Things are busy; they’re very, very busy. Without further ado, then, I will keep my promise to do more creative writing by doing two freewrites, come what may. I’ve just asked Newman to supply me with two Ireland related topics, and he’s come up with these: 1) the Irish “gypsies” and 2) an old classmate of mine, who died a few years ago.
The gypsies aren’t called gypsies. There are names for them, but none of them are good. They’re names given to them from the outside, by those who don’t know them or know only parts of them. We and they, them and us; they are separate and outside, but not really, you know. They live in caravans and with wide canvas hoopy wooden white covers. They travel; they’re called the travelers. People called them “tinkers” then and “knackers” now, but those are derogatory terms. When I was little, they were just people outside of but also present in the community. The women came begging sometimes, knocking at the door and asking my mom for bread, clothes, whatever she could spare. She did spare, too, despite having eight mouths of her own to feed. She spared the extra so and so but also spared a moment to talk, to connect, to see what made them the same. I remember the children were rough, with big open mouths that poured out rough language or looked at you hungrily. Once outside a shop, waiting in the van for my mother with my little sister next to me, a group of them came by and reached into the open window, trying to grab whatever they could. I was desperate to roll up the window, afraid for my life at these children’s hands reaching, stretching, trying to touch and take. I was afraid of most things, then. I didn’t know what to make of these kids. I didn’t think of them as kids. Once, some were brought to our school for a short while. The nuns gave them clothes and kindness, doling out care the way they served us with ruler-slaps and straight-lined discipline. Order and obedience were the rules, but the nuns were not without love when it was called for. We weren’t told they were travelers, but I knew what they looked like from having lived in the city. No-one told us anything, including the kids. Parent-less, presumably, just showing up and being with us and then gone a while later. No explanation. The caravans are beautiful, if you look at them as art, architecture of a different age that still bleeds into today. The communities and people are still a mystery to me. I never did get to know any of them as individuals. I would have liked to. We were all ragged and raw, then, so why couldn’t we sit next to each other, have a good gawk to get it over with, and then get on with it with a game of rounders before settling into some sort of friendship, tentative and tempting, as children do? I wanted to show Newman a caravan on our last visit, parked in a field we sped by on the highway. I think he was sleeping, or we passed it too fast, but he didn’t get to see. They’re still there, still separate, and that’s the way they want it, I believe. I’m still not sure how it all works, but I’m slightly more aware of the political and historical threads that have woven that invisible wall between Irish worlds. That pane of glass separating those grubby hands reaching for me from my own frenzied, fearful fists on the other. That silent space that still keeps us separate.
I didn’t know her well, but I knew her. She was in my class, and even though I left that school at the age of twelve, we were all friends in the fellowship of youth. She wasn’t unstable or any more weird than any of us, then. She was no more marked than I, a stranger deposited on Irish shores who found her way, day by day. Something had to be wrong, though, for her to pack up her child, no older than mine, and bring him to her mother’s house, drop him off with a kiss and a promise, then leave to drive for hours to get to the Cliffs, the place where people from all over the world come to see the sights. The Cliffs, the Cliffs, beautiful and lonely and lovely and long, where we go to gaze and dream and die. She parked her car, she walked or ran. It was night; it was dark. She jumped; she sailed; she fell. She went over. She went down. Nobody saw her. Nobody stopped her. She said goodbye. They found her car. They tell her story, in snippets and hushed tones. They nod and sigh and pour another pint as they pull me in to what happened, what’s known, what’s not–what’s told and what’s left unsaid. Her boy with her mother. Trouble with the ex. Too much drink. Demons. Denial. Death. I picture her, sometimes, alone in her car, driving, or walking to the edge of the cliff. I think of us in class together or at church. I wish I could remember words exchanged, the touch of friends tackling on the playground, the way she laughed or how she sounded when she shouted out. I wonder what words they used to tell her boy his mother wasn’t coming home. I wonder how it was before she said goodbye, and whether his life was better before or after. I think about her. I see us in our white angel outfits, ready for Christmas mass with our sparkles and our wings, innocent and giggly, happy to be photographed, happy just to be seen. I don’t know how to reach her, then or now, and I don’t know how to write her. I know the Cliffs were always a dangerous place to me, a place where quiet awe and sadness sit.