Leaving New York is more of a wrench than leaving Ireland

I am moving back to Ireland and have said goodbye to people I may never see again

Homeward bound: Michael Russell and Sinead Murphy

Homeward bound: Michael Russell and Sinead Murphy

 

I’m sitting in Newark Airport, watching the sun setting on the New York skyline, and on my time here in the US.

The tall silhouettes are starting to twinkle against a kaleidoscopic sky of blood orange and candy pink. I can’t look away... I’m afraid the buildings will fade from existence (or memory) as soon as I do. I’m scrutinising it, drinking in every detail in case I somehow missed something when it became a backdrop to my life.

Today has been an achingly sad day, an emotion that thankfully feels alien to me. It is not one I’ve experienced much in my five years here.

In many ways, leaving New York is more of a wrench than leaving Ireland was. When I emigrated first, I knew could visit Ireland a few times a year, see everyone I wanted to, move home whenever I wanted to... I knew Ireland would always be here for me, I knew it would always be mine.

But leaving New York is different. I don’t know when I’ll be back. I’ve said goodbye to people I may never see again. It’s not my home anymore.

Michael Russell and Sinead Murphy
Michael Russell and Sinead Murphy

When Famine-era emigrants departed Ireland, never to return, they would host “living wakes” where loved ones would say farewell to someone they would never see again. The last few weeks have felt like a mild version of that.

In one day, a whole cast of people have moved from my present to my past

Of course I’ll visit New York again, and my life-long friends will visit Ireland. But there are dozens of people whom I care for that I’ll likely never see again. The minor characters of this play I’ve been living in: the close colleague that will move on with their own life, the friend of a friend that I’ve shared great experiences with, the bartender who would save me a seat and give me a free drink, the barista who had my order ready for me every morning. In one day, a whole cast of people have moved from my present to my past.

But beneath the sadness of closing the New York chapter of my life, there is a swelling excitement about returning to Ireland. It’s like leaving a great holiday in nice hotel; of course you’re sad it’s over, but you’re excited to get back to your own bed. Your home may not have the glamour of the hotel, but it’s where you belong. There’s a sense of permanence and comfort about it. It’s home.

And while I feel like I’m losing part of my identity by leaving New York (I’m no longer the New Yorker, the emigrant, the Christmas yank, the older cousin away in the Big Apple), I’m also excited by the new identities that await me in Dublin - the husband, homeowner, the homecomer.

There’s a lump in my throat as I’m called to board, just as there was in Dublin’s Terminal 2 what seems like a lifetime ago in 2013. I take one last lingering look at the skyline, now a shimmering oasis in a sea of inky blues, and I blink away a tear, knowing that New York is no longer a part of me, and I’m no longer part of it.

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