Is that why you almost had sex in the short-term car park?

Hilary Fannin: In the intensity of the moment one thing began to lead to another, my friend said

Hilary Fannin: “I read that losing both parents can set us free and offer us our best chance to become our truest, deepest selves,” my friend said. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

We were walking through liquorice-assortment weather, the kaleidoscope changing from yellow to pink to black to blue. Under the capricious sky, we put our sweatshirts on and took them off again, and hunted in our bags for rainwear moments later when a herd of purple clouds raced across the bay.

We wound along the cliff path, climbed over a miniature cathedral of rock, and finally stopped to look at the view under a fat, if temporary, sun.

“I was thinking about death,” my friend said as we sat looking at the fitful water.

“I think they are called overfalls,” I said, referring to the waves crashing into one another just off the coast, frothing and head-butting each other like furious children.


“I read that losing both parents can set us free and offer us our best chance to become our truest, deepest selves,” my friend said.

“It’s when two tides meet,” I continued, “or maybe when the wind changes direction. You see those white caps on the water? You see those jumpy, angry waves? I’m pretty sure they’re called overfalls.”

Potent catalyst    

“This article I was reading,” persisted my friend (who, as it happened, was also recently bereaved), “argued that losing a parent is the most potent catalyst for change in our middle age. Nothing else has so much potential to help us become more open and less afraid, to become wiser and more mature.”

“Are you interested in waves?” I asked her.

“No,” she replied.

We sat looking at the choppy water. I watched two canoeists trace the shoreline, their paddles churning up the water like teaspoons in a bath.

“This newfound post-bereavement maturity,” I said. “Is that why you almost had sex with that bloke in the short-term airport car park?”

“God, you’re base,” she retorted, throwing a clump of seaweed at me.

Shortly after her mother’s death, my friend met someone through her work. He paid her attention. He rang and texted, he told her she was beautiful. They danced one night, and kissed - she came home, held on to the draining board and told herself to get a grip.

Like some Irish women of my generation, my friend had married her first boyfriend; they’d had children, who are now adult. Early in her marriage, her husband had become disillusioned with their life. The more she tried to steady the ship, the angrier he became. Drink was involved, and depression, and finally illness. She worked to keep the household afloat. They are still married, existing within the margins of an unspoken truce. She continues to take care of him, which perversely, if understandably, adds to his sluggish rage.

Felt dishonest

The man she met continued to pursue her. One evening, she drove him to the airport to catch a flight to see his own critically ailing father, who lived abroad. They sat in the short-term car park and she told him that she couldn’t have a relationship with him, that it felt dishonest. She was sympathetic about his father, told him she understood the enormity of the loss he was facing. And then, in the intensity of the moment, his departure being so terribly imminent, one thing began to lead to another.

Only, just as those things were getting interesting, he collapsed, keeling over on the back seat, and she found herself running frantically through Dublin Airport looking for a paramedic and asking herself when in the name of god she became the kind of woman who runs through airports in a blind panic with her well-washed bra undone.

Anyway, returning to the car with the medics, she found her stricken companion sitting up, zippered and chastened.

The jovial paramedics made their investigations, and when they left, she asked him what had happened.

“Viagra,” he explained sheepishly. With all the blood rushing to one place, the drug had made him feel as if he was having a heart attack.

“Yep, you’re a poster girl for wisdom and maturity all right,” I suggested to my friend, looking up at the scudding clouds.

Back-seat moment

“You know, if my mother was alive, I don’t think I’d have allowed myself that back-seat moment,” my friend said. “Some kind of propriety or shame kept me in my place for all these years. Now I know I’ve only got one chance left to be myself. There’s just me and my own death and the choices I make in between.”

“No names!” she said, standing to continue our walk.

“I’m not going to write about you!” I protested.

“Of course you will!” she said.

And in my truest, deepest self, I had to admit her suspicions were right.