Twenty years ago today, I moved to the United States.
On the 4th of October, 1989, Paddy picked me up from the airport with her friend Matt. I called her today and she said she still feels guilty that she was late picking me up, but I don't remember her being late; I just remember being dazed after taking the longest flight of my life, and very happy to see a familiar face.
We went to Nicki's on Haight Street and Matt bought me a bottle of black Brazillian Beer called Xingu. It was delicious and strange, which was how America felt to me then too. When my eyes started to close, Paddy took me back to the apartment on Russian Hill she shared with Deedee and I slept on a fold-out futon. The next morning, I was woken early by the clanging of a cable car coming up Jackson Street. I was beyond excited, leaning out the window, watching the cable car, looking over the city, the Bay Bridge in the distance, silvergray against the blue.
That first day, I met Deedee (loved her instantly), and took the cable car downtown with her. I wandered around, exploring the city, and eating all the things I had seen in movies but never tasted - a hot dog from a street vendor, a brownie from a cookie shop, and later, French toast in Zim's on Sutter Street (long-time SF folk surely remember Zim's.) I got a terrible stomach-ache.
The first few days are kind of a blur for me. I met Antoinette and Erica who lived upstairs, and did some investigation into ad agencies and jobs. I thought when I was asked "paper or plastic" at the grocery store that they were asking me how I was going to pay. I had to ask for help at the mailbox when I was trying to post a letter - I was looking for a hole and didn't know there was a handle inside you had to pull down.
The first weekend I was in San Francisco, I met my dear college friend Julie in Union Square and we spent the day together. She had moved to the South Bay the year before and was working as a nanny. It was so wonderful to spend time with her. That evening, as I stood looking over the railing on Powell and Market and watched her descend into the BART station, waving goodbye, I was suddenly flattened with homesickness. All I wanted was to be home in Wexford in my parents' kitchen, having a cup of tea with my mam.
I was homesick a lot the first year, but happy too. I thought of my new life as my American Adventure, a new country I would experience for a couple of years before returning to my real life in Ireland. I never dreamed I would still be here 20 years later. I still think of Ireland as home in a lot of ways, but this is really my home, where I have a house and a husband, and a job and friends. Thanks America, for welcoming me.
This is me in the apartment I shared with weird strangers the first six months. look at that hair!
Me at an early job, the art supply/pen store:
Union Square, 1990:
After Paddy went to the Peace Corps in Poland, I moved in with Deedee. This is in our apartment getting ready for a party, 1990:
And this appears to be the same night. Antoinette, me, Jim, and Deanna: