A phone call, out of nowhere: to tell me that my cousin was dead. And by his own hand; things began to unravel from there. A long, long forgotten memory stirred in my head.
We’d been close as kids, he would stay with us in N Ireland, we would stay with him and his parents in the south of England. I didn’t realise it then, but now I see that he was brought up in what his brother conceded was ‘genteel poverty’. Yet his parents were gentlefolk in the best English tradition. Over the years I’d grown very fond of them, though my cousin always seemed to have greater ambitions, a desire, a need, to escape from his origins.
“He was always flamboyant,” my sister said when I told her. And it was true. He was ambitious, determined somehow to escape from the circumstances of his childhood. He would smoke only the most extravagant cigarettes, the most unusual, Balkan Sobranie for example. Just to be different.
There was more, it all gradually unfolded. He had been missed by his lover, he hadn’t phoned, so his lover had called the police, they had been alerted and found him.
He’d married years before, and had a couple of boys; and had had a grandson, though out of wedlock. But he had divorced her some years ago, and taken a series of lovers. Men.
When he was married, they used to quarrel, frequently and seriously. And then he’d suffered from depression and had been treated for this — and still was being treated at the time of his death. And the migraines; he’d never had these before, but after his marriage they were frequent, debilitating.
All of this was revealed in pieces, in fragments. As if the family didn’t understand what was happening, how he could have taken his own life, as if they couldn’t accept what had happened.
It was difficult for me to take this all in; he’d seemed to be content, to have been a success. And he was, at least financially and socially. The foreign holidays, the cars. What had happened; how had he changed?
It came back to me a week or two after the first phone call; funerals arrangements can be delayed, and I’d time to think before going to meet the relatives. I remembered a scene from forty years before, when I stayed with him and his parents. We were on a station platform, his brother and I, he was going off to his summer job, and we were chatting, as lads do.
“You know,” he said, “it’s only after you’ve fucked a girl for the first time that you’ve proved yourself.” We’d all laughed at this, for it was true, a proof of manhood.
But it was a lie, he’d deceived us and himself for decades. He hadn’t proved that he was heterosexual, he’d pretended to be something that he wasn’t. It was illegal then; his parents would never have understood.
And he lived with this self-deception for decades, until it was too much.
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