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Itís been a good day, a productive day, a satisfying day. Then we trip and stumble over some trifling matter and before we know it the barriers are going up and the shutters are coming down and Iím left scratching my head as to what just happened. Rather than bite I choose to withdraw. I go to bed without so much as a word of goodnight. But I canít sleep. I lay awake and finally I hear you talking to someone on the phone. A few minutes later, you burst into the room and tell me your mother is dead.
Shock. Disbelief. Profound sadness. At a stroke all else is swept away. We focus on the tasks at hand. Frantic phone calls in the night to relatives flung far around the world, confusion and grief mixed with numbness. We scramble to book flights, transfer funds, find passports, pack suitcases, all the while trying to come to terms with a loss no one ever wants to bear. Then, when all the immediate tasks have been attended to, a newly orphaned son is left to contemplate the demands of the coming days and wonder where heíll find to strength to meet them.
As I wave you off at the airport I am left to contemplate the coming weeks alone. Part of me wishes I could go with you but with all of your family flying in from around the world I take solace in the fact that you wonít be alone. Sitting on the train on the way back home you keep me updated as you pass through security, as you wait in the departure lounge and as youíre boarding the plane. It helps to know there are two of you. Itís not the kind of journey one want to make alone.
A bottle of good red, a few light nibbles, the pleasure of good company Ė these are the things that make life worthwhile. We spend the afternoon trading stories, catching up on what weíve been up to, mindful of the fact that such times spent together will soon be few and far between. Much as we try to downplay the fact, the distance between us will limit the opportunity for times like this.
But letís not focus on that right now. For now letís drink a toast to old times, to good times to come and to the enduring power of friendship.
Itís been a beautiful day. I really should have enjoyed myself. The river was calm, the crowds good-natured, the street theatre entertaining and the air warm yet refreshing, but all I could think about was going back home. Just lately the crowds seem maddening, the architecture overwhelming, the ambiance stifling, the city itself unappealing. What once held me in awe these days elicits little more than a yawn. I pass through it but I no longer feel a part of it. What I feel is the call of another river and a different crowd in a city far, far away.
It may seem strange to some but the fact of the matter is Iím over London. So thereís a palace down the road and a famous big clock around the corner. Big deal! And yes, you can go to a different world class venue every night for a year and never visit the same one twice, but so what? The older I get the less such things impress me. Perhaps Iíve never really made the most of living in London: maybe, maybe not. But right now I find myself hungering for a smaller, younger, less crowded and more intimate city.
I used to imagine I could make a difference, and maybe I do. I used to think that people could change, and maybe they can. I used to believe in the inherent goodness in people, and maybe itís there. I used to believe that anything was possible if you really put your mind to it, and maybe it is. And I used to believe my inherent sense of who I am would carry me through, and maybe it will.
But there are times when it all seems like so much wishful thinking.
And on that note, letís hope Iím wrong.
The past two years at work have been challenging. The extent to which I have had to insulate and protect myself against the onslaught of displaced, disaffected anger and contempt while trying to remain positive and professionally focused is only now beginning to become apparent, as is the need to seek new challenges in an environment that is altogether more positive and nurturing. In my more balanced periods of reflection I am well aware of having made a positive contribution to the lives of many. But what I need right now is a complete change of direction Ė a whole new start.
I remember our first prolonged separation when for months our only means of contact was by airmail. There were no telephone links to your village. The internet hadnít arrived yet and no self-respecting person carried a cell phone. Now itís all changed: now itís Skype and email and late night/early morning telephone calls across multiple time zones. Technology has made the distance manageable, bearable even.
Nothing can compensate for the inability to be with you and share your grief and pain but itís better than nothing. At least I can see your face and tell you that I love you.
Lifeís lottery is indeed a curious phenomenon. Who would have imagined after all this time sheíd still be here? So many people have passed away in recent months, people I would have imagined living longer. Barely a day goes by without hearing of someoneís friend or relative who has either died or been diagnosed with something horrible and terminal. Yet every Saturday when I phone the nursing home sheís still there: she keeps waking up each day. And while the words we share may be increasingly limited in number, she still has some grasp, however tenuous, of who I am.
I may have tired of London but I never tire of the Isle of Wight, a place of incalculable beauty and charm where the clocks seem to run more slowly and time itself is more forgiving. Itís the place where my heart rests easy, whether in the company of friends whom I hold dear or alone amongst the rolling hills and tree studded cliffs of my childhood. Itís a place Iíll return to in my dreams for the rest of my days; the place where I entered this world and where I go to retreat from it for a while.
We were both so young when we met. You were the kid who met me at the end of the pier, I the distant cousin dropping in from another planet. I donít recall the precise moment we became friends for life but it was within hours rather than days. And while weíve sometimes lost touch over the years weíve always managed to find each other again, as true friends are wont to do. For me, you and the island are one, a safe haven I return to and where my faith in all that is decent and good is renewed.
I have known you all my life but not really known you. Youíre the absent sister, the one with whom Iíve had so little real contact. There was a time years ago when for a few brief months our paths converged and my memories of that period are fond ones. Other than that, my recollections of you are scattered and inextricably lined to my childhood self. So to walk through Bonchurch with you and share something Iíve not had the opportunity to share with any of the others is indeed precious. And what a beautiful day! Sunshine, birdsong, babbling brooks Ė perfect!
To have achieved resolution on such a long standing issue was remarkable enough. To have then received such a heartfelt apology has completely blown me away. I have spent my entire life living with your disapproval. I have blamed you for more things than I care to account for. They say a leopard never changes its sports. I beg to disagree. Experience has demonstrated otherwise. Now, in place of all the dismissive contempt, I find myself feeling genuinely moved and affected, my faith in the ability of people to grow and transform themselves restored. Itís good to know such things are possible.
Itís the absence of conversation I notice. I often come home to an empty flat but thereís the knowledge that youíre not far behind me. And itís not as though we have a lot to say when you do get home. So much between us has become quietly understood, which itself is a conversation of sorts; one of intuition as much as words. But tonight the flat will remain free of conversation. Neither words nor gestures will punctuate the quiet, save for the voice of the evening newsreader on TV, or the scripted conversations between people who donít really exist.
Outside the kitchen window is a non-descript area we optimistically refer to as the terrace. Every evening at this time of year I climb through the kitchen window, our only means of access, to fill buckets of water with which to tend the many plants Iíve established in an effort to soften the grim greyness of an otherwise unremarkable view. My efforts have been rewarded this year with the most colourful floral display to date. It serves to remind me how spending a little time each day can, over time, turn something dull into something wonderful, bright and life affirming.
Itís beginning to feel as though Iím doing time. My colleagues at work keep asking me if Iíve started counting down the days yet. Until now Iíve answered no, but today I had to admit Iíve started. Itís inherently risky of course, because if I allow myself to disengage too much the job itself will become unbearable. The only thing that keeps me going is my ongoing commitment to what I do. The problem is, that sense of commitment is fading fast and the prospect of running on empty for the final stretch is something I would rather not contemplate.
They say that time is a great healer. How true! Having spent a few hours with you this evening itís hard to imagine the pain and sorrow I once laid at your doorstep when you were the focus of my every dream and fantasy, not to mention the odd neuroses or two. Now weíre were simply two old friends chatting about work, sharing a meal, an alcoholic beverage or two and listening to music while catching up on what weíve both been up to of late, the pain and sorrow of the past now nothing but a faded historical footnote.
I hear in passing about an event in Leicester Square while listening to the radio, so I grab my camera and head for the bus. Upon arrival however the thronging crowds, the noise and the general bustle of London on a sunny Saturday morning leaves me cold, so I opt for a visit to the British Museum instead where I spend an hour or two immersing myself in the cultural debris of a dozen ancient civilizations. Thereafter I find myself slinking back home, totally overwhelmed by the enormity of the collection and by extension the cultural overload of London itself.
With the days passing by as quickly as they now seem to be I find myself resolving to make the most of my time here, especially my time at work. In recent weeks Iíve allowed myself to slide into a negative mindset that has only served to hinder me. Thereís a temptation to allow frustration and impatience to colour my judgment and cast everything into a negative light. This serves no good purpose. While itís true that Iíve tired of my role at work and the responsibilities inherent within it, professionalism demands that I resist the temptation to slacken off.
Iím sitting out on the terrace beneath a pale blue sky dappled with a scattering of cloud peppered by the last rays of the setting sun. Itís been the longest day of the year and one that finds me feeling melancholy and strung out after a busy schedule at work. Still, I didnít want to let the moment pass without paying homage to the passing of the summer equinox. A cool London breeze wafts up and over me, rustling the leaves of the plants around me and serving to smooth out some of the wrinkles of the day now passed.
You arrive back after a journey that none of us ever want to make. You look drawn and pale but youíre a sight for sore eyes Ė my eyes. It seems weíre going to have a lot of time apart this year. In another 50 days I fly out myself and then weíll have to endure our longest separation since the year we first met. Youíd think after all this time it wouldnít matter as much and perhaps on one level thatís true. But on another level, Iím dreading it. Itís one of the things about getting older Ė not taking things for granted.
Itís funny how things get revealed in dreams . . .
I was standing near a dock talking to someone, I donít recall whom, with a young adolescent lingering nearby. I was telling this person the reason I want out from my job.
ďI just donít feel like Iím making a difference anymore,Ē I told them. ďNot enough to make it worth it.Ē
And there you have it in a nutshell. There was a time when I really believed what I did made a difference. Whether I still do or not, the fact of the matter is, I just donít feel it anymore.
I keep having these dreams about her. In the dreams she is still old, but not so old. She still has her wits about her and her sense of self. Sheís a woman still, with hopes and dreams and all the things that make us more than just flesh and bone. And in these dreams we still have a relationship. There is mutuality, laughter even, and a shared sense of who we are to each other. Then I wake up and it all evaporates, leaving just an aftertaste of what was, or what might have been, but is no more.
I seem to be feeling tired all the time. I come home from work and Iím totally knackered. I feel as though my job is sapping every last ounce of energy from me. Iíve been here before. Itís what happens when a job passes its shelf life. I lose incentive but I still have to persevere. The professional in me is not prepared to slacken off simply because this chapter of my career is coming to a close. So I get up each day and try to muster the wherewithal to carry on. After all, it will pass soon enough.
I canít begin to imagine what my life would have been like if I hadnít found you. Ever since that fateful night when we met on the stairs of Heaven my life has changed irrevocably and no amount of theorizing will ever reveal the road not taken. All I know is that for all the times Iíve cursed you Iíve blessed you a thousand times more, and whilst itís often easy to take what we share for granted, if ever you were taken from me my life would be but a colourless shadow of what itís been since we met.
What if? What if? What if? I keep going over all the what ifs in my mind. The biggest one right now is what if the flat doesnít sell? What then? Talk about a spanner in the works! The knock-on effect of that one donít bear thinking about, and thatís just one of the what ifs. If I try to think about them all at once I freak out. I keep telling myself that things will be okay; that everything will work itself out, but as each day passes Iím finding it just a little harder to keep that up.
Iím having these weird dreams. I woke up this morning from one in which Iíd just arrived in heaven; not that I got to see much of it before the alarm went off. Yesterday I dreamed I was standing on top of a rather modest and rickety sky platform thousand of feet above the earth. I was having trouble finding my balance and was none too cheered by the arrival of a group of school children who made the whole structure wobble even more. With so many things up in the air right now, the symbolism is pretty self explanatory.
I usually take the Underground to work but today Iím taking the longer, scenic route by bus. Actually, scenic might be overstating matters but itís a familiar journey that takes me through Camberwell to Peckham, then through to New Cross to Lewisham where I catch another bus to Eltham. Itís a familiar journey that will soon be relegated to memory. Along the way I find myself gazing absently out at the city as it stirs into action and I wonder, will I miss this? No doubt Iíll have the odd nostalgic moment or two, but beyond that? Iím guessing not.
Putting all worry and uncertainty to one side, when I imagine living back in Melbourne again I find myself feeling pretty positive, which is significant given that I fly back six weeks from today. Yes I get overwhelmed, spooked even, by what has to be achieved over the next few months, not to mention the next year or two, but underpinning all of this is a quiet sense of cautious optimism. Itís taken me a long time to arrive at this but Iíve come to the conclusion that while my British heritage is significant, Iím essentially an Aussie at heart.
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