Steamboats - Chapter 2
Message In A Bottle
This next Steamboat comes from Northern Ireland . Once again his name has been changed to protect his identity . Hugo is his name and he ran a small business in Belfast . That’s how come I got to meet him in the first place .
Out of the blue one day he asked me to help him run his shop while he did some grocery shopping in town . As I was living nearby I said ok and looked after his shop until his wife took over later in the day . I never suspected Hugo was a Steamboat until his need for assistance became almost a daily calling with me . After a while I could see there was a problem .
It was the summer of 1989 when fate had decided that Hugo would move in with me . The fact was Hugo’s wife had taken all she could and could take no more . After she turned him out onto the street he ended up at my door . Was it just by chance or destiny ?
It seems it could be yes to both and so I have another story to tell you .
Hugo O’Neil was a thin man with a baby face . His Irish complexion seemed slightly deceiving with the adage of his thirty eight years . Hugo was a family man when he was on the wagon but when he was off the wagon he was the Mr Hyde in the horror scene of a movie . Fuelled with alcohol Hugo wasn’t worth the salt his wife sprinkled on her vegetable soup .
As a hard drinker Hugo had a love for the social scene . Getting out on the tear and into town was always the go . He had an ability to talk and discovered a desire to be seen doing so.
He had sought exits out from life and with drink he was able to cope with problems when ever life threw them his way . Even though Hugo has his own answer still the question remained .
It was a message in a bottle . Sadly no one else could read it as well as he could and when I met Hugo he needed to read the message everyday .
Eventually the day came when he read the message and it said that there was no answer to be found . Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies and so I was told Hugo’s history during the five months he lived with me . Say hello to Hugo and leave goodbye for another day .
Put your feet up and read the lunatic story of Hugo’s exit from life .
”Do you see Mad Dog Tucker well I’ll tell you at fifteen I was as mad as he ever was and Tucker who is twice my age is still only half as smart as me .
My Clan are the O”Neils and we’re all fond of a drink but of all the O’Neils there’s none so fond of the drink as I am . Like yesterday I can still remember sitting there in the Park on Friday nights as drunk as a skunk with a Scrumpie bottle on my knee . I was a wild child at fifteen and my memories of fights on Friday nights are still as real to me as the football I played on the Bone hill .
I can tell you were the main men . I was with the bold mob as we were called We were all heavy drinkers before our teenage years . We were rough and ready for anything then . On the edge of a session there was always a song or two or a poem that would present itself . We made the words up ourselves and then we would wash them all down the throat with bottle after bottle and it was the measure of a man not to throw it all up . There we would be . The wild bunch of hard cases . The sailors all at sea without a care in the world . People such as the likes of us you would never see again . We were the ones who could change the world . Yes as sure as my names Mick I don’t know how the world ever got by without us .. We were all in a gang joined together by the connection of drink . It’s a wonder we had our sanity intact after all those Fridays nights .
I don’t know how we never got sent to a lunatic asylum back them .
I still get half tore just thinking about it . You could bet your life that some of our never even recalled what happened
The night before the day after .Saturdays mornings usually came and found some of us still in the shed at the park connected to an empty bottle of scrumpie cider .With no knowledge of what had happened the night before we made our way home as always very loose and lubricated .
I grew up as one of the boys in the mob . I was a well liked lad by all those who meant something . I could have been anything to anybody but I dedicated my life to the drink . It was my decision and hard as it was I had made up my mind to spend the rest of my life on the drink .
It really wasn’t that hard a decision and in the back of my mind there was a get out of jail free card . Even though I realized then I couldn’t turn back down a straight road It never worried me one bit .
Why wasn’t I bothered ?
WelI I just couldn’t contemplate a life without drink and that’s when I realized that I was on the road to self destruction . The thing is I didn’t want to go down alone and so I went out to find company
In the night life . I can remember sitting around in The Plaza Ballroom . Feeling as if I was a pilgrim on a wagon train looking for company in a big open spaces . It was there at the Plaza Ballroom that I met my wife . It was as if suddenly the Calvary rode in and threw me a life line and without firing a single shot I watched all the Indians burn their tee pees at sunset .
I never explained to my wife that I had a drink problem and tried to sit down with her and all the rest of the pilgrims looking for another drink .
I knew It was going to be difficult but I threw all my cares to the wind .
I concealed my drink problem from Maggie very well I thought .
The drink was like a worm on a hook for me and I swallowed whatever came my way . Most of the time I felt as if I was a drowning man at sea clutching on to straws just to keep afloat in a crazy gasping for life .
Maggie soon woke up to me after too many late nights and not enough sober days . I had always another good excuse for getting drunk .
When we drifted apart she pulled it all together again .
All for the sake of our three of kids who had grown up so fast .
Apart from Maggie worried about me my Mother was in such a mess .
Each time I was admitted to hospital for detox she prayed it would be
the last . One of the last times I was in hospital was about 1964 .
After I jumped out of a fourth floor window and broke my ankles they asked me why I had jumped . All I could tell them was I wanted to get a drink .
The doctor had told my wife and Mother at this stage that If I never stopped drinking I would be dead in six months .
They tried very hard to convince me and in fact I almost began to think about trying to quit but suddenly then the troubles erupted in Belfast . It was 1968 and petrol bombs and Cs gas flew through the tiny streets of my village .
There was rioting every day and night . The tragic thing about this situation was it presented me with a new reason to hit the bottle and I did so in a major way just like the violence had arrived in a big way so did my new bout of heavy drinking . It was 1968 and all hell broke loose .
Between the devil and the deep blue sea the Captain and the crew had all but deserted me and I had been thrown overboard into the depths of despair . Either you sink or swim . I was just trying to keep afloat . I hit the ballroom floors and danced with tears in my eyes . All the girls thought I was a great dancer . They thought I was the best looking fella in town . They thought I was the best catch around . Yes me Hugo the lad was I .
None of them knew I was a drunk most of the time . None of them had the faintest idea of the workings going on inside my head . If I wasn’t drunk then I was looking at ways to get drunk . I lived in a world that kept me blind and confused to the real issues of life .
One day I woke up near Cave Hill with an empty bottle in my hand . The bottle was covered in blood and there was another man at my feet with his head all opened up . I just sat there as the wind blew cold and the rain was like ice on my face . I never knew what had happened and brushed it off as if nothing had taken place . I tried about a dozen times to stand up and walk away . In the end I kind of swayed back and forward up the road still clinging
On to the empty bottle . I was almost sober when I got home . Maggie never opened the door most times now and I lost count of how many broken windows there had been . The neighbours were sick and tired of me screaming out but I didn’t care . All I was after was a few quid to buy another drink . Maggie watched me slip further and further away into the bottom of a bottle . I found it hard to remember what the kids looked like and even forgot
How I appeared myself . Somehow I was able to justify all I did . I was the man with the answers for I was able to read the message in the bottle .
The word was meant only for me and nobody else .
It wasn’t long until I forgot my way home . I couldn’t say when or how but my memory went . I had to knock on peoples doors to ask if they knew where I lived . Most people either said in one of the pubs or clubs around town . I in turn went off to find it but nothing really made sense anymore .
It never really mattered where I slept because I slept where ever I fell .
Thinking was something I couldn’t do anymore . Concentration was all but was gone from me now . My entire focus and energy was directed to drink .
I was still able to justify everything in my own mind . I still regarded myself as the most popular kid in town . Everybody bought me drinks because I begged for money on the corner . All the women would go out of their way to talk with me . Most of them full of abuse and scorn . To me I was still the main man . The center attraction . But who was I trying to kid . I took a long look at myself and got very angry with the person I saw . I began to pick fights with strangers for no purpose and my temper exploded on anyone who got in my way .
Nobody could stop me from drinking and dancing .
I was thirty and attracted to men now . I undressed on the dance floor .
All the boys regarded me as a joke . They laughed and ignored me .
The girls walked off the dance floor and looked away .
Most of the time I was like the dregs of an unwanted bottle in the gutter .
I was just a dim light these days among the shinning stars .
I started to see things as they were and hit hard . The limelight was over and I had become a pain for others . I was a socials misfit now .The things I had blocked out flooded my mind and the message was clear .
I had to stop drinking . I was fading away into nothing .
Maggie and my mother had told me an ambulance had found me just in time .
I couldn’t even remember what had happened .
All I felt was shame but I had returned to life and asked my loved ones to help me cope with the guilt of my actions . They forgave me I suppose for my drink problem and stayed by my side until I came back to the family home .
Waiting there with my kids was Gerry my old school friend .
Gerry never married and I guess we never saw eye to eye on some issues .
The last time I saw Gerry was when he stood between Maggie and I ,.
I thumped him and told him to get out . Gerry came back with a carving knife and I grabbed a poker from the fireplace. There was nearly a murder that night . After that I never saw Gerry again until now . There he was with a welcome look on his face standing with my kids . You know I felt bad about so many things but Gerry put his arms around me and gave me a big hug .
I had red rashes all over my body . It was brought on by a case of bad nerves they said . My nerves were wrecked .
For about six months I sat and stared into a fish tank with the terror of the drink burning inside me . At night I lay down on the sofa and sometimes
Got up to bang my head on the floor . Apart from everything else I had a reasonable relationship with Maggie and the kids . We tried not to argue .
My mother worshiped the ground I walked upon . I could never do any wrong in her eyes . No one ever said a bad word about me in her presence .
In my absence and on my behalf she had spoken up for me .
She was always willing to open up new lines of communication and cherished me as her son . We saw a lot of each other the first year I was home .
The message arrived one day after a visit from the Doctor .
There was I lying face down on the sofa when he told me I had three months to live . I looked at the kids and my wife . It was just too much and I went out and ordered a drink down at the local . The church got wired off and it wasn’t long before the priest arrived trying to persuade me to stop drinking .Then
One by one in came the Cavalry . The milkmen and the postmen with the Butcher and the baker . Everyone tried to talk some sense into me .
It was my choice and as I looked into the bottom of a bottle the message was floating to the surface again . That night I walked the streets of my childhood and tried to remember the old songs I used to sing on Friday nights .
Those early days in the Park had made a big impression on my life . Somewhere there was a gap between then and now . In that gap a lot of things had been lost forever . There were scars that had never healed .
There was an emptiness that drink never filled . As I stood there drunk and lost in that space of my own making I spoke in silence to myself .
In the deathly silence no one answered and I walked home to my wife .
She had thrown everything I owned out onto the street and there was a note on the front door of the house .
The note said .
If you want to destroy the last moments of your life then do it by yourself . Its too late now for you . You never thought of anyone but yourself .
Go and leave us all alone for we have had enough of you .
I took the note in my shaking hands as tears fell from my eyes .
I don’t remember anything after that except knocking on the door of a fella who had helped Maggie in the shop from time to time .
He opened the door and took me in . He and I became good friends and I shared my life story with him . He told me he was a writer and asked me if I minded being included in a book he was writing .
I pulled the top of a beer can and drank the contents .
Maybe one day the contents of your book will be able to leave a message
for somebody . So its ok I said . Share my secrets for life is short .
Hugo left this world shortly after that .
I left Northern Ireland and wondered if he found an answer to life after all .
End Of Chapter 2
Link to Chapter 3