Mostly what I do in Ireland is stay up until 2 a.m. playing board games with my flatmates. I met Ellen, who lives four doors down from me, and Ben, who lives one floor below, on my first day in Dublin, when I ran into Ellen in the hall and she invited me to come with them for a sea swim. We took the DART to Clontarf, where the mist had come so far in from the bay that Ben, who is from Clontarf and paddles there on his kayak often, deemed it too dangerous for a dip. Instead, we walked along a skinny path with water on both sides until the Marian Shrine emerged from the fog, three sea-scoured posts with Jesus’ mom sitting on top. “I like this shrine,” I told Ben. “This is a great shrine!” “Thanks, Gen,” he laughed.
Later that week, I met the rest of the girls I’d live with throughout the year: Saskia from London, Aisling from Dublin, Ashling from Dalkey, Lily from China. Rachel, who is from Santry, moved into our flat right before the year’s midpoint, and when she moved in, everything that was already going swimmingly started going even better. Rachel, Ellen, and I were the only ones in the flat throughout January. We worked side by side on our respective dissertations and projects. Ellen was writing Tiktok anti-vaccine trends, Rachel about disability in medieval times, and me about an ed-tech behemoth. I’d be flying through the future, with cyberbullies and Russian bots, and then I’d pull my head out of my laptop and there they’d be, next to me, with cups of tea, moving slow and trusting that the work would get done. I found a new peace that month: my work was meaningful, even if I was just doing it in our kitchen, outside of the good it may or may not do for others or the recognition I would like to get for it.
Ellen and Rachel and I, and sometimes Ben, swam together a lot that month, cried laughing, decorated the flat a bit, and also were often quiet together. Since then, every day of being here I’ve been excited to go home from class each day just to see them. Last week, I spent five days traveling in rural Ireland. After about four days, I wanted to go home, not because I was tired of traveling, but because there was something warm to go home to. For St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, we’re going to Laois, to see the farm where Ellen grew up, and in particular to see the springtime baby lambs. I didn’t know Ellen existed half a year ago, and tomorrow night I’ll sleep on the floor of her childhood bedroom.
Last autumn, Aisling got accepted to do her master’s and nonchalantly told me the news in the kitchen: “Oh, by the way, Gen, I got into Cambridge…” Of course, I screamed. Then, Ashling got her postgrad contract with one of the most prestigious law firms in Ireland, and I screamed then too, especially happy because she’d asked me to look over her cover letter beforehand and I’d known it was so, so good. Ellen got into the LSE two weeks ago and the whole flat’s mood was sunshine. It’s a privilege to share in the genuine happiness of others like that. Everyone’s getting what they deserve. Rachel was hired by the Trinity Disability Service earlier in the year, and there’s no one better for the role. Even for those who don’t have their next steps as well-defined, I think all will go well. Saskia jokes that she’s going to be a stay-at-home-daughter after Trinity, but I have an inkling she’ll get hired to produce documentaries pretty fast. I’m not sure where Lily will go next, probably home to China to be a teacher, and I know Ben is going to Greece for a few weeks after graduation, but that’s quite fine for him as I think he’s never been the type of person who needs something to do, but rather someone who makes the shape of his life all on his own. I’m not so worried about what’s next for me, personally, either.
This is a change: I used to be someone who had the next thing in her pocket, always, a scholarship lined up or money or a visa waiting somewhere. And I used to be someone who always went first, vigilant to leave the party early when everything was still raucous and bright colors, so I wouldn’t be the last one and have to see it in lesser form, dull and with key people missing. I’d gather such momentum, and then the feeling of leaving would sneak up on me, because I never gave myself the space to sit with goodbyes. I didn’t realize, in Australia, that that was the last time I’d come in from a party with my friends and we’d drag every mattress into the living room and sleep in a heap until 4. I didn’t realize, in LA, that that was the last time Bre and Umaima and I would make brownies and watch America’s Next Top Model. Of course, I can always see everyone again, and I love them just the same as I always did, but I can’t travel back in time and have that specific memory twice, and indeed it would be selfish to try. That right there was the last time I’d be with those particular people, in this particular way.
This time around, I’m trying to count it. Here, in Dublin, are some recipes Ellen and Rachel and I tried together: coconut pea mint soup, cauliflower tacos, couscous with roasted veggies and dried apricots. Here are some recipes we failed at together: banana pancakes (I didn’t mash the bananas enough so they cooked unevenly and burned), dhal which came out more as broth instead of curry. I think it is worth naming those who played board games and ate with us, even if their names here are divorced from who they are. Here is a list of house guests that sweetened the mood: Courtney, Clíodnha, Emma, Emma, Katherine, Kate, James, Jared, Shane, Maeve, Aisling Lynch, John, Lucy, Ria, Sinziana, Caoimhin, and all of Saskia’s English friends who seem to travel in a pack and that Ashling lovingly nicknamed “Team GB.”
Here are some good memories that happened in our flat: when Courtney showed us how her hearing aids were magnetic by sticking a fork to her head; when Ashling, Saskia and I made three different curries and ate the entirety of a two-story box of Butler’s chocolates; when Ben, Ellen, Rachel and I watched Lord of the Rings until we fell asleep. When Rachel and Aisling threw a dinner party and I learned how four balls of mozzarella can disappear into a pot of pasta sauce and have the slightest effect, and Shane came for an hour, in from a date, and then went back out, back onto that same date. For that party, we bought cheap twisty candles the color of peonies, a basil plant for the pasta, and blush-colored napkins which Ellen made into paper crowns.
The basil plant now lives on our window sill, next to the salt crystal lamp which we plug in at night and casts pink light. That’s my favorite time in our flat; the window panes look like ink and it feels like everything outside of this GMB microcosm is a myth. The kitchen becomes a dreamscape of objects we love: my gold lighter, Ellen’s blue mug that Ben broke and re-superglued, the numerous candles we bought each other, Aisling’s Wheetabix box.
It feels natural to turn to tabulation at the end of things. When my parents separated when I was a teenager, it was a way to temper and get through the loss. Grief could go by the wayside while we figured out who got these forks, who would keep this armchair no one ever sat in anyways, who would keep this bike now too small for me or my brother to use. Listing can give you a system for coming apart.
But it’s no framework to account for joy. It’s a bit futile to attempt to take stock of daily, sustained happiness. Instead, I just try to hold onto it and have it in full while I can. I’ve lived in enough places by now that I know there’s always so much for me, anywhere, but I still find it curious how easy it is to grow love in close quarters, and how it usually grows in opposite scope to the size of the space you share. I still really marvel at the very simple and precious magic of being taken as your best self and invariably in good faith. I’m not worried about what’s next for me, because all of these objects and memories and people are how I know I can, without fail, make a home.