Consider pleasures, not as they arrive, but as they depart.
–Aristotle.The End of the Holidays
We drop you at O’Hare with your young husband,
two slim figures under paradoxical signs:
United and Departures. The season’s perfect oxymoron.
Dawn is a rumor, the wind bites, but there are things
fathers still can do for daughters.
Off you go looking tired and New Wave
under the airport’s aquarium lights,
with your Coleman cooler and new, long coat,
something to wear to the office and to parties
where down jackets are not de rigeur.
Last week winter bared its teeth.
I think of summer and how the veins in a leaf
come together and divide
come together and divide.
That’s how it is with us now
as you fly west toward your thirties
I set my new cap at a nautical angle, shift
baggage I know I’ll carry with me always
to a nether hatch where it can do only small harm,
haul up fresh sail and point my craft
toward the punctual sunrise.
My sister Claire flew west yesterday. Glen was waiting in forty-below Ottawa with his two kids, whom she has missed and talked about throughout her trip home. She lived at home in Limerick until last spring, but now that there are two small, immobile Canadians in her life we know her future visits are temporary. We know this, but we don’t say it in the Aer Lingus check-in queue for the New York flight, nor do we say it as we sit for a last coffee while she fills out her green IAP-66 arrival record. Instead we chat about how lucky we are to be able to fly directly from our small town to London, Chicago, or DC, and to be allowed to stroll through US Immigration at Shannon’s lovely, quiet airport rather than at JFK. Then her flight is called. My parents smile as they hug her goodbye, and they promise to post the keys she has just remembered are still on the kitchen table.
Twenty minutes later we are driving back past Bunratty Castle, past the neon-green hills of Cratloe, when Claire rings from the departure lounge, a last goodbye. Mum passes the phone back to me and breaks into sobs. She cries and cries from missing Claire, who will soon be three thousand miles away and whose sweetness can’t be replaced. Claire is our family glue, who tells me about Caroline’s adventures, and keeps the family posted during my disappearances. She phones every day and remembers the special treats we each like. I reach forward and put my hand on Mum’s shoulder. She holds it, but it doesn’t bring Claire back. Still she cries, muffled, hiccupy sobs, but she says nothing all the way home.
A few hours later she gets up from her nap. She still looks sad. I put my arms around her and she says, “I hate emigration.” Then she says, “People complain to me that their children are off in Cork or Dublin. And mine are so far away.”
I look at her in grief and guilt. I have just taken a job in New York, and I’ll be on that same flight in two weeks.
Emigration’s unwelcome gift is a permanent state of loss. Wherever you are you miss someone and somewhere, and if you are lucky you are missed in your turn. Sorrow is the price we pay for love.