So Many Candles, Matches All The Love

Today is my birthday. It’s also one day short of the anniversary of “when things went wrong”.  Let’s focus on the birthday for a moment.

I love birthdays, I always have.  A birthday in summer, away from the city and school friends, meant I never had a kids’ birthday party except for the year I turned 8.  That was the year I decide to invite all the kids along the beach where our cottage is.  Mostly that was family or my “summer” cousins, and all but three of them were boys, but I wanted a party!  It wasn’t until my aunt called my mother and asked if she “could help with Dia’s party, there were going to be so many children there!” that my mother knew anything about it.

Won’t lie to you… Mum was mad.  But she was also actually kind of cool about it.  I don’t think she’d ever understood that out of all of us, I was the one who didn’t get that kid birthday event, or even birthday gifts (other than, and thank goodness for, grandparents’).  Our summers were tied up in swimming and games on the beach and just having the usual kid fun, that my birthday, MY special day, just sort of… slipped away.  Aside, of course, from always having hamburgers and angel food cake with my grandparents; god, I love angel food cake, especially with whipped cream and bananas, like Gram used to make every year.

So, going back to the party, the kids all showed up, we ate copiously of corn and potato salad and hot dogs, and there was watermelon, and a chocolate cake (knowing that angel food cake was coming on the weekend with my grandparents and father).  We played silly games I didn’t know my mother knew, we went swimming (of course!), and I got real life birthday presents from kids.  That was so important to me.  None of them were big or expensive, but they were fun or silly or sweet (Cam, I still have the elephant!).

I have had other lovely birthday parties and surprises since, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them immensely.  And I’m looking forward to a whole lot more – I hope!  But last year… not so celebratory because I couldn’t drink and wanted to eat very lightly before going into hospital the next morning.

I was facing surgery (hysterectomy) for suspected uterine cancer.  Two uterine biopsies were inconclusive (bloody painful but inconclusive), although an ultrasound did show a couple of polyps/lumps.  Combined with a few months of bleeding, my age, and the ‘best by’ date having expired some years since on my uterus, my gyns and oncologist and I decided surgery was the best choice.

Oy veh.

Good news first.  Although I did have cancer, I do not now.  The operation removed the tumour, and other than a Pap smear every six months for four years, and an annual chest x-ray (when uterine cancer does metastisize, it is almost invariably in the chest; this is how my angel food cake baking grandmother died) for the next four years, I’m not living with a fear or shadow of cancer.

I am however, living with what happened during and after the hysterectomy.  First my bladder and/or kidneys were nicked in the surgery, which meant 24 hours after the first surgery, I went back under general anaesthesia to have stents put into my kidneys, where they stayed for just over a month, four weeks of which time I was catheretised. Having the stents removed was my fourth experience in the O.R.; the third one was the scary one.

Number three is when I almost died.  Not going into all the details, but if I say that basically my abdominal muscles blew up, no one noticed for maybe 36 hours, and the fact that I was septic (dangerously infected) when they finally did, will you understand some of what was going on? What was supposed to have been four or five days in hospital turned four rounds of surgery, three of them in four days, one of them in the middle of night because I was so injured/ill.  I was in ICU for four days, hospital for three weeks (lying immobile for most of that time, post surgery three) and prison for a month.

The facility prefers I call it rehab; I don’t.  I was so angry, so distraught at being sent there rather than home after so long in hospital, I thought I was going to cry myself to death that first night.  Except I couldn’t really weep hard because of the wound.  The surgery that was done to save my life didn’t leave enough of me to suture close so a “wound vac” was used, and that gizmo was part of my life from August 23rd to the end of December.  With it, amongst other challenges, I couldn’t bend over – and I still can’t, really.  The damage to the muscles was so severe my doctor says I cannot lift or push anything more than 5 – 10 pounds (less than 5 kilos) forever.

In hindsight, and albeit still grudgingly, I understand I needed some time to learn how to move with Giz (as he was fondly referred to in our house) and to re-gain some of my completely depleted strength.  I also know that Jeff also needed time to figure out how to take care of me at home, because when I was finally! released at the end of September, I really needed care.  Three times a week, wonderful nurses came to the house and change the dressing in the wound, keeping Giz doing his job of “sucking” me closed.  As a result, my scar isn’t an “outie”, it’s an “innie”, making my abdomen look like my butt.  Seriously.  Cover up the other bits and you can’t tell the difference.

It was early this spring that I finally felt I was getting my mind back.  The body healed a whole faster than my head did, although I don’t consider five months so fast!  A combination of some 10 hours of general anaesthesia, shock from having so much go wrong, discombobulation at being away from home for so long, and a near-complete lack of remembering what had happened to me, has given me a form of PTS.  Mild but disconcerting, and it lead to some severe sleep problems (once I was off the meds – those kept me sleeping a lot!), and most disconcertingly, kept me from reading books.  I could manage magazines (over a few days) and newspaper (slowly, through the entire day) while I was in prison, but I couldn’t do books again until November.  Me, without books. It’s just so… wrong.

I live a belly button free life now, but I’m living.  I’m cancer free.  I’m getting, slowly slowly, back to who I was and, with the continuing help of my docs, and a huge amount of love and support from Jeff and extended family, not to mention a wonderful and surprisingly large group of friends, I’m working on being even better than that.

Birthdays are about celebrating life.  This birthday is going to be especially celebratory. Here’s hoping I can blow out all the candles!!

 

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Happy Birthday

Today is my husband’s birthday.

(I would like to say it’s also our niece, Betsy’s birthday.  She’s celebrating with her husband, children and mother this evening and I know they’ll have a wonderful time.  Happiest Day Betsy!!  But this is another story…)

This is not one of the “big” birthdays, ending in a zero or a five but it’s still significant.  It’s his birthday! and that, to me, means a little celebration and a little contemplation.

The celebrating comes this evening when we go out for dinner at a restaurant we’re both keen to try… a little red meat, a little seafood, a little wine, it’s going to be nice.  And it’s going to be romantic.  ’cause he’s still a very romantic man.

He’s also a very dependable man.  He does what he says he’s going to do and he does it to the best of his ability.  He’s accomplished around the house; he’s a very good musician and music teacher; he loves to ski and play golf and fish for trout; he loves The Grey Cat and me in pretty equal measure; and every day, at least once a day, he makes me laugh and that is priceless.

He’s a wonderful son and a very good brother, a fun uncle, a great friend, and the best kind of partner in crime for me.  (Almost) all the things I am not, he is.  (Almost) all the things I wish I knew or understood, he does.  Goodness knows he has his quirks and more than a few things that he does or says that drive me nuts… but I have more than my share of peculiarities which make him just as crazy so we’re probably even on that.

What makes me know that he is very special is that we married on faith.  We didn’t date, really, before we were married.  In the five years we knew each other before we married, we spent 16 days together… including the day (night) of our wedding rehearsal.  The day part, I should say, was for me a mess (although not nearly as much so as the day of our evening wedding; now that was a mess!!)  We married knowing each other through letters and stories exchanged and stolen time spent alone amongst my younger brothers and his recovery from an airplane crash.  He surprised me, surprised me very very much, when he asked me to marry him but he had faith we could make it work.  I believed him. I said yes.

So celebrating the moments and days in our lives which should be celebrated — his birthday and mine, our anniversary, Family Day, getting good news about work projects, and so on — all of those things are even sweeter because I’m celebrating with him

Tomorrow, he celebrates with friends and a couple of my brothers, his brother, with the annual poker game, pool tournament and pork fest.  Tonight, it’s just us.  Marking another milestone, grateful for our time together, growing older together, looking forward to saying, many more times:

 

chocolate_cakeLove you Bunky…

A Moment on Appreciation

You will notice I did not title this “A Moment FOR Appreciation”.  No, this is about appreciation itself. Because I believe we do not, generally speaking, appreciate enough.

We don’t appreciate the things, the experiences, the tastes and textures which all enrich our lives.  And for sure we don’t appreciate the people in our lives – certainly not as we should, on a regular, warm, expressed basis.

I bring this up because I stuck another note in my (sort of) daily appreciation jar this morning – two days late – about the platform Jeff built for me, for the front-loading washer and dryer.  He bought a couple of sheets of plywood, scrounged around the workshop for still more leftovers from his dad, put in a few hours, and ta-da… the machines are up off the floor and doing laundry is just that much easier. I mean, I giggled pulling clothes and towels in and out of the machines, that’s how much easier it was.

I appreciate the time and love that went into building the platform and how such a simple thing has made one of my chores almost fun to do.  And I have told Jeff so.

But I haven’t always told him how much appreciate the little things he does.  The big things, yes, always, but the  little things? Not so much.  For example, he always brings me coffee in the morning.  Wherever I’m standing, trying to break through the haze of the first of the day, there’s coffee in hand. And he’s the one who remembers to put the winter-time washer fluid in the car.  And he’s always there to help me put on my left boot.  (Yes, just the left boot. The right one slips right on but apparently I have a vastly different left than right foot.  Sigh.)  I appreciate all those things and more, and I’m making an effort to keep the memory of them alive in my jar.

So what else do I appreciate and need to express?

I appreciate the family I married and the family into which I was born.  They’re quite different from each other in many ways but there are essentials which are alike.  They are fierce in their love for each other, quick to point out the others’ flaws but willing to live with them, keen to spend what precious time can be carved out of busy individual lives for a few hours’ family companionship. I must tell them all, tell them each, I appreciate their love, time and support.

Just a few days ago I was reminded of why I appreciate my sister-in-law Karen who makes her own greeting cards for all occasions and skews them for the recipients.  Our Valentine’s card had symbols of Paris on it because she knows I’m stalking Paris.  I must tell her I appreciate that thoughtfulness.

I appreciate my writers’ group because they are helping me keep my nose to the grindstone, more than they might think, although perhaps not as much as it should be kept.  They’re smart, funny, good writers, and I appreciate their support, their critiques, their writing and their friendship.  I must tell them that.

I appreciate my Facebook friends.  Of course, I appreciate all my friendships, but when one is far from home, or where home used to be, and far from many of the circles of friends made over the years, having Facebook as another way – a quick, witty, silly way – to keep the friendships warm, that must be appreciated.

One of my friends – on fb but also in real life – posted something the other day that made me feel just so much… warmth.  We had worked together briefly, gotten to know each other fairly well in just a few months, and when I left our place of employment, I wasn’t sure that anything I had done there would be remembered well.  He told me at least one thing was, so now I need to tell him I appreciate that remembrance.

I appreciate the kindness of strangers.  I was leaving the library last Tuesday night and felt a back cramp start.  I bent over, holding on to a tiny tree in the tiny front plaza of the building and this kind man stopped and asked me if I was alright.  I told him I had gotten up from two hours sitting at a desk and moved too quickly out into the cold without doing any stretching and my back was reminding me it wasn’t as young as once we were, but I was fine.  He asked again, just to be sure, and then went on.  I should have told him I appreciated his stopping to ask; I will next time a stranger is kind.

On a physical level, I appreciate the smell of fresh spring flowers, especially lilacs, because they are smell of renewal; I appreciate the bittersweet taste of a really fine dark chocolate for the pure pleasure it offers; I appreciate the sparky bubbles of an ice cold champagne for delight of tickles in my nose; I appreciate the infinite soft warmth of a mohair blanket on my naked toes; I appreciate the beauty and skill in the painting hanging in my house (and try not to envy the artists’ talent) because they enrich me every time I stop to really see them; I appreciate hearing Jeff practise violin because it gives him pleasure and makes me feel “homey” inside; I appreciate the memories of past loves because they helped me become who I am at heart.

hearts

 

I think my Appreciation Jar will fill up faster now.  And I can appreciate that, too.

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Loving Others’ Children

My friend Doug, who has a blog called Valley Road Rambler, wrote very recently about love, specifically about the nature of being and growing in love.  I thought it was an excellent meditation, but one which pointed out something I have believed for a long time: we don’t have enough words to express the sentiment “love”.

We use the same word when we describe our romantic feelings of being in love with another person, or loving our family members, or our friends, or a beautiful day or a favourite food.  The same word but not the same feeling… not really.  At least, I hope the love I feel for a good sweet melon in August is quite different from the love I feel watching my nieces and nephews play, which in turn is different from the two different sorts of love I feel when watching Jeffrey fix my grandfather’s lamp and then watching him walk across the house naked, on his way to the bath.

I have written elsewhere about another kind of love I learned about a couple of years ago – the love of a child when you’re responsible for her.  Like the love that rather overwhelmed me when Durita came into our lives as an exchange student.  She live with us for a little more than five months, and filled our house with laughter and chaos and delight and shoes, and I really haven’t been the same since.  She’s her mother’s child, but sometimes I think she’s also just a little bit mine, and I love that feeling.

We don’t have children by birth, but we have always been surrounded by children, in our families and in our work.  So many of them have pieces of our hearts, but I love them all separately and differently.  Durita, of course, is top of mind, but so are our other two children – another exchange student, Julie, who would tell her family in Norway that I was more than the older sister she had always wished she had.  And Bryan, a hockey goalie who lived with us for pretty much two seasons – so different having a boy than girls!  but a wonderful difference that I love and cherish, as I do him.

As for other family ties… there are 13 nieces and nephews on my side (plus a step-niece I think is pretty terrific) and 5 nieces and nephews on Jeff’s side, plus six great-nieces & nephews.  They range in age now from 6 to 27, certainly not all children any more.  It is, I’m afraid, a huge age gap, one which might keep them all from getting to know each other.  And certainly I don’t know all 24 of them as well as I wish I did – time, geography, family circumstances being what they are – but the love I feel for them is very strong, based not just on family ties but on who they are for themselves.

So many of the kids with whom I have worked stand out in my mind now too.  They enriched my life with their humour, their quick wit, their work ethic, their inability to tidy up a bedroom if their lives depended on it.  Of all the things that changed for me when SFT changed their mind about me, the one I miss the most is the chance to work with kids who love theatre as much as I do.  It’s something I hope I can find again soon – that opportunity to engage and enlarge the imagination of a child.

It’s a huge responsibility, that one of teaching.  You hope you’re hitting a nerve with the kids, giving them new ideas, offering new directions, but you can’t be sure, not right away, maybe not for months or years.  What you do know is that as a teacher, as an aunt, as a host parent you have given away some parts of your heart you’re never getting back.  You’ve love and have loved, and that has enriched your world in ways which you might not have suspected, but for which you can be forever grateful.

Paolo: My Love Affairs, Part 4

For those of you who may have heard this story before at dinner parties or after my third glass of sparkling wine, you might not need to read any more.  On the other hand… who doesn’t want to read more about an attractive Italian man attempting a seduction??

A long, long time ago, living for a few months out of a suitcase, spending time with Jeff when I could, enjoying a bit of a honeymoon, a bit of an European adventure, and all of it far away from ‘real’ life, I had one of those moments that will help me believe forever that I am still young and blonde and unwrinkled.

I was in Naples, Italy, waiting for Jeff to be able to take leave from the ship, so we could do a little travelling.  We were able to have dinner together most (very early) evenings, but as the junior pilot in the squadron, he was the one who got stuck with the duty most nights.  So it came that I was sitting in the television lounge of the Santa Lucia hotel (most European hotels back then – as opposed to the American chains – did not have televisions in each room) watching “Bad Day at Black Rock”, with Spencer Tracy speaking Italian.

Although my spoken Italian was poor to non-existent (I found being able to read French enabled me to read Italian at a school-girl level), I hoped that somehow listening to a movie I already knew and enjoyed dubbed into a language I really wanted to know better might help me with that goal.  I know, it’s not very realistic to think that one two-hour movie can make that happen, but it was only 8:30 pm and I would have otherwise been bored in my tiny bedroom upstairs.  So I settled in to one of the very comfortable wing back chairs arranged in thoughtful rows around the television, each chair with a small butler’s table, complete with tiny lamp and ashtray.

A few minutes into the movie, a rather well-dressed man came into the room, murmured an order to the waiter, and sat down in the chair beside me.  I gave him a passing glance, as one does of course, but turned my attention rather quickly back to the movie, which surprisingly did seem to be helping me a very little bit with my vocabulary, if not how to string all those new words into coherent sentences.  And then this attractive dark blond head leaned over from behind his wing to mine and asked me a question, about the movie, in Italian.  I answered “I’m sorry.  No parlo Italiano.”  He cocked his eyebrow and asked me in perfect English, “Then why are you watching this movie!?”  I started to answer but we were shushed by the woman sitting in front of us, so he asked me if I would like to join him in the other lounge where we could talk.

It was Europe.  I said yes.

We went out to the lounge, where he sat in a cushy looking armchair and I took the settee off-set to his left arm.  There was a small table between us, where the waiter delivered the coffee, and then asked me if I was interested in anything.  So I asked for coffee too.  My new friend introduced himself; his name was Paolo and he was a chemical engineer from Milano, in Napoli to help the city fight vermin (rats are a problem in any seaport!).  I told him I was in Naples for a few days, mostly on my own, waiting for my husband to be free from duty on the US Navy ship out in the harbour, so that we could take about ten days and just, go, somewhere.  We chatted a little bit like this, exchanging minor personal information, waiting for my coffee, and when it was delivered, Paolo asked me if I would like something to go with it.  I said I would like a cognac and again, that eyebrow cocked.  Women don’t drink cognac, I was told, they prefer sweeter liqueurs.  Well, I retorted, this woman does like cognac, much more than sweet liqueurs.  Paolo and the waiter exchanged glances but two cognacs were ordered and delivered.

I took the snifter, held the bowl in my hands for a moment, swirled it around a bit, took in a waft of the warm, pungent aroma and sipped just a little, pulling a bit of air into my mouth at the same time.  I was being watched… and I was impressing.  So I swallowed, looked at Paolo and the waiter and said, “I like Remy Martin.  It’s a very nice cognac.  Nothing surprising, just a rich almost nutty taste.  This is VSOP?”  That last was directed to the waiter, who agreed that it was, and went off with a big, if somewhat bemused, smile on his face.

Now, here’s the truth.  At dinner, which Jeff & I had enjoyed what seemed like 12 hours earlier, I had had the chance to take a good look at the bar offerings, and the only cognac they had on offer was Remy Martin VSOP.  It’s possible that there was more and better cognac under the counter, but I didn’t hear Paolo order anything by name so I assumed that we were brought the ‘bar’ brand.  I could have told Paolo the truth but first of all women don’t all prefer sweet liqueurs and this was a little lesson in that direction and secondly… he was gorgeous and I wanted to make an impression.

Five points in my good feminist column, promptly followed by 7 demerits.

Anyway, we drank coffee and cognac and we talked, about politics and geography (trying to explain my entire Canadian/US comparative history thesis in 8 minutes), about language (Paolo was fluent in four languages, and kept encouraging me to speak French and Italian while we talked) and books, about music pop and classical. And at some point in all this, Paolo leaned over towards me and said, “You are so unlike any woman I have ever met in Europe.  I would like to sleep with you.”

Just in case you are as flummoxed at this moment in the story as I was in real life and have lost the thread, let me re-cap:  We’re in Naples, my husband of less than two years is on a US Navy ship – a very large ship with many well-armed aircraft – and we’re about to embark on the second half of our honeymoon.  I’m sitting in a well-appointed lounge in a comfortable hotel with a very attractive married chemical engineer from Milan, wearing a drop-dead gorgeous suit, who has just asked me to go to bed with him.

I was totally flattered.  Paolo really was a very good looking man and, yes, I admit I was almost seduced just by the cut and quality of his suit and tie (there must be something about being from Milan), but I have never been very good at one night stands, and of course, there was that whole being married thing, on the part of both of us.  I suggested that being married and also having lovers, sleeping with someone else, might be very Italian but it really wasn’t very Canadian, so I was going to have to turn him down.  He shrugged his shoulders and we went back to our wide-ranging discussion.

And then, a few minutes later, out of nowhere, he asked me again!  This time, when he leaned in, he put his hand – his beautifully, but unobtrusively, manicured hand – very lightly on mine.

Okay, I like being touched, lightly, subtly.  Touch is encouraging and warming and can be just this little bit past friendly but without going into the threatening area when done in the right way.  Paolo’s hand was soft and warm, and his smile was so…. I’m going to have to use the word sexy here.  Married.  I’m married.  I cleared my throat, withdrew my hand from under his and asked him why he was asking me.  I have my naive moments, but this one not one of them. Paolo had obviously had a tonne of experience asking women this same question, and I was genuinely curious to know why me.  Plus I needed to catch my breath.

I said I was not naive; I didn’t say I was made of stone!

It seems that I in no way matched what he thought he knew or believed about American or Canadian women.  He said I was intelligent (big points for that), and thoughtful (ditto on the points), and wasn’t loud or annoying (well, I understood what he meant although felt a little pissed off on behalf of my fellow North Americans – much smaller point count), and I had a lovely, lovely complexion (again, big points).  And wasn’t I just a tiny bit curious about what Italian men were like in bed?

Of course I was curious, and more than a tiny bit!  And honestly, if I hadn’t had a husband – disregarding Paolo’s wife completely, which again means more feminist demerit points – I would have said yes the first time he asked and would have looked forward to him asking all night long!  Paolo really was the perfect would-be lover – handsome, well-dressed, well-off, intelligent, attentive, all the things that fairy tales and Harlequin romances say are requisites for a happy life.  The fact that I already had all that in my life didn’t make me not want more of it, in a different flavour so to speak.  But it did make me stop from taking what was on offer.

I shook my head and stood up, which brought Paolo to his feet (stop buckling, knees! good manners aren’t everything).  I told him I was incredibly flattered, more than a little tempted, but I loved my husband and just felt it was better to say no, and to say good night.  I offered him my hand, which he took and held for a moment.  I think I will retire as well, he said.  So we walked together up the grand staircase and paused on the landing before we would veer off down two different hallways.  Paolo took my hand again, and then kissed each of my cheeks before wishing me good night.  I turned and walked down the carpeted hall.  As I got to the end, I looked back, and saw Paolo still standing there.  I smiled, he raised his shoulders, I laughed and blew him a kiss and walked away.

Do I regret walking away?  Well, I have often said that I try very hard not to regret the things I’ve done, only the things I’ve left undone.  But this one… I think it’s better to have a wonderful sweet story I can share without guilt and concern with a husband I adore, and leave the rest of it for someone else to think about.

But Paolo from Milan, if you read this, know that I will always remember you and thank you for making me for so special, so attractive, for an hour or so one quiet evening in Naples.

You Always Love The One You Love First: My Love Affairs, Part 3

If you’re reading this and saying, that’s crazy! Our break-up was horrible and I never want to see him/her again, I get what you’re talking about.  Bad break-ups suck.  They hurt in ways that make most other pain seem trifling and unworthy of the word ‘pain’.  But I’d like you to think about this, for just a moment:  Do you think that bad break-up helped you become the person you are now?  Did that awful experience help you understand the better nature, the kindest nature of really loving someone and being truly loved in return?

If your answer is ‘yes’… then you do still love the first person you ever loved, at least the part of you that is still that person who remembers the agony and the ecstasy of that first love.  Because… it is that love that has brought you to this love.  And if you’re one of the lucky ones who remembers your first love with warmth and genuine affection, then you should understand even better.

I’m one of the lucky ones, because the first man with whom I fell in love is still a friend, and still holds a place dear in my heart.  And honestly, I think that that relationship helped me with other relationships, helped me determine their… oh, dear, I’m going to say this wrong… their ranking or their worth to me.  It  helped me distinguish between someone who was great fun to go out with a few times, and someone who might have potential as a partner.  Does that make sense?

Martin & I met at a leadership camp in Caloundra while I was on my exchange year.  He was one of the Australians, I was one of the ‘foreigners’.  The moment I saw him walk into the main camp building, I thought he was very cute.  Also very tall.  Just as an aside, why do you suppose it is that girls who are short are so attracted to tall men?  It must drive men of average or even less-than-average height completely mad!  Anyway, I thought he was cute, and I walked right up to him, hussy that I am, and said “Your penguin is adorable.”

This is not the non-sequitor you might think.  He was wearing a golf shirt that had a penguin symbol (like the Lauren polo player, but a penguin) embroidered on the upper left chest.  When he looked as stupefied at my remark as I’m sure you did just a moment ago, I pointed to said upper left chest, and he laughed.

We laughed together for the rest of the week, or as much of it as we could spend together, considering we were in two different leadership groups and had separate courses to take and to lead.  That week actually rather defined our entire relationship, because he lived 300 km from where I was being hosted, and between my schooling and program responsibilities and his working two jobs plus playing cricket, we didn’t see each other often during the remainder of my year Down Under.

We wrote letters.  Lots of letters, and cards, and we did get in a few visits, but they always seemed to be too short, heavily chaperoned, and sort of bittersweet even as they were happening.  Rotary has a rule, I think Number 7, which clearly states that, while dating may be permitted, there is to be no single romantic involvement while on the exchange.  Didn’t meet a kid on the program before, during or since who didn’t have a single romantic involvement, some of which were easy & good and some of which were hard & awful, but all of which I think are almost inevitable.

So all the time Martin & I were writing and seeing each other when we could and talking about the future, I think in the back of both our minds, and certainly in the back of mine, that barring a sudden change in the direction of our lives – like he decided not to play cricket, or my family disowned me so there was no point in going home – this year was not likely to have a romantic, happily ever after ending.

Please know that I did love him, and if we had met when we were two or three years older, or we had met in some neutral country – neither his nor mine, I believe things might have been different.  Maybe.  I don’t know, and I can’t ever know, of course.  What I do know is that, when I went back to Australia 28 years later, we saw each other again, several times, over two hour lunches in a few work days, and it was quite wonderful.  All the reasons why I cared for him when we were younger were still so evident, and having that time together is also something I would not exchange for anything.

But here’s the thing: I have Jeff, and Martin has Elaine, and both of us have been quite happily, contentedly married for exactly the same amount of time. And we married our wonderful spouses a little more than two years after I left Australia.  And we made the decision(s) to marry because, I believe, we had loved so well once, and knew what that was like, so when the best person for us came along, we knew it, and went with it, and are… happy.  And are friends.

Wondering what Jeff thinks about this? He understands, truly, because he has the same kind of relationship with his high school love, his first love.  Unlike Jeff, who has only spoken with Martin on the phone, I have met & spent time with Mary Jane, and I rather like her.  I understand completely why she was the perfect person for him to fall in love with when they were 16.  And I also understand how they found themselves on different life paths, even living in the same neighbourhood, just as Martin and I found ourselves on different paths in two different hemispheres.

I am not still in love with Martin, nor he with me.  Jeff is not still in love with Mary Jane, or she with him.  But inside us, as inside you, there is a person who is still 16 or 18 or 20, and that person, that once fragile and strong, happy and melancholic, that person remembers with love, always.

Saying I Love You; My Love Affairs, Part 2

I caught a re-run episode of The Big Bang Theory a few days ago, the one where Leonard says to Penny “I love you” and she says… “Thank you.”

Lord, isn’t that the bravest thing in the world, saying I love you to someone for the first time?  And I think it might even be braver if you say it and don’t know, have no way to be sure, how the other person feels.  Or maybe it’s just crazy to say it under those circumstances, I’m not sure.  I’m not good at saying it first.  I never have been.  I am, happily, in the position where I don’t have to say “I love you” for the first time to anyone again, or have it be said to me, at least not in the romantic sense!

But there are other relationships that sometimes ask for that phrase to be used.  Or maybe it’s just the people in those relationships.  Or, in my case, one of those people… and it wasn’t me who said it.  At least, not at first.

Let me take a giant step back here to open a curtain into a completely different portion of my life, the portion I spent living and working in New York City.  There is much to be told about those years, and I will share some lovely, funny, wonderful and sad stories from those times, but this story is about I love you.

My friends will know that the job I had in New York is the job I hold up to all other work opportunities.  I worked with a lawyer who has since become one of The names in entertainment law – not just in New York, but through the entire entertainment industry.  When we started working together, he was just starting out in his own practise after a few years with a major law firm and a talent agency.

George is one of those guys who knows what he wants to do and does it.  There’s no big scene about getting it accomplished – he just makes it happen. Of course, the fact that he’s incredibly intelligent, very well schooled and read, willing to put in the huge number of hours to accomplish his goals, and is smart enough to hire great people around him (like me!) has helped him achieve his goals, and move well beyond what he & I once shared.

I got the job with George because of a whale watching trip my brother Greg took.  Reader’s Digest version: We lived in Boston and Greg came to visit. Greg met a girl named Susan on a day trip he took alone because we were working. Greg & Susan tried to date long-distance for a while, didn’t work out. Susan moved to New York.  A year later, so did we.  I called Susan, we met up for drinks, but she was dating someone else and well, you know how that goes, trying to be friends with your brother’s ex.  Except that, a few weeks later, she rang me up and asked if I was free to come work for her for a day at this lawyer’s office because she had an audition and she was going to lose the job with the lawyer if she went to the audition and couldn’t find someone reasonably intelligent to take her place.  Still new to the city, still temping while I looked for a job, I went to the lawyer’s office, and worked there for five hours.  Three weeks later, I was his PA.

The first few weeks were crazy, busy, wonderful.  George discovered I had a gift for talking with people that made them feel great, satisfied even, without committing him to any course of action.  I knew how to write coherent letters, handle contract administration and his business financial affairs.  I knew all his clients’ names & phone numbers within three weeks of starting, and what their biggest problems/challenges/successes were.  And I never complained about working late.  He also discovered that it was fun to tease me, I brought weird food for lunch (and usually enough to feed him too) and that I am unswervingly loyal.

I remember quite clearly the Friday of our third week together.  George was leaving early to get to his house in the country with his wife, Joanna, and their daughter, Emma.  He was rushing to catch the train, throwing things in his briefcase and giving me last minute instructions, including not to stay late myself because the weather was too gorgeous to waste on work!  And just before he ducked out the door, he said to me “Thanks for a great week!  I love you!”

And then he stopped.

There must have been some… look on my face because he stopped and said, “What?  I do love you.”  My response was nervous, trying to masquerade as off-hand. “Oh, okay, sure.  Thanks.” Very Penny-like of me, although I would like to reassure you that, unlike that scene in The Big Bang Theory, this was taking place in the office, not bed.

George came back into the office, and closed the door.  He put  his briefcase down and looked at me very seriously.  “What’s wrong?”  I shook my head and tried to explain in a couple of simple sentences that I thought he – my boss – was completely off his bloody rocker.  How could he possibly love me?  It wasn’t meant as a romantic declaration, nor did I take it as such.  But love?  Of any kind?  After three weeks of working together?  Yeah, so not possible.  But I didn’t know how to say that without sounding like the judgemental prig I know the above paragraph sounds like.

Because I was fumbling for words, he started talking.  And he told me why it was possible to love someone after knowing them for such a short period of time.  Why my faith in him, my loyalty to him, my sense of humour and honesty, and most of all my incredibly bad coffee, all made him love me and value me as an important part of his life.  Did I understand that, he asked me.  I nodded yes, and he picked up his briefcase, opened the door and said again, “I love you.”  And this time, I said right back, “I love you, too.  Now go catch your train.”

Over the years we worked together, we really did love each other.  We went through some really challenging times professionally, and even worse moments personally, and I know that what we shared took us into places beyond where words like “boss” and “friend” make sense.  I also know so many years later we do love each other still.

George is the person who made me believe in myself, who made me see that there really isn’t anything in this world that I cannot do if I want to do it enough.  He thought I could run a film studio if that’s what I wanted to do, but I’ve been very happy with the chance to make a difference in running the theatre companies I’ve been part of.

It’s very hard to get hold of him for more than four minutes at a time these days, and since Emma has grown-up, I don’t return to New York as often to see the two of them as I used.  So when we talk, the conversations are about personal things, not unimportant stuff like work.  But still to this day, when I’m faced with a difficult decision at work, or about work, I ask myself what would George do or say, and I can hear his voice inside my head offering advice, providing guidance, even when I can’t hear his voice on the telephone.

At the most recent point in my life when the path I thought I should be on took a fork that could not include me, his words were the best piece of advice I got: “You’re the smart one. Make something else happen.”

And I think maybe that’s the greatest gift his love has given me – the continuing presence, even in his absence, of his faith in and understanding of me.

There is another part to the story of George & I, and Emma, too, for that matter that I hope to share with you, but we’ll leave it here for now.

Good night, George.  I love you.

My Love Affairs, Part 1

I was trying to explain to someone recently about why I blog, which first involved defining the word ‘blog’ and then explaining the process, which in turn lead to a glass of sherry, which took me off track for a while, but I’m back now.

In the process of explaining what a blog was, is, I used the phrase “it’s like keeping a journal”.  To which the response was, “But I thought you did that already!”  And, actually, I do.  A handwritten journal, in carefully selected books, a different one every so often! Imagine.

It’s not a daily thing, by any means, and in fact I can sometimes go for weeks without writing in it (although I usually feel guilty if I do that), but the journal to me is my chance to go on about others and, somtimes, myself.

I write, I muse, I bitch, about the people in my life.  Permanent residents and passing strangers alike, but I keep the journal a private book, mostly to protect the permanent people in my life from being hurt by the fact that sometimes I don’t like them very much. Which is NOT the same thing as not loving them, or even respecting them, but sometimes people (and this most definitely includes me!) are not nice.  They do or say things that I find… uncomfortable.  My journal, which is completely private, gives me the chance to vent about those weaknesses – theirs and mine.

Passing strangers I don’t care so much about hurting their feelings, but at the same time… one never knows if today’s stranger will become tomorrow’s BFF!

A blog, to me, is selfishly, gorgeously, endlessly about me.  About what I think, what I do, what I don’t do, what I look for, what I need, what I shouldn’t have.  And if I express all those things about me publicly, I find myself thinking better about myself.  I find myself thinking better about what I do.  Or sometimes, don’t do.  And it helps me, at least in part and some times, to put things into perspective.

One could, I suppose, find a therapist, and dump all this stuff on them.  But it’s possible one might find, after awhile, that the need to write is not lessened, and the therapist’s bills are too high, and also, that the therapist’s office smells vaguely of Mr Clean and gym bags, and that’s a disgusting combination.  So for now I, or rather one, blogs and finds invigoration in turning random thoughts into mostly coherent sentences.

As for the title of this particular blog, I found myself tapping out the word love on my iPhone about 97 times today.  Which, on my iPhone, often comes out ‘live’, but that’s not the phone’s fault.  I just type very fast.  And I got to thinking about the word ‘love’ and how easily it can roll off the tongue in some situations, and how slowly it seems to come in others. And I also got to thinking about how we use the word ‘love’ to talk about things and ideas and people equally, when we love them differently.

Don’t we?

For example, I love pomegranates, crisp bacon, lily of the valley, squishy pillows, new toothbrushes, Dick Francis thrillers, playing cribbage, and ice cold Stoli all very much.  I love them pretty much equally, but quite differently, and most definitely not that same way I love either my country or my husband. Yet I use, we all use, the word love to talk about these things, these ideas, these people as if they were the same.

The word love is either too small or too big; I cannot make up my mind which, but it is.  For now, however, it would seem to be the only word that we have at our disposal, so we will go on using it, and hope that the difference between my saying to my husband “I love you” and my saying to the first martini of the day “god, I love this” is clear.

Wait until I get to the part where I think it’s possible to love more than one person at a time…