By Jimmy Walsh Doyle
arrived in Cork, and went to the farm of my cousin Tony and his
wife Margaret. Tony and Margaret had met me the previous December,
when I was in Ireland with Paul. We'd hit it off quite well, and
they thought I was great "craic," Irish for fun. The shell
of a cousin who arrived at their house must've been a shock. They
were kind and gentle, but I found out that one doesn't really have
emotions in Ireland. "Mind yourself" became the closest
to a heart to heart I could find in Mallow, County Cork. Ireland
was in the midst of a major heat wave and a rash of suicides. The
government was concerned that Ireland's suicide rate for young men
in their early twenties was four times that of the rest of the European
Union. Every day on the news, after the angelus rang, there would
be a story of one more suicide. An American tourist jumped of the
Cliffs of Moher, the most gorgeous sheer drop on the West Coast
of Ireland. I'd been there with my father; it's my favorite picture
of the two of us. For the first time in my life, I felt proud and
safe to be with my Dad, connected somehow. He said, quietly, as
the fog and wind and sea spray rolled around us, "I've been
here before." I said, "I'd thought you'd never been to
Ireland before," and he said, "No, I've been here in another
my father to make reference to reincarnation was about as absurd
as if he'd said let's go Jew. I didn't know how to respond, so I
did whatever I did when I felt safe and warm with my father. I froze,
hoping I wouldn't ruin it. My mother was down in the car, she hated
Ireland. She hated the cold and the rain and she hated the plumbing.
She was just a regular bitch, but I couldn't say that. I'd never
questioned my mother, ever. Her moods were not her fault, and she
was a suffering sensitive soul. I hung in the balance between my
mother, who hated every minute of the trip, and my father, who was
like a pig in shit. I shared a room with them every night for three
weeks, on a trip they'd planned to celebrate their twenty-fifth
Mallow, as a grown man and orphan, I stood at the grave of my great-grandfather,
James Walsh, and thought of his sorrow and pain. He lost all of
his children, some to the hunger, and others to emigration. I stood
before him with my broken heart and asked for his help.
must be the gay one then? Well, sorry for your troubles. Mind yourself."
the Irish language, you don't say, I am sad, you say the equivalent
of I am wearing sadness. I have a sadness upon me. And that's what
real sadness feels like, like a hairshirt one can't remove. Wherever
I was, I could feel it on me. I took walks, I went to "support
group" meetings. The group in Mallow was bereft, because they'd
just buried one of their members, a twenty-seven year old man with
two children. He'd hung himself in the barn after repeated attempts
to quit drinking. I felt still burdened, even in a meeting, which
I'd never experienced before. The Irish don't clap at meetings,
they don't even hold hands at the end of the meeting and say the
Lord's Prayer together, they stand up and say it really fast to
themselves, rosary speed. Mind yourself.
the car and went down to Baltimore with some friends, rich and hoighty-toighty
types with sailboats and Mercedes. I went to meetings in Skibbereen
and cried over my gay lover with Cork farmers smelling of pig shit.
"Ah now, you mustn't let yourself take a drink over this, sure
it's the hardest of hurts."
bathhouse in Cork city had horrible water pressure. I discovered
that I could be desirable again, with my swollen eyes and the fresh
scar of a skin cancer biopsy on my stomach. What is invisible in
West Hollywood is fresh meat in Cork
an American accent can
get you far. I decided to stay a weekend at a gay B&B in Cork,
the weekend after gay pride. Have a laugh and get laid for the comfort
that's in it.
from Skibbereen up to Cork in one day, during the worst heat wave
in recorded history. People were dying in France by the busloads,
and it was NINETY degrees in Ireland. Unheard of. I arrived in Cork
during rush hour, and phoned the owner of the B&B from a phone
box. He drove down from the house to the main quay and had me follow
him to his place.
was a gorgeous Georgian house, with a beautiful view of the river
and a splendid bedroom on the third floor for me. It was the most
romantic place I'd ever seen, and I was the only guest. Alone in
a bedroom with a huge bed, a fireplace, and its own sitting area
and tea set. I'd never felt more pitiful in my life.
is everyone?" I asked, my voice shaking. "I thought it
was Gay Pride week?" The owner of the B&B laughed. "No,
that was last week. This week I'd say it's a ghost town."
you ever noticed that it's always song seven on the C.D. that's
your favorite? Or is it a different song number for different people?
Maybe that's the key; forget astrology or numerology ...which song
is always your favorite? Mine's always number seven. Of the C.D.s
I brought along to Ireland, Sinead O'Connor's new one had Paddy's
Lament on number seven, and "Woman of Heart and Mind"
was number seven on Joni Mitchell's live album "Miles of Aisles."
I realized on my lonely trip to Ireland that "I am a woman
of heart and mind." All my years of trying to be cool for
Paul, all the times I tried to hide my aching bleeding liberal Irish
Catholic heart, I was killing myself, a sacrifice to a relationship
that didn't exist. "You criticize and you flatter/You imitate
the best and the rest you memorize." He was trying on a
role, and I was getting lost in mine. I went to Ireland with a sorrow
that felt as deep as that of my ancestors, and a hunger so deep
I couldn't be filled. I never stayed at that B&B, I knew I'd
be more tempted to use the window with no screen over the river
than I would've been to use the teapot. I kept going, kept clinging
to my friends, sobbing and crying over all the rugs that had been
pulled out from under me. If my mother had asked me if she should
leave, I would've voted no ...and I would've voted no for Paul's
departure as well. But I was bereft, left, and wearing sorrow in
the hottest sun Ireland had ever seen.
was only one station on the radio, and the Irish love their Dido.
Driving the fifty or so kilometers from my cousins' house to the
baths in Cork city, or the five hours from there to my friend Brian's
house in Tipperrary, I had to be on guard for Dido. She will fuck
you up, Dido will. "I want to thank you/For giving me the
best day of my life." Shut the fuck up, you codependent
monster. I would be able to get the news station in some parts of
the country, listening to what was happening in the world in the
Irish language, which I don't understand. I would hear a news report
in Irish, and recognize the word "New York" but not know
what was going on in New York. I had to stop at a gas station and
get a paper to find out that the power was out in New York and parts
of Canada. "I drew a map of Canada/Oh Canada/With your face
sketched on it twice." That's song eight, "A Case
of You," and it's as dangerous as Dido when your heart is broken
and you're alone in another country that should feel like home.
I didn't know if this ragged hot country with the high suicide rate
and the flaming fucking cases of alcoholism was my home, or the
one in L.A. being dismantled was my home. I cried out to God, on
every beach and cliff, and didn't trust myself to be alone for too
long. I stood mute and broken in the winds of my fatherland, trying
to listen to the part of me that wouldn't die.
a shiatsu masseuse in the West. She was from the North, a short
stout lady who tried her best to help me heal. She told me I was
strong, stronger than I knew, and that my rage was my friend. "It's
energy, and it can protect that child who hurts within you."
Luckily she had forgone a simple box of Kleenex, and had given me
an entire roll of toilet paper. Her husband was working on some
part of the house they lived in, a newer building, with a lovely
garden and kids' toys strewn about. She did her work in the original
house, a shed really, with a converted attic and little kitchen
and whatnot. As I lay there I wanted to beg her to let me stay,
I could help with the kids, maybe teach a monologue workshop? She
held my back where my heart had once been, and I could feel the
heat rising off of me. Wave upon wave of grief overtook me, and
she kept whispering over and over, "It lives, your heart. It
lives." She asked me to picture Mother Earth holding me and
rocking me and had me hold my hand over my belly button. I don't
know what she meant me to feel or realize, but I think I figured
out where the pain was coming from. I had been ripped from one too
many wombs in my day, and it was time to create my own safe home.
At that moment, I knew that I couldn't stay in the Old Country,
and I needed to go burn down whatever was left of the New Country
that I lived in. It was time to create a new space. I remembered
how Sylvia Plath described crying: "The water I taste is
warm and salt, like the sea/ And comes from a country as far away
as health." There was a country I wanted to visit, and
I had two passports to get there.
it was time to go after my massage and a cup of tea, as I pulled
away from the rocky farm where the masseuse lived with her husband
and children, she said farewell to me in the Irish language: "Slan
abhoille." Safe home.
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