Due to a hurricane that was spinning its way up the East Coast, the Newark airport personnel assigned me to an earlier flight that was only minutes away from boarding. The problem, however, was that I had just checked in my luggage with a different airline, and it was too late to get it back.
“So what am I supposed to do about my luggage?” I asked a frazzled airport worker with wiry blond hair and dark pools under her eyes.
“There’s no time!” she yelled, acting like it was Armageddon. “You have to make a choice!”
I sighed and turned around to see through the airport’s wall-sized windowpanes that it had started to rain. Mesmerized by the water and the orangey glow of the sky, I pondered my options:
1) Go to Ireland and lose my suitcases, or…
2) Not go to Ireland and still lose my suitcases.
Since I was quite sure I wanted to go to Ireland, I nodded at the airport worker, confirming my willingness to travel. She flashed me an approving grin and directed me towards security. Before long I was on the plane, Shannon-bound, while my bags in all likelihood were zooming off towards Chicago.
I tried to remain calm during the flight, but secretly I was in mourning. Not for New Jersey, regrettably, and not because I wouldn’t see my family or friends again for quite some time, though I was going to miss them. I wasn’t even nostalgic (yet) for all the summer loving that had happened so fast either…
What I was pining over were my clothes.
While soaring over the Atlantic in a stuffy airport cabin, I wondered what I was going to do in Ireland without my history of lost fabrics. So many things were in those bags. The bird shirt that I spilled my first Korean meal on. The green sunga (aka speedo) I bought in an attempt fit in on the beaches of Rio. The hooded shirt that I acquired in Buenos Aires but spilled red wine on in Santiago the night all the lyrics to “Just Dance” came true…
It was just fabric, I tried telling myself. And I knew that it probably had all come from China anyway. But that wasn’t the point! Acquiring those articles from the various places I had lived had somehow given them meaning. So many of my memories and moments could be measured by the contents of my bags, and I was genuinely fearful that I might never get to see…or wear…them again.
Had my luggage arrived with me, which it didn’t, perhaps I wouldn’t have had to start buying clothes my first day in Ireland. Since it was cold and rainy in Galway and I was dressed for summer, a season that apparently bypasses Galway altogether, I needed something long-sleeved. So I ended up making my first purchase, a sleek black sweater at Penny’s for 13 Euros. Penny’s is great – sort of Walmart meets H&M, and beneath the mounds of sloppily piled clothes there is almost always a diamond or two in the rough.
Fortunately, though, I didn’t need to purchase all of my new clothes at Penney’s. Some were given to me as gifts, including the Manchester United shirt from my Irish roommate Johnny that usually hangs, lonely and unused, in my closet. Though Johnny never tells me directly to wear it whenever Manchester has a match, I can tell by the disapproving look he gives my black Penny’s sweater (after I’ve worn it for seven consecutive days) and his hinting reminders (“Don’t forget Manchester’s playing today, Mike!”) that I should make more of an effort to show some team spirit.
Soccer bores me to no end, but I do enjoy watching Johnny unleash his limitless supply of creatively crafted curses at the television screens in pubs. He yells his “fooks” and “Jayzuses” when the game isn’t going according to plan and then shouts “What a ball!” and jumps in circles when Manchester scores. Knowing that I’m not supposed to remain silent while the pub rejoices, but also unwilling to scream or jump in circles, I usually end up twirling my finger and flashing a forced smile at the enthusiastic fans in the nearby vicinity.
“He must miss baseball…” I once overheard a drunken man tell Johnny.
Another recently added collection to my wardrobe is the Galway Bay Half-Marathon shirt I received after a race in early October. Ever since coming to Ireland, I’ve been training consistently, running at least four days a week in preparation for races, including the Athens Marathon. When I’m not dodging toy dogs or old ladies on the Galway Bay Promenade, I’m usually running through the hills of Rahoon where the cows, horses, donkeys, and sheep roam free, usually munching on the plentiful supply of shockingly green grass after the morning mists have dissipated. If I’m extra lucky, a sheep dog or two will try to chase me down in an attempt to huddle me in with the rest of the herd.
Sometimes I catch the animals staring at me with their quizzical and beady eyes. I can only imagine what they must be thinking:
“Why is this kid running around in circles all the time?”
“Doesn’t he even know it’s raining?”
“Dude, what’s with the hair?”
I have been rained on for the entirety of ten-mile stretches. Once I was nearly pelted to death by a surprise October hailstorm; as fate would have it I was caught on a very long bridge, wearing short shorts, with no shelter in sight to protect me from the huge ice clumps that were ricocheting off of my skin. Needless to say, Ireland prepared me well for Athens, where the rain cloud followed and showered on us crazy runners for nearly half of the race.
But of all the clothing I have acquired over the years, I think I have finally made the purchase of all purchases here in Ireland. That would be the sexy yellow and black number, a 3 euro dress also from Penny’s equipped with two wing-like flaps, which hangs coquettishly in my closet, waiting patiently for the day that it will be worn again…
Understanding this brilliant piece of haute couture requires a bit of background. My second day in Ireland, with so few possessions to occupy my time, I ended up doing what the tourists do – taking a boat ride along the River Corrib. Lo and behold, the boat ended up being a gay cruise for the celebration of pride weekend. Subsequently, I spent the afternoon and evening dancing with some of the Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts of Ireland, while forming what turned out to be a few very close friendships.
The gay cruise was much more than what the outside observer may have perceived as a superficial display of dance, drink, and occasional stripping. For me, it was a testament to how far Ireland had come since 1993, the year homosexuality was decriminalized due to Senator Norris’s landmark case before the European Court.
Bill, one of the Irish guys I met, later invited me to crash at his apartment while I looked for a place of my own in Galway. I had no idea how to repay him, but the opportunity arose when Bill asked me to attend a costume party with him in Dublin. The only catch was that I had to dress in drag.
I shrugged and agreed without hesitating. After all, it was really the least I could do.
Fast forward to the Dublin rooftop party where Bill was wearing a blue dress and spandex, a pink visor and matching sandals, a neon yellow bag, and a bleached blond wig. I went Gaga in my black and yellow winged dress with painted black nails, black lipstick, shades and light pink hair.
As women we were beauties of the frightening variety, but that didn’t matter, for the company we were with was happy, open, and welcoming, despite the atrociousness of our outfits and the unshaven hair on our legs.
Eventually, my suitcases did end up arriving in Galway. I’m glad they did, since now I can finally wear my green Brazilian speedo to the gym when I go swimming. In retrospect, though, I am grateful for the initial, luggage-less moments when I felt vulnerable and slightly lost in an unfamiliar land. During those days, I was forced to see and do things in Ireland that I may not have seen or done otherwise. Open-mindedness and willingness to explore have already made life here so thrilling and unpredictable, and I know such tenants will remain crucial in allowing me to get the most out of the rest of this experience.
But until the Ireland saga comes to its end, I look forward to seeing how my closet and drawers fill out over time, not to mention how many more stories I will come to attach to the ever-expanding collection of cloth.
That said, retailers and wig shops of Ireland beware…