I left on a Tuesday morning and figured I would find her by noon, somewhere after my second Bloody Mary in an airport bar. She’d been out wandering, but I was finally going to catch up with her. The reunion had been playing in my mind for years, but lately, her face was fading and I couldn’t quite recall the sound of her voice.
This voice had slowly, over time, been replaced by one creepily similar to my mother’s. The same laugh. The same tinge of irritation. The same compulsive clearing of the throat. I was becoming her, and love her though I do, I wasn’t sold on the idea.
My mother has her strengths, to be sure, but she is needy. Raising a family on love and sheer determination, she is strong in countless ways, but she is needy. Without my father by her side, she is half of herself. It’s beautiful and sad all at once. Their undeniable connection has brought endless arguments into my own marriage as I stare at a man that I sometimes fear can’t ever love me that much, but the way she hesitates to venture out on her own is suffocating to watch. I have fought this dependence since I can remember, and now as a housewife and mother, I was losing the battle.
My husband was not helping. He rarely expresses an honest emotion without cloaking it in sarcasm, wondering aloud, “How did you ever survive without me?” I was beginning to wonder myself. This might have been what prompted the Ireland idea in the first place.
I booked our tickets on a cloudy afternoon, three surprisingly affordable coach seats, then texted my friends a quick, “It’s official!” Six months, and we would be there, and so would she. The weeks oscillated between a sprint and a slow crawl (depending on my children’s mood and the amount of laundry piled in the corner) until the morning arrived and we boarded the plane.
I was scared. I packed all my kids’ Christmas and birthday gifts in boxes labeled with their names. My plane was going down in the icy Atlantic, and I needed them to receive my posthumous presents. I sorted through all our files and showed my husband where the life insurance policies, passwords, and financial information was stored. I instructed my friends to tell the boys stories about me after I was dead and gone. I was afraid I would be forgotten. I went anyways.
I left in search of that yellow-blonde ray of light who would meet me somewhere along our route, greet me with a sloppy hug and hello. I couldn’t wait.
But I didn’t see her on the plane or at the rental car pick-up, and when we finally reached our first hotel on the outskirts of Dublin, we were so tired. We crawled atop the neatly tucked duvets and fell asleep.
Once we’d slept off the initial hit of jet lag, we set off to explore. I had only scheduled one day in the capital, and we’d be leaving early the next morning to take in the Wicklow Mountains and wind our way down to Wexford.
We hailed a cab. This was a luxury she never would have considered. Navigating public transport was half the fun, and cabs were so expensive! But she wasn’t here yet, so we jumped in the cab and were conveniently dropped in the center of it all.
Without much of a plan and in the continual light drizzle of Dublin, we wandered the streets until we found Trinity College, obliging to pay the exorbitant fee to enter the world-renowned library and snap pics with the busts and walls of books – a stop I would recommend for any other literary snobs out there or folks just looking to post sweet selfies.
We finished up and headed to the infamous Temple Bar. She would be there, day-drinking and flirting with the blue-eyed bartender with the nice arms and questionable morals. The cobblestone streets were slick from rain and the smell coming from the sewers dampened the neighborhood’s appeal. But before we could settle in for a pint, we needed to find a pharmacy. My friend was quickly falling victim to a nasty cough, and she needed more than a sturdy stout to take the edge off.
Once we’d secured Ireland’s version of Sudafed, our energy supplies had nearly bottomed out. Instead of pulling up a stool and mingling with fellow tourists in the chaos, we hiked back toward the college and snagged a quiet table at The Bank, a strikingly beautiful old bank turned bar. One drink later and we grabbed another taxi to cart us to the Clontarff Hotel where we enjoyed a tasty dinner, one more cocktail, and retired to bed. Somehow, she had evaded me in the very place I was sure to find her.
The next morning, we took turns manipulating the 22 levers of an Irish shower – two of us spraying scalding hot water directly in our eyes, and the other managing to soak the entire floor. Not only did we clean ourselves, but the whole bathroom was spotless by the time we’d finished our morning routines. Always leave a place better than you found it.
I had nominated myself full-time driver because I had experience navigating roads from the opposite side and also because I am a complete control freak. We jumped into the light blue Volvo crossover that shrieked “soccer mom” wishing I had opted for the Beamer the rental guy said would make us look like “drug dealers.”
She would never have chosen the Volvo. To be fair, she would never have had the money to consider anything other than the slow, commuter train.
Rick Steve, the travel master, recommended we take a leisurely stroll through the Powerscourt Gardens on our way to Wexford, and thank God we listened. After an awkward ordering process at the stylish farm-to-table cafeteria within the family estate turned resort, we settled on a patio table overlooking the entrance to the gardens. We sampled salads and soups and each ordered a stupidly delicious dessert. I sipped my cappuccino and exhaled for the first time since boarding that plane 48 hours before.
Maybe this was what I’d been looking for – the quiet of an afternoon in the sunshine, a shared meal with two of my closest friends, a new landscape. My frantic search for her, my missing piece, seemed less urgent.
Sun-kissed and satisfied after our stroll through the gardens, we piled back in the car and took a quick detour to nearby Powerscourt Waterfall before continuing to the Wexford B&B. It was here that I caught my first glimpse of her, climbing the rocks to catch the mist of the tumbling water, then again, barefoot in the mountain stream.
But her presence was fleeting, and she’d slipped away before I knew it.
Our castle home for the evening sat just outside of Wexford, a working farm attached to the remnants of a 14th century tower. I couldn’t sleep that night as the ghosts of centuries past came knocking. The two glasses of port from the honesty bar couldn’t calm my sixth sense, and though my eyes were closed, my ears were open to the whisper of lost souls. The creaks and groans of the old house did little to still my nerves, and my friends threatened to toss me out if I didn’t shut up and go to sleep. Night two would not provide the rest our first night offered, and I awoke in the morning to a gray fog that matched the cloudiness inside my brain.
This was the Ireland I had pictured. After breakfast, we bundled ourselves in down coats and tramped out into the pastures through romantic tree-lined trails and up the cobwebbed stairwell to the peak of the turret, getting better acquainted with the homestead before moving on to our next map dot.
We said our good-byes, draped our rain-soaked jackets across the back of the vehicle, and plugged in our next stop. A couple hours in, the rain let up, and for a moment, I found her again, halfway between Wexford and Bantry. ‘Traveler’ came on the radio and sang me back to her.
My heartbeat’s rhythm is a lonesome sound, just like the rubber turning on the ground, always lost and nowhere bound…
Window down, music up, coffee in hand, I felt her as the sun peeked through the cloudy morning and the expressway freed us from the one lane roads.
I don’t know where I’m going but I’ve got to go, cause every turn reveals some other road…
Wait…she never drank coffee. She didn’t need artificial lifeblood like this woman before me, but the similarity in the eyes when I glanced into the rearview was uncanny.
Kinsale was our only planned stop along the drive across Ireland’s southern coast. We exited the highway and were dumped into the middle of a very hectic, very narrow downtown. Panic set in as we dodged pedestrians, oncoming vehicles, sides of buildings. I needed her more than ever as our giant SUV squeaked through streets the size of American sidewalks. On the opposite side of the road, on the opposite side of the car, I spotted a space just big enough to offer salvation and whipped the Volvo into place, the almighty goddess of parallel parking. My friends might have applauded. I like to remember it that way.
We didn’t reach the Bantry House until dusk and hurried through its Italianate gardens as the sun rested on the bay. Weathered stone steps led to an overlook at the back of the property, and I started to climb. My friends stayed below until my annoying chatter urged them up the stairs to join me at the top.
This was my favorite evening, gazing out at the silhouettes of sailboats against the rose-colored sea. I slept well that night at the Bantry House, the lingering ghosts welcomed and familiar.
The following day was reserved to drive the Ring of Kerry, one of Ireland’s biggest draws. We took it on but missed nearly everything as the West Coast was shrouded in low clouds and rain showers the entire day.
The first mountain pass, the scariest of the trip, met us within the first hour. My friend, who had the privilege of sitting on the side of the car nearest the plunging drop-off, cradled herself in my lap as I gripped the steering wheel and starred straight ahead into the next hairpin turn. My other girlfriend hung her head out the window, a happy Labrador, tongue in the wind, snapping photos from the backseat. “We are really high up! Oh my gosh! You should see this! It’s soooo far down!”
When we finally reached Dingle, I knew my missing piece was hiding somewhere on a darkened street corner. There was an energy about the place that would draw her out.
We hired a taxi so I was free to shake off the bridle of wife and mother and adult and law-abiding citizen, but my friend had developed the black lung along our journey and the wet Irish air wasn’t helping. The evening looked dim. We ordered heavy, Earthy food – Guinness pie, half a roasted chicken, potatoes with a side of potatoes, then washed it down, rather slowly, with pints of cider and stout. We sat around, stuffed and sleepy, waiting for the traditional Irish music I’d read about in the travel books.
Eventually, two older men, dressed in sweaters and running pants, pulled chairs to the edge of the room and began to play. A young girl, maybe 14, joined them for a handful of songs, and her voice shot through the foggy bar like that ray of light I’d been anticipating. By the second line, I was in tears, overcome by some difficult to name emotion and the simple beauty of it all.
I could have stayed all night, but there was a feeling that if I just sat and settled for this new, quieter version of myself, I would have sealed the deal. It was over. She was gone. Dingle was my last chance.
We paid our bill and wandered onto the street in search of something. My friends, at this point, were in search of our cozy B&B on the picturesque hilltop with its inviting beds.
The black lung had taken full effect and my girlfriend was going down fast…but couldn’t she just rally for me so I could reenact some rancid scene from my twenties? A crowded bar, throbbing music, drinking and yelling and dancing. Life lived loudly, aggressively.
I was in full asshole mode. Couldn’t she just take a cough drop and throw back a couple shots to calm the tuberculosis or whatever life-threatening illness had taken hold? I was sick of feeling buttoned up and domestic. Domestic isn’t sexy. Peanut butter toast and Paw Patrol isn’t sexy. She was sexy. Wasn’t she?
After wandering up and down the city blocks, unsure of our next move, I had a fit, a breakdown of sorts, on the cold street corner right where I had expected to find myself. I had come all this way, and I was hailing a cab to climb into bed the same weathered mother, the same woman in search of the girl.
The next morning, we drove back to town to roll through the tourist shops before circling the Dingle Peninsula and heading north to Spanish Point for the final two nights of the whirlwind adventure. We found a back street lined with bars and nightclubs, the very place I was in desperate search of the night before. Just out of reach, another block or two deeper, another life, another person.
I had to throw in the towel or I would keep missing what was right in front of me – the honesty of a song in the dark of an Irish pub, the simple glory of an impeccably parked SUV, the sunset over Bantry Bay, the green of rain-soaked ivy clawing at a castle’s ruins as new life builds on the ashes of old.
Could I survive on my own? Yes, but thankfully, I didn’t have to. I had the privileged existence of motherhood, waiting for me in our cabin across the ocean. In that cabin, there was a man who loved me enough to give me the space to run away sometimes -without him. He would be there when I returned, unshaken by my impulsiveness and independence. And there, on the Irish coast, I had the company of unwavering friends, each of us there for our own reasons – to see the world, to escape for a moment, to find that person who haunts us in the quiet of the night.
I drove our light blue SUV, top safety ratings and all, along those furthest reaches of Ireland and had not found her. I stopped looking. She was gone, wading through the emptiness of a 4 a.m. street or dancing in a neon basement while outside the moon melted to sun. She was lost and searching for me – someone to grow into, someone who looks more like her than she ever did, someone with her mother’s voice, someone who loves her enough to let her go.