Archive | January, 2013

Tuesdays with Vernon

22 Jan

My depression was short-lived.  (And alcohol consumption was minimal; thanks for the concern, Jimmy :-).)  And it’s thanks to a few Tuesdays with Vernon in Perth, Australia.

Vernon is like 89, British by birth, and works for a university researching things like “The Rise and Fall of Communism in Sarawak 1940-1990.”

I met his wife Theresa on a plane from Asia to Perth.  It was after midnight when we landed; Vernon picked Theresa up at the airport, and they kindly gave me a ride to my hostel.

Vernon and Theresa drop me off at my hostel.

Vernon and Theresa drop me off at my hostel, around 1:00 a.m.

The next morning the hostel people were like, “Yo, some lady named Theresa called to see how you slept.  Number’s at the desk.” And so began my improbable friendship with Vernon and Theresa.

On days they weren’t working, they picked me up.  Theresa showed me the whole city (even politely pointing out the strip clubs, in case that was my thing), walked me through the park to see the War Memorial and down by the water to see the black swans, and bought me roast pork and veggies.  She told me about escaping China as a small girl when the Communists took over in 1949.  Her family fled to Taiwan, and later, as a young woman, she emigrated to Australia speaking but one word of English: hello.

After several months in Asia, this meal was heaven.

After several months in Asia, this meal was heaven.  Thank you, Theresa!

Theresa and I overlooking the city of Perth.

Theresa and I overlooking the city of Perth.

On our first Tuesday together, Vernon took me — among other places — to my ankle ultrasound appointment, to the cemetery to pay respects at his first wife’s grave, to a retirement home to visit his buddy, to see wild kangaroos, and to the beach.  And he bought me the biggest kebab I’ve ever seen.  [As a side note, driving with Vernon was arguably the most dangerous thing I did on my trip.]  He told me about leaving home at 16 and falling out with his family and being a perpetual loner in the churning sea of life.


Vernon on the beach.

Kangaroo with baby joey in pouch.

Kangaroo with baby joey in pouch.

Baby joey gets turned around in there.

Baby joey gets turned around in there.

Concerned about my diet and my ankle, one morning they dropped off a cooler filled with fresh fruit, fish filets, and an ice pack.  The hostel people were dumbfounded and suspicious.  “How do you know these people?”, they asked.

And finally, 10 days later, when the time came for me to leave Perth for other travels in Australia, they took me out to a dim sum lunch and then to the airport.  They parked the car and walked me to the gate and stood there waving until I was out of sight.  When I protested, Vernon was having none of it.  “You see things through ’til the bitter end,” he retorted.

Vernon was almost a carbon copy of my late grandfather: someone who has lived his own life — imperfectly perhaps — but far better and more interestingly than a perfect imitation of someone else’s could ever be.  And it was Vernon who I thought of when the post-travel-now-back-home-with-no-plans gloominess descended.

“You think too damn much,” he told me as the waves lapped the white sand beach.  “Enough with the reflecting and the finding yourself and this purpose-driven sh*t,” he said.  “It’s an awfully arrogant way to live.  Accept the past for what it is and turn the page on it: the places, the times, the people, the guilt.  And be proud — really proud — of your accomplishments and plan for — and dream about — the future.  But today: just drift.”

He sighed exasperatedly.  All I’m saying is, “Don’t be afraid to drift through life.  In some funny way, it’ll all work out.”

At the time, this was crazy talk to me.  Ironically, I noted the absence of any driftwood on the perfect beach before us.  And I thought, I’ve got the horsepower of a Ferrari; pretty sure I’m not about to “drift through life.”

But now, I get it.  Getting from place A to B, trekking a trail, climbing a mountain, circumnavigating the world: there is something about the challenge — no matter how difficult it may be — that is a relief in its simplicity.

But the complexity in life — in this moment alone in life — is much harder to wrap your head around. Coming home unexpectedly has forced me to stop paddling and just look around, for the first time in… forever.  It’s very disconcerting (I’m drowning!  No, even worse, I’m drifting!).

But it’s beginning to dawn on me: maybe drifting through life Vernon-style is a higher-order happiness, devoid of life-defining, purpose-imbuing mile markers that ultimately become who-gives-a-crap-when-you’re-89.  Maybe drifting through life — or at least this chapter in life — yields something strangely sublime: simple-minded contentment in but a moment in time.

Next year at this time, I’ll be doing the Bataan-Death-March-through-life as an overworked associate at a big DC law firm.  But on Tuesdays, in honor of Vernon, I plan on bringing my inner tube and… just drifting.

Grumpy McGee

2 Jan

I’m back home in the Washington, DC area.  I went to the Kennedy Center to see White Christmas with my Dad.  I was the youngest person there by 30 years.  Some lady in the elevator thought I was my Dad’s wife.  WTF.  Thankfully she looked really senile and hopefully was blind.

Obviously an old person took this photo, too... :-)

At the Kennedy Center.  Obviously an old person took this photo, too… 🙂

I came home to Washington, DC to get treatment for my ankle.  I’ve been back for a week.  And now it’s 11:15 a.m., and I’m sitting on the couch drinking wine.

At first, it was magical.  I took a hot shower and stayed in until I was wrinkly.  I hugged family and friends.  I laid on the couch and flipped through trashy reality television.  I ate Aunt Leslie’s amazing Christmas dinner filet.  I wore my favorite sweater.

And then, yesterday, I sunk, like a 10100 lb bag of potatoes, into a milddeep depression.

I feel more out of place, more unmoored, more insecure, more confused here, amongst all the trappings of home, than I did alone, halfway around the world.

Out there I was a backpacker.  My life weighed 44 pounds.  Here, what am I?  I have no job, no apartment, no car, no friends, no life.  No one understands me.  I feel fragile.  And more than a prickle of emotional insecurity.  Do you know what’s more disconcerting than being a stranger in a strange place?  Being a stranger in a familiar place.

In the past, I would have pushed onwards, distracted myself, found some new obsession.  But this time, I’m just riding it out.  It’s okay to cry, to be lonely, to be vulnerable, to feel rejected.  It kinda hurts.  But not as badly as I expected.  I think the wine is helping.

Crap, but I have to go to physical therapy in an hour and attempt to stand on one bad ankle.  This should be interesting…  It’s good to leave some room for improvement, no?!