‘I tell people I’m 20 years in America - I am a liar’
‘Ireland cannot be a reference point anymore ... time is moving on and my leaving home and family links are breaking’
Sean Rogers in 1983 visiting the US.
I’m a liar now. This realisation happened at a garden party in the early days of summer – a beautiful setting, close to the banks of the Charles river, listening to a children’s chorus singing Mandela songs as we sip wine, nibble at delicately arranged cheese bites and fruit assortments. I am quickly introduced.
“How long have you been here” she enquired. “20 years” I reply without giving a second thought and quickly turn to the singing children. In my head I wonder if she accepts my quick response or is frowning at my back. I’ve been giving this reply for 10 years now without an issue. Nobody has complained or questioned it. It must be more than 20 years now or I’m terrible at math. But strangers won’t know. How could they?
Twenty years is the mark I can’t get past. It’s like the Trump wall. If I count from when I was a graduate student in Boston, it could be more than 30 years? But that’s impossible and nobody counts from their college days anyway? But my eldest son is off to college in September so that just might be correct.
Meeting my cousin in New York City when I arrived for a summer in the mid 1980s was a shock - and I think he’s the reason for this 20 year mental barrier. He was 20 years in America at the time, or so I was led to believe. Was he a liar too?
Twenty years was a lifetime to me - just out of college and ready to take on America. His world was Queens and lower Manhattan, and I wanted a piece of that. But he looked and sounded American to me. Is this what 20 years can do?
After the singing had stopped I turn around to continue the conversation and got quickly introduced to a northerner - from Belfast. Shit I’m done for. He’ll know dates, historical events and will immediately work the math. He’s about my age and his wife knows my wife. The game is up and I go for the backup - the 25 year story, and take a year or two off my age. That will make sense of the math - if he wants to work it out, and who cares about one or two years that go missing anyway. Years go missing in CVs all the time.
It all works out well. We are chatting about old times like we were best buddies and what a terrible idea Brexit is. This is working out better than I expected when suddenly I hear another Irish voice across the garden. What are the chances at a small garden fundraiser with 20 people in attendance? Not great I think. I could be mistaken as I’m often these days with accents. The choir starts up again and all is well and beautiful, with our glasses of wine and plates of cheese.
The evening rolls on and guests start to filter out and I find myself introduced to the owner of the second Irish accent. She is also from Northern Ireland and is taking up a lecturer post at one of our local arts colleges. I feel so knowledgeable chatting about the move, the immigration logistics, the excitement, the culture shock, and wish her well.
The years thingy never even pops up. This is great and a wonderful end to a garden party.
We linger for a short time and eventually leave as the children come downstairs in ones and twos. Their chatter is lost to the silence of the now empty garden and the increasing noises of the surrounding city streets.
I announce, “let’s go before someone asks how long I’ve been here”.
I get a quick reply with a smile “only a couple of hours” and we move quickly to the car.
On the journey home the eureka moment hits. This has nothing to do with time spent in America or when I left Ireland permanently or for only short periods, and where to you start the clock from. No, it has all to do with aging, and a realisation of time moving on; the first child starting college, leaving home and family links in Ireland breaking.
So no more lying about time in America or whether to use story one or two. From now it’s all about enjoying the passing events in life wherever they are located. Ireland cannot be a reference point anymore, at garden parties or any other party for that matter.
Sean Rogers lives in Cambridge, Masachusetts with his wife and two sons.