James' life was split into two very different parts. The before mum's divorce and the after mum's divorce. In the time before, James would have sworn he was happy. He lived in London with his mum who was his world and his stepdad. His mum was the type of glamorous other mothers wished they could be (his mum's words).
He went to a regular school with boys (who shoved him in the skip most days) and girls (who wouldn't give him a second glance). There wasn't a nun in sight and no one picked on him for his accent (many other things though).
His mother wasn't always around but his stepdad treated him like his own. Introducing him to Science fiction and horror movies he probably shouldn't have seen.
He heard the fights of course. The screaming, the swearing, the slamming of doors but he had no idea how his life was about to change.
His mum divorced Paul, and he never saw or heard from him again. All he got was a ruffled head and Paul's old Doctor Who scarf which he hid from his mum deep in his suitcase.
He didn't know he was moving to Derry. His mum had called it a holiday to see her absolute tool of a sister and her brat. They would be there a week tops!
Not two days later he was getting fitted for a uniform at the girls Catholic school and his mum had ran back to England leaving James with his aunt and cousin without even a note goodbye.
Life in Derry was ….unusual to say the least. He knew of the troubles of course, but in the same way as he knew of poor kids in Africa. It was sad obviously but it didn't affect James' life in any way.
Now he was right in the middle of the chaos. Protestants and Catholics at each other's throats. Bomb checks on buses. British soldiers everywhere you looked.
His aunt Deirdre was a hard ass of a woman. She took no cheek and could throw a slipper at your head in perfect accuracy. (She also was compassionate with her patients and worked harder than anyone James knew)
His cousin Michelle. Michelle was crass, mean and always had an insult in hand if you crossed her. At first Michelle terrified James. She had no filter and he swore she would get him arrested one day. But as the days, months and eventually years went on, James understood there was someone else under that hard surface. It was someone who took her 'fish out of water' cousin under her wing, introduced him to her friends, letting him in the tight circle of friends group immediately when she could have left him to fend for himself. Someone who despite her boy crazy image she tried to portray was deeply in love with their panic driven blonde friend who would eventually become her wife. James soon came to know that if Michelle ever did get him in trouble she would always be right beside him in it too until someone usually Clare got them out of it. She wasn't his cousin not in his heart. She was his best friend. His sister.
The other members of his pack were equally important in different ways.
Orla is unlike anyone James had ever met. She said the strangest things that unfortunately get stuck in your head for days at a time. She was also the one who never got stuck on the English thing. She never had a bad bone in her body and she would be confusing and entertaining James till his dying day.
Clare is anxiety rolled into a blonde Irish package. Panic ridden ball of energy who wanted to be a good girl but always ended up dragged in their messes anyway. She is also, no matter how unlikely it seemed when he first met her, the bravest person he knows. The amount of courage it took for Clare not only to come out in the 90's but also knowing her own community might turn their backs on her was the most awe inspiring thing he had ever seen. He would eventually tell this story when after years and years, Michelle and Clare finally were able to marry. (Michelle called him a sappy prick but he saw her tears!)
And finally Erin. Erin he didn't know what to make of at first. She was unknowingly the leader of the pack and she led them with as much grace as a bull in a China shop but defended each one of them like her cubs. James loved Erin's confidence in everything she did. When he took her to the prom he knew then something had changed. Of course nothing ever went smoothly for them and it took longer than it should have and more than one miscommunication but eventually they got together and married. And with that marriage he didn't just get a wonderful albeit a slightly crazy wife but he also got the whole Quinn family too. He got the mother he always wanted in Mary and a dad who would always stay.
Derry wasn't what he wanted but it turned out it was exactly what he needed. After all it turns out his English peers were wrong he wasn't a little weirdo.
He was a Derry girl.