people-watchingI spend a lot of time in Dundrum Town Centre. I wish I could say I go for lots of nature walks instead, but the truth is, my car will drive itself there if I don’t focus on where I’m going. The powers behind the centre have been clever enough to include stores of necessity there, so that if I have errands to run and groceries to buy, I can do it all from one place and check if there’s another sale on in House of Fraser, with the obligatory ‘nip into’ Penneys, mar dheadh* for socks. My mother used to like to ‘nip into’ Clarendon Street Church whenever we went shopping in town, where we’d light a candle for someone who needed prayers. There is something honorable in that, regardless of your persuasion and when I pass by that church now, I like to nip in and just sit with myself for five minutes. I’m only occasionally in town however; Dundrum, probably every second day. I can’t help it, that’s the way my life rolls these days. I do resent paying for parking though. It’s one of those things I need to fix in myself, like my irritability with other drivers. Whenever I queue up to pay my €3 for parking, I am a-quiver with resentment towards the powers behind the centre. Haven’t you bled us dry enough? I think. Why should I have to pay in order to come in here and spend money? I’m going to have to deal with it, because it’s not good for me. I don’t like feeling resentment towards anyone. I’m a Law of Attraction girl, so I’m also aware that I’m only attracting bad vibes.

One day, whilst waiting to pay for parking, a large Asian family came towards my side of the queue. There were at least twelve of them, possibly four generations, and they were all in high spirits, making a lot of noise and generally ignoring the antics of the children in the party. One of these children, a boy of about ten, was vehemently shaking a two-litre bottle of Fanta Orange. I smirked inwardly, thinking about the violence of the pending explosion when they opened it and how it would serve them right for being so loud and happy. I checked myself then, for my thoughts. It’s where I’m standing, I reminded myself; the queue of resentment, you really must change Emer. I had been in good form after all, it was a lovely summer’s day and I was wearing a white crochet dress that actually fit me. My hair was freshly washed. I decided to smile at the child with the Fanta. He looked at me strangely, almost as if he had a sudden insight to what the immediate future held. Before I had time to register something was wrong, the bottle exploded – violently – all over me. Just me. I was the sole recipient. The elders went into a frenzy of apologies. Not a word of English between them, but I understood a mortified sorry when I heard it. Great Grandmother tried to dry me off with her hanky and there ensued a gentle battle between us, as I tried to fend off whatever might be lurking in it. Everything was orange. My hair, my white crochet dress, the floor around us. Getting the Asian family out of my life and far away was uppermost in my mind and when they finally fled the scene of destruction I was left alone to wallow in mortification. I prepared myself for humiliation – there wasn’t even a facial expression that I could muster up for passers by that would shrug it off. I was as orange as an Oompa Loompa. Defiantly I looked around to face the cringing music; see if anyone would even offer me a pitying smile.

No one had noticed. Not one person, save the man I passed on the way back to the car, and he only looked up because my flip-flops were making a squelchy sticking sound as I careered across the tarmac. No one bothered about me. Everyone was far too busy thinking about themselves. It was a powerful lesson for me. How much of an effort I put in sometimes and for what? People focus mostly on their own story, their own hair and their own set of complaints or achievements. I wish I could transplant the dawning sureness of that one true realization into the minds and hearts of the teenagers I teach: people won’t notice, they’re too busy wrapped up with themselves.
I could have been affected in any number of ways by the trauma of walking around living my life without my child those first few years. But I chose show business darling; you could fail of course, but you had better look dazzling all the while, and bounce back my dear, whatever you do. I think every secondary school in the country should employ one actor to teach students about the true meaning of resilience. To want something so badly your heart aches; to know you’re so right for the part; the way you crumble inside when it goes to someone else but you must smile and show humbleness and even joy for the person who stole the role from you. Hug, darling, kiss and look them sincerely in the eyes and carry the fuck on. When I went back out into the world, I dressed to kill (apparently), I put on my armour and I defied the world to take me on:
“What,” I would mentally say “can you possibly do to me now?”
My cross was heavy but it was an effective master. I learned to be confident simply because I knew I was untouchable. No one could do anything to me that could possibly put me in a worse place than I already was. So I went head first into whatever came along. Bring it.

Time passed and my sharp edges softened, worn down by the unconditional love that I carried constantly in the quietness of my heart. I could be laughing with you over a sandwich and at the same time wondering how this would be if he were with me. Thinking, he’d be two now, running around no doubt, pulling at me for something, begging to sit on my lap. I do that still. Not so much of course, over the years, you couldn’t maintain sanity; but I do think about the conversation I might have with my 29 year old son. I run the best and the worst scenarios. I choose the best, because folks, that’s my bag. I’m a glass full to the brim kind of chick. (Even if I’m a grumpy fecker sometimes.) Time passed and my confidence grew. I directed a show. A local drama teacher saw it and took me under her wing; she was no ordinary drama teacher, she was a legend and she picked me up and firmly placed me on a particular road, patted me off and sent me on my way. I set up my drama school – at first to support my directing career, but gradually, I came to understand that my joy came from watching the children blossom. Child after child came, some, wanting to be stars, many because they needed the confidence. They blended together, the extro and introverts in an awesome display of human balance; I see it every day, have seen it every day, all these years: the quiet teach the noisy, the loud ones need the calmness of the shy and so they find a way to bring them alongside. As the school grew, and I evolved as a teacher, I understood completely what my task was; I could see it and read it and take it apart and put it together again. And all because I had been broken myself, and the Polyfilla I used was stronger than my own blood.

Why do we do what we do? Why do we decide we’re being judged, or that we’re being loved? Why does the opinion of strangers matter, especially to the Under Fifty Year Olds (because, there is a joyous transformation that takes place at 50, a Great Shedding of Giving a Shit – albeit, in my case, with something to balance; a sense of What Have I Actually Done With My Life? But, another day, eh?) No one is watching you that closely. Everyone has their own story; they walk around with an inner dialogue that concerns – not you, stranger, and not you, friend, but their own life and the best and worst scenarios of each part of that. You can fling as much Fanta on yourself as you like, they won’t even look at you.

*Mar dheadh is an Irish expression, meaning ‘supposedly’ or ‘I’m saying this, but you know I don’t mean it.” It is one of the many Irish expressions that meld beautifully into our version of English. Pronounced ‘Marr yah’ or ‘Morr yah’, but I am happy to stand corrected.

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