“If I’d really loved Debbie*, I’d never have married her”
Unbelievable but true; there are people who just can’t handle love. Not that they don’t feel it, mind. Just that they daren’t risk being hurt by it. Put it this way, when love comes knocking, there’s no one in.
Jeremy was 6’4, broad-shouldered, with dark curling hair, engaging dimples and the bluest eyes I’d ever seen - the sort of film-star looks which ‘handsome’ can’t begin to describe. Of course the girls fell for him - in shoals. A brilliant horseman, during his late teens and twenties he worked as a stuntman for TV, film and a company that staged Wild West Shows and Jousting Tournaments.
Looks were by no means his only stock in trade. He was witty. He was funny. He was charismatic. He could write like a dream. He was excellent company. Everybody liked him.
The problem? (Of course there’s always a problem, isn’t there?) He drank. Heavily. Uncontrollably. Until he was unconscious. Having discovered alcohol in his early teens, it was a love affair to transcend all others – and there was plenty of competition. Girls came and went – tall girls, small girls, blondes, brunettes – all beautiful (Jeremy was very particular that way) and for the most part highly intelligent. Too intelligent to put up with an alcoholic for long.
What started his perpetual binging was, I believe, an innate shyness, the inability to see himself as others did. As a child, he’d been rather plump, you see, and his ears stuck out and I’m sure he got teased (even by me, I’m ashamed to say.) Then came the transformation, the chrysalis cracked and a butterfly emerged with long hair, endless legs and perfect pecs and suddenly girls were staring in the street at his drop-dead gorgeousness. Yet, inside he was still the little plump boy with the sticky-out ears who was shy of other people until he’d had a drink.
His parents weren’t much help. He was the last of a brood, the youngest boy of 5 and frightfully spoilt, babied even. Whereas his older siblings had been ruled with an iron rod, Jeremy - a late arrival - was born into a comfortable home where Mum and Dad had learned to relax more and actually enjoy their parenthood. Jeremy could do no wrong. Even when he started drinking, crashing cars and being arrested, his parents bailed him out – time after time after time. With never a word of censure. No matter what he did, no matter how he hurt them, Mum and Dad would simply swallow it, allowing him to be the centre of their world to the exclusion of all else.
In some ways, they even encouraged it – because it made him more reliant, unable to fend for himself. Until he got a job. Not just any job, mind – it had to be something he enjoyed, like horse riding or he simply wouldn’t turn up.
One day, during one of his regular visits, he announced his engagement to a lovely girl from Wales. Debbie* was beautiful in every way and we were all really happy for him. At least until it ended. And that’s when he made his shocking confession, about how he could never have married her had he been in love. By this time, of course, he already believed that lasting love was not for him. Plump little boys with sticky out ears simply don’t deserve to be happy..... Yet there was one interlude in his life when he almost thought he did.
Some years later, in his late twenties, he took a job in Zambia, working on a ranch. For the first time, he’d found a way of life he genuinely enjoyed and for the first time, someone with whom he could share it. The rancher had a daughter whose name I never knew but she was obviously special. This was the real thing, the hearts and flowers, the Mills & Boon. But, of course, there was a problem. The father was not happy. Maybe he knew about Jeremy’s addiction but, whatever the reason, he opposed the match, forcing the couple to elope. Sadly, their attempts to find refuge in Zimbabwe were unsuccessful, due to Jeremy’s lack of documents. The game was up and Jeremy returned to Britain more disillusioned, more miserable and more convinced than ever that, for him at least, life was meant to suck.
Some months later he met Jenny*. A nice young woman, a nurse who, like Jeremy, enjoyed drinking a little too much. So they settled down together in a happy haze of alcohol. Then one day, there was a phone call.
It was her! His lady from Africa. She’d come all the way to England to find him and had finally tracked him down to his Cambridge address. ‘Could they meet?’ ‘Of course!’ Arrangements were made for what should have been a wonderful reunion. He didn’t turn up.
“Why?” I asked. “I thought you loved her?” “I did” he replied, “I do.”
“But how can she know that?”
“But she came all the way from Zambia!” I cried. “Just how do you think she felt when you didn’t show up?”
Jeremy paused. “She’ll understand.”
My brother Jeremy died aged 42 having tried desperately to combat his alcoholism. Ironically, the immediate cause of death was due to a low level of alcohol in his blood which induced a violent fit.
And if there’s a lady reading this now who once lived on a ranch in Zambia and loved a man called Jeremy, there’s just one thing I’d like you to know. He loved you. He really, really loved you.
* These names have been changed