When I was younger, about seventeen, my Granddad asked me if I believed in God. I didn’t, I suppose because I had no reason to. I hadn’t been brought up with religion; my mum was a part-time spiritualist and my dad’s prayers were reserved solely for the FA cup final. Even Granddad was pretty lazy with it all. He wasn’t a church-goer and certainly didn’t go in for all the paraphernalia. The only bible he owned had been swiped from a Premier Inn along with two AA batteries and a hand-towel. That’s why I didn’t expect any lectures when my atheism was revealed, and there weren’t any. His actual reaction was far more surprising. He welled up. His eyes were always blue and watery, that’s part of what made him so look so caring and approachable, but now they were heaving and gelatinous and looked as though they were about to burst. He was sad for me, sorry for me. He truly pitied me. Less expected still was how angry this made me. Up until this moment I hadn’t had any strong feelings either way about faith; I was accidently atheist, a product of my upbringing. Suddenly my mild-mannered, well-meaning grandfather was on the receiving end of a Darwinist rant that included phrases like: “how dare you?”, “so bloody contradictive” and “you’re the one being exploited.” I was expecting some kind of backlash or debate or anything that would turn this attack back into a conversation, but Granddad had closed his eyes and was mumbling something inaudible. I paused for a while, scared that I had shouted my eighty-year-old grandfather into cardiac arrest, and then I realised…he was praying, bloody praying – for my heathen soul, no doubt! This infuriated me to such a point thatNanhad to be called in to diffuse the situation and take me into the kitchen to calm down. Granddad never said a word.

After ‘the incident’, Religion was never brought up as a topic of conversation by my family again, and I didn’t think about it much either. Being in my late teens, I didn’t think a lot about anything except how to make girls have sex with me. As you can gather from my attempt at religious debate, the art of persuasion was not a skill of mine and at seventeen I had yet to convince any girls to participate. There was now a real urgency to lose my virginity because my friends would only believe the unnecessarily graphic story about ‘the girl fromCorfuwho was gagging for it’ for so long. I’d been invited to a party at my friend Mike’s house, and saw it as the perfect opportunity. Before arriving, I’d already selected my target. Stacey Simmons was savage and robust. Her thick, wild hair and pink cheeks gave her the permanent look of a person recently shagged. I liked that look. Her primitive womanliness was intimidating to the other boys but I was ready to be a man and she was just the thing for it. When I arrived, I was glad to find her sitting alone in the corner of a room. I strode over to her and opened with “Would you like a drink?” She shook her head and pointed at the full glass in her hand. I was out of ideas. I walked away, confident in the assumption that as the night progressed, after she’d put away a few more drinks, she’d be well up for it, and I was right. The problem was that she was up for it with Robbie Fisher. I was outraged. I turned my back for half an hour and she was throwing herself at another man. Again, I strode over ready to give her a piece of my mind, to tell her exactly what I thought of her, using phrases such as: “how dare you?”, “so bloody contradictive” and “you’re the one being exploited.” Before I could open my mouth, Stacey Simmons opened hers and vomited onto Robbie Fisher’s Abercrombie and Fitch Sweatshirt, and some kind of harmony was restored to my evening.

I was, however, still a virgin; that much had not been rectified. I decided to set my sights slightly lower. Rebecca Mole was Mole by name, mole in appearance. She was round and downy with thick glasses and small hands, but she had a sweet face and promising lips. When she noticed me walking over to her, she began to twitch and tremble. I took this to mean that she fancied me. I have since found out that Rebecca suffered from a mild form of Tourette’s syndrome. Still, she seemed fairly keen and, after half an hour of listening to stories about her hamster, it took very little coaxing to get her upstairs. It turns out that the Mole is a tiger in bed. True, I had nothing to compare her with, but I knew she was good. I reasoned that many other virginal young men must have had the same idea as me. After failing to seduce the objects of their affection they must have all chosen Rebecca as an alternative, therefore giving her invaluable experience in the deflowering of desperate teens. She rocked my world and to this day I am grateful to her. As you may expect, my first go didn’t last too long and I wanted to learn as much as I could from Rebecca, the Mole master sex tiger. She was willing and I was an enthusiastic student. As I mounted her, the door flung open to reveal Mike. I told him to fuck off and mind his own business. Bearing in mind I was having sex in his room, in his bed, with what turned out to be his cousin, he was surprisingly calm about the situation. I later found out why he was being so reasonable. He handed me my jacket and said “Your Mum’s at the door, mate.” I was horrified and told Mike to get rid of her. He followed with “You really better go see her.” Embarrassed and enraged, I climbed off of Rebecca, thanked her, and left the house to find Mum, sitting on her car bonnet, smoking. I knew then that this was not going to be about the state I’d left my room in. She looked at me, “Your father’s had a funny turn.”

I remember the silence being awful. I was desperate for someone to say something funny; most members of my family are very funny. It’s different in hospital at night. The look of sterility fades when the fluorescent lights are turned off, but the smell’s the same. Occasional rhythmic footsteps of nurses in nearby corridors brought an unwelcome sense of calm efficiency. I had preferred the chaos of the previous few hours. I’d made myself useful then, fetching coffee and informing relatives. We all felt so helpless now, especially Granddad. He just couldn’t fix this, and he’d always been able to fix things for his darling daughter.Nanwas beside herself with other people’s grief and my older brother, Jordan, was being dutifully unsentimental. Mum was catatonic. Her hair was lank and sad and, in that day, she’d grown old. We were to spend many more nights like this. Dad had suffered a huge seizure and was put into a medical coma to stop the fitting. We just had to wait. I went in to see him once, he was on a ventilator and I sat and watched his chest mechanically rise and fall. He looked so different lying there. He seemed smaller somehow, almost child-like. I’d never seen him vulnerable before. He cried when his mum died, but with the anger and dignity of a Commanding Officer who’d just witnessed his entire squad wiped out. It was uncomfortable more than anything, watching him, mostly because I knew how embarrassed he’d be to know that I’d seen him like this.

I left his bedside feeling worse for having been there; it was the last time I ever saw him. After a two week stay in the intensive care unit, Dad died. The fitting went on for too long and there just wasn’t enough of his brain left. I got the feeling that the doctors knew this from the beginning. I think they kept him going for as long as they did as a kindness to my family, to allow us to get used to the idea. It did help. I’d already been grieving and, although I ached, by the funeral the sting had gone. As time passed, the ache faded and left me empty. After a while, I tried to find some normality in my life again, perhaps even some joy. It was too exhausting being sad all the time. I tried having sex with Rebecca again but ended up crying midway through. I told her about Dad, sat on the edge of her bed and cried for hours. She was kind to me and let me talk. I realised that I couldn’t force myself to be normal, it would take time. I was still empty and tearful sex wasn’t going to fill the void. I decided to take each day as it came. Some were better than others, and every now and again I’d laugh and feel like me again. But there were days when I was angry and just wanted someone to shout at. I felt short-changed, cheated out of the life and family I was supposed to have.

I didn’t like being at home, especially at meal-times. The three of us sitting around a dinner table just reminded me that someone was missing. I spent most of my time at Mike’s house and when I did come home, there was always an unwanted do-gooder or well-wisher clogging the doorway. Neighbours would come round periodically throughout the day to give us casseroles and check that we were all ‘hanging in there okay’, but one day I came home to find Mum alone. She was in the living room, kneeling, with her eyes closed and her hands clasped. She was praying, but it didn’t make me angry anymore. I understood the point of it all now. Mum was empty too, and she was trying to fill the void with God. Granddad couldn’t fix it, but maybe God could, and if he couldn’t then he could give her strength, and she’d make it through. Someone somewhere was watching over her, caring for her. That night I knelt by my bed and clasped my hands as tightly as I could. I so desperately wanted some comfort. I closed my eyes and pleaded with myself to believe, to hear a voice or just feel something, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t force myself to be normal and I couldn’t force myself to believe in God, and it was sad. I felt sorry for myself.