Happy Birthday To Me!

Trip Start Sep 06, 2004
Trip End Nov 23, 2004

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Where I stayed
St. Brendan's B&B

Flag of Ireland  ,
Monday, September 27, 2004

From my diary:

"I think I must be crazy. I'm sitting in bed in a cold, pink room, listening to my CD to block out the sound of the wind. I'm spending my birthday completely alone. I've opened cards from Mikkel and Mom and an electronic one from Kim. I came here bearing a large bouquet of flowers that arrived at the hostel at the last minute before I had to leave, when I had despaired of them coming. With them came a small card bearing the words: 'Thinking of you. Missing you. Love you. Your Kjaereste.' I bore the flowers tenderly, tucking the card into my purse. But I am alone. My first birthday away from home.

I haven't spent the whole day alone. I spent much of it with Katherine Chambers, my companion in Ireland. Our experience of this adventure so far is very much filtered through each other. Today she got her hair cut short--a free cut if she'd agree to be a model and get whatever cut they wanted (they needed the practice in short cuts). We hung out at The Coffee Club, our habitual late-breakfast place. I walked with her as she trekked with the remainder of her worldly goods to her new home. She gave me a gift, a book of Irish mythology. Unexpected--we've known each other for only three weeks today, but we've spent so much of it together. I've leaned on her (and she on me) as I did on Arvin.

But now I'm alone. I left the crowded but familiar hostel to lug my unwieldy baggage onto a bus. Watched as newly home-like Galway disappeared behind us. Travelled through the rust-coloured shrubbery and everpresent stone walls that I had not envisioned when I thought of Ireland, but will now. I spent my birthday on a boat, a smallish 72-person ferry (no cars) that lurched as the waves clunked underneath. The desolate shore fell behind us and we docked at the even more desolte island of Inishmore (Inismor in Irish Gaelic). The first to disembark was a coffin. Whose, I don't know. Maybe one of the fishermen lost off the Connemara coast last week. The other passengers waited as the coffin was loaded onto a wagon pulled by a tractor. Wreaths were placed. The priest spoke for a while, and the circle of people gathered on the dock crossed themselves once and again before we came ashore.

It is night now, an early night in a small dark town. The dampness of the sea is thick in the air as it was not in Galway. I have felt my weariness for hours, since I entered this pink room. My mobile phone lies silent. No one from across the ocean has called. I suppose they think I'm out with my friends. Ocean separates me from my friends too--well, Katherine and my new Canadian acquaintances. I am in a house called St. Brendan's B&B, in the town of Kilronan, on the island of Inishmore, largest of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of the Republic of Ireland.

I have to say...That's a pretty impressive-sounding place to spend a birthday. (Though leaving a place that had come to be familiar and coming at dusk to a strange and lonely spot might not have been the best idea--however much I fall in love with it tomorrow.) At 25, I am inclined to be introspective. For the first time, I am in complete control of my own life. I can go where I choose. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it's scary and sometimes lonely, or that I don't feel...I was going to say grown-up, I don't feel grown-up, but what does that word mean anyway? I've just left home, left my continent, taken everything I'll need with me, flown across an ocean, faced off against a new country, taken responsibility for finding a job and a place to live in a city I've never been to before (though I haven't yet been successful on this front), left my entire support system behind, parted with my beloved, set out to fulfill a dream or several, and have done all this with great courage (definition of courage: being afraid and doing it anyway). If that's not adulthood or at least a rite of passage, I don't know what is.

This is my gift to myself: my retreat. Here I will walk and bike, as the weather permits, to explore the ruins and the life in this island of 1200 souls that is 14.5 km long and no more than 4 km wide. (Infodump--let us all scream with glee!) And I will write and write and write, no matter what the weather does, until I become wholly myself again.

A necessary separation...I have glommed onto Katherine (and she to me) as I did to Arvin. I am still not being my own person or seeing wholly through my own eyes. But that's not a good reason to flee Galway (though there may be others). I need to learn to have close friendships and support systems while keeping my eyes in my own head. There's no point in dumping a second budding support system to attain self-sufficiency.

Missing Arvin has, of course, become easier with time. Helped by talking almost nightly on MSN! We'll have to wean ourselves from that too. How long I'll last here is still a good question, but now I can at least begin to contemplate again my blithe original plan of one year and nine months. At this point, travel still seems like too much work and not enticing enough--how odd, for one who yearns for it so much when she isn't doing it. From what little I've seen of Ireland, it seems to be a place I could happily explore, even live in for a time, but not settle in for good. Maybe the left-hand driving just won't reconcile itself in my head, and the dinginess and the weather will drive me away from the music and the scenery that I've become used to seeing under cloud. (So much so, in fact, that Ireland in sunshine seems impossibly luminous, like a daytime Magic Hour, as if every colour is lit from within--especially green. Though that may be because I already know Ireland is supposed to be very green.)

It's late evening now. Time to let the weariness overtake me. As I've been writing, I've slowly realized that what I thought was howling wind is actually waves on the shore just across the road. They sound fierce, unsettled, but even so, this place seems much less forsaken if it's not the wind. I've never slept to the sound of waves before. It is, in fact, very soothing. I've also realized that for some reason I can't fathom, nobody is going to call me. Canada could be in the throes of a disaster and I wouldn't know--I get almost no news, and none from Canada (September snow was confessed to me by people from home). And I never registered with the Canadian embassy in Dublin. Not that I'm much concerned about disasters, either there or here. I'm just perplexed about the silence of my phone. Somebody call me!

However, spending the evening of my birthday writing is a good way to pay tribute to myself. (Even if some of the writing was just texting to Kat so my phone would ring when she replies.) I'll close by repeating...Happy Birthday To Me! Here's to the next 25! I think this is a good age to be. Right at the beginning of the Age of Power. (Age of Wisdom being the one after.) To quote the birthday card Mom gave me..."May all your dreams come true." Amen.
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