Last time I mentioned we’re soon about to get to the rock bottom of these series about my madness. We’re nearly there, but you won’t get the treat just yet. First we need bit of a buildup. I’ll tell you a story that is quite funny in a way. Only it also turned out to be more than a little scary, and it substantially contributed to my mind crumbling in a rather spectacular way. And that wasn’t all that humorous in the end.
One day in May, 2017, I was chased down by a Garda sergeant (a policeman, only they call them Gardaí in Ireland). He was claiming that I’d just criminally abused my son. That was pretty confusing, because the last thing I remembered was leading my son safely over a broad rampart of a bridge, showing him ducks and swans in the river he wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. Surely the policeman didn’t mean that when he said I’d abused my kid?
As it happens, that walk over the bridge was exactly what the whole thing was about. After my polite request for clarification, the sergeant said that I’d exposed my son to grave danger by putting him on the railing, which, by law, equals to criminal abuse. At that moment, I was tempted to jokingly ask how could such a thing possibly be considered equal to all those abundant and terrible cases in the Irish history of child abuse by general public and Catholic Church alike. Luckily I restrained myself and only said I believe, with all due respect, that any representative statistical data on child mortality would clearly demonstrate that I am much likely to kill my son by giving him a lift in our car than by what I’d just done.
Even such a mild and completely rational poke was unfortunately too much for the sergeant. He apparently got an impression that I was a totally irresponsible weirdo who regularly tried to kill his son by willingly dragging him through all sorts of dangerous ordeals. The fact that I didn’t seem to have anything better to do after committing those terrible crimes than joke about them in the face of state authorities didn’t help the matter either.
I could somehow understand the guy. He did what he felt he was legally obliged to do, and that’s completely okay for anyone, let alone a police officer. He probably wouldn’t have acted differently even if he knew how nimble, calm and cautious kid my son was for his age. But I often wondered, would that furiously diligent man of law be so harsh with me if he knew what was going through my mind during the unforgivably criminal act of letting my child absorb a bit more of the wonderful world we live in?
It went like this. I raised my son in my arms to show him a pair of ducks in a canal by the river. He liked that a lot, and he asked me if he could try and walk atop the bridge rampart to have a good look at the river proper as well. Man, this is risky, I thought. Should I really allow such a thing? Come on, I thought back, he really likes to watch water and wildlife in it, let him do it, such adventures are easily the best way to learn at his age. Well, okay, I decided, but wait, is this safe? What did the surfing forecast say in the morning? Dry, no wind, no gusts, good, does it hold? I looked around and checked the sky. Yes, should be fine, we’re in no danger of slipping or being blown into some dangerous situation, I told myself. Okay, let’s walk, I said to my son. No, wait, I paused, do I hold him right? Let’s use the other hand as well. Firm grip on his arm, that’s it. How about his clothes, I wondered then, can he slip out of them? No, it’s the overall, no way he could fall out of that. But what if he does, despite everything? I’ll jump after him right away, of course, I concluded. I’m a good swimmer, freediving instructor, I thought, come on, I even know CPR for kids from that first aid course. The water was still cold but there were the stairs a little off downstream. We would be able to get out soon in the incredibly unlikely case of him falling despite everything. Okay, let’s go, I told my son, but take it slow and easy. I will, dad, he said, waggling his finger at me and smiling, this is dangerous, I know, we’ll be careful, of course…
In the end, the sergeant didn’t take my son away. He didn’t even put me in jail, as he quite openly threatened in the beginning. Maybe I soothed the man’s indignant suspicion by admitting the foolishness of my behaviour and playing a nice, reasonable, though still slightly unconventional parent for a change. The poor policeman got so confused by the show I was putting on that he couldn’t even enter my name right into the official protocol of the incident (for some reason, he used my birthplace as my name, though there are clear English labels on my Czech ID card). I got away with a possible abuse notice filed with the Irish child protection agency and we parted our ways.
The agency rang me few weeks later and quickly dismissed the case as ridiculous after I told them what actually happened. So far so good. However, those weeks in between the bridge and that reassuring call gnawed on me in terrible ways. I was replaying the case in my mind with all sorts of alternative, more or less impossible grisly outcomes.
There were lively visions of a squad of grinning police child-savers raiding our house in the dead of the night. They beat me and my wife bloody and took our son to live with strangers who would never let us see him again. And when I managed to think about the situation slightly more soberly, I set to write a long essay about the incident. It was meant to be a cornerstone of my defense in a court case that I believed inevitable. But this effort quickly turned out to be even more unhealthy than imagining those absurd police raids. I lived through the trip over the bridge again and again while writing my rant down, and the more I wrote the more obsessively was I focusing on all things that could have gone wrong. Which usually meant my son falling and me jumping after him into the cold waves jacking up around the mossy stones of the bridge columns. I never managed to save my boy in those visions. All I could do was to watch his blue-lipped face sinking to the murky green depths forever.
Looking back, I think the aftermath of the “bridge incident” was the final bit that pushed me close to the point of no return in the development of my severe depression. But that’s already a story for the next post, a true black diamond in this necklace of gruesome jewels.
The feature image contains some of the views I was showing to my son off the bridge (minus the ducks and swans). The picture was taken by Joseph Mischyshyn on September 1st, 2000, and falls under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.