Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Love brought me to San Diego

Ten years ago, Margaret O’Donnell married a stranger she felt she already knew, and moved to the US

Margaret O'Donnell with her husband Michael during one of their annual trips to Wexford last year.

Thu, Jun 5, 2014, 14:00


Margaret O’Donnell

Just over ten years ago in 2003, at the age of 43, I came to San Diego on a three-week holiday. I had been coming back and forth to that part of the south-western United States since 1995, and was very familiar with it and the people there.

My family and friends at home used to laugh, knowing that when I came back to Dublin from one trip, I was already planning the next. They wondered why I wouldn’t explore other locations, other parts of the world, but I was happy going to where I was going. In a way, it had become a home from home, or like that really special meal in a certain restaurant that you just can’t resist, even though you know you should try something else.

About three weeks into my vacation, I was sitting alone on Coronado Beach, reflecting on life in general: my wonderful family and friends at home, my beautiful apartment in Dublin, a great job where I was flourishing and content. I was single, having had a turbulent time in recent relationships. As I sat in the sand, reflecting on my life, I felt a profound sense of contentment and, for the first time ever, was happy just with everything the way it was. It was one of the most peaceful moments I can ever remember, and was accompanied by a deep sense of gratitude.

After my visit to the beach, I stopped off at a well-known coffee chain in Coronado and was reading a book outside in the sunshine, when a friend saw me and asked if I would like to visit some mutual friends on the island. I thanked him but said no, that I was going back to my hotel. He went in to get a coffee, and on his way out, for no particular reason, I stopped him and agreed to go after all.

We joined two of his friends, one of whom I knew, and the other who I had never met before, Michael. We shook hands, he said something to me, and I felt this overwhelming shock of recognition upon hearing his voice. It was like something deep inside of me just knew him. As we walked up the street together, he was chatting away (I couldn’t even respond, I was so shaken), when he suddenly said: “You feel it, too.”

And that was that.

It was a Monday evening when I met Michael. The Thursday of that week, we were sitting together in a Mexican restaurant in San Diego, when he looked straight at me and said: “You know we are going to get married, don’t you?” And, strangely, I did.

We got married the following Monday, just one week after we had met, and we are still married, nearly eleven years later.

I went back home to Dublin the following week, married (and with two teenage stepdaughters for good measure) to a wonderfully receptive and supportive family and friends. They were both shocked by the news, wondering if I had truly lost my mind for good this time, yet incredibly happy for me. I organised my departure from the country over the next four months, with long daily calls to and from Michael and the girls, absolutely certain I was doing the right thing. I was never more sure of anything in my life.

These past ten years have been a mish-mash of getting used to living in a new culture, becoming comfortable in my surroundings, my first marriage at the age of 43, coming to terms with periods of heart-rending homesickness, being thrust into a parental role (I have since formally adopted Amber, Michael’s youngest daughter), the beauty of both places, and the fact that I feel at home in the south-western US and in Ireland for different reasons. I consider myself lucky in the extreme.