Thursday 8 December 2016

Smug Married: Returning to 'my' place produced a sense of finality

Taking her family to Sitges, a town of memories and youth, Aine O'Connor shared a treasure from her past with the people she loves most

Aine O'Connor

Published 15/05/2011 | 05:00

We were sitting outside a cafe in Sitges, early Easter Monday evening, the sun was slanty but shining and the beach had just the odd straggler jumping double waves. There was something indefinably odd about the man at the next table who smelt of too much Calvin Klein Be.

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I used to come to Sitges a lot. We were living in Barcelona before they did the Olympic overhaul of the city beaches, so when we had more than an afternoon free, we'd get a crowded train from Sants station, usually standing squished up with other beach-goers, to the prettier sands of Sitges. The trains were a bit wrecked, there was no air con and it was important to position yourself for the half-hour trip away from any bared armpits.

Back then, people were as likely to sunbathe drenched in olive oil as in sunscreen; if you weren't a bit pink, it had been a sun-worshipping washout. I watch my many moles carefully now.

The day before Sitges, we had been in Barcelona, a memory in every step; before that, we had followed the creepy Good Friday processions of hooded men in Tarragona rain. Along the way, I discovered that a memory I always thought had been shot from the perspective of a mountain was actually from the city centre.

It overlooks Roman ruins and the Mediterranean, and I know exactly what I was thinking the last time I looked at that view. Even though the last time, the only time I looked, was 21 years ago. It's probably 20 years since I was last in Sitges.

I often go back to Barcelona. I have friends there. It's like my escape pod where I can be happily

alone all day but have company for dinner in the evening. Something, perhaps the only thing, that is just mine any more. Some people don't seem to mind being subsumed into Wife and Mammy, some even relish it. I've struggled a bit at times.

But when a chance came up for a cheap getaway for the four of us, it seemed churlish not to take the chance to share "my" place with the most important people in my life, even though they are the ones I use it to escape from. No offence, lads.

So, we set off with our carefully weighed hand-luggage and spent our time together; lots of building-block family time, chatting for Ireland about everything that floated into our brains. The kids' hopes and dreams filtered out through the chat, juxtaposing slightly weirdly with memories of a potent time in my life and a much younger me.

And as I sat in the cafe in Sitges, in the slanty sun beside the weirdy man, I had the strangest sense of finality. There was a cup of coffee in my hand but a mad cocktail in my head -- the memories I had mixing with the ones I was making; the people and things that were once so important beside these people whose importance can never be topped. It was as if a box, always left a chink open, was finally shut.

I suspect this might be best described as that dreaded word "closure". Closure, which sounds so satisfying but can be peculiarly sad, even when you're lucky enough that the road taken has worked out great.

I did wonder what the me of 20 years ago would make of the me I turned out to be. I'm still wondering.

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