved the (very much censored) European films. We would have coffee afterwards at The Old Bridge and he would hold my hand across the table and we would discuss what we’d seen. Intently. And then share our library books. Our physical transactions were very chaste. Even for that time. He would kiss me, embrace me and hold my hand walking along but there was something missing. Something big. No passion in the kiss, no ‘copping a feel’ as we called it then. He bought me interesting little gifts. A gold cross on a chain. A volume of poetry. Small black and white prints of Parisian scenes where we would go on our honeymoon. He assumed we would be married. And so did our fathers who were delighted at this turn of events - Aidan having been almost a ‘failed’ priest as it were, now mercifully salvaged by the love of a good young woman.

Aidan went off to England for work and wrote me extraordinarily passionate letters, full of poetry blazing brightly of his love for me. All the passion absent from our physical relationship was there in the letters and cards. They poured through the letterbox almost daily. I was at a complete loss. I did not feel such intensity for him. I began to date others and did not tell him. A part of me wished he would meet someone else. A part of me knew I would miss this intellectual and gentle meeting of the minds that we shared. But it wasn’t enough. I didn’t answer his letters after a while and I didn’t take his telephone calls. I refused to meet him again when he came back to Ireland expressly to see me. Out of guilt? Out of avoidance ? I don’t know. I was young.

Years later, married and in Canada, I saw his name – his last name was quite unique and so was his first in Canada then – as one of the leaders of the burgeoning gay rights movement in the early 70’s. All the pieces of our relationship fell into place. I was relieved. His number wasn’t in the Toronto telephone directory - I did look - and then, as he was no longer headlining any columns in the local newspapers, I forgot about him.

Until about five years ago when my daughter handed me the gift of a book of Emily Dickinson poems. I had one of those crystal moments where I could hear Aidan’s voice reading them aloud to me as we trudged over green pastures and sat on old stone walls on endless spring Saturdays.

I set about tracking him down. I felt an enormous need to speak to Aidan, to apologise for my treatment of him, and tell him I understood. And express the hope that maybe now we could be true kindred spirits.

I had a friend contact one of his brother twins who happens to be a big wig in Dublin. She forwarded me a copy of his email.

“E,” he wrote my friend, “ I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Aidan passed away from AIDS complications in Singapore last month.”

I’m still finding it hard to stop searching for him.


  1. Oh! What a bitter-sweet story, WWW!

    What a "what-if" scenario, too.
    What if he'd given you a hint of his sexuality, so's you could have been best friends for ever and you might have helped him a lot. What if he had tried to be what you would have wanted - and failed - then the outcome might have been the same for him, but worse for you. What if ....

    Beautifully written. :-)

  2. A lovely account of that strange intuition we women have although we sometimes don't even know what it is saying. At least he eventually had the courage to be true to himself and was probably very glad that you rejected him, he sounds like the kind of guy who would have hated himself for not being the sort of man you deserved and for lying to you, so don't beat yourself up

  3. oh god how heartbreaking to come so close to finding him again and to miss him by a month. i am so very sorry, dear.

    he never blamed you. he had so many obstacles in his life. you were a true friend, even if only for a short while. you made things better for him.

    he knew just as well as you -- better,really--that you coudl never marry. i am sure that the always thought of you fondly.

  4. A sad ending to the story. What puzzles me is, if that was always his sexual preference, why he wrote you such passionate letters from England. Was he trying to be "normal"?

    As Twilight says, lucky he didn't attempt normality to the extent of marrying you and it all ending in tears. And yes, a shame you didn't get to see him before he died.

  5. Poor guy, he tried anyway by throwing all his passion at you, at least the intellectual ones. He forced himself to be normal, but couldn't pull it off. Your instincts were right, Mary, and you did the right thing by pulling away. So much sadness was avoided. One can never deny ones homosexuality and go straight. It only leaves much disillusionment.

  6. You gave Aidan the freedom to find himself.

    On our life's journey we touch many hearts, some are ours to play with for a short time. I am sure that in later years he remembered you fondly.

  7. What a sad story indeed. I hope he did find happiness.

    What a shame you weren't more worldy aware when younger and fit to guide him in the right direction so that your friendship might have endured.

    My boyfriend from school is now living with a man called Paul with a family of 'dogs'. We never did more than snog a bit as teenagers before his parents moved and we lost touch. A few years ago I found him through Friends Reunited and met him and the boyfriend. He is still the same lovely caring person and didn't indeed even realise he was gay until his mid 20s, so was a bit of a late developer!

    It is lovely to have him in my life again though living in separate areas, a once-a-year meet up tends to be our contact frequency.

  8. Isn't it amazing how life swirls around and thru us. There is no cause for sorrow, he is forever in your mind.

  9. @T:
    I don't think he knew he was gay, or if he had a hint he was probably doing his level best to suppress it. I really believe that.
    the only beating up I'm doing is in not finding him, in that effort I was far too lazy, but yes our intuition, if we pay attention to it, is always bang on!
    I hope so, I am curious (as all us writers are) about those missing years.
    I think he really did feel passion, but not for me, but for the idea of a passionate love. I really do get that. I think he was probably appalled at his homosexual feelings and frightened.
    Yes, I've often thought if he'd not gone to England it would have gotten to the wedding planning stage. Again the idea of passion and desperately trying to make it so.
    I hope so, I hope he didn't hate me. I was so ill-equipped to deal with such an issue then and I know you understand the Ireland of then!
    What a lovely, lovely story, I am so glad it worked out for you.
    He is that, you are right. He lives on as long as I'm alive and others who loved him.
    Not totally though, let's agree on a few though? ;^)

  10. Oh my dear, been there, done that. Life in Ireland in the 60s was a bit of a joke, wasn't it? All of us going round in circles, not knowing our elbows from our arses, thinking we were the bee's knees but unable to see what was right under our noses, until it was too late.

  11. Courtesy of Mother Church who kept us all in blissful ignorance of the variability of life. I had to explain to my mother what a homosexual was when I had some theatre friends in one night. And I only found out myself long after the Aidan episode.

  12. www - I haven't been reading blogs for a few weeks (very very busy) and coming hear now has reminded me why I read the great ones I do. This is a touching story that I'll be thinking about for a long time. I'm very sorry you didn't get to meet him again.

  13. Conor:
    With a PhD 'n all in the works I'm not surprised at how busy you are!
    Thanks for the kind words and I am sorry too about Aidan. He lives on in my thoughts.

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