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Monday, 18 April 2011

The Bridge

The apex of the bridge, the place where the green and white scarves, football tops and teddy bears have been tied, is nearly 40 meters from the water below. I wonder, do these tributes sum up the tragedy of this lost life?

Photo by Calum Davidson See - http://www.flickr.com/photos/ccgd/805913869/in/faves-isotype75/

I believe that some people who jump actually think it is a cry for help that will perhaps go heeded. A stinging belly flop into a swimmingpool. They don’t know that hitting the Clyde from so high up will leave remains not unlike those left if they had jumped from a multi-storey building, for the coastguard to fish out.

None of the twenty or so troubled souls that jump from the Erskine Bridge every year survive.
The green and white tributes flapping in the spring breeze are what the people who are left think sums up this poor person’s life. Celtic Football Club was this person’s being?
They played last night. They were crap. They won, but they were playing a part-time team, a team like so many others in Scotland, made up of part-timers – Saturday footballers who have other jobs. Celtic is one of the richest football teams in the world and pays millions of pounds for its players.

Before the game, I had called Susanne. She sounded happy enough. She was drinking a bottle of Merlot, she said, “and watchin’ a film about a wee vampire in Sweden.”
Susanne and I liked to walk in the local park and on sunny days, took a bottle of Merlot with us and bought fish and chips and sat watching Glasgow walk by while we talked.
“You watchin’ the game the morra night, then?”

“Aye. D’ye want tae come over and watch it wi’ me?”

She screws up her face and turns and gives me a look of exaggerated disbelief.

“You jokin’? tae your place?”
“Ah tidied it up, like.”

She looks me up and down.

“Aye, ah noticed. Yiv had a decent haircut an’ ironed yer jeans.” She turns her freckled face up to the sun and laughs.

The view from the bench, over the pond, towards the hospital, is, I suppose, nice.

“Onyways, me and the girls are gonna huv a night in, watchin’ East Enders and eatin’ Pringles.”

I only came to this park to meet Susanne. This was out of my way. I had escaped Glasgow and lived in a wee council house in a suburban town called Milngavie. I had escaped the decay left by the shipyard owners who had bled their workers and then left to bleed cheaper labour on the other side of the world.

I had hated the, “my da’ was a fitter,” or “my da’ wiz a ‘lecky,” or ma da’ plumbed the QE2,” from all the junkies who had been stripped of all hope of doing anything.

My da’ had been more. He’d been a designer. He had designed Ocean Liners, tug boats, tankers and all sorts of huge ships that had fanned out across oceans from Glasgow. When I had been wee, we’d lived in one of the big houses on the Southside of Glasgow.

I remember my maw laughing and running after us in the park in her blue coat and her white open smile. I remember, vaguely, a couple of holidays in the sun. I remember him kicking the ball to me and splashing in the pool. I worried about his white skin being so pillar box red. I thought he would explode.

I remember when he didn’t return from the work trip to the States. When he eventually did, he was in a box, unseen. I guessed that the car crash had made him unrecognisable.

I remember the move to Govan and the teasing I got for being posh… something I had to lose quickly to survive.

I remember the rest of my childhood as grey. Overcast. Heavy on my shoulders.

I remember her lying in bed, lots. Calling down the stairs for a cup of tea. Her thin, sick, depressed bones under the covers.

My gran took me in and made me leave school for work when all I wanted to do was draw, paint and write stories.

I worked in a chippy, then I got an apprenticeship with a carpenter who remembered my da’ as a great gaffer.

That year, we found alcohol and hash. Tennents Lager, then Bucky and then blow and then the pursuit for a bigger kick.

When she died, her will said she didn’t want me to sell her life’s detritus to inject my scab ridden arm with insanity. She had left £15000 or so, and I would only get it if I was “clean” and married with a we’an.

Our addiction, our lifestyle, was their fault. The capitalist bastards. So we broke in to their homes, and those who worked for them (mostly those who worked for them because they were easier). Their lifestyle would plunge the world into ruin; mine to perfect oblivion.
We were the subversives, the real revolutionaries. We couldn’t escape the system – we knew that. We weren’t delusional like the God squad or the soap box socialists or the middle class anarchists. We knew there was no hope. I would kill myself without my maws money.

No matter how much I pleaded, no matter how many times, stinking of piss and sick I threw stones at my lawyer’s window, they would keep my right from me. On those nights, after a thwarted house break, I would sit and shit and shiver and vomit until the chemist opened and I had my Methadone hit.

I knew what she had done was actually some sort of apology; her way to say sorry for the wrong childhood; her way to say thank you for the cups of tea and for listening to what could have been and should have been.

This was her way to parent me. To clean me up and create a life for new we’ans; a life she should have given me.

At first I didn’t bite. I just shouted and railed and smashed and kicked at her making me suffer.

Waking up in the Southern General to the words, “don’t revive the junkie,” two weeks after my 25th birthday changed everything.

I wanted to be the da’. I wanted to be tha da’ splashing his wee fella. I wanted to complete a we’ans childhood. Camping, cycling, Scalextric. The heart attack and the second class NHS citizenry took me out of my oblivion revolution.

I asked for help. I wanted to be clean. I wanted to be something. I wanted to be part of the consumerist struggle and own things.

The death that was cold-turkey – the pain – the drama – gave way to nothingness. A being I can only now describe as “not being.”

After that, I was discharged from hospital. Back to the piss stained, rubbish strewn hovel.
It was months before I found a will beyond “being.” Beyond eating the little I needed to survive and then wanting something more, something other than day time TV, beans and toast.
I met a cousin who was giving up her council flat in Milngavie and she allowed me to move in. When she left her flat, it was passed on to me. It was a life saver, for a while.
I managed to get a job in a local café, and with the small earnings and some top ups from the brew, I began my crawl to acceptance and to a real life.

Susanne used to come in to the café. At first I didn’t notice her, but then she said things like, “I prefer your white trainers,” or, “I saw you in the Shelter shop looking at books yesterday,” and stuff.

She was attractive, in a left-field sort of way. She had long black, straight-ish hair that she obviously cut herself. Sometimes it sat at strange gelled angles. Her face was really pale, and freckled and she stared at you with pale blue eyes which followed your every move and changed her expression with every word you said, depending on her interpretation of your emotion.

Sometimes she dressed in scruffy, worn denims and teeshirts, sometimes in strange skirt/ stripey socks and flowery blouse combinations.

And some days she came in and looked at you as if she didn’t know you, a sad smile was all she gave in acknowledgement to anything you said to her.

Our first date was to the pictures. We went to see “Avatar.” She cried. In fact she was inconsolable. I left her to a taxi and she said she would see me tomorrow.

I didn’t and damn, she hadn’t given me a phone number.

She came back to the café around about a fortnight later.

“Hi!” she said as if there had not been a moment between Avatar and now, “d’ye wanna go to the park near where I stay?” She opened her plastic bag and showed me the bottle of Merlot and two plastic cups.


This was her way of showing me where she spent most of her time. Gartnavel Royal Hospital.
“Do ye know, it used to be called the Mental Asylum. I’m mental.”

I got to understand her condition. Some days she wanted to live so badly and madly, she wouldn’t meet me. Some days the medication gave her, and us normality. Some days, weeks, she wouldn’t come to see me.
But I loved her.

After our fish and chips, and bottle of Merlot, I walked her back up the hill to the hospital. She stayed in one of the units behind the old Victorian building, but she never wanted me to go beyond it. We kissed and se promised when she felt good, we would be together forever. The doctors said she could well live in the community, when she felt well enough. My flat was ready for that eventuality.

“I hope the game goes well. Phone me!”

I had managed to get some decent second hand furniture together and I painted the hall and kitchen in her favourite purple. When she came to stay for the odd night, we would play Kate Bush CD’s and fall asleep entwined on the couch. We were both happy.

“A Swedish Vampire?”
“Aye. A wee girl. Some wee fella has fallen for her. I’ll phone you later.” And she hung up.

She didn’t phone.

I watched the game and fell asleep on the couch waiting for the call.

Then I phoned the next morning.

It is a strange sensation. I am standing… or floating… I don’t know which, here on the Erskine Bridge, reading cards left by junkies and family friends over the past week. They think Celtic sum up my existence. They didn’t. She did. And when they told me she had been found in the pond, her wrists slashed deeply, and her beautiful freckled face drained of life, I knew the golden life was not for me. I knew the £15000 would go to someone else.

She smiles and takes my hand, “We’ll be happy now.”

I smile and we dissolve.

1 comment:

  1. Wow.... This is so touching, it breaks your heart.


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