‘ I’m sorry for cry­ing. It’s just my brain feels like it’s turn­ing into paté’

The Irish Times Magazine - - COVER STORY -

It’s hord to pin­point the ex­act mo­ment when I storted to feel like I was los­ing my mind. But it might have been on Thurs­day af­ter­noon when I was sit­ting in The Goat with an hour to kill be­fore col­lect­ing Honor from school. It was 48 hours be­fore Sin­cer­ity Matthews’ 13th birth­day porty and the ex­cite­ment among the Mount Anville moth­ers on What­sApp was reach­ing what could only be de­scribed as fever pitch. I was sit­ting with a cap­puc­cino and my fa­mous Rugby Tac­tics Book, play­ing a game I like to call “Be­ing Joe Sch­midt”. It’s where you imag­ine that you’re the Ire­land coach and it’s Septem­ber 2019 and you have to name the XV who are go­ing to stort the first match for you.

I lit­er­ally couldn’t con­cen­trate, though. Be­cause my phone was go­ing ba­nanas.

Mal­lo­rie Kennedy wanted to know if any­one could give Courage a lift to the porty be­cause she had to bring Valour to Ranelagh for a tuba les­son. Re­becca Leahy said, “No, sorry.” Breena Mar­ron said, “No, sorry.” Grainne Less­ing said, “I didn’t know Valour played the tuba!” and Mal­lo­rie said, “Yes, he’s AC­TU­ALLY self- taught!” Caro­line Lan­ders said, “Go, Valour!” and Lucy An­ders said, “Tal­ented fam­ily!” but then, on the Mount Anville Wheel­ers What­sApp group, Lucy An­ders said, “Mal­lo­rie Kennedy is at it again!” and Caro­line Lan­ders said, “I KNOW! PAINFUL!”

And sud­denly, out of nowhere, I felt a tear slip from my eye and roll down my cheek.

“Ex­cuse me,” I heard a voice say, “you’re Ross O’Car­roll- Kelly, aren’t you?”

I looked up. Stand­ing over me was a woman in her – I want to say – mid- 40s, who was ac­tu­ally quite at­trac­tive even though she was wear­ing glasses.

“That’s right,” I went. “The one, the only – blah, blah, blah.”

She was like, “My daugh­ter, Eyre, is in Honor’s class. Eyre Byrne?”

“Look,” I went, “what­ever you’re ac­cus­ing my daugh­ter of, it wasn’t her. And if you want to make an is­sue out of it, I’m go­ing to have to re­fer you to Hen­nessy Cogh­lan- O’Hara.”

She laughed. “No, it’s noth­ing like that,” she went. “It’s just I no­ticed you’ve spent the last 25 min­utes con­stantly pick­ing up and putting down your phone. And I thought, there’s a man who’s clearly got sucked into the world of the Mount Anville What­sApp moth­ers.”

I was like, “Yeah, no, it’s Sin­cer­ity Matthews’ birth­day on Satur­day.”

“And let me guess: they’ve been talk­ing about it for two weeks now. It started with the in­vi­ta­tion. Then you had to read 200 RSVPs – the ac­cep­tances and the re­grets. Your phone beep­ing con­stantly. Now, it’s two days be­fore the party and peo­ple are try­ing to ar­range lifts.”

“How do you know all of this? Who the hell are you?”

“I’m some­one who’s been through it. To­mor­row, it’ll be, ‘ Oh, what’s ev­ery­one wear­ing?’ be­cause no one wants their daugh­ter’s out­fit to clash with some­one else’s, but at the same time they don’t want their daugh­ter to stand out too much. There’ll be 12 to 14 hours of that.”

“There’s been more talk about this porty than there was about Prince Harry and Meghan Morkle’s wed­ding.”

“And it won’t end when the party’s over. Ev­ery­one will send their thank yous. Then, in about a week’s time, the birth­day girl’s mother will send you 375 pho­to­graphs from the party and you’ll have to look through ev­ery sin­gle one and ev­ery­one will have to say again what a fab­u­lous party it was.”

“I’m sorry for cry­ing. It’s just my brain feels like it’s turn­ing into paté.”

“It’s all too much, right?”

“It’s only 10 months un­til we play Scot­land and the only name I’ve writ­ten down is Johnny Sex­ton.”

“So why don’t you do what I did?”

“What did you do?”

“Mute them all!”

“What? I can’t do that?”

“Why not?”

“Be­cause I’m try­ing to be a good mother to my daugh­ter.”

“Do you re­mem­ber what life was like be­fore you joined What­sApp?”

“Not re­ally, no.”

“Were you happy, though?”

God, her voice was so sooth­ing.

I went, “I think I pos­si­bly was happy.”

“And the sun didn’t fall out of the sky,” she went, “just be­cause you didn’t hear what was go­ing on in the lives of all these other moth­ers.”

“No, I sup­pose it didn’t.”

My phone beeped on the ta­ble. This woman reached for it. She went, “It’s as easy as this,” and she fid­dled about with my set­tings for about a minute, then handed it back to me. “There,” she went. “I’ve muted all your group chat no­ti­fi­ca­tions.”

I told her thank you and off she focked. Then I spent the next 10 min­utes en­joy­ing some­thing I hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced for about two months – specif­i­cally, my own thoughts. I man­aged to write down the names of Peter O’Ma­hony and Rob Kear­ney. Then I or­dered a se­cond cap­puc­cino and storted to think about what I was go­ing to say to the play­ers I had to leave out. I ac­tu­ally storted to cry again but this time it was in a good way.

I was gen­uinely fine un­til I got back into the cor. And that’s when it sud­denly hit me. The si­lence. I couldn’t bear it. I stared at my phone, will­ing it to beep. I switched on the ra­dio and turned the vol­ume up as high as it would go. But it wasn’t enough. I sud­denly had this urge to ring ev­ery­one in my con­tacts list and talk to them at the same time.

I ended up hav­ing to pull over on Mount Anville Road. My hort was beat­ing at twice its nor­mal rate. I won­dered at first was it the se­cond cap­puc­cino? Or was it the thought of telling Jor­dan Lar­mour that he was on the bench?

And that’s when I re­alised what it ac­tu­ally was. I was won­der­ing how Grainne Less­ing was feel­ing about her driv­ing test to­day. I was won­der­ing if Sally Ann Morkey en­joyed her shop­ping trip to New York. I was won­der­ing how Or­laith Sta­ple­ton got on with the flour­less Black For­est gateaux recipe that Re­becca Leahy gave her. And I wasn’t strong enough. I picked up my phone and I un­muted all of my group chat no­ti­fi­ca­tions. At that ex­act mo­ment, Suzanne Ver­laine mes­saged to say that no, she couldn’t of­fer Courage Kennedy a lift to the porty be­cause she would be com­ing from the op­po­site direc­tion.

And sud­denly ev­ery­thing felt right with the world again.

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