When I was age twenty-five, someone very dear to me died tragically in a motorcycle accident. In nearly identical circumstances my father was also taken twelve years prior. I never truly mourned the first loss, therefore I spent most of the next year grieving doubly. Hours a day walking the beach proved very therapeutic. As a self-employed seamstress I afforded this indulgence by working until the wee hours of the morning, awoken from sleep by the sunrise and my enthrallment with collecting sea glass. Perhaps someday I would make a glass curtain, the kind I remembered my dad had, only his was beads in a doorway that chinkled when we unavoidably brushed through them to enter his music room. Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers, The Rolling Stones, Boston, and Aerosmith were his favourite vinyl choices. I more often preferred my mother’s picks of ABBA and John Denver, but they are all worthy of mention and conjure up the happiest of memories to this day.
Through my routine outings to the beach I met a local water taxi captain. He was quirky and bookish, an introvert who had suffered his own recent loss. Sharing our grief and a mutual love for sushi, we became fast friends. He let me swim off the back of his boat and took me to small islands that were brimful with amazing sea glass treasure. In exchange, I minded his dog when he went to the far off places he had been lured to through the pages of his latest read. Boliva was an Argentinean Mastiff so named after a much loved Venezuelan city. He was a big, bossy, stubborn dog who very much intimidated me. I always looked forward to his owner’s return so my quiet walks alone could resume. Then came the day he adopted another dog. Though a puppy and a smaller breed, a Weimaraner, I had to decline his request to mind the two. As I was a steadfast people pleaser, I was quite chuffed with myself for standing firm. For four hours. Until he called me begging to please, please just take one of the dogs. I agreed, and it ended up being the last dog minding I would do for him.
My prayers for clarity and understanding regarding my losses had mostly gone unanswered, but a remedy for my loneliness revealed itself. Oh, I resisted and reasoned why this new relationship was not for me, but one day and night together and I was in love. We were inseparable, myself and Olive the dog, and new meaning was introduced into my daily walks. She never did leave after that week was up. My friend admitted that was his plan all along.
A few years pass. Olive is no longer the abused and neglected puppy. I am no longer the heartbroken girl. Our walks became ritual, cleansed by the seaweed, salt water, and fresh air, grounded by the sand and rocks. It was our sacred space, but, like many ritualistic practices, the experience is often enhanced when performed communally.
We welcomed to join us a woman and her dog whom we had passed several times on our walks. The dogs would jostle about as we nodded and continued on our separate ways. Eventually we spoke and soon she and I were getting together minus our furry friends. Having just one life-long and only a handful of close friendships, I was delighted to have met her. Forgive my judgement, but for the sake of this memoir it must be stated that she was very whiney, clingy, and negative. She was self-doubting and indecisive about everything. Most of my acquaintances found her irritating, but I saw a side of her they hadn’t, her compassion and patience with people and animals. Our first interaction wasn’t even spoken. She saw me staring sadly out to sea as I had done so many times before, recollecting the day we spread my father’s ashes over the Atlantic. As our dogs frolicked together near and far from us, she hugged me. If you’ve ever received a long hug- the type that is so sincere, needed and loving that you can’t help but surrender and relax- then you know the power of this simple gesture. This was to be a short but influential friendship, lasting just under a couple years, ending when she had an argument with my mother. The drama and effort had become too much and we parted ways, but not before we took a short road trip. A spontaneous road trip that I took most reluctantly, dreading being in the car with her for all of two hours as she lamented over why her boyfriend wasn’t calling her, why he was mad with her and didn’t want to see her, etc. Eventually, concerned for her safety travelling so far in her state of upset, I agreed to go.
Years before this I received a voucher to visit a psychic. I was amazed by the details she knew about my past. She was so specific and accurate that I experienced a bit of discomfort and fear, like being seen naked by a stranger. With my questions I steered her towards my future and was much less impressed. Boston? I went only once in my life and hadn’t ever considered returning. Europe? What was she talking about? I didn’t even have a passport! I rarely travelled out of my home state and never much farther than Canada and a few tropical islands. Europe was hardly tropical in my mind, a destination I had never considered.
Fast forward and here I am in a car travelling to, yes, Boston to help my friend soothe her aching heart. Half way there he calls her, they make amends over the mobile, and things are looking up for both of us. The second half of that trip was filled with laughter and anticipation of dancing to the Irish band he was a member of. And so we arrived, walked in the door, and I was soon chatting with a handsome man. Time flew and too soon it was time to head north again. We exchanged numbers, all the while myself believing it was unlikely, with the distance between us and the business of life, that we would be able to meet up again anytime soon. Back home I found myself thinking about this gentleman near constant. There was something about him and I wanted to know more. As fate would have it, I was invited to travel the very next weekend to a Christmas party in New York City. Getting there meant a bus ride through Boston. In a bold move, two days after our first meeting, I called him and explained the coincidence and asked would he be interested in meeting again. He admitted he was planning to call me and was most interested.
No exaggeration, the bus stop was right outside his front door. With no time to spare, we were soon making our way to a restaurant where he had reserved a table for us. Working as a plasterer, he drove a company van whose interior would normally be covered in white plaster dust. For this occasion he had polished it clean and proudly opened the passenger door for me. This made such an impression on me, it may have been the moment I first felt a twinge of love for him. I once dated someone who borrowed a car for our first date because he didn’t want me to see his mini-van. That always bothered me, and I unwittingly set a standard for something so trivial it might have otherwise gone unnoticed. We went to a quiet, dimly lit Italian restaurant. He admitted it was his female roommate’s suggestion of eatery and he would sooner be at a fish ‘n chip shop. I was in awe of his lack of need to impress me. He drove what he drove. He was who he was. I felt so relaxed.
From an outsiders perspective our conversation might have seemed inappropriate for a first date, but it flowed naturally and effortlessly for us. Did we practice a religion, our outlooks on marriage, how many children, day care or stay at home? I had one wish and that was to name my first boy after my marvellous stepfather. “Ok, what’s his name?” “Adrien,” I replied. “I could live with that,” he said. And he had one wish also, to someday move back home to the Aran Islands. “I would move for love, but first I would have to visit.” That was early December and we agreed that night to date exclusively. For Valentine’s Day he purchased tickets for me to join him when he went home for Easter. I guess he felt the same about moving for love and after that trip to Ireland he and his few possessions came to reside with me in my home state of Maine. We would no longer have to travel to be together. The following September we became engaged and married seven months after that, almost a year and a half after meeting.
By way of much preparations and planning, three years later our now shared wish came to fruition. With two children and myself six months pregnant we hired movers, filled a forty foot container, and did it. We joke that we’ll someday write a book on moving transatlantic, hindsight being 20/20 and all. It really didn’t need to be so formidable.
With my amazing husband, two girls, three boys, twelve chickens, five ducks, four cats, one dog, nine goats, and our ever enlarging vegetable and flower gardens, I never, ever feel lonely. I continue to collect sea glass and tile with my children along the beaches of the island. Maybe we’ll make a curtain for our polytunnel someday.
The clarity and understanding I prayed for has finally dawned on me. However, when the question is asked, and it very often is, of how I came to live in Aran, I simply answer, “Love.”