Saturday, June 27, 2009

Airports, hellos and goodbyes

This is my last morning at home, my last full morning before a full day before I travel off overseas.

Trips to the airport always fill me with a peculiar sense of excitement and nostalgia. The air is electric with the buzz of hellos and goodbyes. At the exit gate even more so because here there are only good-byes. Every time one of my children, or in some instances these days my husband, pass through those silver teeth-like snapping doors I am left with the same sad sense of loss. We who are left behind move off back to our cars, back to our homes, back to our ordinary lives while those who have passed through to the other side stand in queues, hand over their passports for examination and finally board planes for far away destinations.

My childhood was marked by visits to airports, at least once a year when some beloved relatives would come, from many places in Europe, from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia and then eventually go after a short visit. Every time they left, we hugged and my mother cried. I sensed her sadness at another goodbye. My childhood was marked by the sadness of my mother’s longing for her childhood home, such that in my mind I turned her home into a wonderland while our home here felt like dross.

I will be going away as of tomorrow for two weeks and as ever I am fearful of the plane dropping from the sky, of the authorities holding me in quarantine for seven days because I or someone else on my plane is seen to be suffering the effects of the dreaded swine flu. I am fearful of getting sick. Last year when we went to Byron Bay I became sick. I was sick before we even left. I’d lost my voice and my voicelessness became a virus and I felt miserable and fearful for a couple of days.

I am not a good patient when it comes to physical illness. My immune system stands me in good stead, but when it lets me down as it inevitably does from time to time, I imagine the worst. I must be dying. I have cancer of the lip I imagine because there is some dry skin that occasionally gets red. Skin cancer I imagine.

I do not think of myself as a hypochondriac but there are times when it seems a distinct possibility. Talk to anyone who is sick, particularly anyone over the age of sixty and their health becomes an absorbing and abiding concern. My mother in hospital these last two weeks after knee surgery is nearly ninety. Every time I arrived to visit, she offered an account of her bowels, whether too loose or constipated, an account of her knee, how much more she could lift it, her walking and on top of this she liked to outline the ailments of the two women whose beds were near to hers, divided only by jutting walls and thin curtains.

It is also difficult leaving Australia because I am concerned for the well being of my children left behind, especially the youngest, Ella, who will be at the beck and call of her two older sisters, both of whom threaten to be particularly militant. I hope they are kind to each other, look out for each other and do not allow their natural rivalries to turn them into brutes towards one another.

My mother hopes for the same with her children. Even now she hopes that all her children will attend her ninetieth birthday party in October. This seems unlikely. It looks like one will not attend. This brother whom my mother has now labeled as 'so like his father' did not come to her 85th either.

The boys cop it every time. They can be like their father, whereas we girls, well we are not all considered to be like our mother, though I know my mother considers that I am like her. She does not suggest that any of her girls could be like their father. Oh no. That’s not possible in her eyes. Either we are like her or we are ourselves like ourselves, unlike any other. Whereas the boys, they are like their father or they are strangers. If they are good to her, then they can be forgiven their resemblance to their father but if they are cruel and at times, they all have been, then they are 'like their father'. But we girls have sometimes been cruel to our mother too. She tends to overlook that.

I am off to a foreign land. Italy beckons. Italy the land of Lombardy poplars, my favorite trees, but we will not go near Lombardy, I imagine. We will have adventures and the odd mishap. We will see things anew and our world will be broadened but how much I have resisted going. Now I have no choice. I hope I survive.