I sit in a dingy pub in Dublin, just outside the city centre.
I’m here. And I can’t believe that I am here—in the place I always told myself I would move to. It’s not exactly how I’d planned it, you know. But here I am, nonetheless. And it all feels so surreal.
When I was a girl, I would always tell people I’d end up living on a rural farm in Ireland. My friend, Ally, would joke about how she would have one of the ducks on my farm. Like a little part of her would always be there with me. It’s funny how female friendships worked back then. We were so obsessed with each other and we would talk for hours and hours in my basement in the dark about future plans, giggling as we lay close together—only to lose touch years later.
The lights are dim in the pub, there’s a candle on the table, and my notepad in front of me. The bartender comes by to ask if I want another Guinness, and I say yes. I know I shouldn’t, but I have nothing else to do tonight, and I’m in Dublin! “You only live once” seems to apply on another level this evening. There’s a live band starting in a few minutes and the bar is getting crowded.
I head home after two, maybe three pints of Guinness. My “home” is an Airbnb just down the street, and even though I am happy to be here, for the first time since arriving, I feel lonely. I wonder where I’ll be a few months from now. Even though I’ve done it—done the thing I’ve always said I would—I’m still wondering when it’ll actually begin to feel like this is it. This is where I always said I would end up, in my dream country.
Ireland was an escape for me. The same way that writing always was. If I could just disappear into the imagination of what could be, then life would feel a little bit easier. It was a beacon—that someday things would be better and there was a possibility for newness somewhere out there. Now that I am here, in Ireland, and often find myself still sad about the same things, I wonder if it ever really was about the place specifically or about the idea of being someone else, in a different life that appealed to me. I could be anyone over there, I remember thinking. I could be happy.
Over the years, I’d done therapy and more recently, coaching. There’s something about talking to a stranger about your problems that appeals to me. It’s like writing on an anonymous forum; they don’t really know you but are just listening, nonjudgmentally, to your story. Plus, you know, they have some credentials to actually help you work through it. This latest coach had asked me to think about the times when I feel most myself. What activates moments of excitement.
I wrote the following:
>> Working on my book.
>> Sitting in a bar with a whiskey reading poetry.
>> Real, open conversations about relationships and human nature.
>> Talking with a close friend.
>> Dublin. A dingy pub.
>> Comedy shows.
>> A new city.
>> A hotel.
>> Sitting on a train.
>> Being somewhere unknown. Where I am unknown.
I didn’t know if that was what she was looking for, but when I read her the list, she listened and then said, It’s fascinating that the times you feel most yourself are the places where nobody knows you. What is it about being around people who know you that stops you from being yourself?
And I thought about that a lot. About how that first day I arrived in Dublin felt like a weight being lifted off my shoulders. How it felt like I could be anybody I wanted to be. But also, that I didn’t actually want to be anyone else except me.
That’s what I love about living in a different city—about travel—that you can be at home in yourself away from home. Away from the expectations others have of you. Away from feeling like you don’t fit a mold. Or you’ll never make your parents happy. There’s just you and you. This is something this coach continues to repeat to me.
It’s about you coming back to you. That is how you will find peace.
Now, a year later, and the same feeling of heaviness has found its way inside me. I lost that traveler’s soul. I lost the girl who was so excited to be here, and Dublin became just another city where I don’t know who I am, where I continue down self-destructive paths because I’m never able to be happy.
Maybe if we weren’t in a global pandemic I would have left and tried to start fresh again in another city. So maybe this really is a blessing in disguise—that I literally cannot escape anymore. It’s just me, here, sitting in an attic bedroom in the city of my supposed dreams. And maybe I’m tired of running. I’m tired of not feeling at home within myself. And I’m tired of letting others’ opinions stop me from doing the things I want to achieve.
I can’t expect everybody to like me. I can’t expect everybody to agree with or understand every one of my decisions. But what I do know is that when I made the decision to pack my bags and move here with only two months of preparation, I felt empowered. Because I wasn’t listening to anybody else; I was doing something I knew, deep in my soul, was right for me.
I bumped into Ally a few years ago in Kensington Market in Toronto. We had talked off and on after our friendship initially ended, but we hadn’t been in contact in a while, and I hadn’t seen her since we both went off to university. She was wearing a red plaid shirt and it reminded me of how we used to always wear oversized boy’s sweatshirts and drink and smoke weed together in a park with various guy friends late at night when we were teens.
It’s so great to see you, she said after a few pleasantries. We hugged and went our separate ways. She seemed happier than she had in high school when we were both so depressed we become almost codependent with each other in our sadness. I thought about how we spent so many nights together talking about our lives. How even though we weren’t in touch anymore, she and I both knew she would always have a metaphorical duck on my metaphorical farm.
I don’t think about her so much anymore. She’ll pop up on my social media feed from time to time. It’s strange how we can keep up with each other’s lives nowadays without ever actually talking. How someone can go from being a best friend, inseparable, to someone who you see appear on your phone screen whenever you open an app. It’s like we’ve got thousands of these micro friendships brewing through social media, but we never pause and take a sip from the tap, never sit down for a long chat.
I wonder if I bumped into her now, what we would say. She would probably say, I can’t believe you actually did it. That little girl in that basement would be proud of me, I think, too. She would say, Look Naomi, we did it. But what does “doing it” even mean?
There’s no end destination. No matter what they tell us in school—we don’t follow certain steps to get to some point where it’s all rainbows and sunshine. No, life is hard every goddamn step of the way. And there are beautiful moments in between, and there are moments where we’re tired and don’t want it to go on. But I’d like to think it’s those moments that make the beautiful ones even more worth it.
And I’m done striving for happiness. I just want peace. I want to sit in a pub in Dublin and feel content in the same way that I would on a Friday night dinner back home in Toronto at my parent’s. I don’t want to run away to find myself anymore. I want to carry a little duckling of home within me, no matter where I go.
*Details have been slightly altered for privacy. Excerpted from Naomi’s upcoming book, Time Below the Surface, available for pre-order.