The fragility is astounding

I was getting dinner started and I happened to notice an email coming in on my phone. I glanced over to see a few words of the sender and subject show up momentarily. The sender was not a name I was familiar with and the subject line was “very sad news”. Unusual. And because I was intrigued and needed an excuse to procrastinate with the cooking, I flicked open the email…

It was not at all what I expected. At first I didn’t know if I should be reading it. It was from the head of a faculty at uni, someone very senior who I didn’t even know existed. The news was more than sad, it was shocking. Apparently a student had died; someone in my class. I felt like pinching myself – was this even real?

I read the email over three or four times, trying to work out whether this really was what I thought, whether I really should be reading it. I stared at the name of the student. Was it? I stood in the kitchen, half chopped veggies, water boiling away, just staring for a moment, shaking my head.

I’ve found it hard to fit in with the group of students in this class. I don’t know most of them by name and probably wouldn’t even recognise all of them by sight, even though we’ve been in the same class every week for two months now. It’s a big class, at least 20 students, which is unusual for a graduate class, and seminars are conducted in a very large room making it somewhat impersonal. We are all from different departments within the larger faculty, and I’m the only one from the Italian department so this is the only class I have with these people. I think I may also be the only international student. Anyway, it’s hard to remember everyone and my natural introversion takes me over and I don’t talk much, so I don’t really get to know people. But as in any group of people, there are some that stand out. I think different people stand out depending on the group as a whole, and there may be people that I notice that others won’t. Off the top of my head I can think of only a few people in this class that stand out. I don’t even know all their names but they stand out for various reasons – I’ve sat next to them and chatted briefly, or they talk a lot in class, have an interesting accent, an interesting face or look… Out of those who stand out to me in this class, there is one who stands out just slightly more. I’m not sure of her name but I’m pretty sure this is the student that this email is referring to.

She stood out, not just because she had a slightly interesting look about her and spoke fairly often in class; she stood out for her brilliance, her intelligence. From the very beginning I was in awe of her quick wit. She was so bright, so well-read, so prolific! One of those people who just bowls you over and you know immediately upon meeting her that, yes, she is going places. She would be writing brilliant things, publishing books that future students in this course would be studying.

I actually envied her. I wished I had her ability to read and absorb. I remember once when our class broken up into smaller discussion groups and she bounced in and everyone was sitting there looking at their phones and laptops in awkward silence. She smiled and started rabbiting on about the reading we’d been assigned that week, even before the professor arrived. Not only had she clearly read it, she’d really taken it on board, and it appeared she was already familiar with that particular work. I tried to pretend I’d read it too (I’d skimmed it on the way into class on the train), so motivated by her energy, so in awe of her intelligence. She was a little nerdy, a little quirky, and super bright.

When I managed to pull myself out of my shock, I cooked the dinner, which was now late, and once I was lying down with Thumper getting her off to sleep, I re-read the email. I still wasn’t sure if this student was actually her, this bright light that had impressed me from the get-go. I googled her. Facebook profile. Somewhat private, but profile pics available to flick through. I stared. It was definitely her. Only one post on her page was public, a query to a tattoo artist about a certain style. I googled the name of the style. Beautiful. I wondered if she ever got that tattoo. Now it would be wasted.

I didn’t know this person at all really. I’d talked to her maybe two or three times in total, said hi, smiled in her direction, noticed her, listened to her give insightful commentary during class. It dawned on me that, although nothing had been stated explicitly, she had taken her own life. I thought back to the last class and my stomach turned at the memory of her. She was not herself that day. Again, I didn’t know her, but thinking back to that last class I should have known something was up. She didn’t talk. It just so happened I’d been put in a small group for a discussion on that day and we all had to briefly discuss our assignments. I remember now that she wasn’t really participating, looking down or away throughout, and when it came time for her to talk about her assignment she was brief and unenthusiastic. Of course I didn’t think about it at the time, although I may have wondered briefly why she wasn’t saying much, but looking back it’s clear she was in a bad place on that day.

After getting over the initial shock, I began to think about perception and success. I was reminded, yet again, never to judge anyone as you never know what’s going on for them behind the scenes. Never put anyone on a pedestal either, as we all have our weaknesses and hero worship equals undue pressure. She seemed so full of inspiration, brimming with knowledge and enthusiasm, yet she was fragile and I had no idea. All this got me thinking then about gratitude. I am so incredibly grateful that, while I may not be super brilliant or write any groundbreaking theses or contribute to the intellectual world in my life, I have what I need to keep me going in life. I love all this study, learning, but ultimately my people are what matters most, and I have three of them closest to me that mean everything. I can study forever, become an intellectual, write something worth publishing even, but none of this is important in comparison to spending time with those I love, my husband and kids. It’s trite, I hear you say… sure, whatever, but it’s what’s most important. I feel for those left behind by this shining light of a human and I hope anyone suffering from depression or any kind of mental illness can find love and support enough to get control over that and know that those closest are what’s important. I wish I knew this in my 20s when I was most emotionally volatile but I am grateful I made it out of that time to now where I have all that I need and recognise it. I won’t forget this woman; and I won’t forget the realisations I came to as a result of her death. It may not be of great importance for anyone but me and my family, but that’s enough.

Seven years

On 13 Aug we celebrated seven years since we first met. Seven years! This is officially my longest relationship and I think Mr Chewbacca’s too.

image
Our dessert at the end of a very expensive meal at an Italian restaurant in St John's Wood on our first anniversary, 13 August 2009

This won’t be a long post because, although I tend to blab to whoever will listen about anything and everything, privacy is important, and some things are just, well, private. Especially things that relate directly to others upon whose behalf I wouldn’t like to speak without prior clearance. I just wanted to mark this moment because seven years is an important milestone.

When we first met I was a couple of months off turning 30 and I felt old. Mr C was 34 and I think he felt old too! We met at Liverpool St Station outside a small Starbucks next to the Bishopsgate entrance. We went to a pub in Wapping, The Captain Kidd I think, although I could be mixing it up with the other one nearby. Which one is the oldest pub in London again? I forget. Shame on me!

We discussed the work of the famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the possible names of our children, but ironically not at the same time. He told me about the tunnel under the Thames at Rotherhithe and we went outside to look at where it begins. I expected food but none was forthcoming, just beer, which I attempted to drink but didn’t get far as it doesn’t agree with me. We swapped music players to go through each other’s music and draw conclusions. That was important. I can’t be with someone who has no ear for music. It didn’t seem to matter that, despite being Aussie, I hated rugby. Or maybe it did, who knows.

image
One of the best photos I've ever taken. Hyde Park, London, at the Christmas Market, December 2009

I went home and told my flatmate I’d met my future husband. We both fell hard in love. I was surprised, he wasn’t who I’d pictured myself with, yet somehow I knew there could be no one else. He was like a male version of me. Reminded me of that Seinfeld episode where Jerry meets Jeannie (Janine Garofolo) and, upon falling in love with her, remarks to George: “Now I know who I’ve been looking for all these years. Myself!”

I don’t know why we were in such a rush to complete our courtship – perhaps it was the age thing – but we were virtually inseparable from that day on. Gee it’s been some kind of crazy ride. But I wouldn’t change it, I really wouldn’t.

Happy seven years to us. The beginning of a new cycle in a new country. How apt.

Dear Dave…

Dear Dave Matthews,

How’s it going? You don’t know me, but I felt I needed to write and explain something.

We’re about to move to Canada. I’ve never been there before. If you’d have told me five years ago that I’d move to Toronto in 2015 I’d have laughed in your face. Especially with no employment or income and two small children. It’s a crazy notion.
Aside from wondering who the hell I am, you’re probably wanting to know why we’re embarking on this insane adventure. Let me explain.

I’m Australian but I don’t feel very Aussie. I like winter, snow, ice skating, open fires, flushed cheeks, bright cold skies. I like snow at Christmas. I ikea deciduous trees and grass that stays green, great service in restaurants and an overabundance of celebration at various festive times during the year.

I also like your music, Dave, even though I’m pretty sure you’re high during most of your performances. It doesn’t detract. It kind of adds to it actually.

The first time I heard of you was about 15 years ago. I had a serendipitous connection with a guy I met through uni and early on in what would become a six-year relationship he played Crash for me. Just that one song. Over and over. It’s a great song and I very quickly came to love it. But I never got to listen to the whole album. Often he’d play a bit of Satellite, I think it’s called, and I heard those opening bars of Too Much so many times. Da da daaaaa! Never heard the whole song.

Fast forward about ten years, I was introduced to you again, this time by someone with musical taste as well as talent. My husband. I don’t really know how I came to love your music but I’m guessing it was him being pushy and just playing it all the time after having rudely dismissed whatever I was listening to at the time. Just playing entire albums no matter whether you liked them or not. Or playing Metallica. We also saw you live somewhere in London in about 2009 I think. That was the night Michael Jackson died. Totally irrelevant, but anyway, you were off your head on some kind of substance but still playing like a demon!

One evening some months ago my husband was out with friends having a few drinks and when he came home he put on some music and we danced. He wanted to dance with me. The songs he chose were not played at our wedding or when we first met. They were two of your songs. The first was Crush, something I’d previously have wrinkled my nose at having heard the first few plucky sax notes, branding it elevator music. It’s actually an extraordinarily sensual song, and the way you deliver the lyrics really give it depth. It’s kinda us. And the second song my husband played that night was #41. According to Wikipedia you wrote it following the messy dissolution of your relationship with a former manager, when he started claiming ownership of stuff you wrote. I can’t explain why but this song just connects us.

These two songs together mixed with snow in winter at Christmas and the rejection of various other northern hemisphere destinations mean Canada is right for us. Or at least it is a good option to explore.
I still can’t really explain why your music has been such an influence in our decision to check out Canada (you’re from California or something, right?) but somehow when my husband and I listen to your music we just look at each other and know. It evokes a feeling in both of us. There’s comfort, familiarity, excitement, home. Suffice it to say, we’ll never be able to listen to your awesome music again if we end up hating Canada. And that would be a shame.

image
Image credit http://www.dkngstudios.com/blog/2012/12/14/dave-matthews-band-toronto-poster

Edit: bloody hell, look at what popped up when I googled “Dave Mattews winter snow Canada tree”. What an amazing work of art! If we get our Canadian citizenship I’m totally getting this tattooed!

The heart, it aches

I’ll be honest. The way that Mr Chewbacca and I ended up together was a bit of a whirlwind; pretty quick, too quick for some probably. At the time, I was about to turn 30 and he’d turned 34 at the beginning of that year. At some level, I think we considered ourselves old and we were both pretty clear on what we wanted from a relationship. It was as simple as realising we were both keen for marriage and children really. But there was also a meeting of the minds when it came to our mutual interests. And values, our values were always fairly similar, which I knew to be extremely important.

But it’s only fair to say that we jumped into the deep end and didn’t really give ourselves a chance to hesitate. Met in August, moved in together in December, got engaged the following August, moved to another country the next January and married the following April. Then got pregnant in July. It was fast, yes, but I think that’s just how it was meant to be. I might not have been so certain of this early on in the relationship but looking back I can see just how right it all was. Not necessarily the moving overseas part, but that’s another story!

I don’t really know when I actually fell in love with him. I don’t think it was even ‘falling’; it was just love. Almost like I was in it the whole time but I needed time to realise it. Anyway, like all couples, we have our emotional mountains to climb; it is quite intense, our rapport, I think because we are both very passionate people.

Since the birth of the Dude in 2011, I don’t think we’ve been apart more than the odd night here or there. Maybe two nights once? And that was torture. The older the Dude gets, the more entwined we become as a family. The connection between our threesome (and soon to be foursome) is really intense. I think it’s probably on par with plenty of other families but what is particularly confronting for me is that I’ve never had this feeling about family before. Most of my family I don’t have much to do with, mainly because I have nothing in common with them and no real pull to them. There’s a detachment there, the opposite of attachment. In fact most family connections are pretty weird, squirm-worthy really. I never enjoyed cuddling any of my family members; I’d just endure it. I never knew what it was to enjoy a hug until I met my first long term boyfriend at age 21. I’d look forward to being with family, but within moments of being around them I’d be disillusioned, realising that these people, while they had some agreeable traits, did not feel ‘right’ to me. I didn’t want to be a part of whatever it was they had. I never enjoyed spending time with family to any great extent. Until I had my own, of course.

I’m thinking about all this stuff now because Mr C is away for two weeks. He’s due back in a few days and I am so glad of that. Two weeks has felt like an eternity. And it’s not because I’ve had to be the sole parent and that’s been really hard. It’s hard, but not unmanageable. It’s a fantastic feeling to love my husband as a man, a partner and a father to my children. It is the most fully-rounded, complete feeling I’ve ever known.

Starting a family, especially so soon after we met and married, has been stressful to say the least. Having children is stressful in general, let’s face it. And it’s been a massive learning curve for us, particularly because we were simultaneously learning about each other and how we relate. We’ve had some huge changes as well, with not only moving to Australia but feeling completely unsettled the whole time and moving interstate twice. We’ve renovated and sold a house, persevered through numerous bouts of stressful unemployment and problems with work, and now we’re having our second child. We have managed. And not just managed but actually come through it all much stronger than we ever were before.

I am missing Mr C like I’d miss a limb. The Dude is too, desperate to drive to the airport, suggesting daddy is about to walk through the door, that he’s ‘back now’. While the missing is painful, it’s also joyful; I am so grateful for it. I am grateful to feel so deeply, so genuinely about another person in the world. This is new for me and oh so profound.

Love and happiness

Here I am blogging at 10:03pm on New Year’s Eve. I wasn’t aware until a few hours ago but apparently this is the kind of thing that people with 19-month-olds do at New Year’s. I am, however, drinking a gin and tonic and have found an episode of Sex and the City to put on that I’ve seen a hundred million times. Party time or what?!

No, seriously, I must first apologise to anyone wondering (probably no one!) for not posting in a while. It was near impossible while we were overseas – no time and no computer – and since we’ve been back it’s just been go go go, Christmas and now New Year. Secondly, I’m planning a whole series of posts around our trip and all the topics around travelling with a young child, visiting family, being a tourist, being an expat and finding home all over again, so stay tuned for all that. I’m also thinking a lot about a lovely comment from an even lovelier friend, Ms Lulu, and where my blog is headed. I’m pretty bad at being organised and focused about marketing my blog, that’s not really my thing, but I would like to write more and I kind of hope it’s interesting. At least I’d like to make it more interesting. So I’m feeling better about my stream-of-consciousness style and I’m not shying away from ‘mummy’ posts about all things baby and child. As the Cranberries said, ‘everyone else is doing it so why can’t we?’

I won’t lie, it’s been a pretty full on year for us. I mean, let’s face it, it’s always full on with a baby, or a toddler, or kids in general really.  Life moves faster when it’s full. And although I’m almost certain that the pace of life and events in the last few years has all been about the arrival of the Dude (more of an explanation on that another time), it hasn’t made things easy for me, or for my relationship. Lack of time, money, control, they all create tension and angst. We’ve been working our butts off to keep things running smoothly in the relationship stakes recently, butting heads and doing it tough big time, but every time we manage to pull it together I am reminded of how lucky I am to have found The One. Love is always there, and that’s an amazing thing.

image

A few weeks ago, I think soon after we got back from the UK, I went to write something on our shopping list, which involves a fantastic ‘stick a post-it on the pantry door’ system that we just love, and I noticed the uppermost item was ‘love and happiness’. Mr Chewbacca had written it. For some reason, maybe because it just didn’t need to be said, I never mentioned anything about it. I knew he knew I’d seen it, and so when I started the next list, I added ‘love and happiness’ back to the top. I haven’t spoken to Mr C about it yet and we’re three lists in but I think it’s going to be our mantra for 2013, like an affirmation. He’s started the next list and put it at the top again. I truly believe that if you repeat something enough, it becomes true. That’s not to say I’m going to sit around eating icecream and watching crappy tv reciting  ‘I’m in love and happy’ but I think the more we see those words, the more we’ll remember to live them. And let’s face it, those two things are everything. I’m not totally in agreement with John, you need more than love, but love is really the root of things, it covers so many bases and can totally change the way you experience life if you are in it or feeling it.

image

So I propose that 2013 be infused with love and happiness, in as many shapes and forms it can exist. And now I’m going to hit publish, refresh my gin and tonic, and hope the Dude stays asleep through the loud party over the back fence, the bogans setting off their fireworks two streets over, and the idiots next door who leave their dog to bark right outside our open bedroom window. I’ll be back shortly (hopefully tomorrow) with my 2013 resolutions post.  Happy New Year!