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Home is where the sea is: thoughts from Irish shores

I close my eyes and hold my breath. I let the next wave smack right into me. I stay underwater as long as I can. The Atlantic Ocean rolls over my body, making my arms, legs, and hair sway. I relax in its silent coolness until my lungs force me to the surface for air. I break through the top of the water to the sound of jets flying over Virginia Beach. I blink the drops out of my eyes. Water warm enough to swim in. I’m going to miss that. Turning around, I slowly walk out of the ocean and up the beach. I collapse on my towel and shield my eyes. Sunshine. Sunshine and 90-degree weather everyday. I’m going to miss that. Rolling onto my stomach, I catch a last glimpse of the glimmering blue-green water. I’m going to miss that. I’m going to miss home.

I open my plane window to see the Atlantic churning below me. Looking left, it expands endlessly. An infinite canvas of dark blue with white caps sprouting sporadically. Stretching thousands of miles between here and there. To the left, waves crash on the shore. A coastline of green patchwork requires my full attention. The hues of Ireland’s pastures are peaceful and welcoming. The plane flies farther over Ireland until its 40 shades of green overpower the sliver of navy I can barely see on my left. Not too long after this sliver disappears, another emerges in the corner of my right eye. The east coast of Ireland is identical in color to the west. The Dublin Bay is filled with tiny sailboats and the plane swerves towards its mouth. Ireland. Surrounded by water. Could be like home.

I’m blasted by the strong odor of seafood as I step out of the train station. The main road in Sandycove is a straight shot to the first beach I visit in Ireland. Rocks where sand should be crumble under my feet as I slowly advance forward to the coast. I stand precariously perched on one of the larger rocks, saltwater splashing as it smashes up against it. Timidly, I reach out a hand to test its temperature. My nerves contract with cold and I shove my hand into my raincoat pocket. I stare out to sea. Shivering, I pull my hood on tighter and watch a man swimming in only a Speedo. I wonder how that is even remotely possible. The wind lashes at my bare face and whips my hair in every direction. My nostrils are again flooded with the familiar scent of salt and fish. I’m not used to this unfriendly weather and landscape. But it smells like home.

I trudge through the narrow, lined streets of Kinsale, the next coastal town I venture to. Colorful shops and restaurants catch my eye as I pace to the visitor center on a mission to retrieve a map. After getting my bearings straight, I stride through the windy, uphill road to Fort Charles. One hour and 4 kilometers later, I reach the entrance to the fort. Situated atop a cliff, the fort overlooks the entire bay. I stand at a far corner and look outwards. In one direction, water swells as far as I can see, a faint fog hanging over it. The sky meets the sea at a hazy horizon. In the other direction, the town is visible. Yellow, pink, and blue houses stagger along the lanes. Sailboats and fishing boats are packed in the harbor. A small boardwalk lines the lip of the water. It looks like home.

As I head back to the train station at Cobh, I spot a small boat docked in the port. Instantly, I am reminded of the dozens of Coast Guard boats my mom took my brother and me on as kids. I’m reminded of the one time her Captain let us steer one of these boats. In remembering these things about home, I’m reminded that my mom’s decision to join the Coast Guard is the only reason why my home is my home. I smile thankfully at the little boat. I stand still and close my eyes, thinking of when my mother used to sing me to sleep. Blocking out my surroundings, I let myself focus only on my mother’s song synchronizing with the sound of water lapping against the side of the boat. The quiet slap and swish movement of the waves in harmony with her voice occupies my mind completely for the next couple minutes. Sounds like home.

I make my way down the rocks on the shore of Inisheer towards the sea. I sink my feet into a tide pool of water. Cold. Freezing cold. Exactly what I expected. But I plunge my legs in further until the water reaches just below my knees. Feet slipping on the smooth rocks underneath them, I walk forward. I look down, and through the clear water, I see shells scattered about. One sticks to a rock when I try to pick it up. I inspect it and realize that it is inhabited by some sort of creature. My fingers instead pass over several cracked shells, obviously empty. I grab a few, pat them dry with my shirt, and stuff them into my satchel. I dip a hand back into the water. Raising a finger to my lips, I touch it to my tongue. Saltwater. Tastes like home.

I lay my bike in the sand and walk down the beach. At the water’s edge, I let the waves roll over my toes. I stand still, looking out at the endless blue. When the wind makes my eyes start to water, I turn back. Wrapped in my raincoat, I lie down in the sand. It’s coarser than what I’m used to. Not quite sand. More like tiny, broken pieces of shell. The sun comes out from behind a cloud for about twenty minutes, warming me up. I fall asleep. I wake up to raindrops falling lightly on my face. We board the ferry. I stand, facing the Aran Island we have just left. The breeze whisks my hair out of my face. The waves gently rock the ferry, almost lulling me to sleep while I lean against the handrail. A mother soothing her child. Feels like home.

I stand on the dock in Doolin. I tilt my head and look down into the midnight sea. Below, a dolphin swims with a woman in a wetsuit. I think back to when I visited my birthplace two years ago. I had swum with dolphins there in Key West. This fond memory begs me to do it another time, to brave the icy waters. I glance again at the water, wishing I were wearing my bathing suit. My eyes dart around the pier, hoping to find a place that rents out wetsuits. No luck. I look back at the dolphin. I can’t quite figure out why I have this overwhelming urge to dive in with her. But with my eyes fixated on the water, my brain registers the reason. Because it doesn’t matter how different the beaches of Ireland are from the ones in America. It’s all still the sea. It’s all still home.

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