I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it became cool to join the Christian Union at school. All I know is that one day people were carefully tearing away the threads that bound their little blue hymn books together and the next you were being shoved out of the way for a go at the Prayer Wall.
Testimonials became all the rage. Powerful, popular student speakers would address school assembly and describe their conversion at pop concerts. The Christian Union band became a staple feature of morning gatherings and suddenly everybody was belting out Shine, Jesus Shine as if their lives depended on it.
My best friend and I set out on a surveillance Mission. One Friday after school, we walked in on an Open Mic prayer session. The cream of the crop were gathered in a circle, waiting patiently for their turn with the mic. A tall brunette girl with ringlets finally got her go. She clutched the microphone, shut her eyes tightly and said “Dear God, please help me not do something I regret on Junior Certs results night.”
I was amazed, because I was doing all I could to prevent divine intervention on Junior Cert Results night.
The Junior Cert is a set of exams that Irish school children take when they are 15. They sit in sports halls with no windows and answer questions about Romeo and Juliet, Pythagoras’ theorem and volcanoes. During the exams, the sun comes out and shines all over the country. Flowers blossom and birds sing. When the adjudicator says “Pens down” after the final exam, it begins to rain.
Anyway, “results night” is when under-age teenagers sneak their way into night clubs around Dublin. The girls are usually naked and the boys wear oversized shirts with their collars pulled up. If things go to plan, the next morning the streets will be lined with neat little pools of vomit.
I had done hideously well in the Junior Cert. So well, that cool boys in the corridor cried my result at me whenever I passed. I thought the way they yelled “12 As” every time I went by was flirtatious, until somebody suggested that I was being bullied, which seemed more plausible.
Anyway, as I was ironing my hair that night, I decided it was high time I started drinking alcohol. Contemporaries had been doing it for months, and I felt I was missing out on a developmental stage. I thought the prospects that night were good. I had an invitation to a party at a boy’s house.
I made sure my hair was flat and lifeless before I headed out. When I got to the party, it was still bright and everyone was in the garden, bouncing on a trampoline. I joined them, certain that the illicit activity would begin after dark.
As dusk was settling, I spotted some boys retreating behind the bushes. One of them caught my eye. This was very promising. We exchanged a dangerous glance. I slipped off the trampoline and into the cover of a suburban hedge. An Evian bottle was being passed around. It was dirty and there was murky liquid inside. “It’s a mix,” one of the boys told me.
I thought for just a moment about cold sores, and about how once you got the Herpes virus, you have it for life. But then I remembered that alcohol was a prime ingredient in many household cleaning products, and my spirits lifted again.
I took a swig. I put great effort into appearing underwhelmed. The bottle got passed around. Before I knew it, it was empty and ready for the recycle bin.
I wondered whether it was possible to be so drunk as to not notice any effect at all. I tried hard to identify the symptoms of intoxication. I wondered whether I might be unsteady on my feet, but my legs stubbornly obeyed my commands. I thought it might be an idea to display irrational behaviour, but I was painfully uninspired.
I’ve always been confused by behaviour that occurs while drinking alcohol. You see, you just never know if the behaviour and the alcohol have anything to do with each other. The very last thing you want to do is to mix up causation with correlation. At least, that’s what the Psychology lecturers at college used to say.
Not so long ago, years after I left my school-days behind me, I found myself drifting on the fringes of a dance-floor. I spotted a cool boy I had been to school with. I tapped him on the shoulder.
“Kate!” he said. “SO good to see you!”
“And you,” I said, beaming.
“You know what,” he continued. “You’re just dead on. You are just such a good person. You know, I just have so much respect for you and the path you have taken.”
I was unemployed at the time.
He looked wistfully beyond me, his gaze otherworldly.
“Is that your boyfriend?” he asked suddenly.
I dragged LSB under the disco ball.
“Yes,” I said.
“You’re some lucky fucker,” he said, “you really are.”
We exchanged phone numbers. “Let’s seriously, definitely, actually meet for coffee,” the boy said.
I was delighted. I imagined the conversation would continue exactly where it had left off. I would gaze modestly into my latte, stirring the foam with my little finger and say, “Stop, no really… Did you honestly..? … you really always thought that of me? And all that time I thought you were cool and I wasn’t?! Gas.. No look stop now, you’re embarrassing me..”
In the days and weeks that followed, I thought about bringing my phone for a routine check-up, just in case there were some calls not getting through or something. But as the weeks turned into months, I began to wonder if the boy had been under the Influence.