Back of the line is a new series of stories, written by our columnist Senator Lynn Ruane, from the back of the line…
“People who need support the most are often least likely to receive it. Whether that be health, housing or any other service. I have had hundreds of conversations over the twenty years in the addiction, homeless and community sector. I have used these conversations to inspire my writing. These stories are fictionalised to protect people’s identities. They are written in a way that helps the reader to walk alongside the person.
These stories contain references to mental health, addiction, sexual abuse, suicide and violence, so please read with caution – Lynn.”
At some point, people stop waiting.
You are 33, with premature wrinkles as deep as the bottomless despair that consumes you. You’re at the front door fixing the porch window with a Kellogg’s box and some Sellotape. You have been waiting six weeks of the winter for the Corpo to come to fix it. The neighbour’s kid fucked their frisbee across the flat complex with gusto, and it landed in your hall. The words ‘we are not ourselves when nature, being oppressed, commands the mind to suffer with the body’ ping off the sides of your brain. You can’t remember who said it, but that does not matter because you felt it. You refuse the neighbours’ help of fixing it because you’re professional now in performing pride.
The heaviness of your tiny frame feels like punishment as you struggle with the weight of the smallest pot in the press, only pot in the press. Could I die today?, you wonder as you stand precariously on the top stair. “Mammy! Mammy!” screeches from the living-room, startling you back into the here-and-now, you reluctantly move away from the temporary pleasure of the top step.
You need help, and you don’t even realise at first that when you ask for it, it may not be there. You berate yourself for lack of restraint, and you fight daily with the narrator in your head that whispers “you are not good enough” over and over. You are slowly moving room to room, glancing at each child in awe that you own them, and then, in turn, hate on yourself for the fact they are not enough to undo all that was done. You know help is what you need, yet asking for it reaches deeper than where the darkness sits. Every day you choose to live. Every night you’re disappointed with the choice.
Last year you rang the Samaritans helpline and hung up again when the voice on the other end said ‘hello’. Again, you tell yourself you’re a stupid bitch, you’re a mother, and you should know better than letting anyone know you can’t cope. Mother knows best; your own mother used to tell you as much every time she made a decision on your behalf. Mother knows nothing, you mumble to yourself as you kick the fridge to try to make it work. Kicking it usually does the job, but it doesn’t matter as all that’s inside is milk and cheese. That’s all that is ever in it, apart from the odd Petits Filous, but today is waiting day, and Jimmy that used to own the shop died last month. He used to be good for some bits of a Wednesday. Waiting day.
You have lived safely inside the corners of your home, estate and mind for a decade too long. Your day, literally the shape of an L, yet your decisions to move at all are well-considered. Some would even say your day looks simple, yet your existence has been anything but. Each heartbeat feels like a never-ending countdown to an inevitable lonely end. One day back in the early 1990s, you told your Da what happened to you, and he told you to get over it. So you did, or at least you pretended you did because in the mid-1990s you told the midwife too: ‘I need help’, you said in a whimper. She made a call; you waited to reveal the pain, and that became waiting for someone to help. Then waiting for someone to help became a waitlist. So you went home and got on with it.
You go to the local counselling centre; you take down the address from the notice board in the kid’s school. “I’ll take your name down but it’s a six-month waiting list”. Six months being an unimaginable request for someone who took years to leave the confines of the school, shop and home.
Time is running out as you lay on top of the bed covers trying to count the droplets of paint on the ceiling, again. You are alone, and in many senses, your kids are too. Every day, your smile at the breakfast table becomes weaker, changing the shape of your face now causes a twitch. You used to dress before they woke, now you haven’t the energy to even pretend. Now you wear the same stained nightdress that you have had since that first trip to the Coombe. “Mammy, are you ok?,” says the now-teenager as he runs out of milk on his Cornflakes. “I will be son; I will be”.
The countdown is moving faster now, with an urgency that propels you to call to the Counselling Service again. “Sorry, Mrs, it’s a six-month waiting list.” You softly tell the nice woman you are on it four months now; you have been waiting, you patiently insist. “Oh, I have you; we tried to call you for assessment weeks back, we couldn’t get you, so we took you off the waiting list”.
Her voice slows down in your mind as she explains that you will have to start again, on the list, on the waiting. Her voice is becoming further away and so is your will to wait.
You arrive home, you close the door, and you put the radio on, high. No more waiting. No more lists. No more. At some point, one way or another, people stop waiting.
Why couldn’t she just wait?, they all said. Why didn’t she just ask for help?