I am choked with emotions that are not allowed out
Years ago, when I met strangers in bars I always got an urge to tell them everything. But I never did. I just got drunk.
Even still when I am in a coffee house, eating muffins, I am always waiting for someone to cry at the next table. Some girl wearing a mask of mascara is tucking into a Big Mac, and she gets agitated on her mobile, and I start wishing she would cry.
I live in hope of intimacy. Because I myself am choked with emotions that are not allowed out. I see Anna Karenina in Moscow, or a bipolar CIA agent in Homeland, and I’m always waiting for them to do it for me, to voice their emotions because I feel like I have a stone lodged in my gullet and I fear that if I ever expose who I am, I would be instantly ashamed.
Being a man, I don’t have a hairdresser to whom I can confess, although the General comes occasionally to Leitrim and stops overnight, lurking like a shadow in the corner of my study.
I told him I was going to Dublin for the NNI Journalism Awards, and he said: “Well at least you don’t have a beer belly any more, so you won’t look ridiculous.” Then he reminded me of the time I went off the drink and became addicted to Coca-Cola and Mars bars, and people thought I was still a big drinker, because of the belly, which was considered a manly disposition.
”Be careful not to get into an argument with those journalists,” the General said. “They know what they’re talking about and you’re usually wrong about everything.” He hasn’t forgiven me for the time I suggested that Seán Quinn was a reincarnation of Francis of Assisi.
It was dark when I woke the following morning though dawn came as I finished porridge in the kitchen. There was a fog on the lake but dry weather had allowed the trees to hold their leaves; canopies of rusty brown, amber, and translucent yellow rustled around the house.
The grey suit I bought in a charity shop in Claregalway for €10 hung in the back of the jeep, and the jeep spluttered diesel from the exhaust.
The General saw me to the gate. “Hide that gas-guzzling machine when you get there,” he said, “And don’t get inflated when someone important shakes your hand.” By the time I got to the M50 I was already paralysed with anxiety.
I parked the jeep at the Four Seasons Hotel, dreading that someone might see it and denounce me for wasting too much of the Earth’s vital energy supply. But I consoled myself that at least I don’t fly around Europe on Ryanair just to talk to other people.
There was a parking space in a remote corner of the car park. That suited me, because I had to change from my old jeans into the grey suit, which was tricky enough without someone passing by and wondering why I was taking off my trousers.
Inside the plush hotel, the carpets surprised me like sand at the sea on a dark night, and the journalists were in a large room eating fish and drinking wine and listening to speeches. There was an awful lot of dark suits, and a powerful air of masculinity.
Journalists are like athletes. They exude the adrenaline of a team always on the brink of victory, and everyway I turned there were famous faces in animated conversation. I was elated at the fact that I had been nominated for an award and I was within an inch of taking a sup of free wine, but I remembered the General’s advice and decided to stick to fizzy water, because one glass might loosen the tongue to a degree that I would later regret.
When it was all over I dashed for the jeep and fled, relieved that I hadn’t suffered any public embarrassment and yet frustrated that I didn’t have the courage to stay and make friends.
I consoled myself with the thought of how well Inuits survive, alone in the snow. My own heart sometimes yearns for an igloo where emotions could be as manageable as frozen seals.
And when I got back to Leitrim the General was waiting for me in the shadows. Sitting in the corner.
“Well,” he said, “how did you do?“
“I did fine,” I said. “If wearing a mask in public is a measure of success.”