It was three days after my 21st birthday and my twin brother, my father and I were out celebrating in Geesala, which is my mother's homestead in Mayo, a tiny village crouched between two cruel geographies, the bog and the Atlantic (the name literally translates as "the salty wind"). The pub was full of so many emigrants home for Christmas, that the word "home" itself seemed to fill the air, peppering every red-faced and laughter-filled conversation under the glinting tinsel. This atmosphere was a drug in itself, and it emboldened me to engage with first and second cousins in the sort of banter that didn't otherwise come naturally. As pint after pint disappeared, I brayed nonsensically about Gaelic football and politics, my voice loud and false and full of shite.
Soon, I found myself propped by one hand over a urinal. The world had narrowed down to small handful of sensations, the cold of the tile on my palm, the smothered hubbub of noise in the pub, the smell of urinal cakes; it was one of those inlets of calm I often experienced during the churning chaos of a session. I breathed deliberately to keep nausea at bay, and told myself to "cop on" between breaths. The urinal suddenly coloured purple. I watched the liquid drain away and realised I must have switched to rum and blackcurrant. I wiped my mouth and went in for another.
A second rush of euphoria swept me along, but this time all was chaos, a tinsel fairground of shouts and faces and faces and shouts, and my own disembodied voice dropping in from time-to-time, communicating terse little one-sentence commentary on my decrepit state - "you're in ribbons, man", "go to bed". Was I saying this stuff out loud?
Shakin' Stevens played distorted over the PA and I slumped in a seat in the corner nodding in and out of sleep, verbally chastising myself in the interludes. My brother was beside me. "We're walking home", he said. "I am home. I came home with Podge", I replied. "Get a fucken grip. Podge is in Kells. We've to walk home. Daddy left hours ago" - he was drunk too, but different. He was capable of making sense. This would always be the difference between us. I got up and walked away from him, towards the bar.
That night was the coldest night of the year. Outside the pub, a peat wilderness stretched under hard stars, glittering silver all the way to the sand-bar and the sea. Minus eight degrees inland and minus four near the sea was how the RTE weather had it earlier in the day. I walked out into it without my coat, my thin shirt clinging to shoulders saturated with sweat. I'd had enough, and had decided I was going to bed.
My brother tells me the rest. He tells me how he only looked up by chance and saw me exit the pub. If he had looked one second earlier or later, he'd have missed me. He followed me out and shouted after me as I crossed the frozen road. I didn't look around but walked purposely on. Then I vanished. I had fallen through briars into the eight foot drainage ditch cut alongside the bog. When he had eased himself down into the ditch, he found me sitting in freezing running water, completely oblivious to the cold, carefully taking one shoe off and then the other. I was getting ready for bed.
It took us two hours to walk home. I remember the journey in fragments. I remember the squat black shapes of cow sheds and houses. I remember slurring "push on, keep going" to my teary twin who clattered me more than once out of frustration. I remember the smells of things manifesting so pungently in the frost, things like cowshite and my brother's fag, and I remember the sound of the Atlantic ocean, miles away, rolling dull and vast and unthinking, somewhere off in the west.
MP3: Wendy Carlos-Winter