The summer myself and my sister moved to Cornwall after my graduation to live in a caravan and become fully-certified beach bums, I remember feeling both at once a lasting sense of grown-up freedom coasting alongside the fear of being set loose and thinking "So what now?".
That was summer 2004 and ten years later I realise I am still a salad of contradiction when I weigh myself up. The sometimes overwhelming feeling of being all at sea never really seems to leave. The only constant fundamental I'm sure of comes as a result of having the wild Atlantic in my veins since birth and coastal living being my natural habitat. Lucky then New York City is very much a by-the-sea metropolis, flanked by my old soothing companion, given that this has always been the ultimate destination in my mind. Seven weeks today I made the move and it's beginning to feel like home with one gaping exception. In a city that plays host to anything your sweet imagination could ever hope to conjure up, it lacks the people that make my life my own.
Tim, a doorman at a somewhat fancy apartment building in Midtown who I met while staying with a friend there on my last NYC visit, said to me one night when I was locked out of the apartment and waiting for my friend to return (which he did at 5am clutching a bag baring the golden arches sign - a fairly reliable indicator of the nights' success-rate): "There is no such thing as an illegal Irish person here. You guys built New York City." I could have hugged Tim in that instance, him and his slightly stooping back after years of holding the elevator door and hunching his shoulders against the cutting New York wind as it blasted through the lobby with each opening and closing of the heavy glass door. For me, this was the greatest welcome I could have hoped to receive, a moment of sheer solidarity between an old-time native New Yorker and yet another Irish blow-in.
These words I repeat in my head regularly and have had a far greater impact on me than Tim could ever have imagined that they would. Over the course of the last few weeks I have met countless fellow-countrymen, I haven't gone out specifically to meet them, it's simply a case of being hard pushed to turn sideways without bumping into an Irish person of varying legal stance. From each of their stories, I've concluded that the life of the illegal immigrant is tough - naturally. From missed family weddings leading to weekend binges and not having had Christmas at home in years to avoiding trips to the Doctor when they are called for to constantly guarding what you say and who you say it to. Not for the first time do I salute my passport stamp of legality.
Etching out the existence you always figured you would one day have in a city renowned for its hard-knock deals demands a tenacity I sometimes fear I lack. Raised on a diet of consideration for others and good manners, the way of the American hustle does not come at all naturally. I have thus far been told to 1) Stop apologising 2) Turn everything you have ever learned culturally on its head 3) Sell yourself, sell yourself, sell yourself and 4) Don't ever just simply order straight from the menu, complicate things for your server, the kitchen and the barman, it's the American way, Welcome! To which I say No thanks. If I feel like I need to apologise I will do so. I will take what I have learned culturally and apply it to my life as I know it here and adapt where I feel it is necessary. I will throw myself out there into a place of the scary unknown for a job I know I want and can bring time, effort and dedication to the table but I refuse to lie, cheat and big myself up only to fail in the delivery. I'll challenge my limits as everyone should but there is a fine line between challenging yourself and simply not knowing who you are and what you really want. Finally, if I fancy Eggs Benedict as it appears to me on the menu, I will order it plain and simply. No drama required.
The last thing I want as I chase the ever-elusive American dream is to lose sight of all that I have become and the home I find myself thinking of on a daily basis. For all my New York reveries over the course of my lifetime, never once did I see the Donegal hills or Ballymastocker Bay feature in my mind as I sauntered down Broadway and that alone could very well be my biggest contradiction to date.