The Beginnings that led to everything
Before Dada first did me harm, before the lighting and the storm, before he turned my flesh into his own private yard to hoe and mow as he saw fit, before my life became his to do with as he desired, before the pain became the norm, I lived life, I think, much as any other child. At the least, at the last, that is how I saw it until his actions broke me from my past, severed me as surely as a cocoon removes the pupae from the moth.
I was born in the middle of a century, which century hardly seems to matter nay more and since this is my story we’ll leave it there. The middle, slap bang in the middle, that moment when the frenzy of the beginning has turned to clench-fisted, that moment before the flowering of the end when everyone finds their smile again.
I was born in the black of the middle, the midnight, the shadow. Born when the clouds had gathered but not a drip did fall. It was hot, Mama
Mama born me on the sheets she was wedded upon, the only ring she ever knew, the only church or altar, the wedding bed, the place where blood promises things will only get worse not better.
I was born on that bed ‘cos, Mama told me once, ‘The river, my dear,’ and her hand touched my brow almost the way a finger is dipped into a font, or it was that year when I went to a Catholic’s school (I will get back to this for it impressed me greatly, that year) before the nuns nosed around the house trying to get a sight of what was which and Dada pulled me back outta school again, screaming, his fist holding fort with the plaster-weeping wall above my head, ‘Damn those penguins and their breastless, milkless existences! (And just here I maybe should plonk in that my Dada always yelled, even when he was whispering which, this time, he surely was not) How dare they come to see what’s what with mine! How dare they try to unearth the seed I keep in the soil as I see fit! Your are mine, my boy, as mine as that godboy on the cross is theirs, even if some He’s just a carbon-copy of that Odin who was hung from a tree a thousand years maybe before!’ Dad liked to read, liked to join the dots, liked to think upon the connections as he sat upon the pot, or so he often told me those days before he brought the end into my bed and caused all that I was to writhe upon the torment he held within, nursed and fed to bring to me and have it visit while I was still abed.
‘ Your Dada,’ to follow on with what Mama was saying, way back before I got side-tracked (sorry for that but it will happen, a response, I should think, from what happened to me and why this story is being told in the first place) ‘was busted that evening and besides, your Dada was drunka’ than the arse of a hoary hog’s blind, evil twin.’
So I was born in my Mama’s bed, ‘a tiny bloody thing,’ so my Dada liked to tell me, ‘wrigglin’ like a maggot lookin’ for a feast, squawkin’ louder than mozzies buzzing about the dumb beast.’
I was born without a doctor or a midwife, without caution, thrown into the wind, my Mama howling, or so she said, pushing me forth like a pod pushing the tree out into the world. I was born with water hardly warmed, Dada couldn’t be bothered, without cloth except the sheet my Mama lay upon, or so she told me.
‘It damn near split me, it did. But I was glad you came, despite all the pain, for though half was your Dada’s, the other half is mine and all of you I love as best as I am able.’
Mama often spoke to me about love in the beginning, touching my forehead or brushing the orange-red hair out of my grey-blue eyes. In those days before my Dada came down upon me harder than the hail hitting our shaky tin roof, we spent time together sometimes in her bed, or mine, and mostly in the kitchen, me at the table watching her prepare the food for Dada and what was over for me and then her. Sometimes she’d hand me a carrot and a wink and I knew, even before, I think I had the words to speak, never to mention them carrots or whatever’s she handed across as she boiled the stew for Dada’s nightly, sitting down, everyone shut-up, feast.
So it came to be, if we can get to the point I am trying to make here, to bed the start, as it were. I was born in the marriage bed, though no marriage was ever partaken by Mama, Dada or any Officialdom. There was no ring, no vow, no kissin’ or huggin’ (‘cept the kind that happened later and judging by the facts as I now know them, particularly them relating to my Dada, I doubt there was much huggin' or kissin' then either).
I was born to my Dada and Mama, an only child, a son to carry on the family line, a boy, a babe, a barn. I was born without effort on my behalf, no cord around the neck to strangle, no twisting in the genome or other aspects that could go awry. To do the tally, I had five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot and, as Dada would have it, a healthy set of lungs that ruined his peace from the moment I was unleashed.
Mama wanted to call me Brith after a character in abook she said she once read.
‘I loved that name from the moment my eyes fell upon it, Brith. It just sounds so heroic, don’t you think?’
Dada would have no bar of it, threatened a back-hander to my Mama, or worse, that he’d pick me up and toss me over the fence, leave me there in the field with the cow pads and thistles to bellow and kick and crawl my way to death.
Years later we when I was six we found a babe in that field and I shall get to that anon but for now it’s the naming that we are at. Mama wanted Brith an so Dada anointed me with a slap on the bum and the name Patrick.
‘After dear old saint Patrick who drove the snakes from old Erse them many years ago,’ he said.
‘And he not being a catholic any more than he had any blood of Erin running down the creeks and rivers of his soggy veins,’ said Mama one night.
‘Dada not Catholic and not Irish?’ I asked, for even then, when I was five, (as I was, I reckon, at this particular moment) I sought information, hoping it might protect me somewhat, though it never did, never would, when kick came to punch information is as ‘bout as protective as a wet paper bag.
‘But for me there would be no Irishness in this family,’ Mama replied before tugging heavily on her fag, as if the smoke might add weight to her words.
So I was Patrick, half Irish and half my Dada’s whatever’s, Patrick that was called Pat by everyone and later that Pat became a joke between my Dada and me when he took to the pain inflicting that we’ll get to eventually.
Patrick Congerhill to give you my full name, with nothing in the middle.
‘Why would we waste the air with another title to you boy,’ my father often said. (
‘You may be Patrick Congerhill to him and to “them” (them meant many things to my Mama, but basically them was whoever was not her and me) but to me, to us, when alone, and when we aren’t in our minds, you are Brith September (her favorite month) Doolan,’ my mother would whisper when Dada’s ears were not turning this way and that like the twin satellites dishes they so resembled in size and shape. I was born on that bed and when Mama was able, she scooped me up and placed me on the nipple, let me feed as much as I wanted, then, so she said, she bathed and swaddled me, ‘just like a wee baby Jesus, your Dada playing the part of the ass.’
So that was that, the beginning as they say, the start, the “Go” on the board to let you know you are off. And off I was. Sucking my Mama’s milk and growing as fast as I could never knowing that the growing was leading me to the moment I would forever wish to avoid and not just me but Dada too it came to me when I was able to subdue the pain and ponder the words instead.
Patrick Congerhill son of Dada Congerhill and beloved of Meredith May Doolan, lovely lass with the bright red hair, taken (so the histories have informed as best as I could follow them) by the Congerhill boy when she was no more than a slip of a girl, fifteen at best but her folks were poor and the country was sparse so what we her poor parents to do and Congerhill a man of thirty five at the very least!
I pieced that bit together from the words of Mama and some from the words of Dada, especially those he sometimes yelled at her when things were really bad, in the time before I was finally set free. Poor Mama, with her dreams of love in her head budding like the breasts beneath her dress but where her thoughts were but phantasms were flesh was real and men like my Dada only know about the real, or rather, in attempt to still their own spirits of ill, seek the flesh and then the switch and worse, much worse still and I was to discover soon after the very first pubic hair showed its wiry face to the world.
Mama living on the land, stranded in his bed, cast adrift, cut off, sundered from her world. Her parents lost, her siblings too, though once three of them visited for a watery Christmas stew, but with Dada’s harsh words still ringing in their ears, the siblings fled and were not seen nor head of again, not by me, not near that shack, that boggy, groggy farm that produced barely enough and what it did soon became mostly drink for Dada’s outback throat.