Driving along the rocky cliffs of Ireland helped me navigate my feelings post-divorce


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Photo: Getty Images / Max Shen

A friendly sign inside the rental car reminds me that I have one responsibility and one only—to drive on the left-hand side of the road.

This roadtrip along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way seemed like a much better idea several months ago when my best friend and I had decided to divorce our husbands at the same time. I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to escape reality than Ireland in December, where it would be perfectly acceptable to drink and cry at all hours of the day in dark pubs next to hot Irishmen.

“I can’t do this,” I say.

“You have to,” Allison replies. “It’s your turn. I’ve already done the first leg.”

I’m still jet-lagged, and I don’t know how to convert kilometers to miles, but at least if I die here, I won’t have to go back home and deal with attorneys and divorce papers.

I inch out onto the roadway. A car honks. I swerve back into the left lane. Even with the warning sign directly in my face, I’ve already forgotten how to drive here. Allison shoots me a look, the same one she’s given me for the last 25 years whenever I’ve done something stupid, like when I got the bright idea to wax my own eyebrows.

I know Allison is wondering maybe if she should just take over, but this would mean she’d have to drive. She checks her phone, perhaps sending a good-bye text to her boyfriend, while I try to figure out how I’m going to get us through the roundabout up ahead. I miss the exit. The GPS flashes with alarm.

“Recalculating,” a female voice says in an Irish accent.

I obey our new route and swing us back around. This time, I count the exits under my breath but still miss the road we are supposed to take. Another car sounds its horn.

“Sorry!” I yell.

“Recalculating,” the GPS says.

“Can we throw her out the window?” I ask.

“I’m going to have vodka tonight,” Allison replies.

Aside from the whole driving on the wrong side of the road thing, being in the car with Allison feels like we’re back in high school. Our conversations hopscotch between the present and the mid ‘90s, when we were play nerds who knew every showtune by heart and made shrines to Leonardo DiCaprio in our lockers. We spent our nights at Dairy Queen and drove past the homes of boys we liked to see if their cars were in the driveway.

Back then, we never imagined we’d actually ever fall in love for real and get married, and we surely never imagined we’d be lost in Ireland trying to figure out what to do with our engagement rings. One of my friends sold hers online; another suggested I give my ring to the future daughter I don’t even know I’ll have. Even so, I can’t bear the thought of selling mine. It’s been years, but the memory of my husband’s proposal is still fresh.

“Close your eyes,” he said.

Naked in a soaking tub full of bubbles, I opened my eyes to find him down on one knee. He was also naked but with a round solitaire diamond sparkling in hand. It twinkled with optimism, despite its vintage status. Even in the dim bathroom light, I could see everything about the ring was perfect. I had no idea the proposal was coming. Back then, my future was clear. Now at age 35? Not so much.

There’s a sisterly comparison that happens when I’m with Allison, and I can’t figure out why she’s been able to start dating and is ready to sell her ring, but I can’t seem to move on. I should be able to. There’s no ring on my left hand as I stare at the steering wheel of this rental car, so why does it feel like a piece of me still belongs to my soon-to-be ex-husband?

“Look out—a sheep!” Allison yells.

I slam on the brakes. “Jesus Christ, that was a close one.”

They are everywhere, as ubiquitous as pubs and impossible to spot, despite the florescent, graffiti-like warning signs on their trunks. The car idling, I put U2 on the radio while we wait for the sheep to cross the road.

“We’re ridiculous,” Allison says.

I turn up the volume. “Total clichés.”

As much as I don’t like driving in Ireland, it really is the best way to see the countryside, where every farm animal you can imagine has a suicide wish, either standing in the middle of the road or perched onto the side of a cliff, rears facing us so they can stare at the ocean. When we disobey our GPS and get lost, that’s when the good scenery appears: the deserted ivy-covered castles and friendly local dogs who roam dirt roads and run right up to our car doors. We greet them with welcome squeals.

“Recalulating!” says you know you.

We find our way to Galway for the night and end up at the perfect destination: a cozy pub in the center of town, where tourists and locals stand shoulder to shoulder, pints in hand. I toss my winter coat onto an empty booth. A man tapping his toe to a peppy fiddle swoops in to stop me.

“My friend and I were already eyeing that booth—you’ll have to share with us,” he says with a wink.

We buy each other so many rounds that I’m not sure whether it’s the vodka or the live Irish music rattling old photos on the wooden walls.

“I’m a New Yorker!” I yell to him.

“I’m a bartender!” he replies.

Perfect. We wedge ourselves into the crowd to dance under Christmas lights. I toss my arms around his broad shoulders. My drink tumbles onto his fleece. At the end of the night, I invite my Irish souvenir back to our Airbnb.

Over breakfast, Allison and I try to piece the evening back together, as if we are detectives. Google helps us find the pub he works at, and one easy detour later, we’re cruising past his bar on our way out of town like the expert stalkers we’ve always been.

“Recalculating,” our old friend says.

I roll my eyes. “Can we just turn her off?”

Without our know-it-all GPS, we surrender to kismet and a cliffside coastal drive. One-lane indecisive roads round one way before swerving in the opposite direction, dumping us out in front of the choppy Atlantic. At a deserted lookout point, we breathe in salty air at the edge of a rocky cliff. Miles and miles of ocean separate me from life back in New York.

I think of the day I detoured from my routine Saturday afternoon errands and found myself in a jewelry shop. I slid my engagement ring off my sweaty finger. It did its usual dance in the light, the one that had always made me so proud to wear it in yoga class when I could gaze at it in downward dog.

“It’s so sparkly,” the saleswoman marveled. “We’ll take it.”

The offer she made would have covered my rent and fed my dog for years.

“Let me think about it,” I lied.

I returned the ring to the only place it has felt at home all along: in the second drawer of my jewelry box, next to the engagement rings of my mother and grandmother, both long gone.

Allison and I snap a few final photos. Another dark pub somewhere is calling our name. Keys in hand, I climb into the driver’s seat. I don’t know where we’re going to end up, but I know we’ll find our way.

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