Paradise at the Front Door

Our front doors are white – French doors – they lock with an old fashioned iron key that is cold and heavy in one’s hand. They open out onto a concrete deck, painted peach (or maybe it’s a faded sunset orange) with matching stairs down to a grassy lawn that is framed with white-washed walls, rambling guesthouse buildings, gardens, a patio, a pool.

There is no back door but out the front I see the ever present mountains rising into a clear blue sky. They are topped with the jagged grey rocks I have already climbed.

In front of the mountains, green trees wave in the wind, lit golden with the late afternoon sun.

Between the trees are rooftops of tin and clay and slate in green and terracotta and grey and silver.

In front of them, palm fronds flutter and rattle against fences.

Nearby, olive trees trimmed with ripening olives hang over white washed walls.

Hens and dogs and birds frolic on a close-cropped lawn.

The wind-tossed shadows mingle, playing across the scene with the sound of voices, tinkling laughter, the faint scents of the surf and of grilling fish.

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Soon, the sun will slip below the trees and roofs, below the sea.

First, the golden crescent moon will rise and then millions of stars will spill in a milky streak across the darkened canvas of the heavens.

Orion and the Southern Cross and constellations I’ve never seen before will burst brightly out of the blackness.

Perhaps I will glimpse a shooting star out of the corner of my eye, stand for a moment and make a wish, while I listen to the rustling of the trees and the crashing of the waves.

Below, all will be shadow, lit here and there by the glow of lights in house windows, until one by one they, too, will set, leaving the night to the crickets and the frogs.

Wishing Well

In 1997, I found myself in the middle of a wish-come-true. It was summer, although in Ireland that didn’t mean it was warm. Or sunny. In fact, it was 7 degrees and raining. I bought a lot of woollens on that trip.

My mother and I were there for a three-week holiday in our ancestral land – us and all the hordes of other tourists who flock to Ireland to find a bit of themselves and their family’s past.

I had been studying Celtic Studies in university so I had a rather long list of places and things I was desperate to see. My mother, a perpetual student of art, literature and design and a professional interior designer, had a rather different, more architectural list of things she wanted to see. At least we both agreed on some destinations, including Trinity College, the windswept wilderness, and the sea.

I’m sorry to say that I may have gotten the better end of the deal. We certainly saw a lot of ancient sites: beehive huts, ogham stones, ring forts and seaside duns. My mother was a brave and patient partner-in-crime, though, at times driving back and forth and up and down narrow bohereens with me perched on the open window frame, hands on the roof,  craning my neck to see over the flourishing fuschia that grow so tall along the hedgerows they practically block out the sun.

I was looking for relics of Ireland’s past, now often forgotten, hidden in farmers’ fields and barely accessible (unless you’re willing to pay a small fee, that is).

Earlier this week, in the name of St. Patrick, I dragged out the photo albums from that trip and had a wander down memory lane (memory bohereen? Ok, that’s really a very bad, unfunny joke. Apologies).

There, among the pictures of all the other ancient and archeologically important sites was one of a small well, surrounded by grass so green it was almost fluorescent.

Brigid’s well.

As I looked at the well, the pictures of the pale calves grazing nearby, and my explanatory notes, I remembered how important seeing Brigid’s well had been to me at the time.

Brigid, before she was subsumed into Christianity to become Saint Brigid, was an important Celtic goddess. One of my favourites.

Her name meant “fiery arrow.”

She was the goddess of poetry, smithing, medicine, arts and crafts, cattle and other livestock (she was often accompanied by a sacred white cow with red ears), and spring. She was also associated with fire.

And she was the goddess of all things that are “high”, both literally and figuratively. So, high-rising flames, highlands, hill-forts and upland areas, but also wisdom, excellence, perfection, high intelligence, poetic eloquence, craftsmanship, healing, druidic knowledge and skill in warfare.

What’s not to admire?

This was why we (well, I) had included her well in our meandering pilgrimage.

It is said that this well was a sacred site to the goddess in ancient times, and it remains so today.

It was a place people came to make wishes, generally related to health and healing. They would write their wish on a pebble and throw it into the well. They still do this today.

I recalled at the the time that, according to the legends, there was a sacred hazel tree hanging over the well – a wishing tree. Not being very good with trees, unfortunately, I had no idea as I stood there whether or not I was looking at hazel.

But there were trees, and there was the well, and the calves, and the green, and a soft, quiet rain falling.

It was magical.

I wrote a wish on a pebble and dropped it into the water.

I have no idea now what that wish was. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter.

I often make wishes – wishes when the clock reads 11:11 or 22:22 or some other auspicious time, wishes on wishbones every time I cook a chicken, wishes on stars.

Every time I throw a penny into a fountain, though, I think of the ancient wishing wells that dot much of Europe, and all the little pebbles that lie deep inside them, pebbles that once held people’s innermost hopes and desires.

What did they wish for?

Did their wishes come true?

My brain insists that a wish coming true is just a coincidence, or the effect of a person concentrating their energy on ensuring something they want to happen, happens.

But there are inexplicable things. People being cured. The impossible becoming possible.

Beyond what my brain tells me, I’d rather believe that there is a little inexplicable magic in between all the scientific explanations.

That wishes do come true.

Though I may never again stand at Brigid’s well, I will keep making wishes.

It Needs to be Said: A Gut-Wrenching Open Letter to my Ex-Husband

How did you do it?

How did you manage to trick us all?

Was it just easier for us to be tricked into believing you, to be charmed by you, than to pull down our life like a house of cards? Or was it really a brilliant disguise?

Are you conniving and smart, or do you simply stumble through life, making it up as you go along?

There were, of course, those who could see through you. There were the people back “home,” back in Ireland, who warned me you were no good. But then they all had vested interests and I didn’t listen. I thought they were jealous.

I believed you when you said we would travel the world together.

We never did.

I believed you when you said you were ill. I sat by your side and worried and you let me, because you liked the attention.

What was it about you that first caught my eye? Was it your promises, promises that were easy to believe, promises about a life of adventure and roaming the world? People do do that, and you had lived here and there. So why would I think you were lying?

Was it your charm? Your sarcastic wit? Your confidence, which in the end, was all put-on?

My friends back home, friends you’d never met, warned me off you when I wrote to them about you. But how could they know? What did they know? I thought they were just dubious of the unconventional life we dreamed of. They, with their steady jobs and steady homes and steady days, how could they understand the wandering, possession-free life that we dreamed for ourselves?

We arrived in Canada on a cold January afternoon and even the immigration officials questioned you. And then there was my mother. She hated you, vehemently, at first. Though later she would be duped, too, charmed by a man who managed reflect back, in some small way, the people who surrounded him.

But you were never, really, anything like my people.

My father never trusted you. He said you were a con man. And how right he was, though he was always suspicious of that kind of thing, so I dismissed him.

You said you had money, that it would take some time to have it transferred, but in the meantime could I just pay for this and that, and some more. And you would pay me back. But you never did.

And there was no money. Not ever. And now, all mine has gone to. It slipped through your fingers like foul water.

To this day, you accuse me of taking all your money, though of course, it was the other way around. I can’t fathom how you could accuse me of that, after all I have paid for, after all you have extorted, after all the others from whom you have stolen.

But I think even you believe your lies now.

If only I had listened to all those people. If only I had run far away. If only when, eight months later, I was sure you were lying and drinking and hiding while I worked, if only I had left you then.

If only…

We would all be free.

But instead, I believed you. I thought the best of you. And slowly, I trusted you again. I stayed to long. I left when it was too late.

Now we are all tied together forever.

And I will never be free.

I will always live with a dark shadow of fear hanging over me, the fear that one day you will come to reclaim your son. Not out of love, but out of spite. And that you will twist him, twist his mind and his sweet heart, that you will mar the one beautiful, pure creation you had a hand in forming.

It should never have been you.

I chose so very wrong.

I Believe

I believe
That tomorrow will be better
And if not tomorrow,
Then the day after.
But I believe that today
Is already pretty good.

I believe in the kindness of strangers
That a helping hand is offered
More often than we would expect,
I believe in the innate openness of a young mind
And the vulnerability of a young heart
But I also believe in the selfishness of humans,
In their blinkered, self-serving approach to life.

I believe that true warmth and strength
Come from a smile, a laugh, a hug,
A breath,
A moment of calm,
And, sometimes, from a good cup of coffee.

I believe that anything is possible,
Including unhappy endings
But that happy endings
Are possible too.

I believe that wishes come true
But not always the way we expect they will
And that if life is serving everyone,
Sometimes  our wishes collide;
Sometimes it is not my turn.

I believe that the eternal truths of the universe
Can be explained by science
But I also believe that magic and wonder
Fit somewhere in between
The scientific explanations.

And I would like to believe
In the vast pantheon
Of ancient gods and goddesses,
Those whose wisdom and force stretch
Around the globe,
From Ancient Times to the present,
But I just can’t quite.

I do not believe in the zombie apocalypse
Or in an otherworldly disaster
But I do believe we will self-destruct
And I do believe we may be too late
To heal our Earth;
But I do not believe that we are finished just yet.

I believe in hope
And in positive thinking,
I believe that hard work will achieve results
And in the value of play.

I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow
And we shall see another day.

Early Memories of Home

This is the only house I’ve ever known. My parents bought it before I was born. I hope we never move.

It’s big – three storeys, including the attic – and brick, with a thick front door made of oak, dark green trim around the windows and real, old slate on the roof. But that’s way, way up. I’m more interested in the front lawn, where my Dad sometimes parks his car (when he does, I tell the passers-by that that’s my Daddy’s car), and the back garden.

I like to sit in the back garden with the cats, under the branches of the huge mulberry tree. There, I feel protected by the tall, grey fences that run down both sides and the garage at the far end. Flowery vines wind their way up the front of the garage and there is a rockery in front of it, with little flowers spilling over the stones. A magnolia blossoms to one side. Beside the garage there is a little area with a large sandbox and a gate out onto the laneway beyond. I like to dig in the sandbox, but so do the cats.

I live here with my parents and sometimes my Great Aunt, when she comes into the city on the big, green tripple-decker train. She takes care of me while they are at work or when they go out. There is a small bed up in the attic that she sleeps in on the nights they stay out really late. I like to wake up in the morning and find that she’s still here.

My room is at the top of the stairs on the second floor, and my parents have a bigger room just down the hall, toward the big, sunny family room that overlooks the front lawn and the busy street.

I can hear all the city sounds from inside but they blend together until I don’t notice them. I do notice when the trains go by, though. They shake the house and they make my door rattle.

The walls and ceilings and doors in the house are white and the floors are a dark, polished wood. They smell of floor polish if I get right down close to them.

There is fuzzy beige carpet on the stairs. I like to sit halfway down the stairs and look through the dark, wooden rungs, or run my fingers along the polished banister. From here, I can see the Chinese dragon painting that hangs above the door leading into the front vestibule. The glass on the door is frosted with a fleurs-de-lys pattern etched across its surface.

I can also see the living room and the dining room. I like their fireplaces; they have tile hearths and fancy mantles with mirrors on top. We never use the living room fireplace, but in the winter, we sometimes light a fire in the dining room.

I can’t quite see the kitchen from the stairs, but I know it’s just around the corner. There’s a heavy white door with a brass push-plate that swings open into the kitchen, or hangs closed, or sometimes swings back against the hallway wall, blocking the stairs to the basement. I know I have to be careful not to catch my fingers between the swinging door and the wall.

The kitchen floor, like the vestibule floor, is tiled a chocolate brown colour. There are lots of neat things in the kitchen; big baskets up high on top of the white cupboards, copper jello moulds and green ceramic measuring pitchers, an island on wheels in the centre of the room with a chopping block across its top, and jars full of dried fruits. There is a stool, too. It’s pretty high but I like to sit on it with my back against the window frame, and watch my Mom or my Great Aunt cook.

On summer evenings, I lie in my white crib with the bedroom window open onto the back yard. I listen to my parents’ voices drifting up from the patio as I watch the peachy sunset light dance between the shadows of the leaves on the bumpy white wall, just past the crib’s white bars. I wish I could stay awake long enough to sit out there and talk and laugh, rather than having to stay in bed, trying to go to sleep.

I have some toys in my crib with me and the rest of them are lined up on shelves facing my bed. I remember my Mom putting them up on the shelves but that must have been a long time ago.

Sometimes I get tired of being in my crib and then I stand up and bounce and call out. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m supposed to be napping, but I’m not tired anymore. My Great Aunt is talking on the red phone down the hall. She’s just out of sight, which means she can’t see me, either. I would like to be down the hall with her, not in my crib. I have no more sleepiness left in me today.

Maybe if I stand on my tippy-toes I will be able to climb up and over, and then I will be out.

THUD.

I did it; I’m out!

She’s coming now. I can hear her saying goodbye to the person on the phone. She knows what I did. She heard the thud and she heard me say “ouch.”

I hope I won’t be in too much trouble.