A Dream of Home
During the summer of 1977-78 I travelled from Dublin to Vienna to Venice, Florence and then Corfu, Athens and onwards to Spain, ending up in Paris. I had a Eurarail Pass, travelers checks earned from movie extra work, a Thomas Cook timetable and until Greece several traveling companions who ended up leaving Corfu as they were impatient and a bit mean and the owner of the taverna where we were staying invited me to remain and suggested they go. The owner, an American named Michael had bought a half share of a taverna located in Vatos. As we boarded the ferry from Brindisi, a couple of fellow backpackers, whispered the name, "Vatos" and then, "ask for Michael". I woke up on the deck of the ferry to witness the mountains of Albania rising out of the mist and found myself feeling a deep sadness and a sense of discombobulation so intense I took out my passport and stared at the photograph to remind me of who I was.
I had been gone from the United States for almost a year, a year where I learned first how to live again, second, how to remember that there could be pure joy in sharing ideas with brilliant professors, Reading ULYSSES while each and every day included a bike ride along the route Leopold Bloom travelled, third, that friendship and love was possible again after losing my best friend to a car crash and my boyfriend to my own insanity and infidelity. Dublin, the west of Ireland, three Norwegian roommates, an unhappy man from Zimbabwe and a girl from Malahide had saved my life. Last year we scattered that girl's ashes into the Irish Sea, her husband, her son, her sisters, her friends and I cast roses after and I thought again, how lucky I was to have met her and deep breath, to be allowed to go on. How I had loved and fought with Gabrielle Reidy who never failed to assure me I must remain alive.
Corfu was a blur of beaches and tavernas and drinking until the ex Vietnam veteran arrived and late one night invited me into the olive groves to lie down next to him, listen to how many he had killed as a Marine machine gunner, listen to his declaration that he would never return to the United States, make love to someone whose pain and sadness and rage had rendered him almost inhuman but oh so handsome, so sad, so perfect for a girl who loved the Heathcliffes of this world, lost, sad, angry men. My father. The Marine had so much blood on his hands, he told me, he would never atone.
After two months of wandering I ended up in Paris with Gabrielle who was selling newspapers outside of the Jeu de Pomme, sharing an attic flat with a miserable girl with an eating disorder so profound she was nearly transparent. We sold our Herald Tribunes like Jean Seberg in Breathless, dumped the left-overs and took our francs to a tiny Vietnamese cafe where we split a bottle of wine and planned our night. Her mother had died that spring, still heartbroken but looking forward. We went to terrible nightclubs, flirted for drinks, danced to Saturday Night Fever and took the metro home, back to back sleeping, happy with just each other. Gabrielle was determined to convince me not to go home.
Home. The United States, New Jersey, Rutgers where I had been so unhappy I drank every day, studied hard because I wanted my parents to leave me alone, wandered around alone because my boyfriend had left me. But I was, as my Irish friends never failed to remind me, an American. I loved and hated my country, so guilty, so heroic, so excessive, so conflicted.
I took the train to gatwick, ignoring the news that told of the discount airline Laker's demise and the week-long line to buy a ticket. I had no choice. I had exactly $100 and no way to contact my parents. I followed the line down the mile that snaked through the airport and joined what turned out to be a cross between a music festival and a mad carnival. We smoked weed, played cards, gave interviews, exchanged personal stories as the night fell and we slept in heaps together.
I walked out of the terminal at Kennedy with my massive backpack, propped myself against a wall and fell asleep. When I woke up my father was standing there, the car at the curb, somehow he knew when and why and how I'd come home.