We’ve just gotten through another rough patch, you and I. It’s the end of February, and after a particularly bleak Valentine’s Day during which you stumbled into our Mulcair Road apartment from the pub, I looked at you and felt a fire in my stomach. It was a manifestation of the hatred I had come to regard you with. You had, once again, decided that attending your classes at the University of Limerick weren’t as important as drinking with the layabouts you’d managed to befriend since our move from London. I knew it would only be a matter of time before you lost your dance scholarship thanks to the worst part of Irish culture you had decided to take up, that you had suddenly become more passionate about Guinness than any hard or soft shoe dance. How drastically you’d changed in the short span we’d been here. Here, where it always felt tauntingly gray behind its greenness. At least with London, there was no hidden agenda, no feigning that it was anything other than a misery-inducing metropolis. Ireland was always trying to lure you with its Celtic witchery and lush scenery. So I agreed to accompany you, thinking it would be one of my only opportunities for a reprieve from the thesis I had swore to myself I would finish by no later than the beginning of 1994.
You even further cajoled me by promising to drive us the entire ten-plus hours, most of which was filled with the sound of Blur’s Leisure on the tape player. By the time we reached the ferry portion of the journey, I put the kibosh on all music, utterly burned out on even any of the romanticism of “She’s So High.” You didn’t care, or seem to even notice my vexation, so excited at that time about what our future in Ireland might lead to. We may have been the first Londoners in known history to feel so giddy about this temporary transplant toward enemy lines. And, for a while, the change was something that I felt brought renewed gusto to our slightly stale rapport. A new setting can always create such a pretty illusion at the beginning. Walks along the River Shannon, exploring King John’s Castle, Lough Gur and Saint Mary’s Cathedral, we became as novel to one another as our surroundings. It only took about a month for all of that to change, for things to settle back into how they were before–except with this dramatic addition of your drinking problem.
I still don’t know how you met Ronnie and Sean. Maybe they were just another pair of middle-aged goons standing idly on the street or maybe you encountered them at the pub. You never were one for providing much in the way of details or backstory. That’s why I always found it incongruous that you finagled me into your life–I was a French literature major constantly devouring the so-called trivialities of rich, overzealous descriptions. And there you were, a monosyllabic buffoon who could only express yourself through your body. Which might have been ideal for sex, but not so much for any other form of meaningful communication. About the only thing we ever could agree on fully was music. And so I was thankful, then, at the end of February, when a song you couldn’t go anywhere all of the sudden without hearing–“Linger”–was released. The lead singer was from Limerick, making the pervasiveness of The Cranberries all the more palpable. And even though we’d heard of them when “Dreams” came out the year before, we weren’t as drawn to the band until now. There was something too Irish about her screams on “Dreams” for us to identify fully with. But “Linger,” it was something else entirely.
The night of Valentine’s Day, you backhanded me for the first time in our two-year relationship, only sheepishly apologizing the next afternoon when you were finally sober enough to remember what you had done. When I sulked in silence and drank my coffee without making eye contact with you, you went out into the garden and picked a white rose you had miraculously managed to materialize from out of nowhere. It made me think you had secreted one away for an occasion such as this. One that would require my placation. With the sting still fresh on my cheek, I took your rose, and you said to me, “I’m right sorry about last night, Amelia. It will never happen again.”
Mid-March, I’m at the supermarket and “Linger” is on. I’m buying salve for my latest wound from you. This incident featured a knife, just to mix things up on your end, I suppose. I know it’s time to get out, but the overpowering part of me that loves you wants to give you another chance, to believe that this version of you only exists in Ireland. And that if I stick it out long enough, we’ll be back in London before I know it, where your true self resides. The sweet, passionate bloke that somehow kept my head out of a book long enough to attract my attention and affection. You know I’m such a fool for you.
When I get back, I begin the process of preparing my specialty: shepherd’s pie. I don’t know when you’ll be home, or what state of sobriety you’ll be in. I only know that the Emery I saw this morning, subdued and vaguely contrite will not present himself to me once he walks through the door.
May. You’ve been put on probation and are required to make up for your poor performance over the summer. At a place called Flannery’s Bar, “Linger” plays and it’s not even a thought in my mind to stay with you here while you provide your recompense. I know I must go back. I don’t belong in this place, shouldn’t have tried to abandon my life for yours to begin with. But you’ve got me wrapped around your finger. Or at least you did.
You wrote me letters with religious regularity after I left. Do you have to let it linger? We oughtn’t bother pretending that there’s any “there” there at this stage. Neither of us are young enough for such self-delusions any longer–or at least I know that I’m not. At first, I opened your lengthy, often gibberish-laden missives, but then I stopped. And by fall of 1994, when I had completed my thesis and been accepted into a program at the Sorbonne, I wouldn’t even have to deal with the guilt of not feeling inclined to open them anymore. I’d be long gone, in Paris.
The City of Light, it’s called, even though everyone knows it’s supposed to be the City of Love. Not for me though. You’d already extracted all I had to give during our time together, rounded out by that stint in Limerick. My quota for passion was even more anathema than it typically would be to a Frenchie beholding a Brit. When Frenchmen tried to hit on me, it was quite literally as though they were going up against a wall. And on days when I have enough time to walk along the Seine to clear my impossibly fraught mind, it transforms to me, and me alone. Into River Shannon. And I purse my lips thinking back to how I thought the world of you. I thought nothing could go wrong. But I was wrong.