I have never been apprehensive about going home before, but I am now
I worry about bringing disease back, and what kind of Ireland I will find on my return
Mary Jane Boland with her daughter at the airport on their way back home to Ireland.
I have made many journeys across the Irish sea.
Since I moved to Nottingham in 2009, and then to London in 2010, I have returned “home” for work trips, 30th birthdays, weddings, an job for which I commuted, reunions with old friends, christenings, research trips, Christmases, doctor’s appointments, communions, and recently, funerals.
Spending so much of the last decade travelling between these islands, it was difficult not to feel as though I was living in a liminal zone, neither here nor there, suspended between the two places, settled and unsettled at the same time.
I started to put my feet a little more firmly on the ground in London when my daughter was born. A new house - that elusive place to call our own - also reduced the number of journeys undertaken each year. With Covid-19 they stopped altogether.
Soon we will return once more. For my husband and my daughter, it will be the first time since Christmas; for me, the first time since the death of my father four months ago. Of course, for many people I know, those of my generation who left during the last global crisis and now live much further afield in Dubai, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, four months away from home hardly constitutes a long time.
But for me, it has felt like a lifetime.
Perhaps that is also because the lifetimes we knew are no more. Life and time are two concepts that have been redrawn by this global pandemic. A lifetime - one that was familiar and known - has passed away in these past months, for everyone.
I have never been apprehensive about going home before, but I am apprehensive now. Ireland - the land of a thousand welcomes - is not opening its loving arms to its returning children. There will be no fatted calves killed for this prodigal return. We three “Typhoid Marys” will lock ourselves away from the embrace of friends. Hunker down and wait for our contamination to wear off. And so we should.
But my apprehension goes far beyond this (deep) anxiety that I will bring disease back across the sea.
What version of home will I find?
The things I look forward to about going to Ireland are those which I lack in London. Being greeted by my first name in local shops. Women on the street grabbing me by the hands, demanding to know “where are you now?” Soup and sandwiches in the pub that turn into pints. Pints that turn into sing songs. Visiting my dad in the nursing home. Cups of coffee with aunties. Seeing my daughter play with the children of my school friends.
It will all have to wait. Some of it may never return. Visits to the nursing home are gone forever, because so is my dad.
Once more I find myself suspended in a liminal zone, between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the known and the unknown. Feeling unsettled because I don’t know what to expect anymore. Feeling guilty because the desire to see my mother is stronger than my compulsion to keep away, safe at a distance in London.
But there is also hope. Hope that although life will be changed, it will still be there. Hope that my daughter will recognise her grandmothers. Hope that I will find solace in the places I know so well. Hope that the sea will still be as blue and cold as I remember, that the nights will still be quiet, that the people will still know my name.
Ireland, I have missed you. I am coming home.