I was never quite like the other kids. My parents had spent probably too much money taking me to one therapist after another trying to figure it out. There was just something odd about me that nobody could quite understand. And so I went through life, keeping few close friends for very long, except for my best friend: Clare. I married that one.
Still, I had my eccentricities. The public meltdowns I had as a child were no longer an issue, in part because I’m an adult now (though Clare may be laughing at that claim as she reads it). I knew how to manage my life, my environment around me, to keep things copacetic. Part of that involved avoiding airports, and avoiding situations where there were too many “unknowns”.
Clare and I went on to have children. And one of our children was a bit different than the others. She looked more like me, whereas the others looked more like Clare. She almost never cried. She played very differently than her siblings. And as she grew up, she had substantial delays in speech development. It was a speech therapist that first suggested we had her screened for Autism. Skipping ahead, sure enough we are parents to an autistic child. And through that discovery, we also learned that was the odd thing about me that nobody could quite understand. I am autistic, too.
Learning of my nature changed everything about me. Everything except the family I’d built with Clare. I’d come to understand my strengths and weaknesses in ways that evaded me for so long. I learned more about myself than I ever thought possible, and in doing so my outlook on life and the people around me transformed. I’d like to think that learning about my own autistic nature has helped me to adapt and become a better human being as a result.
I’ve been living an amazing life since then. I started considering the things I’ve never done before, both big and small, and I’ve started doing them. Many revolved around food. I didn’t learn until my forties, for example, that I love coffee, red wine, hard cheeses and some soft goat cheeses, and avocado. I learned the hard way that I don’t like octopus or durian fruit.
But one of the other things I’ve been longing to do is travel. I want to see the world, but going through an airport, squishing into a plane, has always been a barrier to me. There’s also the feeling of being overwhelmed by thinking I have to know everything about where I’m going, what the rules of conduct are, and so on. The mountain of preliminary learning always stifled me. It’s just a part of my nature.
Clare helped me through this. When we go on road trips together, we play to each other’s strengths. This turned out to be a great strategy for our first international trip together. I picked somewhere far enough away that we’d know we were in a different country, but where the people mostly speak English and the food isn’t too foreign. Earlier this year, we went to Ireland together. We rented a car, drove across the country, and had an amazing time together.
When we first landed, we picked up the rental car and got out of Dublin with haste. I’d picked a small dot on the map: Cootehill. We aimed right for it, and had breakfast at the first likely place we saw. Sean’s Diner didn’t seem at all foreign to us on the surface. Sure, the air was aflutter with thick Irish accents, and the word fuck was floated upon it like a cloud of so many feathers. Leave it to the Irish to know how to make a flurry of f-bombs sound like birdsong.
I’d ordered my breakfast, a proper Irish breakfast, and finally let out a long breath with Clare as we waited for our food to come out. We were exhausted from our flight, excited to be in Ireland together, and wondering what might lay ahead of us. In this restful moment, we’d noticed fresh cut daffodils before us on the countertop, and I’d barely gotten a word out about them before I heard an Irishman emerging from the kitchen with our food, reciting a bit of Wordsworth for us.
I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.
This was my first connection in Ireland. Sean had heard our American accents and asked with amazement “Americans! What the fuck are you doing in Cootehill? The buses don’t come here!”
As it turns out, anyone we asked warned us to stick to the coastline and not bothering to drive through the center of the country. I never did listen well, so we drove through the center. And we met some great people who hadn’t yet been ruined by busloads of American tourists.
The breakfast was fantastic, by the way. I’m not sure about that black sausage, but that breakfast really kept me going. But more importantly, I think I’d figured out that I liked going to other countries and meeting people. I never did like being in large groups of people. But I very much enjoy meeting them one on one.
We’d also gone up to Slieve League in County Donegal. All of the tourists would go off to Cliffs of Moher, which are beautiful, but accessible. And so they are crowded with tourists. Slieve League, on the other hand, requires driving up a treacherous road in the middle of nowhere, and then hiking about a mile or so for the best view.
I didn’t much care for being in the car, on the road. I liked having my feet on the ground. I liked meeting a group of young ladies at the top of Slieve League. They were locals, and this was their secret place for spending quality time together. I’d offered to take a photo of them together with the cliffs behind them, which they were very happy for. They reciprocated by taking a rare photo of Clare & I together that wasn’t a selfie.
This trip woke something up in me. I love meeting people, in small batches. I love learning about their connections to these very old places that are very new to me, but everything to them. I love having my feet on the ground, taking in the place around me at a walking pace. And, as always, I love taking photographs.
If you’re still with me, I’d love for you to follow along. I’m going to start this out by exploring my own city, Raleigh, through the eyes of a traveler. And then I’m going to do the same for other cities. I’ll show you the sights, and tell you of a few of the people I meet along the way, and how they are connected to these far flung places.