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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanks and Giving - Part Two

Thanks and Giving
Part 2 
[continued from Part 1, which you really should read first before diving into this stream-of-consciousness-piece-of-Vegemite sandwich]

Separation is hard, especially when you're the one sitting alone on the brown leather lounge suite, drinking Pinot Gris while watching Extreme Makeover, followed by David Bowie singing "Fashion" on MTV. I ended the trash TV trilogy four minutes too late, transfixed on a music video so hilariously disturbing, I was compelled to search for it later that night on You Tube (do NOT look for Duck Sauce. There. I've warned you). As I write, Pete's spending his second unscheduled night in the hinterlands of the North Island (a place called Hawera). He was training a student to fly when low clouds moved in. They're grounded until weather improves. I miss him. A lot. The voice in my head says, "See? It's not gonna be easy. This is a tiny taste of the bitter partition potion you're brewing."

The Partner won't follow me to Spokane. Not to live, anyways. We discussed this recently during one of our "spa summits" - two-hour crock pot sessions involving lots of talk, a (plastic) glass of wine or beer, and maybe even some necking.
"It would be very expensive for me to convert my license and fly in the States," Pete tells me as the 103 degree (Fahrenheit/39.5 degrees Celcius) water bubbles and foams. "I'd have to re-test and try to find a job. It's hard to get a green card. And I don't want to be too far from Mum, in case something happens and I need to get back."

I swallow hard and bite my tongue. These are times you WAIT before opening your big yap, because you'll find precisely the wrong words and speak them precisely the wrong way. Say nothing about Oedipus or apron strings. After all, his mum's also a widow who moved her kids to New Zealand (from Scotland) when Pete was about Fiona's age.

What about my hypothetical ailing parents and their hypothetical illnesses? I swig chardonnay and pause. I imagine grabbing my gypsy tamborine, flower print skirt and donation box and running like hell. I'm about to trade one settled life for another, a life close to Pete's family and his comforts on home turf. I had imagined we might find neutral ground on which to live, like the Caribbean, Dubai (because they need pilots in the Middle East and they pay very well) or even Australia. I may have another country or two in me, dammit. It's not that I don't like New Zealand. I love New Zealand. Until you tell me I HAVE TO stay for ten, 20, 30 years... It's the "HAVE TO" part that prods my inner toddler to blows raspberries. I spent nearly half a year rooted in place by Sean's critical illness.
You stay because you must. Then, astounded by CHOICE, imprinted with a clock that reminds you of your own mortality, you're compelled and propelled in directions you hadn't previously considered. You're like a compulsive gambler who must place a bet -you don't know why, but you MUST risk the money. NOW. If you don't gamble, you can't win. I reckon my odds for growing and learning through travel are a thousand times better than a gambler's odds of securing a fortune at the craps table or the race track.

What if I'm not done exploring? What about my fantasy year in Paris? I watch as a gust of wind snags imaginary plane tickets from my pruney hands and swirls them into a vortex. The twister whirs over the Pacific, spitting my precious papers into the Bay of Plenty. Silly American. You came to New Zealand. You met a Kiwi who may have already punched his ex-pat card as much as he cares to in this life time. Pete's already lived four or five years in the U.K., plus another year in Australia. His home country is beautiful, friendly and interest-free. His $100,000 student loan accrues no interest until Pete leaves New Zealand. There's little incentive to demolish debt in a hurry, and 100-thousand reasons to roost.

"It's like an extra tax," Pete tells me over dinner at romantic, pricey Mount Bistro, where, emboldened by a single glass of shiraz on a vacant stomach, I decide to talk money. My timing sucks. Between bites of mojito glazed fresh salmon, I ask my partner about his plan for clearing the loan.
"Ten percent comes out of every pay check. I don't even have to think about it," says Pete.

I do. I think about debt and finances because it's the stuff that crushes relationships like the All Blacks crushed the Wallabies in the Rubgy World Cup semifinal. I tell Pete I don't need fancy stuff; I do need to know we can fix a washing machine or even retire together one day without playing what I call the "shell game," which involves waiting to pay bills or making monthly payments on things like car insurance (which costs about $100/year in NZ). I believe everyone, no matter if you make $13 or $30 an hour, should have an emergency fund of at least $1,000. I ate a lot of instant noodles my first year as a TV reporter, earning $17,500 a year (I was fresh out of college and TV is one of those saturated professions highly-educated people sell themselves cheaply to enter) so I could amass a sparrow-sized nest egg and fly to Europe for a friends' wedding. It's not the numbers that matter, it's the philosophy: What if you're a saver and he's a spender? What if you're a planner and he's Mr. Live for Today? (I wrinkle my nose as I write this, because I'm the one living a contradiction – spending down my savings to travel and live in a new place. However, it's part of the plan that involves returning to work and saving – next year).

Money doesn't buy happiness, true. It does buy options. John, my financial advisor said,

"The bigger buffer you have, the more freedom you have from worry, and the more choices you have in your life....the debt is not the question – a pattern is. What's the inspiration for having a successful financial future? Most people who haven't had money in awhile who start earning spend on things. It's a social mechanism to show you care. When you're married, you don't do as much of that stuff. You have a picnic dinner instead of going to a fancy restaurant. You do it for quality time – then you have extra money to do other things."

I get it. It's like a new doctor, who, after finishing medical school, buys the BMW and new house, despite a mountain of student debt. The trappings are rewards for hard work. But if you overextend yourself, the reward becomes yet another albatross around your neck. We've all done it, me included. Guilty as overcharged.

It's easy to splurge when your time with someone may be limited. On this, Pete and I agree. And he's mostly frugal (he says it's the Scottish in him) – buying used cars, used computers and sharing a house with four other people (before we moved in together). He tells me he has no credit card debt. That part is reassuring.

Why analyze? I'm just here to ENJOY MYSELF. But liking turned into loving turned into Can't-imagine-life-without-him. So I sit again with the jigsaw puzzle to see if the pieces fit. Then, the picture changes. I start over.

I call Qatar Air for the third time. This time, I try my luck with a US call center. After 15 minutes on hold, listening to, "Thank you for your patience while we assist other customers," a man with a Middle Eastern accent comes on the line.

"I changed my air tickets and want to find out if our flights are confirmed," I say. I provide a reference number and wait, tapping my foot, twirling my hair, getting nervous about whether or not the kids and I have a ride back to Spokane. The agent, who identifies himself as "Henry" says,
"Yes. We have you departing March 15th to Nadi [Fiji] and March 18th to Honolulu, then Seattle."
It's not the itinerary I'd requested, but according to the e-mail Henry sent, we're flying a Boeing 747 (seats 28 E, F and G) to Fiji, leaving Auckland at 4:00 pm March 15th. The electronic ticket says, "CONFIRMED" to Nadi, "CONFIRMED" to Honolulu and "CONFIRMED" to Seattle. This is weird, because an agent from the (now defunct) travel agency from which we bought discounted flights said we still needed ticketed and would face change fees of around $1,500. According to Qatar Airways' e-mail, there's no change fee. And we're set to fly in 107 days.

107 days. Deep breath. I don't want to leave Pete. The idea of extended separation makes my head fuzzy; makes my stomach churn. I'll miss his jokes; the way he lets Fiona and Finley crawl all over him; the way he seems to read my mind because we think alike (although this can get a bit scary); his handiness with all things mechanical, wooden, electrical (Our household dynamic: I break. He fixes.)... his kiss, his touch... and all the stuff I won't write in this blog ("You know, you don't have to put everything in the blog," says John. I know, and I don't. Some thoughts are reserved for the Partner, girlfriends or myself).

Just as I had to leave Spokane last August, I must return in March to make decisions from home. It's like buying a car: I feel uncomfortable and pressured at a car lot. I'm more at ease buying from home, online or over the phone (which is how Pete bought my used Honda Odyssey minivan in New Zealand – at auction, online). Pete has not pressured me to stay. The idea the kids and I will actually leave this lovely nest still seems farfetched. My Partner knows I need time to process this decision.

At the least, I'm hoping he'll visit us in Spokane, not only to see us but to meet people I love; to understand more about the States than you can glean from media (Pete's only previous visit to the States was a 24-hour layover in California). My Partner will never really know me unless he can experience where I'm from – that means hearing my friends' laughter, feeling their embrace, sharing stories and meals; meeting my family and recognizing, 'So this is where she gets it...''; traveling wide, straight highways; buying gas for half the price and power for one-third the cost of New Zealand rates; sleeping in a well-insulated, heated home with giant refrigerator and ordinary, well-used clothes dryer; maybe even stepping inside my church, a Gothic Episcopal Cathedral that's home to bible literalists, (mostly) moderates, skeptics and even an agnostic or two. I want Pete to see what I'd be giving up, if I decide to make New Zealand a for-now-who-knows-how-long (because I don't believe in permanent) home.

Fiona and Finley say they're ready to return to the States, partly because it's a way to whine, and partly because they can't imagine missing their Kiwi friends. They live for this moment's skateboard ride, today's play date, this morning's tea (snack). Fiona and her class mates Bree and Ashley are the Three Musketeers: holding hands in the school corridors, plaiting (braiding) each other's hair and passing notes in class. When I tell Fi she may be sad to leave them, she says,
"But I miss my old friend, Rachael."

Finley says he misses his American friend, Ryan. And his ride-on Jeep. Yet, he's found a fine six-year-old boy niche here: throwing or kicking a ball with his peers nearly every free moment outside class; playing touch rugby and t-ball and swimming every other day in the outdoor pool at the complex where we live. Finn is a Kiwi kid with a (fading) American accent: he rarely wears shoes (the soles of his feet are tattooed black); begs for Weet-bix at the store so he can collect All Blacks rugby cards ("Hey, I got Kevin Mealamu!") and knows all the words to New Zealand's national anthem in English and Maori. Both kids insist they're all-American. Fiona once told me in the car, "I don't want to sing 'Kiwi Kids' because I'm not Kiwi." I wonder, because soon after re-pledging their American-ness, Fiona and Finley ask me where to find their jandals (flip-flops) and whether they can take part in the Kapa Haka (Maori dance) demonstration. They "give it heaps" at flippa ball (a version of water polo) and argue over the words to "Tauranga Moana" ("It's manga te nui!" - "No, it's manga te manga!") Try to find a Yankee kid who can decipher that last paragraph.

None of us know how it'll feel to give up New Zealand. Not even me.

At least I have a plan: My tenants are moving out of my Spokane home in a couple days. Several weeks ago, I got an e-mail from my friend, Jennifer, the one who's collecting my mail and saving me from financial ruin: She asked whether I'd consider sharing the house with her and her two kids, ages 11 and 13. I'd thought of this very arrangement shortly after moving in with Amy in NZ: What if I could find another single mom with whom to share my house in Spokane? It would buy me time to decide where to live. It would allow me to keep the place I've been longing to return to. I fantasized about coming home and 'poof!' all my furniture would already await me.

It's happening, because Jennifer's renting her home furnished. She's moving my stuff from storage. We laugh at how the universe is gently prodding us down this path.

"Why would you leave New Zealand?" another friend recently asked, via Facebook.

To pine for Pete (or rather, discover whether I will). To feel at home again in Spokane. To be forced to do the work required to bring the kids and I back to New Zealand and back to Pete. That's how I'll know we're meant to stay. It demands a force greater than habit or even romance.
I can still apply for NZ residency next September, one year to the day Pete and I started living together, provided we can show we've been in touch while apart. Skype records, phone records, letters... My stomach flips again. It feels Pete's absence before my head can register the loss.

The way is paved for our return to the States, if I can muster the courage to step on the plane.
The door is open for our return to New Zealand.


  1. Sweetie, I did the year in Paris (in fact I did 7 years) and it isn't always idyllic. There's a lot of dog poo on the sidewalk. Celine was Fin's age when we lived in the States. Another kid who can recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the NZ national anthem in Maori. Remember what we said about creating memories? Those are wonderful rich diverse memories, Dawn. We don't want you to go, we think you belong here, but I understand about the 'must stay' concept too, because after 12 years away from New Zealand, I needed to come home...kisses. Lee

  2. Lee,
    You're right about Paris- easy to idealize when you don't live there. I remember the dog poo, the pay toilets that didn't work and the high price of just about everything. Okay, I'm chopping the fantasy to just 6 months :) I love the perspective you bring to this discussion. Wisdom from someone who's been on the other side.

  3. "Love, Fear, and the platinum weight of inertia." Good stuff, friend.That's a lot to think about. And it will make a hell of a memoir. Thanks for your relentless. thoughtful sharing, as always.