Nearly ten months ago, Sean Mackenzie Roberts sat at the bar in a very authentic, old-school Irish pub in Upstate New York. He noticed the Guinness logo on his almost empty, slightly cold glass of beer bore the founding date of 1759.
“Another milkshake, Sean?” asked Danny, the bartender and owner.
Sean was a regular customer and knew Danny well. He hesitated to have another beer, it being Tuesday and all, plus he knew he had to work in the morning. He also thought about last Saturday night when he had a few too many pints. Jameson shot specials at two dollars each with every pint had led to Sean’s favorite shot—Irish car bombs.
He thought about it for another second before responding, “Sure, why not…thanks, Danny.”
He glanced up at the TV over the bar. A Kilts of Cork music video “Sweet Barbados” played, prompting him to think of his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, William Roberts.
Sean did not know much about his ancestry but had a newfound interest. His mother had recently given him a war medal originally worn around the neck of William Roberts. Family lore had it George Washington awarded William the medal sometime in the 1770s, not that far off from the founding date of the Guinness brewery—a true Irish treasure. The verse from the Kilts of Cork song continued on the TV.
“From the calm of the waves-a-rolling,
To the violent swords-a-clanging,
It was Arbalester’s Strong Arms,
Conquering, thieving murderers,
English over Irish,
Never looking back, never stepping down.”
“Great song isn’t it? I love these guys,” chirped Danny while pouring another pint.
“Yeah, I like the fast pace,” replied Sean, in between a sip of beer. “Good workout tune. I never paid much attention to the words until now. I usually hear the music over the words when I listen to songs.”
“Funny, I hear it the exact opposite way, words over the music. This one has important lyrics though. It’s about Arbalester’s deportation of the Irish Catholics to Barbados, back in the 1600s. He was quite a prick.”
“Who?” asked Sean. “Never heard of him.”
“Caleb Arbalester. He was hand-picked by Oliver Cromwell to carry out countless atrocities of the Irish. Some say he and Cromwell were one and the same person. Anyway, it really pisses me off, makes me want to do a shot every time I hear this song.”
Danny pulled out two shot glasses from under the bar and put them in front of Sean.
“None for me, thanks,” said Sean.
Danny ignored Sean’s response and filled both shot glasses with Jameson. He handed one to Sean and kept one for himself. “To the Irish,” he lauded, as he raised his glass, nodding to Sean.
Sean reluctantly gave in. “To the Irish,” he said, unenthusiastically.
Sean listened more closely to the video. He smiled at Danny and said, “This is why I love McNulty’s. There’s always Celtic rock playing, and now you tell me some of the videos have historic meaning, and of course, an endless supply of Jameson.”
Danny winked at Sean. “Yeah, lots of history. Many Celtic rock songs are all about the human struggle of the Irish. That’s why we play them here. War, famine, plague…you name it, we got it. Somehow they survived. They were the real, true heroes. All of them…women, children, soldiers. They all deserved a medal. And they took a shot, coming here to America…for us.” He pointed to the Jameson bottle, raising his eyebrows. He mouthed the words, “Another shot?”
Sean put his hands up in defense. No way, absolutely not! He thought about what Danny said. “They all deserved a medal.”
Soon after his mother passed the war medal on to Sean, he started remembering dreams he had as a young boy. Throughout his childhood he had countless recurring dreams; many that caused him significant stress and most he could only remember as awful, intimidating nightmares. He always knew he had these elaborate dreams but could not remember much of the detail. One dream, though, he couldn’t forget. He frequently dreamed of painful, massive pressure on his chest, and always felt he had to get out from under it or he would die. It was a very disturbing dream and led to much anxiety for Sean.
Occasionally, as an adolescent, this feeling would hit him during the day and it would reoccur immediately, right then and there. At first, he couldn’t control it, but with some time and persistence eventually accepted it as a simple, harmless experience. It was easier during the day but more challenging at night. The last time he had these thoughts he was around twenty-years-old.
Sean’s cell phone vibrated on top of the bar—it was a text from Phoebe, his fiancé. Be right there. On way. Before he had a chance to respond, she sent another text. Can’t wait to see you. Miss U ooxx. He typed as quickly as he could. Great! Hurry!
Sean could never keep up with Phoebe. He hadn’t accepted that texts didn’t need to be grammatically correct. He was excited. He couldn’t wait to see her either. He liked texting Phoebe, especially when others were around. It made him feel important. For a split-second, he thought he was cool—until he caught himself. Sean’s take on “cool” was simple. He often said, “If you think you are, you most definitely are not. For cool to be real, you had to be oblivious to it. Cool people don’t even know they’re cool, nor do they care.”
Danny made a full lap around the bar and stopped in front of Sean. “So, how’s Sean? How’s your life, my friend?”
“Perfect. Always perfect,” replied Sean, with a hint of cynicism. “Every day I feel like I’m on a giant roller coaster ride, non-stop, but still perfect.”
Danny chuckled. “Of course it is, you are the Sean Roberts, right? The one and only professor of literature throughout the land?”
Sean laughed along with Danny but was also a bit puzzled. He was sure Danny was joking—they were good friends. Even so, Sean thought, What does he mean by that? Does he know about my problems? My dreams? Was he being sarcastic?
“I’d get on that perfect roller coaster with you any day, at least for a while anyway. So would every other guy in here.”
OK, enough of the Phoebe references. Very funny.
Sean wasn’t perfect. Not even close. A divorcé with three children had resulted in financial devastation. By any and all definitions, he was completely, excusably broke, and undoubtedly down on his luck. These difficult financial challenges have prohibited him from enjoying some of life’s normal necessities.
“Want a ride on the roller coaster?” taunted Sean. “OK, jump onboard; I’ll give you an example of my perfect life. I have two dilapidated cars, both broken down. Even when they were running I had to take them off the road for three weeks because the insurance lapsed. Why? Because Mr. Perfect couldn’t pay the premium.”
Danny, pretending to listen to Sean, nodded as he began to wash a stack of pint glasses in the sink.
“I now have to share a car with my girlfriend until I can figure out how to get more reliable transportation. I’ve even had to take the bus sometimes.”
Sean couldn’t help but think about how difficult it was going to be to secure a new car loan with his once perfect credit already at an embarrassing all-time low. He wasn’t struggling financially because he wasn’t working. He was still an English professor at Upstate New York University.
“The problem is I’ve never recovered from all the expenses piled up from my divorce and my burden of bills…a large mortgage, student loans, and child support times three…not to mention healthcare and daycare.”
Sean’s tone became aggressively louder. He was on a roll.
“Within the past seven years, I’ve given my ex-wife almost three hundred thousand dollars—cash—after taxes. That’s a helluva lot of money for a small-town college teacher’s salary.”
Danny stopped washing glasses and put his wet hands up in the air mockingly. “I’ve heard all this before, Seanny, remember?”
“Sorry, Danny, sometimes I just get fired up and it comes out all over again.”
“What do you think a bartender is for,” said Danny, smirking, “only to pour you a beer? I should charge a counseling fee. Run-down cars and ex-wives aside, I’d still hop on that roller coaster too if I had a Phoebe.”
Sean quickly countered, “I’m lucky to have Phoebe. No doubt she’s the one constant I have, but there’s a lot more you have no clue about. And I’m not going there in any way, shape, or form. I love you brother, but no.”
They both poked fun at each other’s comments playfully, although Sean couldn’t keep his mind on their trivial conversation. He was literally somewhere else, somewhere very far away.
The Kilts of Cork video continued on the TV, stirring up Sean’s dream flashbacks. He suddenly remembered more details of his childhood nightmare. He watched as hundreds of years flashed by him, all inside a minute; similar to the way a strobe light flickers back-and-forth. Sean suddenly recognized the parallel between his dream and the “Sweet Barbados” song lyrics. He knew the song but never paid much attention to the words.
In this quick vision, Sean saw an unusual cast of characters spanning several centuries. He started to feel the pressure in his chest again. His anxiety was back. The lyrics to the music video cried out.
“Irish blood spilled through the hands
Of Captain Caleb Arbalester.
Blood-soaked troubled Ireland
A story never told.
Taken from their homeland
Delivered to Connaught,
Unless the call of Sweet Barbados
Befits their beck and call.”
At first, Sean couldn’t conceive that Washington had anything to do with his ancestors but over time began to accept the possibilities. As he rubbed the mysterious medal between his fingers, the cross and shamrock that hung alongside the medal jingled. The significance of the Irish has been woven into the Roberts family history as well as any other Irish immigrant family—and then some. William’s father, John, was said to have come to America from Britfieldstown, County Cork, Ireland, sometime around 1720.
It was originally believed that as a young child, John Roberts was aboard a ship headed to Virginia. The ship was consistent with other transatlantic trips during this time period—a small sloop but packed with a relatively large number of extremely brave Irish men and women, who had all heard of the opportunities available in America. No one knew the facts concerning John and his parents. Ships during this time were so overcrowded; there was much confusion when it came to the passengers and their identities. They were crammed into tiny spaces, not more than about twelve square feet per person.
Sean lifted his beer and glanced at the Guinness harp on the glass. William and his father John never tasted a Guinness. A cold imported beer from Ireland must have been hard to come by in the mid-1700s—or at least Sean thought as much.
Danny set the new pint of Guinness down on the bar. He had made a textbook shamrock on top, demonstrating his finesse and expertise in the art of a perfect pour.
“Thanks, Danny. Your shamrock is the official exclamation point, a true end and beginning, every time. You need to coach your new bartender; she hasn’t perfected it yet.”
Danny’s eyebrows scrunched inward. An end and beginning…to a beer? “Will do…and sorry about your situation. You know I was only kidding, right? You seem deep in thought tonight, Seanny. Is that what’s bothering you…your finances?”
“No, not really. I do have a lot going on though. But I can’t stop thinking of other things that keep flooding my mind.”
Sean lied. “Yeah, exactly. School stuff.”
Sean’s thoughts dashed to his recently acquired information—his family history and all the uncertainty brought on by the war medal.
A substantial amount of General Washington’s Continental Army, almost fifteen hundred officers, and at least twenty-two generals, were Irish. William Roberts was one of those officers, but never had the opportunity to become what some in the Roberts family believed was his right—to be among the elite twenty-two generals.
Sean asked himself, How did I know this? Was it a fact or a rumor?
He believed he’d heard this through someone in his family, but when he actually thought about it, he realized he knew very little about the Roberts ancestry. He did remember something about one of his ancestors being a high-ranking officer in the Revolutionary War—or was it a dream he’d had when he was a kid? None of his brothers or sisters had any knowledge of a Roberts family link to the Revolutionary War, so it must have been a dream.
Sean closed his eyes at the bar and thought of his very first dream. He immediately saw the same interesting man standing before him, leering with a slight smile on his face, biting down on his lower lip. Sean somehow took comfort in the fact he knew this man intimately, even though they had never met. The man’s piercing blue eyes matched the sharp sapphire sky perfectly. He wore an emerald green velvet waistcoat and breeches, which Sean found amusing. He had no idea how he even knew what a waistcoat and breeches were.
A matching green feather sat on his hat and a gold chain with a gold and ruby cross circled his neck. He looked like Sean and his four brothers. His facial features and body type were almost identical—it was uncanny. Irish families seem to have remarkably strong DNA that connects siblings. In Sean’s own family, all ten children look alike. Many of the Irish Catholic families he grew up with also had lots of kids, and they always looked like clones of each other.
Sean found himself sitting on the edge of a discolored, moldy dock, the wood warped and old, with large cracks running down the center of each plank. The damp, salty air reeked of dead fish. The dock creaked whenever someone walked on it and every time the tide rose and fell. The gray ship anchored to the dock looked larger than it actually was; the huge curved sails magnified the size of her deck floor. In the center of the ship’s deck at the top of the mast, a black flag rippled in the wind far above the sails. It bore a man holding a skull and a cutlass high over his head.
Sean spied several rotting human bodies, suspended in chains high above the dock. He immediately knew the deceased were pirates, hanging for all to see. They were hanged near the port by the Royal Navy as a warning to other pirates. Their remains were encased in rings and chains to keep them from falling apart as they decomposed. Sean felt sick to his stomach, partly from the stench in the air, but also from the movement of the dock.
Squawking seagulls competed with the chitchat and laughter of men enjoying a moment of camaraderie. The interesting man appeared again and stared at Sean as he schmoozed with several of the crew gathered at the entrance to the ship. His speech seemed odd; it was not ordinary English we hear today. The words were interjected with another ancient sounding language. Sean heard the words but at first couldn’t understand them.
“Let’s be ionraic maties…the food is terrible, the stippin is insulting…táimid dár gcrá féin…over what? It’s hard soathar and tá sé nimhneach. The alternative? Buccaneering! Everything is great…bia, fion, licéir, women…the creach is not bad either. Who wouldn’t want this? To die gan aithne, penniless…or make a mark in the domhan and be rewarded handsomely? I’ll take that gamble, mate, head-on. A merry cineál saoil, be it short, shall be me mana.”
The group of men laughed together, as the man in the fancy clothes continued to banter with them.
“Neart coirp, misneach, onóraigh n onóir,” said the interesting man.
“Strength, honor, and courage,” they all said, slapping each other’s backs mixed in with some shoulder punches—maybe even a few obscene gestures—tit for tat.
The men on the dock appeared to be a diverse, interesting collection of free spirits—certainly not an ordinary cast of characters. They came in many shapes and sizes and were from all points across the globe, from the shores of Africa to each part of Europe, as well as the Far East. Their clothes were an eclectic ensemble of just about every literary, stereotypical pirate wardrobe.
Some men wore a scarf on their head or around their neck. Several had pistols and some sort of knife attached to their belt or strapped to their shoulder. Most of the men’s clothes did not fit properly, an indication that perhaps they were not originally made for them. Some wore a striped, collarless shirt, with the sleeves rolled up. The men appeared dirty, unshaven, and unkempt, except for the interesting man attempting to identify with Sean.
The interesting man’s eyes darted over at Sean and then at the hanging bodies on the dock. Sean intuitively understood what he was thinking—the dangling dead were not pirates at all, but actually seamen from the Royal Navy. Each body was wrapped in a British issued blue frock coat with gold laced buttons. The clothes were dirty and half-torn; the blue coats appeared gray, with most of the gold buttons gone. The man gazed at Sean once more and then at the lifeless, persecuted men. Sean felt the hatred in this man’s body and soul—a hatred for the English and especially the Royal Navy.
The interesting man on the dock closed his eyes, aiming his thoughts on one Englishman in particular—a man known as “God’s Guardian” came into his consciousness—as the man’s thoughts immediately became Sean’s. Rage took over Sean as he saw this distant apparition. He was someone Sean had never met yet for whom he only felt hatred and disgust.
Phoebe straddled the barstool next to Sean and tapped him on the shoulder. “Hey you, what were you daydreaming about? You looked totally out of it, like you were in a trance.”
Sean was slightly startled but also a little dazed as he was quickly roused out of his delusion. “Nothing,” he said. “Sorry, I was just spacing out, thinking of nothing.”
“Wow, you were definitely somewhere else,” teased Phoebe. “That’s for sure.”
Sean grinned and leaned in to get a closer glimpse of Phoebe’s face. Her eyes smiled right back at him.
“How are the kids?” asked Sean. “What’s going on with everyone tonight?”
“They’re with their father for a sleepover.”
“Oh, good, that means we can stay here a little while, right? I have some work to do tonight to prep for a quiz though. Plus, I didn’t sleep that well last night, so I’m pretty tired right now…but at least we don’t have to rush out.”
“Right…you mean no car bombs tonight then?”
Phoebe liked to mock Sean often, which began the first time they met, almost five years ago. Her playfulness was an attraction for Sean, especially while he was going through his divorce and needed as much of a reprieve from the turmoil as possible. He liked to call her his “comic relief.”
“Nice to see you in such a good mood in one of your favorite spots,” whispered Phoebe.
“Well, it’s nice to be here with you, Phoebes,” said Sean, as he leaned over and kissed her, “and it’s even better to have you all to myself tonight. What do you want to drink? What can I get you?”
Phoebe squinted her eyes at Sean and grinned, as they both said together, “Guinness.”
“Of course…another reason why I love you. You drink beer like a guy, only with a little more finesse.”
Phoebe playfully snapped her fingers at Danny, hoping to swap her contagious smile for a cold pint of beer.
Phoebe Webb, younger than Sean by almost eight years was born in Bedfont, Middlesex, England. Sean had visited this small London suburb twice since meeting her. Nothing suggested anything else but a suburban upbringing. Sean knew the moment he met Phoebe she had a much larger view of the world than just Upstate New York. Obviously, her accent gave her away as soon as she opened her mouth.
They’d met right here in the pub. In fact, Sean suddenly realized they were sitting in the same spot at the bar as they had on that frigid winter evening in early February when they first met. He remembered looking at her with his peripheral vision, trying to conceal the fact he was staring at her.
A divorced mother of three, Phoebe had two boys and a girl, the opposite of Sean’s two girls and a boy. After they’d moved in together, their friends regularly referred to them as the Brady Bunch with all six kids living together every other weekend.
Sean’s thoughts brought him back to that very first night. His shyness challenged his immediate objective—to connect with an attractive woman who was sitting alone at the bar. He was too tight-lipped until she left her seat to go to the ladies’ room. As soon as she left, Sean did two things. His first goal was to make sure no one took her seat at the bar. She did ask me to save it for her. Little did she know he would take her request so seriously. No problem. No one is getting this barstool here…absolutely not.
His second goal was to find out who she was. He leaned over the bar as discreetly as possible and asked, “Danny, who’s the girl who was just sitting right next to me?”
“Not sure, Sean. I haven’t seen her in here before. I can tell you, though, she’s been looking your way. Not that she can avoid it. She was sitting so close to you, practically on top of you. And by the way, your inconspicuous move to pretend you’re not staring at her? Not working, dude. You’re more obvious than an African elephant in a flock of Irish sheep…so open up a little, strike up a conversation…you’re Dr. Sean Roberts, for Christ’s sake.”
Exactly. I’m Sean Roberts. That’s the problem. I’m not good at striking up a conversation…especially with attractive women. I could write something to her. I write much better than I speak, but that probably wouldn’t work here at the bar. No, not at all.
Sean remembered that night clearly. He saw a petite and strikingly attractive woman with long curly auburn hair and a svelte, graceful dancer’s body sitting alone at the bar. He was compelled to sit right next to her before anyone else did. He had a particularly strong feeling he already knew her. He knew at that moment she was the perfect match for him.
Sean and Phoebe were a perfect fit in a variety of ways—a union they both never had before. Their relationship was multifaceted; they connected together so well that at times they became one. They shared similar tastes in literature, art, and music—even politics. Sean was a highly educated intellectual, earning five degrees, including the highest in his field—a Ph.D. in literature. He was also extremely absent-minded and mostly impractical, which contributed to his insecurity. He referred to himself often as one of the dumbest persons ever to earn a doctorate.
Phoebe too had earned multiple degrees, all in psychology. She challenged him intellectually every day, but she was much more rational than Sean. They both recognized, however, their emotional bond far outweighed their academic sides. They could easily put a book down and forget about it for a while, but not so with their emotional attachment. It was partly due to their physical compatibility. They fit together better than a glove, their bodies were perfectly aligned with just the right amount of everything. They loved to be together and were always touching. They were uncomfortable when they were apart; theirs was a chemical reaction that needed to be transformed every day.
Initially, it seemed the typical attraction, with hormones and endorphins racing. Sean and Phoebe had thought the same thing—an amazing, crazy feeling.
Usually, real-life issues got in the way and caused most people to forget about how and why they fell in love. With Sean and Phoebe, real life and its challenges seemed to fuel an inextinguishable fire. Continuously gaining momentum, this “something” they had, only grew stronger and more intense as the years progressed.
Each time Sean dreamed, his view was clear. It was as if he were in a front row seat at a 3-D movie, except everything was interactive. He was right in the middle of the story line. Many characters in the story knew he was there and made sure his presence was included in each scene.
The interesting man with a feather in his hat not only looked directly at Sean on the dock during that first dream, but had communicated how important it was for him to learn the whole story. Usually, he didn’t say anything at all to Sean. Most of the people Sean saw in his dreams said nothing directly to him. But they didn’t have to. They communicated through their own life chapters. It was an extremely strong sense of clarity, one that inexplicably hovered over Sean. The consistent thread of each indirect message kept coming back to why he needed to know this information and why he would need to take action in the immediate future—with an intense sense of urgency. Again, most of the people did not say anything directly to Sean. It was more of a clairvoyant sense of connection among specific, key collaborators.
Sean’s need to act was so strong it caused him tremendous stress. Unfortunately, the chest pressure he had experienced before was suddenly a regular occurrence. The first time it happened, Sean thought he must be having a heart attack, but it evolved into what he believed were episodes of heartburn.
In actuality, it was neither.
It quickly became the central theme of everyone’s message to Sean—that he needed to act swiftly with all the information given to him. Of course, this feeling led him to a great deal of anxiety. Pressure has a way of playing tricks on you. He had to ask himself what all this meant. Am I going crazy? Should I tell anyone else? If he shared this with anyone, they would judge him crazy. They might even think he was one of those people claiming to be reincarnated as Joan of Arc.