I was single my junior year of college. My godmother's father promptly tried to set me up with his grandson Peter.
Three years my junior and living in Colorado, Peter, too, is a writer. Under the proud gaze of Peter's grandfather, we met for a chat outside my godmother's house (Peter was in town visiting). We got on well. But nothing panned out due to the age difference and distance. Since then we've remained Facebook "pen pals."
Two years ago Peter moved to Dublin, Ireland to study Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama. Now he works for a publishing house. Because I already had plans to visit Stephanie in London, I thought, "Why not drop in on him?" Sure, I hadn't seen him in six years, but that's what long-distance friends are for: couches.
Luckily Peter felt the same way and I've been crashing at his apartment for the past week.
We visited the touristy sights (the Jameson and Guinness factories, St. Patrick's Cathedral, that tall spiky structure in the middle of the city), saw live Irish music in some cranny pub, and drank lots of whiskey.
My liver needed a break by Wednesday, so I took a train across the country to the harbor town of Galway. There I stayed for two days by myself.
I've always found short solo trips invigorating you never what's going to happen or who you're going to meet. The first day I rented a bicycle and rode out to the verdant countryside in search of sheep.
The second day I met Shane Hamilton.
I first noticed Mr. Hamilton when he shuffled into the pub I was reading in; I was waiting for my train to Dublin. He nestled into the leather couch in front of the window and next to the fire. Within a few minutes of him grumbling to the waiter, I learned he was a 90-something northerner who "detested" the Irish and Americans. He even refused to use the euro (after the Irish War of Independence, northerner's currency is still the pound).
Although he was old and crotchety, had a potbelly and crazed, red-rimmed eyes, there was a wise air about him.
"What whiskey are you drinking?" I asked him.
He raised an eyebrow, considered my accent, and finally told me it was Bushmills, 21 Year Old Single Malt. "Too strong for ye', girl. Keep enjoying that tea of yours."
I smiled, then proceeded to the bar and ordered a whiskey for myself.
I clinked his glass as I walked by. "Slainte (to your health)," I said. I went back to my book and enjoyed my own Bushmills.
After a time the waiter came back with two whiskies one for me, and one for Mr. Hamilton.
"I'll overlook that you're American. Real women drink whiskey." Mr. Hamilton raised his glass, "Bless yer heart."
I joined him. I don't know why I did. Maybe he seemed lonely. "Americans are a despicable bunch. Ignorant. Money obsessed, the lot of ye'" That's how our conversation started. "But the Irish are just as detestable, Sarah. We're a bunch of bigoted liars, we are. Just as evil. You and I've got that much in common."
Over the course of two hours, I learned that Mr. Hamilton was raised by a strict Catholic mother, whom he blessed often during our conversation. His only ambition in life was to be a lighthouse keep.
"What could be better, sitting up there in the clouds, watching storms come and go," he said. "Alone, reading. You're always alone. When you're up there you accept it. There's peace in the clouds."
Instead he went on to be a chimney sweep, get married and have four children. He was in Galway meeting his son, although he was vague on the details.
"I was recently in the hospital," he said. He explained that there was a mouse in his house. He bought 20 traps and set them all over. By accident he stepped on one and lost his balance. He lay on the floor for two days straight, swearing at his wife that he was fine. "I'd never seen a doctor in me life. Of course I was fine."
When he finally tried to stand, he couldn't. The doctor told him he'd broken a hip; he'd have to walk with a cane from then on.
"You're much too young to be thinkin' such things, Sarah," he said, "but I want to die in an plane crash."
I cringed; it's a great fear of mine. "Why?" I asked. "It takes so long."
"That's the point, isn't it? Gives you time to make peace with yourself and your life. The good Lord knows I got a lot to atone for."
He raised his glass to the ceiling.
By my fourth glass of whiskey (coerced and bought by Mr. Hamilton), I was "properly pissed," as the British say. Plus it was time to catch my train back to Peter and the craziness of Dublin. I thanked Mr. Hamilton for the talk and whiskey.
"Your son will be along?" I asked. I was a bit shocked that he hadn't arrived already.
Mr. Hamilton smiled, but didn't answer.
As I walked toward the train station, I looked back. Through the pub window, the silhouette of a man was still sitting in front of the fire, looking at the empty chair in front of him.