I remember when I was younger. There I was, standing there, when what I wanted to do was forbidden. Forbidden by who? I didn’t know because no one had ever given me an instruction on this in my entire life. Somehow though, I knew that I shouldn’t.
I’d wrestled with this knowledge many times and I was familiar with the same crazy eight of dilemma, desire versus disappointment, self-actualisation against self-destruction. What should I do? What must I do? And more importantly what happens next.
I’d made it this far; clearing my schedule and taking the bus to this anonymous part of the city. I didn’t believe that anyone followed me; I had made certain by making arbitrary turns and reversals of direction. Each time scanning to see if I recognised any face or if I could catch an observer in the act.
Eloise is my half-sister, but everyone thought she was my cousin. She was my mission, on this cold winters day. Our Mum and Dad had moved in with each other, me and my parent travelling the four miles from Curraheen, on towards the village and all that excitement. I got my own room in a massive house; it had a fantastically huge garden and a colour telly. What more could I want? I was 13 years old and living like a king. That’s when it struck, this ailment, Eloise.
I know she’s my half-sister, and at sixteen years old, she was quite sophisticated and mature. When I met her I saw that she was exactly what I had been missing all my life, and I hadn’t known it until we moved at the end of last summer.
Mum said “David, this is Eloise” just like that.
When I saw her for the first time I was dizzy and I’m sure my face reddened, it was fantastic, there was definitely music playing. I don’t think I said anything because Eloise smiled and hugged me and said “Oh, Hi David, we’re going to have so much fun!”
We were very close and in those first months as our parents explored their new marriage we spent a lot of time together: although that vision of heaven I had when we first met, that adrenaline rush of Nirvana was never quite equalled.
For comparison, I also glimpsed the depths of hell. One weekend when she went to a party with a boy from St Joseph’s and Dad said it was OK.
He even drove them about and picked her up afterwards. I didn’t eat all day, frantic with worry and sick with jealousy. Little wonder I didn’t speak when she came home, all buzzed with excitement from her date, I didn’t talk and was very possibly even rude to her.
This was why I was here, I would buy her a Valentine’s card and make plain my position on the matter. Everyone would realise how this was fated. Even if at first they were shocked, they would come round and be like ‘Oh well, that’s alright. David and Eloise will be great together.’
So, there I was outside Eason’s on O’Connell Street in Limerick, ready to buy my card. Walking into the shop I was filled with a sense of trepidation, it didn’t make me afraid exactly, it just filled me. Yes, I was anxious, nervous. There would be no going back. Clearly, I was taking monumental action in deciding that I would buy this valentines card. A greater action would be sending it to the object of my wishes, my love, my wonder, my heart, my soul. I asked the girl behind the counter where the Valentines section was and she just rolled her eyes, chewing gum and pointed behind me. Turning, I realised the world was filled with love, roses were rife, violets were too, there were millions of cards for you and for you. That was the problem.
Not one single card captured my feelings for Eloise.
There wasn’t a poem, a haiku, a picture or even a balloon that did justice to my eternal love.
I said as much to the guy that was filling shelves with overpriced, and to my eye, substandard teddy bears. It was important, to explain to him that the poetry was lacking.
“You could make a living doing that kind of thing.” He said.
His words reverberated in my head, I had never thought about what my love really meant until then.
This was a cathartic moment for me.
All of a sudden, it was not loves labour lost, I had another purpose. I would get my feelings out into the world. I would shout from the rooftops my brilliant, bright, all-consuming love for this other, this beacon of perfection.
It could be anonymous. None would understand and fewer still would approve, but at least the outpouring of sentiment my heart had made would not clog up my mind and senses; not to mention my geography homework book. Also, on the plus side I imagined that I would get paid a lot of money for this life as a writer. It was certainly going to pay for me to move to another country. I would opt for somewhere a little more avant-garde than Ireland, The Netherlands perhaps, they would be more liberal about my relationship with Eloise as they celebrated the brilliance of the prose that I put forth. She and I would be able to live happily ever after.
I left the card shop and travelled home, determined. The next months were a whirl of duty and dreaming. School, homework, jobs around the house, trying to spend time with her before scurrying to my room to pen my literary love. I amassed quite a library of scribbles despite the fact that I discarded twice or even three times as much as I saved. I wasn’t writing all the time but I credit that activity with rescuing me from the worst excesses of the hormonal teenage male. Let’s just say I was a busy boy and leave it at that.
They were all the same I decided. Women that is, I had spent the earlier months honing my exposition of unrequited love, countless hours, writing and rewriting. Coded references to ‘E’ as I couldn’t risk a discovery of my secret. Although now I reflect on the prolific use of rhyming couplets and the word, ‘please’ appearing so often before or after my capital ‘E’, may have been a clue to an interested detective.
School that year had been full of talk about getting ready for next year. We would be heads down for Junior Cert exams. That made it hard to think things through and when all the girls in class started talking, I found myself fully distracted.
Anyway, I digress, Eloise had been, quite literally, a bitch. She began shouting at me all the time and it didn’t make sense to me. She walked into my room one day and I wasn’t writing , as I’ve said , I was busy doing what boys do. I scrambled frantically for my self-respect. She saw what I was doing and I swear she smiled, she seemed to be thinking and she didn’t leave at once. Instead she kept looking at me until I hid my face, I just know she saw my geography book open on the desk. Eventually she left, saying it was a pity I was a boy and not a man.
After that she was always telling me to go away and demanding that the keyhole in the bathroom and bedroom doors be covered, for NO REASON, I heard Mum and Dad talking and Dad asking if Mum if she wanted him to have a word with me and Mum saying ‘No, I’m sure he’d die of embarrassment.’ It wasn’t entirely clear whether they thought that I was up to no good or not. It’s ridiculous being accused when no-ones actually seen you doing anything. I can remember feeling that I would be glad when she had done her Leaving Cert exams because the stress was clearly turning her paranoid.
On another day the whole family journeyed to Dublin to look at Trinity College because she would be going there in September, I was hollowed out inside and quite sick. She was kind to me that day and sweet as she ruffled my head, saying that I needed a break from her.
In July, our holidays were spent in Donegal and a rented house and the whole time Eloise didn’t ask me to do anything with her, instead she stayed in reading and wouldn’t even go on car trips when Mum & Dad asked. One day we strolled to the beach, and she insisted on sitting on the towel all day her face obscured by a big hat, sunglasses and a book. I still loved her and later, at the coffee shop on the coast road, I made a special effort and bought her a favourite treat which she didn’t bother to taste. It was a lemon sherbet ice cream that melted all over the counter.
Eloise left for University and life kept moving on and even I could feel the feel the intensity waning. She was at home at holidays and such but also often out and socialising with others. I followed Eloise to university but my college was in England and I remember one night being drunk and stoned and I told my story to two guys that shared the flat with me. They laughed and talked about me being on my knees to Eloise. I felt Damned by their careless mirth.
My parents’ marriage split when I was nineteen and away from home and after that Eloise and I never really saw much of each other, we send cards and make occasional calls and promises to visit with no intentions of doing so. We both have our own families and responsibilities that keep us busy. I heard that her diagnosis is now terminal and I cry about that and feel strongly that I love her. It’s still confusing to me whether it is a sibling love or unrequited first love. I cannot discuss it, I can’t face the possibility that my feeling is governed by base and illicit urges. To visit her now would be impossible, I couldn’t bear to look into her eyes and risk knowing the truth that she sees.
I don’t think about it, I have my life now. Two people can keep a secret when one of them is dead. When Eloise leaves this time, my secret will be safe.