Christmas in Australia


Another excerpt…

Within a couple of days, Brendan and I started talking about when we would see each other again. It was the first week of December so Christmas shopping and decorating had just barely begun, and Brendan felt a little lost regarding what to do. In the past, he had relied on his wife, who had all things for Christmas purchased, wrapped and ready to go by September. The first Christmas after her passing, Brendan had little to do as she, in her usual manner, had already completed most of the shopping and preparations, but this year he was on his own. As we discussed his situation, I offered some ideas that I had found helpful to me. I wondered if there was anything I could do for him from where I was, but obviously my options were limited. Suddenly, Brendan threw out a question.

“Do you think you would be willing to come here for Christmas?”

Heart stopping thrill and an onslaught of my own questions made me speechless.

“REALLY? Well…I…hmmm…,” I stumbled over my thoughts and words.

“That would be amazing, but I can’t be gone for Christmas. There’s no way I wouldn’t be with the kids. I don’t think I could do it. I just couldn’t.”

“I get it. I wouldn’t want to be apart from my kids on Christmas either.”

 “I mean, they are adults, and I’m not sure the boys will even be here. Chris is in Reno, and I’m not sure about Josh. I know Vici has Logan, but still she’d miss our family traditions like baking and stockings. And Ashley’s still just getting her life back together and already struggles with me being in a relationship. Can you imagine if I left her for Christmas?”

I tried to make it feel right in my heart, but I had never been away from them at Christmas, and I just couldn’t bring myself to be okay with it. It was one thing to have them move away as adults or share time with me and their in-laws, but quite another for me to toss away all of our special family time.

“What if I came now, but then flew back home in time for Christmas?”

Brendan agreed, and we checked out flights. Christmas is in the middle of summer there so tickets aren’t exactly cheap, but when we found a reasonable deal that would give me an almost two week visit we snatched it up.

“What do you think, darling? Can you be ready to leave in three days?”

I laughed. Me? The crazy non-traveler?

“Only by God’s grace and a miracle! But I’d better start right this minute.”

My mind raced with all the things I had to do here, whether I could get enough accomplished and what shopping I could do in Australia.

“I’ve got to tell the kids, finish shopping, pack and find a ride to the airport. Thank goodness we have a lot of Carol’s wedding stuff already done. Will you book the ticket?”

 “Doing it as we speak, beautiful girl.”

“Wow, Brendan! Nothing like jumping into the next step. Here we go! I’m so excited. And a little panicked! I love you. Talk to you later. Bye.”

I took a deep breath and grinned with a tear in my eye.

“Carol!!” I called down the hall. “Guess what? I’m going to Australia! In three days!”

Meeting Face to Face – Part 3


My husband, Brendan, and I planned to meet face to face in Australia. We decided that I would fly there with my twenty-year old daughter for three weeks. After ten weeks of planning and waiting, the momentous day finally arrived. Passports in hand, Ashley and I embarked on our Australian adventure. Excited, nervous, heart pounding, I perched on the edge of an airport seat in San Francisco silently observing fellow travelers.

“Mom!”

Ashley’s voice cut through my distracted thoughts. I looked over and smiled at her exuberance.

“I can’t believe we are going to Australia!” She beamed, leaning towards me.

“Let’s take a picture. This is where is begins!”

We leaned in, heads together, tickets fanned out in front of us as Ashley tilted the camera this way and that to get the best shot of us at close range.

“Smile!”

“Now boarding American Airlines flight 3126 to Los Angeles with service to Brisbane, Australia,” a pleasant, barely perceptible voice sounded in the distance.

Deep breath. Big grins. This is it. And down the boarding tunnel we went.

We had chosen our seats purposely with an extra one between us at the back of the plane by the toilets (of course), hoping that no one would want to book the middle seat. And we scored!

Even with “ideal” seating arrangements, how does one make oneself presentable and (hopefully) attractive after hours of dragging luggage through airports, undressing and redressing at security stations, and flying for thirteen hours during which pseudo-sleep is the only option for rejuvenation? It appears that it can be done. I’ve witnessed countless other travelers emerge from those skinny toilet stalls, toss their only slightly mussed, but beautifully coifed hair and saunter down the equally narrow airline aisle looking as if they had just been in a salon and were ready for a cover page photo shoot. THAT is what I want to look like when I arrive to meet Brendan! I wryly and somewhat covetously mused, as I watched one such woman return to her seat. I admit, that I secretly rejoice, in a relieved kind of way, when I see another crazy haired, bleary-eyed disheveled woman like myself. At least I’m not the only one.

But I so badly wanted to look my best considering what my arrival in Australia meant! To that end, I strategically mapped out my plan for end-of-flight beautification rituals to make me at least presentable to the man of my dreams. Face washing, clothes adjusting, deodorant, reapplying make-up, hair arranging and of course, teeth brushing (since our first real-life kiss was a highly anticipated part of this encounter) all made the top-priority list, but I also paused to consider whether I may vomit as a result of my travel sensitivities and nervousness rendering all of those preparational activities null and void thus requiring a do-over. This planning occurred between scrutinizing my individual flight screen, mapping the details of our final hours (I felt like my heart was a kid asking “are we there yet?” every five minutes), and observing people line up near the bathroom. I realized I was perhaps psychotically spending way too much energy stressing over when to make my break for the toilet, which actually should have been quite simple as I was less than four feet away. Nonetheless, I figured too soon and I would require a double overhaul—too late and I might miss my chance altogether. Ashley slept in irritatingly peaceful repose, draped partially over me and the middle seat, obviously ignorant of my inner turmoil.

Then came the attendant serving breakfast and I elated over the fact that I hadn’t yet made my move for the bathroom. Gladly appreciated, the meal would kill some time, distract me and wake Ashley. Well done, most important meal of the day!

My usual love of reading just couldn’t manifest during that last hour before our descent. I ate as slowly as possible, spent as much time in the lavatory as reasonably acceptable, and now squirmed excitedly like a two-year old. I packed, unpacked and repacked my carry-on bag and purse six times; took out a book, exchanged it for a magazine then returned that in lieu of chapstick until Ashley snapped me out of it with an authoritative, “Mom! Chill.”

I almost burst into tears. My emotions played pinball and were racking up points. Tilt! This day that had taken forever to arrive, now loomed just down the aisle and out the cabin door; once we landed of course. Overwhelmed with relief and timorous energy, I practically shook. Questions pummeled me. Would Brendan love me in person as he did in our email/Skype world? Would he find me attractive? Would I bore him in real life? (That seems like a crazy question…what possessed me to think that?)

“Would you feel weird about taking pictures of our first meeting?” I queried Ashley cautiously.

Her initial expression revealed that it didn’t thrill her, but she was an awfully good sport and answered that she would.

I sent Brendan a text. “We’ve landed.”

As if the trip itself wasn’t long enough, we then endured another hour going through customs; longer for me because I brought my “oversized item” guitar that required pick up in a special baggage area.

We made it through the inspection of bag sniffing dogs, interrogations by the customs police holding our declaration slips and the pushing/pulling of overloaded luggage while we juggled carry-on bags, backpacks, purses, pillows and a guitar. It looked as if we were immigrating not simply visiting.

The last corridor stretched out like the runway we on which we had landed. At every corner, my heart paused its beating (forgetting to breathe again) while my thoughts raced crazily in figure eights. What will he think? Where will he be? Will I recognize him; will he recognize me?? Will we hug or kiss or stand and stare awkwardly? Or would we mimic the movies of old, running to each other and falling into each other’s arms with a swooping spin around?

And in all of the commotion, I didn’t want to forget about Ashley. That she would feel left out or awkward concerned me. I kept a close watch on her expressions while I struggled with my emotions. Finally, I wondered what Brendan would be wearing, and then we saw the crowd waiting for arriving passengers.

I scanned the multitude almost frantically, afraid I wouldn’t find him, but then I saw him. His smile captured my heart once again.

“Yep! He’s the one,” I rejoiced with deep conviction.

In that moment, I did forget Ashley. Throwing my arms around Brendan, guitar still in hand, I hugged him fiercely. It’s a miracle I didn’t knock him unconscious with the guitar. And he kissed me right then; the rightest kiss every experienced by two people. A wonderful, safe, semi-passionate kiss that settled him forever in my soul. Finally, I had arrived home in the arms of this Aussie man on the other side of the world.