Friday, 28 December 2007

One Of the Bad Things

I don't normally do anything like this, but the following post really bought back a very strong emotional memory for me, one that I had subconsciously forgotten all about happening to me.

It's a recent post from a fellow blogger, rather than one of my own. Tho at the end I'd like to post my own comment-response to the original post too.

Thanks to MsAnnThorpe for this story and her great Blog. This was too good, albeit extremely sad, not to share.

"One Of the Bad Things"

As a standard precaution, owners of moored rowing boats remove the rowlocks from their boats as a deterrent to theft.

'*A rowlock (British) or oarlock (US) is a device that attaches an oar to a boat. When a boat is rowed, the rowlock acts as a fulcrum, and, in doing so, the propulsive force that the rower exerts on the water with the oar is transferred to the boat by the thrust force exerted on the rowlock.'

When I was younger, as an 'only child', I often used to befriend others from large, chaotic families with disorganised, messy homes, where I could visit, stay over, blend in, disappear even, and become just another 'one of the children' in the pack. These were homes where it was difficult to apportion blame for anything, where routine was sabotaged, where anarchy could break out at any moment. In short bursts, I loved watching and even joining in, before having had enough and going back to the relative order and tranquility of my own small family for some regenerative solitude.

By the time I was a late teenager, I was a part-timer on the edge of three families like this. One of them was headed by a theatrical, divorced Irish matriarch with fiery red hair. She had seven children, and a young boyfriend - one of the local 'gentry' - a man many years her junior. He and she (I'll call her Eileen) would float through the piles of neglected washing-up wrapped in not much more than a sheet, raid the fridge and return to bed without a thought about whoever might be around. My friend was one of the middle daughters; her family lived on the other side of the river.

The second family were Anglo/American and members of some sort of hippy sect, very much outsiders in the local community. The children all had long hair, they were tall and thin and wore no shoes in the summer. I was friends/involved with the youngest boy; he lived on this side of the river.

There were cross-overs - members of both these families knew each other. My boyfriend's best friend was my girlfriend's little brother.

Along with me, another itinerant-on-the-edge, who knew both families and dipped in and out of staying with them, was a young student, of no fixed abode, from one of the Northern provinces of Iran whose family had sent him to the U.K after the fall of the Shah. He had jet black corkscrew curls and beautiful green eyes. I'll call him Kayvan.

One Christmas-time, when I was with my boy/friend, a tragedy happened.

A whole crowd had taken the ferry from the other side of the river to this side. Everyone was drinking; they were in seasonal high spirits, all bright-eyed and reckless. They missed the last ferry back. Most of the group canvassed for a place on a spare sofa or floor. My girlfriend's youngest brother and the Iranian boy declined; they went for a walk.

No-one saw them alive again.

After meandering around, drinking from a hip-flask, they 'stole' a small row boat and tried to row back across to the other side of the river. The boat had oars, but no rowlocks. It was a blowy night, the sea was not rough, but not calm either. The tide was on the turn, flowing out to sea, and it was cold. They never made it.

My friend's brother's body turned up five days later, just after Christmas. Ten days after that, the body of the Iranian boy was discovered washed up on a beach three miles down the coast.

Two young lives ended. A tragic tale. But, you might be wondering, apart from knowing the participants at one remove, where do I fit in to all this?

Here's where. A few days after the boys disappeared, between Christmas and New Year, I was at home and the phone rang. It was a crackly long distance call when such things were rare; the voice on the end of the line was Iranian.

Somehow, Kayvan's father had my name and number. Eileen was distraught and had taken to bed, refusing to speak to anyone. The Anglo/American family had no telephone. I had been deemed sensible and communicative, a suitable point of contact. I was nineteen.

In broken English, he wanted to know, could I tell him, what had happened to his son, please?

What to say? And yet it seemed there was no-one else to do it. I told him what I knew; I struggled to make myself understood. I was forced to repeat things I had not wanted to say even once. When I finished the line went dead.

There were several contacts after this first one. I had become the father's port of call, not an official, but a half-familiar disembodied voice, on the edge of an alien outpost in a foreign land. I relayed the contents of the coroner's report. My friend's brother, my boyfriend's best friend, had suffered an asthma attack as a result of the shock; he died quickly. Kayvan had tried to swim to safety, but exhaustion and exposure overwhelmed him.

Sometimes, around this time of year, I remember them both - I think of a shocked gasp - and green eyes - lost in all that sea.


(Follows is my comment-reaction)

Oh god. What a sad story! But thanks for sharing it. Such a senseless waste of young adventurous life in a freak accident.

"Sometimes, around this time of year, I remember them both - I think of a shocked gasp - and green eyes - lost in all that sea." Beautiful coda.

As a much younger man I did almost exactly the same thing... 'borrowing' a small rowing dinghy when I'd had quite a few too many, and attempted to row across Middle Harbour (Sydney, Australia) at night... half-way-across I realised the dinghy was slowly sinking underneath me. I did manage to make it the 3/4 of a mile-or-so across OK, but doing that in dark sharkey-waters - none of my other 'mates' had a clue where I was or what I was doing - I could have easily been part of a very similar innocently-tragic story.

Oh god! I had totally forgotten all about that! Yes, the blood has drained out of my face! Good god! Cold shivers.

Not in a negative way... just in the shock of remembering something I must have put out of my conscious memory! I do remember how I felt afterwards... the realisation shocked me into quiet soberness.

Yes, alone in a cold sea... your story is very... [doesn't have words]. But a positive reminder to celebrate with caution.

Thank you once again. Seriously. Thank you.
Peas be with ewe

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  1. Thanks for sharing the tale on your blog, Mal. I'm glad it had impact and resonances for someone else out there in the ether - and that you thought your readers might appreciate it, too.

    Happy holidays,

  2. Thank you, MsAnn. Every time I read your post, it just stirs such a deep emotion within me. Thank you once again.
    Mal :)