My best friends during my bleakest years were the Dennehys. They lived not far from me, and initially I had become friendly with the eldest girl Mary. When she went off to train as a nurse in Britain we stayed in touch by writing letters. I even stayed with Mary in her Romford flat at one stage and it was thanks to her that I got to see London properly for the first time.
I was aware of Carmel, but didn’t really know her well. All that changed when I was going home one day and a girl shouted at me “stuck up, are ya?” I thought she was abusing me at first but as soon as I turned to face her she smiled and said she was Phyllis, Mary’s younger sister. From then on I became a regular visitor to the Dennehy family. And boy were they a welcoming bunch.
Phyllis was the cheeky one, always having fun at my expense, but always with a smile. She was really likeable. In my attempts to put my problems coping with facial disfigurement and my reluctance to socialise properly the Dennehy home was a refuge, a blessed sanctuary where most days I could put my worries aside for a few hours over lots of tea and coffee, laughs and great conversation. They never saw me as anything but a normal guy. And that made me feel good about myself for those precious hours.
Carmel was especially inclusive, and would often drag me along with her boyfriend if they were going out – a situation I would normally hate to be in as the third person – but that was what made her so special. She was quite happy for me to be part of her life. And so was I. I felt so positive about life while in her company and it made me appreciate the time we were together. She was a great listener and was quite prepared to help me as much as she could when I opened up about my own loneliness – although I don’t think she quite understood how depressed I was back then. She wasn’t alone there.
We’d sometimes go to the pictures together, or the Subway bar where Christy Moore might be performing. And every Monday, which was her half day off from hairdressing, she’d call to my house and we would walk to town, usually with her linking my arm. Purely platonic. And I loved that, knowing people would look and think that guy is so lucky. But she wasn’t my girlfriend. She was a beautiful girl (I don’t think Carmel ever saw herself as that, but she is still beautiful in my eyes) and I loved being in her company. She found my poor attempts at humour funny, oozed charm and made me feel, well, normal. I never noticed anyone staring at me when Carmel was around. She just lit up the ground I walked on and eased my aching loneliness.
We went for meals together, occasionally with other friends, and once she was my guest at the Cork Press Ball, but it wasn’t a date in the real sense of the word even though by then I was entertaining thoughts or hopes that we might become a couple. Dangerous thoughts, Tom. I knew it was farfetched, that she liked me as a friend and wanted us to remain just that. But I had entered the world of fantasy and delusion by then.
And one night I told her how I was feeling, just let the thoughts that had been swirling inside me for weeks come tumbling out, and I could see from her pained reaction that she was desperately trying to form the words that would say no without being too blunt or callous. And to be fair she handled it really well, so much so that we survived that moment and remained close friends.
She’d always ask me what I thought of her boyfriends (me who couldn’t find a girl!), and still probably annoyed a few by bringing me along with them now and then. A class act was Carmel.
And then one year she disappeared to Canada for a holiday and came back with talk of a new boyfriend, Wayne. And when he came over some time later I could see he was the one for her. No doubts. And then my world changed. Carmel married Wayne and she was gone to Nova Scotia. Those idyllic Monday trips to town, our regular trips and chats were gone. I had lost my friend and easy access to a world that helped me live through some pretty rotten and depressing years. I don’t know how I would have survived without her. I said this to her when I brought Trish and my children to Canada once, but I don’t think she realised how much her friendship meant at that awkward time. She didn’t see that she had given me a reason to live – and hope.
We lost touch, unfortunately. Her kids have grown up and she and Wayne now run a bar in Nova Scotia. I recently became friends with her children on Facebook and I hope she is reading my blog. No matter if we never meet, talk or write I will always owe her a debt, one that can never be repaid. She made me a part of her life and I was the better for it. And to Mary, Phyllis, their brothers Joseph and Paul, thanks a million for being my friend. This is my opportunity to tell you and all who are reading my story how much knowing you meant to me.