"In hindsight I know that the truly remarkable thing about me leaving for Dublin ten years ago wasn’t that I was going. The remarkable thing was that my parents helped me do it." Photo: Getty
Ten years ago my father drove me to the airport in the small American city where I grew up so that I could catch a bus to another airport, a three-hour drive away, so that I could get on a flight to Ireland. You can perhaps see why I didn’t want to stay in the city where I grew up: I dreamed of a life where the local airport was a place with planes.
If you’d asked me at the time what was most remarkable about that day, I would have said, It’s that I’m moving to Dublin to be with my boyfriend who I have only spent two weeks of my life with! But in hindsight I know that the truly remarkable thing about me leaving for Dublin ten years ago wasn’t that I was going. The remarkable thing was that my parents helped me do it.
They even paid for the plane ticket: a return, because it was cheaper, but also in case I needed to come home. You can come back if it doesn’t work out, my father said, and of course I said, DAD. But two-and-a-half weeks later, when I was struggling to find a job, and on a road trip from Waterford to Dublin I had to stop five times to throw up in the bathrooms of five carpeted pubs, and then when one morning my milk fell out of the carton in chunks, it was a comfort to know that I had a ticket out. A safety net. The security of that was enough to keep me moving forward.
My parents hadn’t met my boyfriend before my dad drove me to the airport to catch the bus to take me to the other airport. Ten years later, this seems surprising. I suppose my parents were convinced by my starry eyes, by my boyfriend’s Irish accent when they picked up his calls to our landline. My boyfriend’s greatest aim in life was to be a professor of an obscure kind of political philosophy, which isn’t every parent’s nightmare; it probably gave them some confidence that he was a good kid.
But still. Before they bought me that plane ticket, I’d often thought that my parents were overprotective. And maybe they were, but maybe they had to be, when they’d spent most of my teenage years protecting me when I was wrecked for a while by the kind of depression that doctors called ‘severe’. I still don’t know what to call it. I don’t have the words. Ten years ago I was 21 years old and my depression was no longer severe, but I was still fragile. My parents were a little fragile, too. We were all still recovering from those difficult years. And yet! Ten years ago, my parents still let me go.
It turned out OK: my boyfriend was a lovely person, and his family couldn’t have been kinder to me. He and I broke each other’s hearts a couple of years later in the way that people who fall in love at 20 often do. But I’ve never regretted that day when I got on that bus at the airport to go to the other airport. That day was a hinge. It made me.
When people learn how long I’ve lived on another continent from my parents, I think sometimes they think it means that we’re not close. How often do you see them? people ask, sometimes with a note of something like concern. I can understand that.
But this is the truth: of all of the reasons that I have lived so long so far from where I got my start, one of the most significant is that I do have a close relationship with my parents. It’s our closeness that made me a person who is independent and curious, to take opportunities to veer a little bit off the course of what’s expected. My parents gave me the confidence that I lean on, always. The confidence that I can make mistakes. My parents made me understand that I can make choices that I regret, decisions that are less than ideal, or even stupid, and that I can still keep moving forward. That nothing can ever ruin my life.
I have this belief because I’ve always known that if I need it, someone will be there to pick me up at the airport (bus stop).
This piece was originally published jeanhannah.tumblr.com, re-published with permission.