Running Away to Ireland
From my plane, an emerald paradise unfolds before my eyes. There are sheep scattered on green pastures and medieval stone walls dividing farmland. I see an ancient place brimming with nature, purity and new beginnings. I wonder what experiences await me in this new magical home, in Ireland.
I’m eighteen. I’m ignoring the advice of guidance counsellors. I’m not going to college. But a degree is the only way to make it in the world,they threatened me. The job market values people who have degrees because it proves you can think critically. So do as we tell you to do! Take out student loans. Debt is an investment. Go to college. Trust us.
But I don’t trust them. Worse yet, I don’t trust myself.
When I tell my dad I want to move to Ireland, he doesn’t object. When I tell my friends, they say,You’re so brave. I let them think this, but I know the truth. I’m not brave. I’m a coward.
I’m not moving to Ireland because I’m a courageous, independent woman, I’m moving because I’m running away from home.
When I arrive at my hostel in Dublin, I have one mission: get drunk. Fortune is smiling on me because I meet people from all over the world who have the same goal. Everyone is here to find oblivion. The Germans. The Spanish. The French. The Indians. The Australians. We all speak the same language: debauchery.
One night at the club, an Australian friend, trying in vain to steal an intimate moment, screams in my ear: “Something bad happened to you in Canada, didn’t it, Hannah?” I’m high on ecstasy. “Yeah.” I giggle. “Yeah something really bad happened in Canada.”
It was 1999. The roads may have been icy. My dad says he should have replaced her tires. No one knows why they crashed, or how. We only know the end result. My mom and younger brother died in a car accident. We sold the farm and moved into town. I was sixteen.
After they died, there were unspoken rules in our new, amputated family. No crying in front of each other. There could be no expression of grief or, even worse, love. I felt like if I messed up, and betrayed a drop of neediness, all my anger and pain would pour out in a tidal wave, and it would destroy us all. Better to just be strong. So the three of us, my dad, my older brother and I, lived together, alone.
The petty dramas of highschool have a way of normalizing even the most traumatic events in life. I hated that my mom and brother were dead, but I also wanted to fit in. My friends were the popular girls in school. They all had boyfriends. They were all falling in love. I wanted to fall in love too but I wasn’t connecting with any boys my age. Then I started to get in my head. There must be something wrong with me. All my friends all easily falling in love with these basic, country Canadian boys. Why not me? Maybe I’m gay, I wondered? Maybe that’s why I don’t like boys? This thought freaked me out. I can’t be gay. If I’m gay, I’ll be even less loveable than I am now. So I kept these thoughts to myself.
I graduated from highschool, estranged from my friends. Six months later, as my friends went off to college, I was living in a filthy hostel on the northside of Dublin. Tucked away in a new, safe reality, no one knew me or my sad story. In Ireland, away from the responsibilities of college, and the prying concerns of family and friends, I was finally free to self destruct in peace.
It wasn’t all libertine chaos. In Dublin, I get a job as a waitress. No one likes me at work. My coworkers bully me. After my shifts, I walk to St. Stephens Green, and cry by the side of the pond. Why is it so hard for me to make meaningful connections? I think it’s because I’m gay. That must be it. I’m not being myself. If I just come out of the closet, I’ll be able to relate to people. So I start going to a gay club. I meet a girl. We date, sort of, but I’m repulsed when we kiss. No butterflies. No ah ha moments. I’m so disappointed. I thought being gay was the key to unlocking my dissatisfaction, my disconnection with the world, but I’m not gay, and I’m still miserable. There is something wrong with me, I think. I don’t like women. I don’t like men. I’m dead inside. I’ll never fall in love. I’m an alien.
So my dreary, drunken life continues in Dublin. Every few months I go to the internet cafe. My friends are wondering how I’m doing. I never email them back. I like being disappeared. I’m unhappy, and self medicating, but no one around me notices because all my international friends are drug addicts. So naturally, I think it’s a great idea to go backpacking around Europe with them.
I take a trip to Amsterdam with a couple of Austrialians. I get so high on mushrooms that are laced with PCP that I forget I'm on a drug. I think I’ve lost my mind. I walk around the red light district disoriented and belligerent, the narrow, leaning Dutch buildings teeter down on me, threatening to crush me. Hysterical, I find myself in a creaky, 17th century stairwell, talking to myself. My friends find me, and bring me back to my room. I hear one of them say, “She’s too young for this.” I laugh. It’s funny because, at nineteen, I feel so old.
When I return to Dublin, a coked out, Australian friend, confides in me. We have to get out of here, Hannah, we’re gonna die in this hostel.I agree. She finds us a flat on the other side of town. I slow down my drinking. I stop doing drugs. I get a job at Haagen Daz.
And then my life turns around.
My boss is a blue eyed twenty five year old guy from France. I feel as though I understand him, or maybe it’s that I pity him. Which doesn’t make sense, there is nothing for me to pity, I just...get him. I like him. I start wearing makeup to work After my shifts, I go to St. Stephens Green, but this time, I sit by the pond and write love poems. One night, after work, he kisses me. My whole body lifts into the air. This is it. This is what I’ve been waiting for.
Everything moves fast, but not fast enough. I move in with my French man. He shows me his music. I listen to Ediaf Piaf and read WB Yeats. The days are lazy and easy. I get a little fat but he doesn’t care. I feel like the most beautiful girl in the world. I go to the internet cafe and email my friends. I’m in love! Finally, I’m in love!
Through my new love’s gaze I see myself anew. I’m not dead inside. I can love. I CAN LOVE! It’s a miracle! Suddenly the world around me is alive, full of potential, exploding with beauty. I’m inspired by Dublin’s grimmy elegance and old world grit. At night, I walk along the Liffey River. I’m amazed at how different it looks to me now that I see it through the lense of being in love. This French man has softened me. He’s given me hope. The future isn’t so menacing anymore.
And then, my mind begins to drift back to Canada, to that distant land, to those people I know, who I’ve forgotten. How could I forget them? Being in love is changing me. A new desire is blossoming. I think, I can’t be in Ireland anymore. I’m twenty. I need to go home. I need to start my life. From my plane, a patchwork of stunning, grey-blue bodies of water sparkle in the sun. The terrain skips from rich, dark brown soil to endless acres of forest; trees of every shade of green, yellow and red. The land is wild and untamed, yet warm, like a wise hippie- lady, graced with an organic strength, it welcomes me. Canada. As the plane descends, I wonder what the rest of my life holds for me; back at home, where I belong.