Back to En Zed
I haven’t told Kiwi friends about this brief return to The Mount. My priority is spending time with Pete. My plan: tiptoe into the country unnoticed. Ha.
I’m waiting at the Auckland domestic terminal for the flight to Tauranga when I spot a familiar-looking Kiwi bloke. I can’t place him immediately.
“Dawn?” he says. “What are you doing here? It’s Matt. Michelle’s husband.”
Of course. Michelle’s one of my Jogger friends. I laugh and tell him I’m in for a quick trip to see The Partner.
“I couldn’t stay away,” I say, as we approach the jetway to board the plane.
Buckled into my window seat, I gaze at grayness outside. Propellers on the aircraft’s twin engines chug to life, dispersing a circle of rain water beneath. We’re nearly on our way. Excitement builds in my stomach like a soda bottle about to spurt. I could burst from joy. Bet that’s not allowed at 15,000 feet.
“Air New Zealand would like to welcome you to Tauranga, where the local time is one pm. We hope you enjoy your stay here, or wherever your travels take you,” says the Q-300’s sole flight attendant as we land.
I descend the plane’s stairs into the 60-degree air and take a whiff. Home. I’m nearly shaking as I walk across the tarmac, into the tiny airport toward the single baggage carousel. I see my friend, Michelle, who’s picking up her husband after his 10-day business trip to Japan. We hug and she asks if I need a ride.
“No,” I say. “Pete’s picking me up.”
Ten minutes pass and my image of the joyful airport reunion fades like new denim in a hot water wash. I take a seat and study the poster of singer Katy Perry, clad in a color-blocked, shiny rubber dress. In this ad for a local radio station, her hair is one of her trademark colors: blue. Kinda like how I’m starting to feel. Where is he? Rarely do I get the joyful airport reunion. Not after ten days in China, when Sean and the kids picked me up in Seattle (“They were monsters in the car,” he’d said, as Finley scrambled onto the baggage carousel). Not after a year-and-a-half abroad, when Sean’s sister fetched me from the same airport (“I was only standing a couple hundred feet from where you were,” Steph said, when we finally found each other an hour after the kids and I landed).
I hereby abandon any further notion of the joyful airport reunion. Ever. It ain’t gonna happen.
I’m staring at the floor when I hear his voice: “Oh, honey…”
It’s him. My Petey. He’s wearing tan pants, t-shirt and red hooded sweatshirt with graphic design that looks like something a college student would wear. A 45-year-old college student. I go home with him, anyway. God, he looks better than I remember, with his boyish face, thick light-brown hair and deep-set brown eyes. He even smells like My Petey. He later tells me the scent is called FCUK. I like it regardless of the f-ed up name. Pete apologizes for not being there when my flight landed,
“I thought you’d be 15 minutes later because that’s how long the flight was delayed.”
Listen, sweetheart. You shoulda been waiting 15 minutes before I was due. Or an hour before. Or a day. I don’t say that.
We climb into the black, paint-chipped Honda Odyssey minivan I bought several months before leaving En Zed. Pete has sold his old Audi so he can buy a plane ticket to visit us in the States. He drives either the van or a friend’s motor bike to work. Whatever gets you across the pond. The sky is a mix of sun and clouds as we drive to the house we shared on Marine Parade, across from the ocean. Pete’s new flat mate occupies the home’s bottom half while we get the top level to ourselves the next six days. The view from the second-level deck astonishes. It’s like living on a giant ocean liner, with sun-dappled blue water stretching to infinity. Pete’s landlord normally reserves the top unit for family only. This time, she’s allowing us to use this place – for free.
I set my bags down, look around and meet up with Pete in the hallway.
“What do you think, babe?” he asks.
“I’m so happy to be here,” I say. “I can’t believe it. I’m so happy to see you. It’s so good to be home.”
I nuzzle my head into The Partner’s warm neck and sob. The deluge catches me by surprise. I feel such relief to have returned to these arms. It’s shocking, yet not unexpected. Sweet. And sad. It’s also unfortunate my eye makeup is just a couple hours old, because it’s sliding off my face.
Hours later, we’re nestled like puppies on a bean bag in the living room. I tell Pete how much I want to be here, in New Zealand. To live here and start a new life. With him. Returning to Spokane has shown me that much. As much as I thought I wanted the Big, Fat American Life, I’m not happy without Pete. As much as I’d hoped my friends, familiar systems and surroundings - even my house with its giant clothes dryer - would fill the hole left by The Partner’s absence, it hasn’t worked that way. It’s not the bedroom’s size that counts - it's who occupies the bed (though I’ll never reject a giant master suite). And it doesn’t matter whether I have five, 15 or 50 friends– we live mostly in our own homes with our own families. No flock of friends can recoup the loss of Sean – or Pete.
I’ve been resisting the idea of living in New Zealand even while arranging to do just that. It’s too inconvenient. Too expensive. And too far. Why couldn’t I have found a nice Canadian guy with whom to fall in love? Or even one from –gasp – the Midwestern United States, where I grew up? What the hell is wrong with me?
Nothing, except I’m a traveler. Have been since age 17, when I lived in Luxembourg as an exchange student (note to parents: never allow your children to live in foreign countries – they’ll adopt hare-brained notions they can exist happily elsewhere in the world. You may not be able to reel them back). We are what we repeatedly do. Habit becomes character. It’s in-character for me to embrace another place, just as it’s in-character for someone else to embrace what’s domestic and familiar. Today, anyway.
Pete and I have no schedule, no agenda for the next five and-a-half days. Our first night is spent making dinner (salmon steaks sautéed in a honey-soy sauce), making plans, making love (Did I just write that? Yes, I did). Desire fuses with relief and Whittaker’s Ghana dark chocolate. The combination is delicious and powerful.
Earlier, I’d sobbed once more in the safety of Pete’s arms. “I finally feel like I’m ready to let go of my old life,” I say. “I’m glad, but it makes me sad, too. I’m constantly letting go – over and over again.”
Pete looks at me and says, “I know it’s hard [pronounced ‘Haa’d]. I know you’ll always love Sean. It would be different if he was still here, but since he’s gone, I can live with the idea you have two loves.”
That’s a hell of a lot of empathy from a (former) perennial bachelor. Then again, Pete lost his own father when he was six years old. He has more than a hunch about what my family faces.
I had more than a hunch about Sean when I moved across the country in 1998 to be with him. I quit my TV reporter job. We packed up a Ryder van and spent a week driving cross-country. The stakes are higher now with two small children. We have no guarantees this will work. My lovely therapist, the same one I saw during and after Sean’s illness, said,
“This isn’t something you can work out on an Excel spreadsheet. You just need to go live it.”
Oh, I’m living it. During this not-quite-a-week in New Zealand, sans kids, I’m living a mini-honeymoon. A dream. Pete’s taken off work. I've no one to manage but me. This is still real life. It’s just as real as illness, death, taxes and kid tantrums. If you’ve lived through any or all of the above, you’ve probably learned to embrace peace and beauty. And edible gifts.
|These are a few of my favorite Kiwi things|
Pete has redeemed his host status (after the late airport pick-up) by stocking the fridge with my favorite foods. I emit a joyous squeal as I study its contents: pumpkin & kumara hummus, lemon curd, crumpets, garlic mussels, soy milk, yogurt, pineapple, smoked salmon, blue, brie, Havarti, cheddar and Laughing Cow cheeses, chocolate (the aforementioned Dark Ghana), plus heaps of fresh fruits (feijoas!) and vegetables. It’s like the miracle of the loaves and fishes from a guy who formerly stocked only frozen peas and meat pies in his freezer. I may think with my brain, but I love with my gut.
We boil his & her lobsters Pete found on special at the supermarket. We overcook the crustaceans, which we chase with a $12 Lindauer champagne that’s surprisingly ick. We laugh about our less-than-deluxe dinner. The dark chocolate, though, is reliably tasty.
We watch the sun rise over the Pacific, starting at 6:30 in the morning. It originates as an orange haze on the horizon. The sky brightens before the golden fireball ascends around 7:20. Once the sun peeks over the ocean’s blue ledge, she rides the express elevator. “It’s amazing how quickly it comes up,” says Pete.
I’m grateful – so grateful to witness this moment with The Partner.
I run or walk the Mount each day: twice to the top alone; once around the base with my runner/writer/editor friend, Lee; once to the top with the Joggers. I even convince Pete to hike to the summit following a fortifying brekkie of pancakes and bananas (me) and eggs, bacon, sausage and toast (him). Mornings are cool, but the sun nearly always dazzles during these precious few days.
|On top of the world atop the Mount|
Early one afternoon, Pete suggests a picnic. We drive to Pilot Bay, where he unlocks a small wooden dinghy named Polar Express. “How about a little boat ride?” he asks. It’s 2 o’clock, and my stomach reminds me I’ve run six miles this morning and have done little to refill the tank.
“Can we eat first?” I ask. Pete smiles and says we can bring lunch with us.
He tries to row to a sailboat moored about 100 yards away. It’s choppy though, and winds keep blowing us back to shore. One of the oar anchors slips from the boat over and over. I offer to grab an oar and paddle. Finally, after coming within a foot of the sailboat (named “Menagerie”) and getting blown back, we accept a tow from a man in a motorized dinghy. We climb aboard Menagerie, where Pete finally explains the mystery tour: “Tina’s letting us use her boat. We can spend an afternoon, or the night, if we want.”
We eat lunch in the shadow of the Mount. It’s cool and windy, but this is an adventure and it’s still special. And a surprise. I love surprises of the happy kind.
Mid-bite, we hear a voice, “Hi. I’m Caleb. I’m here to clean the boat.” Really? Now? Pete and I snuggle in the boat’s hull while listening to the sounds of scraping outside. This Love Boat is sunk. It’s getting colder, so we jump aboard the Polar Express, where wind and oars easily land us at the beach.
Later, we enjoy drinks with friends, who say, “Welcome home.” We laugh and dance (me) and run (me again), read and cook some more.
Six (almost) days. Five nights. 51 hours in transit. $1400 worth of airfare. Was it worth it? Absolutely. The mini-moon was just as real as any crisis. And it tasted so much sweeter.