Where to from here?

What now?

In what seems like the blink of an eye this is what happened. I was not ready for it, but I hung on tight and rode the roller coaster doggedly until the end. Absolutely fucking exhausted, and a completely different person to the one who strapped himself in at the start of the ride, I sit here breathing deeply and wondering what happens next. Let me explain…

Almost thirty years ago I met the most wonderful girl. She was smart, funny, beautiful and fun to be around. She was someone this shy boy felt comfortable with, and we could talk without running out of things to talk about. This was almost the perfect picture, but there was one inconvenient problem; this girl was my best friend’s girlfriend. Like the classic third wheel I spent time with them whenever invited, and enjoyed being in their company. It was a safe relationship I guess, in which I could have my secret little crush and nobody need know. The problem is, you really can’t have a secret crush on someone when you spend a lot of time around them. Eventually they work it out, and then it either gets awkward or it gets acted upon. My friend had to rush home suddenly when his mum passed away, and we acted on it.

I’ll say officially that he never knew, never found out, but he did. He knew me too well and could see that I was smitten. Being interrupted by him whilst engaged in a passionate goodnight kiss just outside their front door must have been a strong hint.

Anyway, they managed to get through that incident, I backed off and so did they; all the way to London for a working holiday. We kept in touch by snail-mail over those eighteen months. I received their news of Paris, Rome, Porto and disastrous road trips, and replied with my news of nothing happening back here. Her best friend travelled to London for her own holiday and joined them to share the rent of their little flat. Turned out that my friend developed a crush of his own on the new flatmate / girlfriend’s best friend and things again became awkward. I can only assume there were some harsh words as the next thing I knew, my friend and his girlfriend’s friend had returned from London and were apparently ‘flat-mates’. His girlfriend had decided to remain in London alone. Are you keeping up?

A few months later I was asked to be a groomsman in my friends wedding, and another month later wonderful girl mentioned above returned from London. It was March. We caught up for a drink and for old times sake. On her birthday two months later I proposed, and in January we married.

What happened next was a blur, but it was something like four children arriving over the space of seven years. We bought and extended and further renovated a family home, at the same time sending aforementioned children to exclusive and very expensive schools. I worked hard and miserably in well paid jobs I hated, and my beautiful wife worked weekend nightshifts ensuring there was no chance of meaningful communication or ‘quality time’ for us. The value of our house rose admirably, as did the mortgage as we sent away whatever equity we had in the form of school fees. I did manage to escape the rat race briefly by purchasing a business, and loved the flexibility this offered. My mistake; I loved the flexibility I thought it would offer, but unfortunately found myself trapped in eighteen hour days to ensure the business made enough money to keep our mid sized economy ticking over. Eventually and predictably everything turned to shit and I was admitted to the psych clinic after a nasty breakdown. The business was eventually sold and I managed to get another well paid job, this time in a slightly different field doing something fun and challenging with people I liked. Sadly this lasted not nearly long enough, and office politics caught up and put me back into a role that I hated.

Along the way something unexpected happened with the children. They grew up, completed high school and left home to move across the country. We were that textbook couple who then looked across the table and said “do I know you? You look somehow familiar but I don’t know anything about you”. We decided we didn’t really know each other, so my wife went to join the kids on the other side of the country, leaving me alone in a job I still hated which I now seemed to be doing for no good reason other than to support my family’s distant life change.

In a moment of epiphany I decided not to follow this traditional route mapped out by so many couples before us, and proposed to my wife that she return and we work on creating a new and better future, without the crap that caused us to split apart. Hell, there was a time we were absolutely smitten and surely we could rekindle some of that magic. Her own dream of a new life in a new city, building a wonderful new life with the children had actually turned to shit, so the timing was good.

After a few volatile weeks we have managed not to murder each other, and have made it to our very first counselling session. There may yet be hope for us. Not much rekindling to report just yet.

What I had actually meant to do today was draw up two lists; One list is to show all the things I would like to do with my time, and the other would show what I’m actually doing. In consultant speak they might be called the ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ lists, to which you then perform a ‘gap analysis’ followed by a ‘transition plan’.

My ‘to be’ list would contain such things as: Play guitar, sing, volunteer with suicide prevention / homelessness / addiction recovery / mental health organisations, public speaking, writing, travel to Ireland to meet my birth mum, open water swimming, triathlon, marathon running and yoga.

My ‘as is’ list looks like: Work in a job I don’t enjoy, waste most weekends by doing very little towards my goals.

Clearly I have plenty of scope to construct both my gap analysis and transition plan. In a nutshell, and without the expensive assistance of consultants, they could be summarised as “Your gap is wide” and “Stop wasting time and get on with it” respectively.

Stay tuned

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Child’s face left in a permanent scowl as wind unexpectedly changes

Disaster
GirlPokingTongue

Ignoring repeated warnings from her Mammy, four year old Siobhan O’Rourke insisted on pulling faces at her older brother Eamon despite a forecast of changing winds.

“I told the little scallywag that if the wind changes you’ll be stuck with that face forever” said her distraught mother Eileen. “Eamon had been teasing the wee thing unmercifully, and it all became too much for her. She screwed up her face and stuck out her tongue, just as the pleasant Westerly breeze completely swung to the East, and the damage was done.”

Not only is Siobhan’s sweet little face now forever looking daggers, her speech has been terribly affected. “Poor little monkey can no longer retract her tongue, so it has become awfully difficult to know what she’s saying. We had a terrible argument at morning tea. I gave her a biscuit to have with her milk, but the greedy little minx was demanding two biscuits; ‘I want two, I want Two…’ her scowling little face cried with her little tongue pointing at me.”

Turns out that Siobhan didn’t want an extra biscuit, but instead desperately wanted to poo, which Eileen discovered somewhat too late.

“What’s to become of her? How will she take her First Holy Communion looking like this? What boy is ever going to be interested in a girl with a perpetual scowl?” pleaded her distraught mother.

The O’Rourke family has been saying the Rosary around the clock in the hope of divine intervention.  In the mean time they are scouring the literature on old wives’  tales for a cure, and are  pleading with little Siobhan not to tell a single fib for fear her perennial protruding tongue will become covered in black spots, only adding to her woes.

Blog Number one, take two

So, it seems saving a draft doesn’t necessarily save a draft. Here goes again.

Of all the places I’d pictured for embarking on my first ‘serious’ attempt at writing, this setting never got a look in. Tapping away on the tiny phone keyboard with my fat thumbs, backing up every three or four words to make a correction, and listening to the laboured, rattling breathing of my sister as she inevitably approaches her final breath.

She’s a tough one is Kathleen. Three days ago when the Emergency staff told the family her breathing tube was to be removed, we did our best to prepare for the worst. The massive brain bleed may have caused irreversible trauma, but her fighting spirit remained in tact.

It was on on her thirty seventh birthday, thirty six years ago almost to the day, that her first stroke came perilously close to taking her from her husband and four children. Severely paralysed and unable to communicate she worked every single day to recover as much function as was humanly possible and went on to embrace life against the odds.

On the other side of the bed is Kathy’s youngest, Kate, who has spent three nights sitting with her mum to ensure she is not alone. Kate turned three the day Kathleen had her first stroke having made her entrance to the world on her mum’s birthday. All those years ago, Kate saw the mum she knew and loved go into hospital one day, and some time later this other person would come to her home on weekend release from hospital or the rehab hospital. This woman was in an ugly steel wheelchair, wearing a scarf on her head and didn’t talk. She certainly didn’t have the beautiful blonde hair of her mum. Kate’s first recollection was her dad saying to her ‘Katie, that’s your mum. Go and give her a hug.
I received the call at work on Tuesday around two in the afternoon. It was Tracey, my nephew Michael’s partner, whom I had only met once before just over two years ago at the funeral of Kathleen’s husband Peter. “Kathy’s had a catastrophic bleed and is on life support at Fiona Stanley Hospital”. It is now Friday exactly three days since she collapsed.
Preparing for her favourite thing in the world, coffee and a chat with a friend, Kathleen said goodbye as daughter Mandy left the house, and went to the bathroom one last time before her friend from church was due to arrive and take her out.

Maggie arrived a few minutes later and immediately sensed something was not right. She expected kathleen to be eagerly waiting on the front patio but there was no sign of her and the front door was open. There was no response when she knocked and called Kathleen’s name, however she heard a disturbing noise which she later likened to a rugby player snoring. Maggie followed the noise to the bathroom to find Kathleen on the bathroom floor, unresponsive. A retired nurse, Maggie knew exactly what to do and made Kathy as comfortable as possible in the recovery position. The ambulance arrived within minutes and intubated her to help her breathing. By now Mandy had been contacted and had returned, accompanying her mum in the ambulance.

I went straight from work to the hospital and found three of Kathleen’s four children around the emergency department bed, all distraught. Kate was travelling up from her home in Bridgetown, three hours away.

For Kate it is like losing her mum all over again. For me it is like losing a whole family for a second time, you see I was adopted into this family aged 11 months. At that time my youngest new sibling Noreen was 15, and kathleen was already 20. My new family encountered more than its fair share of tragedy over the years. Mum and Dad lost their first born, John, when he was only two. Two years after emigrating to Australia they received word that their elest son Danny had passed away aged 28. Three years later Noreen also passed away. All three children suffered congenital heart defects. Dad passed away aged 92 in 2004, and Mum followed in 2007 aged 94. So it was just me and Kathleen left, and she could go in a matter of hours or at best a few days.

Sunday afternoon the call came through from Kate that her mum was getting very weak. The train went direct to the hospital and was by far the quickest option. Changing trains at Perth station, I saw it was only one minute until my connection left. I raced through the councourse, keeping left to ensure I’d get a clear run, only to round a corner directly into a family obviously visiting from overseas, and completely blocking my path. By the time we unraveled ourselves and I got up a head of steam I saw the doors on my train close.

The next train was 20 minutes away, and I was half way to the hospital when the message came through that Kathy had gone.