The Yes Woman: The past bombards me on my return to Limerick

Returning home means revisiting adolescence – but why fight it?

At this time of year, we are invariably pulled backwards. After the indulgence of Christmas, when our bodies and minds are a little softer and more sprawling than they were before, we become reluctantly more porous, and the past leaks in.

Resist if you dare, but as you wake in the livid gloom of a January morning, don’t be surprised if you remember all the stupid things you’ve said in the past 15 years, and feel bombarded. As your feet leave the bed and are accosted by cold floor, you’ll recall the time you had a bowel malfunction at a friend’s birthday dinner. No one said anything, but everyone knew by your conspicuous absence and blanched pallor. Everyone knew.

Spending time at home over the new year seems to force this memory back to the surface. This year, I haven't fought it as I usually might. Being at my mother's home in Limerick – the house I grew up in – lends the illusion of poignancy to everything. The toilet I got stuck in, aged four. The time when I mispronounced "fisherman's co-op", which I saw on the news, as "fisherman's coop", to everyone's great delight and derision. It's still brought up on family occasions. I was 10.

Embracing my roots

This year, I’m embracing my roots. Like all young people bent on adventure and independence, I was anxious to be gone. Each time I come home, like everyone, I’m placed back in the box I felt so limited by in my teens. Despite the fact that I’m well into my 20s, greying relatives will still peer into my face, turn to my mother and say: “Now, who does she look like?”


And so I find myself walking the route traversed for 16 years by my younger self. Past the boys' school, where gangling first-years with measly besocked ankles and impossibly Lego-like hair traipsed glumly up the hill toward an omphalos of meaner, bigger boys. Down the hill I go, towards the Salesian Secondary School, a team from which earned the lowest score in the history of Blackboard Jungle.

I turn into the grounds. I’m not sure why. I hated every moment at the school. Ridiculous memories come flooding back. Passing through the yard, I recall being there aged 14, when I heard one girl roar impressively at a friend across the way in breathy Limerick tones: “Joo know Skull, do ya? He’s my byfriend.”

And there was the day when someone set fire to a pupil’s hair during a class. Apparently, she deserved it for “being a right sluh”, among other crimes. Her hair didn’t really go up in flames, but it was a delinquent act all the same. In retrospect, it was tasteless of us to claim that we were traumatised in an attempt to get a half day.

My old friend

I continue my walk across the bridge into the city and meet my oldest friend – the first to enter the next stage of life and have a baby – who is back from the UK. The baby is proudly installed in a pouch on his chest, her large blue eyes blinking wetly beneath an oversized hat that gives her something of the noble bearing of Thomas Cromwell.

I consider how very far my friend has come from the teenager in a poncho with a head of tight curls. I look at him bottle-feeding the eight-week-old human, complete with nose, whom he has fashioned with his wife out of mere willpower and DNA, and feel suddenly very young and very old.

We walk from the coffee shop to buy a baby monitor, because, as he says: “She’s brilliant, but our house is small, so now we’re at my mother’s, it would be nice to be in a different room for a bit.”

Suddenly my name is called, which isn’t an unusual occurrence in Limerick, where the greeting “Who are your people now, so I can place you?” is not thought invasive on meeting someone for the first time. It was my old art teacher, a well-known Limerick character, who has been something of a father figure to me.

“Well now, is this your secret baby, is it?” he says jocularly, and I am 17 again. Resistance is futile. “Yeah,” I declare in the sullen monotone of an adolescent.

I said I wouldn’t fight it. I never said I was happy about it.

The Yes Woman says yes to looking back . . . and no to getting trapped there