Contemplation consumes me. I'm traveling from Minnesota to Ireland with my girlfriend, Melissa. She’s the only person I can imagine taking this journey with. We reach Cliffs of Moher on the R478 in Doolin, two miles from the house we’ve been talking about calling home.
Sweeping views of the Irish countryside and the Galway Bay surround us. My mind moves to Marquita. She was my aunt by relation and my best friend by relationship. Soon, we’ll be entering the house that I have inherited from her.
I'm scared to walk inside for the first time since her passing. I still don’t know how to live without her.
The loose handle opens the door the same way it always has: with a creak. Stepping through, however, I know that everything that comes next will be completely different. We walk past the kitchen, which is a little bigger than a walk-in, and into the living room, which is decorated with hand-carved furniture from Marquita’s 10 years of teaching in Saudi Arabia.
The room also boasts a view of the Galway Bay. Looking through the bay window with Melissa, I point toward the Aran Islands and the Doonagore Castle, which reside on the windy road that will take us into town.
I head down the hall. The walls are blank, which I had expected to see. An antique collector is loading his truck and waiting to speak with me. I look into both bedrooms, which were once like museums, filled with antiques from around the world.
Now, the rooms are bare.
The sight nearly knocks me over. When the antiques dealer greets me, I ask for a minute. Though our family has told him to take everything, the thought of the house being empty had never crossed my mind. I walk to the end of the gravel driveway, stunned. Melissa follows, standing behind me and wrapping her arm around my waist, resting her head on my shoulder.
“At least they can’t take away the view,” she says.
“I don’t think it’d fit in the back of the truck,” I reply, tears streaming down my face.
The following day, I clean out clutter, gutters, and the storage shed, and we spend time in the untouched library, reading. I meet with a lawyer about the inheritance, and a couple stop by to ask about buying the place.
Doolin’s a picturesque, three-block town. Farm animals roam green fields, guarded by stone walls built several centuries before. Pubs populate the single street of town. There's also a book and music shop, an arts and craft store, a café, and a newly built hotel. Waves crash into the dock a few hundred meters south.
We walk to the Cliffs of Moher and roam around town, listening to music and visiting shops where we share memories of Marquita with store owners.
“I miss driving past the house, seeing the light on, and going up the driveway to chat,” says one shopkeeper, holding a hand to her heart. “Marquita could keep a conversation going, couldn’t she? So lovely and missed and always here.”
Most people also ask us if we're planning to move to Doolin.
“You staying?” she continues. “Turning the lights back on, Kevin?”
“Yes, we’re thinking about it,” I respond.
(Having fun in a pub)
We spread Marquita's ashes in the Burren. The location's name comes from the Irish word “Boíreann," which means “rocky.”
A few days prior to spreading them, I picked up her ashes in Galway. In the seven times I visited, it was the second warmest day I’ve experienced in Ireland.
The warmest was during my first trip to see her. I was 23. I had just graduated college, and our country was three months removed from 9/11. With the temperatures over 80, there was only one place we needed to be: Lahinch, which shares the same shoreline as Doolin, but has beaches.
Marquita’s health had started failing her in the form of bad hips. Unable to move swiftly, she walked while I ran along the shoreline and back to her. I did so, knowing seeing someone enjoying life would make her smile.
Eventually, we sat in the sand, the ocean water curling close to our bare feet. We talked about the world and how terrorism would change it. I bounced ideas off her about what to do with my life.
“The best thing you can do for yourself is to enjoy life in all its beauty and wonder while acting with compassion and harming no one,” she said. “And don’t forget to dance – even if you don’t want anyone to watch."
There was 50 years separating us, but we always understood what life held in front of us. Marquita had lived at lot of life. At 23, she had become a Catholic nun. She later left the convent to become a lawyer, and would eventually teach English in Saudi Arabia.
Now, in Galway, I am with the other person who always understands me: Melissa. As we walk toward the water, I carry the container holding Marquita’s ashes in one hand and hold Melissa's hand in the other.
“People are playing music everywhere we turn, and there's a constant view of the water,” Melissa says as she points to the Galway Bay, pulling me close to her. “I could get used to this. I know your mind is racing, but let’s just remember to laugh as much as we cry and never forget that we’re walking through this together.”
“And dance as often as possible,” I add, smiling as I move my two left feet.
Memories are tying together with the present. Once again, I run toward the shore. What I know about home is that Melissa and I are already here.
We will see you again soon, Doolin.