Monday, November 26, 2012

Two Years Ago Today, Part 2

Two years ago today I was startled awake early on Black Friday morning after sleeping off the Thanksgiving feast by a phone call I had been dreading for years.

My sister-in-law had just had a phone call from the paramedics. Dad was en route to St. Joe's. He had called 911 just a short time before, saying he was short of breath and not well. By the time the EMTs reached him he was unresponsive and had been oxygen deprived for much too long. He was alive, but just barely. They found Dad's phone and called one of the last numbers in it, reaching my brother and sister-in-law.

We had just had one of the nicest holidays I could remember. After my little "incident" two weeks prior, things were actually looking up. The entire family was at Thanksgiving; Mom and Ray, my brother and his family, our dear friend Eric, Kate and her new boyfriend Mike, and Dad. It was happy. It was fun. An early snow had threatened the day but everyone trudged out despite the snow and ice. Dad commented how nice it was that we were all together and spending the day with each other. He told me how much he liked Mike, and how Kate seemed to be really happy with him. The dogs ran around and played with everyone. It really was a perfect day. If I had known that was the last time I'd see my Dad awake and alert, the last time I'd talk with him or hug him...

I got the curls from Dad. 
The next time I saw Dad, on that Black Friday morning, he was strapped to a gurney and having his core temperature dropped in an attempt to save his brain. They were inducing a coma and he may or may not wake up...but it was the only real hope we had at saving him. At first I really thought that everything would end up fine; Dad would wake up in a day or so, we'd chastise him for not taking better care of himself, and we'd take him home. The man was only 57. I was only 28. That's entirely too young to lose your dad, right? He still needed to see his grandsons grow up. He needed to see Kate get married and have babies. He needed to see me do something worthwhile with my life, to make him proud. As we sat there in the ER listening to the doctors give us a very grim prognosis, I couldn't help but feel that my issues in the 2 weeks prior had contributed to Dad's heart attack. I'd stressed him out too much, I'd added to his already overtaxed system. I know he wouldn't want me to think that, but that's something I'll always live with. 

The weekend before Thanksgiving Dad came over to my and Kate's house to have dinner with me. Those that know our family well will not be surprised that we had nachos (which were awesome, by the way. He taught me well.). We laughed and talked about celebrity gossip (Dad was always well versed in it) and I played some music for him that I thought he'd get a kick out of. I also sat down and helped program the new cell phone my brother and sister-in-law had purchased for him. Sometimes I got so frustrated with Dad's lack of technological know-how, but I showed him how to use the basics and programmed important numbers in. We talked about my car and he asked if I needed any parts. He said he'd bring the needed wipers and air filter to Thanksgiving. Later, after Dad had passed and we were cleaning out his car, I found the bag with the parts that he meant to give to me. He always thought of us and made sure we were taken care of. 

I'm so grateful that we had that Thanksgiving together. I thank God all the time that he gave Dad that one last holiday with everyone. I'm grateful too that my dad loved me enough to come see me when I was in the recovery center, and that he called me everyday for the two weeks after to check up on me, and how he actually talked about my situation instead of around it, like so many other people were doing. At one point he said, "Steddie, just promise me you'll talk to me if you ever feel that way again." I promised him I would. 

But two years ago, we lost him. He was there physically in that hospital bed, but Dad was gone. At first there was the glimmer of hope that we'd get him back but as those 12 days in the ICU wore on we began to face the facts. 

I'd like to think that Dad could hear us when we were in the hospital with him. We talked to him, and laughed, and told jokes, and cried - shit, we cried - and played his favorite music, and we prayed. I hope he heard when we told him how we loved him. But if some of his last cognitive thoughts are from that Thanksgiving, then I'm ok with that. The part that eats me up is thinking about how scared he must have been calling 911 that morning, and how he was alone. There were times when I was alone with Dad in the hospital in the week and a half following that I told him I'd do anything to take his place. How I wished it was me in that bed instead of him. 

My dad was the sweetest, kindest man. He was a friend to everyone and rarely had a bad word to say about anyone. He was funny and goofy and he never made me question his love for me. All he wanted in life was to see us kids happy. He had been dealt too many painful blows over the previous 10 years or so, including losing his own Dad only the week before. It was so fucking unfair. 

Time has a way of flying by. It blows my mind that it's been two years since I last talked to my dad. I'm starting to forget what his voice sounds like, and that scares the shit out of me. The last two voicemails he sent me are saved on my computer and I play them periodically just so that I'll remember his voice. I keep his glasses in my glasses case. The blanket on my bed is the one my old boss made for him when he started dialysis. I'm clinging to some small hope that by having these pieces of him here with me, he is here with me. 

Dad would be so proud of all of us. How smart and clever his grandsons are. Kate's wonderful job and her upcoming wedding to the man of her dreams...who Dad only got to meet that one time. Eric's success in his career. And his middle child, his sensitive child...she put her life back together and is happier and healthier than ever, living 4000 miles away and making the most of this precious life.  
Two years ago today, I lost a piece of my heart that I'll never get back. Dad, I hope you're rocking out in heaven. We miss you more than words could ever say.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What I'm Thankful For

  • My family, and their health. 
  • My health! I'm in the best shape of my adult life and only getting better every day, and I feel amazing. Such a change.
  • The 28 Thanksgivings I had with Dad. These last two have been hard but I'm grateful for the ones I had.
  • Massage school; it changed my life in a direction I could have never anticipated.
  • Indoor plumbing. For reals.
  • Wine.
  • Ting. And vodka. And the two of them put together.
  • My amazing spa team back at Solei. I miss my girls and am lucky to have worked with such a great group.
  • My team here at Sole'. They have been so welcoming and patient, and I once again have the privilege to say that I truly love my job and look forward to going to work.
  • Jenni...for 8 million different reasons.
  • Toni. This transition has been so smooth largely because of my boss. I love that when I tell people I work for her, they immediately light up and go on and on about how great she and her husband are. It's nice to know I work with the best kind of people.
  • My best friend, my PIC, the gin to my tonic - my sister.
  • That I come from a country where I have the freedom to think, speak, act, worship, etc how I want and believe. 
  • That I had the opportunity to move to a foreign country and start my life over...and it's actually working out!
  • The kindness of others. I have been so blessed with the best people in my life, both friends and strangers, and I don't take any of it for granted. 
  • Marian. :) 
  • Scully's awesome foster family. They LOVE her and it sounds like she's happy as a clam. 
  • Sunshine and warmth every day. God, it is glooooorious!
  • My roommate Rob. He's a good guy and an easy person to live with. Perfect match!
  • Rob's impressive movie/tv download collection. We're working through Game of Thrones right now. Soooo good.
  • Facial guests with massive extractions. YESSSS.
  • Friends back in the States.
  • New friends here in Tortola.
  • Having Sundays off.
  • My impressive lung capacity and breath control (Mom, all those years of singing and training did pay off!) which is helping out with my diving.
  • All the babies that are being born to my friends and loved ones! You guys are killing me with the cute pictures and countdown calendars. 
  • Never having to wear socks (unless I'm running). 
  • Being able to see the water every single day. 
  • Being able to go to the beach just about whenever I want.
  • Happiness.
  • Internet! I love that I was able to virtually hangout with my whole family this afternoon on Thanksgiving. 
  • New beginnings and second chances. 
  • Roti.
  • That I finally seem to be getting my "island blood" and the bug bites are decreasing. Not gone, but at least it's better!
  • That what most people call a vacation, I now call home.
Happy Thanksgiving from the Caribbean! I was able to celebrate with a shit ton of other people at a friend's place and had a fabulous time. Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, pie...the whole works. While I missed being with my family, and I miss my dad even more, I would say that my first holiday as an expat went off without a hitch. 

We'll see how I feel when Christmas rolls around...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Oh There’s No Place Like Home (?) For The Holidays

Whoa, next week is Thanksgiving. How did that happen? Is it really the holiday season? It’s a very weird feeling here; with no real change in weather to signal fall/winter (as well as a lack of American Thanksgiving hoopla, obviously) it doesn’t really feel like the holidays. There will be no white Christmas on Tortola, and Santa’s sleigh is an island beater pulled by chickens and is full of rum and coconuts.

Just kidding.

I’m not complaining, mind you. Anyone who knows me knows how I detest snow and cold weather. A sunny, 85 degree Christmas is a-ok by me. Dressing for Thanksgiving dinner in a sundress and flip flops is my kind of holiday. It’s just going to take some time for my brain to really register that we aren’t living in perpetual summer months.

The difficult part to the holidays as a single expat is not being with your family and being alone. I’ve spent holidays away from them before, but I was always with another family or had the promise of seeing mine soon. It’s not quite as painful that way. Now, I’ve built a life where I will honestly not get to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with my family for a long, long time…if ever. That’s a sobering thought.
Sisters! Christmas 2011
Logistically, it’s practically impossible for me. Thanksgiving is just another day in the BVI, so there is no long weekend or time off for traveling. It also falls at the head of our busy season. Traveling back to the States for Christmas? Not a snowball’s chance in Tortola. That’s high season for us, not to mention airfare is stupid expensive. Nope, if I’m going to see my family at the holidays then it will be via the magic of the internet or if they choose to come to me.

I knew this was a part of the bargain. It was no surprise to me that I’d be spending the season 4000 miles from my family. I’ve accepted it, and I’ll learn to make the best of it. Fortunately I’ve made some amazing friends here already and yes, I do have plans for Thanksgiving dinner this coming week. I will not be alone for my first Thanksgiving as an expat. No worries there!

My nephew Ethan (Dr. Doolittle himself) and Scully, Christmas 2011 
However, it’s still going to be hard for the first few years. Thanksgiving is one thing, but Christmas will be another. Almost all of my 30 Christmas Eves have been spent having aebleskiver with the family, going to church, listening to Neil Diamond Christmas albums (don’t hate) and preparing for Christmas Day together. This year I imagine I’ll Skype with my sister and parents while attempting to make aebleskiver on my own…if I can find a monk pan on island. I suppose I should start hunting now. At any rate, I’m sure my carefully crafted strong exterior will crack and I’ll break down like a little sissy girl. My roommate will find me blubbering into my doughy balls of heaven, whimpering Christmas tunes to myself while It’s A Wonderful Life plays in the background.

The first one will be the hardest. I’m sure that every year after that will get a little bit easier. It has to, right? 

Aebleskiver. I'd kill a man over these. You think I'm kidding...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Two Years Ago Today, Part 1

Two years ago today I was not a healthy person - physically, mentally, or emotionally. On the outside I seemed fine. Over many years I had mastered the art of pretending I was ok, and no one would have guessed just what was going on in my head and heart.

Two years ago today I sat in my townhouse, alone, on a Thursday night. After trying so hard for so long, the sadness and darkness inside finally swallowed me up. That horrible voice in my head became louder and louder, telling me that it wasn't worth it any more. I wasn't worth it any more.

Two years ago today, I spiraled so low that I thought life wasn't worth living. Anyone who knows the real me knows how dark a place that had to be, as I am often the sunniest, most ridiculously optimistic person you'll come across. I wrote letters. I said goodbyes. I took pills in amounts that one shouldn't ingest and swallowed it down with entirely too much alcohol. I made decisions that can only be made in the depths of depression and helplessness.

I'm lucky; I had someone that figured out what was going on and intervened. They called for help, got in touch with my sister, reluctantly got me in the ambulance. The night is much of a drug-induced blur for me, but I remember the sobbing and protesting and the feeling of complete and total failure. I couldn't believe that, in addition to all of the other things in my life I had effed up, I managed to eff this up too. In that moment, I really felt like things would never get better; that I would always be stuck in that dark, dark place.

But two years ago today, I was given a second chance. In the days and weeks that followed I experienced so much love and support that it made my head spin. I had no idea that I was that loved. Sometimes you just can't see the forest for the trees.

When I think back now on that night two years ago it blows my mind. Comparing where I was then to where I'm at now, on multiple levels, is night and day. As awful as it was, I needed to hit that rock bottom place in order to climb back up. As I sit in my bedroom in the Caribbean, listening to the sounds of the island, feeling the balmy night air through my window and reflecting on all the amazing experiences I've had over the past two years, it's hard to believe I ever felt that this incredible, beautiful life wasn't worth living. Every day I thank God for the second chance, for the people in my life who lifted me up and carried me through that ordeal and the following month...which would turn out to be the worst month of my life.

I know this next month is going to be hard. I know I'm going to feel sadness and loss and regret. But, I also know that I have come so, so far in the past two years and that I never plan to go back to that horrible place.  Two years ago I'd have never, ever guessed that I'd be living in a foreign country, doing what I love and being happier than I can really remember. I'm just so grateful that I was given the opportunity.

The past two years have taught me a lot about myself. Now, being in this place, I know that it was all worth it. I wouldn't be here if I hadn't broken down. This move, this new life, is my panacea. The ocean is my therapist, the sunshine my medication. I look forward to what the next two years have in store.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Things I Have Learned In My First Month On Island

  1. You always say good morning (before noon), good afternoon, or good night (when it's dark) as a greeting. Good night is a greeting, not just a way to say good bye.
  2. I can hitchhike, and pick up hitchhikers, and not get mugged or murdered.
  3. Driving on the left side of the road is much easier than anticipated.
  4. For the first time ever, I'm a minority.
  5. No power = no water at my house. Our cistern pump is electric. I discovered this when I went to shower this morning (thinking, "Hey, no power, but at least I'll have cold water!") and the water ran out as the shampoo was still in my hair. Lesson learned.
  6. Roosters don't care what time of day or night it is. Those little effers will crow whenever they want.
  7. Hanging your laundry to dry on the line is actually quite nice. Although I will be taking my towels and linens to a laundromat to dry them. I can't handle the fuzzies! 
  8. Spiders like to hide in clothespins. :(
  9. My hair LOVES the humidity. It's behaving quite well.
  10. Hearing your UK friends do their best stereotypical American accent is a guaranteed laugh.
  11. Sometimes you have a stove/oven that you have to light with a lighter. That was a new one for me. Now I'm cookin' with FIRE!
  12. I can survive without a Starbucks.
  13. Always have a plastic grocery bag or two in your car for wet flip flops/towels/bathing suits.
  14. Bugs are inevitable. 
  15. Suck it up and use nasty bug spray, at least on your feet and ankles. 
  16. A smile and boobs get you far, no matter what country you're in.
  17. I can survive without constant Internet. SHOCK OF ALL SHOCKS, I know.
  18. When it gets dark here, it gets daaaaark. :( 
  19. Vodka + Ting = a "cool summer breeze", in the words of my friend Jake. Mmmm. Vodka Tings. 
  20. It is possible to meet people and make friends in a totally natural and organic way. I just had to get out of Seattle to do it. 
  21. In some backwards parts of the world, a bathing suit is called a "swimming costume" or just a "cozzie". I laughed my ass off at that one. 
  22. I've barely done any official working out and I haven't counted a single calorie...and I'm down 12 lbs in the month I've been here. Here's to happiness being the true key to weight loss!
  23. Hair and nails grow faster in this climate. It's weirding me out.
  24. Making out on the beach in the rain is quite possibly one of the coolest things to do. I mean, not that I DID that or anything...heh heh heh...
  25. Most non-locals you meet here fall into 1 of 4 categories: lawyer, "I work for a trust company" (what IS that, btw?), boat captain/crew, diver. I swear, that's 98% of the people I meet. 
  26. Kicking off your flip flops before hitting the dance floor at Elms is definitely preferred. 
  27. People like to buy other's drinks here. What goes around comes around!
  28. What do we do with our garbage? Tie up the bag, put it in your car, and dump it in one of the dumpsters on the side of the road all around the island. Yup!
  29. Even when I'm feeling a little down, I just look out on the water or go to the beach and everything is right again.
  30. Moving 4000 miles away did not allow me to escape how much I miss Dad. In fact, it's magnified here. Every day I want to call him and tell him all about this adventure. 
  31. THERE ARE SPIDERS THAT JUMP. Thank God my housemate was around to take care of that one!
  32. Sunshine, booze, and the white sand beach out at Jost will lead you to a sunburn, even if you think you're being diligent about reapplication. 
  33. Halloween is a "white person thing" here. Ha. 
  34. I miss my family, I miss my friends, but I've not had a single "crying my eyes out in my apartment all night" episode. I've had one breakdown (Dad related) and that's really it.
  35. I am much stronger, braver, and capable than I ever gave myself credit for. In my first month here I secured housing, bought a car, got all my paperwork finished, opened a bank account, got a cell phone, braved the Elevator (crazy ass steep hill that is terrifying), successfully passed my BVI drive test and got a license, started my dive certification, made friends, and transitioned smoothly into my new job. I feel freaking awesome.
  36. Some of the kindest, warmest people are here in the BVI. I'm truly home.