Can’t

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?

21 comments

  1. Oh, honey. Sending my love and wishing you strength. I’m glad you have friends who were able to help. <333

  2. Learning how much you can handle, how much you can dissociate, how much you can get done when there is no other choice – it’s fascinating, but the price for lessons learned is just too fucking high.

    Most people have to lose a parent; you’d think we’d have figured out a way to make it less painful, by now. But we haven’t, and it’s awful, and I’m so, so sorry.

  3. Yes, you can. Those of us who know and love you have no doubt. You are a miracle and as powerful as the moment calls for. Don’t question, just be the wonderful, amazing woman you are.

  4. I am so, so sorry.

  5. I like your friend. I’m so glad he was with you.

    You can. I hate that you have to but you can. And, weirdly, you’ll be glad you did.

    Love.

  6. I am just so, so damn sorry. All my good thoughts and intentions are heading your way.

  7. Aw, honey. I wish I knew what to say. I feel like I should have some wisdom for you; I’ve been through a similar situation with my father.

    If it helps, I think you’re doing amazing. Love ya.

  8. Dear Chiara, about three years ago I met you in the Shambala hostel in the Golden Bay. I am not sure if you can remember me, I was then 19 years old and had just crashed my car, you helped me to get my head around what needed to be done, you made me lists and you gave me confidence. And than all of us went to the Mussle Inn and watched the glow worms.
    I have started to read your blog, with the help of Facebook and of course I do not really know you, but I just wanted to let you know that you made a big impression on me, and you know I think you can, you really can.

    Sterre

  9. I’ve been thinking of you, honey. You will be able to do all the things. But please keep letting people do things for you too.
    And know that you are helping me, too, by doing what you’re doing and by sharing it. xox

  10. I’m as sorry as can be. You have my number in your phone, and I’m 10 hours ahead of you, so if you’re up too early to call people in the US, and it’s just a little too late to call the Wellie fellies, I can cover.

  11. You can, i know you can….and you will, because you are ….and we love you! Standing by with constant thoughts of you, your mom and your sis. <3

  12. When people tell me that they don’t know how I do it, I always think, “I don’t know how I could not.” What you’re doing may feel impossible and hurt like hell, but you can do it – How could you not? You are loving and courageous and strong. You can anything. You already are.

    I love your mom. I love you. I’ll talk to you soon.

  13. Im reading this on the tram in Melbourne, tears just behind my eyes. You have once again captured all the poignancy and immediacy of what it is to be going through something do profound and human that it is almost too hard to think about it.

    You and your mother have both immeasurably touched many, many lives around you. That’s not as comforting as I wish it to be. But it’s true, and it’s there, just as much as you are there right now, going to one of your homes.

    Love ya!

  14. I’m so sorry. I know it feels like you can’t, but you absolutely can. It’s just heartbreaking that you have to. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  15. Ditto, exactly — you absolutely can, but it’s heartbreaking that you have to.

    I don’t know if it helps to know that so many other people have felt what you’re putting into words here — but we have. It’s hard, so hard, the very worst thing… but you can make it. If there’s any strength to be drawn from it, just know that we could do it and so can you. We promise.

  16. Please know how much love is surrounding you and your family right now. From your friends, your extended family, and the people you have never met, who know only your beautiful words and pictures. So much love. Hold that fast, my dear. And whatever journeys you take over the next few days and weeks, know that it is always there. Peace.

  17. You call me when you feel like you can’t! I’m so glad that you’ll be hugging your Mom soon. And drinking tea and watching movies together. And I’m so sad that it has to be in this reality. I love you, Chi. Call me anytime.

  18. Oh, baby. Would your mother love to see some sunflowers? Just let me know where to send them for you both.

  19. I just cottoned on to the fact that this has been happening in your life over the last couple of weeks. All my love, sweetie. You’re amazing and brave and strong and I love you. xxx

  20. Sean 'Juan Triumphant' Rowe

    Yes, you can. Chiara, it’s not lip service (that’s reserved for suggestive lighting) and it’s not cliche (that’s reserved for… well, the French). I’m an old man and you’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever been blessed to meet in my life.

    I can be part of your strength when you need it. Cry out to any of us who love you dearly when you need our strength. It’s here by the bucket… think of us as your ‘bucket brigade.’ And, there’s not a chance it will ever run out.

    My mom and Tiffany are praying for your family. I love you, sis, and am here for you. If you ever want to catch your breath in LA, you have a place with me. But, then again, you already know you have a place ‘in’ me. *huGz*

  21. Just be there. That’s the most important thing you can do for her and yourself.