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  • Niamh

The America I Loved Is Lost

I’ve got to admit something. I’ve been having an affair for over 30 years.

Not with a person, you understand, but with a country.

America. America. My wonderful America.

I fell in love with this great country at the age of 5, running around Walt Disney World with my family, marvelling at things I’d never seen before. Everything was bigger, better, shiner and newer in America in my impressionable childhood mind.

The people were open, welcoming and friendly. Paths were sidewalks, chips were fries, biscuits were cookies, fizzy drinks were soda and crisps were chips. It was almost like home, but always that bit different and always better.

I desperately wanted to be one of these amazing Americans, who spoke with a soft rounded voice, who had white teeth, who drove down huge highways with massive billboards advertising amazing diners and all you can eat buffets.

I wanted to go to the mall, not the shopping centre. I didn’t want grey skies and stony beaches. I didn’t want boring supermarkets where everything was regular sized. I didn’t want chipper chips, I wanted fries. I wanted to go to the cinema and see the latest movies before they came to Ireland and order a coke that was bigger than my head.

I wanted to go to elementary school and have a locker and play softball, not go to primary school and play GAA. I wanted to go to baseball games, watch the Superbowl and live in a country where there were theme parks, where there was sunshine and tanned legs, air conditioning, big houses and even bigger cars. Neon signs, buildings that touched the sky, motels with vending machines, ice machines and to eat pancakes for breakfast and pizza for dinner.

We’d rent a car and drive to the most incredible places I’d ever seen. I visited Elvis houses before I even knew who he was and wondered why the people were wearing weird clothes and crying at his grave. I marvelled at the Golden Gate Bridge, sat in the Spruce Goose, saw the Hollywood sign, the big redwoods of California, drove through Death Valley, looked into the Grand Canyon and even saw snow drifts that covered our car completely.

I felt safe there.

To my childhood mind, America could do no wrong.

‘When I grow up’, I thought, ‘I’ll bring my children to America and I’ll show them why it’s so special.’

I wanted to do that. I wanted to one day bring my family with me and give them the same chance at an incredible love affair that I had. I wanted my children to experience this shiny, bright, marvellous place of dreams, where everything was bigger and better. In fact, when I met my husband I couldn't comprehend that he didn't share my love of this fantastic country.

But today my America is lost.

It’s no longer the glossy, optimistic, incredible place I once adored. Now it’s become a scary, mixed up country, full of fear and hate.

9/11 changed the country, the people and more widely it changed the world. Of that there is no doubt. Visiting the USA post 9/11 was a surreal experience. Everything changed overnight. The gloss was tarnished. The smiles were not as wide. The dream was fading.

But beyond 9/11, the deeply rooted problems America face are to be found in the ever present barrel of a gun.

Today, school children get shot. Church goers get shot. Concert goers get shot. People going about their daily business get shot. And still the guns are freely available.

The bottom line is, I worry about things like trying to find a good school for my son to go to, while an American mum has to worry about if her child will get shot at school.

It's hard to comprehend the sheer lunacy of that statement.

But it's a reality.

America is now a country where guns seem more important than people. It’s justified under an Amendment that was made centuries ago when civil wars were waged on horseback and the musket was the weapon of choice. It was never envisioned to be something that could justify a person accessing a semi-automatic weapon so they could walk into a school, church, concert or any crowd of people and shoot to kill and will.

Yet it goes on.

Columbine, Sandyhook, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and hundreds of others I don’t even know the details of. I’ve lost count of all the mass shootings in America. Because there is never any decisive action taken to stop it happening again.

The current President of the country, Donald Trump, thinks the answer to school shootings is to arm teachers who have military training. Yes, nothing solves a problem like adding more guns instead of taking them away.

I'm just so sad to see where America has descended to. When I was a child, I was so jealous of Americans. Of their seemingly lustrous lives. My life seemed so boring, so mundane, so grey and plain. But now, the roles have reversed. Suddenly Ireland seems like the more appealing place to live. I’m glad my son is growing up in Ireland. Yes as a country we’ve got plenty of problems. We’re still confronting the legacy of the hold of the Catholic Church over our minds and bodies and how it led to a society where the Magdalen Laundries and institutional abuse took place routinely and hiding ‘socially unacceptable’ things under the carpet, instead of facing them was the norm.

Right now, we've got a horrendous hospital trolley crisis and homelessness is still a huge problem. We often commute for long hours, face raising house prices and even face the evil of the gun with the rise of gangland violence.

But for all our societal issues, for all our faults and failings, for the first time in my life, I’m suddenly no longer in love with another country over my own.

The love affair has ended, but my arms will always be open to this country I still hold dear.

My hope is that the outrage over the latest scjool school shooting in Parkland Florida can finally galvanise action and change and break the hold of the gun over the land of the free.

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