After more than a week in the hospital, we headed home. The hour was late. Nine-thirty p.m. to be exact. We'd waited all day for the release papers to be filled out, anxious to return to our childhood home. My brother had owned it outright since our mother's death. By the time we arrived there, we'd driven through a rain storm (the Lowcountry had been experiencing a drought until then), slippery roads, and a moonless sky. My little red car sped along between farm fields as quickly as I dared drive. By the time we arrived home, midnight was nearly upon us.
We were home only a few days, days filled with doctor appointments, in-home care services, meetings with financial institutions, phone calls with family members and friends, and incessant vomiting. It soon became apparent that he needed to return to the hospital, and so he did. While there, he celebrated his 59th birthday. Our cousin brought a cake, my brother blew out a candle, and the cake was then taken to the nurse's station for them to enjoy.
A week after he entered Candler for the second time, he returned home again. Along the way--and I can see where we were perfectly--he vomited into a red Solo cup (we kept them everywhere just for this purpose), then wiped his mouth, leaned back in the seat and said, "I need to talk to Dr. Negrea."
"I mean," he said, his voice weak, "how long are we talking about here? Four years? Five?"
The question stunned me. Kicked me so low in the gut it took my breath. Hadn't we already been over this? Once? Twice? Perhaps three times? Hadn't we already discussed finances ... the house ... his funeral?
I eased the car to an upcoming stop sign and then turned to my baby brother, worn out already from a journey he'd only just begun to take. "Van," I said softly. "You're looking at less than a year."
His eyes met mine and for a solitary moment, lingered as if drawing truth from them. "Oh, really," he said.
But I knew. I knew I'd lied.
I knew ... we'd be lucky to see Christmas.
We were lost.
Clare had driven eastward for over two hours, leading us out of Dublin toward Doolin where we hoped to walk along the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher before sunset. We'd also planned to visit the Aillwee Cave and Poulnabrone Tomb, located in the Burren (or, Great Rock), in County Clare.
Instead, two hours after our departure from Bray, Clare's GPS chimed out, "You have arrived" as we sat in the middle of a farm. Complete with cows. And a barn. And a farmer, who appeared puzzled.
"Don't worry," I said to Clare, laughing. "It's about the journey, not the destination."
"But we're two hours off course," she said, frustration clearly overtaking her voice.
"So what," I replied between giggles. "Drive on."
And so we did. We re-routed and then drove through splendid and lush hillsides. We passed through small villages with thatch-covered roofs and primary-colored doors and stone fences. We entered the city limits of Tipperary where a sign declared that we'd "come a long, long way."
This, of course, brought a peel of laughter. Especially after road construction made getting out of the town a tad difficult. Or, as Clare would say it, "A wee bit difficult."
But finally, we neared the east coast of Ireland and the Wild Atlantic Way. Storm clouds rolled in as we reached the Aillwee Cave but we managed to duck inside the double doors leading to the gift shop and ticket counter without incident. Within moments the rain came down in sheets, bringing a decided chill to the air. Within a half hour, we walked behind our tour guide between nature's colors and wonder and learned how a man named Jack McGann discovered the cave in 1940 while chasing his dog who was chasing a rabbit. But ole Jack sat on the news for nearly 30 years. Naturally he happened to be at a pub that night, drinking a little too much ale, when the find slipped from his lips. And what a find it was . . . dark, damp walkways . . . dripping stalactites . . . and bear bones dating back over 10,000 years.
Clare and I left the cave an hour or so later, dashed through the rain to her car where I donned a baseball cap to cover my soaked head, and then drove on to the Burren . . . to the death portal, or doorway.
I'd heard about these things in Ireland from a favorite movie, The Nephew.
To see if for myself, though, we had to drive through the Burren, which is made up of glaciated limestone. Desolate doesn't begin to explain it, especially in the drizzling rain. Lovely doesn't begin to define it, either. As I looked left to right and ahead again, I found myself trying to imagine just how long this had taken God to produce.
We found a parking spot, stepped out of the car and into the growing chill. I grabbed my denim vest but left my coat and scarf, while Clare was smart enough to bring along her hooded coat. Together we walked along the flat, almost ghostly gray stones. We edged around a stone wall. We noted the flora sneaking between the cracks, reaching for air and life. The wiry, lush grasses that lay wet from the rain, though some swayed within the cut of the wind.
Our steps took us higher until, finally, we reached the portal.
"The bones of over thirty men, women, and children were found here in the 1980s," Clare told me. "One of which was an infant from the Bronze Age."
Wow. A baby . . . a wee baby.
"This is beautiful," I breathed out, because it was. "Holy, almost."
"Indeed," Clare agreed.
It seems a sacrilege to be there. To take our photos even, though we did. And we didn't care how wet we had gotten or continued to get. How miserably cold the weather had become. Because the timing had been perfect. The getting lost had brought us here at just the right moment. In the gray and gloom of late afternoon. In the sweetness of the air, changed and charged by the rain. In the fact that we were there, alone. All other tourists and visitors had long since walked away.
And we were in the midst of something beyond ourselves.
None of which could be fully defined or adequately touched.