Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition — James Baldwin
I always thought I ended up in Ireland by accident, a small mistake somewhere, a wrong turn perhaps when heading West from Japan after three glorious months as a go-go dancing bar girl.
I am forever dissonant, a daw in peacock feathers, a waterless fish, a kicker against the pricks. Ireland, where you could shock people by eating a hamburger on Friday, was a mysterious choice.
In the beginning I was entranced, as so many are. I slept in a beehive hut water tight since the Middle Ages and at the base of the Rock of Cashel guarded by a Millennium of broken churches. There was music; the green; stone walls clambering over bogy hills; the passage grave at New Grange which you could visit unaccompanied and which, in those circumstances, was as ravishing and as spiritual as Haga Sofia and the Temples of Japan.
But none of these is enough to keep anyone occupied for four decades. I have considered the hypothesis that I stayed precisely because I didn’t fit — embracing my internal otherness as it were.
I share dog walks with a woman for several years. One day she mentions grandmother. “My grandmother’s family was Protestant. She married a Catholic and she had nine children. Whenever my grandmother’s mother came to visit, she’d throw some of the children over the wall.” Meaning, it turned out, her grandmother sent them to the neighbours’ to hide until her mother left. Hiding your children from you mother because their number offends her religion is not another country to me, it is another, an exotic universe.
My grandmother went to visit my mother shortly after she graduated from college. My mother was living in Seattle where she shared an apartment with the painter Morris Graves — it was a Platonic tryst, Morris being gay. My grandmother gave their address to a taxi driver who refused to take her because it was in the heart of the Red Light district. My grandmother, worthy progenitress of my mother and myself, got there anyway. She knocked and was greeted by Morris, who was stark naked with a tea towel over his arm. He bowed and she went in. When my mother returned from work some hours later my grandmother, daughter of a Methodist minister and the wife of a Methodist minister, was sitting at the kitchen table having an amicable cup of tea with the still naked Morris.
However, now when I am leaving Ireland again — my dogs and a cat almost packed, my flight booked, my friends visited, my garden prepared for a long winter of neglect –– I am abandoning the exotic hypothesis.
It is raining, a thanks-to-global-warming un-Irish deluge. I am walking home, no raincoat, no umbrella. My hair is dripping, my shoes squish. I pass the plumbing supply shop, the only business in our row of Victorian red brick houses. Michael, one of the men who works in the shop, hails me. “Just a minute,” he says and whips out an umbrella from behind the door. I reach out my hand thinking he is going to hand it to me, but he unfurls it and holds it over me all the rest of the way home.
A friend, another American ex-patriot, understands in a way that Irish never do why I am heartbroken about leaving even if it’s only months. “The Irish,” he says, “don’t understand what they have.”