Togadh in Meiricea mé, ach rugadh in Eireann mé.
I was raised in America, but I was born in Ireland.
It's Thursday afternoon in Galway, and I'm sitting in Café Luna--back where it all started, in my usual seat with the flowery pillows propped up beneath the small in my back--the same spot where I've spent countless afternoons pretending to write papers, picking at loaves of treacle raisin bread from the Oven Door Bakery, and drunk off the sound of the voices around me. Today, ABBA is playing on the radio and there is a toothless woman talking to herself in the booth directly next to mine. I am sipping tea out of a white mug. The wind is wailing outside, but the skies are clear; in typical Irish fashion, the weather today has already been sunny, rainy, cloudy, damp, and all of the above in simultaneity--and it's only 2 o'clock. I think that one of these days, the Irish will just abandon the idea of climate forecasting altogether; and in its place, will issue a nation-wide instruction to look out the damn window... and if it's not hailing bricks, to walk downtown for a few pints.
I've been struggling with how to write this last post for a while now. It seems to me that it should be perfect, that all the words should line up in flawless tick-tick-tick order and make sense of the wonder that this experience has been to me... but they can't, and it won't. Make sense, that is. There is no way to make sense of a time when your heart ka-BOOMS into something it has never been before; grows and grows until it is gigantically disproportionate to the rest of your body. There is no way for me to possibly explain the weightiness that is only just beginning to come in around the edges...or the fact that it's approximately 3 parts tragedy, and 5 parts soul-splitting happiness. No matter what way I look at it, though, the heartbreak and gratitude currently coexisting in the pit of my stomach have a common theme about them: they're reminding me that I don't want to leave. I'm not ready. I'm not ready. Hold the phone, pause, rewind, STOP--I'm not ready! I don't want to say goodbye.
The funny thing is, I remember saying the exact same thing to my mom the day before I left for Ireland... when that damn travel document hadn't come in the mail and I was fairly certain my first hour in Dublin would be spent babbling immigration officials into believing that I was not, in fact, an illegal refugee. I sat on her lap and cried, and cried, and cried because I was convinced that I wasn't prepared to come here--the truth is, I was scared to death. And now I'm here, I've been here for nearly five months--yet it has taken me this long to realize that I was ready. Every cell in my body was primed for this experience, and now it has happened and I'm left reeling with the massive significance of it all. So maybe it's the same this time too, and I'm ready as I'll ever be to leave Galway. Maybe we're never really ready to leave behind something that touches our souls so dizzyingly, so completely, the way this place has touched me.
With that in mind, seeing as I’m probably never going to be ready to leave, I might as well suck it up and do what I set out to do today. I want to say goodbye. Anyone who has spoken on the phone with me knows that I hate goodbyes—they’re a fact of life that I go to great lengths to avoid, because I can’t stand hearing the finality in that parting tone of voice, or reading into the nuance of vocal inflection and imperfection and how long is too long of a hug. Finality. I hate it. I buy temporary tattoos. I engage in some pretty serious delusion when it comes to dealing with the fact that there are some people who are smaller players in my life; whose chapters will be shorter. HOWEVER, this time around, there is a deeper part of me that knows—no matter how many people catch that brutal 3 a.m. bus to Dublin with their bags in tow—that I’m not saying goodbye to Galway for good, nor the people in it. It’s merely the end of this particular chapter—this unbelievable little chunk of time that has seen so much growth, and love, and change—and all melodrama aside, there is beauty in that. It deserves to be acknowledged.
So where to begin? The group room in the Newark airport, where we all sat munching on stale pretzels and secretly scanning the room to wonder which of these people, if any, would end up being our roommates. We were detached and auditioning each other for the role of new best friend, though we hardly knew it at the time. Dublin, and the first of many times that I would envision losing my fingers to frostbite: a mess of nametags and digestive biscuits, wide-eyed strangers eager to roam the streets and spend our first euro on overpriced Guinness and Jameson. Temple Bar: American music being played by Irish people. Fairy lights. Listening to Kevin play guitar in Erin and Ellie’s hotel room, Erin thinking that Shaun was one of our group leaders, sitting down to free meals that stretched over three hours. I remember. Everything since then has been so sped up; a lifecycle crammed into a matter of months. To say that we became fast friends would be almost comically modest, because it went way beyond that—it seemed like we bypassed the whole getting-to-know each other process and skipped straight to being siblings, filling in the blanks as we went along. The lives that we led before we got here became irrelevant; they were the lenses we brought to dinner table discussions, but less important than the new one we were developing together… the one we had in common, that only we could and can understand.
Okay, I’m realizing there’s absolutely no way to go about this without sounding like a gigantic cheeseball, so I’m just gonna go with it. Bear with me.
I wish I could say something to each and every person here. I wish I could put into words just how important they’ve been to me, every single one of them—even you, perpetually pissed-off Gort security guard—because when I look back on this experience, it’s been about the people. It’s interesting, but for all the time I spent alone here, for all the spiky confusions that I’ve worked through within the walls of my own mind…this has been the most social semester of my life. To the people I’ve met here: I treasure every minute we spent together, the inside jokes that belong only to us. Here goes.
Hannah was the first person I met, and I remember it clear as day because who else—when I’ve been travelling for hours upon hours and am wearing leggings TUCKED IN to my (probably mismatched) socks—would stop what she was doing and say “HI! I’m Hannah. I’ve been here for almost seven hours because my name was on the terrorist watch list, and they had to take me into a back room and look through my stuff. I guess they got me confused with someone else. Where are you from?” And if I thought that things were only going to get less hilarious from then on, I was wrong. Hannah is a gem. She went out of her way to include me, talk to me, and act like my oldest friend in the world…from the minute we were discussing her potential spot on the no-fly list, right up to this afternoon when she invited me to Dunnes. She has a signature knock on our door. She has a signature way of speaking (YES-uh!) and a signature style (God bless the headband). She always struck me as a confident person, taking to Ireland like a fish in water, unashamedly adopting the lingo and lifestyle with bravery that I can only hope to emulate one day—but now she’s independent too, comfortable being alone. In a group dynamic, she’s sassy. She’s full of life and genuine excitement about the world… she’s loyal, unafraid to be herself, and has always been on my side when I’ve needed her. Shify-Eye Pauly. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without her.
Erin was one of the people I met next, and I remember for many reasons: one, that HAIR. Two, she had a guitar—always a good sign—and she was carrying an amount of luggage that most families of four bring on a yearlong trip to the Himalayas. And the best part about it was…none of it had wheels. There was something comically brilliant about this girl, dragging her duffels along with the biggest smile on her face, that drew me in from the start. Erin is HILARIOUS. The amount of eccentricities we’ve picked up from her—“that’s not a thing,” cat blanket, “hate that”—means we’ll never forget her. I could never forget her anyhow. Erin has this deep, poetic soul—sensitive, sweet, and funny as hell. She’s somebody who, no matter if she saw you three minutes ago or three weeks ago, will envelop you in a gigantic bear hug and tell you how genuinely happy she is to see you. And she is. She’s someone who I feel like I could call up in the middle of the night, twenty years from now, and she’d open her door and act like no time has passed. Then there’s Ellie—“What’s. A. Fucking. Hypothesis.”—who besides being lovely and sweet, has a wicked sense of humor. I’ll never forget almost blowing off the bridge on the way to church, and wondering if this was God’s way of tsk-tsking us for losing track of time in our girl talk, chocolate cake, and Sunday morning coffee. The last “crazie,” of course, Shannon—the best theatre kid I’ve met in a long time—who I’ll always remember for her genuine heart and ability to crack up an entire group of people with a single comment. This girl is going to take the world by storm, you mark my words. They all will.
As for my roommates…lordy, I don’t even know where to start. Okay. I’ll start with the mushy stuff: there is no one, and I mean no one, that I would rather have lived with. Seriously. From the moment Maggie and I first thought Higgins was breaking in to kill us in our sleep—and he blushed that ridiculous beet red and scuttled off, texting the lads that they were “Living with two dolls. They just called security because they thought I was a burglar. Brilliant”—I knew I was going to love him. DJ Higgins, king of the washing-dishes boogie, whose one-liners manage to crack up an entire room…even without the slightest eye contact on the part of the speaker. Ferry, the other half of Figgins—whose love for the O.C. is acceptable, because he’s “ruggedly handsome”—who opened up his home to us in Gort an Choirce, always went out of his way to ask me how my day was, and who has forever engrained the word “wee” into my vocabulary. I will miss seeing him every day, drinking his (thousandth?) cup of tea and playing Pro-Evo… the best non-roommate roommate a girl could ever hope for. And Grubb. Oh, Grubby. What will I do without the Ginger Bear, sitting on the couch with a bag of crisps, always ready to deliver a wink and a ridiculous comment—usually in need of translation—or a song? “I WISH ALL THE LADIES…” Life will be so much less exciting without the constant wonder whether he will tumble into our room in the wee hours of the morning, and need to be dragged out by the hood of his sweatshirt. If there were medals given for the best belch—or at least an award for the look of pure delight on the belcher’s face post-delivery—than it belongs to Grubb, hands down. Owen, who has the most distinctive laugh—who has a talent for painting and doing his hair with meticulous precision—who has taught me there are few bad moods that an episode of Teen Mom (or when we’re feeling intelligent, True Blood) can’t cure. I’m pretty sure he has insulted me at least a dozen times, and I’m pretty sure I loved every single one of them. I will never again be able to listen to Metallica or Dire Straits without thinking, at least a little, that Owen is better at the guitar solos.
McGinley, someone whose presence I’m pretty certain I’m only going to appreciate—and therefore miss—more and more as time goes on. If it’s possible to be silly, witty, smart, thoughtful, and ridiculous at the same time…well, then, McGinley’s got it. On the one hand, he’s over-the-top hilarious (signature dance moves to “Ridin Solo”: CHECK); but on the other, he’s just a sweetheart. He cares deeply for people, and I consider myself lucky to have been one of them. It’s probably because I rescued his wallet from Tesco. Cliona, who I was always happy to be around; she’s mellow, fun, beautiful… but has a cheeky sense of humor to boot. And Cian, the man with the plan and the voice and the guitar—who gave Maggie and I personal concerts, and hands out compliments like it’s his job. Besides forcibly removing Hannah from the premises on multiple occasions, I’ve never seen him be anything but nice...crazy as a fruitcake, but nice. It's a musician thing. Cian is thoughtful, someone who takes time to process what you’re saying to him and to respond…and it never went unnoticed by me, just as I’m sure it won’t go unappreciated by the thousands of screaming female fans waiting in his musical future. MICKEY, aka Mr. Brightside, aka Firework. He wants to be American, but what he doesn’t realize is that he is already way cooler—funnier, sweeter, more able to quote Mean Girls at the drop of a hat—than any American could ever be. His laughter, especially when it snowballs out of control and the tears run down his face from the sheer joy of it all, has brought so much happiness into my life. If I ever need cheering up, I’ll look no further than the image of Mickey sprinting down Headford Road in the middle of the night, fireworks being set off in the Tesco parking lot as he face plants for the umpteenth time… or the time he and Cliona walked into our room, traffic cones on their heads, for no other reason except that it was Wednesday morning and time to start drinking again.
Shaun. The most American person I’ve ever met, and probably will ever meet. His Beetlejuice-like appearances in our living room—how did he do that, anyhow?—were always the highlight of our day. He “sprawled like small dragon.” He ate some “PHENOMENAL” mac-n-cheese and identified every single one of the jellybeans in our pack (“chocolate. PTEWWW.”) I don’t think anyone has ever made me laugh as hard as Shaun has. Except for maybe… Alyssa. Oh, that girl. How can I even start to describe her? She is Long Island with a capital L, hilarious and spunky and honest, and a true friend. Some of the best sentences I’ve heard in my entire life have come out of this girl’s mouth. She is—self-proclaimed—the most comfortable person to snuggle with, and has the most joyful smile in the world. And the best part is, it’s always there. I haven’t quite accepted the fact that I won’t be around her every day, won’t be able to call her up for a CUP OF CAWFEEE…but I’ll be seeing her again. Probably at camp. And Victoria—my fellow West-Coaster, easygoing and free, who has the best grunge Seattle dance I’ve seen this far away from home. I love that she knows everything about bartending, and that she shares my passion for Mexican food. She’s a strong woman, comfortable in her skin and in her environment, and I’ve learned a lot from her…especially if I ever get a DRAGON tattoo. Sorry, dragonFLY tattoo…on my lower back. Obviously.
Then over in Menlo territory: Nonie, beautiful on the inside and out. She is adorable, and her presence lights up the room—but there is also something else there, an honesty and a bravery, that makes her strong too. I hope one day I will see a Lane family portrait where a gaggle of beautiful blonde mini-Nonies are all smiling straight at the camera, their hands in her signature photo-pose. That would be a sight indeed. And Kerry: smart as a whip, completely unaware of just how gorgeous she is, and a hell of a dancer. There is so much soul to that girl; she just gets it. She’s grounded. She’s way cooler than Emma Watson. And—if she’s ever in Claremont—you can bet your ass we’ll hit the underground salsa scene with all we’ve got. There’s Kevin, who—despite his best effort to convince us otherwise—did find something here, and did get something out of it. He’s honest and committed to what he believes in, and I admire that. His guitar playing, especially when dressed in women’s clothing (Killary ’11: NEVER FORGET), will no doubt sweep the Providence music scene one day. I’ll never again see a white hat without doing a double take. And Jack—the American (or is he Irish?) who has to be one of the nicest people walking the planet…plus, by the scar on his chin, we all know he isn’t afraid to spill a little blood in the name of getting down to a Ke$ha song. I’ve never before referred to someone as being jolly, but if I were to start now… well, Jack is a jolly guy, and having him in the room can make all the difference in whether it is a good place or a great one.
Chris, the “best platonic guy friend I’ve had in a long time”…who turned out to be not so platonic after all. I guess other people saw it coming. And maybe I did too, but didn’t want to recognize it—or something else less dramatic, less soap-opera sounding than that. I don’t know. I do know, though, that it’s always interesting when two people finally collide in a new color and the only thought present is why haven’t we been doing this the whole time? Who knows. Maybe in an alternate universe—one where we weren’t both emotionally bedraggled and obsessed with caring about nothing but our own agendas—we would have. It’s a dangerous game to play, visualizing the might-have-been. But when it’s said and done, what could have been better than the walks home in the middle of the night, pints of Ben & Jerry’s, pointless squabbles and inside jokes and countless conversations on the stairs? I wouldn’t change a thing. My only regret is not realizing it sooner.
And finally, Maggie. My roommate, my sister, my friend. Maggie. There’s nothing I can say that will make it any easier to say goodbye, or to do justice to how much she has meant to me—how much I have learned from her, and more importantly, seen her learn from Ireland. When we got here, I was awed by her devotion and strength, and the fact that she is one hundred percent herself—but over the course of these months, I’ve seen her blossom into someone who is relaxed as well, bursting at the seams with happiness and confidence. The only changes that I’ve seen this girl make have been positive ones. Thank you, Ireland, for taking such good care of someone that I truly love—for filling her with all your wonder, for healing her heart and for setting it free. She has shown me true friendship, and I’ve learned something from her every single day that we spent in our little room with the ensuite-bathroom, yellow flowers in the window, music (probably B*Witched) playing as we mindlessly chat (probably via Facebook) about the lifesaving powers of chocolate. I will never forget Maggie.
So there you have it. For me, Galway is Renzo afternoons, walks along the Salthill promenade with shamelessly sad music in my head, Elliot Smith and Alexi Murdoch, and not feeling sad at all. It’s the eye mural and the Hole in the Wall (which, bless its soul, will never have toilet paper.) It’s Fred, the unofficial mascot of Gort na Coiribe. It’s the Roisin around midnight, pints of Bavaria because it’s cheapest, and packages of chips from Vinnie’s or Charcoal Grill afterward. It’s the Crane Bar, with an elderly couple dancing at half twelve—the husband leaning against the bar to stay upright—and a hugely pregnant woman walking past, the man next to me shaking his head and telling me “Jaysus, that’s Ireland in a nutshell if I ever saw it.” It’s NUIG and the fact that none of the seats in the lecture halls are spaced exactly right, so you’re either sitting on the edge of your seat or all the way back in it, unable to reach your paper. It’s Smokey’s and Yorkie chocolate bars—we ate them just because they say “not for girls” on the wrapper. It’s the self-checkout at Tesco. It’s the roundabout on the way back to Gort, and the fact that there is no logical place to cross the street. It’s the cotton-ball clouds that roll in around 8 p.m., when it’s still bright, and the field on the walk from college that looks lit from the inside out. It’s the buskers on Shop Street in the middle of a Saturday, and the old men who sit outside Murphy’s with their eyes squinted against the sun: watching, but never saying anything.
Ireland by the Numbers
1: the number of times I loaned someone a copy of my David Sedaris. I gave him my attention, too, but I think he only wanted the book. He returned both slightly worse for wear, but with plenty of notes in the margins.
2: the number of times I have puked after drinking too much.
3: the number of times I desperately wanted to puke after drinking too much.
4: the number of times I went in the freezing Irish water. (Multiply by ten and you have the number of times I seriously questioned my sanity for doing so.)
5: the number of times I went to Writer’s Society meetings, and felt like I’d wandered into an incredibly eloquent (and well-read) dream.
INFINITE: the number of days that I will spend thinking of Galway, missing it, and being grateful for all it has given me. There are things that I miss about California—my family, the hot water, basic hygiene perhaps—but none of them outweigh the fact that is lodged in the pit of my stomach, and will be for a long time to come: I’m not ready to leave. I don’t think I’ll ever be. Everything turns, but not everything ends. This love won’t end.
Who knew that there were this many pieces to a heart? I’ve left a piece of mine in every fiber of this place, and in turn, I feel as though Ireland is in every bit of me. It has soaked into my core, shaken me at my very roots, and taught me how to live. I will never lose you, Ireland. I’ll be back. And when I do… well, I will be coming home.
Oh come ye back, my own true love
And stay a while with me.
If I had a friend
All on this earth
You’ve been a friend to me.