When I graduated from university in June and decided to move to Birmingham with my boyfriend, I felt like I was stepping into uncharted territory. I mean, my life up until then had followed a pretty standard path. I did my GCSEs, I stayed in school for A levels, and I went to my nearest university. I followed the same route that my sister did and most of my friends and classmates did, the path that was more or less set out for me since I passed my 11 Plus and went to grammar school. But as my days at university were coming to an end, I realised that I had no idea where my path was leading next. I can tell you one thing for sure, I never thought it was leading to Birmingham!
It seems to me, this path that so many of us are… led… down, like little children being bribed with the promise of sweets and treats by the Big Bad Man, leads nowhere. And the breadcrumbs that we scattered to find our way back turned out to be seeds, and all around us plants and trees have sprouted up, growing in new directions and blocking the road home. We find ourselves in the depth of the forest: we followed all the rules, we passed every test, jumped every river and dodged every rabbit hole. And yet when we reach the end, we are not on the other side, but standing in the Heart of Darkness.
Anyway, I digress. I found myself finishing university in the same situation as so many, tumbling out with a four-year hangover, suffering with a severe case of disillusionment and in need of a hefty dose of direction. Where all around me people seemed to know where they were going; staying on at university for Masters Degrees or to become teachers, landing dream jobs, or jetting off to travel the world, I sat motionless, terrified by all the possibilities, frozen from all the open doors, andparalysed by lack of money and certainty.
When my boyfriend was offered a job in Birmingham, I was faced a decision. I could move home to my small town, move back in with my parents and find a job (although admittedly my options there would always be limited), or I could move to England and see what was on offer there. My feminist beliefs, that are meant to enable me to take any path I choose for whatever reason I choose, were forcing me to abandon the possibilities that I had created for myself, give up my independence and return to my parents as a single 22-year-old, and wait there for a knight in shining armour to come and rescue me. Because, what twenty-first century feminist could justify leaving her friends and family, her job, and her home to run after a man and become some kind of Fifties housewife? Feminism, shrouded in the cloak of equal opportunity, hiding behind a house made of gingerbread, was showing me all the ways out of the forest, and yet bribing me to stay home.
After battling my demons; my beliefs, aspirations, morals; I decided to go. I didn’t know what was waiting for me, and I was scared. I was scared of how it would work out, but I was more scared of what other people would think. Would I look like some naïve little girl following a man?
When I nervously told my Aunt Mary, scared of whether or not she would approve, and unsure if my Mother wanted people to know that I was going to move in with my boyfriend out of wedlock (the 21st Century means nothing in Ireland), she smiled and reassured me, “It’s all been done before.”
My Aunt Mary, the eldest daughter of nine children, holds the role of all eldest daughters: the keeper of the family. It is she who always has an open door; her home has been home to so many over the years and you can feel the warmth of family and memories when you step inside.
Its walls have felt the pain and the tears of wakes and funerals, heard the good news of births and engagements before the rest, and seen children and grandchildren grow and laugh and play. My Aunt Mary will pass the family stories and anecdotes to the next generation of Richmonds, so that we can be humble yet proud of who we are and where we come from, and teach us of all the trials and tribulations, the twists and turns of history that have led to our being. At this time, I was about to learn how history does, indeed, repeat…