Opening the “Psychic Suitcase” of My Childhood
By Colin Broderick
In 2007, at the age of thirty nine, I quit drinking. I’d spent my entire adult life on a suicidal binge around New York; there were hospitals, jail cells, wrecked cars and marriages, reams of self-indulgent poetry, and a couple of unpublished novels.
I immediately wrote a book detailing my drinking exploits and landed my first publishing contract. It was a dream come true and yet, still, I felt deeply troubled.
In the months before my memoir Orangutan hit stores in the U.S., I found myself back in northern Ireland, in a small cottage, with wife number three, and our newborn daughter. I suggested to my agent that I write another memoir, detailing what it was like to be back living in Northern Ireland after being away from “home” for twenty years. She suggested I write about my childhood instead.
My childhood! The idea terrified me. Of course it terrified me. I’d spent my entire adult life running away from my childhood. I didn’t want to go back. It was too dark back there. But there was no avoiding it. I knew in my heart that if I was going to stay sober, if I was going to be a loving dad, I would have to open the psychic suitcase I’d been dragging around with me.
I was going to have to pick through the dirty laundry packed away in there. I would have to take it out, sort through it, throw some of it away, clutch some it to my face and weep into it. The time had come for me to make sense of who I was, and where I came from.
The idea of writing about my family, and my community was scary for another reason; I grew up Catholic in the heart of Northern Ireland during The Troubles, where I came from men had been killed for talking about what they have seen and heard there.
It took me four years to try and translate the experience of my childhood into readable English.
At some point I realized that this wasn’t just a story about my own childhood, my childhood was part of a much larger narrative, a narrative that included the entire history of Ireland, a history that would lead the reader to the year I was born, 1968, and the twenty years in lived in Northern Ireland before leaving for New York at the age of twenty.
The excavation of my childhood years almost sent me back to the bottle more than once. I fell into a terrible depression, my wife left, I scribbled on. I wound up broke, unable to pay my rent, and by all accounts, slightly mad. Still, I could not stop. The suitcase would not be closed again. A close friend let me stay in his upstate farmhouse so I could finish the book.
In November, exactly four years after I had begun, I finally had an acceptable draft of the book in hand. I had a book, but more importantly, I had a little glimmer of peace for the first time in years.
Writing is work, much of it painful. It is maddening and emotional. With mere words we are driven to paint the portrait of a man. By placing one simple character after another we attempt to transcribe the universe. And somewhere amid the line breaks and punctuation marks that we have chosen to use we try to mold for the reader the very essence of an emotional existence. That’s That is my meager attempt at rendering a recognizable portrait of my own childhood.
The reader will make of it what he will; I have finally acknowledged my childhood, and there is a certain sense of peace in that for me: at long last.
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About the Author
COLIN BRODERICK was raised Irish Catholic in the heart of Northern Ireland. In 1988, at the age of twenty, he moved to the Bronx to drink, work construction, and pursue his dream of becoming a writer. For the next twenty years, as he drank himself into oblivion: there were failed marriages, car wrecks, hospitals and jail cells. Few people who have been a slave to an addiction as vicious, destructive, and unrelenting as Broderick’s have lived to tell their tale. Orangutan is the story of an Irish drunk unlike any you’ve met before. Broderick has written a play, Father Who, and published articles in The Irish Echo, The Irish Voice, and The New York Times. His new memoir That’s That will be available from Broadway in paperback wherever books are sold on May 7, 2013. Visit the author at ColinBroderick.com.