The twee patchwork of fields contracted until it was fifty squares not a hundred, twenty not fifty, ten not twenty, not fields at all but tarmac, til the wheels rumbled right on down. I mouthed “Hello” and had a confusing but discreet cry for myself while pretending to be fascinated by the activities of the ground crew and their darling little flags. The tears may have been tears of relief. I can’t be sure. My bladder relocated to quite near my eyes for the months December through April, and I discovered all sorts of new and exciting occasions for emoting. Apparently, “Plane lands” is one of them.
At passport control I joined the “ah yeah sure come on” queue and had a 15 second exchange with an immigration officer that went like this:
Would I cry? Was “stranger pronounces my name correctly” of sufficient emotional heft? No, it turns out. (Hey, I wonder if greeting people with Paddy passports with a “howerya” is actually an ingenious screening mechanism? Like, if someone responds “Gee fine, thanks for asking! How are you?” they’re sucked down a chute to an interrogation room and bombarded with questions about Bosco: “What did Faherty say?””What is magic mála?” “To whom was Seamus McSpud married?”)
I took the bus West, through the Bog of Allen, through countryside that Oscar Wilde once described as “shrill green,” past suckling calves and stupidly cute baa lambs, past countless hawthorns blossoming white, over the Shannon, to Galway.
It’s bathed in sunshine. It smells like cut grass. It’s showing off, this city.
Then I slept for two weeks. (If anyone from NUI Galway is reading this, I would like to clarify that I didn’t actually sleep for two weeks; I also spent a lot of time in your special collections reading room making excellent use of the resources you generously allocated me.) My God, how I slept. Like the sunsets were lullabies. Like the sea air was chloroform.
Speaking of the sea, it’s just about warm enough to swim. My brother Ciarán goes regularly, so he’s acclimatized, but I’ve become soft in the underbelly. I might be guilty of a little shrieking and swearing as I try to make mind master matter. But then your skin goes numb and your thoughts get bright and you’re bobbing gently in the salt, looking out to the blue grey of the Clare shoreline. What is the feeling the sea gives you? There should be a name for the sea feeling. Maybe there is in German.
Down at Blackrock one evening, four handsome young American tourists stripped to their boxers and hollered like alpha apes, videoing each other as they jumped from the diving board, bull bellowing with the shock of the water. SPRING BREAK! Meanwhile, two stout Irish ladies pulled on their swimming caps and slipped silently into the sea, breast-stroking to the end of the strand and back in the practiced rhythm of old friendship.
It’s a third of my life since I’ve lived here. I always have this fear that I’ll come back and it’ll be different. But Galway stays the same. It slips gently into the tide; it emerges; it slips into the sea; it emerges; it exhales underwater; it breaks the surface and breathes.