“Take a left-” Kathump!” Preferably not over the trash can. Or the drunk college student. Vehicular manslaughter will not do well on your record.”
After hurdling over a few bumps in the road, I finally manage to get them to turn into a drive thru. ” What do you want? It’s on me of course.”
Once again we get the same thing: chicken nuggets and fries with a lemonade on the side. The lemonade is watery, and I lament not finding a “freshly squeezed, twenty-five cent” cart operated by two smooth talking girl scouts who knew how to take advantage of an opportunity when they saw one, such as at a funeral march on a hot summer day where the flooding tears of the mourners were bound to dry their throats. What can I say? I regret nothing.
” So what do you want be to write for you this time?” they ask as the slurp their lemonade. ” I’m guessing we are far from done?”
” You would be correct. I’m wracking my brain wondering whether I should start with the second or the first, but I think it’s time you knew about the second. Because this second trip was unexpected and it would draw me in to Ireland more than I ever thought possible.”
Early one December morning I receive a letter from the Bandana Bandit offering an invite to participate in the Gaelic Association World Games. Now each year I’ve gradually strayed from the well known American sports such as football and basketball and drifted into the strange, the abnormal realm of rugby and camogie.
” What are those?”
” Honestly, whatever you are playing now don’t do it. It’s the biggest waste of time and these two sports are the greatest thing you’ll ever know,” my bitterness loosens my tongue and I say too much. Fortunately, I break the cardinal rule of etiquette and talk with my mouth full, making it difficult for them to hear. It’s okay to be rude to myself, isn’t it?
Now camogie is an Irish sport and it is thanks to James Blonde that I got into it in the first place. Like most teams I joined, I didn’t play for the bonds of friendship that supposedly formed it that kind of thing suited a person, but I joined because I never saw such a thing before: a round leather ball soars swiftly through the air after being hit with a flat -faced stick, or hurl, it is picked, kicked, or smacked across the ground, and it is carried no more than fours steps. A strange idea, really, yet I was fascinated. I was even more fascinated to try to play it across seas, in the place it originated from.
As I said before, this was my second trip to Ireland, yet still there was something new I took away with me. The more I immersed myself in the culture, the more I began to understand:the less exposure to other lives leaves a person blind; the more exposure there is, the more the person can adapt and shred the skin of ignorance which holds them back from seeing what needs to be seen.
When I snatched up the Bandana Bandits’ offer, I had no vision of the bigger picture. I thought ” Hey, this would be cool, playing in another country”, which was indeed cool but it was so much more. There would be little free time given, as we would play roughly twelve games over a four day period, but during the time that was given I saw more of the rich history that defines Ireland, and that was mostly through the conversations with my own teammates. Of course, taking a few tours helped and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I only joined them to spend more time not only with the Bandana Bandit and the others I inadvertently traveled for days with, but with James Blond, whose visit lifted my spirits greatly.
Still, I was completely enthralled as we entered Kilmainham Gaol, which at one point held many Irish Revolutionaries, including a man named Plunkett who was allowed to marry his wife before being promptly executed, during the Easter Uprising. I don’t know why that particular story sticks with me, or even that particular event, but I’m glad it did. It fostered a fascination to understand more, particularly the intricacies of the catholic/protestant divide, about a place I was spending a great deal of time in. In fact, when I finally returned home, I rummaged through some old books about to be given away-
” What! Someone was about to give away books!” they stare at me aghast, fumbling with the french fries and sending the flying across the upholstery.
” It was not as blasphemous as the time I witnessed a family member discard a book in the recycling bin. A part of my soul was crushed that day.”
” I think that’s the most frightful horror story I’ve ever heard!”
” You’d think. But trust me, there are some books out there that might deserve a good burning,” I say, cringing as Twilight appears as a spectre, haunting my memories with a malicious laughter. ” Anyway, as I was saying, I conveniently found a historical fiction book on the Easter uprising and from there I fell in love with Derry Girls, a delightfully hilarious shoe also delving into the rich history of Ireland. I think this trip gave me more than I bargained for, more than any other trip much to my surprise on any other occasion. And let me tell you, the best things happen when you don’t spend so much looking for it.”
I left in July, once again taking an early flight and landing in the airport before the sun yawned above the greyness lingering in the night. I had completely expected to rent a car and drive to a rental as I have done on my solo trips before, but I didn’t realize this wouldn’t exactly be a solo trip. My first shock came when the Medic asked if we wanted to share a place together. The second came when she said I didn’t need a car, that we could take the bus and travel together(let it be known that buses would continue to cause problems). The third shock came when the Bandana Bandit, after teetering back and forth like a seesaw, asked to stay with us as well, bringing along two others who I didn’t know too well and wasn’t sure if I wanted to. I was accustomed with being on my own, so why was I suddenly with a pack?
” It’s funny, how you see in every coming of age story examples of experiences that everyone goes through. Everyone does drugs. Everyone crushes or dates someone. Everyone has a group of friends and travel to weird places and do weird things. They assume these things are common, but don’t realize how rare they are to others, making them more special. I never had the common experience, or if so it was so rare that I had forgotten what it was like, that feeling I had in Chicago buried in a box left in a cellar whose door remained closed.”
” Can you tell me more about that feeling?” They blush at the word, and I cannot blame them. For years they allowed themselves to be in a vulnerable position, to share everything that came to mind only for something, or a series of somethings, to cut the chord, letting them fall into a cave in which no one was allowed in. They thrived in the cave, although they soon forgot what it was like to feel the sunlight on their cheeks.
Over the hill where the valley Is green and white and flat And the sky blue and wide He sits, a flute to his lips Singing and singing Waiting and waiting For someone to hear the words Which stayed in his heart for Years and years The clouds watch from up high And the lake watch from below Far away from the valley Where she sits in a barn holding A flute to her mouth Singing and singing Waiting and waiting For someone to hear the words Which stayed in her heart for Years and years Over the hill where the valley Is green and white and flat And the sky blue and wide He sits, a flute in his lap and His ear stretching towards the lake Where below in the barn she whispers Her song, so sweet and full of sorrow And he stands Waiting and waiting To hear the words which stayed In her heart for Years and years Far away from the valley She sits in the barn holding A flute in her lap while Stretching an ear up towards The sky where the wind captures A voice so sweet and full of sorrow Singing and singing Waiting and waiting From a valley far away And she stands And she walks Towards the words which stayed In his heart for Years and years Over the hill where the valley Is green and white and flat And the sky blue and wide She finds him standing With a flute in his hand And he finds her walking With a flute in hers Together they sit, their flutes Held up to their lips And the play and play Sing and sing Their words which stayed in their hearts For years and years Waiting and waiting Are finally free to sing With each other for Years and years.
I slept in the airport, ignoring a familiar voice which would have put me on a functional bus three hours earlier, and waited to join the Medic on a bus that suffered some setbacks: the original bus broke down so we moved to another, that bus was supposed to be used for something else so we went back to the broken bus, the broken bus trotted along and it took much longer to get to Waterford than it should have. We decided to get out a hike to our AirBnB, a nice penthouse located on the Quay. A small balcony opened out onto it and often each morning one of us would be sitting out there, drinking coffee or juice, and watch the sun reflect over the beautiful water. For five days we stayed here and for five days we didn’t need to kill each other; in fact, something about it felt right, like the right pieces were moved on the chessboard. The people I was nervous about- which, to be frank, is everyone because me and people go as well together as water and electricity- became something of a warm blanket: warm and comfortable. We stuck together like glue for the most part for those first few days, occasionally splitting up to do our own thing and explore the streets of Waterford. We gather during the evenings at a pub across the street or cook spaghetti meals and sit around the living room, waiting for the knock that would send us scrambling to hide the extra person we weren’t supposed to have.
” And of course, between games and eating and watching celebrities get drunk on The Graham Norton Show– we couldn’t explore much of Waterford or outside of it, we would have to do that in Dublin, in which I would realize during my first visit I walked through it just to get through it and I never really walked through to see it- we did loads and loads of laundry. Mostly for our uniforms, and after day one our socks would forever be tie dyed. A thing to note: dryers do not exist in Europe. So plan to dry things way ahead of time. I think we had damp uniforms for day two.”
” I think I’d prefer not to do laundry at all,” they say.
” Oh, so you want to cart around two and a half weeks worth of clothes? Good luck with that whenever you go to New Zealand.”
” Wait, I get to go there? So cool!”
“Woah, woah, woah, slow down there hot pants. I never said that you or I actually get to go. But that’s a story for another time. Are you going to finish writing with ketchup?” A red stain smears the postcard. In this lighting it could pass for blood. I glance around nervously. No way am I getting my car searched again for something I didn’t do.
The games took place the day after a parade was held showing off all the different teams from different parts of the world: China, Australia, Canada, Europe, and New York. Yes, New York was its own separate entity from the rest of the United States teams because apparently their self importance qualifies them to become their own country. Each team had members of a local club team from a surrounding town march with them, bearing the banners and generally feeling awkward and afraid of being stuck with strange adults. With half our team getting drunk during the march and the other half having no clue what to do with children, I took it upon myself to be as weird and inclusive and energetic as possible. Not only did I end up on the local tv, but I made a friend with one of the children who thought my weirdness was charming. Huh, who knew?
I would meet this child again, days later after running more than I ever did in my entire life. At least, it felt like that because my heels hurt for days and I thought for sure I was going to tear both of my Achilles. Thankfully the Bandana Bandit introduced me to a weird exercise that had other teams staring- we walked up and down each other’s backs, stopping to massage the butt and thighs. I did a lot of strange things, particularly with her, that my dreams never included. After eating some spicy curry, which I’m told is an Irish thing but I’m not too fond of it(personally, I favored the fish and chips in this esoteric chippery that the Medic took me, Energizer Bunny, and The Pun Master) and a quick rinse down in the showers the facility offered us, we hopped on a bus with some Argentinians and headed to Lismore, the town who were to sponsor us.
” It’s funny; the facilities I saw were modest yet spacious and neat, with a smooth, polished sleakness better than what the Americans offer their athletes. Funnier still is that the athletes are all amateur. They don’t play for money; they play for their history, their culture, and for fun. I can absolutely say for certain it is one the the sports I’ve had the most fun with.”
” But how do they pay for the facilities? How do they generate income?”
I shrug.” I don’t know that, but it doesn’t matter. If you have to ask about money, though, you’re not asking the right questions.”
Acting as disciples sharing a golden chalice, we spent a good portion of the bus ride singing and exchanging songs. I have no idea what they were singing, or rather chanting in a variety of voices ranging from deep and husky to high and screechy, perhaps it was a lovely ballad from their home country although it was more than likely something a little more vulgar: but I know we decided to offer, much to the Bandana Bandits chagrin, a melody of ” The Wheels on the Bus” and ” Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Classic. They had no idea anyway, from the blank stares and communication issues that would shortly follow.
Lismore was a beautiful town surrounded by luscious green pastures where the horses roamed freely. My jaw dropped at the astounding stone masonry of the castle we passed. But nothing was more exciting, and more nerve-wracking, then spending time with strangers I’d probably never meet again but who would last in my memories as long as their castles last in their history. They were incredibly hospitable, sharing food and tea and playing music that swayed the legs into a joyous rhythm. We watched the team practice, the opportunity to join them offered but we were too tired and their skill level was unparalleled to ours, and took note of the types of drills they were doing so we could take them home as our souvenir, which would be a better gift than anything the shops could give from commercialized hands.
Night was falling, the sun biding farewell so we took our turn to leave. Excepot the bus hadn’t shown up yet. It was stuck waiting on a bunch of drunk Argentinians and we were stuck with no way back to Waterford. Fortunately, our sponsors gave us a ride, driving twenty or so minutes out of the way, barreling treacherously down narrow winding roads to get us to the bar. We didn’t care; we were eternally grateful especially since the cab company the Bandana Bandit tried to call was from Australia and definitely was not going to make it in time. However, the bus wouldn’t leave until the Argentinians were on the bus and they were too comfortable to leave. We had an early morning game to play so it was safe to say most of us were livid. ” Rapido, rapido!” We screamed at them in Spanish. Then we threatened to leave them if they weren’t on in cinco minutos. How to establish international relations.
So beautiful, so green And blue and yellow The light reflecting off The castles, the trees, the hills Yet they ignore it all In favor of biting words And vicious scream And words left unspoken On the long road they travel Through beauty left unseen.
We made it back late, leaving the Argentinians behind to argue with the driver, with the help of the Bandana Bandits father who so graciously carted us around after the Medic failed to get a car and her bike rental literally fell flat. To make up for it I paid all the tolls and the Medic, after we frolicked whimsically through an Urban Outfitters and abused the photo booth, found something as a token of our appreciation.
” Whenever someone treats you well, it is extremely important that you return the favor and treat them equally as well. When James Blonde came, the effort of making the time to come earned a free place to stay.”
” So what happened? With the tournament?”
” Oh we didn’t make it into the finals. We weren’t expecting to, without a proper coach we were the Island of Misfit Toys. Yet the Bandana Bandit did her best to lead us. So we gathered for a final dinner at Croke Stadium, which wasn’t anything special. I cannot remember what the food tasted like, but I do remember leaving to find a pub and sitting for an hour or so, just talking. You see, you don’t need to go out and get blackout drunk, although I say that might be worth it if only for the dancing. All you need is a group of really good people to make you forget about the other things.”
All you really need is one really good day to have the heart swinging in the clouds, light and free of any burdens but I am fortunate to have a whole week. Even better, I didn’t realize how much I was floating and swinging in the clouds until afterwards. Maybe its better not to know; maybe its better to be lost in the magic twirling like a ballerina around you. I do know, though, that I’d happily get lost twirling like a ballerina again.