Had she been here in Dublin, like me right now, feeling this confused and disconnected?
“Oh God,” I said, and my tears turned to great shuddering, hurtful sobs. I wept for me, for my sister, for things I couldn’t even begin to put into words, and might never be able to explain. But it felt something like this: I used to walk on my feet. Now all I knew how to do was crawl. And I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take for me to get up off my knees and regain my balance, but I suspected that when I did, I would never walk the same way again.
I don’t know how long I sat there and cried, but eventually my head was pounding too hard for me to weep anymore.
I told you back at the beginning of this story that Alina’s body had turned up miles away from The Clarin House, in a trash-filled alley on the opposite side of The River Liffey. That I knew exactly where because I’d seen the crime-scene photos, and that before I left Ireland I would end up in that alley myself, saying good-bye to her.
I dragged myself up off the couch, went to my borrowed bedroom, stuffed money and my passport in my jeans pocket so nothing would interfere with a swift extraction of the contents of my purse, slung it over my shoulder, yanked a ball cap down over my eyes, jammed on sunglasses, and went outside to flag down a cab.
It was time to go to that alley. But not to say good-bye—to say hello to a sister I’d never known and never would: the Alina that was my only true kin, the one who’d been tempered in Dublin’s forge, who’d learned hard lessons and made hard choices. If, after all her months here, she’d stumbled across even half of what I had, I understood why she’d done everything she’d done.
I remember that Mom and Dad had tried to visit Alina on two occasions. Both times, she’d refused. The first time she’d said she was sick and terribly behind on classes. The second time she’d used a punishing round of exams as an excuse. She’d never once invited me to fly over, and the one time I’d talked about trying to save up the money, she’d instantly told me not to waste it, but to spend it on pretty clothes and new music and go out dancing for her—a thing we used to love to do together—while she studied, and before I knew it she’d be home.
I understood now what those words must have cost her.
Knowing what I knew was out there stalking and slithering along Dublin’s streets, would I have permitted anyone I loved to come over here and see me?
Never. I’d have lied through my teeth to keep them away.
If I’d had a baby sister that was my only blood relative, safe at home, would I have told her about any of this and risked dragging her into it? No. I would have done exactly what Alina had done: protected her to my dying breath. Kept her happy and whole as long as I could.
I’d always looked up to my sister, but now I had a whole new appreciation for her. Gripped by it, I needed to be somewhere I knew she’d been. Some place imprinted by her, and her apartment didn’t fit the bill. Aside from the scent of peaches and Beautiful perfume, I’d never gotten a very strong sense of her there, as if she’d not spent much time in it, except when talking to me on the phone or sleeping. I’d gotten no real feeling for her on campus, either, but I could think of one place I knew I’d feel her intensely.
I needed to go where she’d been run to ground, four hours after she’d called me. I needed to confront the final awful grief of standing in the same spot on the cobbled pavement where my sister had drawn her last breath and closed her eyes forever.
Morbid, maybe, but you lose a sister and find out you’re adopted and see what you feel compelled to do. Don’t accuse me of being morbid when I’m merely the product of a culture that buries the bones of the ones they love in pretty, manicured flower gardens so they can keep them nearby and go talk to them whenever they feel troubled or depressed. That’s morbid. Not to mention bizarre. Dogs bury bones, too.
I see lines of demarcation everywhere I turn now. The River Liffey is one of them, dividing the city, not merely north and south, but socially and economically as well.
The south is the side I’ve been staying on, with the Temple Bar District, Trinity College, The National Museum, and Leinster House to name but a few of its many attractions, and is generally considered the affluent side: rich, snobby, and liberal.
The northside has O’Connell Street with its fine statues and monuments, the Moore Street Market, St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, the Customs House overlooking the Liffey, and is generally held to be the home of the working-class: industrial, blue-collar, and poor.
As you’ll find with most divisionary boundaries, it’s not absolute. There are pockets of the opposite on each side of the river: wealth and fashion to the north, poverty and decay to the south; however, no one will argue that the overall feel of the southside is different than the northside and vice versa. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t spent time on opposing banks of the river, heard the talk and watched the walk.