When I was 20, I did not know how to do things differently, but I knew that things did not have to be the same after I met her.

When I was 20, I did not know how to do things differently, but I knew that things did not have to be the same after I met her.

When we first met in Cork city in the early 1980s, she was a recent graduate, working in a vintage clothing store and riding around on a Heinkel scooter, wearing used cotton nightgowns and cycling boots. Meanwhile, I worked as an unauthorized teaching assistant in a brutal home. In the mornings I used to sit on the steps of the rented house I lived in and shake, then hitchhike to the facility and start my day.

We were very young, barely in our 20s. I did not know how to do things differently, but I knew after I met her that things did not have to be the same. Forty years of friendship followed, our lives crossed, swung off, collided, like the map of an underground transport system – vital, barely visible. She recently flew in from another city, where she has lived for decades and has a successful, difficult career. Dublin that weekend was balmy. With half a day to ourselves before the work commitments started, we started walking.

In Merrion Square, young families strolled with prams and babies were fed on a bench next to Oscar Wilde’s gleaming statue. Stretched out his marble leg and apparently saw how grated carrot and organic couscous were decanted into a cruelly busy toddler; the aphorisms’ man looked less than entertained.

We kept going. On Baggot Street, the sidewalks were hot, sticky from the night before. In Fitzwilliam Square, the sun shone from polished door knockers and brass plates at clinics offering aesthetic treatments. Wisteria bubbled over Georgian doors. On Adelaide Road, the Gothic Lutheran chapel slumbered in sooty shadows.

In the beautiful Iveagh Gardens, the trees, so recently threatened with felling (to make way for a civic square and a four-story museum), rested peacefully, after being rescued, heroically, through individual and societal action. Someone had struck the fountain, its watery roar lowering the sounds of the streets.

I took my friend to the MoLI (Museum of Literature Ireland) at the historic UCD Newman House on St Stephen’s Green. It was too hot to concentrate on the exhibitions or listen to Joyce’s prose. We went out to the garden cafe and drank tea from big blue cups. I told her how much teaching had meant to me over the past six months. I told her that during my fellowship at Trinity College, it felt like the city was holding me up. In the MoLI gift shop, we walked past esoteric fridge magnets and then went back out on the sunny streets.

In St. Stephen’s Green, the leaves of the linden trees seemed to be in conversation with the light. Ducks slid on trout brown water. There were people everywhere. Another small child, or perhaps it was the same, impatient to be ignored, shouted at the ducks to paddle his way. They slid on, feathered royalty diplomatically ignoring the diaper-clad intruder.

Apparently, during the 1916 uprising, the hostilities ceased daily at a certain time so that the park ranger could go into the green and feed the seabirds. In the goalkeeper’s reports, he wrote that “the ducks were very little disturbed by the bullets flying over their heads”. I wonder if the current generation thinks the same about the incessant music of mobile phones.

A soulful young man on Grafton Street, sitting behind an unlikely baby grand piano, sang his songs of sad romance. Up and down the street, girls in tops ate pink ice cream and boys with speculative beards looked at their wet mouths.

My friend and I borrowed over the railings outside Trinity College to inspect the rewilding. “It feels hopeful,” she said. We entered Front Square, where wedding guests gathered outside the chapel and waited for the bride. We peeked into the cool marble and the gloomy benches.

“This is a great place,” said the man from the college’s real estate and construction office as we left. “There is only joy here – we do not do funerals, you know!”

We walked across campus to my temporary college residence, where we looked out the window of the apartments opposite and now emptied their accommodations at the end of the semester. We lifted a cup of coffee to the city, to unknown weather, to reflect on familiar journeys.

“It’s great to be here,” she said. “Will you miss it?”

“I’m so grateful to have this,” I replied. “All these years ago, I could never have foreseen it. One of the good things about getting older is that you are sometimes surprised by joy.”

#differently #knew #met

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