Ciara O’Leary is a native of Dublin and currently a student of Writing in NUI Galway. After a few draining years working in the corporate world, she left Ireland to travel and upon returning, decided to pursue a life and career in writing much to the confusion of her family and friends. She has no regrets.
By Ciara O’Leary
A water-baby from the beginning, the sea was my mother, gentle at times and fearful at others. Growing up in Salthill, I knew to respect Mother, for all too often I had seen the consequences of neglecting her forewarnings. Drownings were common, but we locals were plunged into the sea before we could walk, developing broad shoulders and chambered lungs that could withstand the waves crashing overhead and the currents dragging underneath.
He was the opposite and yet one in the same. Raised in a landlocked town in the Canadian prairies, his familiar landscape was of undisturbed land; thousands of acres of wheat, barley, canola, and rye. The only dots on his horizon were of spindly, insect-like machines, slowly weaving through the land, carefully spraying herbicide on coddled crops. He told me once how he rarely imagined a human presence inside these machines for they were always so alone, so far away from any living being in this vast open space.
We both craved the ocean, I because it was all I knew and he, because he knew so little. The opportunity for him to finally set his senses on fresh sea water and air came at age twenty-one, when our paths crossed in Norway. Our itching feet had led us to stray from our homes like so many others of Generation Emigration. Faraway lands and foreign traditions fed our cultural appetite but the opportunity to share these experiences with one another came as unexpected.
But the complexity of the dividing oceans suddenly surfaced as our time together began to flicker and fade. The encroaching despair of separation had a way of romanticising what time we had left, while also immersing us into clouded, uncertain waters. A fierce wind blew on that final day, and we felt the presence of the gruelling North Sea, like a disapproving father edging between us.
The years passed as they do and different lovers came in and out of our lives. But he came to me one summer and had a simple request of visiting the ocean, once more craving the feeling of grating sand on his feet and the vision of white horses dancing on the shore. I obliged but while setting my eyes onto the water I could not smother the sense of poignancy that his visit held. He too watched the horses, their playfulness a teasing reminder of what could not be and so much that already was.
The following year I crossed the Atlantic to a world unknown to me and yet home for him. I asked to be taken to a place where nothing surrounded us but flat fields and meadows, a place where the land felt endless and deserted and where time and space seemed infinite. In my mind I may as well have asked for the moon and stars to be plucked from the sky but he obliged without hesitance.
We found ourselves at a dusty crossroads where canola fields were flowering a cobalt yellow all around and where the only movement on the horizon was that of the crops swaying to a melody I longed to hear. In that moment, they shone brighter than any Irish sand or sea and the sweet dust which tickled my nose was a welcome change to the salt that relentlessly dried my skin and matted my hair. The canola fields granted us an escape on land, if even momentarily, for it seemed impossible to ever again be oceans apart.