It began in Grand Central Station, beneath the constellation of Orion. It was one o’clock in the morning, and I was sitting in a corner with suitcases piled around me, watching a man in a disheveled suit engage in an animated discussion with a vending machine. After a few moments, I got up and called Oliver on a nearby payphone.
“Hey there buddy,” Oliver said when he answered, “you on the train yet?”
“Um,” I said.
Silence on the other end. Then, after a while: “Did you miss the train?”
“You missed the last train to New Haven.”
“Yes. Yes, I did.”
“Are you sure you missed it?”
“Just kidding. I’m actually on the train right now, laughing and eating bonbons and watching the five boroughs whizz by.”
“No, of course not. I’m stuck in New York.”
“I’m sorry buddy. You’ll have to wait until the next train. We’ll pick you up when you get here. Also: are you calling me on a payphone?”
“I thought it would be more dramatic this way.”
A heavy silence on the other end.
“You know,” I continued, “like in those old-timey movies.”
“I’ll see you in Connecticut, Ian.”
I hung up and wandered back to my suitcases. I sat down and looked up at the constellations painted on the ceiling. The man in the suit waved to me, then resumed his debate with the vending machine.
In August of 2013, I moved to Dublin, Ireland with two of my childhood friends, Oliver Partridge and Ellie Morgenstern. We were scheduled to begin master’s programs at Irish universities in the fall, and we had decided to fly to Dublin early to look for a place to live. Looking back, I find it incredible that my parents allowed me to traipse off to Europe, fresh out of college and possessing only the vaguest notions of how I would secure lodging. It’s also possible that I neglected to tell my parents about my unfortunate lack of living quarters, but I suppose it’s all water under the bridge at this point.
I hopped on the next train to Connecticut to meet up with Oliver and Ellie at their apartment in New Haven and, after spending a few days tying up loose ends, we were on our way back to New York to catch a red-eye flight to Dublin. We landed in the Irish capital during the wee, rainy hours of the morning, took a cab from the airport, checked into a hostel, and began to search for a home.
House hunting in another country quickly proved to be trickier than originally anticipated. We woke early every morning to peruse new listings and then, picking three or four of our favorite properties, set off for showings. Not having a car, and wanting to save money, we walked everywhere, hiking as far as fifteen miles a day in search of the perfect home. At first, this process was enjoyable, as it gave us the chance to do some sightseeing. However, as the days began to stretch on, and as we watched our checking accounts dwindle with increasing concern, we derived less and less pleasure from peeking into quaint pubs and stately cathedrals. Our waning enthusiasm was bolstered by the fact that many realtors were reluctant to let to students. We filled out countless housing applications, but faced repeated rejection.
We settled into a regular routine, and this routine seemed to involve being uncomfortable most of the time. Our hostel was in a rickety Georgian townhouse that always seemed to be clearing its throat, creaking and groaning like an old codger shuffling out to collect the morning newspaper. Additionally, while most of the guests were pleasant, there were a few eccentrics who made our stay considerably more bizarre. There was one fellow who came to breakfast each morning in a crisp and tailored suit and insisted on loudly informing everyone that Tesco was the best Irish supermarket, and anyone who shopped anywhere else was a rapscallion and a rogue. After this lecture, he retired to a table by the window to tuck into his oatmeal with a distressing amount of gurgling.
Despite the discomfort of our daily life, I didn’t fully realize the gravity of the situation until Oliver, Ellie, and I traveled to Sandymount for a showing. We arrived to find a gaggle of about thirty distinguished professionals clustered on the property’s doorstep, all dressed in formal attire and clamoring to get the realtor’s attention. We waited in line and filled out our applications with sinking hearts, departing with the dull certainty that no one would pick a couple of graduate students over doctors and lawyers and college professors.
Unwilling to spend another evening cooped up in the hostel, I went out for a long walk. I wandered aimlessly, passing beneath the disapproving frowns of Dublin’s Georgian architecture. Get a load of this guy, the venerable brick buildings seemed to say. Only a few months out of college and already he can’t fend for himself! I walked on, staring at the sidewalk in front of me, hardly noticing the afternoon pass into evening. When I finally took stock of my surroundings, I found myself at an empty, open-air train station on the edge of Dublin Bay. The sun sunk below the horizon and a cold darkness set in, the kind of darkness that occurs only in the far northern places on the rim of world.
It is very lonely and frightening to stand in an abandoned train station at the edge of the warbling and guttural sea. This experience is even more terrifying if you happen to be houseless in foreign territory. In such situations, you stand very still, peering down the empty stretch of track, telling yourself that a train will appear at any moment, inching around the corner like a glow worm, coming ever closer to take you home.
I stood beside the train tracks for a long time, waiting beneath a starless sky. It was way too cold for August.
Author’s Note: While the end of this column seems rather gloomy, don’t worry; a much happier conclusion is on its way. Check out Part 2 next Friday.