Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vignettes of a New Life, So Far

Even arriving, requesting "residency" while going through immigration, and collecting my 7 bags packed full of my last 26 years didn't make me realize that this is now my home. The familiar smell of damp air mixed with burning turf soaked into my skin after exiting the airport, it chilled me thoroughly and for a moment I felt extreme sadness. I was here. For good. It was the end. It was the beginning. The moment passed, and I was overwhelmed with the excitement one gets when starting a journey filled with unknowns. Hurry, hurry, load the car, lets go home. It rained the whole hour it takes to drive from Shannon to Ennistymon. I didn't mind it.
Within days, there were things I just had to have. New pillows (his were older than me, I swear, and entirely too flat for me to get proper sleep). I wanted a frame for this photo of my parents that my mother gave to me at the airport in Detroit. Over 30 years and still as happy as the day they said, "I do." My father smiling his usual professionally photographed smile. My mother smiling, my smile. I had to put it behind glass right away, so I could display it somewhere that would allow me to see it daily, to see them daily.
We drove to Ennis, a town 30 minutes southeast of us, the boutique capital of Ireland actually. He bought me new pillows, picked out a gorgeous stained wooden frame, which matched the background of the photo perfectly. Then we started down the street to a shoe repairman, to replace the heel on my favorite boots. The man gave himself an hour to do the job, so we decided to head to the chipper around the corner. With one bag to split between us, we passed the remainder of time wandering the town. It had started raining, and as we passed the bag of chips back and forth, I got this wonderful hot whiff of vinegar and potato every time I reopened it to eat more. We frolicked through the cobblestoned streets, I giggled loudly at how stupid we were to forget an umbrella and how I could barely see beyond the low brim of my hat, losing him at corners and crossing in front of cars. He asked me for the now soaking bag of chips, "They're really wet!" I laughed. "Potato soup," he answered back.
I suddenly felt the moment as being ours and ours alone. I realized how beautiful our footsteps sounded on the wet cobblestones, how ridiculous we must look window-shopping in the pouring rain with nothing but a bag of hot chips, how wonderful it was to be making memories in my new home with my new husband. Such small things. I reached for his hand, he held it tightly and pulled me towards the shoe shop and out of the rain. As the repairman was gathering my boots from the workroom, we stood there shivering and smiling at each other, shaking off the wet like two muddy dogs. He kissed me gently on the cheek. The cold of his nose, the radiating warmth of my skin.
So this is how a new life begins.


I love the smell of his parent's home. I have since the moment I went to meet them for the first time. The damp of Ireland never seems to go away no matter where you are, and this building smells like it's been collecting that dampness and hoarding it inside since the moment it was built, over 150 years ago. It's not at all a bad smell, but one that I've grown to love, a scent that my nose couldn't identify at first but now reminds me immediately that the voice of my mother-in-law will soon be greeting us at the top of the stairs.
Whenever we go visit, we enter first past the bright red but now empty shop front, walking along a stone passageway where the cold always hits me hard and fast, as if it had been secretly hiding there just to chill me to the bone. Once we pass the underbelly of the staircase, we turn left to find the old door that leads us up that staircase and into the rest of the house, the handle of which I have never been able to figure out how to correctly turn so that it actually opens the door.  No matter the weather, it's almost always uncomfortably cold inside, except for the sitting room in the front of the house that looks out over the main street, where my in-laws keep themselves busy during the day. This room has the stove, forever burning coal, whether full-on or just embers, and it's by far the coziest part of the entire house that consists of enough bedrooms to count on both my hands, amongst other expected rooms.
Within moments of arriving, she's offering us tea. We'll both sit on the small red couch against the far wall, my eyes always wandering to the piano to my right that hasn't been played in years but is now functioning as a shelf for dozens of framed photos of the family. I must admit, I felt a soft warmth when I first noticed our picture on that piano. It was before we were engaged, but already there I was, family. I take note of how she serves us tea, every time, so that I'll know how to properly do it whenever we have guests at our home someday. It's brewed in the teapot, poured gently into each cup, and then placed onto a serving tray on a small serving table between us. Milk in the tiny pourer next to the sugar bowl, tea spoons on their sides, all surrounding the plate of biscuits (cookies, in America). After walking through the cold of the main street passageway, I always welcome the warmth of tea. Plus, it's an incredibly Irish thing to partake in. I've been told, even if the postman is simply dropping by a package, you should always offer him tea.
I've often daydreamed about this house. My curiosity gets the best of me. I try to picture my husband as  a small boy wandering through it's room and corridors. I remember being a child myself and wanting so badly to have this sort of old-country upbringing, believing wholeheartedly that I should've been born in the 1800's in rural-somewhere, because modern, city life just wasn't for me. Then I lived in cities for a bit as I got older, and I loved the convenience and bustle, the fact that something was always happening somewhere close by and I never had to wander far to find a store or a friend. But this house is reminiscent of times, years, decades passed. There's no numbered address because The Walls have lived here for generations, since the last surviving member decided to take up residence there after the Great Famine. It's seen so many people come and go, it's heard so many conversations, so many souls have put down their guard to gently fall asleep at night in the many bedrooms. Its had work done, a second house built onto the back, an old barn off to its side. Across the alleyway in the back, there's this horribly dilapidated building that used to be a shoe factory but that is still part of their property. It has a flagstone roof so old, it's protected by some National Conservation group. You can still see old shoe parts hanging from the rafters. My husband has hinted that this building could one day be turned into our home. A modern space between ancient walls. I picture my children running through the yard, as I sit under the tree in the corner against the stone wall reading or writing, perhaps.
My father-in-law once showed me this incredibly old photo album they found in the house when they first moved back into it in the 1970's, after leaving London and then Dublin, where they raised their first four children. The photographs look so dated, they could be in a museum; some of them are labeled, but most were left with no identity except for the unsmiling face of some distant relative. There's some resemblance in a few of the photos and he tells me a story or two to go with each one. I don't even want to touch the book, having this fear that it would simply fall apart once young fingers graze it's aged pages. It thrills me in a new way to look at each captured moment in this stranger's life, and know my children will come about because they existed. My father-in-law barely knows much at all about any of these people and who they were except that he's related to them, as is his son, my husband.
There's such a comfort, deeply rooted from some long ago time, with no words to truly describe it, that flows from that book into my fingers and settles in my blood. It fills me with incredible amounts of pride. I'm a young soul in this old house. I'm the newest member of this family. I'm the start of our role in it's history. I'm a part of this now. Its past now gracefully molding my future.

I love driving back into Lahinch at night. Well, I'm not driving, he is. I'm far from being comfortable enough to maneuver a car on the opposite side of the road and as a lazy American, I never did learn how to drive a stick. So I guess I should say, I love riding into Lahinch at night, with my husband behind the wheel and myself, wide-eyed and distracted, watching the countryside open up before us to reveal this small part of Ireland that is now my home. The marmalade glow of lights in distant houses dots the hills, contrasting against the stark silver of each blinking star in the blackest sky I've ever seen. It's amazing how dark the night can be at the edge of the west coast here, with no light pollution to dirty it; nothing but deep and pure black, the absolute absence of any other color. A few times, we've taken nightly walks along the promenade all the way to its end and a little along the rocky cliffs above the shore. This is where it's truly the darkest, and I'll feel this overwhelming sense of how epically small I am, looking into that blackness and seeing star after star after star...a million too many to count. There's nowhere in the world where I've clearly seen so many stars before, that combined with the cold sea air leaves me breathless. The whispering sound of the Atlantic's waves lapping against the sand is deafening in such quiet. I sometimes look so hard into the distant horizon, the dark nothingness that I know leads back to the home I once knew, and wonder what's happening there now, without me. I left behind so much, so many. Life goes on, as they say. But this night sky, this natural quiet passing of time, this man, my husband, his hand in my hand - this is all new and beautiful and what's mine now. I try to remember what I felt before him and here and realize it doesn't matter. There's an ocean and a giant expanse of sky between now and that life, and this life, oh yes, this one - is only just beginning.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Breakfast, Best Friends and Broken Coffee Mugs: A Lesson in Letting Go

If I miss one definite thing about life in Portland, it would be breakfast. It may sound odd, but it truly is a way of life there. Breakfast is when people socialize, it ends up being the most important meal of the day and the most successful restaurants are probably the breakfast spots. When I didn't live on the same side of town as my closest friends, the best way to spend time with them was to meet for breakfast. There was one particular restaurant that we loved more than the others, Jam. And there was one particular friend I'd meet the most, Amanda. She is my longest friend, my most selfless friend, and was the only one I considered to stand next to me on my wedding day. When I think of breakfast in Portland, I think of her the most.

My last full day in Portland of course had to be started with breakfast at Jam and Amanda ended up being the only friend that was able to come with Vinnie and me. We had the same waitress we almost always have when we ate there and she overheard me refer to it as my "last supper." When refilling our coffees, she asked, "Is one of you moving? I thought I overheard you say that." I told her yes, I was moving to Ireland with my new husband the next day and chose Jam for my final breakfast out. I told her it had been my favorite place over the years and I was sad to be leaving. She came back with one of the coffee mugs they sell as merchandise and told me she wanted me to have it, so I wouldn't forget my favorite place and all the memories I made there. I saw Vinnie look disapprovingly at another thing we'd have to fit in our already too-full luggage but it didn't matter. It was one of the most thoughtful things I took with me; a gift from someone I hardly ever talked with except to say good morning and "I'll have coffee with cream" and questions here or there on the specials. It meant so much to me, to know that maybe it wouldn't just be my friends that would notice my absence in this city. I left behind some clothes to make room for that coffee mug in my suitcase. I don't think about those clothes.

Everyday since I've arrived in Ireland, I've had my morning cup of coffee from that mug. It's a bit larger than an average mug, all white with orange flowers and green leaves, and black lettering that says, "Jam on Hawthorne, Cafe and Art house, Portland Oregon." I've been making these amazing hot, milky coffees with cinnamon sprinkled on top, and every time I sit down at the breakfast table to drink that coffee while checking emails and Facebook, I think of sitting across from Amanda. I picture us eating Tommy's Joint - scrambled eggs with fake meat chorizo, salsa and sour cream, wrapped in a sun-dried tomato tortilla. Or maybe I've chosen my favorite - scrambled eggs with avocado and cream cheese, with a side of hash browns and spelt toast served, of course, with Jam's absolutely delicious and homemade, well, jam! (my favorite being their pear chai jam, seriously to die for). We're smothering everything in Aardvark hot sauce and getting as many refills as possible on Stumptown coffee and talking about every little thing that has happened in the days it's been since we last sat down for breakfast. We're both complaining about our waitress jobs, bad customers and bad tips. I miss my Irish boyfriend all the way in Ireland, hers is working the overnight shift and never home at the same time as she is. We're frustrated with roommates or the lack of funds to visit our families in Michigan as often as we'd like. Her car has overheating issues again, my bike got another flat tire. But the sun is out and the weather is gorgeous and we've got plans for the weekend so what is there really to complain about? It's all just normality now, we're far from home, but it's our new home, and we're still together and still best friends.  With each sip of coffee from that Jam mug, I'm brought back to another wonderful breakfast with her. And I don't feel so absolutely far away anymore.

Last night, after a long, freezing day of sitting at an outdoor crafts market with my husband, attempting to sell his T-shirts but not being very successful at it, I was putting our dirty dinner dishes in the sink and ever so lightly tapped that Jam coffee mug and watched it, ever so slowly, teeter back and forth until it fell on it's side, rolled off the counter top, and dropped like the slowest drip of rain down the windowpane before smashing into bits and pieces as it hit the linoleum. I stood there, without moving an inch, except to rush my hands to cover my open mouth. Vinnie's look said it all, he knew what that mug meant to me. He also is fully aware of my attachment to things and their memories, seeing how difficult it was for me to pack my life away to move to Ireland, to choose between one thing and the next, one memory and another. The tears began to flow, much faster than that mug fell. Yes, I am an adult, and I know full well that things aren't memories, that broken mugs aren't the end of my existence in Portland, and that the splattered leftover coffee on my floor is definitely not the hundreds of breakfasts I shared with Amanda. But it was the knowing, the realizing, the pull back to reality that I am far enough away where I can't just get another one, I can't just call Amanda and say, "Hey! I broke that mug! Let's meet at Jam tomorrow so I can get another one, and I'll tell you all about how things are going here so far, and also how I'm such an absolute klutz!" No, I can't do that now. Because I've permanently moved to Ireland. And Amanda is down the street, past the prom, past the beach and the rocks, all the way across the Atlantic and then still beyond the whole of the United States and right before it's far west coast, in Portland. Miles and miles and miles away. The tiny pieces of that coffee mug is the reminder that I am not, and was not, having breakfast with her every morning; they are the uncertainty of not knowing when we will sit down across from each other again, over tofu scrambles and Pacific Northwest brewed coffee.

Maybe soon I'll realize that I don't need that mug to miss her, or think of her. I don't need the old green vase by my bedside or the aprons hanging in my kitchen to miss my Grandma. I don't need the "I love you" rock to miss my brother, or the wedding photo album to miss my sister and I don't need to hear the "i carry your heart song" my other sister wrote for me to walk down the aisle to, to think of her. I definitely don't need the collage of photos to miss all my other friends, or the gorgeous framed print of my parents sitting at the end of my bed to think of them every morning when I wake or every night when I get to lay next to the love of my life. Because I have to remember that is why I am here. I am not here because I left everyone else. I am here because I am with my husband. It was a decision I made freely, one I do not regret. And I know everyone knows that is why I came here, I know they realize that I did not leave them behind.

I just hope they know...I carry your heart, I carry you all in my heart. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Essay on Chance Meetings Between Strangers, the Art of Long-Distance Flirting, How to Learn Patience and Grace in Dire Circumstance; or...A Love Letter For Vincent

(So, to start my first ever blog and explain it's reasoning for existence, I'd like to share something I wrote a few years ago. This is a piece I did for my now husband; I had only just met him at the time. I was a waitress in Portland, Oregon, and he was in town visiting his older sister when we met. We fell for each other quite quickly, but he went home to Ireland after only a week. I knew from the moment I met him that he was "The One" and wanted to share this with him without frightening him off (Irish men really don't respond well to such strong statements, or long-term commitment in general). I decided I had no choice but to just go for it, so I wrote him this piece for his 30th birthday, which happened about five and half months after we met. We had been staying in contact through Skype at this point, and we were about two months away from a vacation I would take to come spend time with him in Ireland to see if we truly did have the potential to continue a long-distance relationship. Needless to say, we did have that potential, and are now 5 weeks into a very happy marriage, residing together here in Ireland.)

Spring came early this year, in the Pacific Northwest. Winter broke without the usual rainy day after rainy day and with the arrival of a bright and powerful sun, I found myself breaking too. Or halting. Or maybe, taking the first step forward, which oftentimes feels like the opposite direction, only until one has the clarity to look back and see where their progress began. And that was the problem for me. The year prior to this, I had seen no progress. And I was desperate to become unstuck.

What some might refer to as a seasonal depression, I defined as simply my emotions overflowing due to rain. I have always been a passionate soul, feeling every emotion beyond its extreme. But the colder, wetter months always hit me harder. I embrace all the grays, and let the dampness release itself through my fingers and onto blank pages. I feel peace and a deep melancholy at the same time, whenever I sit and watch the rain. It inspires me and paralyzes me with sadness. This has always made it difficult for me to wade through the highs and lows. Sometimes, happiness would feel like a ton of bricks, hitting me so hard that it would throw me off and I could quickly fall into my own ocean of solitude, and those bricks would then sink me into its deepest depths. Some days, I would have no idea how to swim my way out, and spend hour after hour crying in bed, trying to figure out and define every idiosyncrasy I had accumulated in my near 25 years. I think too much. When one question desired an answer, dozens more would pop up and halt my line of thinking. Why did I choose to move so far from home? What was I accomplishing here that I couldn't do closer to my family? Were my parents right? Did God exist and would he banish me to hell for the choices I'd made thus far? Would I spend my life doing something that matters? Would I ever find the man I was made for? Or was I made to love a handful of different men at different times of my life because I have too much to give to just one? No matter how much lying around and crying I did, how many hours I spent walking under umbrellas hiding my own tears, I never answered any of these questions. I still don't have all the answers. All I know is that the exact day I finally realized I could just simply choose to be happy, was the day I met you.

I'm sure you had no idea what you were heading into when you first sat down at my bar. I'm sure you had no idea that the bartender happened to have spent time in Ireland, your country of origin, and also happened to have acquired a slight obsession with said country and its lovely and gracious people. Now, let me explain, because it is far from the "luck of the Irish" type obsession some have here. This is a true attitude of thankfulness and gratitude, of respect and admiration, of affection and a longstanding, continually felt desire to return ("I will arise and go now...and I shall have some peace there," wrote Yeats; I embraced this wholeheartedly and tattooed it on the inside of my left wrist, as a reminder to never forget the unending beauty of that country and the peace I found there and to always hold onto that desire to return). During that time in my life, right before I left to study in Ireland my second year of college, I was about as broken as I'd ever been, hopefully as broken as I'll ever be. I had cut ties with most of the things I grew up with. I no longer chose to believe in or follow a god. I had left all my friends in my hometown and was the only one to leave for college. By moving away, I had separated myself for the first time from my family. And I finally found the courage to leave my abusive boyfriend, who had spent our entire four-year relationship sleeping with other women and convincing me that I deserved it. I found myself totally alone on a campus full of strangers, and stripped of all my dependancies, I realized I had no idea what I actually was without them. It became increasingly more difficult to go to class and even harder to stay cooped up in my tiny dorm room. There was nowhere to escape to. After two years of antidepressants, I literally wasn't feeling anything anymore, except for numbness. And the absence of feeling resonated in my empty heart, louder than I had ever heard the sadness before, and I realized I couldn't stay there anymore. I had to leave. I had to get out. It could have been anywhere. It was fated to be Ireland.

There, I studied Irish literature while writing a new chapter in my own life. I drank in the pubs, listened to Irish bands while walking Dublin's streets, took trips to every site worth seeing and found myself in a constant state of awe, and fell asleep feeling complete at the end of the day, no longer needing my antidepressants, no longer embracing that sadness. I banned those emotions from my life, I denied them entrance into my soul and I refused to let them define me anymore. I felt at peace with God and my own spirituality in the darkness of Newgrange. I made a home in a city thousands of miles away and a thousand times different from everything I had ever known. I threw my stormy past off the Cliffs of Moher and watched it float away to the ends of the earth. And I became new in the mist of the Atlantic off the coast of the Aran Islands. I feel in love with Ireland and she loved me back so fiercely, I could feel it in my bones.
So, you must understand why, without ever knowing your name or seeing your face before, I felt an immediate connection when hearing your voice. You sounded like home.

I felt spoiled that you were so handsome. My first impression was that it must be my lucky day. When else do gorgeous men from my favorite country sit down at my bar and order a pint? I felt a sudden rush of warmth. I wanted so badly to impress you and I hoped I sounded intelligent or witty, whichever one you most preferred (which now seems to be a precise combination between the two, one I believe I can easily master). I tried all the tricks; making direct eye contact, batting my eyelashes, discussing my knowledge of your homeland. I felt my heart beat faster. I saw you look at me and then divert your gaze quickly. I wanted you to keep looking.

That night, I searched for you at the bar I told you to go to. After 45 minutes, I gave up. It must not have been meant to be. Perhaps I was reading you wrong, perhaps you met a different American girl who wooed you away for the week and I had lost my chance. I left thinking I'd never see you again, so I searched for you in my dreams that night instead. The next day, like magic, you appeared in human form and passed me on the street corner late at night. We stopped. We talked. We smiled. You remembered my name. I touched your arm. We made plans for a drink and I watched you walk away, a memory of a new soul on an old, familiar street. From that point on, I don't think I've stopped smiling.

It all went much like a dream, didn't it? After slight awkwardness during our first drink together, I felt like I was talking to an old friend. Our second night out, towards the end of the evening, there was a pause in our conversation, and as if it had been scripted, you suddenly leaned in to kiss me. Out of all first kisses, yours lingered the most, and it came so unexpectedly that I felt my heart leap into my throat, almost escaping through my lips and into yours. We kept kissing and I felt as if the crowded bar simply faded out around us, melting into the darkness of the night outside. I couldn't believe it. Here was a man that so desired to kiss me, he had to at that exact moment, and he couldn't just kiss me once but had to keep kissing me in front of a room full of complete strangers and with a ferocious passion I hadn't felt in years. Honestly, I would have died happy that night.

There was an unsaid calmness in our short time together. I could touch you with such ease and kiss you whenever I wanted. You held my hand everywhere we went, across tables and in the car. You put your arm around me while we walked Portland's streets and kissed me at red lights and crosswalks. I tried to show you some of the better parts of this city. We wandered through the yet to bloom Rose Gardens, but I could imagine us holding hands there amongst the blossoms in the warmth of summer. We toured the Japanese Gardens, stared at rocks in a sea of sand, kissed under bamboo ceilings and wrote our own haikus. As unimpressive as they were in the spring, I found the gardens to still be quite beautiful, like you; and like us, they just needed time to bloom

I introduced you to my friends and you fit in perfectly. At a house party, you held onto me in a dark corner while we sipped our beers and watched drunk Americans make fools of themselves. At a bar, we kicked ass at pool and I danced next to you when my songs came on the jukebox. From across the room, I saw how you looked at me. Longingly. I always stared back with dark fire in my blue eyes.

I took you to one of my favorite views of the city, an empty park overlooking the river. We sat closely on a bench near the cliffs and as we watched the trains move slowly along the tracks, you began to kiss me softly. I stared at the stars and their reflections in the water and I could feel you breathe along my neck, taking in my scent as you wrapped my hair around your fingers. It all began to blend together; the light from the buildings and bridges became the stars, the water was just a black void between the spaces, the sounds from the trains crept in with the breeze and the world below faded into silence, leaving me with only the sound of you breath moving across my skin and my skin begging to let you in. You called that spot "make out point," said it had been wonderful spending time with me, but sometimes it's good to just leave things short and sweet. I couldn't think like that. This is when I realized I just didn't want you to leave. This is when I knew I had no choice but to let you go.

Through all the impatience and expectancy in life, most moments end up being perfectly timed without needing any push of our own wants and desires. I find it not surprising that the week I met you was the same week I tattooed my most important life lesson clearly on my inner right forearm, "let all things go, so comes love." Too many times, I try to force forever out of all my relationships. I'm so enamored with all things love that I allow this emotion to be felt quite freely. I don't just let things be sometimes, my heart doesn't ever listen to my head. But I feel as if this is all I have, all I really want out of life. Even the name my parents chose for me, Amy, comes from the Latin word amata, meaning "to love." I was made to love; I was born with this sole purpose in life. But too much love breaks too many hearts, and in the end all I'm doing is breaking my own. EE Cummings wrote, "let all go - the big small middling tall bigger really the biggest and all things - let all go, dear - so comes love." I told myself to stop forcing love into my life and to allow itself to work its way in naturally. I had to be reminded of this everyday, and that tattoo came at its most perfect time. I glimpsed something wonderfully insatiable with you, an immediate comfort that could only grow, a flood of affection that I would have happily drowned in, and like a slap on the wrist to bring me back to reality, you left me after mere days together, and I had no choice but to simply let you go.

I hold all this deep within myself and it keeps me going, it keeps me moving forward each day. And even though neither of us have any idea what it will be like, or what will happen during and after the two weeks we'll have together, I know that what I've had so far has been enough to make me call myself happy again. I was ready to make that change in my life, but you encouraged it, you fueled the fire that already started within me. I found I had something to look forward to, something to endlessly desire, something to sustain myself with during lonely nights. A thought, a moment imagined or real, your lips on mine, your arm around my waist, your smile and your eyes looking hard into my own, the soft sensation of skin against skin, doing anything, being anywhere, but most of all, All I really want right now is you. You, the boy whose kisses touched my lips like an early morning Irish mist, whose voice sounds like a distant summer rain beyond the hills of lush green, whose smile melts me into a complete mess of sighs, whose hand wrapped so tightly around mine that I felt as if I was some rare and precious jewel, and whose eyes trapped me deep within their gaze, so much so that I don't see anything else when I close my own.

Catherine of Aragon once ended a quite beautiful love letter to Henry VIII with, "And lastly, do I vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things." And Vincent, with no agenda yet no reservations, I give you this letter of potential love, of open possibilities fueled by a passionate desire that I know to be true within my own heart. And no matter what happens, no matter what we find or don't find within each other, I know I'll be happy with what you have been for me so far. So I write you this on your 30th birthday just so you know that if you felt it were right, if you found it was all you really wanted, I could stay by your side for at least another 30 years and give you more than you've ever had or needed before. Because, my only purpose is to love, and I have been ready to fulfill this since the moment I was first able to define the word, since the moment I first realized - that word defined me.