Taunted by the secrecy and silence within the trauma, I returned to Ireland after I graduated from college and visited my Great Aunt Johanna on the ancestral farm. I decided to surprise her with no advance warning of my arrival. When she answered the door, her shock collapsed into flitting anger: “Why the hell didn’t you tell me you were coming, I would have killed a goose?!” We settled in for tea and sandwiches. My great aunt examined the photographs I’d brought from California, inquiring how close our family lived to Hollywood. Then, before I could pull out my notebook with the carefully crafted questions I’d hoped to ask, questions about our ancestors, the farm, and their traditions, Aunt Johanna blurted with visceral concern: “And who do you think it was that killed J.R.?” Dallas, the wildly popular, 1980s American television show had come to Mullagh, Ireland. And she wanted to know everything. I realized then I’d have to find the buried stories elsewhere. I started reading the Irish authors, James Joyce, WB Yeats, Oscar Wilde…looking for clues into that forlorn condition of “waiting.” Or as Seamus Deane writes, that “specifically Irish form of nostalgia…This nostalgia was consistently directed toward a past that was so deeply buried that it was not recoverable except for sentiment.” Yes, that sentiment. The faraway look in my grandmother’s eyes and in my father’s eyes, that sentiment courting me in the quest for my own identity. (more on the Audio Diary.)
Back in the United States, the old conversation remained: “Don’t you dare ask me about that damned country, do you hear?” My Irish grandmother, who’d worked in New York as a seamstress, said this holding a needle, but it may as well have been a knife. I tried to understand the source of her pathos–that she had to leave Ireland or that she had no desire to ever return. Perhaps it was the Irish koan, the double bind–damned if you stay and damned if you go–that led to this waiting station disconnected from story or place. In alchemical terms, the base metals underlying this waiting station remain untouched, the soul’s prima materia not worked, the pain not metabolized. The resulting trauma of exile, of not knowing how one belonged to the world, manifested in the great waiting–but waiting for what? If place has vanished and with it story, what happen’s to one’s narrative? It waits underground, in darkness, praying for re-emergence, for a spot of soil to nudge so life can begin anew…Rebecca Solnit writes, “Trauma is inherited as silence, a silence it may take generations to hear.” It would be the next generation, my generation, who would say enough to the secrecy…enough to the wait. We would dig past the genealogical charts and venture down into psyche’s bogs. We would sniff for the stories long buried, the poems etched on skeletons. We would re-claim the thin spaces. Life would begin anew.
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