An internet friend reminded me the other day of an important lesson we all need to take on board and remember. When I say all I am talking about 49.9% of the population though the core message applies to us all. It is a message I have addressed more than once in blogs over the years and on occasion in other writings both fiction and none fiction. It occasionally even comes up in subtext in my Hannibal novels, but in the most recent novel ‘A Squid on the Shoulder’ in one chapter it moved beyond subtext.
I reproduced some exerts from that chapter here, because the central message is I feel an important one. This first section is really just to add some Context to what follows:-
Yet once again, somehow, I’d survived when so many others had not. This struck me as absurd.
Why did I, of all people, keep surviving these things…?
I don’t believe in fate. I don’t believe in some higher power guiding our lives. Saving perhaps she who resided on the throne of Great Britain, who’d been the only higher power in my life. Old Clockwork Ticker mightn’t be a living goddess, as some mad gin-sodden fools like my old mum chose to believe, but she may as well have been. The empire Britain rules in her name shapes the lives of billions within its boundaries, so call her a higher power if you will, but old Sticky Vic doesn’t shower favours on the likes of me. As for god, well, if there is one, it has always struck me that his ineffable plan is too damn ineffable.
Hannibal is not in the best of places at this point, as you may guess. Things have happened and he is it is fair to say a little distraught. Which leads to an excess of engine room gin and some deep soul searching on the subject of what a chap does and doesn’t do. These excerpts are part of a longer narrative obviously but the bits I have pulled out express what I believe to be an important truth, which is why feel they perhaps need to see a larger audience than just those who read my often quite silly steampunk novels…
A lot of crap is spoken at times about chaps.
‘A chap doesn’t cry,’ they’ll say. ‘A chap doesn’t bare his soul and weep like a baby,’ they’ll add for good measure. But what they really mean is ‘A chap doesn’t do that in front of another chap…’ It’s part of the code. It’s part of what’s expected, because they are told, as we all are told, ‘A chap keeps a stiff upper and doesn’t blub…’
Hettie, as I have said before, was in many ways a chap. I mean, obviously, she wasn’t a chap, but she was more a chap than most chaps could ever aspire to be…
And another thing they say is ‘a chap doesn’t break down in front of another chap,’ no matter how much a chap has had to drink. No matter how black the day. No matter what burdens a chap is shouldering. No matter what.
A chap soldiers on and the most you should expect from another chap is for them to tell you to buck up and behave like a chap ought to, because it’s just the done thing. A chap, that is, a man, well…
What it comes down to is a man doesn’t cry…
Hettie didn’t say a word, just sipped her drink and sat across from me, head bowed, not encroaching on my despair. Like a good chap does. Even a chap who is not a chap…
Hettie also didn’t say a word when I started to weep.
Call it exhaustion, mental and physical, after all I’d been through in the last few days. Call it delayed shock. Call it the drink. Call it whatever you want. I sat there and I wept, tears streaming down my face, utterly distraught… And Hettie didn’t say a word, she just sat there with me, like a good chap does. Even a chap who isn’t a chap.
And then Hettie put down her glass, picked up her chair, moved it next to mine, sat down again, put her arm around my shoulder and pulled me down onto her chest. And then she just let me get it all out, all that pent-up emotion, all the fear, all the horror, all the anxiety and dread. She let me just open the flood gates and empty the dam.
And all through this, Hettie didn’t say a word. She just sat there with me, like a good chap does.
Even a chap who isn’t a chap.
Because when it comes down to it, a good chap, a real chap… Well, a chap like that knows that all the horse shit that is said about what a chap does and doesn’t do is just that, so much horse shit. Chaps sometimes need to weep, and chaps sometimes need another chap, even a chap who isn’t a chap, to just sit with them and let them do so. Without all that ‘A real chap doesn’t do this’ nonsense.
And you, dear reader, perhaps expect me to make a joke round about now, some irreverent witticism, some callow remark, some off-colour observation about resting there on Hettie’s chest…
But no… Not this time.
Hettie sat with me, held me, and let me get all the welled-up guilt and sorrow of the survivor out of my system, and never said a word, because there was nothing to be said.
And afterwards, once I’d gotten it all out of my system, once I had moved past it all, once I was once more my usual callow self-involved self, Hettie still never said a word about it.
Because a good chap, even a chap who is not a chap, but is more a chap than most chaps will ever be, a chap like that knows when nothing needs be said. Instead, they just offer a smile of understanding, that nod of recognition that you need at that moment, and says nothing afterwards when that time is past, because nothing needs to be said. Instead, they’re just there for you, in that moment when you needed them to be.
And sometimes a chap who is a chap, and a callow, bitter, sarcastic, swine of a chap at that, sometimes a chap like that just needs to know that someone gave enough of a damn to let them not be a chap for a while and just be a hurt, scared human being hiding in the darkness from those fickle gods of fate that chose to torment our souls…Excerpt from ‘A Squid on the Shoulder’ Chapter 6
This is just a piece of fiction. I don’t pretend it is in any way deep or profound It does however have an important message its heart, at least one that is important to me. That being that sometimes a man needs to be able to weep, or talk, or just throw down the walls that society expects them to have and not hide there fears and feelings.
I say a man, it all equally applies to women, but women tend to find such things easier, or at least society doesn’t expect them to ‘bottle it up and crack on’ in quite the same way.
If you find yourself being the Hettie for someone in this situation, that is to say the friend that someone turns to, then sometimes all it really takes to help them is being there. Being there to listen more than anything. Being there when they need someone to just be there, is the simplest and yet most important thing of all, You don’t necessarily need to say anything, though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t if you think you can say something that helps.
And, if you ever find yourself needing a Hettie, no matter whom your Hettie or Hettie’s for that matter happen to be, never be afraid to reach out. Even if your Hettie is a grumpy ageing goth and Yorkshire-man who occasionally tries to string some words together in a meaningful way.
And never, ever, buy in to the idea that there are things a chap just doesn’t do…
You are a good chap.