If I’d known that the moment was going to change my life, I might have paid more attention to the details. I was in Galway with 11 other high school teachers for a 5-week fellowship on W.B. Yeats and two of us had gone out for fish and chips. I don’t remember which chip shop we went to. The fish was firm, the fry glistened and the newspapers it came wrapped in were soon heavy with oil. You know, a standard Irish chip shop.
I’d left my boyfriend for the summer, off to learn everything I could about the poetry I loved. I had cried at the airport, but now, a few weeks in, I if I were honest with myself, well, I missed him very little. He had many strengths, but none of them were sitting around a table sharing food and passionately discussing poetry. Or, really, passionately discussing any of the things I loved. Still, he was a good man, solid and secure, and I knew he loved me. I knew he would be there when I returned and, since we were approaching 30 and our relationship was stable, I knew he would likely propose soon.
Earl and I must have been talking about this over fish and chips. I didn’t miss my boyfriend, exactly, but he was on my mind, especially since the only other single woman in my close circle of college friends had just announced her engagement. I was the only one left; I was next.
Earl, who loved music, poetry, literature and all things Irish, had white hair that rarely looked combed and a big personality that he rarely reigned in. I remember meandering talks with him as we walked from our dorms into Galway proper, sat in a pub or picked through the poetry that had moved us all across the ocean for the summer. Earl’s laughter drew everyone into the joke and his quick wit often had me choking back giggles. While those are my dominant memories of him, they are not the whole of Earl because by that point in our trip, we all knew that he had lost his daughter in an accident not many years before. His oversized love of Irish music, good beer and all things Yeats couldn’t completely mask this truth. Single, childless, not far from his daughter’s age, I had only the notion of the kind of scar that loss might leave. I knew part of him was hurting, but I also knew that being with Earl was enlivening.
That evening, over dinner, Earl put down his Guinness and paused. And this part of my memory isn’t fuzzy at all. “He has to make you laugh, Amanda. There’s no way you’ll make it if he doesn’t make you laugh.”
Our conversation continued. After we ate, we walked back to the dorm – or, more likely, we met up with others for a pint and maybe some dancing. I laughed a lot. I don’t need the concrete memories to know that I did. I laughed and talked and and read and thought for the whole five weeks.
Though many of the details from that fellowship are fuzzy now, it changed me deeply. There are more stories I could tell from that trip, for sure, and someday I will. But this one is important because I broke up with my boyfriend – how could I not? – and have since married a man who fills my life with laughter and love.