This time last year, I was in a hospital, visiting a good friend who had just swallowed a bottle of pills. His hospital room was packed with friends and family, and we played flute and guitar and sang. The nurses usually wouldn’t let so many people in his room, but it was his birthday. He smiled sometimes. His hair was unwashed. He looked so tired.
A few days later, my publisher at the newspaper called everyone together—the reporters, editors, people in advertising, the layout designers—and told us that our newspaper was being bought by a rival company. We could all lose our jobs. Some people had worked at the paper for more than thirty years. People had families to support. One woman was pregnant. We still had a deadline to meet. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I wrote an article. Other people left the building and sat in their cars, talking on their cell phones. The reporter next to me kept sniffling and blowing her nose.
Around the same time, my 1987 Toyota station wagon didn’t pass inspection. It wasn’t a surprise. I’d accidentally kicked a hole in the side of it because the body was complete rust. The windshield had a crack splitting it in two. Someone had snapped the door handle off the right side. I had to refill the car with oil every few hundred miles. To make it up a steep hill, I had to floor it before the incline, and, even then, I usually ended up in third or second gear by the top of the hill, with a couple pickup trucks behind me, swerving across the line to see when they could pass.
I loved that car. I once did an article about Stockton Springs for the newspaper, and my friend came with me. Afterwards, I parked the car at the base of a mountain, and we sat in my spacious trunk and had a picnic, while it rained. He’d brought avocado, cheddar cheese, and homemade bread. Maybe we talked about high school or about our plans for the future. I don’t remember.
He was the first person to whom I showed a draft of my Mitchell essay. I read it to him as we drove down Route 1, and he offered his suggestions. I don’t remember where we were going. I suppose we never know how long we have with people until they’re gone. At the end of June last summer, I was being re-interviewed to see if I’d keep my job, and at that moment my friend was out of the hospital, alone, sitting, facing the ocean, when he made his decision. He’d never even liked guns. I don’t think he’d ever even shot one before.
About a quarter of the people at the paper lost their jobs, but, for some reason, I was re-hired, even though they knew I was leaving in two months for Ireland. So I used all my money to buy a new (used) car—it’s impossible to get around Maine without one—and a tow crew came to bring my old car to the scrap yard. They hoisted it with their levers, and I watched as it left my driveway and disappeared over the hill, in chains.
After that summer, Ireland has been like a dream—the kind where I can’t tell if I’m awake or asleep. I can’t qualify my time here or explain what it means to have people believe in me. I don’t know how to describe this country or the other Mitchells or Trina or Mary Lou. I’ve experienced what it’s like to have nothing to do but write; I’ll have traveled to twelve different countries in ten months; I’ve met influential people in Irish business and politics and academia.
Now I walk the streets of Dublin, past the hordes of tourists on Henry Street and Grafton Street, past the women selling flowers, the people begging on the bridges. The River Liffey divides Dublin into north and south but it connects both sides to the open bay and the sea. The buses drive an inch away from the curb, and the spire reaches higher and higher, and yet none of these things matter to me.
It was my golden birthday a few days ago. I turned twenty-five on May 25, and the other Dublin Mitchells and I went to Bray to have a picnic by the ocean and later watch short animation films by filmmakers throughout Africa. We sat on the rocks, balancing paper plates on our knees, and shared an assortment of picnic food, including avocado and good bread. It rained the way it often does in Ireland: as if a cloud has descended instead of raindrops. It’s the kind of rain that an umbrella cannot protect against because it comes from all around, not just from above.
As we sat in the rain, the wind blew a paper cup of wine onto Vicki’s boots. Catherine was nervous being so high up on the rocks, and Jose must have been cold without his coat. Vicki’s friend Caitlyn carried around a box of crumble for hours that we ended up not eating in Bray. Catherine’s Danny came along even though he’d been traveling the entire weekend and hadn’t yet been home, and Ryan came even though he was leaving shortly for Paris. Travis joined later after rowing practice. And it’s that mad jumble of our lives together that I will miss, cramming everyone into my kitchen, and singing happy birthday the way my family does—as loud as possible and off-key. I’ll even miss the Trinity security guards and their absolute adherence to the rules, making me go to the junior dean for having people over past midnight during exam time! People—not buildings—make homes. I am becoming comfortable here; I feel as if I’m becoming a part of a whole. It’s funny how it takes leaving people—or having people leave us—to finally feel as if we belong.
I’ll be home in Maine the day before the anniversary of my friend’s death. Even after a year, I feel as if there’s a silence surrounding him in my brain. I can’t quite relate the pain accurately. I have to get at it from the side—like how sometimes it’s only possible to see a star by looking at the night around it.
There have been and will continue to be many people who enter and leave my life, and I am thankful to know them at all, thankful to belong to them for a moment. Trinity’s bells are chiming as I finish this reflection. They call me back to the time, to the present, and how swiftly it is passing.