- The Sheep
Shannon Airport was empty at 8:30 in the morning, just twenty of us stumbling off the red-eye from Toronto. A few dark-jacketed employees leaned on brooms to watch the fatigued arrivals. One pointed me to the bus for Limerick, where a small, gray-haired man waited.
"I'm going to Shannon View Farm," I said, "Will you pass by there?"
"Hurry, now, you've got 'aff an 'our to worry abou' thet!" he said and grabbed my backpack, hurrying me up the steps. The bus pulled out of the parking lot, barely faster than I could walk, with a wild clatter. I was gratified to see that the land was emerald after all—emerald and empty. Shannon View, I kept saying to myself, Mrs. Flynn, Bunratty, County Clare—Mrs. Flynn, who had written to me twice in perfect penmanship on lined stationery, and who was the only person whose name I knew in all of Ireland.
Suddenly, the bus stopped and the little gray-haired man called to me–"Hurry, now!" and jumped off to get my pack from the baggage compartment. I was shivering with the fragments of long travel.
"Where am I?" I cried, looking around at empty fields on either side of the road.
"Down there!" he said, pointing at a narrow dirt lane. "Ye'll find it!" He was back on the bus before I could stop him. It was nothing like Mrs. Flynn had described.
As I stood there wondering what to do, a small car drove up and stopped.
"Are ye needin' help, then?" the driver called.
"I'm going to Mrs. Flynn's," I told him. "Shannon View."
"Ah, this is the wrong road!" he said. "Get in. I'll take ye there."
We drove a few miles farther along, and there it was—a farmhouse, a white fence, the sign for Shannon View. When we stopped at the lane, he smiled again and put his hand on my knee, just to see, and I jumped out of the car and grabbed my pack and ran up Mrs. Flynn's driveway.
"Ah, isn't it grand that you're here!" said Mrs. Flynn, and then she put me to bed between cold, white sheets. [End Page 156]
I woke up from jet lag to the shock of cold, damp air, and the smell of stew. Arthur and Libby, a retired couple from Florida, were staying in one room, and a pair of silent German women in another. In the evening, we made small talk by the paltry fire. Then I went to my room and bundled up under the covers, my coat around my shoulders. It was wonderful here, I wrote in my journal, overwhelmed by loneliness, "just what I need to really rest."
I was seventeen years old.
The next day, I drove into Limerick with Arthur and Libby. Women who looked a little like my mother did their shopping with scarves tied under their chins, holding down stiff curls. Skinny men in sporting caps and dark suits pored over the football scores in the cramped cafés on the banks of the Shannon. We had tea and biscuits and I bought a copy of Harbison's Guide to the National Monuments of Ireland, secretly disdainful of Libby's touristy exclamations. Sharp young men, their hair slicked down and eyes bright with plans, prowled the streets past young women wearing Peter Pan blouses and full skirts and sensible heels. I had only jeans and hiking boots, and my long honey-brown hair hung loose. I looked incandescently foreign, and I was dismayed. I was finally a true outsider after working at it for years.
I had left my parents' home the year before, a teenaged autodidact with a broad vocabulary and a minor police record. Ten years of public school left me raw as a blister, bored, and full of fight. I didn't exactly drop out of high school; I just didn't go back. Instead, with the help of the court-mandated family counselor, I slipped into an experimental program at a nearby state university. It was called Living/Learning, and...