It was a cold, dark and stormy night. Loads of trashy novellas start with three conjoined adjectives of the weather. Painting the vivid scene for the reader. This was a hot, heavy and humid Sunday afternoon. Today would be a difficult time in my young life. Today, I would finally, seek the courage to tell my father I wasn’t like other boys. It had taken a full year, after a lifetime of not fitting in. I was going to do it; ultimately it was who I was.
No more hiding behind a veil of normality. No more pretending to enjoy the things he wanted. No more. I was going to tell my father I was different, I had my own life and today was the day.
He looked relaxed behind the sports pages as I came in from training. I put my kit bag on the kitchen floor and melted into a chair opposite. I had rehearsed it over and over in my mind. How to relay the information to him, in the easiest way possible. How to let him know that the life he wants me to live, wasn’t my life. it wasn’t natural for me. I was born different. It wasn’t just a phase, I wouldn’t grow out of it……
“Dad, I don’t want to play football any more”
The paper fell limp as he gazed empty over the top of the paper. His grandfather had played football, his father, my uncles had national medals and were local heroes, my cousins…it was what we did.. He was passionate about it and so was I. he thought. His world just exploded. Every boy played football. It was normal. Boys played football!
He started a sentence but it wasn’t ever to be finished. Dad could see by my face that little he could say would help.
“I want to ride bikes. I want to race like Stephen Roche”
What happened next was a bit of a blur; He tried to get up but couldn’t. He tried again and this time broke down and called my older, football fanatical brother on his knees mumbled something about
“. Brother… no want..football…get priest..”
Within ten minutes the local clergy arrived. He was attending murder victims family when news reached him of my football decision. He immediately left and in another 10 minutes was joined by the bishop. The three men stood in the corner of the living room staring at me, while bracing themselves with large, fat glasses of brandy.
The talked amongst themselves and finally the bishop came over to me sat down beside me. He felt my head for fever; “Son can you not see what this is doing to your father? Reconsider boy”.
But I was adamant -I wanted to cycle. They began to pray over me, my father’s voice was low and filled with sobbing.
The entrance of my mother finally broke the stalemate. She was hysterical. Only the handles of the shopping bag were left in her clenched fists as word had spread down the town of my decision and she ran the four miles home, screaming
“ nooOOooo the ShaAaaMEee”.
Once the local doctor had my mother sedated, my teacher (who left his brother’s wedding when he heard the news) took me aside:
“Son don’t bring this on our family. What will your friends think, your team mates? You will have to move away”
I could only dream of climbing the Ventoux, in 35 degrees in July. I could only see polished spokes glinting in a morning sun and worn, bib shorts drying in the summer winds.
By this stage the police had arrived and neighbours were gathering outside the front of the house in a quiet murmur. The knock at the door shook my father. He tried to compose himself but when he opened the door and a tall sergeant enquired to the whereabouts of the boy who wanted give up football for a ‘bike!’ He fell to his knees and sobbed at the leg of the policemen.
“Don’t take him away. We will sort him out.oOOOo where did I go wrong? Where…”
The sharp policeman seeing the satellite dish outside and the sports pages opened at the weekend results knew immediately no blame lay with the broken parents and they should be pittied rather than punished. I was too young to be arrested. After an hour of phone calls the deal was struck, if we could keep it quiet; I could remain under their custody until treatment could be arranged. A sharp slap came from nowhere to the back of my head as the police men left the house through what was now a mass of concerned citizens and nosy bastards.
The doctor after finishing with my mother decided against chaining me to the bed and doped me with a cocktail of pills to release my whims. The dream I fell in to were images of 50 mph sprint into San Remo. All was lost.
By this stage my aunts had started to arrive from the country and began singing hymns. Candles were lit outside the front door as evening faded. The first reporters fronted the mob outside that had begun to turn angry, the only noise that broke the endless rhythm chant of “foot-ball. Foot- ball” was the army helicopter that was circling overhead. As the night fell, we hoped the mob would fade away. But after the report of sacrilege on the ten o’clock news, thousands more arrived.
I was dressed in the local football team’s gear, handed a ball and brought to the window to try to calm the gathering. As the curtains were drawn back the commotion stopped. A muffled applause started, but when they noticed 7-Eleven cycling shorts protruding down my leg, outcry erupted and the front window shattered around me. Only water canon eventually calmed the anti-bike orgy. I tried to sleep but an orange flickering on my bedroom wall raised alarm. The crowds jeered as an effigy of Greg Lemond, resplendent in a Tour de France yellow jersey was burned outside.
During the night the army had placed sand bags outside my gate and more liberal members of the masses outside handed in signed petitions, begging me not to leave football behind. The rumours of my uncle dying of shock were false as; at daybreak he met me on the bottom of the stairs with a black armband covering his county jersey. Two SWAT officers did all they could to hold him back, but the abuse was horrific.
“I’m not even that good” I pleaded with him.
“Its not the talent you wee bastard… it is the betrayal to your family, your country”
He started foaming at the mouth and the officers tazered him to restore order.
The helicopter lifted me that afternoon from the roof of my house, it looked like a war zone below. The burning cars and tracer rounds lit up the surrounding houses like Halloween. My bike shed was in ruins men fought like hyenas over a fresh kill, tearing my Pinarello to bits. I cried as the new Shimano was ripped from the frame. ……but I was free.
The day I came out as a cyclist.