I didn’t think of myself as an emigrant when I left Dublin thirteen years ago. Ireland’s economy was only on the tip of the downswing, really, and in my mind emigrants were people who were sadly forced to leave their country because they couldn’t get a job. I had, in fact, just been laid off from my tech-sector editing position, but that was just part of my grand plan and very good timing, not remotely a disaster.
I was not remotely sad. I was excited; thrilled, actually. I was finally going to move in with my boyfriend. If I had to change countries to do it, well, that was just part of the adventure. I was a legal immigrant with a green card (lottery; third time lucky), so I wasn’t worried about finding a job. It didn’t have to be a career, because we wouldn’t be there for long; just a job of some sort to keep me busy and fed and clothed. My future was finally coming together the way I wanted it to.
There was one moment, on the plane, that gave me pause. I was filling in one of the customs forms and the space for “Country of Residence” made me think. Technically, I thought, nowhere. At this moment I do not reside anywhere but in this aeroplane. I’d moved out of my flat in Rathgar and was about to move into the boyfriend’s rental house in State College, Pennsylvania – he’d even kicked out his cheerful Albanian roommate to make space for me – but just now I was, let’s say, between abodes. Homeless, actually.
I don’t remember what I wrote for that answer. Probably Ireland, reasoning that my parents’ home was my de facto address in the absence of any other. But I’d been five years out of the family home and didn’t anticipate moving back into it any time soon.
An emigrant, though? That didn’t sound like me. I grew up in the 80s, when Ireland’s school- and college-leavers were jumping ship for America in droves, several of my older cousins among them. (Maybe they didn’t feel hounded out of the country by unemployment any more than I did: I think many left seeking adventure and freedom rather than anything else.) I wasn’t leaving for lack of a job – I left for love, and temporarily at that. “Three years, five at the most,” I said to my parents, who were a little downcast to lose their only child to another continent, but probably happy that this long-drawn-out romance would finally get a chance to come to something. And pragmatic: they’re pragmatic people above all.
I hadn’t ever seen myself emigrating. Maybe a couple of years in a foreign country, I had thought when they asked in school how many of us thought we’d emigrate – somewhere nice like France or Spain, I meant. Never America, which had gobbled up my cousins. I didn’t even want to visit America, for fear it would work its magic on me and I’d stay.
And it did. Or my boyfriend did. One or the other. Here I am. Married. Parenting. Citizened. Staying. Emigrant.
For now, anyway.
This post is partly by way of introduction to any new readers I may have, thanks to being longlisted for the Blog Awards Ireland 2015. Welcome!