September already. In just 6 more sleeps, I will be leaving the safety of New Zealand for London, Paris and New York. Despite noting that my horoscope in no way gave any indication of an impending cancer diagnosis, it did predict more recently some unexpected travel, and so it has come to pass.
A conversation with a friend started with me saying to her “you must go, you will regret it if you don’t,” to “have my credit, I really think you should go,” and ended with “ok, you and I will go!”
I have no recollection of the switch in intent, except I now have a return ticket to Europe, and know more about the layout of London, Paris and New York that I ever thought I would need to. When I find myself, in a one week’s time, wandering the streets of London it will feel completely unreal.
This might be the bit where I am supposed to say that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me? But no. It is the result of a cancelled business trip (because I was diagnosed with cancer) resulting in an airline credit, a change of plans earlier in the year, and the whim of a complete stranger (to me) to get married at a chateau in France. Such inept romanticism, but who I am to judge? I get to go to the wedding. It will be conducted in Africaans, in France. I speak neither language.
This course of events has led to a flurry of activity of course. New frocks, for the wedding and because I don’t want to be that tourist in Paris in a track suit. No. Skirts, shoes, white jeans. All packed and ready, as time is running out.
It feels to me like an ending.
Two days ago I got my first haircut in 9 months. Like others who have chemo, my hair, naturally curly, grew back like a really bad ’70’s perm. Tight white woolly fuzz. Half lamb, half poodle. Detestable. I went for the walk in the morning, to my beach, where I make little shrines to my Mother and Ailsa, and I thank them for being with me. I found myself in tears, because somehow going back to the hairdresser that shaved my head in November last year feels huge. Because I know he will hug me and be pleased to see me, and will fix the poodle issue with his magical hairdressing skills. And it is the moment to leave cancer and all it means behind me and move on.
Peter is all I expected, both emotionally “I was so pleased to see you were coming in,” and professionally. Ironic having a blow wave when there is not much to dry but yes, Paris chic, not farmyard afternoon.
I spent yesterday packing, and that included some finishing touches to some of the clothes.
The wedding dress
When my Aunt was nearing the end of her life (97 when she died) she lost a lot of weight and so I bought home three outfits that no longer fitted her, but that were her ‘good’ clothes at some stage. She was a craftswoman seamstress all her life, and could make anything for anyone. It seemed to me only right that when she died she should be dressed in one of her own creations. She chose the blue floral. I kept the others, aiming, one day, to remake the blue lace two-piece into a dress. The moment was at hand. The dress is now packed. Some of it is still her hand stitching. I sewed one of her name labels from the rest home era into the back.
26-ish years ago, I was working on a project out of town. For some reason I purchased a very stylish linen skirt, which was even then a bit on the small side, but you know, I was going to lose weight… I didn’t; I unpicked the skirt and kept the bits as it contained a lot of fabric. During a frantic search for the green merino fabric (found but a disaster – now on hold) I found the linen and realised a simple short skirt was just what I needed for Paris, or New York. How satisfying to finish a project some 26 years in the making. Skirt folded and packed. Ironically the original skirt would probably fit me now.
The silk top
When my Mother died, she left behind a room full of knitting materials and machines. The acrylic went to the Op-Shop, but I could not throw out the linen, cotton and pure silk thread. All of them very fine, for machine knitting. A year ago, when I thought I was returning to PNG and thinking I would need something to while away the evenings, I started on a silk project. A casual summer top – perfect for NZ summer evenings when it is not quite warm enough without another layer – and a pattern that had a chart to follow. I had never knitted like that before, so it took a while to get the hang of it. Every stitch and every row had to be read off the chart. I almost gave up. That knitting was one of the things that kept me sane during chemotherapy. I could not think about anything else except following the dots on the chart. I stopped for a while, but yesterday I finished sewing it up. Pure silk has a sheen that is unmistakable. It looks, not surprisingly but to my relief, exactly like the picture in the pattern book. In the suitcase.
These items of clothing have taken time and possibly more effort than is warranted, but what is it that gives us meaning? It is our connection to others, past and present. It is the satisfaction of making something out of nothing, or in these instances, out of what could so easily have been dispensed to the rubbish.
Life meantime, has moved on in other directions. A part time job. Kind of fun – early days really – but I find the bus commute is a good time to do French lessons. I will probably continue with French when I return. I think it is good for my brain. According to Duolingo, I am, as of yesterday, 21% fluent. I doubt it, frankly, but I will find out soon enough. The job is potentially a perfect fit for my disparate skills – we shall see. Right now, today, I don’t care, because I am going to EUROPE!
The choir had a concert. I thought it was a bit optimistic putting out so many chairs for a Sunday afternoon singalong, but by starting time it was standing room only. The singing was great, the afternoon tea was legend. Everything from asparagus rolls to gluten free crackers with spinach dip. Pretty much representative of the choir membership. Coincidentally one of the newspaper columnists that I enjoy had written that very day about how annoying she found choirs, and their over-representation of “the Bookish, the Earnest, the Borderline Tearful and the Monumentally Hacked Off.” I protest. Our choir might have those people, but I see extremely ‘normal’ people who just like to sing. We partook in University research about the benefits of singing in choirs; there is a choir for people who have had strokes or other mental health issues who cannot speak but they can sing. Don’t knock it till you try it.
There was an article in the same publication a few weeks earlier discounting Dr Libby’s ‘rushing woman’s syndrome”. It countered “if a woman is doing both [paid and unpaid work] she must be harried and pulled in multiple directions. We don’t run the numbers and that someone working 40 hours and sleeping 8 hours a night, has 72 hours for other things a week.” I find the maths laughable. Sometime in those 72 hours you have to run the household (washing clothes, ironing, cleaning, getting firewood, paying the bills, getting food, taking the cat to the vet, weeding the garden, washing the car, getting the broken washing machine fixed, – or is all that outsourced?), give your children some time, probably look after your elderly parents, organise a social life, participate in that social life, get or stay fit, and maybe, maybe if you are lucky, do something you enjoy (like knitting a silk top). According to the article, stress is only harmful if you think it is. According to Dr Libby, women who live like that are in grave danger of developing serious illnesses. I see my new bosses with their one year old child living on coffee, constantly torn between work and child, sleeping in separate beds as a hangover from the newborn stage. My job only exists because they recognised the wheels were about to fall off the business. I wonder to myself when the wheels will fall off at home, unless they stop and reprioritorise things. From the privileged position of having come out the other end of the working/mothering stage, my money is on Dr Libby. Take her advice. Cancer, heart disease, arthritis – they do not exist in a vacuum. We create the environment that lets them develop. Yesterday I saw a photo of me taken a few years ago when we went to Sydney for a weekend break, after my Father had died. I was FAT. No escaping it. I hated that photo at the time, and now it really shocks me. I was probably about 15 kgs heavier than I am right now. At the time, I thought I needed to lose 5 kgs. Unfortunately it took getting cancer for me to get serious about what I put into my body, and to my surprise I lost another 10 kgs. Without meaning to. Totally unexpected.
I am off to Europe. I will walk in the footsteps of my great-great-great grandparents and visit the church they got married in. I will marvel at the historic buildings in London and Paris, be agog at Stonehenge, delighted by the Statue of Liberty, and come home in 20 days time ready for summer. I expect it to be a good one; the last one kind of passed me by.
From a cracked pot ignored for a couple of years, this perfect freesia has grown. Totally unexpected, absolutely delightful. Summer is coming