Twenty years ago today, I boarded a flight from Dublin to San Diego, via London and Los Angeles. Both my parents were still alive, living in my childhood home in Dublin, and I was moving away with no intention of ever returning to live in Ireland again.
I was living in a flat on Sandymount Avenue, working retail, drinking Guinness, reading Marquez and wishing for a different life. Sold all my LPs and singles to Charlie, who owned Hot Wax records in Rathmines, for a pittance.
Arrived in America with a handful of cash, a bag full of books, and no notion of what the future held. I haven’t thought too much about the span of time here, the failed relationships, the divorce, and the over-abundance of college degrees in my name; but this morning it all hit me like a fucking pile driver between the eyes.
Hot shower water muffled my crying, my daughter banging on the door with her toy, and the passage of time settled on me like a damp, heavy cloak of sadness. Picked her up when I got out of the bathroom and she pointed with delight at the gray hairs on my chest. “They weren’t there when I arrived here twenty years ago,” I said.
Still, America has been good to me. She’s given me the latitude to become a writer, to claim my space, to see two books set for publication this year. I have a loving wife and family here, another back in Ireland who are so far away, though Skype helps bridge the years, allowing my mother to see Maisie run wild in the garden, to see her grow up.
Twenty. Times fifty-two. Times three-hundred-and-sixty-five. Time’s a flying, and the next twenty matter more than the previous twenty. I shall follow the advice of James Joyce, another exiled Irishman, a better writer by far “You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can, and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use . . . silence, exile, and cunning.” James Joyce, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man