Mum and Dad were out when we got back which was a relief. They had taken against Seamus from the start, before they had even met him. My guess was that they couldn’t see beyond his religion. Loyal Ulster Protestants weren’t going to be accepting of a Catholic. I wondered if it was his mystique that had drawn me in.
Children accept whatever they experience each day as normal. I had never questioned the walls that divided our communities, the barricades, the segregated housing, schools and youth groups that sheltered us as we grew. We went to church every Sunday and learned how wicked the other side was. Marching with the bands and burning effigies of the pope helped us celebrate our superiority. We had beaten them in a centuries old war and would never let them forget.
So much hatred poured into the heads and hearts of children. When I went to the university it was like studying another species. We knew who they were from the schools they had attended. Turns out their eyes weren’t too close together after all.
Seamus was a bad boy with a come to bed smile. He drank too much and had friends in all the wrong places. When he kissed me I became his willing slave.
His family was huge and sprawling but they always made me feel welcome. Whatever time of day I called they’d find me a space on the sofa, a cup of tea and a smile. I relished the camaraderie, such a contrast to the recriminations and looks of concern prevalent in my home. I started to blame my parents for being themselves.
That evening I had expected we would be alone and we made the most of it. Time passes so quickly when you’re having fun. Then came the terror as we heard the key turn in the front door. Seamus dived for his things and slammed his way into the bathroom as my mother climbed the stairs. She knew what had gone on from the disarray. My hastily dragged on clothes were askew and his boots had been dropped by the door.
Things were different after that. Seamus laughed at my upset, calling my mum a snob. His uncles, barely older than himself, started to flirt with me. Had he told them I was easy? Was he willing to pass me on? At home there were tears but few words after the first, bitter remonstration. I found it hard to accept that maybe Mum had been right all along.
In the end none of it mattered. He went off to America for the summer and came back with a new girl under his arm. His uncles frightened me with their persistence but in time they too drifted away. It was me who ended up changed.
I found hate in my heart but not for one side or the other. I hated that the players continued to play their parts. My friends were turning into their parents. Those around me, those I cared about, could not seem to see the futility of it all.