The ache of homesickness
When you’re gone, life is still just life, only in a different place. It is not the differences that make surviving easy. It’s the sameness of it, writes SARAH GRIFFIN
IN WALGREENS I got stopped by a shop-assistant because I’d been snivelling around the cosmetics section for 10 minutes, face soaked and red and puffy.
“Ma’am, ma’am, you alright? Can I get you anything?” To his unknowing eyes, I was a damsel in distress, bawling my eyes out by the nail-polish-remover.
Maybe he thought I’d just been broken up with or that someone had stolen my purse, that my heart was breaking and my eyes were leaking and the only place I could find solace in the wilds of San Francisco was aisle two of a chain drug-store, my only friends the smiling ladies on the hair-dye boxes.
The truth was, I was hay-fevery and sunburnt. I took refuge in the pharmacy to buy a packet of tissues because my eyes were watering so badly I couldn’t see at all. Whichever pollen this air is dense with wants me out, wants my Irishness sent back to my tiny island 5,000 miles from here.
I almost told him no, I am not alright actually. I’ve just moved here and America is terrifying. Sometimes Ireland is this way too, but in a way that I understand. I’ve seen the man behind the curtain who runs the smoke and mirror show of Ireland but here, here is a whole different level of pyrotechnics and nonsense. The Coca-Cola tastes different here: tastes uglier. A punnet of mushrooms costs six dollars, that’s outrageous.
Cigarettes are cheap but people look at you funny if you smoke – only bad guys smoke in America.
America looks at you with friendly eyes during small talk but hears only your accent, defines you by your nationality. I have been asked about my “cute” accent at every minor verbal interaction I have had since I arrived here: four or five times a day, but I have not told one person my father’s name. Or my mother’s. Or that I love to crochet, that I am really good at video games. That I’m worried about the day that I try to return to the place that gave me this accent – because once you leave, you’ve left.
You jumped ship, you gave up.
If you show up at Terminal Two of Dublin Airport after America kicked the head off you with hay fever and unemployment and culture-shock, Ireland will be thrilled to see you. She’ll drive you home. She’ll bring you a cup of tea as you lie in foetal position on your old bed, because she heard the tea wasn’t as good over there at all.
As you lie on the coolness of your Little Mermaid bedspread, she’ll still say to you, “What a terrible shame, oh of course you’re welcome back here, any time at all at all, go on sit down there, get that cup of tea into you and tell us about how awful America was.” Ireland is a great listener, you know, and essentially wants you to do well. But misery loves company, and Ireland loves a welcome home party.
I hurriedly bought four packets of tissues for a dollar and flounced back into the abrasive sunshine. I stuffed several balls of it between my leaking eye-socket and the lens of my sunglasses and didn’t care about how ridiculous I looked: it was a slight relief from being blinded by my own tears.