As the train pulled into Plunkett Station a week later, I sized up my situation. I was traveling alone with three suitcases, two enormous overstuffed duffle bags, and two smaller duffle bags packed with carpets Lief and I had purchased in Istanbul. Plus I had my laptop, a backpack, and my purse.
There had been no porters in the station in Dublin where I’d boarded the train, so I wasn’t counting on porters here in Waterford. Fortunately, Plunkett was the end of the line, so I didn’t have to worry about getting all my bags off the train before it took off again.
Looking out the window I confirmed: No porters. No waiting queue of taxis that I could see either. I stood up and began pulling the duffle bags from the shelf where I’d stowed them for the two-and-a-half-hour trip.
“Are you on your own, luv?”
I looked up to see the Irishman who’d been sitting across the aisle from me. He wore a tweed cap and a tweed jacket whose buttons didn’t meet across his healthy middle. He had a warm smile and a gentle voice that made me feel much less anxious about my circumstances.
We had no place to live so I had booked a suite at the Granville Hotel for two weeks for my family of three. I’d come on ahead to try to create as comfortable a situation as I could to receive Lief and Kaitlin, who would join me the following week. They’d gone back to Chicago together so Lief could finish closing out his life there and Kaitlin could get to know her new stepdad better.
“Yes, I am,” I replied.
“Where are you headed?” he asked.
“The Granville Hotel. Would you know where that is?” I asked. “Is it far from the train station?”
“It’s across there on the quay,” the old Irishman told me. “Just over the bridge. We’ll take you, luv,” he said, gesturing over to include his wife.
“Oh, no, please, that’s not necessary. Thank you, but I’ll find a taxi outside.”
“No, luv,” the Irishman said. “You probably won’t. And if you do find one, it won’t be big enough to fit all your things. My wife and I have our van in the car park. Plenty of room. And we’re happy to do it.”
I looked up at my bags on the overhead rack and remembered how hard it’d been to load them on my own in Dublin. The friendly Irishman was already reaching up to help.
“Yes, actually I’d really appreciate it if you could give me a ride,” I said, returning his smile.
We three carried my bags across the parking lot and loaded them into the van. Then we drove out of the train station, across Rice Bridge, and then left onto the quay that runs riverside along the center of Waterford City. Once upon a time, this was a bustling port town with ships lining the harbor importing and exporting to France, Spain, and beyond. When we arrived, though, in 1998, Waterford was forgotten and depressed. Which was the point. The IDA was trying to reinvigorate Ireland’s economy beyond its capital city. At this stage, the Celtic Tiger’s roar had yet to be heard much beyond Dublin. Waterford was sad and gray and generally in need of a fresh coat of paint.
That night, though, crossing the Rice Bridge over the River Suir for the first time as an official Waterford resident, the lights from the Georgian townhouses that line the quay twinkling in the harbor, Reginald’s Tower visible in the distance, standing guard over the city as it had done for a thousand years, I could imagine the place as it once must have been, lively and prosperous. Viewed from the bridge into town, Waterford appeared magical.
My new Irish friends delivered me to the Granville and helped me drag my bags into the lobby. I checked in, and a bellman carried my things to my room. I was alone and still for the first time in a long time. I sat down in the chair by the window to regroup.
I’d pulled my eight-year-old daughter away from everything she and I had known to this point—our family, our friends, her school. My new husband likewise had left his life, his professional situation. Now we were to start over as a new family in a new city in a foreign country, me looking to build a publishing business while making a home, my husband trying to buy an old house from a mysterious Singaporean to convert into a center for corporate retreats. When I boiled things down in my mind to those basic facts, even I had to admit the situation could be considered unsound.
I’d left a lot of loose ends. I have always been good at focusing sharply on a single target while blocking out everything else and ignoring objections, obstacles, and challenges. It’s a trait that came in handy when making a move like I was making, but it leaves collateral damage. I feared that right now the casualties included my staff back in Baltimore who I’d left to run the International Living business on their own for nearly two months while I’d been distracted getting divorced so I could get remarried and then taking off for Ireland via Turkey.
I should call Lief and Kaitlin to let them know I’ve arrived, I thought, but, when I picked up the phone, I found myself dialing my parents’ phone number. I wanted to talk to my father.
“The man who bought your car came to collect it this afternoon,” my dad said after I told him I’d arrived safe and sound in Waterford, “and everything is on track for the closing of your house sale next week.
“A girl from your work called yesterday to ask if I had any idea which files you wanted her to pack and which ones she could leave behind. I told her to pack everything in your office, especially everything from your bookcase. I thought that’d be safest. It’s all on its way to you now.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said. In the silence that followed, I began to feel less stressed. I settled back in my chair and was glad I’d called my father before calling Lief. Talking to my dad always made me feel like everything was all right or would be soon.
“So how are you? How’s Ireland? What is Waterford like?” My father had been the only one to support the idea of my move to Ireland. I didn’t want to admit to the growing sense of panic I was feeling and give him reason to worry about me.
“How is everything there in Baltimore?” I countered. “I know I took off in a rush and left a lot of pieces for you to pick up.”
“Everything’s fine, just fine,” he told me, just as he’d been telling me as long as I could remember.
Kaitlin and I had spent our final night in Baltimore with my mother and father. They’d picked Kaitlin up from her last day of school, and I’d met the three of them at my parents’ house for dinner and a sleepover. My parents had been Kaitlin’s co-primary-care-givers. If I was honest, Kaitlin had probably spent more time with them than with me over the past few years. I didn’t acknowledge that truth out loud, but I understood Kaitlin had as strong an attachment to my mother and father as she did to me. Now I couldn’t tell her when she’d see them again.
These were big realities, but I did what I always did when worry about my life choices began to interfere with pushing ahead with a plan. I blocked it out and focused on the objective in front of me. I believed that marrying Lief and moving to Ireland were the right thing for me and for Kaitlin, too. I wanted a new life for me and a big life for her.
Nothing good comes easy. My father had taught me that. He’d also taught me not to be afraid of hard. “If you don’t do the hard work,” he’d say, “you never have the satisfaction of seeing it pay off.”
The morning of our planned departure, Kaitlin had laid in the bed in my parents’ guest room, fully clothed under the covers, crying. My mother sat at her side, holding her hand and sobbing.
“Please let her stay here, with your father and me. She can come to Ireland later, after you’ve gotten settled.” The more my mother pleaded, the harder Kaitlin cried.
Finally, mustering the strength I needed, as I do, to push through a really hard thing, I blocked out my mother’s voice and Kaitlin’s sobs and focused on the practical task at hand. I pulled Kaitlin out of bed and away from her grandmother. My dad helped me carry Kaitlin and our luggage down the stairs and then loaded our suitcases and duffle bags into his trunk. As we climbed into the car, Kaitlin was still crying and now I was, too, quietly. I put on my sunglasses, hoping Kaitlin and my dad wouldn’t notice. No time for second guessing now. I’d made a plan. It was a good plan. I just had to stick to the plan.
My father had fielded inquiries for the sale of my car and then delivered it to the guy who decided to buy it. He had stood with me on my front lawn all day Saturday and again all day Sunday, until the last item sold, the weekend of my yard sale. He had met the movers at my house while I was at work to oversee their packing. Now he would drive Kaitlin and me to the airport so we could take off for the first leg of the trip to launch our new life without him.
I thought about all of this as I sat in the red damask armchair by the window of my room at the Granville Hotel staring out at the empty quay and the silent harbor below. “This place is like something out of a fairy tale,” I told my dad, “with ancient city walls, old churches, cobblestoned squares, and even a Viking fort.” It was romantic, I reminded myself, trying hard to squelch the fear growing in my stomach.
“I met a nice Irish couple on the train down from Dublin. They drove me to my hotel. I’m in my room now, looking out over the river. You and mom will like it here. We need to talk about when you can come see Waterford for yourselves.”
Yes, Dad, I thought as I continued doing my best to paint a storybook picture of my nascent life in the Old World, please come visit. I think I’m going to need your help.
Founding Publisher, Overseas Opportunity Letter