Visiting my daughter in Brooklyn helped me to let her go
She has a confidence which comes from being happy in her own skin
Eileen Casey with her daughter Rebecca in New York: ‘We do the usual touristy things together, feeling it strange that our daughter is guiding us around. She has a confidence which comes from being happy in her own skin.’
‘She loves New York, its people and its openness, combined with the opportunity to be completely anonymous.’
It’s over a year since Rebecca left for New York. Just before we visit our daughter there, First Holy Communion celebrations sprouted everywhere, a reminder of Rebecca’s own big day nearly 18 years ago. Back then, one of the highlights was a trip to the zoo. I can still see her, gap toothed and dimpled, swinging Mowgli fashion across a sturdy tree in the zoo’s playground, her lacy dress trailing into the sandy pit beneath her.
Still scaling the heights, Rebecca’s apartment in Greenpoint in Brooklyn is four flights up but seems more like Everest to our mature legs. We pause for breath mid-way, glad we booked into a hotel in Times Square where at least there’s an elevator.
The front door of the Greenpoint complex is covered in graffiti, or “street art” as Rebecca now calls it. Second hand clothes which she once spurned are now classed as “vintage”. Across the road is a Big Mac Emporium. Indeed, we are never too far from the red and yellow sign no matter where we go over the coming days.
Rebecca pays $250 a week for a room smaller than the box room in our South Dublin home. She shares a kitchen, sitting room and bathroom with Irish friends. Due to a major flooding incident, there’s no plug in the bathroom by order of the landlord.
Rebecca has a cat who has only ever been outside in his carrier. He has never set foot, or paw, on grass, never known the scratching joy of a tall tree as his feline cousins do back in Dublin. Greenpoint is now yuppified however, morphing from a vast industrialised area to somewhere “cool”’ to hang out, the landscape featuring large converted lofts as well as apartment blocks. It’s a neighbourhood now, with shops that almost, and I mean almost, resemble the “huckster”’ establishments of my small town in the Midlands upbringing.
We quickly fall into the rhythms of the city, which includes sightseeing, doughnuts, hotdogs and of course, lots of soda. With ice. If we think Rebecca’s apartment is noisy, well, it’s got nothing on the hotel acoustics. There’s a giant ice-maker machine parked near our bedroom door. Converting water into cubes of ice seems to take an enormous amount of energy, causing this metal monster to rev up like a jet engine throughout the day. And night.
Hotel staff appear to be anaesthetized against this blare. Whenever we mention it, we’re met by blank looks. Rebecca too seems to be unfazed by the cacophony. Obviously, familiarity breeds total oblivion. At night, Times Square is a blaze of neon, flashing on and off like stallions in a bucking bronco show.
We do the usual touristy things together, feeling it strange that our daughter is guiding us around. She has a confidence which comes from being happy in her own skin. She loves New York, its people and its openness, combined with the opportunity to be completely anonymous. We take the open top bus tour, go to Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, visit Ripley’s Believe it or Not, pay our respects at the 9/11 memorial site and of course, take the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.
She leans over the ferry rail, her father’s arm around her shoulder. Her sunglasses seem enormous on her small, delicate face. I am remembering other trips on other ferries. Like when we went to the Blasket Islands when she was eight years old. She had big sunglasses then too, her face almost obliterated behind frames shaped like a sunflower.
Somehow the image of Peig Sayers in her shawlie doesn’t quite fit this landscape, where, just around the corner from a well known lingerie store, the naked cowboy still performs for squealing fans in Times Square.
Near the entrance to our hotel is the subway with its warren of entrances and exits. Heat from the subterranean tunnels is prized by wintering homeless as trains roar up to the platform, departing for uptown, downtown, anywhere you want town.
En route to the underground, like Orpheus descending into Hades, we pass a living, breathing memorial of young men. Their limbs are entwined in sleep, faces beautiful as Michelangelo’s David, despite dirty, tangled hair, smoke stained fingers and the empty bottles nearby. The homeless problem seems to have escalated in New York since our last visit in the late 90s. Homelessness is no longer the preserve of the elderly.
A few days before we left Dublin on our Brooklyn Odyssey, I had tied a piece of twine around my bottle brush in the front garden. It had strayed too far over our neighbour’s wall and with the help of my husband, I was trying to rein it back. The bottle brush, like youth itself, has a brief season. When we arrived home, I noticed that its glorious crimson colour had already faded. It was still determined to defect over the wall, despite our best efforts. There’s a lesson in there for sure.