Janie In My Heart
June 18, 2012
— anfield, Dealing with Cancer, Dying of Cancer, Fernando Torres' Form, Fields of Anfield Road, Football Songs, Golden Gates, Kop Legend, Liverpool FC Songs, Pearly Gates of Heaven, Poignant Short Story, Sad Story, Short Story about Cancer, YNWA, You'll Never Walk Alone
by Thomas Ang
Nov 1, 2010
I promised Laura that I would explain it to her eight-year-old daughter, Janie. I have some regret about that now. How do I tell her that everything will be okay, when I’m not sure it’s true — when I’m pretty sure it isn’t? How can anything ever be okay again? I sure as hell won’t be. I spent thirty years looking for the love of my life, finally found her, only to have her taken away. If it weren’t for Laura I’d probably still be a drunk, or worse. Now I might be headed down that road again.
Part of me is already gone with her and she’s not even dead yet. Some days I can’t get out of bed. What’s the point? What’s the point of going out into the world and doing anything, caring about anything? Everything that matters to me is to be taken away, and I’m not sure I can bring myself to let anything else ever matter again.
Janie. She’s the other thing that matters and the one thing I’ll be left with when Laura’s gone. Whether I like it or not, her daughter is the one reason for me to go on living. She’s a responsibility — a burden when I’d rather join Laura, go off and drink myself to death — that will keep me alive. If I can’t live for myself anymore, at least I’ll live to take care of Janie. She’ll be the one bit of Laura left in the world.
But Janie’s a wonderful thing in her own right, not just because she reminds me of Laura. She’s bright and thoughtful in ways I don’t think an eight-year-old should be. It’s like she’s got an extra sense and knows what people are feeling. She says and does just the right things too.
One time, the three of us were walking past a Merseyrail station and there was a really downtrodden man sitting on the ground outside. He hadn’t shaved days, and looked like he needed sleep. I don’t always give change to the homeless, but there was something different about this man, and Janie was tugging me in his direction. As I reached into my pocket, though, Janie spoke to him.
“What’s its name?” she asked, in her bright way.
Her question was met with a stunned look on the man’s face, and then, eventually, a reply.
There was a hesitation as Janie recognized that something wasn’t quite right. When she responded the cheeriness was replaced by concern.
“Is she happy?”
He considered for a moment, then closed his eyes and nodded.
“She was. She is.”
Janie thought for a moment before patting the man on the shoulder.
The reaction was slight, not a smile, not like the darkness was gone, but it was like a small light — a candle, perhaps — had been lit somewhere inside him. Only then did I realize that he was holding an empty leash, and I was glad that I didn’t have any change in my pocket.
There I am again: of all the memories to choose from, I recall one with death in it. I need to think of Janie’s future. If I focus on that I might just hold together.
Nov 5, 2010
When we first found out, we pretended to be strong for Janie, but today Laura had to move into the hospital, and the masks are starting to crack. I haven’t cried yet, but I probably need to. Not in front of Janie though. It’ll happen some time when Laura and I are alone. Or maybe when I’m alone. Which feels like all the time now.
Nov 6, 2010
Couldn’t sleep last night. Again.
Nov 7, 2010
I put the football on today. Up until I was fifteen, I used to go with my father. For a few years after he left us, I hated anything to do with the game. I got over that, but I’ve never been back to Anfield since. These days I catch what broadcasts I can, but I don’t fret too much about it in between. I didn’t even know who we’d be playing against today or whether I’d be able to get that fixture on the television, but any match would do for the much-needed distraction.
When we were visiting Laura at the hospital in the morning, I had decided that today was the day to explain it all to Janie. When we got home I became hesitant again. Breaking down while telling her would send the wrong messages, but at the same time I didn’t want to explain it in a cold, uncaring way. I needed to work out the right balance. The match would buy me some time.
As it happened, they were showing Liverpool, at home to Chelsea. I kept my eyes on the match, but my mind was on cancer and death and how to explain those things to an eight-year-old. The ball moved, the men moved, the commentators bantered, the crowd sang, but I didn’t really see or hear any of it. How could I tell her the truth, in a way that she’d understand, without breaking her little heart?
Not long into the match we scored, and I remember Janie bringing me out of my silent shell with questions about the man who’d scored the goal. The replays were showing Torres reaching the ball, controlling it, and knocking it in, over and over again.
“He looks like a prince, is he one?”
“No. He’s kind of a hero though.”
“Does he always score?”
“Once upon a time, he always did.”
“What happened, did someone cast an evil spell on him?”
“He got hurt and he’s never been the same.”
“Who hurt him?”
“No one meant to do it, sometimes it just happens.”
“But now he’ll be okay, right?”
Sometimes it just happens. Like how sometimes people just get cancer and die. Whatever answer I gave to her final question satisfied her and she turned happily back towards the game. I followed her lead, not wanting to dwell on dangerous thoughts, and tuned into the titanic battle playing out before us.
Liverpool was in the midst of its worst start to a season in my lifetime, but they were mounting a serious effort against the defending champions and league leaders. It was a battle between an old power, trying to cling to its relevance, and a new one on the rise. Twenty-five years ago, Chelsea would have been the underdog, but the balance of play might have been the same.
“Is the red team the best in the world?”
“They were, once.”
“Did they all get hurt?”
“No, that was a much longer time ago.”
“Some of the great men of the team moved on and couldn’t be replaced. Other teams have grown stronger.”
“I hope the great men come back and the red team becomes the best again.”
Liverpool might return to the heights of its former glory someday, might become something to rival what they were when they’d dominated in the previous century, but it couldn’t be by bringing back Shankly, or Kenny Dalglish, or whoever else. The world changes and things can never go back to the way they were. I wanted to tell Janie that sometimes a person could be gone forever.
Torres scored a second goal just before halftime, and it was more beautiful and stunning than the first. Though there would be no further goals in the game, it was the second half that I’ll never forget. The Liverpool supporters were having the worst season of their lifetimes, and yet, the thing unfolding before them was as beautiful as anything any of them had ever witnessed. Truly a diamond amongst coals, and shining that much brighter for it. And so the Anfield faithful were in full song, passionately bellowing their famous anthems.
The words were as they always were, but in the voices I heard something else, something that felt like defiance. It was as if they were crying out for all to hear:
You might be the top team in the land, but THIS IS ANFIELD! We might not be what we once were, but we’re still here and we won’t let you — or anyone — forget all that we’ve won. Ever.
The strength of the better part of forty-five thousand voices was overwhelming, and the sound brought me back to those Saturdays spent standing in the Kop with my father.
Janie asked what they were singing and so I repeated what words I knew to her.
Outside the Shankly Gates
I heard a Kopite calling
Shankly they have taken you away
But you left a great eleven
Before you went to heaven
Now it’s glory round the Fields of Anfield Road.
All round the Fields of Anfield Road
Where once we watched the King Kenny play (and he could play)
We had Heighway on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing
Of the glory round the Fields of Anfield Road.
Outside the Paisley Gates
I heard a Kopite calling
Paisley they have taken you away
You led the great eleven
Back in Rome in seventy-seven
And the Redmen they’re still playing the same way.
The hairs on the back of my neck were raised and I could feel something pulling on the chains around my heart. I might have choked on the words if I wasn’t careful. The song was about memories of better times — some of which I’d witnessed with my father — and it was also about loved ones who were gone, and what they’d left behind. I didn’t want to give it all a chance to sink in and rip me apart, so I moved on to the other anthem.
When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk–
My voice broke and a single tear found its way down my right cheek.
“Are you crying?”
I pretended to scratch my face to remove the tear. I didn’t know what to say. How did you put it in words? How did you bring yourself to utter, to admit, that the love of your life would be gone forever?
“Nah, why would I be? We’re winning, see?”
She took a deep breath and paused. Her face had turned sombre. It was as if she were the one who had to let the cat out of the bag.
“Because of mom?”
I just looked at her like a schoolboy who’d heard the teacher call his name but not heard the question asked right before.
“It’ll be okay. I’ll take care of you after mom’s gone.”
I didn’t hide the rest of the tears.
Thomas Ang is a kindred spirit to strange bOUnce, whose fictional sportswriting and blogging can be found at RoaroftheFaithful.com. He’s working on a book, too.