Unbridled: A Woman’s Memoir of Self-Discovery
Forget Being a Wife- This Woman Wants a Life!
By Kristina Kulyabina
The longing for individual freedom emerges within us at different phases of life. For some, it begins at home, a teenager itching to escape into a thriving college experience, while for others, the desire may not hit until “mid-life.”
For Barbara McNally, author of the memoir Unbridled, the urge for self-discovery lingered throughout her failing marriage of 23 years. As her husband was too caught up in business and politics, McNally felt the distance growing between the two college sweethearts. After her second affair, both she and her husband knew it was time to move on, filing for divorce with heartbreak and yet mutual understanding.
McNally’s route towards redemption initiated with a trip to Ireland, the place of her ancestors and her beloved grandmother. In Ireland, she spends her time horseback riding, meeting new friends, visiting fun pubs, and exploring the lovely countryside. Her self-discovery immerses within religion as she visits Catholic churches and attempts to identify what exactly she believes in.
In Unbridled, McNally writes with vivid detail and effortless honesty that readers feel like they are talking to a best friend over a glass of wine while reading the book. This woman is not afraid to state her opinions and most importantly, make a voice for woman fighting for individual freedom.
Her journey continues after Ireland with an exotic trip to Jamaica where she spends a day at the Windsor Girls home, helping girls who have no families and were involved in physically abusive situations. Her adventurous side kicks in as she dances her nights away and visits beaches during the day – one of which does not require clothing. McNally ultimately achieves unbridled freedom at the end of her memoir after embarking on a sensual, soulful, and introspective journey through her spontaneous travels.
Excerpt from Chapter 3: Arrivals
And where did I think I was going? I had no map, no itinerary. But I was going somewhere. Just as I started to feel like I was getting the hang of my little blue Pepsi can of a car, the skies opened up and the rain came pouring down. No portentous clouds. No crack of thunder. Just a downpour of water. It was if a giant seam in the clouds ripped open and all the water came spilling out. I must have started hyperventilating, because soon the windows fogged up with a heavy layer of moisture, completely obscuring my vision. I had no choice but to pull over.
Maybe it was the finality of my marriage ending once and for all, the strain of knowing that my kids were worried about me, or simply the stress of travel- of so many things going so disastrously wrong. I unleashed a torrent of tears to rival the deluge outside.
What had I been thinking? My voyage of self-discovery was turning into a journey to nowhere. I hadn’t familiarized myself with the towns or the roads. I had already been driving for an hour, but I had no idea where I was going. The signs looked like complete gibberish until I realized they were Gaelic, which was about as useful. I hadn’t thought to pack a raincoat, and even if I had, what good would it have done me in this mess? I cursed the airlines for losing my luggage I cursed the sky for letting loose. But most of all, I curse myself for so poorly planning my first real adventure.
When my tantrum ended and I stopped pounding on the steering wheel, I looked up. Not only had the rain abated, but I saw a sign I hadn’t noticed when I first pulled over. It wasn’t gibberish. In fact, I could read it clearly, and it listed a number of towns and their respective distances. The destination I chose wasn’t the closest or the farthest, but it called out to me in a way I found impossible to resist: Dingle, 70 km.
Dingle. Not Dublin or Donegal. Not Cork nor Kerry. Not even Westport, where my great-grandmother was born. I would start my adventure in Dingle.
The name made me giggle. It sounded like something out of a fairy tale –or a porno movie. The Kingdom of Dingle. The Dingle Giant. The Lucky Leprechaun and His Magic Dingle.
Looking back, it seemed fitting that I started my exploration of Ireland on the Dingle Peninsula. I read that Saint Brendan the Navigator began his journey to North America – nearly one thousand years before Columbus –from Dingle. Brendan was an Irish monk born in 484 in the southwest of Ireland. In 530, he embarked on a journey that lasted seven years. Scholars disagree as to how far Brendan traveled, but archeologists have documented the presence of ancient Irish runes in West Virginia. Could Brendan have made it all the way across the Atlantic in his wee boat?
The Dingle Peninsula
In the late 1970s, British adventurer Tim Severin journeyed from the Dingle Peninsula- the westernmost tip of Ireland- to North America in a handcrafted replica of Brendan’s curragh, a rugged little sailing vessel. Severin successfully reenacted Saint Brendan’s brave sail, but what I found most fascinating was that Saint Brendan was forty-six years old when he set sail across the Atlantic – the same age as I.
The narrow road curled around soft bends, winding between endless carpets of green. It dove, then rose again, revealing randomly scattered sheep and moss-covered rocks. Once I got the hang of driving on the wrong side of the road, I navigated with ease. But as my fear subsided, so did my enthusiasm, and I began to feel tired and hungry. Jet lad started to kick in. The sweep of the windshield wipers across the glass and the stuffy air inside the tiny car made me sleepy. Every so often, I remembered that I still needed to buy clothes and toiletries, and my weary spirits railed into a tizzy. I was tempted to stop for supplies at Tralee but still hadn’t measured the roundabouts.
A roundabout was basically an uncontrolled circular intersection with a central plot of grass and various roads extending like spokes on a wheel. They appeared on the outskirts of towns and villages and gave motorists the option on the motorway or choosing a road toward the desired destination. Once I got the hang of navigating the circle while yielding to merging traffic, it was actually quite simple. But at first, the roundabouts were like demonic carousels- easy to get on but impossible to get off.
When I was a young girl, I recited the Irish blessing, many times. It began, “May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always on your back.” Where was the part about the blessed roundabouts and why hadn’t anyone warned me about these crazy traffic circles? Even the roundabout road signs looked menacing: giant amoebas with strange names wiggling in every direction. When I finally spotted another sign for Dingle, I perked up and pushed on.
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