Dear Alan, Do you ever think of the years 1988 – 1993, that incredible six year long summer we spent together which built in heat and intensity and culminated in you knocking back a bottle of Pernod before ramming your motorbike head-first into the metal railings of Greyhound Park? I only ask because I do, I think of those days a lot. And even though we've not seen one another for almost 20 years I still often wonder where you are and how your life panned out. I imagine you probably grew a beard, became an alcoholic and eked out a meagre, rural existence somewhere, fishing with string and tin cans and using cow shit for fuel... Though I always was romantic in those ways. But that's not really why I write. It's more because of July of whatever-year-it-was, that Sunday morning which brought you to my door, fresh out of a suicide attempt, smelling of aniseed and with a face so laden with drink that it was hanging an inch off the bone. That last great Sunday... I'd like to talk about that.
Dear Alan, I wanted to punch you. You stood there an embarrassment to the art of standing: stooped over and swaying like one of those heavy-bottomed toys which never fall over. Your lipstick was smeared, your eye-liner was run and your long, blonde hair was wiped down flat across across your brow: you looked like a water colour of my mother which had been left out in the rain. For eight seconds you didn't speak. Then you said: “I'm going home, Boy-O... back to Ireland, NOW!” Do you remember? You said that we were killing ourselves but that fate had decreed you was to live. Jesus! Normally you'd knock me up with a joint or a quarter bottle of scotch still rushing with your back swill. The last thing I expected were tears and incoherent tales of how you'd smashed yourself into the railings, survived, seen The Light, and was taking the evening ferry home. Then it was me who couldn’t speak. I had no choice. My closed mouth was all that kept the tears in. And it ended like that. No questions, and no trying to convince you to stay, just those little sounds which precede total breakdown and that desperate bear-hug which always erupts on the point of tears so as men don't have to see each other cry. Four floors above nothing we held on for life, and with the smell of your leather jacket in my nose, I stared across to the park, at your mangled bike which was still caught up and smoking in the railings. And with that embrace we said goodbye to youth and entered the depression of adulthood, that phase of life where we try to reconcile ourselves as people and search around for the things we lost on the free-wheel down. And do you remember how you handed me that little yellow piece of paper with your Irish address on it? Through quivering words, you said: “Now, you make sure you keep in contact, Boy-O... Now you fucking promise me, ya hear!” I pushed the paper away and told you I didn't want your address as I wasn't good at keeping contact and preferred people who were gone to be stayed gone. Really I was just angry and hurt. It wasn't true I never kept contact, it was just I'd never had anyone to keep contact with. When I closed my door I broke down. I wasn't so strong as all that. You should have known! You should have stuck the note to my door, put it through the letter box, given it to my mother, something... not let it drift off over the balcony and flutter away like an early autumn leaf. I suppose we were both weak people acting tough... a perfect breeding place for regrets.
God, how it really feels like it all happened only yesterday, like I could descend four flights of stairs and come out into that life we once lived. Does it feel like that to you, Alan? Do you live that same shock I do each day, looking in the mirror to see two decades of drug and cigarette and fast food abuse staring back? You wouldn't recognize me now, Alan... I've changed so much, and not all for the better!
Dear Alan, things come and things go and memories come in and arrive on strange winds which I have no real control over. Sometimes a shifting sun can set off a shadow that takes me back. It's as if I'm being constantly thrown around all over the place. To write things down in the order in which they happened is as impossible as it would be useless. The order in which bullets come out a gun is not important, all that matters is the order in which they hit you. That's a weak defence for my writing on whim and asking you to excuse me for abandoning any kind of chronological order. But these words are about emotional order. Time-lines show nothing but how we got to where we are; they completely miss out on who we are. Fuck the clock. The horrors of war are all lost in time.
Alan, I'd like to talk about innocence... maybe our last ever truly innocent day. I suppose there could be many, and maybe you even have your own marker or maybe you just never think of things like that? Still, for me, it's of that day when I was fifteen and you was a little older and we were laying out in the cool of the milky grass, smoking hash and listening to the shouts and cheers of the cricket game. Do you remember how that felt? The sound of leather clacking off wood and young boys and adults jumping up bare-chested and whooping with joy in the afternoon heat? We lay a good distance off, on our backs, with the dark orange light of the sun behind our eyelids. In that hypnotic state you suddenly said, “I've got some speed,” something we'd talked about wanting to try for months. I opened an eye and squinted across. You remained on your back, eyes closed behind your shades, though quite aware I was looking. You pulled a smug smile. God, you was serious! Do you remember how I was suddenly so excited? How my shadow descended over you and how you remained still and teased me more. I called you 'Fuck Face' and prodded and poked for details, demanding you let me see it. You didn't respond, just remained there: a grin and a pair of black shades, arms flopped down by your sides. And then, very slowly and deliberately, you opened your right hand and in it was a little rectangular wrap of paper. It was as if you had an inch of sun right in your palm. Barely had I time to see it than a cricket ball went fizzing by, followed by the stamp of some sweaty kid. As he approached you closed your hand, and for a moment it was gone.
Fuck, what an evening that was A kind of loaded revelation. Do you remember? How we experienced one of the greatest highs of our lives? Me, terribly shy and finding it difficult to talk was suddenly thriving and couldn't keep the words in. Everything I'd ever read or skimmed or saw was there on the tip of my tongue and accessible. For a moment I really did feel a part of the world. My elbows didn't feel awkward and bony and my speech wasn't broken or punctuated with 'ums' and 'ers'. And you was the same, shivering with ecstatic speed chills, incessantly rocking away and twisting your hair, a history of Celtic mythology in your dilated pupils as the last Central Line tube rocketed us home. That weekend was the start of real drugs and alcohol, discovering Soho and all her sleazy Rock Clubs and hangouts. Things changed after that. Not for better or worse, they just changed... we were changing. I think we realised that drugs didn't only have to be taken for fun, that they could also be used to give us things we lacked. No matter, along with cigarettes, hash and alcohol, amphetamine also became a regular fixture – and it wasn't too long after that that our mothers' lipsticks started disappearing...
Alan, I hope you think back fondly on those times – you must, really. It'd be a crime not to. Being seventeen and sat crimping each other's hair and doing one another's make-up... Placing tabs of LSD on each other's tongue like we were taking Holy Communion. Do you remember? And what of the time you told me on the 260 night-bus that you was in love and couldn't stop thinking of that mysterious girl who had asked you to dance? And then I suppose you felt very weak and embarrassed and so got angry and punched yourself flat-fisted in the nose. I still remember that bloody, drunken, embarrassed grin you gave, your eyes still smarting and your face twitching from the real pain underneath. I think it was the first time you had hurt in any way but a physical one. Then you made out like it was all an idiotic drunken emotion, and we twisted it around to something cool and wrote 'Love's a Bitch' up our necks in black eye-liner. Fuck, we didn't even know what love was... but we were so fucking right! Still, I wonder what happened to that girl? If she ever forgave you for assaulting her in the Astoria nightclub after you came around from a drunken stupor, mistook her for a squat, stubbled biker and punched her out. And then I have to wonder how you ever fell in love with her in the first place. That really was fucked up. I suppose it just goes to show how vulnerable and needy we really were. And do you remember how we were thrown from the club that night? Our arms twisted up sore behind our backs then rammed head-first through those claret coloured double doors. God, how cool we thought we looked! Tumbling out onto the Soho pavement in cowboy boots and tight stretch jeans and rolling into the bin bags like the Saviours of sleaze. I think it could only have been stupidity that had us back at the club door, banging and kicking away for our jackets, screaming: “Fuck You!!!” at those vicious looking bouncers the other side who threatened us with terrible beatings and broken kneecaps. And d'you remember when our jackets were eventually slung our way, how we were too frozen for them to make much difference? Then, just as we were taking comfort from the thought that we'd soon be being driven home in a warm taxi we realised that the bastards had lifted our wallets. We were left penniless and had to walk 25 miles home down the frozen A40 with chattering teeth, rattling bullet belts, goose-pimpled tattoos and only youth and cigarettes to keep us alive.
And what about that time when we were both tripping and were convinced we were pilots in the first great war? You wore shades and your grandfather's old cannonball crash-helmet and I sported swimming googles and a child's boxing headguard. Dressed like that and barefooted we ended up on your motorbike, speeding down to Heathrow where we thought the Spitfires were. Do you remember how as we came to a stop in some late afternoon traffic we spotted two policemen on bikes on the other side of the A-road, staring at us in utter disbelief and motioning for us to stay put? We made out we hadn't seen and zoomed off. It was only the genius of the central divide which stopped us having our idiotic asses slung in jail for the night. Instead , we drove home and strutted around like fighter aces until the acid wore off. You know, that was one of only three decent trips I ever had? My norm on LSD was to flip out and climb the walls, always begging you for guidance out from that world. Those drugs just weren't for me, Alan... especially the hallucinogens. If any drug fucked me up m!ore than tobacco it was LSD. It was bad enough having the ability to see what was there, let alone what wasn't. And anyway, I didn't want to see inside myself or others... I already knew the pile of shit that us humans are. Soon though I discovered my drug: opiates. I annoyed you in those times, I know... drifting off on awake dreams while you were wanting the companionship and brotherhood of old. You liked the image of opiates but not their physical effects... or maybe the effect they had on me? We kinda parted a little then, do you recall? You was flying high and I was dredging along the murky depths. We soon only ever met when you came down and I came up. And the days we had no drugs or alcohol at all we stayed locked in our respective rooms, listening to music and writing poems about death. Looking back on it now we were already halfway to having a psychological dependence on drugs... social occasions had become impossible without them.
Dear Alan, how's your mother? Is she still alive? Did she ever come to terms with you being a 'transsexual'? It's weird, she accepted it so willingly in me, and yet in You it split her life and faith in two. Do you remember how she started buying and reading all the rock and metal mags, searching for proof that guys who dressed in patent leather and wore make-up were not queers? How relieved she was when she found out that it was much more likely that you was a child-sacrificing member of the Church of Satan... At least confession and a few Sundays in church could cure that! And do you remember how she flipped out at the thought of you returning to Waterford in stilettos, lipstick and eyeliner? How she threatened to disown you if you took the ferry looking like that? In an attempt to flee your present life with respect and enter your new one on the same footing you did the opposite of what most late teens do: you left the house looking like the Bride of Frakenstein and changed into dull, itchy, rural clothes around the corner! I would have understood, you know. Still, I'm glad my last image of you was leaving Wolfe House with your hair crimped and wearing my red leather jacket. Though Alan, I have to tell you, you looked so fucking pathetic and really always did! You were just the wrong shape for glam rock. I only ever told you you looked cool because I wanted to get out and get fucked up and if i'd have told you the truth we'd never have left my bedroom. Excuse me for that. It was mighty selfish. But that's what happens when you stand somebody drinks too often.
While on the subject of family, what ever happened with your father's inheritance money? I heard tales of you pissing it all away during a six month bike ride around Ireland with a shaven-headed gypsy girl? What was that about? And then I heard even stranger rumours of you and Finbar taking advantage of a freshly broken arm and stage-managing an accident in a supermarket in Ballycullane? Veronica told me that you laid down in a patch of spilt milk and settled out of court for fifty grand? Fuck, I hope it's true... it's hearing of such victories which keep me going! And speaking of broken bones, Jesus, I still cringe in horror when I think of that awful time you asked us to break your ankle so as you could get the summer off work to watch the World Cup. I know you'll not have forgotten that. Maybe you're now even suffering from some permanent damage we imparted? Me, twenty years on, I still spring awake some nights to the crack of snapping bones. There's a story floating around somewhere that it was me who finally put your ankle through, but as you know it wasn't, it was that sadistic fuck Paul. I tried, but my brain just wouldn't allow me to bring that steel bar down on you with sufficient clout. I hurt you, but no more. That's when Paul stepped up to the helm, licking his lips at the ghoulish prospect of disabling a friend. Do you remember how he even took the precaution of packing books under your inner calf so as to further weaken the intended point of impact? You was lying on your side, half off the sofa with your right leg outstretched and your outer ankle exposed. After agreeing that Paul was to hit you on the count of three you scrunched up your eyes in anticipation of the pain to come. If you was ever going to raise your hand and back out you was sorely out of luck. Paul, showing a glint of humanity, hit you when you wasn't expecting it, on the count of 'two'. Oh Christ, that depraved sound! It was like the crack of a gunshot. And how you shot up in the air, screaming in agony... then worse, all 180lbs of you instinctively coming back down on that foot, which folded. On the floor you shrieked like the banshee, tears streaming because the pain was so intense. ANKLE SHATTERED IN 11 PLACES: that's what the x-ray showed. And sure enough you got the summer off work and together we all watched the 1990 World Cup, the Republic of Ireland crashing out to Italy in the quarter finals.
There was something special about those times... for me anyway. We were living at the arse end of one of London's most notorious, run-down and crime ridden council estates, and yet there was a kind of magic all around which made life glow. Dreams existed in that place. That's what it was. When the day was done and the night came down, God, staring out across London at far off twinkling lights could make you cry. Do you ever think of things like that? See also a beauty in the broken homes and social problems and the human fallout which we had to live besides? Ponder over shared cigarettes like they were kisses? Or remember snippets of useless conversations which have no right to be memories at all? I do, constantly... they all seem like clues to some huge mystery which is woven through existence. In the last years such small things have taken on such seemingly great significance. Maybe that's why I'm writing to you? I don't know. I don't know what these words are for??? They just are.
Dear Alan, why on your return to London in the autumn of 1995 did you purposely search me out? I never really did figure that one out. It was eighteen months after you'd left and you found me sitting outside The George in Soho in the same place we had always sat. Do you remember how you kicked me awake from my eastern dreams? I didn't recognize you. You had shaved off your hair and was wearing biker boots and leathers. I thought you was one of the Outlaws looking for trouble. I was properly full on opiates by then. I suppose we had both stopped pretending... or almost. Almost as I have to admit that I wasn't really as thin as I acted. It was a put on: the limp wrists and sucked in cheeks, as if I was barely strong enough to hold myself together. That's what happens on the crux of addiction when you're still playing around with it. The vomit was real though. Do you remember you patted me on the back as I threw up outside the Intrepid Fox and said you was leaving? I held up my hand and kept my head down, dry retching as you disappeared for the last time. I didn't even look back. Secretly I was glad you was going... there was too much between us, and one night in a lifetime means nothing to me. Still, how did the abortion go? That's why you were over. Young Girl X was up the duff. As you'll never reply to this letter, I hope it passed OK. I still think it's crazy that you couldn't get an abortion in Southern Ireland. Crazy. And did you ever have any children? I reckon you probably did and probably don't have any contact with them. I don't quite know why I imagine that??? You just seemed emotionally very cold towards family and the like. I never had children. I wouldn't bring something with a vertebrae into this world. And that's not a damning indictment of the state-of-play; it's a damning indictment of me: I just wouldn't dump my hand-me-down genes onto someone. And anyhow, you couldn't bring up a child on my morals, and I couldn't condescend to the morality that a child would need to find its bearings in this world. That's the thing with parenthood, you have to deceive from the start. In a way it's a great tamer of immoral men... a social means to get the infidels under control and thinking in the correct way. Imagine that, at twenty eight, you have to start believing in Santa Claus and happy endings again! No, barring some kind of terrible accident, I will never be a dad.
As for the clubs and Soho, well, that all ended ugly too. Rumours were rife that I was shooting dope in the toilets of the Wag Club, and though that wasn't true, it brought out a sickening, square, conservative side of Rock music which I came to despise - everyone becoming morally responsible and damning me for bringing “that shit around 'ere!” Each member of the flock suddenly had a band member who had died from a smack OD, taking their rotten dreams with him. The entire nightclub fraternity first ostracised and then stoned me. Can you believe that? What with every other scenester pretending they were junkies, painting their eyes black and sitting around itching their forearms! And yet, when they thought that someone had actually gotten into that underside of things they cast him out. Really it was all about unfair competition: the pretenders worried about having to compete for cock action with the real deal. So, I was ejected from that clique and banned from entering the clubs I was working for! A little after that my friend Ewan died. When it was discovered that heroin was involved I was warned out of Soho altogether, threatened that if I stepped foot in the square mile again I'd be the next one getting buried. Well, you know me, the first thing I did on hearing that was take a RETURN ticket into town. Nothing happened. One club promoter made a spurious attempt to attack me with a broken bottle – only to be miraculously restrained by some passing eighty year old invalid! I saluted and bowed out the scene.
Final letter #5
Dear Alan, the time has come to thank you for not fucking my mother – it's always the hallmark of genuine friendship. Though you did have ample opportunity, and that was hard enough to live with at the time. D'you remember those evenings that we used to pass in my bedroom having smoking sessions? By midnight we'd be completely wrecked, just sat there staring into the immediate nothingness. The night seemed so terribly lonely and sad in those moments. Sadder still were the noises which came through the wall, from my mother's room next-door: her groans and screams as she fucked her way through the lodgers (even those with rent arrears!) It still touches me to remember how you never once remarked on it, just always stretched across and turned the music up to drown it out. You was the only friend who knew anything of the real problems that were going on in my home. Then of course there was that terrible afternoon when you had to help me lift my mother off the floor and put her on the couch. Do you remember? Gravity had really gotten a hold of her that day, and no matter how we tried to lift her she always flopped about and dragged down heavy in some other place. It was as if her bones had been removed. Again, you never made a thing of it... not a word. We just went outside and shared a silent cigarette on the balcony. That's when she started calling: “Allaaaaan.... Alllaaaaan...” I called back asking what she wanted. She screamed: “I want Alan, NOT YOU!” And so you handed me the cigarette and went to see what she wanted. What she wanted was pretty damn clear: when you opened the door she was lying bollock naked on the couch with her legs spread, a hulk of dribbling meat, like something that had fallen off a Francis Bacon painting. I was just behind and pulled you out the room before you could see too much... and you'd already seen too much. As we got back outside we heard the thud of her body as it fell off the sofa and landed on the floor. I looked at you. “Just leave it,” you said, “just leave it.” And for the first time in my life I did... I just left it.
Anyway, my mother's much better now. She's completely off the drink and hasn't touched crack or heroin in almost four years. Once she gets off the methadone she'll be completely clean. But the thing is this: you really have missed your chance, Boy-O! Ten years ago she went through the menopause and now even the mention of sex makes her shiver with disgust. It's still hard getting my head around that. Most adults find it difficult to imagine that their parents still have sex; I find it difficult to imagine my mother NOT having sex. But it's happened: age has tamed the old girl. In that way, it's really very sad.
Oh Alan, surely all this didn't happen as long ago as the years say it did? But if not then how come we're all getting old, and some of us have died, and my mother's an OAP? Time's passed Alan... time's really passed and it makes me sad to know it. It's such an impossible thing to comprehend. Can you fathom it? It makes me think of this mental retard I knew growing up called Chris. He was in his thirties and I was nine. We used to ride our bikes together, but mostly he just sat on his and watched. Years later, whenever I'd bump into him, he'd start up with these retarded innocent questions... over and over.
“You got the time, mate?” he'd start off with. Then: “Have you seen Johnny lately? How's Johnny? Have you seen Johnny?” Then he'd ask: “What year is it today?” I would tell him that the day doesn't have a year, and he'd reply “Everything has a year!” That's when he'd start up with: “Where does time go? It must go somewhere? Do you know where time goes? Funny thing, time! Where does it go? Do YOU know? Time, it must go somewhere?”
Well, now I'm the mental retard, and I'm asking you: What year is it today? Have you seen Johnny lately? Where does time go? It must go somewhere? Do YOU know?
- - -
Alan, what a life its been. I think I'm tired. Other than our bones we'll never get a break... that's just one of those happy endings I was talking about. The marks they're really beginning to show. I'm starting to look like the life I've led, and I suppose you don't look much better. If you have news don't send it my way... we're different people now, and this letter is to who you was then. I prefer to remember you like that... Young, wild and sacred, kicking back at life while smarting from love's first tender blows. That was You and that was Me and that was another time...
Take Care, My Friend... In Loving Memory of a time that was... Six summers yours,