Contents

1. The Change
2. Nurse Ratched
3. Hair

Chapter 1

The Change

By JULIE SMITH | Published: December 30, 2009

When you are through changing, you are through. ~Bruce Barton

“Tom, give me a break! I’ve had four, 12-hour-days in a row, and you want to know where your dry cleaning is? Have you lost the, ‘I’m-not-self-absorbed’ plot?”
Mr Tom Wells blushes, and apologizes profusely to Mrs Celia Wells, promising to wine and dine me at Attilio’s On The Wharf tonight. He's still handsome after 20 years of marriage. Hell, he'd be sexy at 80. He has more spare time than me, the lucky little bugger. His employment with attorneys, Slater & McNaughton, lets him escape with a 5-hour work day, leaving a small hive of first-year law students, punching out 5-hours later. Like little genies, they research and put the finishing touches on his case files. Such is tenure.

My work? I am way past 'the thousand-yard stare'. A bits of a perfectionist, I waste time dotting i's. My law firm has a glass ceiling that has left me permanently stooped, head out like a turtle on stilts. After four years, I am still working longer hours for less pay with higher billing hours than my male counterparts. That’s only half my battle. I'm continually having arguements with myself. My inner-voice is screaming 'oughts', 'shoulds', 'got to', and the ego’s committee meeting in my head hasn’t taken a break during those long, four years. It’s the internal dialogue. I don’t need it, want it, or know how to control it.

Hello Mr Jones. Talk about over-the-top but because everybody else is doing it... The list is impossible because the twins are very active: Cathy’s cheerleading, orthodontic appointments, parent-teachers meetings, swimming, and horse shows. Then there’s Tommy’s baseball, drum lessons, and martial arts -- damn Kung Doo -- or whatever it is. The dog needs to go to the vet. I shop at night to free-up my weekends, but those weekends are always filled with stuff I 'm doing for everyone else. Tom's always advising me to outsource all my complaints. But I can't give up my privacy and responsibility. Am I a control freak? No, because if I ask myself that question, I'm not...says so in Cathy's Psych book. And then there's the have-to-have, 4-wheel drives. Joke: we’ve never gone camping but we have all jumped into Tom’s Mercedes “M-class”- “Wicked Beast” (once), and taken a drive into the depths of a national park, while the kids were screaming for their Nintendo DSs. Oh, and there's the house. We have a mini-mansion in a gated residence, which isn't very mini when you clean it...or pay to have it cleaned. We’ve lived here for three years and don’t know a single neighbour, except Wittleson, who has too much time on his hands, and knows more about what's going on in my house than I do. There's still the advantage of 'safety' but the 12 robberies in the last 2 years, and one attempted rape, doesn't pan out very well. Every inch of the house is wired-up for possible intruders and either the house or the car alarm goes off once a week, with our irritated response of, “You get it; I did last time.” It's a Chicken Little story, making the alarm as useless as a submarine with screen doors. Then, add all the other gated residence’s within a hearing distance of a mile, their false-alarm accidents, and it’s a like a terrorist threat - Code Red. This isn’t fun. This isn’t life. But I keep on going. Why?

Two weeks ago, some kids lobbed a steak, soaked with hydrogen peroxide over the fence, killing our Golden Retreiver. That was the straw. It's mid winter in Connecticut, and I have taken a week off to 'chill'. I glance through the New York Times, and am drawn to a picture of a warmbeach, a small dock, and couple of people waving. I read the caption, and it’s in Australia, on the Queensland coast. Could it be Tom and me waving goodbye to Cathy and Tommy as they go skindiving without their video games? Or could it be a Nicole Kidman, skirting away to some deserted island without fear of the paparazzi? I read on; a skin diving/boat hire company is selling a 4-bedroom home, workshop, 3 boats, and all the gear one needs for the business. You think...?

Four days, many e-mails and phone calls later, I'm pumped. It’s 2:00 am on a Tuesday night and my fingers are flying over the calculator. As our assets are theoretically sold and totaled, my fist comes up through the air, "Yes!" It’s a very 'do-able' deal. I am not going on with my life the way it is. They can all come with me or stay here, and rot their brains out."

I was awestruck at the reception of the idea of our moving half-way around and down the world. If they have questions, then that's partial acceptance.

"What about my friends?" Cathy asked, doing a melodrama.

"What is the point?" Tommy asked with his defensive football, shoulders scrunched up, hiding his neck.

"Here's some paper and writing impliments. I want you to write down the positives and negatives of living here, in this beautiful climate, after you read this article," I said, placing the newspaper on the table in front of them.

"You're serious, aren't you? Cathy screetched.

"Is Dad in this?" Tommy asked, strategically forming a 'we' against 'them' battle.

"Yep. It's time for a change." They just looked at me as if I'd lost my mind. "Read the article, then write down the positives and negatives of living here. What do you want to do with your lives? Cath, you love biology and marine studies, and Tommy, you're into entrepreneurial types of things. You both have an excellent grade point average and are in the top of your class."

'So if it ain't broke, don't fix it," he retored.

"And if you don't change, you're through... Bruce Barton."

"And who is Bruce Barton?"

"Congressman, author, and one of the most famous names in advertising. Died in 1967."

"Jesus, Mom. Why are you always right?"

"Just read, my man. You might see a door somewhere."

One hour later, they threw down their pens and said agreed there was nothing here, but a cold, predictable, boring, uninteresting, and hard-working future. Thank God they were in between romances. When the defiant, dismal stares were replaced with a flicker of excitement, I knew I had them...or mostly had them.

“Next step is researching Queensland. ” I commanded. Everyone was involved and whoops of devilish delight erupted sporadically throughout the house for weeks. Their exuberance was fun, happy, positive…and contrary to the normal, static existence we had all sunk into. Got to go with the flow. “What is Christmas like in Australia?” “Prawns on the barbie?” “What the hell is a ‘cray’?” “The cars are on the wrong side of the road!” “Cricket?” "I don't play Rugby!" The comments were funny and thrilling.

After the liquidation of our assets, we would qualify for a visa to purchase the business. But we couldn't do it alone. We needed help and we were leaving part of our 'family' behind. Steve Williamson, our closest friend and Tom’s best man at our wedding, is a top-grade, hobby mechanic whose his wife died two years ago. He's a professor of English at the University of Connecticut and has been on sabatical for the last year. Should we ask Steve to join us? We didn't know how to broach the subject. "Hey Steve, we're all moving to Australia. Want to join us?" That question would put him in pityworld and hybernation for a year.
Tom came home late one night while I was snugged-up in front of the fire, reading The Stand, by Stephen King. "You know, it's amazing how King brings in the sociological changes, patterns more to the point, of human nature." Tom sits down and rubs his head.

"That's pretty depressing reading, isn't it?"

"No, it's suppose to be scary...good versus evil, but I skip the gory parts. He's a good writer."

"And speaking of writing, are you sure you want to ask Steve to join us? He's pretty comfortable at UC, and he's published his fourth book."

"He's dying inside. Wilma's sudden death has left him directionless, alone and depressed, and with no children...it would be the best thing in the world for him. Besides, he loves tinkering with engines. And if we get our visa, and if we buy cars and boats, he'll be needed.

Tom unlaces his shoes and threw them in the corner, then took off his coat and tie and tossed them on a chair. He started to take off his shirt when I interrupted him. "Not here, Cath is out and due back any minute."

He took my hand and pulled me up as I struggled to gather the remnants of his strip. I'm a very private person with these matters, unlike Tom, who couldn't care less. You'd think he'd learn. I think he's laughing at me and likes the game. We went to bed and after some pretty good loving, talked into the early morning.

The four of us sat down at dinner the next night, and Tom grabbed my hand on the table in plain view, and looked at Cath and Tommy. This was a gesture which meant, 'Your mother and I want what I'm going to ask, so get behind us, please.' Amazing. Did he grab his client's hand just before a summation?

"You know Uncle Steve has had it pretty rough with Wilma dying." Two pairs of eyes widen as they freeze in various stages of consumption. "Your mom and I think it would be great to have Steve come with us, if we get the visa."

"Great, good idea," Tommy said, continuing to shovel food into his mouth.

"Will he live with us, share a bathroom and eat meals with us?" Cath asked with a typical generation x attitude. I had to cut in.

"No, because you'll be at boarding school, eating and sharing bathrooms with other people." That put a stop sign up, and she nodded and started to pick at her food, wiping back strands of black hair threatening to float down into her soup.

"Alright. That's settled. Now, we need your help." I looked at Tom like he had switched into another personality. We hadn't discussed this.

"We need you to ask him. If it comes from us, it's like we feel sorry for him and you know how much pride he has. If it comes from you two, spontaneouly, he'll feel needed and loved because you are the closest thing he has to children. This has to be your idea."

"Wow, good idea," Cath said, jerking her eyes from distant object to distant object. A sure 'thinking' signal. Plus, her love of melodrama will be partially satiated.
Damn, Tom surprises me all the time. What a great idea. Now we just let the kids do their thing and wait.

Later that week, Cath came waltzing through the front door, late from school with a big grin on her face. "He wants to come."

"Who wants to come?"

"Uncle Steve. Tommy and I went over to the university and ran in to him after a class. We had coffee and chatted. But he wanted to know if you knew we were asking him."

"What did you say," I asked nervously.

"Told him that we asked if you guys thought it was alright. You said to ask him."

"That's good...real good." Now we had to ask him, and did that night over dinner at Atillio's. Steve was so excited I thought he'd already bought his ticket.

We got our visa six months later, giving us a few months to tie everything up before we left.

Cath and Tom got accepted to the top high schools in Brisbane, boys and girls schools. The Great Barrier Reef was to be their playground on weekends and holidays and the games stay at school.

Extended family supported us, with grins of ok-but-you’ll-be-back, and pats on the back for the courage to pioneer our way to adventure, and of course, promises to visit. Work just said “adios” to me; Tom’s office threw one hell of a party. The twins gave parties. The “high” was going to come down to reality soon, so I just went along without saying much.

We started packing before we called the movers, throwing out enough useless items to open a branch of a Salvation Army. Anything remotely needed for snow activities were put in a pile for a garage sale. It worked out beautifully – I only threatened divorce 14 times when Tom called me a power freak. Without my tenacious demeannor, we would never have left our old address.

Steve's packing was pretty traumatic. Tom helped him because he couldn't take that final step of sorting and giving away Wilma's things. It took only two days...Tom doesn't muck around. His house and garage were practically empty after a charity truck took away Steve's past. He put the house on the market, and stored some essentials off site, and moved in with us the following week.

***

We landed in Australia on Thanksgiving, a year ago, today. Tom and I have taken the day off and we are on the beach, sweating profusely, ready for a swim...a twenty meter stroll to beautiful calm, aqua-blue water. Tom had lost his “cheese-crackers-and-wine tummy” and I am in heaven. Business is booming.
"Tom, if we hadn't moved, have you ever wondered what we'd be doing back home right now?

"Yea, sleeping." In more ways than one and I patted myself on the back, taking 90 % of the credit.

Before we moved, one of our biggest concerns was transport and how to use it. How can we drive on the other side of the road? It was easier than we thought. For small trips to town we drive an old Suzuki; Tom has a beat-up Harley and Steve, an old army jeep. I drive a 5-year-old Holden wagon for guests and gear. This is working…and we’re making money. But there’s trouble on the horizon.



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