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Our Year of Divine Madness

And how I failed the final test

By Alison Tennent - The Celtic ChameleonPublished 3 months ago 19 min read
created by author in midjourney all rights reserved

I can't easily describe our friendship. It was a fever dream, a mirage. It was exultant derangement. It was not calm or safe.

I call you Daisy when I write about you, though that's not really your name. The chances of you ever reading any of this are almost zero. But almost zero is not zero. I don't want to take the tiniest chance of causing you any more harm by attaching your real name to my remembrances. Assuming you're still alive.

I hope you're still alive.

I can't easily describe our friendship. It was a fever dream, a mirage. It was exultant derangement. It was not calm or safe. The words don't exist in our language for women who love one another fiercely and protectively and passionately, but without sexual attraction. Casting around, Thelma and Louise is the closest I have ever come.

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When I saw that movie again, years after I last saw you, my heart grew full and heavy with an indescribable pain. I felt something akin to coming home, and something akin to grief.

After I had fled the destructive ferocity of our friendship I reflected often on our folie a deux. We might well have chosen to clutch one another's hands and barrel over the edge. At times I think we were perilously close.

Remember the bit of doggerel I wrote for you, half in fun all in earnest? 

"The wind whipped the trees in a frenzy, and The Demon of Belfast cackled." You called me an eejit, and laughed, and tucked it carefully away in your diary.

Our friendship was a warm glow of recognition that turned into a fire and became a ruinous inferno.

What a paltry word for what we had - friendship. Friendlove, friendadoration. Some people (men) who will make everything about sex cannot grasp the deep, abiding love women can have for one another, without turning it into something sexual.

But I loved you. I loved you cleanly, wholly, with admiration, with respect, with irritation sometimes and with a species of fear.

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You were beautiful, excruciatingly quick-witted, and sharply funny, with jagged dangerous undertones. I was more real in your presence. You saw me. You were not always nice, but you were always true. You brought out the very best and the very worst in me.

My other female friends did not like you, did not trust you, and some of them were jealous of you. They knew the influence you had on me, though I rarely proffered details. I quickly stopped trying to combine the different subsets.

Unlike everyone else I'd ever known, you never tried to reign me in. You encouraged my hedonistic streak and my unruly darkling tendencies.

That, it turned out, was not always a good thing.

Do you remember that night in Clatty Patty's, the beer bottle throwing night? Early on we'd been harassing some guy in a kilt. Well harassing's not accurate as he was thoroughly enjoying your wicked attentions. Then later, that creepy little tosser came over and when I politely refused his company he started name-calling, beginning with slut and ending with lesbian.

That was also the night I kissed Pat - a nice man - as a sort of a reward and out of gratitude for being my knight valiant.

There was forever a carousel of shady circumstances unfolding and blooming in your wake like a poisonous garden, as we lurked around the fringes of the darker corners of Glasgow.

In another time you would have been a priestess, a Sybil; your dark radiance drew many worshippers. I was in awe of you.

We were used to being called lesbians, it was the most rank of men's most pitiful and commonplace attack whenever we would ask nicely to be left alone.

Once on another night in another bar I had finally retorted in frustration "No, I'm not a lesbian, but I'd still rather fuck her than fuck you pal" to a hairy-chested Bee Gee wannabe with wet-look gel in his hair, a football player's mullet and a bizarrely inflated ego.

On the beer bottle night, I had simply had enough. The little sleazer's insults, his smirks, his attempted gropes. He was ten feet away and he turned around to sneer one last sneer, spit one last slur at me. Even at that age, I already knew those men far too well. He thought once again he'd have the last abusive word, aimed at me for simply existing and being uninterested in him. And something just went boing in my brain.

Ann Marie would have blamed me for my reaction, but you never did. Just another reason to love you. You understood better than most that years of insults and harassments and attacks by greasy predators can finally snap restraint like a perished rope.

Drunk as a sailor, swaying a little and filled with a clean fury - I threw that bottle at least ten feet across a darkened nightclub and hit him fair in the chest. Sadly, it did little damage, but the aim was good and true, a fact of which I was terribly proud in my inebriated state. He was as shocked as I was. The look of flabbergasted fear as that bottle struck him lives in my memory like a gleeful sprite.

I am not sorry. I was not sorry then and I am not now. I learned to be much more restrained. And I am glad I got away with it. But not at all sorry. He stood for all of them.

And when he tried to hit me, Pat - who had been standing close by watching all with quiet amusement - stepped in and stopped him. Bless him. The bouncers never even came near us. It was self-regulating lunacy in Cleopatra's, for the most part.

I think that was about a week before the broken glass to the face. Maybe a fortnight. But on the night of the glass to the face not even the lowest groveller could have claimed I did anything wrong except exist.

Oh Daisy, you were a brilliant, terrible, wonderful, dangerous, exhausting, enriching friend.

Thank you for bringing me lunch at work that day, because you knew I'd been neglecting my nutrition; a gentler memory of sitting with you on the grass in Queen's Park, an impromptu lunchtime picnic, puddles of sunlight all around us and your fiery eyes filled with laughter. A moment of peace in the growing chaos.

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And the night you made me dinner in your lovely calm flat, all polished wooden floorboards and candles. Trout and baby potatoes, with a small salad and tartare sauce, served at a proper dining table. To the working class girl from the council house this was elegance and class. We sipped wine like grown ups from crystal glasses and giggled and made our plans.

Thank you also for beating out the flames on my head, after I leaned too close one night to some of those candles, my mane rich with 1990s hair products. Less was not more, back then. The smell of singed pelt lingered for weeks, no matter how I frantically shampooed. And it certainly looked odd till it grew back in, but thanks to your lightning fast reflexes I wasn't scarred for life.

I'm sorry Daisy. I am so sorry I left you. I'm sorry it was just all too much for me, in the end. I was just not quite as deranged, not quite as uncaring of the rules and lacking boundaries as you needed me to be, or perhaps I seemed to be.

I hope you knew I loved you. I loved you as fiercely as I have ever loved a friend.

Our friendship was the recognition of two souls, the understanding of the other's injured state. It gave us comfort, and distraction, and validation. And in the end it broke my heart.

In another world we are toasting our decades old friendship. In another world you were healthy and your brave, fierce nature untainted by whoever it was that broke you.

I was too young and thoughtless to understand that nobody is so much off-kilter as you were without a good reason. And you hid a great deal, until the end.

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I'm sorry I never asked, never probed. You never offered, or even hinted, that there was a reason beyond youthful high spirits and a broken heart from a failed romance. But still.

We encouraged one another's more lunatic leanings. We fanned one another's forthright fury. How I wish I'd tried to reign you in a bit, instead of revelling in it all, but it was so incredibly freeing to be with a wild woman, with a soul even more savage and feral than mine.

Back then before time and life and children and an unpleasant marriage wearied so much of the fierce wildness out of me.

I have written a little before about you, and how I decided to call time on our friendship after the night of the broken glass.

But there was more to it than that, something darker that I don't like to think about and hide even from myself when I remember you. As I do more often than you'd expect all these long years later.

But thank you for the night of the broken glass too Daisy. Thank you for defending me against that piece of garbage, when he belted me to the floor then tried to stamp on me for having the audacity to tell him No.

Thank you being my Louise and reacting in righteous rage, for punching him fair in the face when you saw him assaulting me. Thank you for risking jail time to protect me, and without a moment's thought or hesitation. You were magnificent. Thank you for not letting him get away with it.

I'm sorry you were holding a glass at the time, or at least I'm sorry you needed stitches and lost some feeling in your middle finger. I don't suppose the nerves ever would have healed.

I hope the scar he got on his forehead remained with him for life, as a reminder that cowardly thugs sometimes do get their just rewards.

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What a bewildering carousel of mayhem that year was. We were untouchable, filled with a divine madness.

That year of revelry and near insanity, screams of laughter, deadly quips and vicious insults, dancing and drinking and opening dangerous doors, as though the world was ending and we were going down with it, going down in flames.

And underneath all of those memories swims a darker knowledge. How it ended.

You were the brightest and the best of all my friends. You sparkled. But you were the most damaged too. Damage calls to damage. We were both busted units. In the end, you were more busted than I realised.

I did try to talk you out of it D. I hope you remember that.

After you came back from your trip to India with your dad, after the stitches healed, that's where our friendlove should have died a natural death. I wish I'd left it alone and not contacted you. You might have left it too, I think, at that point. It would have been a natural resolution.

Your dad. Was that what I have since worried that it was? When you sat on his knee, a grown woman, and called him daddy I felt uncomfortable. It was peculiar. I looked away. But back then I thought such men were rare. Before the internet, we thought it was our own bad luck to encounter so many predators. I know better now, rapists are everywhere, even around their own children.

Was it that? I have taken that memory out and inspected it many times, considered every word you said about your father, to try to decide if my intuition was wrong. And still, today, I just don't know. But it was that, or another man. Another wrong done. According to every book, the ones I read too late. And according to the things I didn't know you had done and were still doing, that you didn't tell me until the very end.

If you hadn't met Joe, that thieving, cunning conman, if he hadn't left you up to your ears in debt, would it have ended better? Or was your life already the definition of a tragedy?

I did tell you I didn't trust Joe. Or like him. I told you not to loan him money, or your car, or let him have a key while you were away. I comfort myself with that, sometimes. He was too slick. Hair like a lego mini fig. So sure of his own self. I found him creepy. I was right to do so.

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When you first talked about joining Butterflies, the "Escort" agency I didn't really believe you, I thought it was just more rowdy talk. You were a nurse, you could have got a loan. I'd have got a loan for you, I'd have begged stolen or borrowed to help you.

I looked and that place is still there, you know. Established as a brothel - or high class escort agency as they prefer to advertise themselves - 1988.

I don't have to sleep with them, you said, but that's how you make the most money.

I said you shouldn't. You did it anyway.

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You were beautiful, intelligent, classy, educated, witty, and fabulous. You were my friend. And now you were a prostitute.

You told me that men were offering you extra to have sex without a condom.

I was repelled, by all of it. It turned out I did have a line, and that was it. I couldn't bear the thought of it. It still horrifies me. You deserved and were worth so much more.

How much of it was my fault, for not discouraging you, for joining in the year of drinking and dancing?

I didn't sleep with them, the men who buzzed around us. You did. I suppose that was always the big difference. You used to tease me about it. You're such a prude Alison, what difference does it make if it's a kiss, a grope or sex?

But it did make a difference, to me. Our bodies are us. We're not washing machines. Allowing a man to be inside me wasn't something I was happy to do unless we were in a relationship. It's how I'm built, it's in my hard wiring.

I wasn't chaste, and I was certainly chased, but mostly I didn't let them catch me.

In that last month, some of it came out. You told me what you'd been doing, with various men, for years really. Your boyfriend who was in the SAS who coerced you into a threesome. The naked pictures he took of you. What I thought of as a bit wild, our nights of flirting and drinking and dancing and pot stirring, were really quite tame compared to what you were doing on the nights I wasn't there.

You said to me - What difference does it make if I do it for free or I get paid to do it? but Oh, Love, it did make a difference. It made a difference to me. I just couldn't bear it.

I felt sick, revolted, guilty at feeling that way. My brain ran in grieving loops and curlicues as I tried to come to terms with this new version of you.

I didn't know how to answer you, I didn't know how to tell you how the wrongness was miles deep.

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So I ran away. You were the reason I met the man who asked me to move to London, when you dragged me to the pipe band festival in Bellahouston Park. Do you remember, D?

You got it into your head that would spend the afternoon in to the VIP tent; I was all wide-eyed and jumpy and you told me to quit it and act confident, and so I obeyed. And they let us in without a quibble and we drank free all afternoon, as the pibroch skirled all around us.

I ran away to London for many reasons. For love, for the excitement of a new city, and to flee the fetid, festering corpse of our friendship.

I told him what you'd started doing. After that, I knew I couldn't see you anymore, not easily. It was my way of making sure I left you behind.

I know, it was a terrible thing to do. Seeing my beautiful, wise, talented friend as a prostitute was a living horror, but leaving you behind so swiftly was incredibly cruel. My throat tightens even now at the memory of it. I didn't know what to do. I only knew I could not bear it.

It wasn't you I was horrified at, but the horror of what you had been brought to. Dazzling, incredible, enigmatic you being paid to let the dregs of the lowest lifeforms touch you, fuck you, do God knows what to you.

Liars and handmaidens and abusive men will try to claim it's just another occupation. And everyone knows it's a lie.

It is a wretched place to end up. It's the lowest rung. And may anyone who pretends otherwise find their rightful place rotting in hell.

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I went back once to visit you. We went to The Horsehoe Bar, up a lane near Hope Street, and you brought another female friend along, another nurse. You were goading me all night. You were angry with me for deserting you, and determined to punish me.

I had given you advice which for once you had taken. I had said Tell Nobody. There was a morality issue in nursing back then. If the Nursing Board found out you were a prostitute, they'd sack you. And reputation, once contaminated, is nearly impossible to reclaim.

If I who loved you found this unbearable, what would the jealous and hateful think?

And there's another cowardly reason I couldn't stay your friend Daisy. I could not bear the thought that anyone might think I was a prostitute too.

The last time I ever saw you, that night in the Horsehoe, you kept hinting at your "hobby" to your other nursing friend, who was naturally intrigued. Laughing, in response to her queries you said "Oh she doesn't want me to tell you", with a dismissive nod in my direction. When she was at the bar I said, Please Daisy please, please do not tell her.

In desperation, because I knew you were going to.

I went to the toilet and came back and you said you'd told her. She had a look on her face. Disgusted fascination like she was examining a really ugly bug under a microscope, but smiling on the surface. You couldn't see it, or didn't care. You laughed a hectic laugh at my expression. At least you made sure to tell her I wasn't one of the sorority.

I returned to London and when I came back to Glasgow to visit my ain folk, I never saw you. Never again.

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Ann Marie said she saw you in the city centre a few years later; you looked really sick. That has haunted me ever since.

I wrote to you, once, just before I left England for Southern California. But the address was wrong and it was returned to my mother's house. I said to you then what I am saying to you now.

I am so so sorry I didn't try harder to stop you. You deserved better. I am sorry I couldn't be your friend any more. I have never stopped loving you. I hope you are well, my beloved.

I write you this farewell through the ghost of long ago tears.

If it helps, I'd be your friend now, no matter what you were doing. I just wouldn't ask, I'd take what I could get of the rest of you.

I didn't know what to do D. I didn't know how to navigate those waters. I hated and was repelled by the whole idea, but I never hated or felt repelled by you.

I'm so sorry I left you behind and didn't say a proper goodbye.

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Hey D, do you remember that weekend in Carrick Fergus? We took the SeaCat across from Stranraer; the men on board chatted us up relentlessly and we lapped it up laughing like a couple of hussies.

I wore a necklace shaped like a perfume bottle, with a few drops of Obsession in it. I wore it all weekend, with my hippy tops and buttoned up jeans, and I've never been able to bear the smell of Obsession since. Not least because of the morning you made me drink hair of the dog in that pub round the corner from your dad's. It reminds me of nothing so much as puking in Belfast toilets, and feeling so hungover I thought I might die and it would be a sweet relief.

I recall the plate glass windows of your dad's place overlooking the Irish Sea, and the grey lowering sky, and how you always bounced back so annoyingly quickly.

I remember your friends who took us to a dance where we met two farmers who fell in immediate lust with us. One of them had an honest to God Jukebox in his house, we all piled in there for an impromptu party.

And you were dancing, in that way you danced, arms reaching for the sky, blonde hair flying, laughing wildly in your tight black clothes. A Goddess.

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I remember how they drove us through the back country roads to Carrick Fergus. It's a lot trickier to get up in a moving car and stick your head through the sunroof than it looks in the movies - but I did it anyway.

Wobbling there precariously I could hear you giggling like a loon below me and the farmer having conniptions as I tried to steady myself and laughed like the lunatic I undoubtedly was. My face to the night, I shrieked as the freezing air drove into my lungs, and I lifted my arms and cried out to the darkness like a joyful savage.

I will never forget the glorious taste of the rushing air, and the headlights swooping through the obsidian dark for those seconds that lasted forever.

I remember the ferocious joy of being alive, the jubilation of being free and of having a friend like you. A friend who was a Fury; crazy, loyal, wondrous, lunatic and unfettered. A friend like no other.

I remember all of it.

I remember you.

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About the Creator

Alison Tennent - The Celtic Chameleon

Just open your veins and write.

Find me on Substack

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