The Date

Did you ever walk down the street with your boyfriend and think, “I’ve got this figured out! I get it!”

I did! I had that feeling! N was back after a couple months away, and it was like we just picked up where we left off. This particular afternoon, I watched him pack his backpack with strawberries, whipped cream, brie, a baguette, a bottle of champagne and two champagne flutes. We held hands walking up the scenic, winding streets to Washington Park for Symphony in the park (I can’t make this shit up- it really happened). He spread out a light blue blanket on the ground in between two pink rose bushes and smiled as he sprawled across the grass. I stood there for a minute wondering if this was real life. The musicians started playing Mozart, and we ate our strawberries and drank our champagne, laughed as we shared stories about our lives. It was absolutely perfect. I truly thought to myself, “Wow, my life could not get any better than this moment.”

Around what I can only assume was the middle of the symphony’s set, we started to notice that a senior care home had brought some of their residents to enjoy the day as well. They had brought chairs and were setting them up wherever they could fit in the rose garden. Many of them looked tired from the trip, but eager to get settled and relax. Before we knew it, N and I were surrounded by wheelchairs. Not that it mattered. We had been there for well over an hour already, it was time to share the space. We pulled the blanked in and moved closer to each other so that more people could fit. A lot of these men and women thought N was military because he was sporting a buzz cut and was coming off of running season. He was telling them all that no, he was not in the military, he was here from Ireland. Loneliness is probably one of the worst things a person can experience, and some were felt so lonely. So we talked to all of them, listening to where they came from and finally wishing them well, as it was time to go. But just as N leaned in to kiss me over the last of the champagne, Fred, one of our new friends, leaned in to talk to us and tipped over sideways in his wheelchair, landing on top of me. He apologized profusely in my ear while he was trying to get up, pushing his hands into my back and through my hair, and though pinned to the ground, I appreciated the kindness. N helped him off of me and back into his chair. The aids checked to make sure he was okay, and I tried to play it as cool as a girl who just got unexpectedly crushed during one of the most romantic moments of her life.

N knelt down in front of me and said, “How’s your head?”

UGH!!!

All I could mutter was, “Fine.” I tried to smile but I wasn’t really fine, my head was killing me. I pushed myself up on to my knees, then made myself stand up. We had become the entertainment and much of the audience was now looking at us. N quietly packed up what remained of our picnic, I offered Fred the rest of our strawberries and then we bid him adieu. That was a long, awkward walk home.

The next day N took me for a walk downtown. He pulled me into a jewelry store and, nodding at the woman behind the counter, turned to me asked, “If you could choose any ring, which one would it be?”

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The Balloon

“Time to get up,” N whispered in her ear.

She didn’t move. He tried again.

“Babe, Hil, time to wake up.”

He kissed her cheek and wrapped his arm around her.

“What time is it?” she managed from the pillow.

“It’s 5 A.M. Taxi will be here in a half hour.”

She didn’t move.

“Come on.” He rubbed her back, making her want to stay there even more.

“I can’t. Just tell me what it is we’re doing and where we’re going and I’ll get up.”

Then it hit her- he had planned something!! He had actually made plans without her knowledge and wanted to surprise her. She was smiling now. But it was 5 A.M.

“I’m serious, you need to get up. If we miss this cab we could miss it all together.”

She moaned and rolled out of bed completely naked. She managed to make it to the bathroom and flinched as she adjusted to the bright, fluorescent lights. Maybe one drink too many last night. Her curly hair was everywhere. How could she possibly be ready in 30 minutes? She quickly showered, to get the bar smell off of her, and brushed on some mascara. She didn’t have time to wash her hair, so she just swooped half of it back with a clip. Not too bad. Not great, but not too bad either. Now clothes. It was early morning, so it was cool outside. N was already dressed and ready. He sat in a chair looking out the window at the city below. He looked so handsome. She felt an overwhelming urge to drag him back to bed. She walked over and sat on his lap and kissed him. A deep, open mouth kiss that would have normally lead to more. He moaned and grabbed both of her arms and stood her up. He was insistent on making this taxi. Who in their right mind plans something for 5:30 in the morning?

“Fine.”

She finally threw on her jeans and a white tee-shirt, grabbed a sweater as the clock turned to 5:30. They held hands down the hall, and he kissed her on the elevator. The taxi was waiting outside the apartment building. This is when H actually started to get excited. They drove through the city, got on the 405, and before they knew it, they were in Aurora, Oregon. As they pulled into a field, H read the words Portland Rose Hot Air Balloon on the side of a box truck.

“N, you wouldn’t actually book a hot air balloon ride, would you? After I told you I’m deathly afraid of heights? You wouldn’t do that, right?”

“Surprise.” He was very excited and it showed all over his smiling face.

They paid for the cab, walked out into the field and were instructed to take a piece of colored fabric from the truck, and walk until it was stretched across what looked like an acre of land. H saw a man pull out a wicker basket from the back of the truck. Other couples were doing what they were told, helping to put this monstrosity together, but she stood shaking.

Her chest was tight, her legs were numb. She could feel herself getting lightheaded. She started having flashbacks to those red-eye flights from Portland to Dallas, Dallas to Pittsburgh; Portland to San Francisco, San Francisco to Dallas, Dallas to Pittsburgh; Portland to Chicago, Chicago to St. Louis; Portland to Denver; all alone and absolutely terrified as the plane shook over the Rocky Mountain Range. She looked at N. He was beaming. She cringed. She was sick to her stomach. The entire field started to spin. She started to think about possibly placing one foot in the weaved basket, and then the other. If she could just visualize herself there, getting off the ground with N by her side, and landing safely, maybe she would be okay. But there was the whole, what’s going to happen once the balloon is off the ground? She started to feel the sick rising in her stomach. Her palms were sweaty. Her forehead was starting to pound. The field was spinning faster and faster. She looked at N.

“N, I’m not doing this. I’m telling you, I’m not going up in that thing. I can see through the freaking basket. I’m not going.”

“Relax, it’s supposed to look like that. It’s fine. You’re going.” He smiled. But the look on her face made him think she might not go.

In a matter of minutes, everything was together- the fabric, the nuts and bolts, the basket- and the balloon was standing tall, heat being thrust into it, ready for passengers.

“Okay everyone, it’s time to load up! You’re about to become members of a very special club!” Our balloon crew man, Derek, was eager to get in the air.

“Okay, well, I’m not going,” H said. Everyone just stared at her from inside the balloon. They had all crawled over the side and into the basket. Derek looked at her incredulously and said, “I’ve been doing this for over 15 years and I’ve never had anyone not go! Hop in, you’ll love it!”

“No.”

All eyes on her, even N.

“No, I’m not going in that thing.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the middle of that grass.

“Well, what do you want to do?” Asked Derrick, “You can’t stay here.”

“She can come with me! If she doesn’t want to go, she can come with me,” a woman driving a ford pick-up yelled from the truck window behind her. “I follow the balloon and pick them up when they land. If you want, you can ride with me.” The woman was talking directly to H, and she was very grateful.

H looked N. He was furious. But that didn’t stop her from running to the truck, opening the passenger side door, and climbing in.

“Wait, you’re going?” N asked incredulously.

He ran after her in the silver pick-up.

“Yeah, I’m not going up in that thing.” She felt better just saying it! Whew. Now she felt guilt. “You go, you’ll love it. You love flying. I’ll see you back on the ground.”

His face fell even further as he realized she wasn’t going to be persuaded. Then he got mad. He had spent an obscene amount of money on what he thought was a once in a lifetime surprise for the woman he loved, and it had backfired. Maybe she really did hate flying. I guess this was one of the downfalls of only knowing each other for two months.

Derek stood in the middle of the two of them, watching this girl drive away with Sarah, and her poor guy climb into the basket of Derek’s favorite balloon, alone. I’ll let him pull the cord, he thought to himself.

H had a great time talking with Nancy, the woman who drove the truck. She thought it was great that H didn’t go up in the balloon, and H was happy to see some of the Oregon landscape outside the city. They went to a couple farms and enjoyed a coffee. And the entire time, she could look up and see N in the clouds above.

N was in the sky by himself, pulling the cord that pushes heat into the enormous balloon above. He was angry with himself for thinking this would be a more romantic morning, but he couldn’t deny the spectacular views. He would certainly never forget the day.

An hour later they were back on the ground. Once the trucks had been loaded up with everything (including the balloon), they headed to Derek’s farm. There waiting for them was a champagne brunch. Derek, who had done this at least 100 times before, made a toast to the new members of the balloon club, and to the one person who defied 15 years of reason. H raised her glass and smiled. She had shown N that she wasn’t perfect, and allowed herself forgiveness for her fault. If this relationship was going to last, they needed to truly know each other. Flying was H’s deal breaker. At the very least, today had shown N the truth about herself. They were both better for it.

The Meeting (FIVE)

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N went into the bathroom to answer the phone call. I heard his muffled voice through the door, but it ended pretty quickly. It reminded me that I wasn’t just making decisions that changed my life, I was choosing to change others lives as well.

I hadn’t been really, heart stopping, sing in the shower happy in a long time.  I liked holding hands and feeling electricity again. N brought me to a local vineyard one afternoon, where we sat outside drinking our wine flight, toured the cellar and fought off insects. It was so fun because there was zero expectation. He wore a white, collared France rugby top. He was funny, and calm, sitting with his legs crossed and looking so relaxed. I wanted to take him away from what he was used to, from the person he was used to seeing every day, and keep him all to myself.

A little timeline check: N (and a month or so later, M) moved to Portland in January, when Intel asked him to train on a new system. He proposed to M while hiking in April (with TIFFANY- don’t ask me about it, I’ll get really angry and then weep for hours), and we met May 13. At this point in our relationship, it was May 21, eight days after we had met.

I’m a bitch. A perfectly rational, intelligent Irish woman gets engaged to her responsible, intelligent boyfriend of two years in Oregon, USA, and when she leaves, a perfectly normal, already engaged American woman decides that life just needs to be different and tries to take the man from her. It is in really poor taste, and I’m still embarrassed about it. M didn’t deserve anything like this. And yet, I didn’t stop it.

N was only in town for a few more days at this point. His brother and a few friends were flying over to Portland see him, and they had decided to all drive from Portland, through California and then to Vegas. Irish people go hard when they vacay. From there they were all flying back to Ireland together. The day we met I knew our time together had an end date. He was scheduled to leave his apartment on the 23rd, and boxes had already been packed and ready for weeks. The shipping company was coming any day now. Obviously I was still working, and sharing an apartment with R. Judge away. Time was running out for us.

It’s hard to try and lead a double life. I wanted to spend every second with N, but I was too scared to start the conversation with R. And I didn’t want to know what he was going to do to me. I’m not saying that he was a bad person, he was just unpredictable. And he wasn’t the biggest guy in the world, but he was tough.  Or scared. Ever. That kind of unpredictability is intimidating. So I just left everything as it was and waited for him to figure it out. I know, total bitch.

I told N that I really hoped we could keep talking when he returned to Ireland, and he surprised me.

“I thought that’s what we were doing? I thought we were planning on meeting again soon and seeing this through? Trying it out?” And I smiled and just couldn’t believe that this was happening. I really, truly loved him. In all honesty, I loved him the second I met him. The instant that our eyes met, I was done. In a normal situation, I would have ended things with my fiancé, requested that N end things with his fiancé, and then met up and allowed our relationship to develop. But again, there was always that ticking clock in the background, reminding me that he was leaving soon.

And of course the day came for him to go, and he went.

I called him, like he told me to do whenever I felt like I was losing my mind and doubting everything that happened. He didn’t pick up. So I called again later, and he didn’t pick up. And then I realized what was happening. He didn’t want this to continue. He just wanted to move on, enjoy the rest of his time in the US with his brother and friends, and then fly back home and act like it never happened. I was devastated.

The following day, he returned my call.

“Hi!”

Blah. He sounded so happy.

“Hi. Hey, I just need to end this here and now. I can’t do this. I’m not like this. I don’t really think this can last, and I know you feel the same way. We need to just end it here.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“You know that it wasn’t going to work. You live in Ireland and I live here. You’re engaged. I have a lot of things to sort out here. It’s just bad timing. There’s just no way it could have ever worked. We’ve been wasting each others time.”

“Do you mean this? Really?”

“Yes.” No.

“I just booked a plane ticket back to Portland. I miss you. I can’t take it. I just want to see you.”

Whoops.

I was sincerely shocked and completely, for a lack of a better word, gobsmacked.

“But, but you didn’t answer my phone calls for two days. And your brother and friends are with you, and you’re in LasVegas…are you staying longer?”

“I’m at the airport, my brother just dropped me off. I just booked a flight back and called to let you know.”

I told you, I’m the biggest bitch ever.

The Meeting (part 2)

You may be wondering how I got here- walking around Portland, Oregon, with my family and friends across the country in Pittsburgh, PA. It’s not an uncommon story.

In high school, I saw a boy walking down the hall. He had light blue eyes, eyelashes for days,  a handsome face and an athletic build. He was always smiling and laughing, except when he looked at me in the hall that day. He stopped laughing and just stared at me walk by. I was new, having come from catholic grade school, and super intimidated, so I just stared back and walked by.

A year later, in mid-fall, he asked me if I wanted to go to a party with him.

“Sure,” I said.

I decided to bring a friend. He showed up alone.

We went to the party, spent some time together, and really had fun with other people who were there. After that night, he called me to hang out a lot. So I would go, because he was so much fun, and hang out with him and his friends, sometimes both of our friends, sometimes just us. We went to the park, we went to the mall, we drove around, he attempted to take me four-wheeling (I got out of the car and refused, as he laughed), we went to lunch. We had a lot of fun just going places together and hanging out with each other. It was really fun. This went on for months, until summer rolled around and he kissed me. I didn’t know what was going to happen after that, and I was really nervous. But, everything just kind of stayed the same, but became more romantic. We were a couple. And we started doing things as a couple, not just as friends. I introduced him to my family (as my boyfriend now), I met his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. We went to family functions with each other. My siblings and cousins grew up with him there as part of the family. Our first official Valentine’s Day together, I had to work, and he filled my car full of pink balloons and left a bouquet of pink roses on the drivers seat with a note that said, “Can’t wait to see you later.” And when I did finally see him, he had a HUGE box wrapped for me. And he just stood there grinning and said, “Open it!” Inside were a million little things he knew I liked, like make-up, cd’s and clothes. He loved to spoil me. And I really enjoyed it. We spent more and more time together. I was now in college, so it was easy to forget about friends when he was around. And we got really serious.

But the following Valentine’s Day, he did something different. He had wrapped ten, individual boxes for me. He told me to open them in order, so I did.

The first box held a single rose, three pieces of red ribbon, and a page with three holes punched down the left hand side. It read, “R and H” in magazine cut out letters. I was confused. I laughed, and so did he, then he handed me another box. In the second was another rose, and another page, but this time, it said, “Our First Date” and he had written the story of our first date (which he claims is the day I showed up with a friend because I didn’t want to be alone with him). It was written from his perspective, how nervous he was, and how he would never forget it. I was shocked. It too had three  holes punched down the left hand side. Then he handed me another box, which held another rose, and the story of our first kiss. Each box held a page of our relationship together. And after the last box was opened and the final page placed behind the others, he tied them all together with the three pieces of ribbon. He had made me a book.

 

The Beginning

 

My husband is from a small town in Ireland. He and his family can trace their roots back pretty far. And each time N, my husband, tells me about an ancestor, he always throws in some kind of exaggeration. For example, my husband told me a shillelagh (pronounced sha LAY lee) was a walking stick used to beat people, back in the days of the old IRA when no weapons were allowed. I mentioned this to a friend at work (when I worked in Dublin) and he flat out said, “He’s takin’ the piss out of yeh.” To which I replied, “I’m going to kill him.”

However, I have since learned that this is, in fact, true. I have yet to reach out to my friend and tell him he was wrong, but it doesn’t really matter. The point of this story is that I am always paranoid that N is lying to me, to enhance the story and whatnot- he’s a great story teller. That’s part of the reason I fell in love with him, because he had so many amazing stories of his own. He has been places- real places, like Africa and Thailand. When we met, I had been to about 15 of the states and Cancun, Mexico, on spring break (if you haven’t been, it’s like Florida with men with machine guns asking you questions at the airport). So everything he was saying was so exciting! Safaris, scuba diving, Australian beaches- seriously, I couldn’t even dream up what he was saying. Anyway, we met at a bar one rainy night in May and were engaged two months later. It was the literal “Love At First Sight.” One year later (to the day) we were married in a church in my home town. The first time I met my in-laws was at the airport the day they flew in for our wedding (I will die if my children try and pull this on me). They were understandably trying to talk N and my parents out of the wedding, but my hard-working, tough as nails Pittsburgh parents weren’t about to lose out on $20k- wedding was happening (and, my mom loves N way more than me and she was certainly not about to let the best thing that ever happened to bragging rights slip through her fingers). But we were in love and the wedding was beautiful. Nine months later we had our first son, April 21st we said goodbye to Portland (ugh, I cried the whole flight) and May 1st we landed in Dublin airport.

The first thing that I noticed was that there were no skyscrapers. It looks like there’s 50 shades of green- I’m sure there are. And the airport isn’t the most up-to-date place, but it’s comfortable and worn in. The first drive from the airport to Kildare scared the shit out of me.

The car is the size of a small four-seater, we’re driving on the wrong side of the road, it’s one lane in some areas, I’ve got my two month old son in the back, and there are sheep scattered everywhere- for added driving fun.

N was so sweet and had an apartment all set up for us when we got there. It was beautiful and new (weird things happened to me when I was alone there), and I was excited to settle down there. But it soon got overwhelming, not knowing where to go to pick up groceries and not recognizing any brands. This was really difficult with a two month old, because then I started relying on my mom to send his formula over to me every month, which didn’t work out in the end. I had to ask my mother-in-law everything because I didn’t have any friends over there. I’m 5’7 with curly dark hair and in Ireland, I would say most girls are 5’3 with poker straight hair, just a gift from God to them for having to live in consistently wet weather conditions. My hair is naturally curly and frizzy. It looks best on cool fall days with zero humidity. In Ireland, there is no good hair day for me. This is just another quark that added to my already out of the ordinary appearance there. Add an American accent and I’m a walking oddity.

Where am I going with this? I guess it’s just to show you a little of what was going on in my head while trying to figure out how to be a new wife and a new mom in this new place. It was stressful. And then I decided to get a job, which made it better or worse, I have no idea. Anyway, I want to put my experiences down somewhere where my children can read about them, and where new moms, who are travelling to Ireland or somewhere else abroad, can learn about what to expect and get some tips about life with children outside of the U.S.