It’s been a whirlwind since Easter, when my brother Seth arrived by taxi in Dublin on the most important day in Irish history in recent memory: the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Uprising that led to Ireland’s independence from the UK. The streets throughout the city were blockaded by a giant military/commemorative parade that half the town was at, so Seth ended up taking the most expensive taxi ride of his life from the airport to the doorstep of my apartment. I found him waiting on the corner of my street in all his caramel-peanut-butter-flavored vape glory.
He was wearing a Chicago Bears t-shirt. I’m just going to leave that here.
I let him chill for a few minutes in the apartment as we caught up before we unceremoniously crammed into the street to watch a tank roll past at the parade. We didn’t last long because the air was actually being crushed out of our lungs from the crowd of people trying to go in every direction but the one they had space to go in. So, plan B, the first of many of his week in Dublin: we ended up touring the parts of Dublin that weren’t blockaded, covering all the major sites on both sides of the Liffey in only two hours.
We stopped so he could have a burger, also the first of many, at Bobo’s on Dame Street. You would think at a restaurant serving Irish burgers, they might play U2 or even some freaking Bruce Springsteen, American as that is. But no. They played Britney Spears. FIVE SONGS STRAIGHT. And people were actually bobbing their heads, getting into it. Seth and I just looked at each other and laughed while I tried to keep my own head from also bobbing (Britney, why you so catchy, giirrl??). It’s the honestly the most Dublin thing to happen, because nothing expected ever happens here. We even got to see a rainbow as we crossed the bridge over the Liffey, the skies opening up while the sun was still shining bright overhead.
The next day we went to Dun Laoghaire, a small seaside town, with Abbie and Jess. We walked to the train station nearest home to find it closed, which gave me panicked flashbacks to the metro strike in Rome that derailed our day’s plans, but resulted in my favorite unplanned adventure of Spring Break at the Rome Zoo. We found out that a different station further away was open, so on we went. We spent the day looking at ocean views and a lighthouse, grabbing snacks at a cute café and meeting a kitty in a bush beside the road. As you do.
I must say that though Seth had lots of fun during all the days he was with me, I feel like I failed him at night. I’ve never been the pub kind of girl and though he was here, I still had classes to go to so I couldn’t stay out all night watching him drink anyway. He didn’t go to a single pub after 8 pm while he was in Ireland because he didn’t want to go by himself, understandably but sadly enough. He didn’t complain, but I still feel guilty. He’s always liked a nice craft beer in a pub. I prefer a book in my bed.
Seth spent the next day while I was in class sleeping far too late and then he met me at the train station so we could go to Howth, another seaside town outside of Dublin. (For the record, he first went to the fire station, because he somehow thought that was what I wanted him to do. No, Seth. We catch the train at the train station.) Howth came on recommendation from a friend of Seth’s who also studied in Ireland, and it had been on my list as well. And it did not disappoint.
Howth is basically a giant loop trail surrounding the sea with a lot of smaller trails inside it. We took the shortest loop trail, which followed the sea along its cliffsides. The sky was nearly clear, the sun bright enough to leave us both sunburned. It was truly stunning, and it was these views that made me feel like no matter what, I’d succeeded in giving Seth an Irish experience he won’t forget. We couldn’t go up North or out to the West, but we talked about life on those craggy cliffsides surrounded by tiny yellow flowers, the sound of waves breaking just close enough to elicit comfort. We even shared the final drops of water in my bottle, which we haven’t done in God knows how long. (For the record, he called it wawa, not water, cause he’s a grown ass man). When we’d looped around back to the town, Seth had the best fish and chips of his life in a little restaurant. (For the record, they were also the first fish and chips he’d ever had, as one of the pickiest eaters I ever met. He’s slowly coming around though. He proceeded to eat fish and chips for the rest of his time in Dublin. Not one vegetable was harmed while he was here, though, in case you were worried.)
Seth got his drink on at Jameson Whiskey Factory and the Guinness Storehouse the next day, since I was in class from 9 to 5. He came back loaded with sweatshirts and other souvenirs for himself and others. I may be confusing the days, but I’m pretty sure we went to a pub down the street for dinner and Seth sucked his burger down in about three minutes while I watched the candlelight flicker. We didn’t say anything and were tucked literally into the furthest corner of the restaurant. It was like a weird time warp, and we got hailed on as we made a run to the liquor store. Also, I think this actually happened on Easter because I remember thinking how strange it is that the liquor stores are open on freaking Easter but in Indiana, where Seth lives, you can’t buy liquor on any Sundays, especially not Easter. Laws are weird. Also it hailed twice while Seth was here, oddly enough. He was also called a “vape dad” more times than I can count and I still am not completely sure what this means. This is the worst paragraph I have ever written.
On Seth’s last day here, we did something completely irresponsible and exhilarating that we don’t regret even a little bit. WE GOT TATTOOS. It’s become a tradition of sorts for us. We only get to see each other about once a year, and both of the past two times we got to visit, we’ve gotten tattoos. In fact, we have yet to get tattoos without each other being there. Some brothers and sisters go to the movies or see a baseball game. We get tats. I never thought I would be someone to get a tattoo, let alone tattoos (plural), but life will always surprise you if you let it. Abbie and Jess met us at The Ink Factory since Abbie wanted to get a tat as well, and Jess wanted to get her tragus pierced. No matter how many tattoos I get, I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I belong in a tattoo shop. Everyone seems cool beyond anything I could every dream of being. I don’t quite fit in that world, but I also don’t fit in the world that most people assume I’m in when they meet me, a world without tattoos or deviating behaviors of any kind. Identity and perception is weird, y’all.
I haven’t rushed into either of the tattoos I’ve gotten. I sat on the idea and let it develop and take root for months before I actually got them done so I could make sure I had adequate time to think about what I was doing. I don’t take the decision lightly, not that anyone has accused me of doing so. In the case of my newest tattoo, I knew I wanted to get it the moment I saw it, when my little sister Emma laid the drawing on my stomach one night over winter break. I had no idea she could draw, and immediately I knew that the most meaningful tattoo I could ever get would be something related to her. I love my little sister more than anything else, and I wanted to immortalize that love by getting her artwork tattooed on my body – my bicep, to be exact. A big step, certainly, one I never thought I would make. I wanted Emma to know she is important and special, and I think I have achieved that.
Did it hurt? Honestly, not nearly as bad as I thought it would. I think the back of my neck tattoo hurt worse, maybe because I had no idea what to expect. But this one, which took four times longer than my first, wasn’t too bad. The filling for the colored parts hurt worst, by far, but even then I just looked over at my friends, away from the needle, and sang along to the Red Hot Chili Peppers until it was over. Jess got her piercing while I was still in the chair, which was over very quickly. She was pleased. Abbie got her tattoo after me, finding it to be similarly easy. It wasn’t her first rodeo either, and this time she got artwork done by someone she cares about as well, which ended up being an Irish harp with a mermaid on the inside of her bicep. When she had finished, Seth was up next. He got a custom geometric bear, which was bigger than either Abbie’s or mine, so it took the longest. The pain definitely got to him a bit, and we joked that women have a higher pain tolerance. Sadly, Jess, Abbie, and I had to leave before he was done to catch a play for school. Abbie and I felt like downright badasses showing up to the Abbey Theater with saran-wrap on our arms, still bleeding.
One of the weird things about Seth’s trip to Ireland was that it had a feeling of symbolic closure. The original plan had been for my mom and Emma to come with him, but passport issues barred that from happening. So Seth came on his own while my mom and Emma went to Disney World in Florida. If you know me, you know that I practically grew up Disney World. My family went every year and I used to compete in Disney’s Wide World of Sports with my elite cheerleading team each March, getting to drop my schoolwork for a week to do so. It was my happy place, and this was the first time my family ever went without me. While my little sister was riding the Rockin’ Roller Coaster for the first time, I was in Dublin, Ireland getting a tattoo of her artwork on my bicep. Nothing to me could more telling that I have grown up. Seth and I both have, our Disney days done. It’s both a sad and happy feeling, but there were many moments over the week where I was wishing I could be with my sister in Disney World. Growing up is hard.
All in all, it was a nice visit with Seth and I’m glad he got to come. I sent him to catch his plane with a still-bleeding tattoo and I boarded a bus to Western Ireland at the same time with my own still-bleeding tattoo. This one bled a lot, my arm sincerely pissed at the invasion (shut up arm, you look fabulous). I had to explain to the director of the Dublin campus, Stephen, for the second time that just because I have a tattoo (two actually), I’m not a delinquent. He was so shocked when he found this side of me out, didn’t see it coming in the slightest. I enjoy surprising people because it means I don’t fit the mold and am actively working to break stereotypes, but it will never be fun to hear people – and I will hear this plenty of times I’m sure – say they are disappointed in me for my decision to get tattoos. I’m still the same fundamental person; I just have art of my body. It doesn’t signify that I have criminal leanings or do drugs or run with a sketchy crowd. It means I like art enough to have it on my body permanent. Stephen also said to Abbie and I that our tattoos aren’t “ladylike,” but with all due respect, times are a-changing. I’m not concerned with being ladylike. I’m concerned with being treated like a person despite my gender, my choice to get tattoos, and societal expectations of who I’m supposed to be. I’m woman, yes. But a lady? To me, a lady is someone who is scared to take up space. I’m scared not to take up space. No hard feelings, Stephen. We just come from different places, and part of my work in life, I think, is to continually challenge what people think and why.
So, Western Ireland. That happened.
To be honest, it’s all a blur. I was exhausted from playing tour guide in addition to attending all my regular classes and responsibilities. I still had fun, don’t get me wrong, but I was much less invested than perhaps I was at the beginning of the semester before I was so tired. Traveling and going on trips every weekend really does take it out of you. So here’s what we did:
- Rode the bus, which didn’t yet smell like cheesy chips and McDonald’s (but would soon enough), out west. Abbie and I had to clean our tattoos in the first of several sketchy bathrooms. We got quite good at it, actually
- Stopped at a church/castle/cemetery hybrid thing. I watched one of my classmates squeeze through a crack in the wall and got rain down the back of my jacket
- Went to the Burren, a harsh landscape with craggy rocks and a Bronze Age dolmen. I admittedly was slow to get off the bus into the relentless rain
- Walked around at the edge of the world at the Cliffs of Moher. The fog cover was pretty eerie and added to the experience of jumping the safety barrier and walking on the edge that will likely someday crumble into the sea (but not that day! come at me fate)
- We stayed overnight in a hostel in Doolin, grabbing dinner at a very cute pub with a strong matriarch owner who was very accommodating of my dietary needs. Program director Stephen shared his opinions of Abbie and I not being sure if we want to ever get married, throwing the word “spinster” out on the table, which we then tried to dismantle because we don’t have time for outdated expectations of what women need to do to be women. Again, no hard feelings, Stephen. If anything, we appreciate you because you give us an outlet for our feminist rage (Jess included in that sentiment)
- On day two, we took a ferry to Inisheer, an island off the coast of mainland Ireland. When I say ferry, I really mean a renovated lobster boat taking on the Atlantic Ocean swells, and failing miserably at it. I didn’t get too sick on the way there, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself since I was the only one of my friends not to take Dramamine
- Inisheer itself was a lovely break away from the hustle of Dublin. The town is tiny with only a few pubs and one doctor’s office. Most of our group rented bikes, but due to my medical condition, I don’t jive well with bikes. So the three of us rented a horse named Sophie with a carriage to cart us around the island instead. Sophie conveniently enough came with an adorable dog named Chico that ran alongside us the entire time, stopping to pee on everything. The town was adorable with stone walls every where and we got to see a old shipwreck, a castle, and an underground stone church in a cemetery. There was also a dolphin in the bay, kitties and puppies galore, and lots of horses. I also drank what tasted like fresh-out-the-udder cow’s milk in some woman’s house turned cafe
- The boat ride back. was. awful. It started out alright. I watched the horizon and thought the ill-fated words, “This isn’t so bad,” before I descended – quickly – into a state of being I can only call pseudo-death. It started as nausea, but I never really felt like I was going to throw up even as I clutched my little blue bag of safety. The nausea felt like it was rooted in my bones, like it would never release me, like it’d been waiting all my life for the chance to take hold of me. My face went white, my hands went numb, and my eye-sight started to disassociate; what my eyes were seeing was not what was communicated back to me. My body wouldn’t stop yawning in protest and soon, I found myself sobbing. None of these bodily responses were within my control. I wanted to throw myself overboard. The way back was twice as long as the way there had been because we detoured to the base of the Cliffs of Moher. They were probably lovely, but my eyes couldn’t register them. Overwhelmed, my body fully shut down and I went to sleep sitting near-upright without any recollection of doing so. I swore to myself I’d never go on a boat on the ocean again. Here’s starting the countdown to when I forget how awful this way and do it again anyway
- Sadly, my motion sickness hung around for the rest of the day like a fog. I could eat and function okay, but just felt rather crappy in doing so. My night in Galway consisted of eating oatmeal in a hostel kitchen, watching Jess and Abbie eat soup and sandwiches in a pub off the main shopping center, listening to some cool street music, and then passing out before 10 pm. I woke up the next morning feeling like I hadn’t slept for two hours on the bus the day before or got a significant amount of sleep through the night. My anxiety was tested during breakfast when I helped set up all the food for our group, which was then ravaged by a group of Austrian high-schoolers. They nearly got the last chocolate chip muffin, the fiends
- I was sadly still a little motion sick as the bus weaved its way through the tight turns of Connemara, which was extremely gorgeous and scenic, but sort of made me want to throw up on the window. We stopped at a bog so program director Stephen could be a geologist (or something) and I tried not to step in sheep poo, which looked like little baby dinosaur eggs. Then we arrived at the real destination: Joyce Country Sheepdogs. It was here against the lovely background of green-yellow hills and a peaceful lake that we got to cuddle puppies and watch trained sheepdogs herd some sheep for our viewing pleasure. Some people got to hold a massive full-grown sheep, but us gals stuck to holding the baby lambs, one of which was only a day old. We also got to watch one of the dogs tackle a sheep because he was a little too in the zone. He looked a bit rabid with wool hanging out of his mouth. Also I got to pee on a toilet that Jennifer Aniston probably peed on. I’m going with it
- We stopped for lunch in Cong, Ireland and again I was accommodated nicely thanks to some pre-planning on the college’s part. It’s always difficult having to watch others eat fried foods and other yummies, but it helps when I also have something more than thermos rice to eat while doing so. It was sitting in the back corner of this restaurant that I received the email telling me I was going to be published at the end of this month, which was both surprising and very welcome. I was having quite the dry spell
- The bus ride back involved shameless use of my face mask to block out all the sun so I could sleep away the threat of more motion sickness. We arrived back in Dublin in time for me to start tackling emails and catching up on homework, since I didn’t touch a single bit of it while Seth was in town
- It’s good to be back in my apartment, and even better to have two classes canceled this week
Now it’s time to go use a toilet that Jennifer Aniston has almost undoubtedly not used. Not every toilet can be famous, you know.