Once upon a time, I would crane my neck skywards to watch tiny winged specs carve open the vast perfect blue, leaving frothing puffy scars in their wake like a blunt and rusted scalpel tearing through charred flesh. Then, a frothing puffy corporal screaming French blue murder while stinking of blue cheese would rudely interrupt my idyllic gaze and puff would go the daydream. To say that the pain in watching those airplanes fly overhead in the early days of the Legion was excruciating would be far from an exaggeration, however, such was the feeling of isolation, fear, anxiety and homesickness way back then.
Not so now, though. Last week I hopped (nonchalantly, don’t you know, such is the finely-honed nature of my border-crossing swagger these days) on a plane at Dublin airport dragging me back to the Legion for the second last time in my life. In a few months when I’m heading back to the grind after squeezing the last holiday out of my military epilogue, the party will already be well and truly underway. This time, though, seemed rather poignant, as it was the first time that I truly reflected on the metamorphosis my mentality has undergone concerning these relatively frequent 70-minute trips. From initial, fledgling dread, my psyche has gradually evolved so as to treat the end-of-holiday journey from family home to Dublin airport as no more galling than a Monday morning bus-ride to the office. No more pangs of homesickness now as I gape up at planes crossing overhead, nor do highly combustible superiors interrupt such tranquil moments any longer. I’m the corporal now, remember, only with a lot less froth.
This holiday took me by surprise in many ways, not least by the fact that it was spent back in Ireland. Only recently had my entire post-Legion plan been turned on its head as Cupid’s arrow implanted itself deep in my hairy arse cheek and the French ‘Missus du Jour’ presented my with all the apparent reason I required to bid Ireland a permanent “adieu” and settle down in Paris. Ah those French birds! What began as a rather fantastically passionate affair soon washed clean however to show a jealous underbelly proving too hot to handle in the end. A close call in hindsight, but thankfully I hadn’t sacrificed my place in university this coming September or anything crazy like that. Just when you think you’re on the home stretch, eh?
So back to Dublin I’ll eventually go and, apart from returning to my studies, several other rather important issues still need resolving sooner rather than later. The term “house-hunting” has understandably avoided my vernacular these past (almost) 5 years, but the heat is being turned up as my repatriation approaches. The disadvantage of arriving home just in time to start college is the fact that every student and their granny will be hunting for city-centre accommodation in the lead up to kick-off. Through a stroke of good fortune, I have a set of eyes and ears already on the ground, in the form of an Irish girl just moved home having spent the guts of the last decade stateside. Her sister (a very good friend of mine) warned of ramifications if “the 21st century Odd Couple” actually went through with it (moving in together) but I figure it should be a breeze compared to violent, drunken Russian babies and teeth-grinding Chinamen. A breeze, I tell you…..haha….ha……hmmmm.
Having spent the last (nearly) 5 years outside of Ireland myself, my eligibility for government aid, student grants, etc is entirely null and void. In order to qualify for support, I would have to have been resident in Ireland for at least 3 of the 5 years preceding my entry into 3rd level education. Many a wily old anarchist urged me to claim residency here the past few years (bank statements have been continuously delivered to me at the home address), yet I fear that may backfire if I ever manage to publish a book on my Legion exploits. How on earth did he stay resident in Ireland while toiling away in Africa, Afghanistan and South America, they might inquire? No, no, above board is how I shall do it and thus looms the daunting reality of having to work my way through a 4-year degree course. In my favour is a vastly extensive network of ex-legionnaires based in Ireland who at the very least might point me in the right direction, with security work being the likely destination. I’m not so sure a blog on bouncing bars and clubs would be too enthralling but the pay might just intrigue me enough. It’ll either be that or working night-security in banks or office blocks. There, with my stack of notes and trusty Macbook, sipping coffee through to the early hours, occasionally flashing my torch around wildly incase anyone’s monitoring my work ethic. How straightforward it all seems.
The there’s the question of a social life of some kind, any kind really. When one emigrates, the challenge of keeping friendships alive and well increases ten-fold. Facebook is all well and good to a point, but there remains a stark difference between maintaining regular contact with someone and simply sending the occasional “poke”. I guess in a refreshing way I’ll find myself returning to a hometown where no more than a dozen close friends await. It feels like an achievement to have retained their love and confidence throughout my French adventure and returning a more rounded, mature grown-up is kind of exciting, I guess. While nobody ever FULLY leaves it behind, I remain confident that my stupid-shit-phase is running on fumes at this stage. Bring on the weddings and baby showers (and Jameson ……… lots of Jameson)!
One difficulty I anticipate with equal relish and horror will be the collision of old hairy ex-legionnaire and young sprightly school leaver in the university lecture hall come September. Any dreams I might have of being the cooler, older, ex-military guy in class will more than likely evaporate on day one as I struggle to compete with tales of post-Leaving Cert excess in Ibiza. “This one time in Afghanistan….” will be mercilessly drowned out by “….and then I puked my ring from the balcony straight in to the pool!!”. Best accept it, I think, and remain discreet down the back of the classroom unless otherwise called upon. I’m sure my ability to dress myself like and adult will already see me sticking out like a sore thumb, no need to lay it on thicker still.
The hypotheses could continue indefinitely. I guess I’m glad to be returning home. I’ve missed being in Dublin, not just visiting her from time to time. I’ve missed morning runs through the city with my headphones in, dodging cyclists and delivery trucks and eating up the pavement on my way to work (college, this time round). I’ve missed being around my family and my little niece in particular. The knowledge that my return is looming unavoidably large now takes the sting out of absentia. I know I’ll be home soon, and as that final flight carves through the perfect blue I’ve no doubt its scar will be stitched shut with seamless grace right behind me. It no longer hurts to watch those planes go by.
Of course seeing them day-in-day-out as I patrol Charles de Gaulle airport like a fucking eejit for the second 3-week stint in little over as many months helps with the desensitization process.