Embrace by Helen Brassil

My parents are Catholic. I was never forced to attend mass and I escaped from having any religious ideals pushed on me. I was sent to a non-denominational school.

I have both my parents to thank for this. My mother had very little time for nuns, having suffered them all through her schooling. However, this didn’t stop her from going to mass, or from praying to Saint Jude while I was off gallivanting around Europe ‘finding myself’. I saw religion as a familiar base people turned to when all else failed – not so far from the truth, I guess.

As I came of age and realised I was gay, the last thing on my mind was, what will God think? I was more concerned with the extreme lack of other gays around me, which made me feel isolated, as if coming from Cooley wasn’t isolating enough for me!

Edel was my first gay friend. She truly was a lifesaver. I remember Martin came out, then Edel. In a way, I shadowed their experience to avoid doing the deed myself. It was like we opened the door for others like us, to come and hang out. This was a brave thing to do in Dundalk in the ‘90s. We made other gay friends and partied our summers away. We were finally out. Granted, we were armed with quarters of vodka and Buckfast, but we were ‘out’ nonetheless.

I have fond memories of Dundalk then. We shared some good times, and it didn’t feel like we were being judged (I’m sure the curtains were twitching and tongues were wagging, but we weren’t bothered). Anyway, being bisexual among our age group was all the rage then, which helped the situation significantly! I hadn’t officially ‘come out’ at this time. I still didn’t feel the need, I guess.

After my leaving certificate, I moved to Dublin and left small-town life behind me. I quite enjoyed being different – I was anyway, as there was a touch of anarchist in me. I EMBRACED it. It wasn’t something I fought.

However, I was a little concerned with the heterosexual-to-homosexual ratio. I now realise this was a lot to do with people’s fear of coming out. And this was mostly because of an island that was stiflingly Catholic, a country where church and state were joined and decided what people should, and shouldn’t do. Oh God.

Neither myself, nor Edel took any of that nonsense to heart. It was like a Father Ted sketch, ridiculous to the point of hilarity. All you can do is sit back and laugh, and do the complete opposite to what you are being told.

It took me a while to come out to my parents. I didn’t think they would get it, and I didn’t want to upset what already was quite a detached household. I do remember downing a half-bottle of Jameson and slurring it out at some point in my early 20s. No one was surprised. In fact, my brother just called me greedy! That’s the strange moment where the child ends up educating his/her parents about things. Initially, this is a very odd feeling.

I am now engaged to an amazing woman, and perspective has come into play. I guess my parents are both at ages where they are lucky to be healthy and active. My mother always says, ‘’Your health is your wealth’’.

My sexual orientation, like anyone else’s – gay or straight – is so irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Love is relevant. Being happy is relevant. Having witnessed Edel and Peter go so prematurely, this rings true time and time again. Life is short.

When hearing of Edel’s cancer, I rang the family house phone. Anne answered, and I soon realised Edel had a huge battle on her hands. The odds were certainly stacked against her. None of it made any sense, cancer never makes any sense.

I met up with her, and we had a few drinks. She was physically exhausted. I did what I could to raise some money for her trips to South America by running a couple of music gigs in Dublin, but nothing seemed like it was enough to make a significant difference. I remember feeling quite helpless.

We watched Titanic together a few weeks before she passed away. One of the final scenes where the ship sinks slowly slowly into the ocean, Edel said, “Jesus, that would be an awful way to go’’.

She was a true friend, and Peter, a true gentleman.

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