It’s a tale as old as time.
My firm recommendation (command?) is that you begin in the west, most particularly, the Wild Atlantic Way. Even more particularly, the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. We’ll get to them next.
HEARTACHE HOMEWORK: Surprise! As we traipse across this wild island of ours, I will be doling out little activities designed to engage you with Ireland and baby-step you out from under that crushing load of heartache you’re packing around. Assignment one? Keep reading. No, really. Keep reading.
—Excerpt from Ireland for the Heartbroken: An Unconventional Guide to the Emerald Isle, third edition
“YOU WERE BRAWLING. DURING THE ceremony.” Whenever my mom was upset, her voice lowered three octaves and she pointed out things that everyone already knew.
I pulled my gaze away from the thousand shades of green rushing past my window, inhaling to keep myself calm. My dress was bunched up around me in a muddy tutu, and my eyes were swollen drum-tight. Not that I had any room to talk: Ian’s eye looked much worse. “Mom, the ceremony was over; we—”
“Wrong side, wrong side!” Archie yelled.
Mom swore, swerving the car over to the left and out of the way of an oncoming tractor while I dug my fingernails into the nearest human flesh, which happened to belong to my oldest brother, Walter.
“Addie, stop!” he yelped, pulling his arm away. “I thought we agreed you weren’t going to claw me to death anymore.”
“We almost just got into a head-on collision with an oversize piece of farm equipment. It’s not like I can control what I do,” I snapped, shoving him a few inches to the left. I’d spent the last seventy-two hours crammed between my two largest brothers in every variation of transportation we encountered, and my claustrophobia was hovering around a level nine. Any higher and I was going to start throwing punches. Again.
“Mom, don’t listen to them—you’re doing great. There were a good three inches between you and that tractor,” my other brother Archie said, reaching under the headrest and patting her on the shoulder. He narrowed his blue eyes at me and mouthed, Don’t stress her out.
Walt and I rolled our eyes at each other. The man at the airport car rental desk had insisted that it would take only an hour, two tops, for my mom to get the hang of driving on the opposite side of the road, but we were more than forty-eight hours in, and every time we got in the car, I got the same sinking feeling that rickety carnival rides always gave me. Impending doom. I held the airport car rental man personally responsible for all the emotional and psychological damage I was undoubtedly going home with.
Only Ian, whose perpetual car sickness made him the unspoken victor of the front seat, was unfazed. He rolled down the window, sending a cool burst of cow-scented air into the car, his knee doing the perpetual Ian bounce.
There are two important things to know about Ian. One, he never stops moving. Ever. He’s the smallest of my brothers, only a few inches taller than me, but no one ever notices that because his energy fills up whatever room he’s in. And two, he has an anger threshold. Levels one through eight? He yells like the rest of us. Nine and above? He goes silent. Like now.
I leaned forward to get another look at his black eye. A slash of mud crossed under his ear, and grass peppered his hair. His eye was really swollen. Why was his eye so swollen already?
Ian gingerly touched the skin under his eye, as if he was thinking the same thing. “Brawling? Come on, Mom. It was just an argument. I don’t think anyone even saw.” His voice was calm, bored even. He was really trying to convince her.
“ ‘Argument’ implies that there wasn’t any violence. I saw fists. Which makes it a brawl,” Walter added helpfully. “Plus, everyone, look at Ian’s eye.”
“Do not look at my eye,” Ian growled, his Zen slipping away.
Everyone glanced at him, including my mom, who immediately started to drift to the opposite side of the road.
“Mom!” Archie yelled.
“I know,” she snapped, pulling back to the left.
I really hurt Ian. My heart started in on a dangerous free fall, but I yanked it back into place. I had exactly no room for guilt. Not when I was already filled to the brim with remorse, shame, and self-loathing. Plus, Ian deserved that black eye. He was the one who kept bringing up Cubby—poking me with Cubby was more like it. Like he had a ball of fire on the end of a stick that he could jab at me whenever he felt like it.
Ian’s voice popped into my head—the broken record I’d been listening to for ten days now. You have to tell Mom before someone else does.
Hot, itchy anxiety crept up my legs, and I quickly leaned over Archie to unroll the window, sending another rush of air into the car. Don’t think about Cubby. Don’t think about school. Just don’t think. I was four thousand miles and ten days out from my junior year—I shouldn’t spend my remaining time thinking about the disaster scene I was going back to.
I stared hard out the window, trying to anchor my mind on the scenery. Houses and B and Bs dotted the landscape in charming little clumps, their fresh white exteriors accented with brightly colored doors. Lines of laundry swung back and forth in the Irish drizzle, and cows and sheep were penned so close to the houses, they were almost in the backyards.
I still couldn’t believe I was here. When you think destination wedding, you don’t think rainy, windswept cliff on the western coast of Ireland, but that’s exactly the spot my aunt had chosen. The Cliffs of Moher. Moher, pronounced more. As in more wind, more rain, more vertical feet to traverse in a pair of nude high heels. But despite the fact that my brothers had to Sherpa my aunt’s new in-laws up to the top, or that all of us had sunk to our ankles in mud by the time dearly beloved had been uttered, I completely understood why my aunt had chosen the place.
For one thing, it made for great TV. Aunt Mel’s traveling camera crew—a couple of guys in their late twenties with exceptionally well-thought-out facial hair—forced us to do the wedding processional twice, circling in on her as the wind whipped around her art deco dress in a way that should have made her look like the inflatable waving arm guy at a car dealership, but instead made her look willowy and serene. And then once we were all in place, it was all about the view, the overwhelming grandiosity of it. Big hunks of soft green ended abruptly in sheer cliffs, dropping straight down into the ocean, where waves threw themselves against the rocks in ecstatic spray.
The cliffs were ancient and romantic, and completely unimpressed with the fact that I’d spent the summer ruining my own life. Your heart got publicly stomped on? the cliffs asked. Big deal. Watch me shatter this next wave into a million diamond fragments.
For a while there, the view had crowded out every other possible thought. No cameras, no Cubby, no angry brother. It was the first break I’d had from my mind in more than ten days. Until Ian leaned over and whispered, When are you telling Mom? and all the anxiety pent up in my chest had exploded. Why couldn’t he just let it go?
Walter rolled down his window, creating a cross tunnel of air through the back seat. He sighed happily. “Everyone saw the fight. There was a collective gasp when you went over the edge. I’ll bet at least one of the cameramen caught it on film. And then there was that group of tourists. They were talking to you, weren’t they?”
The Ian bounce stopped, replaced by angry fist clenching. He whirled on Walter. “Walt, just shut up.”
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