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The Alchemy of Goodbye: Week 12: Blogging for Survival.

It is early morning. I hear magpies. Calling the day into consciousness. Singing up the souls of the dead. Heralding yet another goodbye.

There is choreography to the pain. The busyness of packing luggage into the car, shuffling cases around, numerous trips into the house for forgotten dolls and shoes. Lengthening the moments, making small talk. There is a conversation about the planned route home and the likelihood of inclement weather, where we will stop for lunch and what time we might arrive. Then, we the children are delivered into the nauseating clutches of the family car, being told not to fight and to put our seatbelts on. Vainly attempting to draw our eyes away from our Mother. And her sadness.

The goodbyes of my childhood are infused with pathos. My Poppa, unable to find words, would cry each time he and my mother parted. My father, lying sobbing, on the body of our Labrador, dead from snake bite.  Jacky Utley. My childhood friend. Waving to me from her Dads’ station wagon. Heading to Canberra. Never to be seen again.  Myself at 15, leaving for a year abroad, with the youthful expectation of being able to return, in time, and pick up where I left off. And my first love. Each one, indelibly changing the structure of my memory.  

Today I’m on my way to the airport. My son is driving. And talking. A deeply understated human being, he uses words like semi precious stones. With care. I catch them. I hoard them. Greedily. My lucky charm for the days ahead. Future proofing my memory. With the chemical compound for goodbye.

In the lead up to my departure I listen for the words that signify the start of the sequence. They come. They are cast toward my retreating self. An amalgam of End Game statements and opening gambits. You are leaving again. This makes me feel alone.  You are leaving again. This makes me feel anxious.  You are leaving again. This makes me feel excited.  You are leaving again. This makes me feel your absence. 

The alchemy of all these goodbyes has distilled the raw elements into a powerful elixir. One that frames the present, capturing the beauty of those I love, urging me to love them more, in this moment, than ever before. The baby learns to say my name and the cat that isn’t mine decides to sleep on my bed. These little faces are unbearably soulful. And maybe they always are. It’s just today I am saying goodbye. Again.

The awareness of how much it all matters makes me wonder if I am the subject of a bad chemistry experiment by fourth grade extra terrestrials. There is an entire living planet in the throes of death and rebirth. Hellos and goodbyes. Now and forevers. For all that, I might as well be a brand new species. From the unbearable pathos genus. With no collective noun. Because it consists of only me. Racing toward extinction anytime soon.

To each goodbye I say, ‘that hurts’. ‘Damn that hurts’.

 And so, like the experiment I am, I yield at the thought of a scientific breakthrough. For if I discover the formula for unbearable pathos, I will market it to airports to put alongside the Chanel and Dior. ‘Unbearable pathos – Enhancing your preflight emotional overload with flashbacks to your childhood. Bonus scenes of you crying in a range of exotic locations’.     

In honour of the Alchemists of old, I board my plane.

I’m heading towards goodbye.





The bearded lady and world poverty

Alligators inhabit this lake. Popping up their gnarly heads and blinking sideways at the sun. I do likewise. Completely still. My breathing mirrors their reptilian cycle. Slow. Deep. I imagine my prehistoric self, swimming, blinking and breathing. I want that existence. To escape the burden of my own evolution. It has become too heavy.

This Florida landscape is unchanging. Evergreen, expertly manicured, colour coded and symphonically syncopated. Left is the Community centre and right is the golf course. This reality is a Tuscan, Naples, New Mexican palette with or without pool. But always with alligators.

The days take on a surreal quality. Time becomes pointless. I start drifting in the primordial pool of precognition. It’s a hospice for my weary consciousness. I am right where I need to be. A retirement community in Orlando. I retire for seven days. It’s not a test or even an experiment. Nor a taste of the future or a joke. It’s a holding cell. And it holds me gently, tastefully and oh so quietly.

My friends serve their meals on time and wash their clothes with the smells of kindness. They offer me tea and whisky at exactly the right moments. They talk of their adventurous past and their country hopping present. Their map of the world has been refolded into the shape of a heart. And they offer it to me. Part story, part hope. Paying homage to the Patron Saint of freedom.

In between journeys they choose an alligator calm. Prowling the perimeter for tasty morsels and living off the fat of the last big feed.  Contrasting colour to their monochrome world is provided by the other free humans they have found in the cell. Sniffing out those who read the Braille of the Trade winds and drawing a circle around them straight from the tropic of Capricorn. With these lofty spirits they tread water in the still pond of their gated community.

An evening of conversation has been arranged in my honour. We will gather together and discuss all things pertinent to the survival of the cell. I will be the evening’s delicacy. Wild grown, organic Australian. I arrange my face into openness and strike a dignified pose as we career along in the golf cart. I can do retirement community chic.

Having been pre warned about the calamitous state of their neighbours’ cellar I take along a bottle of Australian wine as a peace offering. Works a treat. Soon I’m being comfortably arranged at the round table with a glass of something quite palatable and I start to feel, well, almost unguarded. A little prematurely. As I take a satisfied sip of their Californian Chardonnay, 6 pairs of eyes turn and pierce me with an all knowing gaze. I smell my flesh starting to sauté in the juices of expectation. My friends throw down the gauntlet, ‘So Lisa, tell us all what you are hoping to do about world poverty’. I take a long sip of wine. It’s starting to get a bit crowded here in the primordial pool. Time to evolve. Real fast.

After making several  attempts to explain the tenuous relationship between me and the solution to world poverty, the spokesperson of the pod comes to my rescue. ‘I have only met one other Australian’, she says. ‘On a cruise. She had a problem with extreme facial hair. And she was real grouchy’. At this point there are a couple of themes running through my reptilian brain. 1) The interest of the non poor in poverty, 2) The chances of meeting an Australian woman on a cruise with problematic facial hair and, 3) How I can get something stronger to drink.

My long pause has been misconstrued as deep thought and they all continue to wait for me to respond.  ‘Maybe she was grouchy because she left her shaving gear at home’. Pause. ‘I know just how she feels’. Pause, pause, pause. I turn as I hear a gentle clearing of the throat and it is the husband of the speaker. ‘Actually that is only one side of the story. My wife warned me not to speak to this woman, she told me she was unstable and very hostile, but I ignored her and sat down right next to her. I struck up a conversation with her and found her to be quite human. We got on famously after that’.

The gentleness of his tone reminds us all of our human spirit. The very same one that lifts us out of our still ponds and wires us for freedom. The six pairs of eyes look more kindly on me now. The monster has been repelled. ‘Don’t look so worried Lisa’, they say, ‘we won’t bite’.

I blink sideways at the sun.

New York Monologues

New York tells me a story. A relentless tale that doesn’t stop to draw breath. Even though I’m all beat up. It’s a tale that comes at me, artillery style, and continues firing rounds into my untidily slumped carcass.  New York, as embodied by my friend Lucia, wants me to cry Uncle. And then some.

I’m riding on the subway and a woman steps forward, “I was just like you once, getting up, getting dressed and going to work, I didn’t think I would be in this place, but I am. I’m doing what I can to keep body and soul together but I need a little help. It doesn’t have to be money; some food would also be appreciated.” I stare. I can’t avert my eyes. She is dignified, standing tall. Meeting the gaze of her fellow New Yorkers.  They don’t visibly react, twitter amongst themselves or shift uncomfortably in their seats. They stay present, in the moment, offering silent solidarity. I give money.

I take a ferry out to the Statue of Liberty. The New York skyline is shrouded in fog and as Liberty comes into view I’m mute audience to the theatre of trauma. The tour guide sounds like a standup comedian. From the gates of hell. “How can I talk about New York and not talk about 9/11? How can I stand here before you and not share the horror of that day? What I saw from this spot, on this ferry? What I will never, never forget?” I don’t get to be a mindless tourist today. I realise that I don’t get to be mindless tourist any day, anymore. People deserve better. He makes a request at the end of the tour for a tip, for all the crew. A shared thank you.  I give money.

Each day as we walk up and down Lucia’s street we pass a man sitting on the sidewalk. He asks for money. “No, sorry honey” says Lucia, “God Bless you”.  And “God Bless you too sister”. We pass him again the next day and he is the first to say, “God Bless you sister” and Lucia responds, “Man, do you need some food?” “No sister, just trying to get a dollar”. “God Bless you” she says. I am alone the next day when I pass him. In my world, invoking God is no blessing. I’m struggling. Right here in this moment I’m doing an Angels and Demons in a one woman play, set in the Bronx with an Australian costume designer. It’s incongruous, incomplete. Disingenuous. I give money.

Over the days I put change into the upturned caps of buskers. I offer a dollar to the melodic guitarist who serenades us for one whole subway stop. I wrestle the tipping behemoth to the ground and make it speak to me in a language I can understand. I try to keep the story at arms length. Bargaining for time. To protect myself.

Lucia provides the narrative voice. Every place we eat, every subway stop, every building, every bar, every Deli, every single New Yorker is a part of her rich relationship with her place. She is the story of New York. Throughout the week she wryly repeats her mantra, “You can have anything you want in New York, so long as you are willing to pay.”  I take it literally.

The incessant, complex and confronting voices of the city beg me for air time. I am Sybil. I have one hundred personalities talking, singing and playing in my head. I try to listen politely. But this is no debutantes’ ball. This is the voice that arises soulfully from the life of a city. And will be heard.

I begin to hurt. From my boots up.

We take a taxi home tonight. My pain has become burdensome. Lucia skillfully negotiates with the driver in Spanish. In rapid fire she has discovered where he was born, who he knows, what time he started work and what he charges for a ride to the airport. I miss the subtlety. By the time we reach our destination they have agreed on a reasonable fare and a pick up time the next morning. It’s a dance. One I haven’t learnt the steps to. As we exit the taxi the deal is confirmed. In a clumsy encore to their tango I pay the taxi driver. Too much. And Lucia says   “it’s not about money Lisa”.

New York is a story that money can’t buy.

Plumbing Loves’ Depth

I have become accustomed to the alternate reality of hairdressers. I look forward to the time apart from my life. Stepping aside, for a few hours, from the vigorous aggressiveness of being. And as I step through the worm hole of time, into the salon, I let out a sigh of relief.  I have come for my ritual shearing and I can already feel the layers starting to drop away. Today, however, I am taken slightly off guard. In addition to the tanning room, waxing of all things hairy, eyebrow tattooing and nails- to- go on offer at my hairdressers, there is now also a psychic. While your colour cures in your hair and sends its toxic fumes out to the ether you can spend the time being useful and preparing for your future, whatever that may be. $40 for 40 minutes with your very own psychic. And when she is not busy she sweeps the floor.

She stands next to me with eyebrows raised and broom poised. Asking me to choose. The broom loses. I follow her, all dripping chemicals and burning eyes into the waxing room, where all will be revealed, peeled away, exposed. Ouch.

We both make ourselves comfortable. She perches on a stool and I sit opposite. We both use the massage table to lean on. Organised and businesslike she supplies me with clipboard and pen. I momentarily wonder if I am interviewing people here today, channeling my own inner news reporter. No. Apparently I am to take notes.

I make a heading. ‘My Future’. Good start I feel.

There is always the preamble with psychics. Mystical static. Tuning in and getting the sound right. I’m not one for small talk so I largely ignore the first round of messages. You know, house repairs, health issues and finances. All the things I ignore in life generally. My ears prick up though when my spiritual guides move toward the territory of the heart. What does love have in store? This bit is often pure genius.

I have options. She sees one potential candidate with a pitchfork and pot belly. I may need to learn how to ride a horse and this lucky person gets to teach me. She frowns, maybe you just learn something from this person, it’s not, ummm, romantic. Close call.

The next candidate is described in glowing detail. An Intricately wrought biography ensues. Job, dress sense, hair style, location, work ethos, passions. She looks directly at me and smiles. Pleased as punch with my future and the affirmation from the other side that all is well in the world of happily ever after. See? It can happen. You just need a little faith, a waxing room and a floor sweeping psychic.

I stare in horror. The person she describes is my archetypal nightmare. In every way. Egotistical, self important, saving the world and wearing ghastly clothes. Surrounded by children from Africa, or somewhere like that, because they are black. Clearly there is some otherworld joke going on here. And now I think of it, I’m feeling small and foolish. Shamed partly because I have never lacked faith. It’s a joke within a joke. The mumbo jumbo sucks, however the connection to an inner knowing is real. If you come seeking the ridiculous, you will find it.

Dutifully I continue to take notes as we come down from the crescendo of the romantic fantasy. She is a little breathless and momentarily flushes and says. ‘Sometimes I wish it was my life I was seeing’. Yeah honey, I think, me too.

During the next few weeks I visit with two amazing women, in two countries. Strong, independent, capable types. In very different ways. I glimpse their worlds and momentarily share their domestic spaces. I observe that both of them have small and annoying plumbing dilemmas. Ones they have both attempted to remedy with creativity, skill and patience. To no avail.

And I think of my own domestic space. Plagued as it is with leaking taps and rusting pipes. And that’s the romantic fantasy. And it doesn’t require the mystical arts to foretell. If ever there was to be a chance at love. It would have to come dressed as a plumber.

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