Music has played an enormous role in my not going totally bonkers this past year. I present: The Depressive (Mostly) Irish Playlist.
Music has played an enormous role in my not going totally bonkers this past year. I present: The Depressive (Mostly) Irish Playlist.
My husband was a collector. He was a great lover of literature, so he collected books. He loved movies and television, and he collected hundreds of DVDs. He loved music, and so he spent hours curating his iTunes library. The evidence of the things he was passionate about painted the walls of our two-bedroom house – the framed movie posters beside the dining room table, the shelves of DVD box sets, the second bedroom, the library, full of bookshelves.
Sometimes, this passionate man would notice that I wasn’t collecting, I wasn’t organizing, I wasn’t on the walls, and he would say, “What are you passionate about, Sarah? I can’t believe you’re not passionate about anything.”
Of all the unfortunate things we ended up saying to each other, this was the thing hurt me the most. In another lifetime, forever ago, every time I was asked, I internalized this question and my lack of passionate loves became a character flaw. Because he was right. I didn’t have favorites. I didn’t collect. I didn’t need anything.
What kind of adult woman doesn’t know what she loves? It seems unreal and ridiculous now, but this question, this insinuation that I was interested in nothing, made me feel empty and useless. If the person who was closest to me in the world didn’t know what I loved, I must be a total waste of space. While I am confident he didn’t intend for this to happen, this repeated question became for me a manifestation of all my failings. The question, asked again and again, meant that I wasn’t interesting, I wasn’t active, I didn’t care. I was dull, I was unmotivated, I wasn’t going anywhere. I used to have real, deep, hard feelings about this question, as I tried to figure out the next steps in my life.
My husband thinks I’m rudderless, and therefore I am.
And then, I went to Ireland. I was so lost and miserable before I left that going to do archaeology in Ireland (a place I had always wanted to visit) wasn’t even that exciting. Ireland, to me, was the last in a long line of expensive, time-consuming things I’d had to do to get my Masters and I just wanted to get it over with.
Ireland, however, could not have been farther from just an opportunity for me to punch my “field school” card and get the hell out of grad school. While I was there, I traveled, I met people from all over the world, I did hard, wonderful things, I was surrounded by anthropologists and archaeologists and we shared our love of history and bones and digging things up. I had experiences I could never have imagined. I discovered I wasn’t an empty husk of a person. I was passionate.
And it occurred to me, slowly at first and then literally in one second one day, that all these loves, all these passions, had always been there. This had always been me. I had always loved people and experiences and learning and travel. My husband, for all his love for me, had just never seen it, because he had bowed out of travels and dinners with friends and countless trips to see the nieces and conversations about my work in anthropology. He had made himself separate from all the things in life that I loved so much, and in turn, had made me separate from them too.
There are a million different ways in which I won’t forgive myself for ending my marriage. It’s still devastating and humiliating and I struggle daily with defining myself as “divorced,” because it reads to people who don’t know me as “failure,” “quitter,” “selfish idiot who can’t commit.”
However, in a million other ways, I am grateful. For everything. For all things difficult, disgusting, and awful. Because in the end, I found myself. I actually, legitimately, found myself. I am full to the brim with passions and interests and loves of my life. I have never been happier or more fulfilled. Not ever.
I intend to live a life in which no one ever has to ask me again, “Sarah, what are you passionate about?” They won’t have to ask, because they will see it beaming out of me every single day.
Hellllllo, darling readers! I have a favor to ask. I’ve been told by lots of people who love me that I should try to write about the last year of my life. However, they like me a lot and are probably super biased. I am terrified of doing this, because to sift through what happened, to really look at what those experiences were like, is torture. I was effectively an empty shell for most of the time, so I barely lived them as they were happening, and even then, as numb as I was, I was crazy every second. To think about it all again in any critical way is almost too much.
But it’s been months now and I’m hoping that beginning to write about it, really write about it, will help me rip off the blinders and the bandages and start to heal.
This is where you come in. I haven’t written in any real sense for ages and I think I may be terrible at it. If you don’t mind, I’d love feedback. (But be nice, because I am such a delicate flower.)
Behold, the first attempt:
It’s late Sunday morning, and it’s pouring rain. The clouds are heavy and low, but I can still see the island out in the harbour. I feel, for the first time in my life, like I am outside my body. I’m not really here. This is not actually happening.
I know my brother is watching from a measured distance, and I am ashamed of myself. We’re in public, making a scene in front of countless strangers, but I am humiliated only because he is here. My brother, smart, carefree, blameless, is here, and I am hysterical with grief. I am dying.
“What happened to you?” she asks, frantic, tears and rain running down her face. “You were always so responsible. Jesus, Sarah, what is wrong with you?” My mother, with the gift shop bag full of Irish wool hats and scarves still dangling from her arm, is panicking.
“Nothing happened to me,” I say, trying to keep my voice down and my face low. I am aware now of all the people around us in the park – sitting on benches, riding the carousel.
I am lying through my teeth. Everything happened to me, but they won’t believe me. In an instant, I have lost nearly twenty years. I am not a grown up now. I am a ten-year-old girl, begging her parents to have faith in her. Believe me. Hold me. Save me.
My dad takes a step toward me, moving in front of my mother, blocking her from view. He looks right into my face and says, kindly he thinks, “You were always such a good person, Sarah. Be a good person.”
I am more myself in this moment than I have ever been in my life. I am free. I am alive.
And no one can see it. No one understands.
I was a good person, my dad said. But not anymore.
Sometimes, I am in awe of how I’ve managed to change my life in less than one year. Two days ago, it was Baby Fiece’s first birthday. One year and two days ago, I visited Fertile Myrtle in the hospital and held that hours-old precious little craze for the first time. On that day one year ago, I’d also just gotten access to records vital for my MA thesis research, and could finally start my project.
(Photos used simply for illustrative purposes and not because I miss them desperately and am sad all the time. OKAY? I AM NOT SAD ALL THE TIME.)
Now, one year and two days later, Baby Fiece is growing up, walking and talking and getting painfully more adorable every day. (Again, why I am not there?) I’ve only been gone for three months, and she is already a different kid. I can’t wait to see her and Fiece and Fertile Myrtle again, hopefully before the babies start to drive.
One year and two days later, I’ve grown up too. I ended my marriage, completed my MA, landed a job in England, moved halfway across the world, and was accepted into a PhD program (with funding!). I have pushed myself in approximately ten billion different ways since I held that tiny new life one year ago, and none of it was easy. If I’m honest, it’s still not. I miss home and my people so much sometimes it physically hurts. I’m convinced I miss them more now than I would have if I wasn’t so indebted to all of them for keeping me bolstered and afloat during the epic chaos that was my life last fall. They’ve seen the worst of me and it brought out the very best in them and having experienced such total support from those around me, I am gutted by being so far away from them. To all of you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
One year ago, I was just beginning the soul searching that would lead me to now. Relationships are supposed to make you better, improve you and make you stronger, more capable, happy. I’d known for a long time that my marriage wasn’t doing any of that for either of us, but the thought of ending something that was so meaningful (because regardless of how right we were together, I loved my husband) was so foreign and awful and unthinkable that we kept trying to make it work. We’d have arguments for hours in which we’d both lay out the enormous ways in which we weren’t fulfilled, all the ways we were compromising our lives and our futures, each and every thing we’d come to resent and simply put up with about our life together. Every single time, there were pockets of dead air, total silence, when I thought, this is the time to say it. Just call it like it is. Just spare yourselves, you guys. It’s okay.
And yet, I never did. I didn’t have the strength or the courage to be the one to say it. And maybe I never would have. It wasn’t until I went far away from home and got some tremendous perspective on what my life could be, what kind of person I could be, and how happy I could be, that the crushing weight of not saying it became more powerful than the fear of what being honest meant.
In the end, being honest with the people I loved most, despite at times being brutal and horrible and devastating, freed me from myself. I was no longer in my own way. I have done a hard, terrible, awful thing and I have survived it. In my opinion, there is nothing in the world like choosing to divorce. It’s death, but you keep living. It’s grief, for everything that happened before and everything that could have happened later. It’s shame and anger and frustration and disgust and literally every other miserable feeling there is.
But ultimately, it’s a commitment to choosing happiness. I went to hell and back in the pursuit of happiness, and it freed me. There is nothing in world now that can stand in the way of my accomplishing my dreams and getting what I need.
Everything else is easy.
Happy birthday, little beast. The first year of your life was the first year of mine, too.
In a few days, I’m heading to Spike Island, County Cork, Ireland, to spend five weeks living in an abandoned (and reportedly haunted!) island prison complex with a few dozen total strangers. It’s a bioarchaeology field school, meaning we’ll be excavating the prison cemetery in use during the 1840s and 1850s, when the Potato Famine (or Great Hunger) in Ireland caused such massive increases in criminality (with people sentenced to seven to fourteen years hard labor for stealing food to feed their starving families) that Spike Island, a former naval base, was converted into a prison in order to house the huge new waves of “criminals.”
Spike Island sits in center of Cork Harbour, which is now used by the Irish Navy, various cruise ships and lots of industry. In the mid-1800s, all those who emigrated out of Ireland during the Famine, including my Irish ancestors, left the country through Cork Harbour, making it a sort of reverse Ellis Island. Incidentally, this harbor was also the last port of call for the Titanic. (Twelve-year-old me is going to love the large Titanic museum in Cobh.)
I’ve spent the last few weeks reading books about the Famine and the prison and have watched a bunch of videos about the supposed ghosts. Ghost Hunters International did a spot on Spike Island, and as usual, found absolutely nothing. (I’m not hating on the paranormal – I did my fair share of Ouija boarding with my aunt while I was growing up. However, it pleases me that nothing horrifying has been found on the burnt-out, cemeteries-old prison I’m about to live in for the entire month of July.) My favorite of all my prep, however, is this terrifying video I found on YouTube, which proves that a haunting soundtrack really is all you need:
I’m planning on blogging the entire experience, with the help of a pay-as-I-go mobile wireless router. However, I’m assuming my technological prowess, compounded by my being in a foreign country, may result in less-than-daily posts. I’ll probably be better at posting on my Facebook page and/or Twitter feed, so if you’re at all interested, follow me there!
This will probably be my last post for a while, because tonight is my last night in Dublin and from here on out, my ability to access the internet is questionable. I hope you can all survive my absence from your Readers (and/or emails). Is there a way to schedule reposts of old stuff I’ve published? Because that might be a fun way of ensuring that no one abandons me in my hour of need.
Anyway, I’ve had a whirlwind two days in Dublin.
I’ve been scoffed at and called a “TOURIST!” by a fat man with an American accent, which means that even Americans find Americans obnoxious in other countries. (I wrote that sentence to mean that I found him to be intolerable, and just realized that it works the opposite way as well. For what it’s worth, I was taking a picture of a church I had paid to tour, which is something I’m aware only a tourist does – however, I wasn’t doing anything overtly annoying or off-putting. That Pierce was a b.)
I’ve walked on or about five gajillion miles, around and around the City Centre. This walking was obviously entirely because I love to walk and not because I’m totally useless without Google Maps on my phone, okay?
I’ve seen taken a ton of terrible-quality photos with a seven-year-old digital camera I packed on a whim, back when I still thought I’d have my iPhone with me for photographs. I know. Right now you’re thinking I’m an idiot for using my iPhone as my primary camera. Ahaha, friends. You haven’t yet seen the pictures this shitty point-and-shoot takes. Are you ready for this?
The Long Room, adjacent to the Book of Kells:
Dublinia, Viking and Medieval Ireland museum:
I saw Bog People at the National Museum of Ireland, Archaeology Museum and walked through St. Stephen’s Green, and peered through locked gates at Dublin Castle, which is closed through July for government meetings:
I found Viking ruins near Christchurch (and by that, I mean I followed some directions to see them, not that I discovered them. That distinction totally had to be made):
And I toured the National Wax Museum,
where I took the highest quality photo of the trip thus far:
I discovered that today was Pride in Dublin:
Most importantly, I got a wink and a smile and a “Pardon me, love” from a gorgeous Irish man who bumped into me on the street, which means I can pretty much just go home now, because my life is complete.
In all seriousness, I’ve had a great time and have seen a lot, but I’m finding I’m not a huge fan of traveling solo. Trust me, I am a person who loves being by myself, so it’s not that I can’t handle alone time. It’s just that in a city bustling with people doing things together, it’s odd and a little sad to not have at least one other person to share these experiences with. Luckily, tomorrow I’ll meet up with about twenty field-schoolers and be plenty busy with company for the next five weeks. And then my family comes to meet me! So I’ll be fine.
I just miss my people.