It’s about the circle, love. The process. At some point (maybe it’s already happened?), you’re going to wrestle your heartache into a sturdy brown box and then lug it all the way to the post office, where you’ll drop it off with a huge sigh. Glad that’s over, you’ll think. Such a relief. You’ll skip back home, your heart as airy as cotton candy, only to realize—with horror—that that heavy brown box is sitting on your front door. It was delivered back to you. Return to sender. Shipping incomplete. But I just did this, you’ll think. I already dealt with it.
I know you did. But you’re going to have to do it again. Contrary to popular belief, getting over someone is not a one-time deal.
It might be helpful to look at the process of heartache like you would a peninsula. One with a long, looping road carrying you past a myriad of delights and wonders. Grief requires you to circle around the issue at hand, sometimes passing by it many, many times until it is no longer the destination but just part of the landscape. The trick is: do not give in to despair. You are making progress, even if some days it just feels like you’re going in circles.
HEARTACHE HOMEWORK: Find Inch Beach, then walk out into the water as far as you dare. You’ll get cold. Then colder. Then numb. And when you can’t stand the cold for one more second, I want you to stand the cold for one more second. Are you surviving this moment of discomfort? Have there been other moments of pain or discomfort that you thought you couldn’t survive and yet you did? Interesting, pet. Interesting.
—Excerpt from Ireland for the Heartbroken: An Unconventional Guide to the Emerald Isle, third edition
THE STORM HIT JUST AS we entered the Peninsula. And by “hit,” I mean came at us as if we were trespassers that had to be forcibly shoved back to the mainland. There was no buildup, either: one second it wasn’t raining, and the next raindrops pummeled the roof so loudly, they may as well have been on the inside my skull. Rain slid down our windows in heavy sheets, and Rowan kept overcorrecting against the wind. “It’s really bucketing down,” he said nervously.
“Hey, Rowan. I think we need to pull over,” I said, gesturing to Ian. Ian balled up against the window, the green tint of his face highlighting his black eye. I’d seen Ian throw up more times than I could count, and he was exhibiting four out of five of the warning signs. Puke was imminent.
“I’m not sick. I just . . . ,” Ian started, but he couldn’t even make it through the sentence before gritting his teeth.
“Pull over the next chance you get,” I instructed Rowan, grabbing the empty cereal box and shoving it into Ian’s hands.
Ian was the poster child for motion sickness, but he was also the poster child for stubbornness. He never wanted to admit that things made him sick, which meant he was constantly doing things that made him sick. None of us had sat next to him on a roller coaster in years.
“Just a little Irish holiday weather. I’m sure we’ll be through it in no time.” Rowan attempted nonchalance, but the wind blew at us again and he gasped, jerking the wheel as Ian doubled over.
“Ian, you okay? You never told me you had motion sickness.”
“I don’t,” Ian answered. “I must have eaten something bad at the wedding.”
Sometimes I thought my brothers were incapable of admitting to weakness. “Rowan, he’s lying. This is an ongoing condition. A windy road during a storm is the worst possible scenario.”
I turned away from Ian’s scowl and pressed up to my blurry window, focusing on the view. Even without the storm’s theatrics, the Dingle Peninsula was Ireland 2.0—the drama factor turned on and cranked as high as it would go. We were still on a narrow two-lane road, but everything had been pumped up to Dr. Seuss level. On our left, neon green mountain peaks disappeared into pudding-thick clouds, and to our right, a thick nest of rain rested on top of the ocean.
Ian’s phone chimed. “Oh, no. Text from Mom.”
“What does it say?”
He attempted to swivel his queasy face toward me, but the motion made him shudder. “She wants us to check in when we land. I’ll text her back in a few hours.”
Suddenly, a gush of wind blasted Clover, bumping us off the road and into the shoulder. And this time, Rowan’s choice of language was a bit more potent than “feck.”
“Rowan, you got this?” I asked. He cranked frantically at the steering wheel, trying to regain equilibrium, but the hardest gale yet caught us on the opposite side. For a nanosecond, Clover favored her left two wheels. Ian lurched for the cereal box, dry heaving.
I gagged. I could see Ian puke a million times and never get used to it. I patted him clumsily, keeping my face averted. “It’s okay, Ian. It’s okay.”
“Now I’m pulling over.” Rowan pulled over to the foot-wide shoulder, then threw the car into park, collapsing over the steering wheel. Ian rolled his window down, sending in a spray of rain as he stuck his head outside.
“Well, that was traumatizing,” I said, taking a few deep breaths of my own.
Suddenly, the car began vibrating. “What—” Ian started, his eyes wide, but just then a massive tour bus sliced around the corner.
“Hang on,” Rowan warned. I pulled Ian inside, and we all braced for death as we watched the bus narrowly miss our front bumper. A large swell of water slammed into the car. We all screamed, haunted-house style.
“We are all going to die!” I wailed, once we’d all stopped screaming. Water trickled in through Ian’s window, and he quickly rolled it up.
“Death by tour bus.” Rowan sighed.
Suddenly, a terrible non-storm-related thought popped into my head, and I grabbed the back of Ian’s seat. “Ian, there’s no way we’re going to run into the wedding tour, right? Didn’t Aunt Mel say they’re touring western Ireland?”
Ian made a little X with his fingers, which I guess was supposed to mean “no.” “I hacked into Mom’s e-mail and printed out a copy of their itinerary. We aren’t going to be anywhere near them.”
“Hacked?” I said. “By that do you mean you used her password?” Our mom either didn’t know or care that you’re supposed to change your passwords often. Archie had figured it out one December, and we’d been using it to track our Christmas presents ever since. “Can you imagine if we ran into them?”
Ian shook his head. “It’s impossible. I scheduled our trip to make sure there was no possible way for us to run into them. Also, I don’t know if that’s our biggest concern right now,” he said, pointing to the sky. His face was shamrock green.
Suddenly, a shot of ice-cold water trickled down my back, and I catapulted forward. “Cold!” I screamed, water pouring down from my window. The inside of my window. “Rowan! The car is leaking.”
He arched back just as the stream transformed from a trickle to a gush. “No! Max said the new top was fine.”
“What top? Who’s Max?” I asked, like details would solve the fact that it was raining in the back seat.
“The guy who helped me repair—”
“It’s my window too!” Ian yelped, his pitch identical to mine. He grabbed his handle, frantically trying to roll up his already-rolled-up window.
“Ian, that’s not going to help,” I said.
Rowan turned the key and jetted onto the road, and Clover responded by giving up on any attempt at being waterproof. Water flooded in through every possible crevice. We sped over a small bridge, water flowing in at full speed as we pulled into a tiny two-pump gas station.
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