It was a day like today, just after the rain soaked every blade of grass, and the world looked squeaky clean as if it had been mopped with God’s soap. I was sleeping in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar berth on a ferryboat that swayed like a rubber raft. I was awakened by a knock at the door. “Ma’am. We’re here.” I looked at the young man questionably.“Ireland,” he added and shut the door. “We’re here?” I twisted myself round in the blanket and raised my chin to the porthole.Oh my God– It exists. Look at that tiny little village and the little harbor and the colors.
I landed at the Port of Rosshaven from London where I’d spent two nights in a room the size of a cigarette holder. I loved London as much as I could in two short days; carrying thirty-five pounds of clothes. Part of one day I spent packaging up half my wardrobe to ship back. The plan was to spend one month in Ireland. Other than that, my itinerary was unplanned. In those days, I leveraged myself to the outskirts of foolery.I gathered my Northface garment duffle, shoulder bag, and departed the ferry. It was Sept. 5, 1987, and I was thirty-something, recently separated from a career in commercial real estate and my pad in the Bankers Hill neighborhood of San Diego. Everything went into storage so I would be free to conquer whatever it was I thought I was conquering.
That first day I made my way to the picturesque village of Kinsale. The tourist office made the reservation for me and suggested that I rent a car. No need, I thought. I’d get around on my own for a while. She slapped a map of Ireland on the desk and pointed to several towns and then counted the miles between each town. “The buses stop running in September because all the tourists have gone home. You be wee on your own.” “ Well, I’ll look into it tomorrow. I’ll just get a cab to the Bed and Breakfast tonight.”
That night ended faster than any in my life. I woke up and decided to stay another. I could not part with the warmth of the Innkeeper’s country kitchen and the canary yellow bedroom, or the county road, the red barn and the miles and miles of rollercoaster hills cushioned in that indescribable Irish green. Her house was a quintessential B & B, blushing with the right bedding, Irish linen, French and English antiques and contemporary restaurant-grade kitchen.
I remember the Innkeeper drove a BMW, and her house sparkled as if it had been photographed earlier. That first day I walked into dreamland, and I did not come out until I left Ireland. This was my first solo trip to Europe. I began with Ireland because my friend, Kenny, insisted I go find the Casey in me. That’s my mother’s maiden name. Everyone thought I should be institutionalized for taking off like I did; mid-career on the rise and all of that.
That first evening I walked into town and ate at the restaurant the Innkeeper recommended. I wish I could remember the name of the place. It’s written in my journal, but the journal is in Taos, NM. Anyway, that dinner still rates in the top ten of all dinners, including all those four-star French Michelin Chateau feasts I found my way to later on in the trip. I hit a dozen villages between Clare, Kerry and Limerick. I took a seaweed bath at the seashore of Ballybunion, stayed in a folk singers
luxury hotel for a week because he wanted me to bring his tape back to America, attended an Irish wedding and the racetrack in Dublin. I watched the Farmers Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna and climbed the hill to the Cliffs of Mohr. On my hike up to the cliffs, I passed a man gardening in his front yard. He stopped and began to chat. His house was so beautifully Irish, handcrafted in brick and stone with acres of fertile land as his back yard. I told him it was the most beautiful home I had ever seen. He turned around in his rubber boots, leaned against his pitchfork, and said, “America, that’s where I want to go.” He said he would give me his house if I would take him with me. We talked for a long time about what matters, and as we parted I remember what he said, “Send me a postcard from America.”
THE CLASSMATE THAT wrote is named Andrew. I imagine he’s married; a man with his looks and gregarious personality living in Los Angeles all these years. Maybe he married one of our high school classmates. We exchanged a few emails in two thousand eight, he’d just returned from a trip to Poland and I was managing the gallery. Then the crash came and I think my correspondence dropped. Why was he thinking of me? I don’t have any photographs from high school, I suppose I could look him up in the yearbook. I’ll wait till he writes again.
The sky is crystal blue, and the temperature a mild fifty degrees. From my window, the leaves dropping makes me think the trauma and suffering the last four years has dropped from my life. What the trauma was about is irrelevant and too lengthy to write. We all get sent to the chopping block of heartache and this was mine. This is as liberating as taking off a tight bra after a long day!
September has traditionally been my month of transition. It’s a sort of pattern that began years ago and so making decisions is as if I’m on a time clock. What is most essential now is finding a new place to call home. I began looking at Santa Barbara. I loved visiting the city by the sea, those beautiful mountains, and quaint craftsman architecture. So what if I don’t know anyone, I’ll be alone regardless of where I move. Easily accomplished in my fifties, not so improvisational at sixty-seven.
Rapturous Autumn day; this year the transformation of nature, outdoor activities, cider doughnuts, smoking fireplaces, and a crispness that reminds me of breaking open a head of lettuce. What really happens to us in the East is fall descends like a new stage and the props from summer are removed. The mums come out on the porches, and the bright yellow and gold plants dot every porch. The conventional lifestyle and customary activities placate our sense of belonging. Christmas, wow, it’s only a short time till winter. In the dressing room unpacking more sweaters, socks, warm-ups, I get an alert, another email. Andrew added another compliment so my response was crush-worthy. Why not? Maybe fantasy is what is needed. Remerging silhouettes, all of us on the front lawn at lunch time, and boys are pairing up with girls and Andrew is laughing, making clownish faces and gestures, yes he was crush-worthy. He walked in long strides, visible energy and every step seemed to have a purpose. The boy I was in love with graduated, and I did not have a boyfriend. My shyness and restrained conversational skills excluded me from invitations to date. Maybe that’s why he didn’t take notice of me observing him, a lot of classmates had crushes on him.
The reality of COVID-19 is now the centerfold story because it is affecting everyone; the excruciating financial loss, death, sickness, and loneliness. It’s more like acceptance that this is our job now to tolerate COVID-19. Restrictions, circumstances of failed businesses we all loved, fear, and more fear call for an imaginary friend who I haven’t seen in fifty years. He replied with a formal note of response that he was on Facebook and could we be friends. I wrote back, yes. I am listening to the soundtrack from the film A Man and A Woman while chopping vegetables for soup. This music has formed a flame of optimism for the day I’m in love and let go of singleness.
On Facebook Andrew’s feature photos reveal the teenager I remember. He is a photographer, a Neuro Technician, and in his twenties an actor and model … hum, sounds like my resume, professional career changer. His photos sent a quiver through my veins, a call to read everything on his page, and view videos of his European travels: beautifully crafted images of architecture, monuments, art, culture, and locals. It deepened my understanding of his life just by his photos and posts. The other side, his appearance; the facial features, keen brown eyes, uncensored or rehearsed self-photos, group photos with our high school mates at the reunions, his long wavy hair, and his defined lips and cheekbones tingled curiosity.
The photos of Andrew at the class reunions next to my best friend and other classmates I remembered brought a snowstorm of memories. How I loved my friends back then. About six of us went everywhere together; bought our first bras, learned to drive, went to Westwood Village to look for cute boys, sat in the booths at Mario’s Pizza, Hamburger Hamlet, and The Apple Pan and all of it on ten or twenty dollars a week allowance. I have not been to a reunion since the tenth. Andrew posted photos from several. He stayed connected. Fifty years have passed, and he’s on my mind. To be continued.