Fictionalized autobiography of Irish Catholic Boy

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Updated on 5th August 2021

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The autobiography of a traumatized child

Metal Dog – Long Road Home:

A mythical journey through the eye of a needle

 The fictionalised memoir of an improbable being

 

By Jim Byrne

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It is very difficult to know which aspect of this book – when extracted and presented on its own – will best communicate to you the nature of this story – this book – this life.  So here goes with a random sample:

At a loose end in Blackpool…

It would be years before I realized just how much I was carrying the wounds of childhood at the core of my self-identity:

“A child who is the victim of parental abuse will normally take something of the evil of the abuser into him/her-self, thereby developing a damaged personal identity. The sense of normalized victimhood becomes a part of the person’s adult identity, and leaves them open to renewed abuse by others”.

Paddy-Brennan-ji, The Roots of all Suffering…

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Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim Byrne

I carried my wounds to England, and back to Ireland.  Then to Blackpool (at the age of 22), with the corrupt Tandy (my younger brother) in tow.  And now it was the weekend, and I was out and about in Blackpool.  It had been exceptionally cold – around two to three degrees Celsius all week.  Officially, it was the coldest March since 1962.  It was now a very wet Saturday evening in the middle of March 1969, to be precise – and the temperature had dropped below freezing – and I was out wandering along the prom, pushing through the freezing rain.  It was not yet six o’clock, but it was already dark and the street lights were on.  (The tourist illuminations, however, had been switched off all winter).  The evening meal had been served at four, by Mrs Mallard, because it was a Saturday – and her family wanted some time off; and I was already feeling hungry again.  So I decided to go for a walk down the prom, past the Tower Ballroom, with the intention of rewarding myself with fish and chips on the way home.

I was too young and foolish at that stage in my life to own or possess a hat or an umbrella, and so I was getting soaked by the cold, wind-driven, beating rain that blew in from the Irish Sea, along the seafront.  But I would not turn back until I had reached the end of the prom.  The cold wind and the rain were analogies of the pain in my soul, which was nameless, and about which I had no elements of story.

(If the Prince Cinders story was still operating, it was going on at a deeply non-conscious level, beyond my awareness).

At last I reached the end of the prom and turned back.  The back of my trouser legs were sticking in ice-cold patches to the backs of my legs, and rain was running into and out of my ears, and down the back of my neck.  My beard and collar-length hair were sodden.  The wind howled around me as I pushed into it, and headed back to the only fish and chip shop that was still open on the prom at this time of year.

Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim ByrneI went inside, blinking the rain out of my eyes, and immediately recognized the leopard-skin coat and black fishnet tights on the raven-haired customer in front of me at the counter.  She lived in the house next to the one in which I was lodging.  I’d seen her come and go a few times as I sat at the table in the bay window, eating my breakfast or my evening meal.

She had the appearance of an actress or model.  Tall, elegant, heavily made-up, and she walked with a wiggle, in extremely high, black, patent leather stiletto heels.  As I stood behind her on the queue, she ordered cod and chips.  Then I ordered the same.  She turned to look at me and said, “Horrible weather!”

I agreed.

Her fish and chips were wrapped within seconds; she paid; and she headed for the door.

My fish and chips were wrapped next, and I followed suit.

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Some enchanted evening…Meeting a strange woman…

She was still standing in the doorway, trying to get her umbrella up.

As I stepped past her into the rain, she got her umbrella erected, and called after me, “Want a lift?”

I turned back and looked blankly at her.

“Under my umbrella?” she explained.  “You live next door to me, I think?”

“That’s right”, I said, running back to get under her umbrella.  There was a strong smell of expensive perfume under there, which I liked.

“Let’s go”, she said, and we stepped out into the rain and headed for Beaufort Avenue; sidestepping puddles of rain on the wide pavement.

It took a good five minutes of brisk walking to get there, and we somehow managed to fill the time talking about the weather: how bad it was; how relative it was; when it had been better; when it had been worse; my name and her name; where we both came from in Ireland; and the lack of recreational activities in Blackpool at this time of year.

When we got to my destination, the big boarding house on the street corner, she suddenly said, “Want to come to my flat and eat our meals together?”

Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim ByrneI was delighted, and said ‘yes’; and so we walked on to the next building and climbed the steps to the front door of her building.

She was at least five years older than me, very sophisticated, and so this would just be a social get together, so I could be very relaxed about it.  And it would be a lot nicer than going back to my room and finding Tandy there, giving me the creeps! I’d have to sit on the bed on which he would be lying, and eat my fish and chips with my back towards him; trying to ignore him.

She unlocked the door of her first-floor flat and invited me in.  She dropped her wrapped fish and chips on her kitchen table, and indicated for me to do the same.  We took off our wet coats.  She produced two large towels to dry our hair and faces and hands.  She then produced two dinner plates, plus knives and forks; and we served out our own meals.

We sat at her kitchen table and ate our food.  It was very easy to be with her; to talk to her; to listen to her.  It was so nice to be in real contact with another human being.  The cold wet trousers clinging to my legs were so far in the background I might have been wearing silk pyjamas!

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My coming of age…(No pun intended!)

Two hours later we were still watching television together; and then I found my face close to hers, so I kissed her.  She responded passionately, and we hugged and kissed for quite a while.  She ended up lying across the sofa, and I was lying on top of her, kissing her, and fondling her body through her clothes.  Then she had to go to the toilet, so she slid out from under me, and I lay on my belly on the sofa.

I heard the toilet flush, and suddenly she was on my back, grinding her hips against my bottom.  I became very aroused, and we began to undress.  I picked her up and carried her, naked, to her bed.  As we fell into the bed, I slipped between her legs and entered her moist vagina.

It was like an explosion at the centre of the earth, reverberating throughout the whole universe.  My first fuck; my first ejaculation inside a woman.  I was no longer a self-doubting virgin.  I was at last A MAN!  At the age of twenty-two.

Better late than never!

As I fell into a deep, satisfying sleep, I had a big, broad grin on my newly delighted face!

~~~

Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim ByrneAt some indeterminate juncture in space-time, this scenario was played out; possibly in a dream, or a dissociated fantasy.  Three alien beings are peering into Belinda’s flat in Blackpool, through their directable wormhole in space-time:

Professor Valises is rubbing his eyes with his little blue furry hands: “What just happened?” he asks, as he looks at his two colleagues.

“In the parlance of this part of the infinitely mystifying universe,” says Kolonel Balaga, “‘Prince Cinders just got his end away!’”

“But did he not notice the contract?” asked Dr Kala.

“What contract?” asked the kolonel.

“Very well observed, doctor”, said the professor; then turning to the kolonel he continues: “Belinda quite clearly told him, in plain English, that she always falls in love for a brief period, becomes very passionately involved, and then falls out again, by falling in love with somebody else.”

“Oh, yeah!” said the kolonel.  “Now I think back: you’re right.  She did.  She said she always falls hopelessly in love, for a few weeks, then the passion dies, and she falls for somebody else.”

“So why is Daniel still here?” asks the professor.

“Well,” said the kolonel: “the poor sap doesn’t have many alternative places to be.  He doesn’t want to be next door with his degenerate brother; and he does not want to be out wandering the streets in the wind and rain.

“But now he is in for some serious pain”, says Dr Kala, glancing from the professor to the kolonel.  “She’ll let him down hard, and it will wound him seriously.  If this was me, I would take her at her word, and run away.”

The kolonel looked thoughtful: “Well,” he mused, “we’ve been monitoring this likable idiot for a long time now; and he’s never had a break half as good as this.  Even if she throws him out the window on his head in the morning, he’ll still be leagues ahead of where he was just three hours ago.” 

Professor Valises looks puzzled: “I just don’t understand humans;” he says. “And especially this one.  She told him how she’s always related to men; by loving them and then leaving them.  And he says: ‘It won’t be like that with us’! Where did he get that idea from?”

Dr Kala: “That response fits the facts as I see them.  Daniel is a twenty-two-year-old innocent, going on fifteen.  He has that silly Dostoevskian Idiot-Prince script: ‘If I am good and pious, everything else will take care of itself (through the love of God)’.  Nobody told him about Hiroshima!  Or Auschwitz.  Or all the good, god-fearing Christian black people in the US who are treated like rubbish.  He doesn’t even know the history of the people of Crumble-Baan.” 

“I wish we were allowed to intervene,” says the professor.  “I would like to at least be standing under the window to catch him when she throws him out!”

~~~

I was unaware of this commentary upon my life.  I had more important things to experience.

I was snuggled up to Belinda, sleeping in her bed, with a self-satisfied grin on my face.

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The unknown art of love…Or how ignorance caught up with me…

Those alien beings never sleep.  They are on constant watch to see how their subject behaves:

Professor Valises looks thoughtful: “How many books and papers have we read about human psychology?  Individual and social?”

Dr Kala looks up at the ceiling, as if counting in her mind: “Dozens and dozens,” she says, at last.  “Perhaps even hundreds”.

“And videos of human relationship studies?”

“Perhaps dozens”, says the doctor.

“And in that time and throughout that study,” says the professor, “how many instances have we found of humans who can think straight in the presence of sexual excitement?”

Dr Kala and Kolonel Balaga speak in unison: “Precisely none!”

The little blue professor smiles, and then chuckles: “Look at that silly grin on his boyish face. If I had tear ducts I think I could actually cry on his behalf!”

“Yeah!” says Dr Kala. “Humans will risk any kind of pain in exchange for this kind of transitory sexual encounter.”

~~~

Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim ByrneIn the middle of the night I awoke, got up and went to the bathroom.  I was very happy.  A voice was singing in my head, and my heart was warm and happy.  Within a couple of minutes I was back in bed, dreaming.

The aliens’ viewing window was open and they were observing me:

Professor Valises speaks first: “Daniel looks happy, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah. Ignorance is bliss,” says Ober-Kolonel Mitta Balaga.

“You mean, his ignorance of the contract?” queried Dr Kala. “The implication that she will throw him out after a few weeks?”

“Well, yes, that”, says Kolonel Balaga.  “But also, did you not notice something about the love-making?” 

Dr Kala looks puzzled: “Ermmm?  No!” she begins. “I don’t think I did!”

Kolonel Balaga laughs out loud: “Don’t you think it was very quick? Speedy? Kind of ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’?”

 “Wow!” says Dr Kala. “Of course.  You’re right.  And she said nothing about it.  She didn’t ask him to take care of her needs.”

“Well spotted,” says Professor Valises.  “And that may be why she gets tired of her lovers so quickly.  She doesn’t specify what she wants and needs; and they take care of their own needs, and ignore hers.”

 “Holy Shit!” says Dr Kala. “That’s a bad sign.  This relationship is doomed!”

~~~

Archaeology and autobiography…Or digging up my childhood…

When I set out to write this autobiography novel – this psychological thriller – this mythological memoir – I thought perhaps there might be some kind of techniques akin to the archaeology of Roman sites which apply to investigating our own family histories, and reconstructing our own life stories.  But it has proved very difficult to find any shards of pots, or buried walls that would help me to structure my story.  All I have are fragments of fragile memories; some family stories; a few dreams; a few photos; and clues from comparing my story with the stories of others.

It was helpful reading Janice Galloway’s life story[i], because she begins with the description of a family photograph, of her mother and her older sister, with Janice wedged between them on a two-seater settee.

I can remember seeing a photo of my sister, Caitlin, in her white communion dress, with her veil and headband; but I cannot recall a photo of me at that time.  I can remember a very early photo of my father, leaning on a garden gate in his work clothes, smiling at the camera.  I could not compute that image, because I never, ever saw him smile at me!  And I never, ever saw him smile at my mother.  But he must have done so on that day when she used the Box Brownie to snap him at the garden gate.

I can remember family photos dating from when I was about twelve and a half years old, and Tandy was eleven.  We were dressed in our ‘Sunday best’, and smiling for the camera.  But those smiles were not part of our day to day expressions.  They were poignant, sad little shadows of smiles.

I still have a photo of myself, dating from my sixth year.  (See the frontispiece of this book). I am smiling wistfully at the camera.  I had great difficulty connecting that little smile with my felt memories of my family, which are all sad, angry, fearful and withdrawn.  So I covered over the little wistful smile, with a file card, and looked closely at my eyes.  My right eye, in the absence of the misleading smile, is clearly either angry or suspicious, or a combination of the two.  My left eye is sad and dejected.  My face is split in three, like my personality, which was most likely dominated by a ‘false self’; a compliant yes-man; a deceptive pretender, who was determined to survive at all cost.  And the best way to survive was to knuckle under and go along with the order of the day; to become obedient, passive and compliant; and to hope for a better future at some point down the road.

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Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim ByrneReading back through some sections of this autobiographical story, I am struck by the fact that there are very few descriptions of beatings within my family, and yet I believe they were routine and vicious.  But I suppose they were so painful that I have repressed them out of awareness.  And I think this story is grim enough without my going back and digging up the graphic details of beating incidents.

But if you need that jigsaw piece to make the story whole: Imagine a man (my father) in his thirties, and, later, his forties, who loses his temper totally at the least provocation; removes his leather belt; and lashes his children mercilessly.  Lashes them when they are three or four; eight or nine; twelve or fourteen.  Over and over again. Not every day.  Not every week.  But way too often.  And it is always there as a possibility; as a constant threat! (But even when he was not silent, it was forbidden to speak to him; children were to be seen and not heard!)

Imagine the feeling of humiliation; of being demeaned; the anger; the weakening of any sense of self-respect or self-regard.

Don’t go down; don’t crumble under that revelation. 

Don’t put this book away! 

I got out: I escaped!  I survived! I got out: sailed away!  I did, definitely survive! I learned and grew and triumphed!

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The dreams and nightmares…Traumatized individuals have disturbed dreams…

Curled up in bed, the flashing images of dreams pass endlessly through my tormented mind:

The mob is hauling the little white goat and the curious boy along the dusty road towards the nearest oasis.  The boy now has a sack of stones on his back, and sweat is running down his dust-caked face.  From time to time, a ruffian from the Sortray de Manga mob rushes at him and strikes him around the head and face.  The guards whip his legs with long, flexible switches.  When they tire of beating the curious boy they abuse the little white goat some more.

Near the back of the crowd, the biggest collection of white-robed priests are marching silently along.  Behind them are some curious individuals who are following the noisy mob to find out what the action is about.  They are whispering quietly, because the thought-police are everywhere.

Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim Byrne“Why have they taken the goat?” asks the one with the red beard.

“Because the goat is a symbol of innocence and goodness; and they want to remove all traces of innocence and goodness from their evil world”, mutters the old man with the white beard.

“And why have they taken the boy?”

“Because the boy represents curiosity and rationality and goodness; and for evil to prevail, all rationality, curiosity and goodness must be expunged from the face of the earth”.

“But who will stop them doing these terrible things?” asks the younger man.

“It’s too late for that”, mutters the old man.  “The time for checking evil has long passed.  Evil is now triumphant in the world”.

“But it seems like only yesterday” – objects the younger man – “that we were constantly told that evil does not exist!”

“But that was the seductive voice of the Devil!” says the old man, stopping in his tracks, and then stepping out to the side of the road.

He remains where he has stopped, and watches the mob disappearing into the distance in a big cloud of foul-smelling dust.

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[i] Galloway, J. (2008) This Is Not About Me.  London: Granta. Page 1.

 

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End of extracted quotation.

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To be added later…

Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim ByrneHis first day at school went something like this:

The bag of sweets…

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His attendance at his second school, at the age of ten years, began like this:

The Black Abbots’ school bus…

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His sex education went something like this:

Brother Herbert…

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His later love life began something like this:

Belinda in Blackpool…

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His ‘nervous breakdown’, or traumatic stress induced emotional implosion…

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