When it finally happened we had been predicting it for so long, gossiping about it, guessing about it, passing judgement on it, parsing it out in morsels of hilarious misery that we didn’t really care about it anymore. A Whatsapp message to the group:
🙁 🙁 🙁 he broke off the engagement!!!
Cue a shrugging of shoulders and the odd eye roll of at last, it’s finally happened, allied with a hmmm and a mulling over of how appropriate it would be to send a meme of a shocked owl saying ‘o rly?’ in response. Of course we felt bad for her—who wouldn’t? We didn’t know all the details yet but we knew they’d be delicious. And we were excited to hear them, in all their gore. Yet there was almost disappointment, too, now that their relationship had finally spiralled out. What the fuck would we, the dregs of the arts graduates of Limerick, a feckless bitter bunch steeped in laziness and discarded dreams, talk about now? When gathered for coffee, tea or pints we’d always known if there was a lull in conversation, we could simply say:
—Did you hear what Liam did now?
And all heads would swivel towards the source of the question, ears cocked, eyes narrowed:
—No… do go on.
Half the time we had already witnessed the slight, told the others about it, chewed it over and hawked it out, making it even more salacious than it had been in reality. But where’s the fun in reality?
What had this Liam done, you might ask, to deserve our boundless opprobrium?
1. He’s English. Ok, ok, ok, calm down. This wasn’t why we disliked him but you do need to be aware of this because it explains things a little better. English and a third generation soldier.
2. He made repeated racist remarks about the Irish. Micks, thick as shit Paddies, statements like ‘I’ll Bloody Sunday you’, ‘Cromwell had the right idea’—these kind of statements were posted on Jessie’s Facebook page on a weekly basis. (The English soldier thing makes more sense now, doesn’t it?)
3. He broke up with Jessie the night before she was due to visit him in England for a week as he and his army buddies had initiated a slut phase before he went to Afghanistan. Slut phase is his phrase, not ours.
4. When Jessie booked a boozy holiday with her schoolfriends for an ostensibly similar purpose, he called her a slut and tried to stop her from going. She still went, but after some light questioning we discovered she had declined numerous offers of meaningless sex during it, because she felt she would have been unfaithful to Liam.
5. When they inevitably got back together after his slut phase, he gave her chlamydia. She found out while sorting through their laundry after a phone call from the clinic. She packed her bags, sat on the kerb outside their flat and dialled his number instead of a taxi. The phone rang. He picked up.
Jessie (through choking sobs): You, you, you, you gave me chlamydia. Fucking chlamydia.
Liam: Fuck sake, don’t shout.
Jessie: Fuck sake, fuck you. I’m leaving. I’m outside and my bags are packed, I’m ready to go.
Liam: Calm down, Garth Brooks, it’s not that big a deal.
Jessie: What?… it’s fucking John Denver you idiot!
Liam: If it really was me that gave you chlamydia I got it during my slut phase, I never cheated on you and it isn’t that big a deal, can’t you just get some antibiotics and take them, stop being such a bitch about it. Ugh, I’ve to get checked out too now.
The proposal story is too good to be shoehorned into a listicle. I was doing a course with Jessie at the time, so I got to witness this one unfold it all its glory. It was coming up to Christmas and he lobbed the question at her over a text: ‘wats ur ring size?’ ‘it’s not 4 a proposal,’ was the text that followed immediately afterwards. He was about to be deployed to Afghanistan, it was definitely for a fucking proposal—I’m going to tell you something and because of the cackhandedness of the proposal it will stretch the bounds of your credulity, but believe me, it is true: he was in Military Intelligence. His job was collecting information, conspiring in subterfuge and making intelligent decisions and that was how he proposed.
Jessie went off and got her ring sized in a fancy-looking jewellers while I stood outside on the phone to another friend, providing a live feed. We had taken to openly mocking their relationship at this stage in the hope that she would knock it on the head and tell him to fuck off. Peeved at the constant scorn, Jessie stormed ahead when she exited the jewellers and I tottered after her, describing her angry duck gait down the phone. When I caught up with her, she was on the phone to himself. She hung up.
—What’s up? I asked.
—Nothing… He’s not getting me a ring anymore. He’s getting me something different for Christmas.
—Did he still ask for your ring size?
—I think that’s what they call misdirection in the Military Intelligence community.
Oh, we howled at that one.
Lists are reductive, anecdotes are reductive, we know this, we know that this is not a true or complete portrayal of their relationship. And their relationship must have been alright, or possibly even good, at some stage. Maybe some nights when she came home tired and depressed from her shitty job he cooked dinner and cleaned up afterwards without being asked, maybe she rubbed his back as they lay in bed talking about what they would name their children, maybe when they couldn’t sleep and it was so dark they couldn’t see each other, they talked about the dreams they had that were so ambitious they were ashamed of them. Maybe all these things happened. And who are we to pass judgement on what their relationship was? We were her friends. This is what friends do. Your friends are judging you, they are gossiping about you, they are bitching about you, they are competing with you. You think they’re not? You’re lying to yourself. But I don’t do that, you say. That’s because you’re winning or, worse yet, you think you’re so much better, more intelligent, more articulate, more successful than your friends that it’s not even a competition. Friendship is solace, but it is also a contest, and Jessie was losing. She wanted achievements she could show people—but not jobs or money, not houses or cars, no, this was marriage and baby territory. Two kids by thirty territory, stay at home mum territory. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting those things, and only those things, until you begin to compromise yourself completely, to parcel up your self-respect and hand it over to a racist, misogynistic fucktard to get a shitty bended-knee proposal.
We did what we did because we wanted to help her.
WHATSAPP GROUP: Artsing About
Cara: They put me in charge of the internet today. 🙂 🙂
Nicky: …go on.
Cara: Well, I’m in charge of dealing with customers on Facebook and the Twitter now.
Nicky: The Twitter?
Cara: Yup. I’m really excited about it. Less time on the shop floor.
Aisling: That’s great, Cara. Congrats!!!
Nicky: You getting any extra money for it?
Cara: Not really.
Nicky: Coming down to Limerick soon?
Cara: We’ll see. I’ve got to go home first.
Mary: Woke up this morning with scabby knees and a head like a bag of spiders.
Aaron: Giving blowies out round the back of Costello’s again? 8====D<:o
Jessie: He’s started going out with some child.
Nicky: Where’d you go?
Mary: Costello’s. I just need to be held.
Nicky: Want to meet up for coffee? Food?
Aaron: Where were ye thinking of?
Jessie: She’s just turned eighteen. She rides horses. I’m going to tell his parents their son is a kiddy fiddler. lol…
Nicky: You should do that. In person. Just turn up at their door.
Cara: Fuck him. You should block him on Facebook.
Jessie: I’ll send you her Instagram.
Aaron: Please do, we’d all love to see it.
Mary: Costa for coffee and then lunch in Napoli? I’m not drinking.
Nicky: Coolness. Meet you there in half an hour.
Aaron: I’ll meet you in Napoli.
Jessie: Instagram account.
Jessie: Fucking slut.
Jessie: Guess he has his skinny girlfriend now.
Jessie: It was my fault though. He always told me eleven stone was the cut-off point.
Jessie: That was his rule. I knew he’d break up with me. My own fault.
Aaron: There was a cut-off weight in your relationship? What a rollercoaster.
Nicky: You should see the photos on her Twitter. Some ride.
Jessie: She has a Twitter account? Send it on.
Nicky: I don’t know if I should.
Jessie: Send it.
Nicky: I’m fucking with you, I don’t have her Twitter up, the kiddies these days use Snapchat. Stop bloody talking to him. Have you blocked him yet?
Jessie: How do I screenshot something?
Nicky: Ask Cara, she’s in charge of the internet.
Jessie: He called me a psycho bitch and then deleted his Facebook.
Aaron: No he didn’t.
Jessie: Yeah he did. I can’t click on it.
Aaron: I’m on it now. He’s after blocking you… smdh.
Cara: He’s an asshole, Jessie. You’re better off without him.
Nicky: He blocked you before you could block him? Liam 1, Jessie 0.
Jessie: I hope he gives her chlamydia.
Aaron: You hope he gives her chlamydia too.
Jessie: I’m going to call his mother. Tell her what her son is like.
Cara: You shouldn’t do that. Just forget about him.
The WhatsApp conversations continued for weeks, then months; other smaller groups were set up, none including Jessie. We convened at Mary’s flat to discuss how best to address the situation. Of us all, she was the one who’d most recently been visited by an acrimonious break-up, so we listened to her begrudgingly, like you listen to advice about where to go on a holiday from someone who’s been there before you. It was a Sunday and those of us still luxuriating on the dole were living on the porridge and hummus left in our fridges after a weekend of mild to deliciously irresponsible debauchery. Gathered around her coffee-table, drinking tins of Karpackie and Dutch Gold and smoking fags, we decided on Jessie’s treatment:
—She just needs to get laid.
—I’m not sure that would help.
—Plus it would probably be a little difficult. Have you seen the cut of her recently?
—Well, we need to do something.
—Do we? She has a family.
—Sherrah, they’re fucking useless.
—Her sisters told her to lose the weight.
—She’s put on a sight of condition alright. It wouldn’t hurt to cut the legs out from the table awhile.
—She needs to stop on about him, to forget about him. We can’t listen to that shit for much longer.
—It’s not like we haven’t dropped enough hints telling her to shut up about it.
—She crashed my lunch with Audrey last Friday. I hadn’t seen Audrey since Christmas. We couldn’t get a word in edgeways.
—I haven’t a notion. She followed the two of us around Brown Thomas and Debenhams talking about what to do with her engagement ring. She’s still wearing the bloody thing.
—Are you fucking kidding me?
—She told me she’s buying a ticket to go over and see him next Tuesday when she gets her dole.
—What? She owes me fifty euro.
—You won’t see that again.
—For fuck sake. Lads, this is a pure balls altogether.
It came to a stage where we would groan when Jessie is typing… flashed on screen. What conversation would she hijack to moan about Liam, or worse, would she ask to meet up for a drink, would she want to come on a night out and surreptitiously pose with her naked ring finger in sight of the camera, the only thing more obvious than her tumbling neckline? Any and all conversations had to be about Liam, had to be about his latest duplicity, her mushrooming irrationality. We were exhausted. We decided to do what any good friends would do. We silenced her.
It was easy to lure her there; we just started talking directly to her instead of around her. Someone even asked her a question about Liam, God bless that brave fucker. We suggested a night out, some cans before the pub, some dancing before heading to Chicken Hut for some indecent chips with gravy and, though it took some arm-twisting and some cajoling on our part, she acquiesced.
She arrived over in a dress that was, frankly, obscene. Eyebrows hit ceilings, glances shot out the corners of our eyes.
—The state of that cleavage, we muttered out the sides of our mouths.
—You’d lose a small child down there, we said.
Her desperation for attention was heightened by the dress, its caterwauling, its imploring please stare at me, talk to me, leer at me, its any attention would do statement. Witnessing her pitiable state, we almost wavered in our task— anyone would’ve—but we knew how important it was to stay the course. It was for her own good.
In the end, we panicked, didn’t even let her finish her first drink. She sat down at the table, tugged her dress both up and down in a forlorn attempt to salvage some modesty. We grabbed a bottle of Huzzar by the neck and womped her in the back of the head. The goose-pimpled base of the bottle met the crown of her skull and she tumbled forward, bellyflopping onto the boozesticky carpet. Miraculously, the bottle stayed intact. We passed it around, examining it, remarking that we had expected it to shatter but here it shone, unbroken, the only spoor of our intervention the wispy hairs and blood matted on its base. Jessie had gone down heavily and some of us were tempted to make a joke about how maybe Liam was right, she was carrying a bit of timber, but this was a sombre occasion so we refrained. We slugged from our cans and began. As we threaded the needle, we remembered nights out with Jessie, walking around Limerick with her at two in the morning, snow drifting down around us, her making a photo album of us studying in Poland and us thinking no one other than our mothers had ever gone to this much effort for us. The needle was Robert Downey Jnr. sharp and we expected it to just slide through her lips but we had to press hard to pierce her flesh. It didn’t pop, air did not whoosh through; it just bled slowly as we worked. The criss-cross of the black thread stitching her mouth shut was taut—it would do the job. If we’re being honest, we were quite proud of our efforts; we thought it looked artistic, or maybe artisanal. We took a selfie with her before she woke up and made it the picture for the Whatsapp group.
When she woke she was panicked at first, but soon calmed down. That was the first test of the stitches and they held fast. This pleased us. We were surprised at how long it took us to convince her it was for the best, there’s only so much patience you can have for a friend’s whingeing, the thing with Liam had been months at this stage, and still she’d kept carping on about it. In the end, though, she saw how this would help her; she even let us have her phone so she couldn’t message us about it. She was ready to make more of an effort, ready to be a better friend, a better person. We told her she could take the thread out after a month, Mary had read that’s how long it takes to develop a habit.
The stitches had unexpected benefits. The weight fell off her, lads on nights out would be burning the ear off her and she’d nod and smile and they’d insist she’d take their number at the end of the night. Her parents bought her a car for being such a trouper during it all. We even gave her back her phone earlier than we’d planned to show what generous magnanimous friends we were.
After the month was up, we approached her with a gleaming scissors, but she shooed us away. She had a new boyfriend from Donegal, her boss kept telling her how pleasant she had been at work lately and that she might even be in line for a promotion soon. She wanted the stitches now, she’d become used to them, their reassuring pressure when she was about to speak. She thanked us for putting them in. She took her phone out and typed a message. Our phones vibrated.
WHATSAPP GROUP: Artsing About
Jessie: I know what’s expected of me now.