Thanks + Giving
I didn't mean to leave you and never return. I told you I'd be back. And I will. It's just taking me longer than I'd imagined to shake the wanderlust/settle in a new place/extricate myself from the new place/work my way around the world.
I fantasize about you. I imagine your warmth like summer sunshine glowing against my skin. You comfort me. You give me space and time to be me.
I imagine opening the door and seeing you again, a tinge of excitement on my face. You're not fancy. Some might say you're old-fashioned. Dependable. I can rely on you, day or night. Even your movements comfort me. It's the sameness – around and around, over and over again.
I'm embarrassed I've forgotten your name. Is it Kenmore? Or Maytag? It's one of those, I'm sure. You must be at least 15 years old. I'm unconcerned about your age. It's performance I seek, my beloved. My clothes dryer.
Yes, I've missed my dryer. I never used a clothes line or clothes pins (they're called clothes pegs here) before arriving in New Zealand. You don't need to hang your lacy and battered undies, new and holey socks, fresh and stained t-shirts outside in America (inside in rainy weather) when power's cheap. I'm looking forward to reuniting with what's-his-name. Maybe a vow renewal ceremony's in order after the kids and I return to Spokane.
When? I finally called Air Pacific yesterday to learn whether anyone still had record of the flights we failed to use in July. I called the consolidator (travel agent) in April to re-book, after I decided to extend our stay in New Zealand. The agent changed the dates, but didn't issue new tickets, in case I changed my mind (again). Then, in July, I got an e-mailing stating the travel agency had gone out of business and I'd have to contact the airlines directly. Shit. I mean, crikey. After 10 minutes on hold listening to music encouraging me to "Fly Fiji," an Air Pacific agent said I'd have to call the airline (isn't that what I'm doing?).
"You need to contact Qatar Air," said the agent. "There's no New Zealand number. Try the office in Melbourne, Australia." I punch in the number on Skype's dial pad. After another 10 minutes on hold, a recorded voice instructs me to leave my name and phone number. I do – twice. Snowball's chance in Papamoa Beach anyone from Qatar Air will ever call me.
"Are you Peter or Alice?" asks my financial advisor, John, when we talk earlier this week.
"Huh? What do you mean?" I ask.
"Are you Peter Pan, and you never want to grow up, or Alice, who's wandered down the rabbit hole?" says John.
"Both," I say. He's joking. We laugh, although truth nips the edges of metaphor like a Labrador puppy nips at new leather shoes. Until I decide to settle somewhere, stop siphoning my savings (Sean's life insurance money) and get a job, I'm Peter. And I often feel my Alice-ness: When I ask a Kiwi to repeat him or herself because the accent's in the way, explain a figure of speech (like "pack a sad," which means to become morose or moody), or hang wash on the line like a Pioneer woman on the American prairie in the 1800's.
I tell John I haven't totally been slacking: Now that I'm only three months from re-entry, it's crunch time for the memoir. It's dawned on me how quickly each day vaporizes like Dr. Spock on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Minute by minute, I'm beaming up and away. It's incentive to write. I've logged about 16,000 words, which John later tells me via e-mail is 65 pages. I start the book in Africa, because I can't revisit Sean's illness immediately upon opening my netbook. When I finally stare at the PDF files my friend, Mindy, has sent me, hundreds of pages of Facebook posts from my birthday (September, 2009) until the day after Sean died (January 23, 2010), I'm transported back in time. I want to cry, but I'm sitting at the Mt. Maunganui Public Library, and the scraggly backpacker dude across the table might ask questions. Or not. Doesn't matter. Looking at the reportage I committed on my smart phone, I'm struck by the breadth of information I disclosed - not only about Sean's medical condition, but also about my state of mind. I'm alarmed and deep-in-my-bones grateful. I have evidence it really happened. Two years after the fact, 7,000 miles from Spokane, I sometimes wonder if I didn't invent the whole awful spousal-sickness-hospitalization-sudden-death story. It's too weird to be true.
Except no one invents such horribleness. No one fabricates a fatherless world for their children (or, if they do, they're featured in a Lifetime movie starring Meredith Baxter-Birney that includes not only a title, but lengthy subtitle, too: "Dirty Laundry: The True Story of One Woman's Struggle with a Clothes Line"). A writer friend in Spokane, Judith, warned me what would happen when I lifted the lid from the Pandora's box of a crisis journal.
"Writing makes you relive that time in your life again. Are you ready to do that?"
A year ago, I naively thought the answer was yes. I now know the answer was 'No, but give it time...' This is the time. Reading about illness, tests, torture, struggle and how the kids and I coped in 2009-2010 provides perspective. So that's why we're here... That's why I'm (mostly) unafraid to love. I've lost enough to risk.
I tell myself and anyone who asks that the kids and I are returning to Spokane in March. It'll give most of Spokane's snow time to melt; we're traveling or hosting guests here in New Zealand through January; we have tickets to see the Doobie Brothers in concert in Taupo in early February; then it's Valentine's Day, followed by a running relay around Lake Taupo... And if I can't enroll the kids in school as domestic (non-tuition paying) students when Term One starts in February, they're not attending school at the Mount again just yet - it's too bloody expensive. That means we need to get outta Dodge, because two hooky-playing kids will drive me nuts. Maybe I'll take Fiona and Finley back to Sydney, Melbourne, or even Vietnam to fill a couple weeks and fill my travel urge between the start of school and our return to the States. Maybe I'll get a work visa before then, allowing the kids to attend school for free. And maybe a Kiwi bird will fall from the sky onto my head. Won't happen – Kiwi birds can't fly.
I don't want to leave. I can't afford to stay, tied by love, fear and the platinum weight of inertia. A body at rest Down Under tends to remain Down Under.
Here's why I must go: I left Spokane 15 months ago like it was on fire. I had to fly. Not because the place made me unhappy; rather, the thought of not leaving, of not seeing and living in more of the world, made me as anxious as a chain-smoker on a 12-hour flight . If I didn't get out, soon, another Terrible Thing would happen. And that Terrible Thing would anchor our family like Sean's illness had tethered us to a Major Medical Center. I'm grateful for every day we're de-linked from a hospital. A day without a new diagnosis or fresh health crisis is a very good day.
But I didn't plan to stay this long. Didn't plan to fall in love. I've left bits and pieces large and small in Spokane – a home, a minivan, journals, friendships, conversations, my own expectations we would return after a (relatively) brief time. It feels – unfinished.
Then, there's the Relationship. Pete and I have known each other about eight months. The pragmatic side of me says that's not long enough to abandon most of what and who I know to start a new life. I've met a half-dozen ex-pats, women who've traded their home countries for a relationship and New Zealand, who provide a living cautionary tale. The lesson: don't forsake the familiar without research. I've talked with women who resent the fact they attached to a Kiwi partner. They whinge (whine) about the country, the people and its quirks. They want central heating. Cheap food. American careers and salaries to match. And a clothes dryer that costs less than $400 a month to operate. Underlying these gripes is the main issue: their relationship has broken. They'd like to go back home, but are bound by their Kiwi-hybrid children to stay. My kids are fully American (though they also have European citizenship through me). I have sole authority to decide where we'll live.
After the newness of that shiny foreign country dissipates (give it about six months), you ask yourself, "Would I feel stuck? Would I stay here if my relationship dissolved?" I'm still trying to answer those questions. I love my kids' school, my friends (women I'd proudly call mates anywhere in the world), and the beauty of New Zealand, with its endless variations of green and enormous coastline. I've even learned to enjoy Weet-bix (a sawdust-y breakfast biscuit) and Vegemite (fermented barley yeast that looks like crude oil). Even greater than that, I love Pete. I love how he makes me laugh; his thoughtfulness; the way he's plunging, mid-life, into a second career; how he looks on his way out the door each morning, all shiny and scrubbed and pilot-like. I don't know if that's enough to quit the States, or at least, to live most of each year in NZ. Nothing's permanent. Except death. Or a really crappy diagnosis.
So I prepare to return to Spokane for awhile, maybe three to six months, to absorb the familiar, live in my house, spend time with family and friends. Reconnect with what was mine. Part of returning is about trying to reclaim what's MINE. There's a saying about toddlers that goes something like: If I saw it, it's MINE. If it used to be mine, it's MINE. If I want it, it's MINE. Unlike a toddler, I must consider the fact what once was mine might not fit anymore. I whispered to Pete the other night around midnight, when I thought he was asleep, that he was "mine." Not in toddler parlance, but in the way your soul might speak to its match. You find someone who quickens your pulse one moment and calms your stuttering heart the next. You stake your claim. He's YOURS.
Maybe. A friend recently told me,
"You need to see if you return to the States and miss Pete terribly, or if you get back and realize you haven't thought about him for a couple days. It'll help you decide whether to make a more permanent move, or not."
(to be continued...)