On Wednesday afternoon, I went to the airport. On Sunday afternoon I was back there. In between, I hurtled through the skies in a metal tube, kept aloft by nothing but will power and loud noises, as far as I can tell, to a small country 3000 miles away; and then did it again in the other direction.
It’s a strange life we lead, in this twenty-first century, where people can do things like that.
The first time my dad visited the US, he came on a boat. It took five days. He’s not so old that they didn’t have flights back then, but it was probably much cheaper by sea. But I can imagine that doing it that way at least gives you a sense of distance. You use the time in between to come to terms with leaving one place and going to another: you’re not so surprised when you finally get there that you’re a long way away now.
But when I walk onto a plane, time stops. (This does not apply when travelling with children. Then time becomes infinite.) Then I walk off, and – inexplicably – my surroundings are more familiar than anything I left behind me. The air is damp, the streetlights are orange, daylight creeps into being, voices sound like home. I can navigate to the other side of the city without thinking too hard, just heading in the right direction. I know which way that is.
I spent three days seeing a very few family members and friends. I did some useful things. I threw away a lot of ancient pieces of paper. I brought away a small amount of memorabilia and another tranche of my teenaged bookshelf. I decided I will live the rest of my life quite happily without being in possession of my piano exam certificates, my secondary school homework notebooks, or even my terrible teenage poetry.
Back in the airport before I left I couldn’t shake the feeling that, even though I was returning to nothing but a delightful life with the people I love, Ireland was the right place. Ireland’s just better, in spite of no concrete evidence to support that fact in almost any direction beyond scones and jam, cheese and sausages, people in the service industry who are genuinely happy to help, not finding your presence at their counter a tedious imposition.
The feeling persisted on the other side, at least for a while: I felt displaced, even after all this time, not at home.
Home. Other home. Wrong home, right home, different. It doesn’t matter, really, does it? Here I am.