A Dubliner who became a New Yorker learns to be a Dubliner again

I will have to make space for myself, temper my New York driving, relearn Irish humour

Lisa Tierney-Keogh in Times Square, New York: “Despite my clear exasperation with New York, we’ve come to terms with one another. I have learned how to navigate this city and its inherent chaos.” Photograph: Maribel de la Torre

Lisa Tierney-Keogh in Times Square, New York: “Despite my clear exasperation with New York, we’ve come to terms with one another. I have learned how to navigate this city and its inherent chaos.” Photograph: Maribel de la Torre

 

My apartment in Brooklyn is a mess. On the precipice of moving to Ireland, after a decade away, I’ve amassed a lot of stuff, including a husband and child. A stack of flattened boxes are sitting, waiting to make this more real, and I’m moving things around a lot, making small piles of progress.

As my to-do list grows and shrinks, I catch moments of what is about to happen and a question comes into my head: how does a Dubliner who became a New Yorker become a Dubliner again?

Despite my clear exasperation with New York, we’ve come to terms with one another. I have learned how to navigate this city and its inherent chaos. I’ve figured out how to co-exist with a place that is simultaneously trying to beat you with a stick and tell you how much it loves you, all at the same time.

I’ve finally gotten that deep knowledge where you come out of a subway stop and automatically know where to go. I can smell crazy from two blocks away. I know where the best pizza is and I’m not telling you. After 10 years of wrestling with it, I’m finally at peace with this city. And I know it’s because I’m leaving.

In the time I’ve been gone, a lot has happened in Ireland. The country has changed. And so have I. I take great pride in being Irish, even more in being a Dub, but how does the part of me that grew up come home and fit in?

I’m not afraid of car insurance problems or finding a good school or getting a mortgage. I’ve dealt with the ugliest side of American health insurance and am hard-pressed to think of anything bureaucratic that’s more difficult to handle. What keeps me distracted, what wakes me up during the night is thinking about what it will be like to build a new life in Ireland.

A foreign glaze

As a woman, as a playwright, I’m leaving a country with allegedly more opportunities and moving to a place with statistically less. As a person, I’m one of those people who left and are returning with a foreign glaze, for better or for worse.

I will have to carve out a new space for myself. I will have to temper my New York driving. I will have to relearn Irish humour up close and personal. I will have to find a way to live without Sephora.

New York has taught me many things, like, how to handle confrontation without crying and melting into a pool of my own tears. It’s taught me how to speak up for myself, how to stand up and know when to stand back. This city teaches you patience every day. It tests you, hourly. It exhilarates you and exhausts you. It pressures you and then soothes you with every convenience you could possibly imagine. New York will give you a headache and find you a place to get pain relief at any hour. It’s the ultimate ‘both and’ city.

Dublin is my home. It always has been. On visits back, I’ve felt that. And I’ve also felt like a stranger. Straddling two countries and not fitting in either one has become my norm. Dublin gave me life. It gave me pride. It gave me a tribe. It followed me everywhere and always made me feel like I had a safe place, no matter how bad things were.

New York strops

My city has pulled me in to embracing hugs, assured and reassured me. I know I’m forgetting its challenges, as so many emigrants do. I know for sure I’m going to drive on College Green and get pulled over. I’m certain I’ll throw New York strops and get laughed at. “You’re not in America anymore, love”. That’s coming. I know it is.

I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. The big stuff has seen to that. As I figure out what to ship and what to pack and what to throw away, I’ll find pieces of my life that I will leave in America. Homesickness, loneliness, heartache. I’ll leave as much of them behind as I can and make space for new feelings I don’t yet know.

When I eventually make this real and unflatten these boxes, I’ll pack them with books and pictures and clothes and shoes and all the material items that made up my American life.

As I do, I’ll remember why I’m leaving. Those deep, personal feelings that make up a decision to leave a place and go home. They don’t fit in boxes. They’ll travel with me, in the taxi to JFK, on the Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, and as I push a trolley full of suitcases into the arrivals hall of my home town.

The song says if I can make it here then I can make it anywhere. I’m about to find out if that’s true. And if it is, then I might just stand a chance of finding my place in Ireland. Maybe somewhere close to where I left it.

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