There has always been a certainty with Áine that no matter what happened we would always be connected, says Louise O’Neill.
I have been asked to recite poems and readings at a number of my friends’ weddings, usually after being told I was ‘next on the list’ to be made bridesmaid.
Always the reader, never the bridesmaid — that’s what I say. I’m okay with that. The thought of spending an entire day wearing the exact same outfit as someone else is my idea of a nightmare. (Yes, I’m shallow. Get over it.)
And while I really enjoy weddings — day drinking and watching two of my friends declare their undying love for one another, what’s not to enjoy? — I’ve never been one who gets overly emotional during the ceremony.
While everyone else around me is dabbing gently at their eyes, I’m left wondering if there’s something intrinsically wrong with me.
The only wedding I was ever at where I did tear up slightly was when my neighbour, Áine, got married.
My family moved to our current home when I was about three or four and coincidentally, the family that lived next door to us had two daughters who were the same age as my sister and me.
We became immediate best friends (they also had a younger son who was reluctantly co-opted for our games of ‘House’ and ‘Shop’ and was invariably given the non-speaking role of Sleeping Baby) and we ran in and out of each other’s homes as if they were our own.
I was a whole six weeks older than Áine, so regularly gave her the benefit of my hard-won experience about men and driving and how to pluck your eyebrows so zealously that it will take years for them to grow back. (You’re welcome, Áinsa.)
We grew up together, growing closer and then more distant at certain periods of our lives, but always finding our way back to one another. She has been there through good and bad times, as equally present in both.
She held my hand when my uncle died, she lay beside me on my bed when I was in hospital and watched Desperate Housewives with me.
She came to my book launch when she was approximately 15 months pregnant and beamed with pride as if it she had written the novel herself.
There will be a surreptitious smirk if she thinks I’m getting carried away with myself but always a hug when I’m feeling tired or stressed, a reminder that looking after myself is more important than any work commitment.
There has always been a certainty with Áine that no matter what happened we would always be connected, the years of friendship wrapping around us, indelibly binding us to each other.
It is April. My phone rings. I look at the screen and barely suppress an eye-roll. It’s Áine who, despite knowing how much I detest speaking on the phone, continues to do so anyway.
She will leave a message saying something like ‘I know you’re avoiding answering your phone, so don’t pretend that it was on silent/you were in the shower... and call me back right now’.
It can be very annoying having a friend who knows you that well.
I answer. ‘I have something to ask you,’ she tells me. ‘I want you to be godmother to George.’
That’s her four-week-old baby and I am silenced for a moment, my throat closing over with emotion.
‘They call them guide-mothers in humanist ceremonies,’ she rushes on, clearly misinterpreting my silence. ‘That’s what I want you to do. Guide him.’
I start to cry, the enormity of the honour seeming too much to process. And perhaps it was hypocritical of me, since my stance on the Catholic Church is well documented but the thought of refusing never occurs to me.
(I did, however, spend three hours googling ‘how to raise a Woke Feminist Baby’ when we hung up.)
The day of the christening, I wore my best frock and I renounced Satan and all of his ways and I marvelled at how long I had known the woman standing beside me.
We have been friends for almost 30 years and this role as godmother guaranteed that we would be for another 30 to come.
It was strange looking at her, holding her baby boy, with her little girl and husband by her side, and to think how much things had changed, how we were grownups with responsibilities and obligations to fulfil, and yet somewhere deep inside we were still just Áine and Louise, two girls who had, by some quirk of fate, found themselves living side by side and decided that they liked each other.
I am so proud of the woman she’s become — how intelligent she is, how hard she worked to get her pharmacy degree, how brilliant she is at her job, what a loving, endlessly patient mother she is to her two children.
And as I held my new godchild, I felt overwhelmed by the tenderness that I felt for him. I held him tight and whispered love into his skull. And I wished so much for him.
I wished that he would have the kindness and decency of both his parents. I wished that he would know peace, that he would feel at ease with himself, whatever that looked like for him.
I wished that he would be independent and sure, and that he would grow up in a world that was equal and fair, a world where he felt free to express his true self. I wished for him a friendship that lasted as long as mine and his mother’s had.
My eyes met Áine’s as I held her baby and we both smiled and somehow I could see her at four years of age, racing through her garden barefoot and tanned, lying on our stomachs at seven watching The Sound of Music for the 10th time in a row, walking to and from school together every day for almost six years, telling her she looked beautiful as I applied her makeup before she left for her Debs.
Where did the time go, I wanted to ask? How did we get here?
Life moves pretty fast, as someone once said. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you might miss it.
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