Monday, January 11, 2010
I bloody well am going downunder--good move!
Few hours Later- dec 16th
I’ve gone home, collapsed on the bed amidst all the half- packed bags and chaos of wrapping paper, presents that are not nearly good enough for cousins and adorable old pals I’ve known for thirty years and wallowed in the guilt and panic of not even having found a single present for my best and only daughter. I lie there and a vision of the next 18 days alone, with not even a plan for Christmas day, flashes before me! Self-pitying sentimental slob that I am, I just can’t bear the thought of it. I simply can’t. And my oldest best school friend, who’s had pancreatic cancer, which has spread to liver and lungs, is expecting to see me and I would dearly love to see my favorite uncle who is not AT ALL well. Fuck. It doesn’t seem wildly indulgent to wallow in self-pity for an hour before school pick-up. But suddenly I remember I am in possession of a letter from Dr Sam who HAS said that if I can put the flight off till Monday, he might be able to give me the go-ahead. I call the travel agent and tell him I have a letter from my infectious disease Doctor saying I should not travel till the 21st and could he please see if there is a seat then. He practically snorts with derision saying that unless I have an immediate family member who has died- and I have a DEATH CERTIFICATE ON MY PERSON, tough titty.
Over dinner I tell my kids I probably won’t be joining them again this year and they are sweetly sad but it doesn’t seem to occur to them to say they won’t go either and I can’t blame them –nor would it make any sense for us ALL to sit around feeling lower than a snake’s belly. Or some such local expression from downunder. I never get them quite right. That’s because I’m a disenfranchised bloody aussie with an American passport as well, not to mention two American children who no longer has a place she calls home and despite loving and always weeping when I hear Peter Allen’s stunning anthem “I Still Call Australia Home”, I’m afraid it’s been about three decades since I felt that to be true. I have no place to call home. It’s true and it sucks. It would be nice to feel one belongs somewhere.
24 Hours Later
I lie in bed wide AWAKE all frigging night wondering if I should just defy doc’s orders and jump on that plane but it’s hard NOT to imagine the nightmare of fifteen hours in the back of the plane. Something about staggering up for the ninth time of the night to pee and feeling the deep, deep fatigue of a year of chemo, surgeries and crap make the thought of same flight seem utterly horrifying. I’m TOO OLD for fucking ECONOMY, I tell myself sensibly. It’s just plain wrong.
But by next morning, after dropping the teen at school, I know that staying will be too wretched for words and so, I give it another try. I call to see if there are any labs back yet from the fluid tests they did yesterday and blow me down if Dr Bob doesn’t call right back and say that preliminary results indicate there may not be any infection but best to wait till Monday so I can come back and be drained again and get the official results. I tell him that it will cost $1700 to change my seat and start to cry. Basically resigned to stay, I blurt out that the left breast is twice as big as the right today anyway but he explains that it was like that yesterday because he filled it up SO much so that no more fluid could enter.
“Well it’s your decision. It’s up to you “ he announces…
“I can GO?”
“Double the dose of antibiotics and take them for two weeks-not just one and jump on a plane and come back if anything starts to look weird”
Having one breast twice as big as the other is already in the Weird department but clearly not what he means. What DOES he mean? Who cares at this point?
“So, just to be clear, you won’t disown me as a patient if I go to Australia? I ask
“If I was going to disown you I would’ve done that a long time ago!” he laughs.
“God that is so MY line”, I want to yell---but give an already smug surgeon an opening and suffer the consequences.
“Thanks so much Dr Bob “ I say—and actually mean it.
Well it’s four hours to go till my ex-husband’s very sweet third wife and Lola’s second stepmother arrives to take us to the airport. BETTER GET MOVING.!!!!! And so follows a wild few hours of all the manic packing I should have done over the last 48 hours. I try to pretend a camera is recording every move so that, with laser-like efficiency and focus, I will stick to the tasks at hand and manage it all—passports, both aussie and American, my son’s packing which is to include rash vests for surfing, his acne medication, rubber bands for his braces, swimsuits, flip flops, his skateboard and thoughtfully Xeroxed pages of his upcoming science and history chapters so that he will be a step ahead when he arrives back at school a day late, jetlagged, with a science test in the first period and a history one the next day. (Mothers must be optimists..…but yes, a MASSIVE waste of time.) And then I nimbly stuff three weekly pill boxes to the gills with all the supplements and antibiotics and anti depressants I am meant to take, hurl about twenty tank tops, 4 winter jackets and two pairs of jeans into the case with my usual lack of flair for packing and pretty soon, after weighing and reweighing all the bags till my head is spinning, I am sweating and fretting, and desperate to find something to wear for a New years Eve bash we are going to in Sydney but too late- our ride has appeared, and we’re off to the airport via Otis College to pick up Lola who is meant to be giving an end of year Performance Piece for her teachers in about ten minutes. But some people don’t bother to read the itineraries their mothers send them on repeated occasions and thus have to skip out of school a day early. Soon we are delivered safely to LAX. Okay- so we’re on the wrong floor at Arrivals and it’s also the wrong terminal. But we’re close and after a frantic 15 minute schlep we are in the correct LONG line. And soon it ‘s time to stand by as my fabulously strong son heaves bags on and off weighing machines, not letting his dear ol mum lift a finger.
As we hit the first passport checkpoint, an immigration officer looks at me, looks at my passport picture and then back at me. “You looked better with the long blonde hair. You might want to grow it again, “ he offers as he snaps it shut and takes up the next passport. I am gobsmacked. Rendered temporarily speechless, especially as Lola who often thinks she’s the bloody grown-up, has ordered me just moments ago to be polite to everyone. I am known for a certain lack of finesse at airports where my colossal impatience has been known to rear it’s ugly head- especially when power-crazed women start ordering you to take off not only shoes, but belts, scarves, sweaters, beanies.” FUCK! Should I JUST STRIP OFF COMPLETELY? Look, under my beanie –what am I hiding ? NOTHING! ” I seem to recall shouting last time I flew in June, still bald.
But Lola is incensed and jumping to my defense, immediately pipes up with “Well you know, it’s funny but when someone has chemo and LOSES ALL THEIR HAIR, they don’t have much choice about their hairstyle for a while!” That’s my girl.
The moronic officer is not remotely embarrassed and responds “Well I wouldn’t know about any of that!” before waving us on and shouting “Next!”
“Dickhead” mutters Lola and Nick sweetly puts his arm around me as we march on with the eight pieces of heavy hand luggage I vow to eliminate each year. Unsuccessfully.
Three pilots then hover next to us, trying to jump the queue as we approach the x-ray machines.. I politely ask if they’d like to jump in ahead of us and they accept the offer and walk through without taking off their shoes. I decide to leave mine on and casually walk on through before a cranky female screams at me to go back and take OFF THE SHOES! “Well they didn’t “ I reply indignantly pointing to the pilots hurrying away. The woman’s partner, packing heat, booms out “When you learn to fly a plane, you can keep your shoes on too!” I’m tempted to snap back that I have a flying license too but sensibly decide to resist my juvenile anti-authoritarian urges.
And then, naturally, I am taken aside to some holding area after putting same hand luggage through the x ray machines because I have idiotically packed three expensive green drinks from the health food store into one of the bags. The female recovers all three drinks plus a gorgeous hydrating face spray and holds them up as it was a cache of heroin and a home made bomb. “Well can I drink them now? I plead as Lola hisses “Jesus mum, they’ve only had this law for about ten years. What is your problem??” Feeling utterly brainless I respond loudly with “Well what the fuck do they think will happen? I’ll drink them and blow myself up on the spot?” Lola yells back and soon she and Nick and I are all shouting at each other. Another gun-toting dude then tells us all to pipe down or we’ll be taken “to another area”. That shuts us all up.
As we wait for the flight, now laden down with even more bags of magazines, sweeties and water, my cousin from Melbourne calls me on the cell to say, without even a hello, “Well I hope to God you’re not coming!” She’s just read my latest blog and apparently feels I should get a grip and follow doctors’ orders. “Janey, don’t be mean, the doc changed his mind and we’re about to get on the plane. Sorry!!! “ She sighs and says she’ll be at the airport to meet us. Dear cousin Janey. I do love her.
The flight is in fact even more horrendous than I anticipated and after watching four films in a row suddenly realize that both my right leg and arm are completely numb. Seriously without feeling. I manage to stagger up and head back towards the toilet where I shake and rub and suddenly remember cousin Jane’s warning that I could get a BLOOD CLOT after all the surgeries. None of my doctors have ever mentioned such a possibility but I suddenly panic ever so slightly and ask a stewardess what the symptoms of DVT are…
Well to cut a long tale short, within minutes I am surrounded by about five airline personell, my blood pressure, temperature and oxygen levels are taken and a Medivac team in Australia are called for their advice. I then excitedly overhear one steward whisper to another “Are there free seats in Business or First?” and my spirits momentarily soar as I imagine a good lie down for the next eight hours. “NO, nothing at all” comes the reply and by now I am over it all. Feeling has slowly returned to limbs and I’m ready to go back to my seat. But now they’re checking the manifest to see if a doctor’s on board and failing that they promise to make a loudspeaker announcement to see if any doctors present themselves. Jesus wept. I insist they not bother but sure enough, a few minutes later they locate a nice Asian doctor who questions me endlessly before I am finally allowed to go back to my seat. That’ll teach me. But very nice to know that apparently about 95 % of the time there’s a doctor on board any and every plane.
An ambien, an ativan, 8 Melatonin and still not a WINK of sleep – so another couple of movies, a couple of weepy moments from Lola who is so overtired after her week of work and exams and BOB’S YOUR UNCLE, (one of my favorite local expressions meaning ‘it’s all okay’) - we’ve landed in Oz. Well in Sydney—so just a few more tedious hours of recovering luggage and checking in again before a bus from the International to the Domestic terminal and then another plane ride and we’re in Melbourne. We grab a latte—even the fabulous airports in Australia are full of fantastic stores and juice bars, sushi cafes and the BEST COFFEE in the world and then out into the stunning fresh Aussie summer air and a ride with dear Janey back to her place in Sandringham, a few minutes from Port Philip Bay and the beach in groovy, hip Melbourne.
Within about ten minutes Nick is off on foot to walk round the corner and look up some of his old school mates from the primary school, a stone’s throw away, that he attended for three years. Five minutes later Lola is sunning herself by the pool in the back yard with my gorgeous 18 year-old niece Nikki who has completely grown up in the two years since I last saw her. Already I’m feeling sad as Nick loved Melbourne and the genius aspect of having pals a few blocks away. He would have been very happy to stay and live here. But I decided to return to LA and Lola after spending four years in my home town looking after my dad. It’s my first trip back in just over two years since he died and it’s odd not to feel the constant guilt I experienced whenever I wasn’t by his side. So we tuck into our favorite charcoal grilled chicken and gorgeous salad and fruit that just tastes so much better I’m afraid to say than American salad and fruit. The mangoes, the passion fruit, the pineapples—just utterly delicious and sweet and fresh. Dunno how or why—but they’re simply superior. Go figure.
For some reason the jet lag is almost non-existent and when one does inevitably wake at some ungodly hour there’s always the comfort of a glass of Milo and Vegemite on toast. My brother Geoffrey kindly lends me back my ancient old Ford Falcon station wagon- and since I was safely back in the USA while my license was suspended for 12 months, I’m free to thunder round again in what my kids called The Moose. (Only lost my license for chatting on the cell phone a few too many times- they take a dim view of cell phone use here and made it illegal about four years before America did the same thing. Oh and then I was wicked enough to drive WITH a 6 month suspended license and that’s when a judge decided I should be deprived of driving privileges for 12 months. At least they didn’t fine me as well. Once, driving from Sydney to Melbourne, I was wildly unlucky. Caught for speeding twice in six hours and given on the spot fines that you need to pay ON THE FRIGGING SPOT. As in – hand over cash or a check. The first was for $200 and then a few hours later, I rolled through a town and some rogue cop with a thick Scottish accent, possibly a plumber posing as a copper, insisted I was going 85 in a 50 km/hr zone and demanded FIFTEEN HUNDRED SMACKERS. I wrote a check- and it was good. Annoying since I was trying to be thrifty and not spend dough on airline tickets.
So naturally despite endless pacts not to buy each other xmas gifts, we manically run around buying far too many last minute pressies. And it's a treat to see nephews and nieces and their gorgeous offspring. And have endless Australian lattes. I cannot get enough.(Apparently the head of Starbucks flew to Sydney to work out why they'd had to close down all the Aussie Starbucks. Apparently he had a coffee at the airport and immediately understood the problem. Aussie coffee is sublime. On EVERY corner!! In the cutest, hippest cafes and bars and restaurants everywhere. In many, many ways,(food, design and coffee to name three) Aussies are so beyond hip and stylish and way ahead of America. And then,it’s already Christmas day. Very confronting to realize we are the grown-ups now. No parents are there. The last Christmas in Melbourne there was my dad, cousin Jane’s parents- my dear Aunty Pat and Uncle Ab- and my cousin Rick’s wife’s mother Dorothy. They would trundle round on their walkers barely able to move or speak and clearly making the most tremendous effort ever. But it made it worthwhile. They probably all wished to God they were home having a nice nap but we would get them into the cars, put on their best sweaters and their arrival would be met with much fanfare and kisses from grandchildren whose names they could barely remember. Beers and shandies and wine were brought to them, chips and dips offered and over their heads we would exchange meaningful, anxious glances. But now Dorothy and dad have kicked the bucket and poor Uncle Ab is not remotely well enough to come (with Parkinson’s, throat and lung cancer) and dear Aunty Pat insists on faithfully staying by his side. So COMES THE CHILLING BUT OVERDUE REALIZATION THAT WE ARE THE GROWN-UPS now…me and my three cousins –Jane, Rick and Bun, Rick’s wife Sue and my brother Geoff.
Who knew I was this old? Why are we even doing this?? Cos it’s bloody Christmas and that’s what you do and in fact it’s a very jolly one with seven kids between 14 and twenty six who know how to party and drink champagne and beer like it’s going out of style. Nick tries to casually walk away with a beer at one point till I put my foot down and tell him to put it down immediately- no ifs or buts! Mother Lola interferes and says ‘it’s no big deal” but I am adamant. Nick even reveals that my pal Frank who gave me a gorgeous dinner party a few nights before had given him a beer. And he drank it! Honestly Frank. He’s a child. Okay, a man-child. Aussies and their drinking – hard to keep ‘em apart. But I stick to my guns and if Nick drinks it’s behind a bush and there are those who think it’s better out in the open but at 14?? Doesn’t seem right. By 5 pm 18 of us are finally sitting down to eat our wonderful Christmas feast. Very traditional. Turkey, plum pudding –the lot, thanks to Sue who is ruffled by nothing. I stand up and try to make a toast to missing friends, my dad and Uncle Ab and Aunty Pat but am immediately in tears and unable to speak. Young Tom, 25, gets to his feet and rescues the moment—with great humor. By 6 .30 we’re dancing like fools to some great oldies that our fabulous DJ Rick always provides. And by 9 the washing up is almost done (thanks Janey) and we stagger home. Very, very glad I came. A genius decision for once.