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Monday, March 19, 2012



Noun - Definition: The act of removing oneself from one’s partner. Often painful, even when the separation is temporary and the act is a choice. [editor’s note: not found in any dictionary]
Auckland Airport, just before we left

March 15th, 2012 – the day of my de-PAHT-nah – the day I leave my partner to return to the States. I wake at 4:30 am, even without an alarm. I’m nervous, and want time alone to finish packing, finish clearing out our junk, finish a blog – finish anything. Everything feels undone.

I steal a few minutes to watch the sun rise over the Pacific. It starts out muted orange then bursts into vibrant gold. Such a picture just outside our door!

The rest of the house wakes around 7:00. Pete gives me a hug and a kiss and says,
                “I heard you get up early – before five? I figured I’d leave you some moments to yourself.”

I’ve needed every moment. To re-check the list. To pack snacks. To take several last lingering looks at the beach across the street. To walk again, into the closet-sized bedroom Pete and I share (what it lacks in space it makes up for in ocean view) while he’s getting dressed. The partner is shirtless. Seeing him half-dressed brings a catch to my throat. Those arms. The sunburst tattoo on his upper right arm, which surprised me the first time I saw it (He has a tattoo? I thought he was clean-cut. Oh, hang on – it’s New Zealand – nearly everyone has tattoos). I feel my heart pound against my chest, the way it might if you’re about to descend a steep slope on skis, or if you’re waiting for the dentist’s drill. Nerves. The Adrenaline Fairy has been especially generous this morning. I embrace Pete, feel the warmth of his skin, the muscles of his arms and start to weep. I had no warning of this saltwater ambush.

                “Who’s stupid idea was this, anyways?” I sniff. “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe we’re going.”

Pete reassures me it’ll be alright. The separation won’t be forever. He snaps a couple pictures of me in front of the beach. The morning is cool, clear, bright and windless. It’s as if the atmosphere’s saying, “Don’t go. It’s so pleasant here.” But we’ve already made our plans.  We’ll return to the States to reconnect with family and friends, to live again in the old house, to drive the battery-powered Jeep (Finley!) to try to feel less unfinished.
Last pic at the beach -for awhile

We arrive at the Auckland airport two hours and 20 minutes before our flight’s due to leave. Pete helps us unload three suitcases and three small backpacks before dropping us at the curb. He’ll park the car while we stand in line at the ticket counter. Once I’m face-to-face with the gate agent, I hear a familiar phrase - one I’ve heard ‘round- the-world. A phrase I’m almost certain is required by international law every time I try to board a plane with two small children:
                “You have a problem with these tickets.”

I want to cry. I want to put my head in my hands, stoop my shoulders over the metal ticket counter and baptize it with my tears. I don’t. Not yet. Instead, I ask,

                “What’s wrong? I talked with the Air Pacific office in Auckland and they told me our tickets were all set.”

After months of trying to find an Air Pacific employee who knew something, ANYTHING about my supposedly-expired-and-not-reticketed-tickets, I’d finally gotten a number (through a Kiwi travel agent friend) for the airline’s Auckland office. There, I spoke with Vina, who kindly re-issued our lapsed tickets from Auckland to Honolulu via Fiji for a mere $300. I felt pretty luck – ‘til now.

The agent, Hausheer, tries to look apologetic but instead comes off as authoritarian. He says, in a clipped Indian accent,

                “The children’s family name appears as ‘Picken Stanelun.’ It’s not. Their passports say ‘Stanelun.’ Fiji will not accept you with this. Who issued these tickets?”

The damned travel agent. From a business that’s now defunct. Fiona and Finley both have two middle names, one of which is ‘Picken.’ The travel agent must’ve inputted their information incorrectly. If so, we’ve already flown from South Africa to Australia and Australia to New Zealand with these mixed-up names. Why should Fiji care? All the names are included on the kids’ passports. I want to throttle Nausheer for picking nits. 

Nausheer walks to another counter and confers with a colleague. He picks up a phone.

I text Pete: “We’re in area b 4 international departures, counter 33. Problem w/tix L.

Pete replies, “Oh, no, babe. I’m on my way.”

I’m relieved to know I can commiserate with my partner, if only in the flesh for another hour or so. Fiona and Finley are getting worried, too. Finley says,

                “Are we still gonna go to America?”

I hope so, honey. I think I hope so.

Ten minutes pass, then 15. Nausheer returns and asks me for a credit card. I must pay $110 each to re-issue tickets for Fiona and Finley. There’s nothing to do but breathe and surrender the plastic. My Irish relative, Lily, who travels the world making art, once told me these expensive travel headaches are part of the game. She said, in her Irish brogue, “You curse it when it happens, but eventually, when you’re back home time softens the hiccups along the way. What seemed like a major incident at the time becomes another traveler’s tale.” In that way, travel’s like childbirth: If women remembered how painful, messy and inconvenient having a baby truly was, few of us would gestate and birth bundle number two, or three...

Pete arrives at the counter and helps me reshuffle bags while I wait for the kids’ expensive name changes. “Oh, honey,” I say. “I’ll be truly amazed if we make it to the States.”

Nausheer advises me to re-check with the Air Pacific office in Fiji to ensure we’ll be cleared to travel to Honolulu. With that, he delivers from his printer two sheets of paper that cost $220. I am NEVER including the kids’ two middle names on their airline tickets ever again. It’s my fault for giving them an extra name. We’re not even Mexican, or Indian. What happens if you have three or four middle names? Or, if sometimes your first name is in the middle, and your middle name is first? We’re just plain ‘ole Americans trying to return to the Motherland.
Fiona's sushi decoration mustache

We still have time for a final ceremonial airport food court meal together. Pete buys the kids Happy Meals from Maccas (Kiwi slang for McDonald’s); he gets KFC and I choose sushi. It’s easier to divide and conquer lunch when two adults can watch the kids. This is the last time in a while I’ll have the luxury of an extra set of eyes. Pete commends Finley for his careful placement of stickers on his Maccas’ toy car:

                “It looks heaps different, mate,” says Pete. “Good job.”
Our flight leaves at 2:00 pm and it’s 1:25. Time to run the security gauntlet. The four of us walk the Green Mile from the food court to the international departure gate – the one marked with a sign saying, “Passengers only”

                “There’s nothing else I can say,” I tell Pete, “except I love you.”
                He responds, “I love you too, honey.” 

Pete stretches out his arms as far as they’ll reach and says, “I love you this much times 249.”

Five minutes. Five minutes left to see, feel, hold, taste. My stomach feels distressed, defeated, lovesick –twisting and turning and chastising. “You’re a fool to leave him,” says The Gut. “Look how much this hurts.” My heart pounds a panicky thumpity-thumpity-thumpity, concurring with The Gut. Your body (that is, my body) often gathers intelligence about a situation much more quickly my brain.

I kiss Pete, leaving a smear of pink frosting on the edges of his lips. “Why do chicks always do that?” Pete jokes. Because my lips were dry from kissing and crying and applying lipstick gave me something to do other than cry. I tell Pete he looks good that way. “Like a tranny?” (transvestite) he says. Gallows humor.

Pete picks up Fiona for hugs, then Finley. “Be good for your mum,” he tells Finn. My heart syncopates again – I can’t believe this moment has come. It’s no use trying to stem the tide of tears – the dam’s not high enough or strong enough to hold.

                “You'd better go,” says Pete. He’s reaching for his sunglasses. Is that the start of tears? I’ve never seen Pete cry. He flips the shades down as if a Shrek-sized sunbeam has just drilled his head. 

I turn and lead the kids through the security line. An employee tells Finley he must wear shoes to board the plane. I fish flip-flops from Finn’s backpack. The security queue moves slowly. I’m not crying anymore – I’m blubbering. Fiona and Finley remain chipper, happy to return to their American lives.

                Fiona says, “Mommy, don’t cry!” She reminds me of what I enjoyed about Spokane. “Remember, you get to run with Janelle in the mornings again.”

                Finley’s more concrete, warning, “You’re gonna ruin your makeup!” Thankfully, I’ve skipped eye makeup today, so no raccoon eyes for me.

                Fiona offers, “Aren’t you going to be happy to see your friends again? Please, Mommy, stop crying!”

I blot my eyes and blow my nose with a soggy tissue. Pull it together! You don’t want Customs and Immigration to think you’re suspicious. All you need at this moment is a cavity search.

The Customs agent gives our passports a cursory look, waves at Fiona’s stuffed bunny and sends us through to security. After more than a year without international travel, my airport skills are rusty – I’ve forgotten about our half-full water bottles. Fiona, Finley and I must chug the rest of the water, because there’s nowhere to dump it. Screeners send our backpacks through the scanner twice. By the time we reach our concourse, our flight is in final boarding phase, according to the TV screen.

                “Come on, kids – run!” I yell. I’m thankful for the training Fiona and Finley did at Mt. Primary – running around the school was part of the curriculum. They can handle the 200-yard dash to the gate. We pass the Air Pacific agent, Nausheer, on our way. He points in the direction of Gate 22. We arrive, panting. Fiona says, 

“I need to sit down!” I tell her she’ll have three hours to sit during the ride to Fiji.

After we’re settled in our seats, the crying starts again. Fiona, the little mum, wipes away my tears.

                “It’s okay, Mommy,” she says. “You can come back and see Petey. We’ll stay with our friends for a week.”

It’s okay. It’s okay? It’s gonna be okay.


  1. Well I am crying too after reading this. But dear Dawn you are the one who messed up...don't forget that...the first time you opened yourself to love...you opened to loss and pain. You have so many powerful parallels to childbirth in your writing. And that too...you opened yourself to loving and giving life to those children..and the pain and anquish every day of losing them or the pain they feel at a dentist horror house. You open yourself to adventure and then embrace the people around you..so the remedy is to tie yourself away and never love and never touch or relate in any way ever again...you would be doomed to misery. You are doomed anyway so you might as well grab a tad of joy to go along with it...love, polly