Two weeks ago the math abruptly changed. That’s the best and simplest way to describe it. There were phone calls and emails and tearful conversations on Skype and at Wellington cafes; there was a prognosis to receive, and a decision to be made.
At first I thought there would be three weeks to sort out things in Wellington—I thought that would be enough to make sure I could go back to New Zealand when I wanted to. Then, as the equation involved more and more variables, there were only going to be ten days, so I clicked into rather a robotic, efficient, get-things-done mode and made lists and asked favours and went to a lot of see-you-later lunches and coffees. And then yesterday—I think it was yesterday, because it was Thursday in Wellington but it’s still Thursday in LA where I sit typing this in the airport, but yes, right, yesterday at 7:30 in the morning as I was wrapping myself in a post-shower towel, running through my to-do list and trying to sort out what else needed to be packed and what other errands needed to be run, I got a call that resulted in my switching Saturday afternoon’s flight to Florida to Thursday night’s. It’s still Thursday, on this side of the planet. It will be Friday morning, I guess, when I finally see my mother. She recognized who I was when I spoke to her on the phone yesterday (was it yesterday?) but she could not really communicate with me. All I could understand, when I told her I was on my way, was “Hurry honey. We…are going to…HAVE. FUN.”
Hospice has been called. I have quit my job. I will stay on the couch at the Place until we sort out other housing. I’ve sublet my flat in Wellington. I don’t have American health insurance or a return ticket. I don’t know how long I will stay. I don’t know what will be required.
“I’m on my way, Beck,” I sobbed to my sister yesterday morning (I guess it was yesterday) when she told me she wanted me to change my ticket, as if my arrival will change anything or make anything better. “I know, I know, I know,” she wept back at me.
My friends have gone above and beyond for me on this one: they’ve found me a sublettor and put my stuff in storage and driven me around and helped me get the plane tickets and cuddled me and made me dinner and brought me cakes and taken that huge tin of olive oil I just bought. I, on the other hand, have been stumbling around collecting bruises and bumps and cuts and scratches and saying “Huh?” a lot because I can’t concentrate on where I’m going or what I’m meant to be doing, my lists notwithstanding. I have wept out loud on Adelaide Road and then fixed my face into a sort of hollowed-out blank-eyed mask that will let me sign papers and make calls. I’ve told people “I’m going back to take care of my mum,” over and over but I still woke up on the plane this morning (was it morning?) and did not understood why I was there.
Right before the cab came to take me to Wellington airport I was doing the kind of crying that requires deep breathing and earnest exhortations to calm down from whomever has the misfortune to witness it. “I can’t. I can’t do it. I cannot do this. I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t,” I said to my good friend, who had been with me all day, wearing purple rubber gloves to clean crevices of my flat that never even see the light of day. He is the same friend who said to me a couple of weeks ago, after the first phone call that made me think that everything really was changing, “You have to do the maths here. It’s not going to get better. You have to go.”
“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” I wailed, carry-on packed, freshly changed into my travel outfit, eyes swollen.
“There is no ‘can’t’ anymore, sweetheart,” he said very quietly.
And so I got in the cab and got on the plane and got through American security theatre and got to this fancy airport lounge and got a cup of tea. I can do all those things. I can wait for the next six hours in this faux-leather chair, I can get some overpriced ibuprofen for my headache that won’t go away, I can get on the next plane and the next. I can meet my sister at the Tampa airport tomorrow morning (I guess it will be tomorrow?).
I can do whatever needs to be done, for however long she needs me to do it. I can give my sister a break. I can make the notes and call the doctors and scramble the eggs. I can finally hug my mom.
But can I really do everything else will I need to be able to do?