A seed was planted firmly in Annie’s mind from which her new life would grow. At age seventeen, she held the promise of youth within her grasp yet her spirit felt old. Heavy rain fell past her view and the cold wind whipped her face as she stared out her bedroom window. She was struck with a restless, desperate yearning. There must be more to life than what she found in her small town. She wanted to be uplifted from the day-to-day drudgery of working on the farm. Annie had a burning curiosity to see what life would be like far away from her birthplace and to see the person she might become far from the neighbor’s glaring eyes and her family’s expectations. In new surroundings the burden of grief which she carried on her shoulders might be eased. She hoped layers would be peeled back to expose her true identity that had long since been silenced and buried amidst the rubble and ashes of her own self-defeat.
In her mind she had already been transported far away from her present circumstances to a new life in a distant country. Annie had listened with ardent interest to all the great tales told about America that had been circulating Ireland for many years. She believed that only far away from home could she could feel rejuvenated and allow her spirit to freely soar to the great heights she envisioned in her dreams.
Ireland’s enchanting castles, majestic mountains and lush, green open fields stretching to eternity were seductive. The sight made Ireland both a romantic and unforgettable landscape that inspired all the souls who migrated across the land’s green fields. It was a land for dreamers and mourners, but dreams could not be manifested into a physical reality until one kissed the homeland goodbye. Ireland held no outlet for the aspirations of her youth, nor opportunities to feed their hungry ambition. Ireland’s young men and women were leaving for another country which could profit from their drive and dreams.
Annie searched under her bed to find her ray of hope: a letter sent years ago from her Aunt Kay. She read it over again and allowed the dream to set in her mind once again. As Annie read the letter her older sister, Beth, marched into the room, taking her reluctantly back to her reality.
“For the love of God would ye quit daydreaming your life away and come down to dinner before it gets cold as stone?”
“Stone might be an improvement from your cooking.”
“Oh, would it now? Well now, you can take over the reins anytime.”
“Nonsense, you need the practice,” joked Annie.
“That’s a laugh coming from the hazard in the kitchen. We have still not gotten over that rubbery concoction you whipped up in your last attempt at cooking. What has your avid attention anyway? It wouldn’t be a love letter now, would it?” Beth glanced at the letter clutched in Annie’s hand.
“From ye lover boy, Seamus,” said Annie with a smirk.
“Give it here now!” Beth attempted to grab the mysterious letter. Annie’s father had thrown the letter in the trash when it was first sent because he did not want his daughters getting any wild ideas about leaving his watchful eye. Annie had retrieved the letter; it had first sparked her interest in traveling overseas which had grown into an obsession.
“Calm ye jealous self, ‘tis only Aunt Kay’s letter,” confessed Annie.
“Oh, Lord!” groaned Beth, rolling her eyes. “You must have every word of that bloody letter memorized by now.”
“I was imagining what it would be like to live in America. I mean, if what everyone says about it ‘tis true. Isabelle says she is having a great adventure in her letters and that New York is a city glistening with excitement.”
“For such cynical winch ye are quite the dreamer.”
“Yes, I do dream of the day when I will be far away from the likes of you,” Annie said, knowing it was far from the truth.
“Ha, I bet ye would be lost without me.”
Beth was Annie’s best friend in life, who accepted all of her peculiar ways and loved her unconditionally. Beth saw all the many sides of her sister: the kind, the funny, the thoughtful, the dark and the withdrawn. At times Annie would crawl like a turtle into her shell to retreat from the world and it would be Beth’s job through humor to pull her out of that dark place.
Beth was considered the outgoing, friendly, and carefree one. She was described by everyone who encountered her as a real Irish Collie, with her flaming red hair, freckles and emerald eyes. She had the gift of gab and made a friend of everyone. She was tall and very slim, fragile in appearance yet strong in character. She possessed a subtle, natural beauty which radiated from within and was enhanced the more one knew her, the more her essence shined through. When sitting perfectly still and silent, her sculpted features made her appear graceful as if she was posing for a classical painting but then she would start laughing and talking incessantly and the spell would be broken.
Isabelle, their spitfire older cousin, had gone off to America when she was a mere sixteen. In Isabelle’s letters she spoke of finding her true home in New York, a place where the world suddenly opened up to her.
Their Aunt Kay had extended an open invitation to the girls to visit and stay with her as long as they wanted. Kay had written that it was a wonderful time to be in America. She had described awakening the morning of the official end of the Great War, a day which marked the end of much death, loss, grief and suffering throughout the world. She recalled that people of all ethnicities and ages poured out of their homes, offices and shops, and paraded in the streets raising flags. They sang and shouted, rang bells and blew horns. She wrote how the city came alive during the ticker tape parade to honor the soldiers. Everyone cheered and shook the soldiers’ hands as they passed on by, their simple way of giving thanks. Kay recounted how Isabelle gave a kiss to every solider she passed, her own unique way of showing gratitude. Kay remarked that it was as if the cloud hanging over them had suddenly lifted and left only bright sunshine it its wake. She predicted that life in New York would now drift into one long overdue party.
Annie desperately wanted to be where life was brimming, a place that could offer her an open road from which to explore different routes. It was as if America was beckoning to her. A new era of peace and hope was already beginning. She only wished the same were true for her own homeland.
Annie was torn between her desire for change and her love for her homeland. Ireland was not only Annie’s birthplace, it was as much a part of her as her genetic makeup and the birthmark imprinted on her body. She knew she would desperately miss the open fields where she spent countless hours pondering the meaning of life and painting the landscape. She would miss the rolling hills she roamed with her sisters and the mountain tops from which they would shout. As much as she loved Ireland, she was exhausted by its sorrowful stories, haunting past and questionable future. In all its beauty, in all its charm, Ireland held Annie’s restless spirit captive, and she longed to break free.
She reveled in the notion that she could reinvent herself in America. She could kiss goodbye to the old reliable, shy, introverted Annie Rush. She would become strong-willed, independent and adventurous as the heroines in novels. Annie desired to live life in her own fashion dictated by no outside forces. She longed to taste that zest for life and feel that freedom. She knew she could never become the woman she aspired to be hiding from life. Never risking yet never gaining. She did not want to become that meek person nestled and protected by her family, comforted by familiar dwellings and faces. She felt that it was time to make a giant leap of faith.
In America there was a certainty that her character would be tested, her beliefs prodded, her intellect stimulated and her creativity inspired. There she hoped to find the key that would unlock the doors of opportunity. Annie harbored a secret dream of becoming her family’s savior, to lift her family out of the cycle of poverty. She would make it her mission in life to discover the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, which was presently empty in Ireland.
She envisioned Lady Luck awaiting her arrival on the shores of New York with her welcoming arms held wide, ready to bathe Annie in all her luck and glory after so many years of cold and scornful neglect.
“Isabelle does say New York ‘tis a grand, glamorous city,” said Beth. “There is only one way to find out.”
“”Tis, and one day I am going to go, Beth. I mean it!”
“Oh, I don’t doubt it. Besides, I would hate to see ye mope around here with that sour puss all your life. I have always known you would get tired of painting the countryside.”
“I haven’t painted in ages.”
“It is in your blood and is a gift from God. It would be a damn shame if ye pissed it away.”
“Da thinks it is a big waste of time,” said Annie.
“Surely now he won’t be watching your every move from across the ocean. In New York you can paint ‘til your heart’s desire.”
“It has been so long, I can’t promise that I will produce anything worthy of viewing.”
“Just promise to try.”
“Ye know as well as I do that Da will try to talk me out of going,” said Annie.
“Remember, you do what you need to do! Da simply wants to keep us children under his protective wing. He will surely suffocate ye with his good intentions if ye let him,” warned Beth.
Their mother, Mary, had wanted the girls to have a great appreciation for the arts since it had added so many dimensions to her own life. She never wanted the girls to neglect their God-given talents and active imaginations because of their gender. Mary had introduced the girls to her own great passion of painting. Painting came naturally to Annie, whereas Beth lacked the innate artistic ability. Beth’s interests rested in more practical things such as knitting, cooking and working on the farm.
Annie flourished with a brush in her hand and an open eye into the tunnels of her active imagination. She enjoyed the process of transforming an idea into a tangible creation, the results visible to her own naked eyes. She never felt more comfortable in her own skin than she did in front of a blank canvas ready to paint. She felt her spirit suddenly lifted to a higher level, as if she were somehow aligning herself with the universe during those brief intervals. When Annie painted she would drift into her own imaginary world and hours would pass without notice. In painting Annie had finally found something at which she could excel if she had the disciple and patience. Discovering this talent of hers had been an important revelation for her. It increased her self-confidence and gave her a new sense of identity and purpose. It offered her an outlet to express the part of herself that was always kept hidden.
Mary firmly believed that Annie had a natural talent for painting and encouraged her to dedicate herself to the craft. She relished the idea that one of her daughters would follow in her footsteps. It was a unique bond they would have, a secret understanding of how they were similar.
Annie’s father, Dominick, felt that Mary should not put such wild ideas into their daughter’s head. He did not want his little girl on a path that might make her move far away from home seeking opportunities. Dominick wanted his daughter to live a good, decent life, not one plagued by rejection, insecurities and disillusionment. What he neglected to take into the equation was his daughter’s desires.
“Mary, you are always going on about how society rarely values artists and what a hardship an artist’s life is,” he reminded his wife.
“If her heart instructs her to create art then that is what she must do. I admit an artist’s life is filled with sacrifices but ‘tis still very meaningful. An artist has no choice but to express herself; ‘tis what her spirit demands of her. If an artist does not satisfy that creative hunger then she is destined to live an unfulfilled life, and I will not have that for our daughter. The only way an artist can nourish her artistic cravings that makes her feel whole is to create. So you leave her be.”
Dominick admired his wife’s talent even though he discouraged his daughter’s. He proudly displayed Mary’s paintings to guests. He enjoyed the end result but resented the process that transformed his loving, caring wife into a distant and cold stranger consumed with her work. He could simply never understand the great need for expression and bouts of inspiration which washed over his wife and compelled her to paint at odd hours of the night. It intimidated Dominick that his wife possessed that much passion for something outside their marriage. He feared one day she would leave him to follow an artist’s life in the big city. He often wondered why she loved him and felt enormously lucky that she did. What Mary loved about her husband was his great integrity, honesty and gentle soul. All the things he offered her, such as serenity, stability, endless love and devotion, were the things she longed for.
Mary fought Dominick tooth and nail to allow their daughter’s talent to blossom. All she wanted her husband to do was allow them to paint in peace and to keep his negative thoughts to himself. She did not want Annie to be infected by his logic which could act like a deadly disease circulating in the veins of an artist. She would protect Annie’s fragile dreams from Dominick’s practicality. But when Mary died there was no one to protect Annie’s dreams any longer.
Since the death of her mother, Annie had lost the desire and motivation to paint without her guidance and counsel. Whenever Dominick caught Annie painting he would suddenly have a chore for her to do. Annie did not mind the interruption from painting because everything from the feel of the brushes to the smell of the oils brought back memories of her mother. She felt the vessel of her creativity was empty every time she would stare blankly at the canvas. She prayed for inspiration, for her muse to return but it seemed blocked by an invisible, unbreakable force. Defeated, she surrendered her paint brush and covered the blank canvas.
Beth knew how painting had always lifted Annie's spirit and she didn’t want to see her abandon it.
“New York is bound to inspire you with all those reputable art schools and amazing museums. You will see that you just need a change to ignite that spark.”
“Maybe ‘tis more of a curse.”
“Now, why would you say a foolish thing as that?” asked Beth.
“The ordinary world will never measure up to the incredible imaginary world I see when I am painting,” Annie said. She worried that painting prevented her from appreciating life as it was by tainting her perception of how she believed it should be.
“How exactly do you envision life when you’re painting?”
“Oh, I don’t know, just different, much more alive and vibrant.”
“Well maybe ‘tis your perception that is off, because I see ordinary life as something so beautiful it cannot be expressed even through words or art.”
“Ye would,” said Annie.
“What does that mean?”
“You’re in love, and not thinking straight unlike the rest of us grounded realists.”
“Yes,” said Beth, “I admit I have yet to see a painting more beautiful than the very image of Seamus’s face.”
“Aye, is a good thing I haven’t eaten yet,” teased Annie.
“You’ll get your turn, and when you do meet your match, Lord help you because I will be there teasing you mercilessly.”
Beth didn’t understand what Annie was seeking or what would make her finally content in life. Annie was not exactly sure of this herself. Everyone spoke of happiness like it was an attainable goal, a choice that one made or a switch that clicked on. Annie had her own theories about happiness. Her first was that it was an enlightened state of being that unfortunate people like her were incapable of ever attaining. Her other theory was that such bliss could only be derived by an ignorance to the harsh realities and injustices of real life.
“Annie, what is it that you think you cannot find right here at home?”
“I suppose I want to see the world firsthand and encounter different people.” Annie was starved to find more like-minded people with whom she could relate. Inwardly she knew that she wanted to be an artist and live a creative life but she couldn’t verbalize it for fear of it sounding awfully silly.
“If ye really want to go then do it or mark my words, ye will regret it,” predicted Beth. “You can stay with Aunt Kay until you get settled.”
“I have been saving every penny but somehow it just never seems to add up to anything.”
“It will if we combine our savings.”
“I would never let ye do that,” said Annie.
“Oh, don’t be silly. We are sisters, what is mine is yours. Don’t you worry, we will get that money somehow.”
Annie was comforted by the thought that her dream might soon become a reality but was apprehensive of going alone.
“What’s wrong now?” asked Beth.
“I always planned on us going to America together like we talked about.”
“I know, but things change; besides, we cannot be latched onto one another’s arm forever. We have to grow up sometime,” said Beth.
The images Annie had of them living to America together had been destroyed when Beth became engaged. As happy as she was for her sister finding love, she also knew it meant that now Beth would never leave Ireland. Annie found the idea of living abroad alone both intriguing and frightening. She would have to fend for herself and develop her own life and identity apart from her family.
What her soul craved most of all was a challenge. Life at home on the farm had become routine and stale as she performed the same tasks day in and day out. Familiarity invaded her daily life and suffocated her spirit. She was tired of knowing what each new day would hold for her before she had even arisen to welcome it. She desired to evolve, to stretch beyond, and discover the true extent of her capabilities and strength of character. There was comfort in the familiar but she knew of the danger that existed in it as well. She knew that if she got too comfortable, she might stop questioning and seeking life beyond the perimeters of the town where she was born.
“Beth, don’t you ever wonder what you are missing out there in that great big world?”
“I’m not like you. I don’t have your great yearning to leave. Ireland is my home; if I left I would be doing so with a heavy heart. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I don’t know if I would like to live in a city where ye cannot see the stars at night, where ye don’t know your neighbors and are just another face in the crowd.”
“’Tis funny, because that is exactly what I am looking for,” said Annie, “a great big city with no familiar faces.” In her small town everyone knew everyone and everything about one another. She came alive at the very notion of starting anew and of not having a past to define her.
The sisters viewed life from completely different perspectives which one day would lead them on opposite paths. They both knew that they would always be there for one another, no matter which roads they followed.
“Will it be a great disappointment if you find no real difference between out there and home?” asked Beth.
“’Tis just a chance I have to take. If anything, it will cure my curiosity.”
“Well, everything I could ever want is here but I know ‘tis not the same for you.” Beth could think of nothing more pleasing than building a life and starting a family with her fiancé. Seamus was dark Irish, with dark wavy hair and mysterious eyes as black as the night. He had been the rambunctious neighbor with the mischievous smile who could always transform a dull dreary day into a day filled with unforgettable adventures, roaming old haunted castles and searching for ancient treasures. The only real treasure Beth and Seamus ever found was the one they found in the other.
“How can ye be so sure Seamus is the one for you?” asked Annie.
Beth pondered her answer a moment. “He feels like home to me, if that makes any sense. He is an extension of myself.”
Annie remembered the day Seamus had left town years earlier. Beth had been in a tizzy that day with her other half departed. Beth often looked out to the horizon and wondered what adventures her friend had since embarked on and if he ever still thought of her.
When he had unexpectedly returned years later, no one recognized him. Gone was the devilish boy pulling pranks. He had been transformed into a tall, lean, handsome man with a quiet and unassuming disposition.
Beth’s old feelings for Seamus had instantly returned with more intensity. Annie had quite a laugh poking fun at Beth’s behavior around their old friend. Beth blushed and giggled like a school girl. She took extra care with her appearance every time she thought he would come knocking on their door. Beth believed that he merely viewed her as his old friend but to everyone else it was quite obvious from the way he looked at her that he was smitten.
One day Beth had been walking along, babbling about something meaningless to fill the empty air, when Seamus grabbed her and kissed her deeply in mid-sentence, sealing both their fates. They had announced their engagement three months later.
“Come on! Da must be chewing on the table by now,” demanded Beth.
“He probably finds it more appetizing than your cooking.”
“Keep up the sarcasm and there will be no food for you.”
“You call that a threat,” teased Annie.
Beth playfully threw a rag at her sister and returned to the kitchen.
“Okay, okay, hold ye horses, I’ll be right down,” shouted Annie after her.
Annie saw her reflection in the window and wondered how it would change in the years to follow. A morbid fear sent chills down her spine every time she envisioned the incurable listlessness she would endure if she decided to remain here. Annie felt that her life had been unfairly mapped out for her without her say. She was well aware of the limited paths for women in her homeland; it was a choice between early marriage or a life committed to God. If a girl’s family was poor like Annie’s, her chances of getting married decreased since sons were prevented by their families from marrying women who lacked dowries of cash, cattle or land. This mattered little to her since she did not feel that she had maternal instinct. She wondered what she could possibly teach a child about life if she had yet to live it.
She traveled through her mind’s eye to the future and viewed herself stuck and hopeless. She saw herself surrendering to a life she did not want, awaiting changes that were never coming. She knew if this happened then she would die with regrets lodged deep within her heart—regrets of the missed opportunities, lost dreams, and wasted youth. She would endure the worst death of all, the living, breathing death of a muted soul. She knew she had to escape to a place where she could branch away from the traditional path laid out for women.
Annie continued to stare out the window into the dark night, the continuing rain, into the distant future, wishing it closer, trying to grasp it so it would sustain her. She did not live in the present but resided somewhere in her glistening future. She viewed the present as a mere stepping stone towards her true destiny. She was always peering into the distance, seeking visions of the future for her present happiness. It became a ritual for her to search for the rainbow that would appear soon after the rain. Beth used to joke that Annie always wanted to latch onto a rainbow, and now she was certain it was in America.