To Alanna, on Jirish Day
Of the things Alanna loved to tell people about herself, the fact that she was Jirish was probably her favorite.
The first time she mentioned this term to me, I was a teenager – an angry, confused, and hateful teenager. I was sulking on the balcony of our shared godmother’s Upper East Side apartment, trying to ignore the laughter and happiness coming from inside.
Sipping on a Coke, looking down at the Park Avenue traffic, I couldn’t help but think of the movie Sister Joan had showed in class that week – God Bless the Child. It had made me question what it meant to be here, in the United States, with white parents. What it meant to have only a last name bind you to your family. What it meant to be different.
I suddenly felt an arm around me, and looked to see it was Alanna. She had a habit of smiling with her entire face. Her cheeks would rise parallel to her ears, while her pearly whites caught the sunlight. Alanna was born to smile.
“Hey gorgeous,” she smiled.
“Hey,” I sighed.
Alanna’s face softened, sensing something was wrong. She moved in closer to me, and checked behind us to make sure no one was listening. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Do you ever feel like you just…you don’t belong anywhere?”
“All the time.”
I remember being surprised by this. Alanna’s existence had always seemed effortless to me. She was effortlessly cool, effortlessly beautiful, and appeared to be where she was meant to be at all times.
“Oh sure,” she said, her smile returning.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m not really part of this family. Like I’m not part of any family.”
“What?!” she half-laughed, half-screamed. “Lauren, that is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know. I’m Asian and no one else is.”
“Well I’m Jirish and no one else is.”
“Well, my father is Jewish and my mother is Irish which makes me Jirish.”
“But you don’t look like you’re Jirish? You don’t look any different than anyone else,” I said, motioning inside.
“Sweetie,” she said, “neither do you.”
The other day, I chased a short blonde in heels down a flight of stairs and two hallways thinking it was you. I don’t know why I was shocked when she whipped around and asked if she could help me.
I wanted to tell her she looks like someone I lost, someone I miss every day, someone I didn’t get a chance to make enough memories with. I wanted to tell her how hard you’d laugh when I told you this story. How we used to laugh so hard our giggles would turn into silence, with only our gasps for air echoing in our ears.
I wanted to tell her whatever god took you got it wrong. I wanted to tell her sometimes the hate I feel for that god burns through me like a fever I can’t shake. I wanted to tell her all the things I’d give to hear your laugh one more time.
I wanted to tell her about the Jirish girl who came to me on a New York city balcony and reminded me family is more than blood.
But instead, I said, “I’m sorry. It’s just that you look like someone I know.”
“I hope it’s someone nice,” the girl said.
“She was the best,” I told her. “She is the best.”
Until I see your Jirish smile again,