I don’t remember most of my childhood. I have about ten or twelve memories that I can actually picture. Every time my mom mentions some instant in my life, I listen in wonder about these events that took place in my presence that I have absolutely no recollection of, and I ask where the HECK I was when all this was going on around me. Because I just literally do not remember my youth. But the most vivid memory I possess is that of a day over Christmas break in Ireland when I was eleven. My dad grew up with his ten siblings in a small house in Rossport, county Mayo, in the countryside, right on the shores of a little inlet. His sister Margaret lives in that house now, and raised her four kids in that same country village, among the cows and the fields and the bales of hay. We’ve stayed in that house a few times—when I was three, when I was eight, and when I was eleven. My dad hadn’t seen Christmas in Ireland in thirty years, so we packed up and flew there for winter the winter I was in the sixth grade.
He was the awkward, shy boy who lived next door to my aunt back home in Ireland. He had a brogue and a lisp, and a scar on his left cheek under his big, warm, brown eyes from a dog bite. I had met him before, when I was eight. He and his younger brother, Cathal, used to bug the hell out of me and my sister, Erin when we were playing Mary-Kate and Ashley in the field behind Auntie Margaret’s house. But now that I was all grown-up and womanly (being the mature eleven year-old that I was…) I no longer felt the annoyance he had once sparked in me. This time, he showed us the greatest adventure of our lives—better than any I had experienced before that day, and better than any I’ve experienced since. And all I wanted for Christmas that year was my first kiss from that boy who used to pick on me—the one whose lisp and scar made him so timid and adorable that I couldn’t even stand it.
The adults were all going into town that day, and left Erin and me to “hold down the fort,” as my dad hollered after himself on the way out. We weren’t supposed to leave the house that day, but being as in love with that kid as I was, I decided the consequences would be worth a game of “cops and robbers.” I would simply keep an alert eye on the roads to see when the white van came about a mile down the road.
We paired off…Adam and I were the naughty robbers running from Erin and Cathal. We ran down the road and up a tractor path that leads into everyone’s back fields. We climbed over a cattle gate and hid in an old barn-turned-shed that belonged to a neighbor who was out of town. We hid there together for a small while. The hay smelled up the barn, along with the settling dust, and my eyes began to itch. I looked over at him and all I could think of was how badly I wanted him to give me my first real kiss…the kind where you feel like you’re about to do something wrong, so your heart starts pounding in angst, wondering if it’s ACTUALLY about to happen to you, but at the same time, you already know it’s coming, and that it’s good and right. My heart skipped a beat and then his little black dog, Sheba, came and found us, and started barking for the cops to come and get us. We took off like a bat out of hell before they could come and get us. We splashed through a little creek running through the field and ran up the back tractor path to a ridge. Adam jumped up and grabbed on, but I wouldn’t follow him. I saw that it was covered in nettles, that I had had a nasty run-in with the day before. I fell down in a patch of them and still had an itchy rash from where they pricked through my jeans.
Suddenly, I looked down over the fields, where my eye caught sight of a white van speeding down the road. I hollered for Adam, who had disappeared around the ridge. Then I called for ERin to get back to the house. I didn’t hear any response, but I began my race against the van back to Auntie Margaret’s back door. I ran down the tractor path and climbed up the iron cattle gate into someone’s field of baled hay. I jumped onto a bale and hopped across them til I reached the fence into the field that led down to Auntie Margaret’s back door. I jumped the gate and landed in a ditch on the edge of her field. I ran down toward the house, stumbling over the loose piles of turf. I made it to the back door, my heart pounding as Erin met me inside, right as the van pulled up. We kicked off our wellingtons, grabbed the deck of cards off the table on our way through the kitchen, and raced into the back bedroom. As we closed the door, we heard muffled voices outside. We exhaled, then giggled, and the salty sweat above my lip trickled onto my tongue. My heartbeat began to taper back to a normal pace.