For the past few days I've had a cough. There's nothing particularly different or worrying about this cough; it's just a regular, pain-in-the-hole cough that's hindering my sleeping and bugging those around me. Whenever I feel like this, my first thought is 'This is annoying. I hope it's not gonna keep me out of work or training.' The second thought is of Barry, who was my best friend growing up in Coolock in the '90s. Barry had Cystic Fibrosis and coughed incessantly as he tried to clear the ever-building phlegm from his lungs.
Yesterday, Barry would've turned 33 years old. He was born on April Fool's Day in 1982, four days before me. The joke always was that I was actually due on the same date - my mother slags me to this day about being late - but we still ripped the piss out of Barry on a daily basis for this. (How else would we show affection!?) The shit we came out with rarely made sense, but to us it was funny - like the time another of our close pals Walshie came up with the nickname 'Biscuit' for Barry. It was random, but that's what we called him from that day onwards, much to his (hilarious) frustration. It made zero sense, but we learnt afterwards that it was something his little sister would say in a rhyme: 'Barry Biscuit Bosco Byrne.' Barry would go fucking nuts, then we'd mock his beloved Manchester United because that made him madder, and thus funnier, to us.
For the past few years I've been in an awful mood around my birthday. It's probably because I'm a miserable fucker struggling with the thought of my advancing days, and how my prime years were primarily spent downing copious amounts of Aftershock on Camden Street. A bunch of us would head in mid-week (the drink was cheaper) at around 6.30pm, because that was before the door staff would be on. (This was important, because we weren't technically of-age to be partaking in such merriment). We'd get into the bar, where I was perpetually placed on 'round duty' because sadly, I've always looked like I was in my thirties. We'd then proceed to take part in the aforementioned merriment until one of us had a hankering for a 3-in-1, which resulted in a domino effect throughout the group as we made a combined late push for "soakage". We were nothing if not predictable.
The time between those days and being actual kids was fleeting in retrospect; we went from staying in each others' houses, talking shite and using the local Leisureplex and cinema as our main social hub, to hitting the town saturated in whatever bottle of cologne our elder siblings left lying around, looking to awkwardly chat to girls... or look at them (while they weren't looking) in between sweaty interludes of jumping up and down out of time to Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams songs.
Barry wasn't always able to come out, especially in the earlier days. I looked like Nicolas Cage when we were 16, but Barry had more of a Macaulay Culkin vibe. This, and my parents moving a few miles away (which might as well be a whole county away when you're 16) meant we grew a part a little bit. But I always knew Barry was really sick and I felt guilty about it. He couldn't really do what everyone else his age was doing - which was bullshit: he knew it, we all knew it - but he never complained. He just got on with it. Every few weeks, we'd all make arrangements to go the cinema. Sometimes it would happen and sometimes it wouldn't. When we did, the films we saw and what we talked about after leaving the screen shaped who I am today more than I would ever realise. Barry was always opinionated, sharp and generally on-point. It was the same with football too, or music, or comedy... for someone we nicknamed Biscuit, he was a hell of a lot more well-informed than the rest of us.
I remember the last conversation I had with Barry, but I don't remember the last time I saw him. I was in my pal's house around the corner from his, and we were trying to get him to come out that night. He felt shit and made excuses, laughed, coughed, took the piss... no different than any other conversation we'd ever had, really. A few days later, I got news that Barry had been taken into hospital. I have no idea who told me or how, exactly, I just knew; my Mother had subtly prepared me for it throughout my childhood. "Barry isn't well, Michael," she'd say after we'd come in from a game of 'Five on the Bashing' (basically score five goals over someone and get to give them a dig. Miss a shot, and you were in goal likely being digged). I didn't realise it then, but this made me instinctively protective of him - which was tough, because I couldn't fight for shit and our road was rough.
For a couple of weeks we rallied around, calling each other, talking more shite and generally avoiding thinking about the worst case scenario we all knew was likely to happen. I never went to see Barry in hospital. I'm ashamed now to say I was afraid to. Some of the guys did, and he was never conscious, but that didn't matter - I just didn't want to say goodbye to my friend.
The day of Barry's funeral I just remember another of our pals, Gerard, being a pallbearer. I had an overwhelming feeling of pride of Ger that day. For those brief moments he was all of us, because he was the only one who could do it. The following years we'd all make arrangements to meet up, but as is generally the case, life gets in the way and we ultimately drifted apart.
A few years back, I lived a couple of miles from where Barry was buried and would run past it every day on my way to work; every time I ran past I'd think of him. Without fail. All the shit I've done that he never got to do; his dry sense of humour; his angry-as-fuck dog; just us, being kids and teenagers. For the next few miles, my thoughts were always of him.
I don't know if Barry is up there watching down on us, but I know he didn't believe in it. That might've been the anger brimming to the surface as he saw people in our area destroy their bodies, taking what they had - what he didn't have - for granted: a future. I guess I wrote this for selfish purposes, really. But if Barry is somehow looking down, I just want him to know that I haven't forgotten him.
There are many incredible charities that need all the help they can get. Cystic Fibrosis is just one of them. If you can, please donate.
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