Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Billy's Letter

Just after PUSH 7 came out in September 2013, I got a message from Steve Sacre, who appeared in issues 2 & 3. It wasn’t a new submission as I first thought. It simply said, ‘I have mailed you something, some words from my brother. Don’t know if you will think it appropriate to use, but felt it might be and had to send.’

No email came. A few days later a letter arrived. I don’t get many hard copy mails through my letterbox with my name and address in spidery handwriting. Inside a brief explanation of what was enclosed. ‘My brother Billy has been an alcoholic nearly all of his life. He has written an open letter to the family. I have enclosed it here but regardless of whether you use or not, it must be returned. But I thought of how it might work in PUSH. Hope all is well, Steve x’

The hardcopy was 4 pages of desperate brutally honest block capital letters. Not written on a computer but a typewriter. The irony that I always insist that PUSH must always be in block capitals was lost on me. I read and reread a harrowing but often touching and even humorous in places, account of a man totally opening up to his family about his life of living in a bottle. Most of the time I felt uncomfortable simply because I was reading something that was meant for his family, not my eyes and mind. But the most uncomfortable of all, was me realising that I would have to go back to Steve and explain my first ever rejection. The writing was too honest, too brutal, even for my little mag.

I honestly felt out of my depth.

Then just when I thought the next time I would handle Billy’s ‘letter’ would be when I folded it into an envelope, I found myself typing it out into lower casing. Then removing all elements of direct family related matter. All of a sudden his title ‘Introducing Myself’ had lost the brutality of earlier, and instead of reaching out to just family, Billy was now talking to me and as I then realised, very soon, to all of us.

He made no excuses. He didn’t seek sympathy. He wasn’t crying any tears. He was simply telling the truth. Something only a few ever do.

Billy ended up opening Issue 8 and the feedback I got from readers who related to his experience was one of the most positive feelings I have had doing this. He connected with other people’s lives. Whether his family understood him or not, the fact was, others did.

I wanted to open the anthology with ‘Introducing Myself’ and for most of the editing that was the plan. But East London Press, at the final hour, rethought this and I agreed that while it had impact opening issue 8 – the recovery issue and still one of my favourite issues – perhaps we should go with my original approach, a London opening, which was as has turned out, the correct decision.

But Billy still had his stage within the anthology. He had the largest font too!

I had intended to write and thank everyone here who had contributed on all levels to a brilliant year for PUSH and to plug the forthcoming issue. But then I got this message from Steve on Monday evening: ‘Hey Joe, after many a fight Billy slipped away peacefully this afternoon. He was so thrilled to be in the book’.

That evening I posted a small message of condolence and respect on the PUSH page on Facebook. Almost immediately, Siobhan Curley, who I have never met, replied with this: I was just reading his ‘Introducing Myself’ piece in the book a few minutes ago – a story I have heard too often. My heart was shouting to him ‘Fight on!’ I am so sad to hear this. R.I.P.’

Billy Bullshit was his nickname on the street. But Billy B.S. wrote for PUSH.

And I now know and appreciate how much he was so loved.

Billy Sacre – Rest in Peace

No comments:

Post a Comment