Category: Archive

Flying through the night to God knows what

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The problem is, you don’t really know what or where home is anymore.
Too dazed to read, the TV screens still blank, your mind takes to wandering through the maze of all your other returns.
The first: when you’d come over for the summer as a student and couldn’t wait to boast of all the forbidden fruit that you’d tasted. Then there was the time you had the sparkling new green card in your wallet after three years of being illegal; that was when it hit that you didn’t quite fit in at home anymore.
You were no longer us; you were on you’re way to becoming one of them. After that, you went back every Christmas, sometimes in the summer too, but often you’d catch your mother observing you, trying to reconcile your self-conscious brashness to the shyness of the boy she had raised.
Perhaps the best trip was when you took home your first-born, for all barriers dissipated at this addition to the clan. The growing differences were subsumed in a world of diapers, bottles and strollers. When the second came the honeymoon stretched on into many years of play-dates with cousins, trips to the seaside and the family comparing these two Yank redheads to the boy at the same age.
Eventually came the trip that all emigrants dread. The phone call in the middle of the night, the blur at the airport, the mad dash to get home in time – forty minutes too late, her hand still warm.
There were many visits in the next three years as you tried to share the family load of an ill and widowed father, many fulfilling moments too when you laid to rest old disagreements and recognized that there were more similarities than differences between you.
Then came the inevitable when there was no obligation to go home anymore and you stayed away, though a large part of you remained there.
There’s a common emigrant train of thought as you hurtle across the inky Atlantic into the overcast Irish dawn.
Will I still fit in? Have I changed too much? Can I find common cause with a newly confident people in a booming economy? But, more importantly, can I still find within myself the boy who once wandered contentedly through the ancient narrow streets of Wexford.
Or have the years and conditioning so skewered my perception that he could skip past and I wouldn’t even recognize him? Or is the whole bloody thing in my head and should I just toss back a couple of drinks – take the edge off?
But then I look beyond the Ireland Irish returning from their New York weekend, Macy’s bags jammed to the hilt.
Across the aisle sits a countryman in his early 60s, the type you see in Gaelic Park on a Sunday afternoon, tweed jacket, fawn trousers, gleaming brown shoes, hair slicked back and carefully creased.
He stares off into the distance. He’s going home too and I know exactly what he’s thinking.
A couple of seats further on, a woman in her late 30s, stylish in an Ann Taylor suit, no stranger to the bistros of Greenwich Village. I recognize her faraway look too.
I don’t know either of them, I probably never will, but they’re my people now and I’m no longer alone. For all we’ve gained, there’s something that we’ve lost; something ineffable that can’t be measured and all three of us are wondering how the hell we let it slip away.
Get over it, Paddy, you made your choice a long time ago! And before you know it, you’re shuffling down the terminal hall in the soft morning. You stand in line, then the immigration official stamps your passport and without looking up murmurs, “welcome home.”

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