FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Current Essays FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Contributors FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//About FRESH YARN FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Past Essays FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Submit FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Links FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Email List FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Contact


By Jimmy Walsh Doyle

I 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 time."

For 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 wedding anniversary.

In 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.

"You must be the gay one then? Well, sorry for your troubles. Mind yourself."

In 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.

I took 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."

The 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.

I drove 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.

It 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.

"Where 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."

Have 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.

There 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.

I saw 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.

When 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.

PAGE 1 2

-friendly version for easy reading
©All material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission

home///current essays///contributors///about fresh yarn///archives///
submit///links///email list///site map///contact
© 2004-2005