Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I WAS four, so she must have been five when we first became friends one summer.

What attracted me to her was the fact that she and her sister owned the two finest tricycles on our road. A gang of us would spin up and down the footpath outside her house on those bikes, oblivious of the traffic that sped by. There were never any casualties, as far as I remember.

September came and we all back to school. Over the years, we fell out of touch, as children do, because we were so busy making other friends. It was when we were ten years’ old that we ended up in fourth class together and our friendship was cemented.

We grew up together and became as close as sisters. We laughed, cried, had fun, got into trouble, fought like cats and dogs and got through.

As a teenager, I used to torment her with my insecurities about boys. I’d drone on for hours about the latest young lad I fancied and dragged her to discos in neighbouring counties to hunt new prey. (She told me years later that most of the time she didn’t heed any of my lovelorn tales and had expertly tuned out of these ego-addled sessions.)

She never had any of that acne-angst. She just got on with the business of going out with boys, breaking up with them and moving on. No boy ever broke her heart because, really, she didn’t care that much about any of them anyway.

Fast forward to our mid-20s – all around us, people our age were getting serious and settling down to get married. Not us, though. I had made up my mind that marriage wasn’t for me, while my friend joked that if she ever walked up the aisle, she’d sell tickets to the event.

Then, one spring time when I returned from a spell in America, I was picked up at the airport by my friend. I knew immediately that something had changed. Somehow, she was different.

She was in love.

It was no surprise to any of us who knew her that she was in love with a woman. It had taken her a long, long time to come to terms with who she was, but she’d gotten there. She was gay and happy with that.

Sadly, that relationship didn’t work out and it was the only time I’ve ever seen my best friend suffer from heartache. Since then, women have come and gone in her life and she remains single.

She never shouted about her sexuality, but she didn’t hide it either.

That is, until the referendum. She was out and about, knocking on doors and asking people to support marriage equality.

No doubt, in our small town, she made heads turn and chins wag, but what of it?

She told me that work colleagues, acquaintances and people she’s known all her life asked her why she never told them that she was gay. That they felt let down by her. Not because she was a lesbian but because she didn’t tell them that she was.

“It never occurred to me to tell people. If they know, they know. And now they all know. So that’s it. No big deal,” she reasoned.

She, like every other LGBT person, took the referendum very personally.

When she heard that it was passed by the people of Ireland, she cried. I cried. All of her friends cried. After weeks of talking, listening, debating and tension, it was finally over.

Now if my friend ever does meet a woman that she wants to marry, then she can. What’s more, she can sell tickets to the ceremony. Because she can …

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