Archive for February, 2008
The flight home from Australia was reasonably good, as these things go, so I was feeling quite calm and competent when I found Hedwig in Long Term Parking. I should have recognized this as a Sign That I Was About To Do Some Impressively Stupid Things.
Hedwig didn’t start when I turned the key, and didn’t start, and didn’t start. I walked down to the cashier and they sent a guy up to give me a jumpstart. I turned the key. She didn’t start. She didn’t start.
“Let me try,” said the guy, and she started the first time.
“You need to push the clutch down,” he said, and I blushed so hard I thought my face would catch fire.
I slammed down the hood without realizing that jump start guy had left the battery cover to one side, over the latch. The latch caught in the hole in the top of the battery cover. You couldn’t open the hood with the battery cover stuck there.
So we drove home like that, with Hedwig looking like she had half-eaten a piece of moulded plastic. It took the mechanics at Jerry’s to break the battery cover in half and throw it away.
The whole time I was thinking about how much Big would laugh at me over this. He did, but he added:
“Next time you get off a fourteen-hour flight you should just treat yourselves to a taxi.”
I thought that was uncommonly kind.
I am really sorry to have missed seeing so many of you. I wanted to feed the chickens, have a dog’s breakfast, venerate Mrs Peel and re-disambiguate Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark and Marky Mark. (We missed Mark by about ten minutes, which was particularly awful.) I didn’t get to play with Korben, Tabitha, Jackson, Aubrie, Tara and the twins, Brigid, Charles, Bridie, Holly, Kira, Sasha, Leo or Oliver.
Stupid, tyrannical distance.
Next time, for sure?
The last few days have seen us eating a lot with old friends and old friends’ children. Moira, Richard and William have moved into a brilliant art deco house in Earlwood and are waiting for baby brother Francis Xavier to arrive any day now. Rachel, Michael and Patrick now have a wonderful open-plan kitchen and twelve-week-old Evelyn. (Claire loves Evelyn’s name because it has “evil” in it.) Anna, Bill, Tahlia and Luke have also extended, and we spent a morning on their shiny new verandah watching the weather roll in. Garfield, Olga, Madeleine and Sebastian bought the place they were renting on the edge of Garigal National Park. Wallabies and echidnas visit their garden.
Visiting every year or so as we do, we get these snapshots of peoples’ lives, flickering like a zoetrope: flats, weddings, babies, houses, second babies, renovations. It’s impossible (for me at least) to avoid wondering what life would have been like if we’d stayed. Would we have migrated up the North Shore or stuck to the Inner West? Would I have started the meds or stayed crazy-unhappy? Would I have kept working or stayed home with the kids or gone back to uni?
Does it matter?
My incipient midlife crisis seems to have broadened and deepened into a Buddhist meditation on death. Water is undermining the foundation of all these houses, of all the red-roofed California bungalows you fly over as your Qantas plane descends into Kingsford Smith Airport. All these cars on the road cough soot into the atmosphere, gently roasting the earth. Streetscapes change, friends while remaining absolutely identifiable as themselves grow ever older, the children I held when they were hours old are going into high school. And when you see forward like this you can see backward too, to when my mother had tiny kids like mine (and was, like Olga, stuck in a far northern suburb without a car), to when Jeremy’s father and his friend Joan were little schoolchildren themselves, in rural New South Wales. In the thirties.
And the only thing that seems to hold, the thread that sews these miraculous ordinary lives together, the serpent eating its own tail, is love. The friends I desperately want to see whenever I am in Australia are the people who were kind to me when I was a wobbly, pompous, witless mess through most of my teens and twenties (picture me sitting on the floor of Thussy’s farmhouse, remembering to breathe.) I’ve had a notably fortunate life but this undeserved compassion is probably its chief blessing.
Tomorrow I turn 37 and this is the first birthday since my 12th where I actually look my age; the baby belly and the crows-feet give me away. On Wednesday we fly back to San Francisco. Life in Sydney will go on, with its flat whites and adjustable rate mortgages, its wacky new prime minister, Tropfest and Tetsuya’s and the film festival, greedy developers and dreaming brick suburbs full of jacarandas and lemon-scented gums. I will pack my feelings back in their box and miss everyone here for another year.
My old categories no longer fit. I fled Sydney because it was a certain way, and San Francisco was another way; those reasons seem partial and suspect to me now, a glib confabulation. You might just as well say that because my mother and Jeremy’s mother migrated to have their children, it made sense to us to do it as well. Or tell the story I told Claire the other night; that a wicked fairy broke my heart in two pieces, and left one piece in Newgrange in Ireland’s County Meath, and the other on Bernal Hill. Narrative, as Joan Didion pointed out, is sentimental. It posits beginnings and endings where none are.
I can’t say anything about Sydney any more, except that it’s a mystery to me, as vast and unknowable as London or Claire, its twisty-turny road map like an MRI cross-section of a brain. (Oh, and that its inhabitants are apparently mole rats, since all our playdates now involve taking toll roads through billion-dollar tunnels.) I seem to have forgiven the city for the chunks I thought it tore out of me. But that relinquished anger leaves another kind of melancholy in its place. There are none more dead than those no longer mourned.
Who knows, maybe if I live another sixty years I’ll get around to forgiving myself.
The Germans have a word (of course they do) for this work of coming to terms with the past: Vergangenheitsbewältigung. It’s a measure of my state of mind that the German is more succinct.
“It’s as if the whole place was stuck in amber for eleven years, under Howard, and now everything is moving again.”
“I think all the lefties are recovering from a decade of clinical depression.”
We went to the farm today. Bellboy, the world’s best pony, Claire’s pony, just turned 35. His mother made it to 37. Claire and Julia both got to ride him. He’s the pony I learned to ride on when I was 13; did I mention that?
As we were leaving I walked into the garden and found him in the sun, grazing on the green, green grass, looking exactly like a unicorn.
I want to burn that sight into my eyes so that I will never forget it.
ETA: Julia as she fell asleep said “I loff Bellboy. I loff horses.”
My heart went nova.
Then: “I loff toast.”
I haven’t written much about when I lost Claire last year, and had to get her from the police station twenty minutes later, because it was the single most painful experience of my life. Worse than migraine or labour or a broken leg, worse than heartbreak or depression. I would have torn myself apart if it would have done any good, turned back time, brought Claire back. Just thinking about it makes me ill.
When the bookstore owner came to say that Claire had been found and was safe, my knees buckled. I fell into a stranger’s arms, weeping. (She was a mum and completely understood.)
Sorry doesn’t begin to cover it. But it’s a start.
We’re on the patio outside our cabin, listening to the rain on the sailcloth above us, and the Pacific Ocean crashing onto the beach.
It’s possible to hear all of this, now that Julia is asleep and no longer screaming like a deranged banshee.
It took me a week to untangle from work, then I lost my glasses. It took me a few hours to figure out how to replace them in rural Queensland (a very fun road trip with my brother Alain, as it turned out) and then, because I was in rural Queensland trying to chillax, whatever the INS calls itself these days raised a question about my green card application.
Since there was exactly nothing I could do about it, I worked hard on being Zen; and the next time I checked my email my friends in the States had sorted everything, which makes me feel very loved.
Even with these transpacific stressors, the holiday is definitely working. I’m sleeping about ten hours a night and taking long naps in the afternoons, and behold, my cough has nearly cleared up. My sister was here for the weekend with her kids, making eleven of us altogether. Kelly and Ross were just delightful with my girls, very patient and playful and charming. It hurt to say goodbye.
Mum and Dad and Alain are still here, all camping on the same site. It’s beyond perfect. Our world is defined by the shops across the road – good cafes and restaurants, a butcher and a baker; the spectacular beach with its shipwreck; the creek that runs down to the beach; the playgrounds and the pool. The feel of everyday life is like Burning Man, oddly enough – walks and fun interspersed with socializing and tea.
I haven’t spent so much happy, unstructured time with my mum and dad and brother and sister since my wedding.
I was already feeling much better in Sydney, after going for a run through the rainforest gully behind Jeremy’s parents’ house, and being teased by my husband AND my brother about my Google hypochondria:
“Oh no! My hand has five fingers on it! What could this mean?”
“It must be… pentadactylism!”
Then we got on a plane (Julia already an old hand, outraged that there was no seat back video) and hired a car and drove through a no-visibility Queensland summer storm to the gloriously named Dicky Beach, where the tail end of a cyclone had whipped up the surf around the wreck of the Dicky.
We split a bottle of Wirra Wirra chardonnay with my mum and dad, and woke this morning to mackerel clouds and generous sunshine. There are five cafes, a pool, two playgrounds and a beach of awesome beauty, all within one minutes’ walk of our cabin.
My mood is much improved.
Last week I took Bebe to her annual checkup and saw a new vet. I tried to explain about, you know, that cute little RENDING LIMB FROM LIMB thing that she does.
“So when does she bite?” asked the vet.
“When she’s not getting enough attention,” I said. “Or when she’s getting too much attention.”
I have a similar relationship with this blog. If I haven’t been updating it’s because I have been too happy, or not happy enough. Unfortunately lately it’s been the latter. Fascinating, if disturbing, to see myself fall into a bunch of familiar patterns from the days when I was a crazy miserable loon. There’s an important difference this time, though. Part of my mind is detached from the process: “Oh look, that was an irrational piece of depressive thinking. Hey, check it out, I’m evaluating everything in absolutes again!”
The timing was kinda lucky, if anything about having a broken brain can be lucky, in that it neatly aligned with one of my favourite strategies for coping with stress: fleeing the country. We had a startlingly pleasant sixteen hour flight with the short people – all hail Qantas, world’s most chillin’ airline – and now we’re all in Sydney, gorging on the in-season stone fruit and revelling in the warmth. Of course, it’s pouring, but that just makes the garden smell more Edenic.
Jack said something very melancholy the other day: that leaving your hometown, becoming an expatriate, is the ultimate admission of core loneliness. But the converse is also true. Coming home reminds me that I have many resources, many communities and many friends.