Now, if only I could get my script written

26 May

I got the SMS to let me know my visa was ready for collection, so yesterday afternoon off I went. I collected the boys from school, drove myself down Najda St, Electra (I think, or was it Hamdan), past the disconcertingly large hoardings surrounding the Cultural Foundation (on which excellent institution, more information will be forthcoming), did the U-turn, found a park, went upstairs and collected my passport which was indeed back, complete with visa glued in.

It all went swimmingly well. Which made me realise just how awful the other day was. I told you about it just down here. The mister did get back in time from his dentist appointment (an abscess on his old, already-fixed root canal, so it has to be redone ewwww and ouchies), he had money in his wallet and he knew exactly how to get there (the visa building being just a few down from the dentist’s – small world, no?).

It was okay, going okay, I was holding it together, but then, just before we got there we saw the worst, very worst kind of accident.

The mister, who had, I think, been hoping I wouldn’t notice the accident while I kept an eye out for the building, found a park, turned the car (and thus the air conditioning) off, the sun beat in through the windscreen.

‘That looked like a bad accident, didn’t it?’ I said. Quietly.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It did.’

I sobbed. Great, gut-wrenching, very few times in a lifetime kinds of sobs.

My poor boys. Eldest boy said (quietly), ‘Dad, do you think it would be okay to give Mum a hug?’ As my Dad would say: ‘How good is that?’ How good indeed.

I felt completely, absolutely, utterly unable to cope.
Like if the mister died, how would I survive? No, really, how would I? And I don’t mean how would I survive his death, I mean how would I live. How would I ever look after myself?

One week on, that moment is easy to understand. There was a lot going on.

Firstly, there’s me learning to live without parents. I know I’m forty, and it’s been a long time – nearly half my life – since I was dependent on my parents. But there’s a safety that parents give you that no one else can (and here I note how lucky I’ve been that it’s only in their death that I’ve had to grieve this loss, far worse for children who must learn to live without that safety even while their parents are alive).

Secondly, in form after form after form I’m labelling myself ‘housewife’. Every time I want to do something, I have to get a form from the mister that says he has ‘no objection’ to me doing it. We’ve only just been able to add me to the bank account, but it’s not a joint account in the way that I might have understood it, because if the mister dies, the assets in that account are frozen, and do not automatically become mine.

Now I don’t want to get into a big discussion about ‘housewife’ here, suffice to say, I’ve had an important and valuable cross-generational caring role and different people bring different things to relationshps and so on and etcetera and I think our society would be a better place if more people had the opportunity to do it. So that’s fine. And I completely understand that when it comes to living in foreign lands, someone is the person around whom the rest of the family is defined. That’s fine too.

It’s just that after a while it does grind down your sense of self-identity – there are days when I cringe even to hear the mister say ‘we’ or ‘us’. Actually, I shouted at him about it the other day.

And of course, there’s nothing quite like submitting your husband’s salary slips and bank statements as official proof to another party that you can support yourself to prove to yourself that you can’t.

Other things that led to this point?

It’s hot. Scorchingly, searingly, relentlessly hot. On the walk to school, if I’m wearing my knee-length skirt, I feel the sun burning my shins. Once I’m out in it, I can’t think. I have to plan every move before I leave the apartment, and if anything happens that doesn’t fit that plan, I don’t know what to do.

And the accident. That was it. Any ounce of reserve I might have had was gone. On my bad days, the days when I’m tired or homesick or lonely, the roads here frighten me. The cars are big and the windows are tinted and people use their horns too often, their indicators rarely. I’ve always preferred the bus or the tram even on roads I understand (and it’s true there are buses, but I’ll tell you about them another day). And then, as it so often is at the moment, my Mum. It was a car accident that killed my mum and it’s her birthday this week.

So, you know, that was me, sitting in the front seat of a car, which was in a carpark, which was in front of a building which I’d been too frightened to come and find for myself.

But wait…

I don’t want you to think that I’m miserable every moment of every day. Because I’m not. Far from it. I’ve had lots of great moments.

My Dad used to say that every five years or so you look in the mirror and you see yourself for who you are right now. Not quite as young as you thought you were, but not unhappy with your age.

That’s what happened when I looked at that photograph you can see down there. I do know a photograph isn’t a mirror, but in this case, it’s the same effect. It isn’t especially flattering of me, but I love it. It’s a woman who woke up one day and found herself, quite unexpectedly, forty years old and exploring the Dubai Creek.

From dubai creek

32 Responses to “Now, if only I could get my script written”

  1. Laura May 27, 2009 at 2:35 am #

    I’ve been wanting to give you this link for a while now : . Hilary Mantel writing about living in SA in the 1980s. It’s disturbing but a great piece of writing.

    • ThirdCat May 27, 2009 at 9:15 am #

      I thought by SA you meant South Australia so off I went expecting some Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil trip around Adelaide.


      That’s an astonishing piece. Thanks for the link

  2. planetnomad May 27, 2009 at 3:42 am #

    I could really relate to this post. Not so much the specifics (although the heat in Mauritania was like that. You can’t think! I would get insta-headache from the glare) but the whole helpless in new culture and dealing with being a “housewife”and grief and heat on top of it all and then the bad drivers, and just needing to break down for a moment. Your kids are awesome, and I really like that photo!

    • ThirdCat May 27, 2009 at 9:16 am #

      thanks planetnomad – of all the feelings I had been able to imagine, I hadn’t known that helplessness would be one of them

  3. Mindy May 27, 2009 at 4:10 am #

    “It’s a woman who woke up one day and found herself, quite unexpectedly, forty years old and exploring the Dubai Creek.”

    I just love this. One day (soon) I would like to find myself unexpectedly 40 and exploring the Dubai Creek. I rather like the idea of being unexpectedly 40, rather than dreading the big 4oh.

    Sometimes I think that you don’t really have to grow up completely until you lose your parents. But the older I get the more I worry about what it will be like and how I will cope with losing my Mum too. I worry even more about my husband who still has both his (now elderly but don’t tell them I said that) parents.

    • ThirdCat May 27, 2009 at 9:18 am #

      You know, even though I’ve known it’s coming, and I’ve been thinking about it for years (witness banging on about it around these parts) being 40 is still unexpected. But that could be just me. Anyhoo, it’s turning out to be somewhat excellent.

  4. blackbird May 27, 2009 at 4:30 am #

    I don’t know how to say this without sounding a little daft…I think you are extraordinary – doesn’t matter what you call yourself on the forms.

    • ThirdCat May 27, 2009 at 9:22 am #

      thank you

      a lot

  5. SQ May 27, 2009 at 7:01 am #

    Yes, you are extraordinary, in all the best senses of that word.

    And also because it’s quite a feat that while ‘wearing my knee-length skirt, I feel the sun burning my chins’. Chins?


    • ThirdCat May 27, 2009 at 9:23 am #

      that is the French spelling

      (though I have now fixed it to the English spelling)

  6. Kath Lockett May 27, 2009 at 7:12 am #

    Why ain’t you putting down ‘writer’ on the forms? Housewife is only one of about a dozen job titles for you, surely?

    • ThirdCat May 27, 2009 at 9:24 am #

      Housewife is the simplest thing right now and round these parts

  7. kate May 27, 2009 at 11:40 am #

    My Mum’s occupation on my birth certificate says home duties. She had a job at the time, one that required much higher qualifications than my Dad’s. It irks me when I have to look at it.

    If it helps, I nearly come undone every time someone in our new town asks what my husband does for a living. I moved an hour up the road and suddenly I’m married! And his job is a major factor in my identity! FARK!

    • ThirdCat May 27, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

      Yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother’s stories – of suddenly being a ‘temporary’ employee of the education department once she got married (or maybe once she got pregnant, I can’t remember which was the catalyst for moving from permanent to temporary) and of the bank manager insisting that she bring her husband in before she could open an account.

  8. Deborah May 27, 2009 at 11:55 am #

    I have a deeply ambivalent relationship with housewife too. Even in free Adelaide, where no one would dream of asking me if I had my husband’s permission to do something. It’s a foreign country, this housewife gig.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your vale of tears.

    And what a lovely picture of you and your gorgeous boys, who look so happy to be out and about with you.

    • ThirdCat May 27, 2009 at 12:08 pm #

      “It’s a foreign country…”

      I like that very much.

  9. suse May 27, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

    It is a lovely picture.

    I thought of my best and oldest friend during this post, as she (without warning) lost her mum this week, having lost her dad some years ago. And I of course have the survivor guilt for having two living parents while she’s now a 45 year old orphan.

    You are having quite a time, aren’t you?

  10. ThirdCat May 27, 2009 at 12:13 pm #

    “you are having quite a time…”

    Actually, I’m worried there’s too much navel-gazing going on in this apartment and not enough just getting on with it.

  11. The Coffee Lady May 27, 2009 at 12:28 pm #

    “someone is the person around whom the rest of the family is defined”

    you need a bit more arrogance, dear. In my family, that person is me and I’ll hear nothing to contradict it

  12. Laura May 27, 2009 at 12:29 pm #

    While there’s alot to be said for ‘getting on with it’, there’s nothing wrong with reflecting and looking back either. This is how we know and, more importantly, understand ourselves and where we are.

    I recall getting a particular visa in the USA once that only allowed me to work on the condition that my husband’s income was sufficient to maintain life and limb and health insurance (documentary proof was required) and that the income from said employment was to be used for the purposes of ‘children’s music or dancing lessons, travel or education purposes’. I kid you not.

    Chin up, hope the way-too-close to tragedy feeling settles down again soon.

    • Deborah May 27, 2009 at 2:34 pm #

      the income from said employment was to be used for the purposes of ‘children’s music or dancing lessons, travel or education purposes’.

      Hmm…. that is exactly what the income I earn from my very-part-time-tutoring-and-lecturing-gig is used for. Though they have drama lessons, not dancing lessons.

  13. mj May 27, 2009 at 3:45 pm #

    chins up, tc… suddenly one day you might wake up and no longer be able to explore dubai creek, so do it all now! perhaps “explorer” rather than “housewife” 🙂

  14. mary May 27, 2009 at 4:24 pm #

    what an incredible mix of emotions you are feeling right now – and completely understandably.

    Can you not hear Hydra calling you more insistently?

  15. elsewhere May 28, 2009 at 4:27 am #

    What a great post. Dn’t have anything to say but am really enjoying your chronicling of life overseas, thoughts on family, mortality etc (yelling at a large tortoiseshell as I write this).

  16. Zoe May 28, 2009 at 10:29 am #

    me too, except the tortoiseshell part

  17. janet May 28, 2009 at 10:58 am #

    I too am rivetted by your acounts of life overseas. But this post made me want to be able to offer you a big cup of tea (or equivalent) ’round our kitchen table!

    Even without all the other things you have going on, I think constantly having to identify as a housewife would be so hard for a modern Australian woman. Who we say we are to various bureaucracies has a deeper effect on us than we imagine (this is a conversation I have at work with my customers quite frequently when we are discussing whether they are in a “marriage like relationship” or not). I know that your situation is different but there is that thing about forms and representation.

    Anyway, I think you are extraordinary and brave too. And a published writer, which counts for heaps in my book.

  18. Zoe May 28, 2009 at 2:07 pm #

    Oh, wow, just read that Hilary Mantel piece that Laura linked to way up there. Tks.

    • ThirdCat May 28, 2009 at 2:09 pm #

      bloody brilliant, isn’t it?

  19. mikhela May 28, 2009 at 4:39 pm #

    When I first had my babies and was feeling helpless and overwhelmed and beaten down by my first Queensland summer, I remember you prescribing art galleries. Pure genius – we are now members of two galleries & a museum. Do you have art galleries there?

  20. mikhela May 28, 2009 at 4:57 pm #

    The Hilary Mantel piece made me feel sick in the stomach.

    I hope comparing Qld to Abu Dhabi didn’t sound diminishing – but the beinbg hot and overwhelmed and in an unfamiliar role resonated, even if the cultural dislocation was of a totally different order.

  21. Prudence May 29, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    In 1969, my parents married, and a shamelessly short time later I arrived, but I digress. My mother was a teacher and had no choice but to resign. In 1978, when she went back to part time teacher, and applied for one of those new-fangled Bankcards (remember them?) I got my first lesson in feminism with her muttering and seething at having to provide my father’s income details, which, as a self-employed tradesmen lacking any sort of business nous, were much lower than hers. The ironic bit, I guess, is that she disapproved when I refused to take my husband’s name when I got married!

  22. Kate June 9, 2009 at 8:43 am #

    Suse from Pea Soup just linked me. My dad died at the very end of last year, and I’ve been blogging about that. And since I’m also from (and still in!) Adelaide, she thought we might have some things in common. 🙂

    I understand the bit about living without parents. My mother is still alive, but we have a rocky relationship and it’s probably at it’s nadir at the moment. She is certainly not providing me with any sense of security – in fact, her presence makes me extremely anxious. I feel alone a lot of the time, and it’s shocking how much I didn’t realise the rock that my father was in my life. Even when he wasn’t present, he was a reference point. Even when I was living overseas (experiencing deep culture shock, although perhaps not as much as you) he was there in my life.

    I have noticed myself being very anxious since his death. Sometimes jsut going out to buy food seems like the hardest thing in the world. Sometimes interacting with my friends takes more than I have. And sometimes it’s fine. completely fine, like nothing ever happened – right up until something happens and it all falls in a heap and I am a wreck.

    And I understand about the sobs, too. When crying is physically painful. Ugh!

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