When my mother was dying I drank a lot. Every night that I wasn’t working, and sometimes after my night shifts as well, I went to bars and clubs with Leonard and we had adventures and got off with people and I had fun and I was able to forget about things for a while. It was what I needed. I went back to Belfast regularly, where I might catch up with friends briefly but I’d spend most of my time with my mum. I enjoyed being with her. I was also aware, though nobody was saying it, that her poor tired body wouldn’t be able to last much longer. I’d put on a brave face all day, and then I’d cry myself to sleep at night.
My boss knew I was going out drinking a lot and she figured out why before I did. “Whatever it takes to help you cope,” she said, and we sat down and rearranged the rota a little so there’d be no risk of me coming in some morning and driving while I still had alcohol in my system. I was embarrassed that we had to have this discussion, but I was grateful that she handled it so sensitively and didn’t make me feel bad. I was glad I wasn’t expected to change my habits outside of work.
One night after my shift I went straight to meet Leonard at our friend Gregor’s club night. Everyone else had had a head-start on drinking, and I tried to catch up. Leonard was distracted by a boy who couldn’t have been more than nineteen and was already wasted and falling over. Also the boy subscribed to that peculiar fashion of wearing a belt that didn’t perform its intended function: his underwear was pretty much fully exposed to the world and it looked like his trousers might be round his ankles by the close of the evening without any help from anyone else. This stuff makes me feel really old. Anyway.
When the club closed Leonard was intent on making stuff happen with said boy, so we lured him and his friends back to Leonard’s place with the promise of more alcohol. This was completely the wrong direction for me but I’m a good friend so I agreed to come with him to bulk up the numbers: hey, if there were five of us instead of four maybe we could fool them into thinking they’d been to a real party! Eventually Leonard and I both kissed the boy for the hell of it, and then I headed up Leith Walk with the two extras, leaving Leonard to indulge further with #161, except #161 was still wasted and it was a dumb idea in the first place and nothing really came of it. #161’s friends bickered with each other in a melodramatic teenage fashion on the way home and I continued feeling old.
It was about 6am. I dialled 1471 when I got home. I didn’t have a mobile phone at the time, nor did I have an answering machine, and it had been interesting, over a number of months, to discern which friends were prepared to persevere in their attempts to get hold of me. Someone had tried to phone me earlier in the evening, and I had no idea who it was, but I called them back and left a pleading voicemail asking them to call and wake me up because I had to catch a flight to Belfast.
The phone call came from #113. “This is your wake-up call,” he said. I was half-asleep, possibly still drunk, and I had no idea what he was talking about. I promptly fell back asleep.
I wound up throwing a few clothes into my backpack in a fit of panic and paying around twenty quid for a taxi, arriving exactly seven minutes after check-in closed. I burst into tears at the airline desk. Part of this was genuine stress, part of it was the ploy I’d decided on en route. To my astonishment and great relief, they took pity on me and booked me on the next flight at no extra charge.
That weekend my mum stayed in bed in the guest room and didn’t eat. She insisted she was fine, but I was worried and called the doctor round anyway. After he’d gone, she said “You’re a bad girl,” with a smile playing on her lips.
She had one week left.