(Available for purchase on Amazon)
Chapter 1 – College Life
Students bustling with life seemingly appeared from nowhere and the wide corridor was soon crowded to choking point. The serenity punctured by a cacophony of sound created by innumerable small conversations. It was everything that I had dreamed of – a world full of beautiful classy women and men that I could have an intellectual conversation with.
Then just as fleetingly the crowd disappeared and I was back looking at the dull wall opposite. This is University College Dublin, UCD; the Arts/Commerce Building in particular. The year is 1997. The campus was mostly constructed during the Sixties with the modern architecture of the time. However, an unloving eye would point out that it looks more like an airport than a university with its rectangular concrete buildings. It is the largest university in Ireland with a population of at least twenty thousand students, located in the leafy suburbs of Dublin 4. The Arts/Commerce Building known more commonly simply as the Arts Building is one building among many. It has seven levels but most of the activity occurs on the ground floor which houses all the lecture theaters; the largest of which can hold over two hundred students at a sitting. As its name suggests this building is where the lectures are held for those studying Arts or Commerce courses.
My name is Alan, I’m the young man driving up and down the corridor in his wheelchair. Today is a day of elation because against all the odds, I managed to make it to college and am now in the third day of my first week in college. This would be quite an accomplishment for the ordinary guy but for a quadriplegic it is something special. Born eighteen years previously to a sense of sorrow, it took many operations to make my body take a familiar shape but alas they could not give me the ability to stand alone or to raise my arms enough to feed myself. Fortunately, the only obvious clue that my disability was congenital was my claw shaped hands. Harder to notice my twisted hips & impossible to see the metal bar wrapped to my spine to stop my body slowly collapsing onto itself.
This was indeed a good day and I falsely thought that it was as exciting as my life would get. In a few minutes from now, I’m due to meet to meet the Access Officer of the University. Nervous but not over awed I ponder what I’m going to say. I have PAs otherwise known as Personal Assistants organized to look after me but I’m not sure yet how to organize notes of the lectures. The area for wheelchair users is a platform that juts out at the very back of each theater. It gives you a panoramic view with the lecturer and the rows of students below. However, if I was to put a table in front of me so that I could write, it would totally block my view of what was happening. Adding to my difficulty, I am unable to write fast enough as well. The PAs generally are not very educated or patient and it would be a disaster to try and get them to do it.
As I reach the exit door to the building, I estimate it must be getting close to the time of my appointment and I hurriedly turn around and head in the direction of the office of the Access Officer. As I drive onwards, I notice that there is one group of students still hanging around. They are situated at what I’ve already found out to be known as “the wall”. It is a raised area just off the main corridor.
Almost instantaneously I can tell that they are gamers. The dark clothes and the obvious excitement over cards strewn on the floor are obvious signs. It is mostly fellas but there are two girls; one of which is quite attractive with long black hair and a slim build. I make a mental note to meet them later in the day, being an occasional gamer myself.
It only takes me two minutes to reach the door of the Access Office. It is away from the main corridor and quite quiet. A woman’s voice coming from the office is barely audible. Driving horizontally to the door, I use my good hand to knock on it three times. I hear a shout from inside that she will be out in a minute. Of course, this was Ireland & a minute more closely meant shortly rather than any actual measurement of time. Frustrated I drove away from the door and waited.
I knew that it was important to start off this relationship on good terms so I tried to think of important things that I needed to say and make sure boredom didn’t crush my freshness. I had spoken to her previously on the telephone and she had seemed helpful and concerned. Hopefully that was what she really was like and I wasn’t just getting some standard response she gave to people she never actually thought would make it to the college.
After waiting a couple of minutes, I hear the door opening behind me and my name being called. As I turn around the wheelchair, I am pleasantly surprised. The Access Officer who promptly tells me her name is Lucy is wearing a short dress revealing attractive long legs and has short curly blonde hair. It is also immediately apparent due to her cross eyes that she has a visual impairment.
The office is small and cramped and she barely manages to close the door behind me and get back round to her desk. After apologizing for the small office which she openly admitted wasn’t very wheelchair friendly, she smiled broadly and with excitedly asked me how my first week in college was going and how I was getting on with my PAs (Personal Assistants).
It crossed my mind to say that it would be even better if I had a PA as attractive as her but decided that it would be better to keep things on a professional basis and my thoughts turned back to business.
I informed her that I was getting on quite well apart from a few teething problems. My PAs whose names were Patrick and Leanne were lovely people and I was getting on well with them fine so far. There was a thrill to being in college where so much seemed to be constantly happening and that my main area of concern was in relation to getting notes from the lectures.
Now her demeanor and tone became more serious as she informed me that I would need to speak to the lecturers myself to see if I could get notes from them. She continued that there were simply too many students with disabilities for her office to organize notes for everyone and that anyway, now that I was in college rather than school I needed to learn to look after my own affairs.
This was obviously a standard response stated over and over every year to new incoming students. The fact that I had a severe disability with only limited use of my arms didn’t seem to make me any more deserving of attention than the standard dyslexic that the office would deal with. Finding her response less than impressive my confidence in the Access Officer was waning.
She then turned back to her smile and cheery tone informing me to contact her if I was having difficulties with the flat and also that it was important to contact the office in the run up to the exams in order to meet my needs.
Even though my confidence in her had waned, I made sure that I kept smiling. She held an important tactical position and it was important to build a good working relationship in case I needed her in the future. These cold calculations came easily to me from growing up with a disability.
On leaving her office I decided that I would make my way back to Patrick who hopefully would be diligently waiting for me back at the apartment I was renting with another student on campus. It was ideally located close to where my lectures were to be held and just as importantly it was also near the Student Bar which was the social nerve center of the university. It was my plan to enjoy the full college experience as well as get a degree which would open options for the rest of my life.
It would only take me two minutes to get back to my apartment. On the short journey I wondered if Patrick, my PA would still be looking out the window waiting for me. It was an unusual thing to request of him but if he didn’t see me, I would be stuck outside as I wasn’t able to open the doors to get in. Otherwise I would have had to bring him with me and I preferred to spend some of the time on my own rather than having somebody constantly beside me. It only was also a lot easier to talk to new people when you didn’t have someone standing mute a few feet behind you.
I had only met Patrick the previous day and still wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. It was a great relief to find someone willing to do the work though. But he was quirky and at times seemed unsure of himself. He dressed shabbily and his fringe had been cut dead straight giving him a somewhat simple appearance. Not that any of that bothered me. I had an objective of getting a degree and was prepared to work with just about anyone to help me achieve that aim.
Within two minutes I had reached the exit door of the building. It looked dreary outside and suddenly the threat of rain loomed large. The method for getting in and out through an exterior door is simple and usually quite effective – patience. Another student would eventually come along and open the door for me. Usually you wouldn’t have to wait long. This time it was only seconds.
A petite female student who was entering the building kept it open for me. Only a quick glancing smile was exchanged between us. I thought to myself that I must think of something witty to say in these situations so that I can get chatting to all the cute girls who open doors for me.
It is pleasantly warm outside with only a light breeze. But the dark sky hinted at a rapid change. I immediately sped down the ramp beside the steps that everybody else used and began the short journey back to the flat. As it was now time that lectures were in full swing the paths were quiet and I didn’t meet anybody on the path. It would take some time before I would adjust to the place being so crowded and then everybody just dissipating.
As I saw the apartment block where I presumed that I would be living for the next few years I grew a bit nervous wondering if Patrick would be looking out the window. My flat was on the ground level. The other two floors were inaccessible; there was a stairs but no lift. Even the ground floor of most of the other apartment blocks had at least one step into them. At least I could see a few students in the distance and I could ask them to ring the bell if all else failed. Moments later came the moment of truth.
As I peered in the window much to my relief, I could see Patrick sitting on the TV watching television. He spotted me after just a few seconds. I nodded at him to open the door and he leapt up and headed towards the door. There were actually two doors to open; one for the apartment block and the other for the apartment itself.
As Patrick opened the door, I could tell from his smile that something had made him particularly happy and I wondered what it was. As I entered the apartment, I asked Patrick to make me a cup of tea. The apartment consisted of a combined kitchen/living room, a short hall, bathroom, shower room & two bedrooms.
The larger bedroom was mine and the other belonged to the other flatmate who I still hadn’t met and knew nothing about. The demand for accommodation on campus far exceeded supply and it was given out on a lottery basis. However, people with disabilities were given preference. This was entirely appropriate in my somewhat biased opinion as nearly all if not all the accommodation off campus was wheelchair inaccessible.
Patrick couldn’t contain his excitement for long. As he started to pour the tea he grinned and told me that he had some interesting news. I wondered what it could be and even if it was interesting in only his weird mind. It was however something of note.
He had met my flatmate for the year and it was a woman. I was a bit surprised but almost instantly thought that this could make my first year in college very interesting. Her name was Lucy and she has a visual disability. My calculating mind told me that it was more than mere coincidence that two disabled people were put in the same flat and it was probably the result of a policy I hadn’t known about.
Patrick seemed to be very taken by her and told me with excitement that she was studying music. She had gone to the shop and would be back any moment. Now I wondered if he had glanced out the window to see if he could see her coming rather than see if I was outside.
He lifted the cup of tea to my lips but continued talking and I wondered if I would think as highly of this girl as he did. I imagined that Patrick with his simple ways probably didn’t get much female attention and perhaps could be easily influenced.
Then I heard keys rattling in the door. For the first time I felt a tinge of nervousness feeling that I should try to make a good first impression but was not quite sure how. Then the door opened with a bang and in she came and a loud “hello” in an accent that I couldn’t quite place.
She had long flowing red hair & was slightly overweight. Her visual impairment was immediately apparent due to her being noticeably cross eyed. Overall, she was of medium attractiveness. But I supposed to an older man like Patrick she was probably like a model.
Immediately with a large smile she started telling me everything about herself. For instance, she was repeating her second year in college, that she loved music, her favourite programme was “Sex & The City” and that she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she left college. Her course was only starting the next day which was late compared to most students and that was why she was only arriving now. The fact that her name was Lucy only came towards the end.
In my terser reply often interrupted by a still excited Patrick I told her that I was in my first year of a business degree, that I was delighted to be in college and that I would do any medium paid job on leaving.
Overall, I was quite happy to have her as a flatmate. The fact that we both had a disability should mean that we could support one another I reckoned but I knew that only time would tell. After all I didn’t actually have any friends with disabilities so there could be a few holes in the theory.
The lively conversation came to an abrupt end when Lucy informed me that she had to go into her room for a few hours to unpack. I informed Patrick that I needed to go to the toilet. This had similarities to a military exercise.
First, I would drive into my bedroom which was quite large even with two beds on each side; there was plenty of room to manoeuvre. Patrick then got the sling and put it around my body before driving the hoist over and hooking the sling onto it. It was a manual hoist and Patrick had to move the lever up and down in order to raise me off the wheelchair. Then by pushing and pulling it, he would reverse the hoist out of the bedroom and then forwards into the bathroom.
Then there was just enough room to pull my pants down and hover me over the toilet for me to do the business. Patrick would then leave until I called him. Sometimes my mind would wonder and I would enjoy the solitude. However, wait too long and the sling would gnaw at my leg leaving a cutting pain that was only relieved when it was taken off. My leg would also be numb for a minute on sitting back in the wheelchair.
My mind was now turning to later, after I had attended my final lecture for the day. This evening I planned to meet up with Eric, a friend from my secondary school days and go to the Student Bar where we would meet up with more old classmates from my home town of Mullingar. There were two bars for students on campus; one was the Students Bar which was by far the busiest and run by the Students Union. The other bar is called the Sport Bar because it is part of a sports complex which has a gym and where indoor football can be played.
In truth I was hoping to meet up with new people during my time in college but there was no harm in keeping up with old contacts. The exception was Eric who I was always happy to meet. He had a superb intellect and I could talk at length about science and politics with him. In fact, he had been due to go to a different university but I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that he had changed his mind at the last moment. I was due to meet him at eight o’clock
But now it was time for another lecture and my mind turned its concentration to that. Shortly I would be asking Patrick to open the doors to the apartment once again as I ventured off on my travels.
Chapter 2 – The Student Bar
It was now approaching eight o’clock as I patiently waited with Patrick in the kitchen area of my apartment. Lucy had left a few minutes earlier to visit one of her friends on campus. I informed Patrick that it was all right for him to stay in the apartment waiting for me while I went to the pub. It was only a two-minute walk away anyway and I could easily return to toilet anyway if needed or he could come get me in the unlikely event he wanted to.
I knew Patrick wasn’t the sociable or drinking type so even though I had invited him, I knew he would stay in the apartment. Just as well that I had a television or he would get very bored.
It was now approaching ten past eight and I was growing anxious that Eric might have been delayed. I was growing anxious as I had heard from my classmates that this would be a busy night in a bar that was normally packed anyway because it was the first week of the academic year and many students were flush due to receiving grant money. However, I need not have worried.
The buzzer to the apartment went off and Patrick quickly went to check who it was. Eric walked into the room giving me a good hello and sat down on one of the chairs followed by Patrick. Eric who was casually dressed in jeans and a denim top which was quite unusual for him asked me how I was getting on in my apartment and on my course. I responded that the apartment was going great and smiling at Patrick told him I had nice Personal Assistants. After another few minutes of chatting I mentioned that it would be a good idea to go before the pub became really packed and myself and Eric then left.
The Student Bar was adjacent to the Arts Building so the journey was very short and all myself and Eric had time to chat about was how far his apartment was from campus. Turned out it was a good twenty-minute walk away from one of the campus gates which meant that it was quite a distance away. I thought about how difficult things would be for me if our positions were reversed and it made me even happier about having an apartment so close to everything.
Once the bar came into view, I was shocked to see that there was a long queue to get in outside. I tried to console myself that at least this meant there must be a good atmosphere inside. Eric joked that he never thought he would have to queue to get into a pub in Ireland which I grinned to in agreement. It was fortunate that it was a dry night with a dim clear sky.
The Student Bar itself was a very plain rectangular concrete building. There were windows but it was difficult to look in because the blinds were drawn. Unusually for a building in UCD it consisted of only a ground floor and had a ramped entrance. It was very wheelchair friendly which greatly pleased as I was hoping to spend plenty of time there. Three sides of the bar were adjacent to areas of grass and it was obvious from the litter that students liked to drink outside on a warm day.
The queue moved on at a brisk pace. The noise of music and of people trying to shout over it emanating through the walls of the bar tormented me as I waited to get in. Eric checked his mobile phone and then mentioned that the others were inside waiting for us. I thought to myself that at least mobile phone were of some use even though I could not warm to them at all. They were now really starting to take off and almost everybody I knew had at least talked about getting one. The idea of people being able to instantly contact me wasn’t appealing and I didn’t want to be carrying a big awkward phone around with me.
Finally, our part of the queue reached the entrance where there a short burly bouncer checking student IDs. I asked Eric what was the importance of the ID and he quickly responded that the Student Bar as a private bar and you needed to be a student to get into it. Even though I didn’t have mine on me I wasn’t worried because nobody ever asked me for ID because I was in a wheelchair, or so I thought.
Then Eric stepped forward showing the bouncer his ID to which he nodded and then went to open the door for me. I drove right behind him past the bouncer and was about to go in when much to my shock I felt a hand go on my shoulder and heard the bouncer requesting my ID. It was now difficult to turn around to face him as he was right behind me and I was wedged half way in the door. My heart skipped a beat and I wondered what to do. I then shouted at him over the music coming from inside the bar that it was in my shirt pocket and would he be able to get it out. As I expected he responded with “What?” and “Where?”
Fortunately, the queue behind me was still long and someone pushing started because of the halt in progress. The bouncer sensing the situation was getting awkward told me to head in and that he would get it off me some other time. With much relief I continued into the bar making a mental note to bring my card in future and that maybe people in Dublin were that bit more unpredictable.
The bar was wedged and I was confronted by a wall of standing people. For a minute I thought that just inside the door was as far as I was going to get. This was not good. Eric tried to say something to me but I couldn’t hear him over the cacophony of music and people’s voices. I tried to shout to him but to no avail and then motioned my head backwards for him to come closer.
He then shouted into my ear that he would go looking for the lads and that he would be back in a minute. He then left into the crowd of people. Minutes passed and there was no sign of him. Thinking that people might think me strange just staying inside the door, I made sure to look like I was reading a poster on the wall opposite.
Then Eric reappeared telling me that everywhere was packed and it was even taking some people fifteen minutes to get served at the bar. Then he raised his hand pointing to the left side of the bar and said that the rest of the lads were down there. My heart temporarily sunk knowing that I would have to try and get through the mass of people.
I roared back to Enda that we would try to make it to them. He was to go in front of me and ask people to move. Progress proved to be slow but we went forward nevertheless. On more than one occasion I thought that somebody was going to fall on me but my good fortune persisted. In truth it would have been extremely awkward to turn the wheelchair around so I had little option but to continue.
Five minutes later we reached the bottom left corner of the bar. The lads were there drinking away. Fortunately, the music was a bit lower in this part of the bar and I could just about make out what they were saying. There was Mike, John, Sean and a guy I didn’t recognise.
Mike immediately asked me & Eric if we wanted anything from the bar as he was going up. I told him that I wanted a vodka & orange. Before I could tell him where I kept my money, he had darted off to the bar. Vodka was by now my favourite drink especially when it was mixed with orange. I found that I didn’t like the strong taste of whiskey and that I had to go to the toilet too often if I drank pints.
Eric who was now standing beside me asked if I was looking forward to the year ahead. I replied that I was and I hoped that most nights would be like this to which he laughed. Sean then came over and asked me how I was getting on. He told me that I was fortunate to be doing Commerce which had only seventeen hours of lectures each week. He was doing Engineering which took up to forty hours between lectures and tutorials.
Soon my drink had arrived and everybody seemed to be having a good time. As I looked around and I couldn’t actually see that far in the wheelchair when so many people were standing it had been along time since I had seen such drunkenness. Deep down I hoped the pub wasn’t always this packed and chaotic as it was too difficult to get around.
The drinks kept flowing and the banter was good. Eric told me how he enjoyed studying Science so far and how he was looking forward to carrying out experiments. It was a subject that I would have liked to do myself. I would have found it far more interesting than Commerce. However, it was in my nature to plan carefully and I knew that it would be impossible to carry out experiments with my twisted hands. Equally important I knew that with Commerce I could apply for jobs anywhere whereas with Science it was likely that the jobs would be in specific places. When one has a severe disability, it is difficult to move from place to place and this gave Commerce the edge.
After about an hour I got talking to a girl called Linda who was standing up close to me unable to find somewhere to sit. She seemingly knew one of my friends from Mullingar and had seen me round the town. It was difficult to understand her garbled, intoxicated communications but I was impressed with her beauty.
She had short naturally blonde hair, glasses and the ideal height for me; her head was only a small distance above mine while I was sitting in the wheelchair. The thing that impressed me most was her smile.
After a few minutes of chatting I found out that she was living on campus too and intended to spend as much time as possible in the bar during her first year in college. Then off she went to look for more beer but not before we promised that we would chat again if we saw each other. I thought the chances of that happening were quite good considering there were only two bars on campus.
The night was now coming to a close. The lights switched fully on and the music stopped. It had been my plan to leave early but it had been far too packed to try and make a quick exit. It was now far easier to converse with people but that was mitigated by my inebriation. I told Eric that we would leave shortly. The crowd was slow to dissipate. As the crowd dispersed, I could see couples who I’m pretty sure couldn’t have known each other more than a few hours snogging on some of the benches.
Then I felt a breeze coming from behind me and over the loud speaker the sentence “please leave” was repeated over and over. Sean told me that the fire escapes had been opened and there was one right behind me. I knew that the fire escape was wheelchair accessible so I nodded to Eric that it was time to leave and said goodbye to the lads.
It was dark but still quite warm outside. Eric and I talked about the nights events but we were shortly back at my apartment ringing the buzzer for Patrick to let us in. He quickly came out and opened the door. I said goodbye to Eric but Patrick only just about acknowledged him leaving saying “goodbye” in a low voice which I knew meant that he was annoyed about something.
I had the same schedule for going to bed every night. First, I would park in the bedroom where I would be lifted into the hoist. Then I would be brought into the bathroom where I would toilet before going onto the bed. This is where my clothes were taken off and I would put on my pyjamas before finally getting to sleep!
As I waited to be lifted into the hoist, I asked Patrick if there was anything wrong. He replied that he was tired and that he had been up early this morning. I could tell he was grumpy because I was back a bit late but I was too tired myself to give a long explanation and just let the process of going to bed continue.
As I lay in bed, I thought about how exciting my life had now become and the endless possibilities. It also dawned on me that it would be a good idea to check out the bar during the morning between lectures when it would be fairly empty so that I would know the layout well for the next night I was there. As I was still quite intoxicated, I fell asleep quickly.
Alcohol had a strange effect on me. Instead of wanting to stay in bed the next day and rest, I would find myself waking up early and wanting to get up. This morning was no exception which was quite useful as I had a Statistics lecture first thing in the morning. Statistics is a subject you had to be fully awake for. I had attended the first statistics lecture earlier in the week but on leaving the only thing I had learned was that this was going to be my toughest subject. Therefore, I needed to attend all the lectures in this subject.
As I was guided onto the wheelchair from the hoist Patrick reminded me that he would be leaving at six o’clock and Leanne was coming at ten. He wanted to know what I would be doing for the four hours that I would be alone but I avoided the question mainly because I had no idea yet.
I knew that this could prove to be an area of difficulty. I had not received enough Personal Assistant hours so there were gaps here and there where I would be without any assistance. The other two gaps were in the morning so they were more easily overcome as I would be at lectures anyway and there would be plenty of people around. Unfortunately, this gap was in the late evening to early night which made things much more difficult. I had tried to organise this gap for the morning too which I originally didn’t think would be a problem but it didn’t suit Leanne so I had to change it. Personal Assistants were hard to come by because of the poor pay and it was a triumph in itself to get them at all.
It was a damp morning but that didn’t dampen my spirits. The first thing on the agenda for the day was my statistics lecture. It turned out to be nearly a totally wasted two hours. Apart from difficult nature of the subject itself, it was impossible to see the small squiggly writing that was being projected onto the screen from the very back of the theatre. I had an awful sinking feeling when it was over and I knew I needed to come up with a plan. Normal distribution curves may be about to become the bane of my life.
The lecture lasted one hour and fifty minutes so I had a ten-minute break before my Economics lecture. Normally I would spend this time chatting to my classmates or even just driving aimlessly around the wide corridors. But this time I decided to make the short trip over to the Student Bar which was only two buildings over for an inspection of its layout.
It was easy to get out of the Arts Building as there were plenty of Students entering and leaving the building. However, the front of the Student Bar was deserted in comparison. This wasn’t really that surprising considering it was still early in the morning.
I waited patiently by the door until eventually a student went to leave and opened it for me. The pub was fairly empty inside with most of the few punters on minerals with music playing over the jukebox. The inside was similar in appearance to a large shed with wooden chairs and tables. It had a high ceiling and a long counter where you could get served. I drove up and down the bar pretending to look for somebody so people would not find me weird but in actuality looking for the easiest routes to get up and down the bar where the chairs and tables were that bit further apart.
Then when I noticed that a girl was leaving, I quickly followed behind her so that I could get through the doors and out again. I now came up with my plan for later. I would instruct Patrick that my dinner needed to ready by five o’clock which would allow me enough time to eat, toilet and head down to the bar with Patrick just before he went off duty.
There I would get him to order me a drink and with the help of enough glasses stacked one on top of another I would be able to drink out of it on my own when he was gone. Then maybe go out for a walk after a while and back to the apartment at ten when Leanne would be there.
Chapter 3 – A New Group of Friends
It was now four o’clock and I had finally finished my lectures for the day and was on my way back to the apartment. The campus was quite quiet now and I only passed by two students on my journey home. I went to peer in the window and was very unimpressed by what I saw. Patrick and Lucy were on the couch gazing into each other’s eyes.
I quickly shouted out for Patrick to open the doors for me before I witnessed something I didn’t want to see. As Patrick went to open the doors, I could see that Lucy had gone back into her room.
Patrick opened the external door with a large grin but it quickly disappeared when I asked him if he had started to cook the dinner. He replied that he would get to it straight away. I told him that I would go into my bedroom and study until it was ready. I noticed that Patrick was wearing cologne and clean shaven so I knew what he was thinking but was unsure how to react. Hopefully Lucy wasn’t similarly interested.
I spent the time reviewing economic notes but mostly thinking about Statistics. During the lecture a book was recommended so I decided that it was one of the books that I would definitely purchase. Fortunately, Economics seemed to make intrinsic sense to me so I was confident that I could breeze through it.
Then I could hear Patrick calling me. It was the usual sausages and bacon. They were quickly devoured and then I told Patrick my plan as he was hoisting me into the air to go to the toilet. He laughed in astonishment and asked why didn’t I just stay in the flat with Lucy. I told him that there wasn’t enough time to talk about it and that this was what I was doing.
The reason I didn’t want to stay with Lucy was because it could then be looked upon as her having to “mind” me and this could at worst be possibly used against me in the future. For instance, at worst she could lodge a complaint to the accommodation management that she was expected to help me and at best it would sour our relationship over time. Undoubtedly this would not occur if this was a one-time event but it was likely to happen throughout the year and therefore, I thought it best to try and cope on my own. Only time would tell if I am correct.
The bar was fairly empty as I entered. Settling on a table near the side of the bar I asked Patrick to get me a vodka and orange with three empty glasses so that I could stack them up. I only liked a small portion of orange as I liked the strong taste of liquor.
On his return I told him to leave the notes loose in my pocket rather than putting them into my wallet. This way if I met a friend or someone trustworthy, they could easily get at my money if I wanted another drink. With a small laugh Patrick said that one of the barmen thought him very weird for asking for empty glasses and he had to spend a few minutes explaining what they were for.
Patrick then set up my drink. The empty glasses were stacked up near the edge of the table and my drink was placed on top. Then with the use of a straw and me leaning to my left in the wheelchair I would be able to get a drink when I wanted one. Then Patrick looked at his watch and said he was off and that he would see me next week.
I was now alone and almost immediately I began to wonder if this was a good idea. But I quickly dispersed such thoughts knowing that it was too late to alter course now. Sipping from my drink I stated to wonder if everybody would be looking at me wondering why I was in a pub on my own.
But after just a short while with the music blaring, I began to feel much more at home. The barman even came over to ask if I wanted another drink to which I replied yes. He brought over the drink and took a loose note from my pocket as I had planned and left the change back into it. The bar was getting busier now with more and more people gradually coming in. There were beautiful women everywhere I looked in the prime of their lives.
It was a strange way to meet someone new. A group of lads stopped and started chatting in front of me. This blocked my view of a lovely group of ladies and when one of them noticed he immediately apologised and asked the other guys to move to mutual laughter. He then asked my name and told me that his was Casey. I was happy to have someone to talk to even though I was enjoying immersing myself in the music and getting intoxicated.
Never before had I met a guy called Casey. Up till then I would have thought it was a girl’s name and he seemed to sense this when I told him that I didn’t hear him properly the first time. He continued telling me that it was a name that had been passed down through the generations. His father and grandfather had the same name.
Casey who was a few years older than me was of medium height and had receding black hair. He talked fast and incessantly, rarely stopping even for a breath. I quickly learned that he was an Arts Student studying English and History. He said that he and the rest of the lads there were out having a few drinks. Then he asked if I was on my own to which I responded that I was. Immediately he suggested that I should join them which I nodded in agreement to.
I was then introduced to the other three lads there. The first was John who seemed quite shy, shabbily dressed but tall and physically imposing. He was much older than the rest of us, probably in his late forties with his original long black hair visibly greying. He gave a simple nod in acknowledgement of my presence.
Next was Eamonn who immediately smiled and asked how I was. He was a typical student who liked bit of craic. Finally, there was Mick, a giant bespectacled man visibly balding who was least six foot three and had a face I thought only a mother could love.
It didn’t take long for the conversation to change to politics. They had just come from the first meeting of the year of the college’s Fianna Fail Cumann. Fianna Fail officially called Fianna Fail – The Republican Party are the largest political party in the country but are currently in opposition. The Cumann are the grass roots of the party and they cover the country. A national election is expected later in the year which I am quite looking forward to as it will be my first opportunity to vote.
Casey soon queries my own political affiliation. Nervously I informed him that I joined Young Fine Gael, the youth wing of Ireland’s second largest party and Fianna Fail`s main opponents. Both are centre parties and in truth little divides them except memories of the Irish Civil War which was now of little relevance to my generation.
However, as I had expected my response led to humorous cat calls of “Blueshirt” and “West Brit” from a smiling Casey.
Fianna Fail came from the side that lost the Civil War, cementing the partition of Ireland into the Irish Free State (later to become The Republic of Ireland) and Northern Ireland. Fine Gael emerged from Cumann na Gaedhael, whose side had won The Civil War.
I replied that Michael Collins (Irish hero from War of Independence) was my inspiration which shut him up for a few seconds as he nodded in agreement.
He then switched the conversation to what I was studying & where I was staying. I replied that I was studying Commerce which I was enjoying and staying on campus. Casey then informed me that he was studying Third Year Arts and that his accommodation was a ten-minute walk off campus.
I knew that Casey would turn out to be a good and useful friend when he offered to go to the bar when I had finished my drink. The bar was now packed and it would take him about five minutes before he would be back to me, I reckoned. I told him that my money was in my pocket and he showed me what he was taking.
Before he left, he patted Eamonn on the back and told him to keep me company. Eamonn is very chatty and after the usual student conversation about college the conversation quickly turns to sport, soccer in particular and we discover that we are both Liverpool supporters leading us to sing out “You’ll never walk alone”.
Then Eamonn rushes off when he spots a girl he knows as if instinct suddenly propelled him away. For a few minutes I am alone with my thoughts once again staring at my empty glass and starting to feel quite intoxicated.
“So, you’re a blueshirt?” quipped John with mock disdain out of nowhere, “What are your thoughts on this so-called peace process?”.
“I think it’s a good thing. What’s the point of people endlessly getting murdered in a war that will never be won militarily?” I replied matter of fact.
When I looked up at him, I could tell that he was less than impressed with my response.
“I think it’s a sell-out. They robbed our lands and now we are being sold out!” he replied in a drunkenly.
Then Casey emerged from the crowd with my drink and immediately held the straw up to my mouth so that I could have a drink from it. He laughed when he heard what we had been talking about telling me that John takes these things very seriously.
John butted in stating Irish freedom was important and that he wasn’t prepared to put his head in the sand like everybody else but Casey just shrugged him off. Instead he was more concerned about how hot it was getting due to the large crowd in the pub and the that fact that they were only providing plastic glasses. Seemingly this was the standard practice in the pub when it got crowded in case a fight broke out and the glass was used as an offensive weapon.
Casey didn’t like the plastic glasses at all stating that the pints didn’t quite taste the same coming from them and why should a Student Bar require their use when pubs in the dodgiest and most run-down parts of Dublin don’t. This led to a full-blown conversation about Student politics.
A committee ran the Student Bar. The committee was made up of Student Representatives who were elected, College nominees and Bar Staff representatives. However nearly every year the Student Representatives changed meaning that they had to learn everything from scratch each year and only had a short-term focus. Over the years the Bar Staff had gradually won concessions such as the use of plastic glasses.
It was getting late now and I asked Casey what time it was. Shouting over the music he old that it was now ten thirty. I felt immediate disappointment knowing that it was now time to head back to the apartment.
Leanne, the Personal Assistant (PA) I was due to meet at ten was in her mid-fifties. She wasn`t fully confident about using a hoist so I had planned on being fairly level headed on my return but that plan was now down the drain. I had told her that I might be there a bit after ten but I didn`t want to leave it any longer in case she panicked thinking something might have happened to me or whatever else would go through her mind.
With that I told Casey that I had to go much to his bewilderment. I kept my explanation simple saying that I had to meet somebody, thinking the background noise too loud to try to explain the truth.
“I`ll let you out through the fire escape rather than going through that crowd,” he said pointing behind me. I had just enough room to manoeuvre the wheelchair round saying goodbye to the other lads at the same time. Casey had already opened the fire escape door and a burst of fresh air suddenly brushed against my face.
I drove through the fire escape and then turned round. Casey instinctively grabbed my coat which was wrapped on the back of the wheelchair and threw it over me. He asked would I be alright getting back to the apartment on my own to which I responded that I would be. I then said goodbye to Casey who told me that he`d keep an eye out of for me in future before re-entering the pub.
It was only now in the fresh air and on my own that I could tell that I was quite intoxicated. I decided to drive slowly back to the apartment taking care not to drive off a curb. Fortunately, it was only a short journey and I was soon looking through the front window into the main room of the apartment trying to get Leanne`s attention so that she would open the doors for me.
I could see her walking up and down the room for no obvious reason. Eventually she looked in my direction and held her hand aloft to acknowledge that I was outside and immediately went to open the doors. She greeted me with a big “hello”.
I made a conscious decision to try and act as sober as possible. This meant that I would try to say as little as possible because if I spoke a lot it would be obvious that my speech was slurred and I likely would make very little sense. As I entered the apartment Leanne asked me if I would like a cup of tea. Deciding I should wait a few minutes before having to answer any complex question Leanne might have about the hoist I answered in the affirmative.
Sitting at the table I began to feel a bit light headed and found the room moving around me. I tried to keep my eyes focussed on the one spot at the wall as I found this helped in previous similar situations. Leanne asked me how my day had gone to which I gave the terse response of “ok” trying not to go into any specifics.
Leanne held the cup of tea to my mouth and I slowly sipped from it. After a few minutes I began to feel better but I didn`t finish my cup of tea. It was as if my body didn`t believe me that there was no alcohol in it.
Then the process of going to bed began. It was just as well that I was still lucid because I had to remind Leanne what the correct hooks on the sling were and which lever to use to open the legs of the hoist. However, it didn`t seem long before my head was on my pillow and my legs being slowly lowered due to my stiff hips.
It didn’t take me long to fall asleep and I didn’t even notice Leanne going to bed. I woke up half through the night with my stomach in turmoil. I knew that I was close to throwing up. I thought about calling Leanne but was sure she would panic and by the time I would be in a useful position it would be too late.
So, I did what I had done previously which was to stay as still as possible and keep swallowing the small amounts of water coming into my mouth as quickly as possible. This had previously stopped the feeling of wanting to throw up after a few minutes.
Fortunately, it worked on this occasion once again but I thought to myself that I would have to be more careful in future about the amount of alcohol I consumed. It would not have been a good idea for Leanne to have to clean my sick from drinking in the first week working with me. Then I thought about how I acted when I came back to the flat barely speaking a word and probably looking totally out of it. Hopefully she didn`t notice or else mind too much. In any event there was nothing I could now do about it in the middle of the night.
Soon I had fallen asleep once again and there were no further interruptions till the morning.
Chapter 4 – The first homecoming.
Fortunately, my hangover wasn`t too severe when I woke up. Leanne did ask me if I was feeling better, thinking I was either sick or depressed because of how little I had said the night before.
I decided that “homesickness” was what I was suffering from knowing that it would illicit a caring response rather than the quiet disapproval the truth would likely bring.
It worked with Leanne with her reminding me that I would be in Mullingar in just a few hours and that it was a normal feeling to have when I wasn’t used to being away from home. The effectiveness of the deception even made my own heart cringe.
I was getting collected at twelve o`clock midday after my second lecture of the morning. Economics and Maths to finish off the week. I briefly wondered to myself if the Maths would be much different to what I had learned in secondary school.
As I was having my breakfast Lucy entered the room wondering where I had been the night before. I responded that I been in the Student Bar which led to her gasping and asking how many hours had I been there.
Evading the question, I told her that I didn`t drink much which led to her having a puzzled look. This was a situation I was all too familiar with; the art of concealing the truth from someone in the presence of another person who should realise it.
In this particular scenario I didn’t want Leanne to know I had drunk too much so I kept to my story of “being homesick” even though Lucy knew it didn’t make sense. Hopefully she would either understand the lie or find it too confusing and drop the subject. She chose the latter.
Before I knew it, I was at the back of the lecture theatre being introduced to the idea of matrices in my Math class. It was far too confusing for my tired and hung-over mind which had rapidly deteriorated during the morning. Feeling a cold sweat I impatiently waited for the end of the lecture. As usual I was in the wheelchair area on my own which usually, I found very isolating but today it was a blessing. I could fall asleep and nobody would even notice.
I had arranged to meet my mother who was my lift home after the lecture in front of my apartment and that was where I went straight away once the lecturer finally wished us all a good weekend. It felt good to know that I had got through my first week of college but I knew many challenges lay ahead.
As my apartment came into view, I could see the green van there waiting for me. As I approached, I quietly hoped that she wouldn`t ask too many questions as I wasn`t feeling well enough for an inquisition. I drove along the side of the van and shouted “Mammy”.
Josephine was her real name though I never called her that. She was now in her early forties, a determined woman who was always well dressed with short hair. Fortunately, she was a part-time Manager in a Supermarket in Mullingar who had enough free time to collect me.
She immediately got out and greeted me with a warm smile asking me how I was and how my first week in college had gone. I responded that I had got on fine. Immediately she asked if I had been in the pub the night before.
There was no point trying to trick her. She knew me too well and was not easily fooled so I replied stating I’d only had one or two still wondering how she knew so fast. I reckoned it was either a stab in the dark or else it was my voice or appearance that gave it away.
“I doubt that,” she replied before adding that she wasn’t sending me to college to drink.
But her tone was light hearted and I knew that she was happy to see me. It was now just a matter of going through the process of toileting and putting my already packed clothes and battery chargers into the van.
This took about ten minutes. Just as I was leaving the apartment, Lucy entered and we exchanged pleasantries. I was now anxious to quickly get back to Mullingar so that I could vegetate in front of some television and pass the hours till I could sleep again but my mother had different ideas.
Her and Lucy began what seemed to me to be a long conversation but in truth it probably only lasted a couple of minutes. Topics covered included what Lucy was studying and the fact that she was an only child but I quickly lost interest. For some reason I could never maintain my interest when two women were chatting even if they were really beautiful.
I was relieved when my mother broke off the conversation saying that we better be on our way and we headed out to the van. After opening the back door my mother placed the two narrow ramps down. Each ramp was only a little wider than a wheel. She then went behind my wheelchair and I drove up the ramps into the van. It was then only a matter of clamping the wheelchair to the van floor and we were off.
As usual we spoke very little on the way home. I preferred to look at the passing landscape and listening to music. My parents had kindly installed speakers at the back of the van. Ireland was going through a period of great change and it was obvious on my journey home.
As we passed through the city of Dublin it was easy to spot the construction of new buildings which were altering its skyline. It seemed to be a place on the move and so vibrant compared to my hometown of Mullingar which was quaint and bordering on rural in comparison. As I looked out the window I wondered where all the people were going imagining that they all had exciting lives.
But Ireland was changing outside of Dublin too. The narrow roads were slowly being replaced by motorway. It was more than just an aesthetic difference for me. My memory of previous journeys to and from Dublin years before, involved being thrown from side to side by winding roads and up and down from bumps on them.
But now it was mostly dual carriageway. It made the journey seem like a never ending dull straight line until you reached Westmeath and it was one of the most obvious benefits to Ireland`s EU membership.
The journey home took about an hour and then the operation went into reverse. First the clamps were taken off the wheelchair and then I had to reverse onto the ramps down to the ground. It was always a slightly nerve wrecking experience even with my mother behind me guiding the wheelchair. The ramps were narrow and I knew if one of them slipped or I drove over it, it would probably be the last thing I did.
My parent`s house was a four-bedroom creamy white bungalow. Seeing it again for the first time in a few days brought forth mixed emotions of satisfaction that I had completed my first week but also a mild depression that the excitement was over for now. I quickly settled back into my usual routine of sitting in front of the television once I had something to eat.
Daytime television was quite mundane and I quickly lost interest. My thoughts instead began to wonder. Karen, my sixteen-year-old sister and only sibling would shortly be home. We are very close and she helped me through many difficult times in my life. Sometimes we could spend hours talking to each other. One of my few worries was that going to college would lead us to drifting apart but she had told me that I was just being silly.
She is a shy girl except around me and has never had a boyfriend. That bothers her a lot and she would ask me if it was because she was chubby or her short black hair that boys wouldn’t ask her out. I would laugh and tell her it was simply a matter of time and the fact that she attended an all-girls school didn’t help. Sometimes I worried for her. I knew how cruel lads could be and I hoped she’d meet some nice fella. I knew that my mother constantly talked to her about how to lose weight but I would wonder if it damaged her emotionally. She was generally bubbly so I probably just worry about her too much.
Time drifted slowly by. It was such a change from the rest of my week which had been so hectic going from one place to the next. I wondered if this would be what my future would be like. I knew that as a person with a disability it would be tough to get a job. Every article I read about disability and employment seemed so depressing with them commonly stating that ninety percent of disabled people were unemployed.
However, as usual I tried not to dwell on it as it was pointless worrying about something that might never happen and there is little, I could do about it at present anyway. Instead I flicked through the stations until I found a program I could make do with.
Two hours later I could hear the front door being unlocked. I instinctively knew that it was Karen. As the door opened, I shouted out her name and two seconds later she had entered the room and gave me a big hug. I was happy when I saw she was excited to see me.
I then turned off the television as she began a series of questions about how my first week in college had gone and whether I had made any new friends. I spent the next hour telling her about my flat, Pas, and the new people I had met. She was intrigued by all my new experiences.
Then she told me about her week which she considered mundane in comparison. She was sitting beside a new girl called Linda this year. It had been quite by accident. Linda was one of the in crowd in the class and seemingly would normally have nothing to do with a girl like Karen. However, she was late on the first day of the new year and the only spare place left was beside Karen. That was three weeks ago.
They barely spoke to each other for the first two weeks. But this week they had warmed to each other and it turned out they had some things in common. It was quietly amusing to see the change in tone and vocabulary when Karen spoke about her compared to the week before. The week before she was stuck up and superficial but this week, she was interesting and cool. Linda had a boyfriend and I was now filled in about all the details.
Jason was seventeen years old, a year older than them. Apparently, he was a tall handsome guy who though bright really needed to study more. This almost made me laugh. It was obvious he didn’t want to be seen as dumb or a swot. It was a surprise though to hear that he had a visual impairment. Karen wasn’t sure how deficient his vision was and said that according to Linda sometimes you wouldn’t even notice.
Then I heard the front door being unlocked once again. This time it was my father and he came straight into the room. He was mostly concerned with how I got on with the Personal Assistants and getting in and out of my lectures. Between them they covered the duality of issues, the emotional and the mechanical. I replied that everything had gone fine and that everything was going smoothly.
The kitchen door then opened and my mother shouted “Dinner!”.
It was the family custom to have a family dinner in the evening. As usual the television was blaring away in the background but there was some conversation. Fortunately, everyone seemed to have gotten tired talking about me and instead it was mostly about Karen and school. Well to be more precise my mother telling Karen now that she had started studying the Leaving Cert syllabus, she would have to start taking her studies more seriously and Karen replying mischievously that she had always given it one hundred percent.
When the dinner was completed, I got back into my pre-college routine which was a mixture of watching television and playing mostly strategic war games on the computer. This is how I whittled away the rest of the weekend.
The only thing of note was that Darren called to the house midday Saturday. He was an old primary school friend who lived in an adjacent poorer neighbourhood. My parents were not sure if it was a good idea for us to be friends when I was younger and thought that he would prove to be a bad influence on me but in reality, the opposite was closer to the truth.
His father was a drunk and dragged his family down a financial abyss. Eventually they were forced to take a Council house in McKeever Park. It was as if Darren had rebelled against the thievery, dysfunction and brutality that he had been surrounded by all his life and turned out to be a nice guy.
McKeever Park was a Council estate close to where I lived in Mullingar although in ways it might as well have been on a different planet. There is high levels of unemployment and it repels outsiders. I grew up listening to tales of beatings and grotesque acts of violence emanating from it.
Chapter 5 – Sisterly Love
I have no memories prior to the arrival of Karen. She had always been there and like all siblings we played and fought. My earliest memories consisted of us playing hide and seek. She was always hiding in places that I couldn`t get to! Like under beds or in a place too narrow for the wheelchair to pass. I tried to explain to her that was against the rules but to little avail.
Even when she was young though she was very protective of me. She didn’t like the way I was stared at or how sometimes other kids would laugh at me. It seemed to bother her more than me and even though she was a shy girl, she wasn’t afraid to let them know what she thought of their behaviour.
As we grew older, I thought her the rules of different board games such as monopoly, chess and draughts and we could end up playing them for hours. She didn’t mind moving the pieces when it was my turn to move. The only problem was that sometimes she beat her teacher.
The dreary and wet winters in Mullingar led to us spending a lot of time indoors, stopping us from calling to our friends’ houses. So, we’d spend a lot of time together chatting or playing on the computer. Occasionally we could chat for hours. She was the only person that I could tell my deepest secrets to and she told me hers.
It was a time that I will never forget, the darkest year of my life. At fourteen years of age my scoliosis had deteriorated beyond the point of redemption and required surgery which involved tying a rod to my spine to stop its curvature deteriorating further. It would leave me with a scar that ran from the bottom of my neck to the top of my bottom and for weeks when I came home from the hospital I could only stay sitting in my wheelchair for a few hours before exhaustion and pain forced me back to my bed to either sleep or listen to music.
All my stomach muscles were so sore that I wasn’t able to move once I lay down. At night I would briefly feel pain like never before. It would pulsate through my upper body leaving me in agony. All I could was to close my eyes and pretend I was somewhere else while the moment passed.
For the first two weeks at home and my stay in hospital, I had been pumped full of painkillers. But that has its own consequences, leaving me feeling dreary and tired. There was a sense that I must be getting better and therefore as a type of positive reinforcement I started to take less of them.
All through these challenging times Karen supported me whether it was coming into my room occasionally to check if I was alright or by bringing me drinks in case, I was thirsty. It is difficult to know if I would have coped if she wasn’t there. My mother told me that she had prayed for me every night while I was in hospital. It felt good to know that I was missed. It gave me resilience to continue on through the pain.
But the support and love went in both directions. She had her own troubles. Her appearance began to trouble her from a young age and the insecurity grew over time. No matter what people said to her, she could never see beauty when she looked in the mirror only imperfection.
It often brought her to tears and I was the only one she felt that she could talk to. Our challenges brought us even closer together.
Chapter 6 – The Routine of College Life
After a few weeks I thought that I had this college thing sorted. Most of the subjects I was studying were a breeze. For instance, the Maths I was studying seemed to be little more than a rehash of what I had done in secondary school except that it was easier. The main problem was trying to motivate myself that it was worthwhile to keep going to the Maths lectures at all.
Then there were other classes like Business Organisation and Economics where it seemed to be merely a matter of rote learning what was in the core course book. This was something that I was good at and I knew a few hours of intense study the day before the relevant exam and I would be sorted.
When all these subjects were whittled away, only two were left that could cause concern – Law and Business Statistics. The problem with Law was that the lecturer had the course in his head meaning that there was no book that could be revised at the last minute. Instead the students had to rely on their own notes. I wasn`t able to this so obviously I thought I`d just ask someone else if I could copy theirs.
This turned out to be far better in theory than in practice. The first problem was that the people I knew in my class were nearly all from drunken conversations in the Student Bar. Probably unsurprisingly none of them minded sharing their notes with me, it was just they wouldn`t be complete.
Then there was the problem of their handwriting. If it was not completely illegible it was still much more difficult than reading from a book. It wasn’t conducive to learning. Still I was confident that I could come to some sort of solution before the end of year exams.
It was Business Statistics that I was most worried about. It was far tougher than anything I had done before. I never thought that the Poisson Distribution would end up playing so much on my mind when I first heard it. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I was at the very back of the theatre and couldn`t read the lecturer`s scrawled notes. In truth I wasn`t following much of these lectures at all and I wasn`t even sure if there was much point in me attending.
The lecturer did keep mentioning the course book though and that there would be tutorials starting in the New Year which gave me a lot of hope. I had already checked out the price of the book and it was quite expensive. I reckoned that I would have to stay off the drink for a week in order to afford it but I reckoned it would be worth it in the long run.
The social aspect of college was as good as I ever thought it could be. There was plenty of time to talk to other students in between lectures. Large groups would congregate in the large smoking area in the Arts building where there were chairs, sofas and even tables in the unlikely event that you wanted to study. An hour or two each day is easily spent here each day in the smoky but vibrant atmosphere.
I had joined a few of the different student clubs on campus but the chess club was the only one I had much interest in. It was on Monday nights and the first few weeks attracted large crowds. I had discovered though that playing with a clock vastly dis-improved my play; I wasn`t used to playing under time pressure and it caused me to make the most elementary of mistakes.
However, mostly my social life seemed to revolve around the Student Bar. I was no longer asked for ID. The bar men now not only knew me by name but also knew what I drank and that I needed extra glasses and a straw.
The bar had been packed every night for the first few weeks but gradually it died down although there was still always a good crowd. Generally, I was in the bar by eight o`clock Monday to Thursday. I used the time back in Mullingar to recover.
Fortunately, there were other students who were just as fond of the place as I was and I got to know most of them over time. I noticed that of the regulars they were nearly all Arts Students. There was no Engineering Students which I put down to the relatively huge number of hours they had to spend in lectures and tutorials. Apart from that there were two main sub groups although they would all talk to each other.
There were the druggies who were mostly into hash but also took stronger drugs occasionally. They tended to hang round one of the pool tables. Some of them were also involved in low level dealing. Drugs were usually not consumed in the bar but before or afterwards.
Then there were the drinkers with whom I was more closely aligned. Although most of this crowd also did drugs the emphasis was on the drinking and they generally sat at the bar in one of the corners. Sometimes you would bump into people that had been drinking all day and were still committed to staying till closing time.
There were eccentrics in both groups. Take for instance “Methadone Joe”. A mature student who was at least in his late forties; he came in to the bar every other night usually looking rough and in shoddy clothes. Rumour had it that he was a former heroin addict and hence he got the nickname “Methadone Joe”. When I first spoke to him, I got the distinct impression that alcohol was his methadone. He was loud and forthright in his opinions and he usually brought up the fact in his slurred speech that most of the students were posh, stuck up imbeciles who had little understanding of the real world.
Then in the other group there was a slick Italian – Irish guy. He mostly liked to talk about making money and bedding women being quite adept at both. He would often admit that his tanned skin and foreign accent made all the difference.
The bar was a special place though and the conversations covered a wide range of subjects. Of course, after a few beers it tended to descend in quality but there was never even a hint of a threat of violence.
Then early one night I bumped into Casey again. He was on his own this time apparently looking for somebody. Once he saw me at the table he immediately came over and asked me how I was. I told him that college life was growing on me and that my studies were going well except in one or two of the subjects. He was different than before – agitated and constantly looking around the bar.
After a few minutes I asked him was something wrong. He laughed to himself and smiling told me that I was better off not knowing. Then he quickly changed the subject to the forthcoming Student elections and asked me if I had any interest in canvassing.
Smiling like a Cheshire cat, he proceeded to tell me about how he got a great buzz from elections and that it was the highlight of his year. I asked him if he was serious and much to my surprise, he said that he was. He continued that it was also a great way to meet new people and there was a lot of partying for the canvassers afterwards.
For a second, I thought to myself what to say but the hesitation was all that was required for him to know he could cajole me into getting involved. He got excited at the prospect and began to speak even faster telling me that his team needed all the help that they could get.
His excitement eventually started to rub off on me and I enquired about whom exactly would I be canvassing for. After all I thought to myself, I’d have to at least support some of his/her policies. Casey didn’t delay in telling me. It was a friend of his called Steward who would be running for the position of “President of the Student Union”. He continued that he was a really nice lad and extolled his virtues.
I decided to ask some probing questions like was he aligned to any of the political parties and what were his policies. It was not my intention to become a pawn for some extreme Republican group or get a President elected who ignored disability issues.
“Does he belong to any political party and does he have any policies in relation to students with disabilities?” I asked inquisitively.
Casey immediately replied, “Stewart is involved with Fianna Fail and was the Chairman of the local Cumann last year. As regards his policies for students with disability well that could be where you come in too..
You could help create his policies. Just tell me what issues you want raised and I’ll make them part of the campaign! Can you think of anything right now?”
This was the last time and place where I thought I’d be asked such a question, in the middle of a noisy, smoke filled bar. I briefly looked away from him trying to think of something intelligent to say. Then an idea popped into my mind.
“Well actually there is something. All the public buildings on campus are wheelchair accessible except for the Sports Bar. It has a step into it which can be very annoying at times. Would that be within his remit to fix if he got elected?”
“That’s excellent. That’s the sort of thing we need,” he replied enthusiastically, “Any other ideas?”
“What about the student accommodation on campus? Nearly the only flat I can get into is my own. It can be a major pain because you can’t visit friends or go to any of the house parties,” I continued, now in a more serious tone.
Casey asked me if I would like a smoke to which I nodded “yes” but mentioned that he would have to hold it up to my mouth but he said that he didn’t mind and he put a cigarette or fag as it was more commonly called in the bar in my mouth before lighting it. I began to puff away with him occasionally taking it out to get rid of the ash before placing it on my lips again. He also lit one for himself.
“Well now Alan to be honest with you as far as I know those flats are run by a private organisation. There is very little the President could do in relation to that and the student body would know that. I tell ya what. Have a think about it. I have to head off now but we’re having our first campaign meeting Wednesday week at 3pm in L104 in the Arts/Commerce building. Will you come along?” He then stumped out the smokes.
By now he had me won over. After all you were supposed to do crazy things that you wouldn’t normally do when you are in college. For some it was hard drugs, for me it was going to be canvassing at an election!
So, I quickly replied in the affirmative and told him that I would definitely be there. He replied that that was excellent before walking out of the pub. I stayed for another few drinks but the rest of the night was largely uneventful. However little did I realise the commotion the decision to canvass would cause on my return to the flat.
Patrick and Lucy were watching the television on my return. As was now my nightly routine I asked Patrick to prepare me a cup of tea. After having a few drinks, I was in a very chatty mood and mentioned to Patrick that I would be canvassing in the upcoming Student elections.
Patrick let out a small laugh and asked me aloud what would I think of doing next?
Lucy overheard the conversation while she was sitting on the couch and immediately quizzed me on who I would be canvassing for. Embarrassingly I could not remember his name and instead explained that he was Casey’s friend and that he was some Fianna Fáil guy.
Immediately she hopped off the couch and looked at me with disgust.
“What’s wrong?” I said foolishly. I knew by now that Lucy was quite highly strung and should have known better than continue the conversation.
“Everything.” she replied before turning away from me and sitting back down on the couch.
For a brief second, I thought that it was over but then she continued in a rasping voice, “People like you irritate me so much. How can you canvass for someone you don’t even know?
You bring the whole process into disrepute. You know nothing about university politics.”
Lucy didn’t know me well yet. If she did, she would have known that I’m very argumentative albeit only verbally when intoxicated and I immediately went on the offensive questioning why did she care so much.
It turned out that she would be canvassing for Stewart’s main rival; a student called Liam who she said was a person of great character and would be a great President. She continued in a voice which was gradually becoming even more irritated telling me that Fianna Fail had long dominated Student politics until recently when people realised, they were only interested in furthering their careers. Then she began to annoy when she said that I was being used and just another pawn.
My response was almost immediate. She was obviously biased and hopefully the Student population would give him more of a chance. Patrick burst out laughing but Lucy was flustered now and stormed out of the room slamming the door.
“You definitely rubbed her up the wrong way. Hope you weren’t hoping to have sex with her for the next year or so!” remarked Patrick laughing to himself.
I replied that I should think more sometimes before I speak; now seeing the humorous side of it all. After all I hadn’t even met Stewart, didn’t know what he looked like and knew none of his policies! Still I always liked a good argument. Feeling tired and as per my usual routine I went to bed.
As I lay in my bed listening to Patrick snoring silently in the bed at the other side of the room I wondered if canvassing was a good idea or something I would later regret. But in any event, I had said that I would do it and there was no turning back now. My mind then turned back to more routine thoughts as my penis grew hard thinking about a girl I had seen earlier. If only I could move my hand down to rub it.
Chapter 7 – Election Strategy
It didn’t take long for the day of the meeting to come round. It was a miserable wet day even for Ireland with heavy rain. I had already got drenched twice. It was ten to three and I was waiting for another incomprehensible Statistics lecture to come to an end. It was getting worrying now. Thankfully the lecturer mentioned once again that there would be Tutorials in Statistics after Christmas. Immediately I made a mental note that I would have to attend them.
As usual I was alone at the very back of the lecture theatre trying to squint my eyes to read the squiggly writing. Then the lecturer turned off the projector and another lecture came to an end. I pushed the door open and was met with the usual sea of students. This time I was against the clock. Unfortunately, I had no P.A. on at this time so I had to rely on my own wit and resourcefulness.
The meeting was in room L104. The number after the letter gave you what floor in the Arts/Commerce building it was on. So the “1” denoted that it was on the first floor so I would have to try and get up on one of the lifts. I could not press the buttons on the lift myself. This was not a problem I had encountered previously as all my lectures were on the ground floor.
But I had a plan. The letter denoted an area of each floor. Therefore, I realised it would be better to go on the lift which ran through the “L” areas. This was very important as all the floors above grounds were compartmentalised with doors that I wouldn’t be able to open. If I could get to the correct lift in time, I could hitch a ride with one the students going upstairs and ask them to press the first-floor button for me. However, time was of the essence as the crowds would quickly disperse and there would be nobody using the lift.
I had already sussed out the correct lift to go to earlier in the day. Now all I had to do was get there within the next three minutes. Progress was slow at first but soon I was whizzing in and out of the crowd. Accelerating the wheelchair when there was space in front of me and braking just before I rammed into a pair of legs.
Soon I was right in front of the lift. There was a group of three female students chatting away beside me also waiting to use it. Then the lift door opened and two men walked out. Immediately I drove into the lift and swirled to its left side so that there would be enough room for them to get in.
I heard them chatting for another second before I heard the word “stairs”. Then the door quickly closed behind me. My good plan now lay in ruins.
Thirty seconds passed and still nothing. I was now stuck in the lift unable to raise my hand to press one of the buttons. My heart started pounding but I remained calm reminding myself that it was only a matter of time before someone else tried to use it and then I could get out.
Then suddenly I could feel the lift starting to go upwards. Somebody had obviously called it from one of the above floors. It was quickly apparent that I was going to one of the floors above the first floor. At least I would be able to get out of the lift.
Then the lift abruptly stopped and the lift door opened. Much to my dismay there was nobody there. Instinctively I reversed the wheelchair out of the lift. The doors closed just afterwards.
I now surveyed my surroundings. It was a narrow, short corridor with windows on the side opposite the lift and the stairs. Unfortunately, I am still trapped as there are doors in front of and behind me.
I drove the wheelchair perpendicular to the window and looked out at the campus far below me. Worryingly I estimate that I am only one or two floors off the very top.
Minutes pass and I become resigned to the fact that I could be here for a while. Then I hear a faint voice in the distance. Recognising that this could be my last opportunity for a while to get off this floor I roar out “Hello!”
I pause and listen but hear nothing. Again, I shout “Hello.”
Then much to my relief I see a middle-aged woman at the other side of the door. She comes to me and I explain what happened and that I need to get to the first floor. We both laugh and she presses the button to call the lift. I make small talk about the weather being nice today. Then the lift door opens and I drive in once more. She reaches in and presses the button for the first floor. I would have preferred if she had got in to make sure that I reach my destination but don`t say anything as I don`t want to trouble her further.
Much to my relief the lift descends for thirty seconds and then the door opens. As I drive out I`m confident that I`m on the correct floor. Fortunately, there are no doors blocking me and I begin my search for room L104. I`m surprised by how quiet this floor is considering it is so close to the ground and the sheer number of small rooms.
I begin my search near L100 and quickly figure out the correct direction. Soon I hear chattering in the distance which rapidly grows louder. I instinctively know the chattering is coming from L104.
The door has been left wide open and I hope to myself that the meeting has not yet commenced. There was no need to worry. There is about twenty people in the long narrow room chatting away in four different clusters. I quickly scan the room but don`t recognise anybody. Tables and chairs are blocking my ingrained preference for the back of the room so I cross the room to the other side beside a window and patiently wait for the meeting to commence. The fact that nobody seems to notice me makes me feel more at ease.
After just a few seconds Casey darts into the room giving me a quick smile in acknowledgement when he sees me. He loudly informs the room that Stewart will be with them imminently but nobody pays him any notice and he quickly leaves the room once more.
Another minute passes before Casey along with John the Republican I had met previously in the Student Bar and a third guy that I presumed was Stuart enter. Casey immediately started to shout that the meeting was about to start and for everybody to be quiet. He had to repeat the message a few times before the ruckus fell silent.
Stewart then took centre stage flanked by his lieutenants Casey and John. He was smartly dressed with a suit unlike them who were very casual in appearance but appeared tired rubbing his eyes at one point as he spoke.
His short speech began by thanking everyone for their attendance and stating that he needed their help to become the next President of the Union. There was no mention of policies only the importance of us all giving everything we could to the cause. It was stoic and official.
Casey was the next to speak. He spoke loudly and with great enthusiasm. It began with how much he loved elections and how great it was that it was this time of year again. Then he began to stress the importance of organisation reminding everybody of a past election where the hackers went home early because they thought they were assured victory only to lose. This sort of thing wouldn’t happen in this campaign.
He would be the chief organiser and he would be speaking to everybody in the room in the next five days to see what they could contribute. The election was only three and a half weeks away and it was vital that all the posters were up by the beginning of next week.
Next up was John who sounded like he was preparing us for war rather than an election. There was plenty of shouting and mock laughter. He began by poking fun at our opponent sneering at his appearance and insinuations about his female campaign manager going beyond the call of duty to keep him satisfied.
It seemed to be all light hearted until there was a sudden change of direction about half way through when he started saying that these people thought that they were better than us and that it was time to show them that we were back.
I thought it a strange comment and wondered what history there was that I knew nothing about. Loud clapping began once he stopped. Casey quickly spoke again to thank everyone for their attendance and that he would be in contact with them shortly.
The room then began to quickly empty. I shouted to Casey would he mind helping me down the lift to which he replied no problem.
As we went along the corridor it was apparent that Casey was still on a buzz from the meeting and he immediately asked me what I thought about it and did I know many of the other people there. I replied that I thought it was a good meeting although I was very inexperienced in these campaigns and that there was nobody else there, I knew but I presumed he knew them all.
Laughing he replied that he only knew half the people there and the other half were probably spying.
“Spies? who`d be bothered spying on it?” I asked inquisitively not quite sure if he was serious.
“Liam`s people would have sent a few, just to see what we`re up to. Will you be in the bar tonight?”
I was amused by the fact that Lucy apparently wasn`t the only one to be taking this election so serious. I told him that I intended to be in bar as usual and that I had some disability related issues that I thought should be highlighted.
The lift was now in front of us and he pressed the button to call it. It quickly opened as if it had been waiting for me. I drove in telling Casey just to press the button for the ground floor and that there was no need to come down with me. I knew that the doors outside the lift on the ground floor opened outwards and that I could push them open with the wheelchair. He quickly asked me if I was sure and when I answered in the affirmative, he said that we`d talk about it later.
My lectures were finished for the day so I decided to head back to Patrick in the flat.
Lucy was there lounging on the couch and Patrick was preparing my dinner. They were in good form. Lucy asked me about my day and I told her about the lectures I had, one of which was mind numbingly boring. Then she butted in asking about the campaign meeting with a large smile and Patrick giggling in the background.
I laughed to myself that everyone that cared must have known that this meeting was on. In truth the vast majority of the student population wouldn`t have cared less. It was like you were part of some strange sub population.
Deciding to have a bit of a laugh I told her that the meeting went very well and I was surprised by how organised everything was. She fell silent for a second and rather anxiously and down beaten stated their campaign was only getting going. Usually I would only trick people for a while but I was tiring of her smugness.
The hours passed and as per my college routine it was coming close to pub time. As usual I informed Patrick that I needed to go to the toilet as it approached eight o`clock. As I was being transferred into the hoist for the toilet, I told Patrick that I was only messing with Lucy and that Stuart`s campaign was only getting started. We both started laughing but tried to do so silently so she wouldn`t hear us in the room next door.
“That`s terrible Alan, how could you do that to poor Lucy? She really believes in her candidate and will be soo disappointed if he loses…” Patrick said with a wide grin.
“I know, I`m really going to feel her pain,” I replied sarcastically, “I feel like I`m on the side of the Dark Lord.”
It was too much for Patrick who had to sit down for a second while he contempated Lucy being on the losing side.
Soon he was opening the outside door of the apartments and I was once more making the very short trip to the Student Bar. It was the first cold night since I started college and I was thankful that I only had a short trip.
It was calm and the night sky was clear and filled with stars. It didn`t take long before I could hear a booming sound disturbing the silence. It was coming from the Student Bar and pointed to an interesting night ahead.
I gave the bouncer a nod as I approached and he duly opened the doors in front of me. There was no need to show a card or anything silly like that anymore. He knew who I was and I knew him. At times I thought it was like I was a gangster with the doors being opened for me without even a word being said just a nod.
It was packed inside which was unusual as it was still fairly early. I decided I would head towards my usual location at the side of the bar. Progress with a wheelchair through a crowd in this situation is slow. Generally, you need to give the person in front of you a faint nudge on their leg. It can be a difficult skill, you nudge too hard and you could upset someone, too little and their oblivious to your presence. If you`re lucky people will start asking other people to get out of your way.
After making progress of a few meters I got a tap on the shoulder and heard a voice that I recognised as Casey stating that they were all back here. Carefully I turned the wheelchair around and could now see him in front of me.
I told him to ask people to move out of my way as he led me to the table where he was sitting. Fortunately, it wasn`t too far away and I got there quickly with Casey`s assistance.
I found found myself at a high round table. Casey asked me if I wanted a vodka and when I responded in the affirmative, he went off to get it leaving me with John, Stewart and three other guys.
Stewart immediately came over beside me and thanked me for attending the meeting earlier. He seemed sleek and professional. John then said hello before introducing me to the rest of the fellas there – Aidan, Sean & another Mark.
John was driving the conversation. When I first met him, I thought him shy but that was obviously far from being the case. He was dominating the conversation which was revolving around the ongoing peace process and decommissioning. It was easy to tell what side he was on. He recalled how there was always violent opposition to British rule and that was unlikely to end anytime soon. There is only one way to reason with the British and that is through meeting force with force.
The rest were not inclined to argue with him. But it was in my nature to be argumentative. So, I decided to raise the fact that the I.R.A. had killed a lot of innocent people. Now he ignited, only just about keeping his cool.
“What about Bloody Sunday? Were they not innocent? You must spend all day watching West Brit Dublin 4 television!”
Casey returned with my drink and said laughingly to me not to mind John too much. I replied that I always liked a good debate but made a mental note that this probably wasn`t the best time or place to be having this discussion.
As time passed and the drink flowed the night became increasingly jovial. We were soon joined by two girls Ruth and Linda who were also members of the Student Fianna Fail Cumann. They greeted Stuart with hugs wishing him the best for the upcoming campaign.
Ruth a very attractive woman; was tall with a clear complexion and long black hair. Linda had short blond hair and was only of medium attractiveness. After a while I managed to strike up a conversation with Ruth. She was studying law and joked about one day becoming a High Court judge and talked about how it was important to maintain political contacts. Although she was quite friendly, I had the feeling that she was out of my league and I should have aimed for Linda instead. I put at least some of my lack of confidence down to me having such a severe disability. It was hard to see to see how I could end up with a beautiful woman when I found it hard to see how I was going to get a decent job or home in the future.
John butted in saying that I was a Brit lover with a big smile on his face. Her immediate response was a facial expression of bewilderment as to what he was going on about. I told her that we had a short debate about the troubles in the North earlier. She replied that she knew what John was like and not to take much notice of him. He now had a blank intoxicated expression on his face and after a pause of a few seconds he asked her what she thought of the earlier meeting.
As she responded to him Casey started talking to me asking me if I was enjoying the night. I responded that I was and he then asked me if I minded if he talked about the forthcoming campaign with me. I told him that I didn`t and that I had been thinking about disability related policies. He seemed interested so I continued.
The first issue was th one I had previously mentioned to him, that that there was a step into the Sports Bar. The rest of the campus was very wheelchair friendly but this was a blemish and it could be easily fixed. I could see from the smile on his face that he he still thought this was good.
The second issue was that Students with disabilities should get free photocopying. This was because a lot of these students were not able to take their own notes during lectures and therefore had to get them copied from other Students which was a significant additional burden.
The third and final issue I wanted raised was that all the course books were not available on tape or else they were poor quality for those with a visual impairment. This I had stolen from Lucy who had mentioned it a few times when she was having a general moan, little realising that it would be used in such a way.
Casey told me that he was impressed and he would try to incorporate my ideas into the manifesto. Then he asked me about how I would feel about chatting to potential voters on the day and perhaps doing a few speeches in front of different classes.
I felt my heart jump a beat when he mentioned speaking in front of a class. But due to my inebriation and curiosity I replied that I wouldn’t know what to say. Also, I`d need help getting from one class or lecture theatre to another. I did have PA`s but I told him that I couldn’t expect Leanne especially to be going round running from one place to another at her age.
He immediately assured me that he would work on the speech with me and that he`d get someone to help me get round. After suddenly getting an idealistic surge I told him that I would do it. For a few moments I felt a thrill at the prospect of giving great speeches and maybe even being the one who would swing this election.
Little did I realise at the time however that the next morning, when Patrick told me it was time to get up and I was dying with a hangover a lot of that enthusiasm would have ebbed away as I wondered what I had let myself in for. The thought of speaking in front of a crowd would turn my stomach and fill me with dread.
Our attention then turned back to the drink. It felt good to feel part of a group that was trying to achieve something that seemed significant and worthwhile. The rest of the night became a bit of a blur.
Chapter 8 – Build up to the election
As the days passed the atmosphere in the college started to build. There were now posters throughout the campus and some of the candidates started doing their speeches before lectures. I soon realised there was more than just the President to be elected, there was also the Entertainment Officer and Education Officer to be elected among others.
Most of the Student body seemed largely apathetic to the whole thing and some were outright hostile citing broken promises and wasted money. However, the Student Bar was electric. It was a hot topic of discussion especially among the regulars. The hackers were now in the pub every night discussing the various campaigns and tactics for the day.
I got used to seeing Casey and John every night. The election had by now long consumed the other other parts of their lives but I managed to keep it in perspective. Lectures were the last things on their minds. They would come into the bar about half nine after working tirelessly throughout the day.
It was only going to be a matter of time before my involvement in the campaign came up for discussion again and so it did. The music was buzzing and I had just been talking to other Students from my class which was a rare enough event for me in the Bar. Sometimes when I was thoroughly pissed lying in bed a chill would go through my spine with the thought they had been studying for hours. My solution was to think of everything they were missing, a true college experience.
Casey brought a drink straight over for me which probably should have had me forewarned. He looked terrible and was rubbing his eyes every few seconds, was hoarse and looked like he could collapse. He was dressed in a suit which was unusual. Leaning in towards me so that he wouldn`t have to talk loudly he asked me if I minded if we talked about the election to which I responded that I didn`t.
Then he told me the next part I was to play in the election which he told me that he had discussed with the rest of the campaign team. They wanted me to do speeches in front of classes saying why Steward was the best candidate for students with disabilities. This was not something I had expected but immediately thought it would be interesting. At the very least it would put disability high on the agenda of the Presidential campaign especially if the opposition put up someone to defend the other main contender. The tallies were already showing that it was a two-horse race. Three had formally entered the race but the Socialist Workers Party candidate, a woman was way behind.
I queried with him how would I know what to say. He told me not to worry that he would leave a script over to my flat tomorrow morning. I should try to memorise it as it looks much more like you`re speaking from the heart if you don`t have to read it out.
“You look worried.”
The sinking feeling as I thought more about what I had signed myself up for must have been etched across my face. He seemed to instinctively know what I was thinking and told me that they would be starting me off in smaller classes and wouldn`t be asking me to do large lecture theatres until I was comfortable with the idea.
“What happens if I get booed?” wondering if he had any magic formula to stop this from happening.
“You won`t get booed and we`ll have people there to clap when you`re finished.”
So that`s how they do it I thought to myself. Everybody I had seen giving a speech in the previous few days had always been clapped to some degree even if it was derisory. Now I knew why, they always made sure that at least some of their own supporters were present. The way everything was done so professionally was evidence to me that some of the people I was meeting really could go on to be future leaders of the country and that was both exhilarating and scary.
Exhilarating because you could be close to the future heartbeat of the nation, scary because you could see that these people were as flawed as everybody else but just setting their sights that bit higher.
“I hope I don`t sound really nervous and screw it up.”
He replied that was where the buzz came from and that he often felt nervous. But there was no better feeling than when you come out of the room and you know that you`ve done it. He continued that it was that buzz and trying to sway people towards the candidate he was supporting that gave him the love of the elections.
Not wanting to let my new friend down and feeling at least some of his enthusiasm I told him that I would definitely do it. I knew that there was no pulling out now. Casey was thrilled that it his plans were coming together and told me that he would drop something over to me in the next day or two.
Then John came over and Casey immediately told him that I would be doing speeches in support of Stewart. John had been drinking for a while and through his slurred speech I gathered that I should give them hell and not be afraid to abuse the opposition to much laughter.
Two hours later I arrive back at the flat and through my inebriation blurted out to Patrick that that I would be speaking in front of classes and lecture theatres in support of Stewart while I was having my customary cup of tea before heading to bed. He couldn’t stop laughing and struggled to hold up my cup of tea for a few minutes. In a loud voice with his thick Dublin accent he laughed that I knew nothing about what Stewart would do for people with disabilities but I argued that I could make a difference cracking him up even more.
The commotion attracted Lucy out of her room in her pyjamas which was far from unusual. She asked what was going on and Patrick told her.
Whereas he thought it was hilarious, she was disgusted saying that I was being taken advantage of and helping a prick. Due to my level of intoxication my repetitive reply was that the only thing that bothered her was that she was about to lose. The escalating dispute amused Patrick even more.
Gradually Lucy was worn down by my infantile responses and realised the futility of arguing with me at that hour. There was no nice “goodnight”, just the slamming of doors.
But later that night as I lay in bed and with the effect of the alcohol slowly subsiding, I did think about the points she raised. The thought of being used or getting a lesser candidate elected didn’t sit well with me.
But the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that it was the right thing to do. Whether or not I was being used was not the main issue. My main goal should be to raise disability issues that will ultimately affect change. This was the only way for me to do that. Even if another candidate wins my targets will be reached if he has been forced to discuss what he will do for students with disabilities.
Of course, there was also the fact that it was helping me personally by making it far easier to meet a lot of new people during my first year of college but I preferred to think that the fact I was contributing to the greater good was the main reason. With that thought I fell sound asleep.
The next morning was dull and miserable. My head was pounding and I was grateful that Lucy was already gone. The only irritation was Patrick whining about the amount of snoring I had done the previous night but he was easy to ignore.
The tea nourished my dry lips and gradually I managed to waken up a bit more. I had a double “Performance Management” lecture to look forward to. Once Patrick had brushed my teeth and washed my face, I looked out the large window in the main room of the apartment. The rain was teeming down but I knew I only had a short distance to travel.
With that I said goodbye to Patrick and asked him to throw my coat over me and open the doors. Then I was on my way. Leanne, my other P.A. would be there when I returned. The place seemed to be deserted except for the parked cars. Even though my journey was quite short I got thoroughly drenched as the rain got very heavy when I was only half way there. Then when I reached the Arts Building, I had to wait for two minutes for a Student to come along to open the door.
It was a thoroughly miserable start to the day. My head was pounding and I could feel water slowly dripping down my face. Normally my hangovers were fairly benign but today I was feeling thoroughly miserable. I made my way to the lecture theatre. When I saw that there was no Students hanging around outside, I gathered that I was late.
I decided to bang the wheelchair door to see if someone would open the door. Even though the place at the very back was technically reserved for students with disabilities fortunately this was in practice rarely adhered to. Instead students who were late for the lecture and they tended to be the same people recurrently would go into the wheelchair spot where there was room for four students if they stole the requisite number of chairs. I liked to have other Students sitting beside me because it made me feel much more like part of a class even if it was a breach of the rules.
Dave with a wide smile, a tall casually dressed guy I recognised well opened the door and I immediately drove in. There were two other guys in there which quickly moved their chairs and bags so I could get in to the side. The topic of the lecture was Maslow`s Hierarchy of Needs which was a theory on what motivated people. The idea being that once a person`s lower needs were met they would move up the chain. There were five different levels to this hypothetical pyramid from the physiological which was a person`s need for food and shelter to Self-Actualisation which is the quest to meet your full potential leading you to be motivated by truth, justice, wisdom and meaning.
I wondered if it was self-activation that was motivating me to take part in this election – The need to reach my full potential. The other three students beside me quickly lost interest in what was a pretty dour lecture. Instead they began to whisper among themselves and their topic of conversation quickly turned to their hypothetical reactions to a male friend coming out as gay. One student called Pete immediately took the view in a west of Ireland accent that it would be the end of their friendship and that he just wouldn’t be able to handle it at all.
This is the typical response I would have expected back in my home town of Mullingar but this time the conversation took a twist. Dave who was from Dublin replied that he wouldn’t agree with that reaction. That gay people were just like everybody else and that he already had a gay male friend. He then proceeded to say that he thought his friend was gay long before he realized it himself and that he was practically waiting for him to tell him which he eventually did the previous summer. He said that his friend had been a nervous wreck until he got it out but calmed down quickly when he realized that he had an idea already.
Pete then interrupted him asking him would he be upset if his friend fancied him to which he quickly replied “sure doesn’t everyone!” which generated a few laughs.
It was a two-hour lecture and I thought it would never end. The only amusement was looking at the pretty girls below or trying to spot people I knew. My hangover gradually subsided lifting my spirits somewhat. Today was the busiest one for lectures with them crammed in one after the other with an hour break for lunch.
Eventually the morning passed. It was lashing rain out. I waited a few minutes driving up and down the corridor to see if it would stop even though I knew I was under time pressure. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t stop and I was feeling a strong urge to go to the toilet. At least I had my coat on. Unfortunately, Leanne would be there when I got back and I knew she would stress out a lot if I got really wet but there was no other option left. So, I went…
There were no students going out so I had to ask a girl sitting close by on a bench to open the doors. She looked puzzled as she opened the doors probably querying my sanity.
The rain showed no mercy. It was difficult to keep my eyes open as it pounded me from above. I drove the wheelchair as fast as possible all the time wishing it would go at least twice as fast. The only respite was when I drove under the branch of a tree but that was very temporary and I was still getting wet. I reached the outside of the flat and quickly roared for someone to open the door. Leanne had a look of horror when she saw me and quickly darted out to let me in.
She had arrived five minutes before me and was drenched too. In a way it was fortunate as she didn’t complain about me getting wet instead just getting a towel and trying to stop the water from dripping onto the floor. Then I told her that I needed to go to the toilet.
The heavy downpour was down for the day and I decided to give the rest of my lectures a miss rather than getting another soaking. It soon became clear that parts of Dublin were even in danger of flooding. In a twisted way it made me feel good that I wasn’t the only one being inconvenienced. I settled into an afternoon of cigarettes and tea with Leanne while watching droll television.
About four o’clock the buzzer went off. The vibrating sound put Leanne into a tailspin about where she had left her keys. She quickly found them in her purse and I soon heard a familiar voice speaking quickly in the hall which I guessed was Casey but I could not quite make out what was being said apart from my own name being mentioned twice. Then I heard the outside door closing and Leanne re-entered the apartment holding a letter in her hand. I knew what it was.
She told me that it was a guy called Casey immediately commenting on the girlishness of the name and stating that she was to show me this letter. It was the speech with a note that I was to be at the wall at ten to ten the next morning. I immediately looked to see what I would be saying the next day. To my surprise it was fairly terse, more pointers to what I should concentrate on. I realized that this was going to take quite a lot of my own input.
But I wasn`t the type to spend a long time dwelling on it and instead drove into my bedroom for a bit of quiet to concentrate on my task. I remembered advice my old English teacher had given in a class about making a good speech. It was important that you looked up least occasionally to engage with the audience. Also, it was not necessary to write down every word you were going to say, instead write down the key words to jog your memory.
I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to say – That Stewart whose surname I now found out to be White would be the best President for Students with disabilities and he understood their difficulties. Mention that the Sports Bar had a step into it, students with disabilities should get free photocopying and that more tapes of books needed to be made for available for students with visual impairments. I thought mentioning the tapes was particularly important so it didn`t look like I was just looking after my own interests.
It took me about forty minutes to have it properly prepared, writing out the first few paragraphs to give myself extra support at the beginning and then having the keywords for the rest of it. After all it was only to be three to four minutes long.
The heavy rain didn’t subside even by night time so it ended up being one of those rare nights I stayed in the apartment. I would have liked to have been able to talk my speech through with Casey but it was not to be.