Trip Down Memory Lane

I am currently sitting in Valdez, Alaska, attempting not to faint from jet lag and an over-consumption of french fries. This isn’t actually the promised ‘trip down memory lane’ of the blog post title, but I thought I’d give you some context. Tomorrow the Last Frontier Theatre Conference starts in this far-flung post of the USA empire, at which my play, ‘Fishtail’ will be presented. I’m pretty excited. Not least because the last time I went to a theatre conference it turned out to be the absolute best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life where I met some of the best and brightest people I know. I’m looking forward to a theatre binge, not much sleep and various declarations of the adult equivalent of BFF’s (whatever that might be). By next Sunday I intend to be intellectually, emotionally, creatively and lets face it, probably financially sucked dry.
But I’ve actually already had an emotional rollercoaster of two and a half days. On my great traverse across the wide American continent to Alaska, I thought I would take a break in Michigan. Not just for any old reason, but because we have family friends who live there, who I haven’t seen in about 15 years. My Dad and Mum met this couple when we lived in Rochester, Minnesota, back when I was a tiny munchkin of not much more than 5 years old. I always remembered them as some of the kindest, funnest, smartest, best people I knew. Mum and Dad went and visited them in Michigan in 1992, then they visited us in Australia in 1994, Dad and us kids went over again in 1996, they came back in 1998 and then we lost touch for 15 years for a variety of unknown and inexplicable reasons. A few years ago, I looked them up using this miraculous invention of the internet but uncertain where to start after such a long amount of time, I didn’t do anything about it. It was left to my brother Chris to send them a letter last year and re-spark the connection. I sent some emails afterwards, they sent me a Peter Brook book and we discussed vague plans about them coming to Europe with their young daughters (who I had never met) or us going to the USA.
Then, my brother got accepted into a composer’s program in NY and headed out to see them last March. In the meantime, I got accepted into the Last Frontier conference and asked if I might be able to pop along for a short visit on the way there.
Last Wednesday, after an early start in Dublin and a long wait in NY, I was on a tiny plane (not much more than a tuna can with wings, really) bound for Detroit. I suddenly felt very anxious about the whole thing and wished that I could skip Detroit entirely and head straight for Alaska. It all seemed too scary and unknown. What if they didn’t like the person I had become? What if we had nothing to talk about? What if… I don’t know, I set the house on fire? What if I just couldn’t find them at the airport (my new casual attitude towards most things meant I had left Dublin without an address or phone number in case anything went wrong. Of course it all worked out in the end, but still…)?
I don’t know that I really want to go into details about the whole two and a half days. I still feel like I’m processing everything that happened and that I felt. Of course, it was absolutely wonderful, beyond wonderful to see them both again. It felt like opening up a link to another lifetime, back to when I was a child, living in Minnesota happily oblivious to how lucky I was to have my mummy who loved me with me every single day. A link back to a time I could barely remember and a woman I hardly knew.
Less emotionally, it was a link back to the wonderful 5 weeks me, my Dad and my brother spent in Michigan when I was 12 years old; a 5 week period that had made me so happy I constantly brought to mind and perfected every little detail over the years, afraid they might be lost, etching everything so forcibly into my mind that, walking through the city again, I managed to recognise open fields that had been covered in snow last time but were now swishing with high green grasses.
They took me out to yummy vegetarian restaurants and fed me delicious local cheeses. We went cycling and visited local delis and gorgeous artisan shops. We tried to get sangria, but I got ID’ed (seriously!) and when I realised I didn’t have my passport with me, I was forbidden alcohol by the bartender. I saw the university’s art gallery, filled with gorgeous colourful furnishings created by Tiffany (of Tiffany & Co.), the grad library with its airy roof and the law library that was built underground, but so light-filled and bright you’d never realise.
I was ‘all grow-ed up’ (as they kept saying), but there was something about being there, with them, that made the past feel all so brand-new and raw and only just out of reach. On one level, everything about Ann Arbor, its big, gorgeous wooden houses, the leafy suburbs and the green university campus, the buzzing downtown and not to mention our friends’ house (which still had a hint of the same unique woody smell it had back in 1996) and our family friends, seemed so comforting, so peaceful, so exactly right. On some level, I felt so completely at home and safe and calm that I couldn’t ever imagine leaving.
Of course, I did have to leave and far too soon. Worried about my internship and the performance for the Cork Midsummer Festival, I had left only the bare minimum of time in Detroit and just as I had begun to get to know our friends’ two little girls, just as I was getting used to having the sun again, just as I was getting used to being around our friends again, I had to leave. They dropped me off at the airport at 6:30am for a 7:30am flight and as the car drove off, I could feel myself reeling. I cried getting my tickets. I cried at security. I cried waiting to board the plane. I cried as the plane took off. I cried at Chicago airport as I waited for my connecting flight for Alaska. I cried and I cried and I cried.

Glorious Minnesota Childhood

Because the fact of the matter was, that no matter how close all those years ago seemed whilst I stayed in Ann Arbor, they were still far too far away to go back to.

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