The Price You Pay For Dreaming

Once upon a time, on the night of April 16th 2012 to be exact, I read an essay online that broke my heart. Isn’t it funny how, at the time, you don’t realise it’s your heart that’s breaking? You don’t hear the sound of snap like with a bone. This night I didn’t hear anything at all.

My husband was out at a meeting, and, because it was late, the kids were all asleep in bed. It was nine pm. I’m an early riser, and I tend to go to bed around then or just after, and read till I fall asleep. This night I didn’t though. This night I read the essay and shut the computer off quickly, but I couldn’t go to bed. I couldn’t say anything, and I was grateful that there was nobody there to not say anything to, because silence is awkward when you can’t, or don’t want to, explain it.

It took half an hour for me to realise something had broken. I washed the dishes and tidied up the lounge room and wandered back into the study to turn the computer on again and reread it and then thought better of it and brought the cat in and checked the sleeping children and eventually, because there was nothing else left to do, went into my bedroom and shut the door.

It must have been the click of the door jamb that did it, or maybe the so-familiar mess of discarded clothes and things to be dealt with. My unmade bed looked sad and empty, and suddenly I realised it was exactly like me. Words of an old song ran through my brain, and I looked away; turned my face into the coats hanging on the back of the door, and, just as suddenly as my heart had broken half an hour before, the sobs burst out of me.

I cried for half an hour, no less. Every time my tears subsided that song rang in my brain again like a punch to the gut. I hadn’t heard that song in years, and I hated it right then with a passion that I couldn’t contain, and everything it represented. It was an old Laura Branigan song, and that one line “I don’t wanna know the price I’m gonna pay for dreaming/Now that your dreams have come true” pummeled me again and again.

Dreams are hard to bear.

The essay was beautiful. It was written by the very talented Vila Gingerich, and spoke eloquently of her childhood passion to travel the world, and how she’d buried that dream only to one day be able to live it. It spoke to me in the deepest places of my own childhood passion, to see North, and how my own plans for an overseas trip six months earlier had been thwarted by circumstances beyond my control.

I still feel it in my body, that night of the heartbreak. I carry it with me, and maybe I always will, like a ridged scar where a wound has healed. I didn’t know then that, only seven months later, I’d be stepping off an aeroplane onto American soil for the very first time and getting my very first stamp in my virgin passport. You never know what’s going to happen in the future. This is the hard place. All you can do is bear the heartbreak of the present, and keep moving forward.

I didn’t know, either, when I sobbed my heart out back in Australia after I returned home with a heart full-to-bursting with love for the good old US of A, that I’d be going back again so soon; that I’d be packing up my entire family and planning a mammoth two-month hike over most of the North American continent. You never know what the future will hold. That can be a hard thing.

I’ve tried not to talk about the upcoming trip that much, mainly because I’m so painfully aware that, while this is my dream come true, so many of my friends and people I love dearly are still waiting for their dreams. It’s a hard place. There’s a price you pay for dreaming.

I’m not writing this to say “Hey folks, it’s okay! It all works out in the end, and you’ll get your dream!” I can’t say that. I’m writing it to say exactly what that song said to me: dreaming hurts. Waiting hurts. Not knowing the future hurts. Watching other people walk out into your dream hurts too.

This is why I’ll cry, yet again, when I’m on that aeroplane. This is why I’l never, ever, take my dreams for granted.

I know it hurts. But keep believing.

Flotsam and jetsam

I spent the day yesterday sorting through the last (okay, nearly the last) of the flotsam and jetsam washed up in canvas shopping bags into a corner of our lounge room by the tide of our renovations. I chucked a lot of stuff, and that was good. I found homes for a lot of stuff, and that was good too. There’s more to do (and a garage-sale-to-be-had waiting for me in the garage), and I’m very tired, but it’s good.

But I miss my dad.

Our new carpet is fantastic. It warms the house like never before, it’s made me clean out piles of stuff that I’d otherwise leave in place for…for…a lot longer. It’s made me re-look at everything we have and simplify simplify simplify. Our new kitchen windows I love, and have helped me look at our shabby little place with a whole new potential. Our new kitchen comes in four weeks. Once that’s done I need to go to the travel agents and finalise our trip to the US. I’m amazed, truly amazed at the weirdness this year is bringing.

But I miss my dad.

Dad and I didn’t always get along. Most people didn’t get along with Dad that well all the time. Dad was a dreamer, a visionary; he knew what he wanted and he set about making it happen, in his own way. I understand that. I’m a dreamer too, and a visionary. I guess this is the reason I fell in love with a run-down house, because I once saw how beautiful it could become. And now it is.

But I miss my dad.

The thing is though, the important thing, we wouldn’t be doing any of this stuff if he were still alive. We inherited money from him. We are truly blessed in that regard. Dad’s death is making some dreams come true for us.

But every time the phone rings on a Sunday I think it’s him still. He always rang on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes I didn’t bother ringing back if I missed his call, because he prattled on so much about his dreams and visions, things I knew full well would never happen. It’s not like we got along fabulously all my adult life.

But he doesn’t call any more. Not even on a Sunday. His ashes, all that’s left of his mortal body, are in a big plastic box in a paper shopping bag that the funeral home gave me. It’s incredibly, surprisingly heavy. They sit (ironically) in the fireplace in my bedroom, along with the last of the canvas shopping bags of flotsam and jetsam of the new carpet’s tide. I’m not ready to get rid of them just yet, to scatter them or to inter them anywhere. Nothing feels right, not really.

You know what I would do, if this were a story and not real life, if none of it mattered? I’d open that box and l’d take a little bit of those ashes out each time, and I’d scatter them with each new development we’re doing with Dad’s money, as a thank you. I’d lay some under the carpet. I’d put some on the top and vacuum it up with our new vacuum cleaner. I’d sprinkle some on the kitchen floor before the new cupboards go down. I’d bury some in the new patch of land we’re buying next door to ours. And then I’d take the rest overseas with me, not enough to make any government make a fuss, and I’d drop small pieces of ash wherever we go: a little in a cigarette-disposal-ash-tray thingy outside an airport; a little on a lake, a little in a park. A little near a tree, a little near some water. A little in a garbage can in Edmonton, which is the northern-most city in Canada. He never went to the US or Canada. He always expected me to go though. I think he’d like that. And a little leftover for me, to add to the clutter and junk that I’m trying to rid my live of.  Just a little to keep, to remember.

It’s a bit late to lift the carpet now, but the rest…I still miss my dad. But this, this…

If you see me in the US or Canada, lurking strangely near a garbage can, or checking as I open a ziplock bag near a rose bush, don’t be alarmed. Stop and say hi. And be aware if I cry more than I ought to about throwing out some old lunch scraps, it may be because I miss my dad.

Have you ever had to deal with a loved one’s ashes? What did you do? Have you ever considered taking them overseas? Is that just a little too weird do you think? How do YOU remember, or say thank you, to someone who’s no longer here?

Dear Theresa: I am not a pessimist…I think.

Hello Theresa!

I do hope you don’t mind me addressing my blog to you today. I’ve been thinking of you a lot lately, and, well, like sometimes in public speaking when it helps to pick out one member of the audience and address your talk to them, the same can be true for blogging.

Is it sunny in good old Southern California today? D’uh. Sorry. Of course it is! It’s cold in Tassie–light the fire and put on a thick dressing gown type cold. No, I bet you don’t miss that one bit! It feels like only a few short months ago (d’uh! It WAS only a few months ago) that I was getting up to 5am daylight and sitting here in shorts and a t-shirt, in complete denial that the weather could ever be anything different. Well, it’s definitely different. I’ve lived here all my life, I can’t believe that cold weather takes me by surprise every single year. Denial, I guess.

The mountain. Taken from our front porch. Yes, that's snow already.

The mountain. Taken from our front porch. Yes, that’s snow already.

I. Cannot. Wait. To. See. You. Again!!! We sat around together on Saturday and did some research into accommodation and transport and all those other practical things you need to know about when you drag a family of five across to the other side of the world. It was fun, but I was tired, and had had a lot going on. And about half-way through the conversation I realised something weird about myself: I didn’t want to go.

Now don’t get me wrong, yes, we ARE coming. Yes, we ARE hauling the family over to the other side of the planet to explore yet another handful of new cities and, yes, actually drive a crazy-big RV on the wrong side of the road while our kids sit in the back and play Lego or argue. Yes, I AM a wild adventurer who’s been desperate to travel and see the world for as long as she can remember. Yes. That’s still me.

But…

Here’s something that occurred to me a while back. I’m pretty sure that inside every optimist is a hidden pessimist. That inside every calm and relaxed person is a hidden drama queen. That inside every shy person is a tiger ready to fight its way to the surface. 

Most of the time we ourselves don’t know it’s in there. I’m pretty sure of that. But have you ever had a friend who, under great stress, does something wildly out of character? I’m noticing it a fair bit. I’m pretty sure it’s true for us all. I think we all have, like, an “outer personality”, the who-we-are, but that the other, opposite side, is also present, and manifests itself when we’re under pressure. Now I’m no psychologist, but I am a student of human nature. I think this is why I was always such a poor finisher of things – a true 90-percenter. Passionate about starting anything new, but scared to fail, so I wouldn’t complete. I noticed it with my last US trip: I was so gun-ho to go, but as it got closer the fears nearly threatened to overwhelm me. And now it’s the same again.

I. Love. Travel.

It’s true. I’m a travel nut, and I’ve been missing you, and my other friends there, and the US itself, ever since I got back. I can’t wait to come again, that much is true…I’ve just got to get over my fear that my kids will be kidnapped by satanists on Superbowl weekend (granted, I don’t know when Superbowl weekend is), or stolen in a shopping mall because I turned my back on them to check out the price of toothpaste for a minute.

What IS the Superbowl, any how? Is it football? It can’t be baseball surely, because they have the World Series. Ah, who knows.

Your kids live there. They’re such gorgeous, happy things, too. Do you ever get afraid they’ll be kidnapped by satanists?

I like my optimist side much better.

Hello Theresa!

Hello Theresa!

Well, that’s all for now. It’s the first day back at school for my guys today, so I better go make lunches. Sigh.

It’s been nice talking to you like this. I’ll see you soon. I WILL! Just a soon as I get my pessimistic nature firmly back in its box, where it belongs.

 

The stranger at the airport

Want to hear a story?

Over the weekend I rearranged my bedroom. I moved my big old wardrobe from one side of the room to the other, and in order to do that I needed to take everything out. Everything. There’s not many times I do that. Do you have drawers where you put special, random stuff underneath your jeans and jumpers? I think all of my drawers have certain amounts of special weirdness in them, and mostly I know what it is and where it is, but this day I uncovered something I’d been wondering about, something that had been missing for a few years. This is it. Let me tell you its story.

My amethyst crystal

My amethyst crystal

It was September 1993. I’d just turned twenty, and was leaving Tasmania to fly to Perth, Western Australia, to see my dad for the first time in about five years. I had an hour-long flight from Hobart to Melbourne, then a two hour delay before I could board my flight to Perth. I didn’t mind so much. I loved airports, and Melbourne’s is a big one. I took the opportunity to wander through all the shops, and to check out the International departures lounge, dreaming that one day I too would fly out from there to somewhere exotic*

I bought some lunch at one of the cafes there, looked through the book shops and the way-out-of-my-league jewellery shop. I perused handbags and scarves and tiny, fire-coloured opals set in rings and watches. I had a lot of fun looking through the tourist shop, trying to imagine what overseas travellers thought about Australia, and wondered where in the world these “Kangaroo Crossing” signs and outback calendars would grace the backs of toilet doors, and whether people in other countries really did believe koalas were everywhere** and kangaroos hopped down the main street***. I bought a couple of postcards, just to fill in the time, and sat down on a padded bench outside the tourist shop and started writing them, pulling out the massive study bible I carried in my backpack to rest them on.

I’m not great at knowing what to say in letters and postcards, and there wasn’t much news so far. I read a bit of the bible while I waited for inspiration to hit me, and sat quietly and watched the people walk by. There were a lot of Asian people, which I wasn’t used to seeing, and old round men wearing the brightly coloured jumpers I’d seen in the shops just near me. People in smart suits, and people who looked haggard and travel-weary even by the early afternoon. A dude in a Raiders jacket with his hair curly at the back. He reminded me of Tony, because Tony was growing his hair long at that stage, and, because it was orange and curly, gave him the appearance of having a basketball for a head. To deal with this (this was 1993, a time when afros were very much not cool) he wore a Raiders cap constantly. To this day I have no idea who the Raiders are, where they are from or even what sport they play, but I’m as familiar with their logo as if they were my own hometown team.

I wrote some more, and read some more, and people-watched some more too. I tried hard not to be nervous, and so I prayed. I hadn’t seen my dad in years. We’d never been close, and the years before he left had been so fraught with tension and violence that I was glad to see him go. I didn’t know what to expect from him, or from this trip to Perth, where I knew nobody but him. I was confident enough to know I could look after myself in a strange city if everything went sour, and excited to visit a part of the country I’d never seen, but nervous enough to cling to that bible and search through it for promises of hope, for reminders that God was with me, that I wasn’t doing this on my own.

That’s what I was doing when it happened. I was reading the psalms, although I forget which one, when a hand appeared on my bible. A man’s hand, not in a vision or anything spiritual like that, just entering my field of vision while I was reading. And on my bible the hand left that beautiful amethyst crystal. I looked up. It was the dude in the Raider’s jacket. I held his gaze for a few seconds before he turned and walked away with his friend. I picked up the crystal. It was still warm from his hand, and as I held it I felt a shy peace creeping over me. This was my promise. Things would be all right.

And they were.

I still have that crystal. I’ve searched Melbourne airport a few times since that day, and have never found a shop that sells things like that. I don’t know why he was holding it, where he got it, why he decided to put it on my lap like that that day, or who he is. I love the idea that one day all mysteries will be revealed though. One day, maybe in Heaven, I’ll meet the man in the Raiders jacket, and I’ll smile, and I’ll say, finally, “thank you”.

How about you? Have you ever had an unexpected encounter with a stranger? Did it change you?

And another thing, this is the internet. You just never know who reads these things. Do you know a guy with curly brown hair, maybe in his 20s, who wore a Raiders jacket and was passing through Melbourne airport in September 1993? If you do, tell him I said hi, and thank you!

*And lo and behold, nineteen years later, I did! To Los Angeles, which was uncannily like Melbourne, and to the wildly foreign and terribly exotic city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Madonna, Eminem, and Susie Finkbeiner are all from Michigan. It’s cool.

**They are not. In fact, koalas don’t live in Tasmania at all, so although many people on the mainland have seen them in the wild, I have not.

***They don’t. Not really. Well, not in the major cities, anyway. Weeeeellll…not unless you count Glenorchy as a major city (which nobody does, and this fella is a wallaby, not a kangaroo anyhow). Because summer was so dry, and because the bushfires were so severe, a lot of animals made their way to the suburbs for food.

Wallaby

Yes, this guy DID hop round the city…or at least, the suburbs.

The Bridge Over Troubled Waters.

It’s nearly Easter. Or, if you’re part of the more traditional church, it IS Easter – Maundy Thursday, although I forget what Maundy means and I forget why it’s significant these days But I don’t want to blog about that, anyway. I should blog about Easter, but I’ll get to that later. Today it still feels like days…decades even…away.

Because Today I am going on an areoplane (Megan claps hands with joy like an excited toddler)! I LOVE travel. I LOVE airports, and I LOVE adventures. This particular aeroplane isn’t taking me particularly far, just to Melbourne. Well, not JUST to Melbourne, it’s taking me to see Alison, my very favourite sister-in-law (yes of course I’m allowed to say that), Simmone, my long-lost primary school buddy, and…wait for it…Paul Simon.

YES, I said PAUL SIMON. As in Simon and Garfunkel. As in Graceland. Bridge over Troubled Waters. THAT Paul Simon.

I’ve never been to a concert in Melbourne before. It seems to be some kind of rite of passage for Tasmanians. The first step is seeing your first concerts locally, getting all dolled up when big name visiting acts come, and then, when you’re slightly older and slightly wealthier, when the big name artists come to the mainland you fly over and see them there.  Not me though. I missed U2. Didn’t bother with Duran Duran. Didn’t think Pink. It’s not necessarily that the desire wasn’t there, but the cost of the airfare on top of concert tickets was prohibitive. Bass Strait, the stretch of water that separates Tasmania from the Australian Mainland, is expensive. Bass Strait is my troubled waters.

Bass Strait

Paddling in Bass Strait

Some people don’t feel that. Some people travel it all the time for work, for pleasure, for any number of reasons and they don’t think twice about it. I used to be a little bit like that – over for work twice a year or so – I always thought about it though. I always, however much I kept it hidden, felt the joy of freedom, of escape from island living, the awe and wonder and sense of incredible privilege that I was one who could go. Even though I had to come back, even though it was only for a few days at most, I was one who could go.

The feeling is always there, buried deep in the back of my skull. The One Who Can Go. The One Who Can’t. Everything about me defined by those troubled waters.

While this is far from my first time off the island, it’s my first time off the island for anything like this. It feels good. It feels fitting that it should happen on an Easter weekend. I first encountered God on an Easter weekend, many many years ago. And it was every Easter weekend, for many many years that I went away, and remembered that thing that God did for me, that whole death of Jesus on the cross, rescuing me from my island living, being my bridge over troubled waters.

And so, today in the frantic busyness of packing precious little in a bag for an aeroplane and the joy and wonder of family and friends and last-minute chocolate buying and making sure I’m there on time, today I will stop, and say Thank You. And remember.

Stay

For anyone who doesn’t know, we’re doing the insane and slightly radical thing of packing up our family of five and chooffing round the US and Canada for eight weeks or so later on in the year. Needless to say, we’re very excited.

Just to recap, I’ve been dreaming of travelling like this for as long as I’ve known it was possible, that people do such things – since I was about five years old. I’m now quite a lot more than five years old. It’s been a long wait. My first ever overseas trip was November, where I discovered that Americans are, in fact, wonderful, and I didn’t get shot. Not even in Sacramento. Not even walking by myself in a forest in Sacramento. Nor did I see any dead bodies in said forest in Sacramento, which is terribly unusual for anyone who watches The Mentalist as much as I do.

I’ve also now (I’m sorry. True confession time) fallen hopelessly and completely in love with anyone with an American accent. Or a Canadian accent – and (oh aren’t I a clever clogs!) I’m learning to tell the difference.

So that’s the backstory. Most of you knew that…except the bit about me being hopelessly in love with anyone who talks to me in an American accent. By the way, TV doesn’t count. Not even if it’s Kevin Bacon. Not after Sleepers…

ANYWAY…

(This is, of course, why I haven’t blogged for a while. My brain is spitting out random sentences without any kind of art or design. AND I’m drinking tea, and it’s not helping.)

But here we go. Here’s the point of all the backstory (and the tea). My husband said to me the other day something along the lines of “we could have done this years ago, before we had children, but we didn’t know that we could“.

It made me ache with sadness.

I ached because for so many years I held that dream in my heart, the yearning to go, the desperate longing to see a world that was not mine and meet a people that were not like me, and everything in me rebelled against staying. I hated being here. I hated staying.

And then one day there was a day, a voice, a notion, a thought, a feeling. A sense. A word from God, and it was this: Bloom Where You’re Planted. Stay. Grow. Relax. Give it up.

I cried.

I said yes, because there’s nothing else to say really, but I gave the condition of only-if-I-can-go-to-the-mainland-at-least-once-a-year. I live on an island. Sometimes it feels like a prison colony still.

And that was that. I went to Melbourne pretty regularly, usually once or twice a year. Usually for work. I didn’t care why, or what I did there. I just wanted to go, and I did. And then I had kids, and the trips off the island got harder and more sporadic, and the need to go lessened, and then eventually I forgot the need at all, the need to see the world that was bigger than me.

I still don’t like to look at the ache.

We talked about it last night, my husband and I, about what he’d said and about what I felt, and we came to the conclusion that although physically it was true – we could have travelled years ago – mentally and psychologically it’s completely untrue. The walls that held us in were invisible but very, very real.

It was, in hindsight, good to learn how to be able to stay, to bloom, to grow, and to be happy.

Staying so long made walking out so much sweeter. The anticipation mixed with the ache and spiced with memories is, in fact, a delicious cocktail. I can’t say yet that I don’t regret not having gone earlier, but I’m sure one day in years to come I will.

But I never, ever thought I’d love Americans this much.

How about you? Have you ever had to give up a dream, only to have it given back to you? Do you understand the ache? Do you ever wonder if, with all the pain it causes, dreaming is still worth it?

The man from Michigan

On the 28th of November 2012 I sat in Melbourne airport, forlorn and exhausted, homesick already for a country I’d only just left and had only known for two short weeks, saddened by smallness and saddened by familiar, and clutching an overstuffed pink backpack carrying everything I couldn’t leave behind and a handful of Michigan souvenirs I’d bought at the airport there some thirty hours before. I wanted to see my family, but I didn’t want to go home. More than that though, I didn’t want to be in Melbourne airport.

I was quite, quite sure that the gate I was waiting at was the one flying to Hobart, although the screens that displayed the information said something quite different. I waited, tried to catch a glimpse of somebody else’s boarding pass without seeming too suspicious. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I didn’t want to make small conversations with people whose journeys felt ordinary, who had been to Melbourne for the weekend to catch a show, to go to a wedding, to go to a work conference. I didn’t want to talk to Australians at all. I only wanted to talk to Americans, to people who Understood.

I didn’t know it’d be like that.

Because I was tired, and because I was heartsick and soon-to-be time poor I hauled my sorry self and my pink backpack over to the vending machine in the corner and bought myself a block of Cadbury’s chocolate, sad even that it was yummy, real Australian Cadbury’s, not the waxy strange American version (they put wax in chocolate. No joke. And when I looked at them strangely and asked why, they looked at ME strangely and said “you DON’T have wax in chocolate?” Real wax wax. Paraffin wax. No joke).

Because the departure lounge was crowded, and because my old seat was taken, I sat down with a slump and a sigh in another seat, near an old man with a kindly smile who looked at my chocolate and my overstuffed backpack and said “You look like you’ve just been on a Great Adventure; either that or you’re going on one.”

I looked at him again. He was a tall man, and his hair was white-turning-yellow, like a newspaper left in the sun, and his bushy eyebrows waggled when he smiled at me again. I smiled back. “Just been on one, actually. And you? Have you come from anywhere interesting?”

And that’s where it started, right there.

He told me he’d been to the States, and I said that I had too, and he told me he’d been to Michigan, and I told him I had too, and he told me he’d been in Michigan for Thanksgiving, and I told him I had too, and by that time the smallness of Melbourne had opened up into the wideness of memory, and we talked like old friends about the snow that almost was, and the unseasonable blue sky that day, about his experiences in the Buick factory in the city of Flint, that I’d driven through just a few days before. I laughed, and said I hadn’t seen him, although I probably should have waved.

He told me the story of his adopted daughter, adopted from Flint, Michigan, who went back with him and met her birth family for the first time, about how strange it was seeing a face so familiar on someone people he’d never met, about how her mannerisms were so similar to this sister she’d never known. I rejoiced with him, and felt that belonging, that sense of coming back to family, that love, that grief for the lostness. I felt the story there with him, right there at Melbourne airport.

I feel that story today, which is why I’m remembering the Man from Michigan. I’ve been meeting family – my own family that I didn’t know – family that look like me, that think like me, that share a history, and can explain huge chunks of who I come from that I didn’t even know about. It makes me feel like I’m the one who was adopted, the one returning to Flint, Michigan.

It’s a lovely feeling, and a happy-sad feeling at the same time. I don’t know how to explain it. All I know is that I’m holding tightly to the hand of the God who put me in Flint, Michigan for Thanksgiving weekend; the God who put the newspaper-blond man at the airport.

I wish I’d taken his photograph. I don’t even know his name. If I did I’d call him up and tell him I’m holding his hand right now too. I don’t think he’d mind.

I’m glad the Man from Michigan was there that day. I’m glad for the God who puts people in airports just when we need them. I’m glad for the God who allows flesh-and-blood people to be His hands and feet.

What about you? Have you ever met someone you think just must be an angel? Someone you don’t know who’s managed to impact your life? Have you been that person for somebody else?

 

Who do you think you are?

Who do I think I am? Queen Elizabeth?

I know exactly who I am. I’m the woman who can still keep track of every hair appointment she’s had as an adult – can still count them on her fingers.

I’m the woman who’s never spent more than $100 on her hair at any one time.

I’m the woman who’s had her nails done exactly once in her life.

I’m the woman with the cracks in the floorboards. I’m the woman who’s bathroom floor is only waterproof because of gaffer tape.

I’m the woman with the half-painted bedroom. I’m the woman who’s never once bought a new lounge suite, dining table or fridge, and who’s clothing budget has been lucky to run to $50. A year.

I’m not complaining. I know who I am. And I’ve been blessed – very blessed – with lounge suites and fridges and tables and chairs and clothing, and hair that looks okay even without much effort put into it.

It’s just that now things are weird. Different.

Today I’m the woman who is arranging passports for her children, and buying backpacks spontaneously. Today I’m the woman assessing the pros and cons of expensive suitcases, and picking up framed family portraits to hang on our need-to-be-painted walls. Today I’m the woman planning a holiday to visit places I’ve only ever heard about in books.

Today I’m the woman I dreamed of being when I was just a tiny girl, but I’m bringing it all home to sit at my second-hand table in the kitchen with cracks in the floorboards.

I can’t look back right now, either to rejoice over the blessings or grieve over the losses. I just can’t look back. I don’t know if I’m ready to look forward either, so for now I will shut my eyes and trust.

Everything changes. Even the things we swear never will.

This, I believe, is a good thing.

This. I believe.

Stuck.

Los Angeles freeway

LA freeway

So tell me folks, does this picture fascinate you? Make you want to stare at it for hours? No? Me neither. Out of all the pictures I took and the wonderful people I met on my trip to the US this must be one of the LEAST fascinating. It is, however, stuck on my digital photo frame in the kitchen right now, and I’ve been staring at it for the better part of the day, if only because the power switch is hidden behind a rather large and heavy chair, and I’ve been too busy (lazy) to move it.

I thought I might blog about being stuck, about how we end up in these thought pathways that we don’t know how to get off, because our own heads are too big and heavy and we’re too busy (lazy) to move them, but then I realised that…well…I’m really tired. And all of a sudden the picture wasn’t about being stuck any more, but about those very first, very earliest memories of my first ever day in a foreign country.

I couldn’t get over how not-foreign everything looked. The airport was like the ones I’m used to (okay, about a zillion times bigger), and African-American people didn’t look like African-Australian people (now that was an interesting observation. Possibly because the African-Australians in Tasmania are, for the most, very recent migrants or refugees, and are still much more African than they are Australian. This manifests itself in lots of very subtle ways, but it was still noticeable).

There weren’t any other Australians, but it was easy to ignore that at first. You just kind of presume they’re somewhere else, maybe in another room, that where you are just happens to have a really large amount of American visitors. It took me a good few days to get over the amazing “co-incidence” that EVERYBODY I met was American. Wow. Really? You too? The fact that I stayed with Australians (*waves HELLO to Theresa!! I’m imagining you picking the kids from school!!*) helped propagate that myth in my mind. But I digress.

The man who took me to Theresa’s house was Lebanese, and that didn’t help either, because I automatically presumed he was Lebanese-Australian and driving a taxi in Melbourne, not Lebanese-American and driving one in LA. LA looked like Melbourne. I’ve said that before, and I may say it forever. My very first thought of being in a foreign country was how like home it was*. We talked about Lebanon and how he misses his family, and his teenage kids and what they’re doing in school, and his wife who’s a nurse, and he pointed out his house to me, a double-story place with a little balcony overlooking the freeway, all of which he would return to after he dropped me at Theresa’s house, the last run on his graveyard shift. I took photos out the window, just because. This was one of them.

He stopped at the mall and bought me a coffee at Starbucks, which felt equally Melbourne-like, which I commented to him, except for the fact that we don’t have Starbucks any more because they pulled them all out. He told another man, an American man, who laughed a little and said “Australians are smarter than Americans then”. And with that I knew the truth: I hadn’t left Australia at all. The reason I was so groggy was because I’d been drugged and driven around Melbourne for fourteen hours.
Obviously.

Well…not really. After all, I had a stamp in my passport finally. And everybody drove on the wrong side of the road, and there were vegetables on everyone’s front porch. I got it. Eventually.

It’s been good to remember that day, to remember my taxi driver and the man at Starbucks. I don’t feel like the picture is about “stuck” at all any more. It’s about memory.

I’ll fix the photo frame. But I might, just randomly, pause it again in a couple of days, and allow another memory to overtake me. Nothing better, when you’re stuck at home, to be stuck in your mind in a foreign country.

*All that changed the day I landed in the Mid-West. The Mid-West is like being on TV. THAT was when I discovered what culture shock felt like.

Things I didn’t expect

That I wouldn’t want to talk about it for fear that experiences would limit themselves to memories, and move from 3D and real, to small, confined in words.

That Australian accents would sound foreign, especially the first time I heard one, and that I’d listen for indicators that the speaker was faking it.

That my city, my view, the streets and trees and mountains I have seen every day for the last few years, would seem foreign, different suddenly.

That I’d appreciate their beauty properly for the first time, as an outsider would.

That I’d cry for a day and then readjust as if nothing had happened.

That I’d learn housekeeping tips from people I stayed with, and that I’d come home and want to apply them.

That I’m happier not doing things the old way any more, and that I’d rather change everything round than go back to old habits and patterns.

That I’d wished there’d been someone following me around taking more photos. I took a couple of hundred, and I want more.

Arnold is right…I’ll be back.