Things have been happening here, let me tell you. I suspect that most of them are had-to-be-there kinds of things – I find that my Absolutely Hilarious stories end up sounding a bit lame in writing – but I’ll try to find the ones that are worth sharing.
I got my visa, which is a relief. I think there’s been general confusion as to what my situation was and what I was waiting for, so: on the working holiday visa, I could only live in Australia for one year, with a maximum of six months working for any one employer – which is why I had to leave the day care, which broke my heart.
In the meantime, having analysed the work situation and agreed that we need to stay longer in Australia than originally anticipated, Mark and I applied for a partner visa – common law is the same as being married for visa purposes. I had been told that it would take six months or longer, so I wouldn’t be able to go back to the day care until at least next year. That also meant that I wouldn’t be able to work in state schools past September 15th, so I started in with the Catholic board and told the state school where I worked all term (with remedial readers) that I was finished – and gave good-bye cards to my students and got roses from my colleagues and basically made a big fat deal out of the whole thing, only to get my partner visa a week later. Ahem.
So now, I’m a resident in Australia, can get medicare, can work wherever I want with no restrictions. Immigration then checks in with us in two years and if they’re satisfied that we’re still a genuine couple and that I’m an okay person to have in their country, the temporary residency rolls into a permanent one.
First things first, of course, I’ve been working at the day care [insert happy sigh here]. It’s been two months, during which babies can grow a lot – lots of them have moved up to the next age group, they’re taller and slimmer, they’re speaking more and developing senses of humour... amazing.
Some funny conversations I’ve had or overheard recently:
Katy: Oh, this air conditioning – I’m actually cold!
Alana: Well, you should get a jumper, like I have.
Katy: Can I borrow yours? Do you think your jumper would fit me?
Alana: No. ‘Cause I’m four.
Jasper [with his drawing]: Can you fold this like a puppy passport? I need one, because my puppy goes everywhere on the airplane.
Hudson: My dad works with Santa. He makes toys but I have to wait a long, long time for them.
Katy: So he has two jobs?
Hudson: Yeah. His work, and.... Santa.
Katy: What’s your treasure map for?
Katy: Yes. What kind of treasure?
Patrick: Good stuff.
Katy: Is the treasure at home?
Patrick: There’s no treasure at home – I don’t even have a spade!
[Zara has pulled her shirt down and is breast-feeding a doll.]
Katy: Hey - you’re feeding your baby!
Zara: Yes. This one has milk in it, then the other one is water.
You want to be happy? Work with small children.
Bronwyn decided to take advantage of my living in Australia and took a much-needed semester off of school to come explore this part of the world. Mark and I were both working when her flight came in at 10 am, so I had this elaborate system worked out with keys and instructions and though I felt bad that I wouldn’t be able to pick her up at the airport, I figured that she’d probably appreciate having a quiet house so she could have time to decompress after a long flight and not have to make conversation right away. Mark had some kind of bug that he couldn’t shake, though, and felt so lousy that morning that he called in sick to work – but he was willing to pick Bron up, which we figured would be a nice surprise.
I, in the meantime, was also coming down with something but my contract was such that there was no one to replace me if I didn’t show up and I was stressed out about wasting the little time I had left with my low readers, so I hooked up with my carpool and went to school. This was what is known in some circles as The Wrong Decision, because within minutes of arriving at school, the full flu kicked in and I was so disgustingly sneezy and wretched that I couldn’t go near the kids – I had to call Mark, who was just finding Bron at the airport, and apologetically ask him, with his flu, and Bronwyn, coming off about 30 hours of travelling, to come pick me up in Mareeba, about two hours round-trip through the jungle and the tablelands.
They came, which Bron good-naturedly claimed was an ideal way for her to immediately see some of Cairns, and just after we detoured to show her the golf course kangaroos, something kicked out in the car and we had to find a mechanic. One group was too busy, another guy couldn’t do it... We finally found someone who agreed to fix it up (the car was firing on three cylinders, in case that means anything to any of you) and so we wandered around Mareeba to find lunch while we waited. We sat in a veterans’ club, listening to the whir of the pokies behind us, all three of us fighting the dead exhaustion of either jet lag, flu symptoms or the anti-flu drugs that stop the sneezing but make you too tired to function. Whoop!
Back out into the sticky, hot afternoon, over to the patched-up car and back down the range towards home, at exactly the same time as my carpool was leaving school – with me slouching down in my seat in case anyone saw me and thought I’d just been playing hooky to hang out with my friend.
Welcome to Cairns, Bronwyn! Aren’t you glad we saved you from having to take a cab?!
After that things got back on track, though, and we did all sorts of fun activities.
Bron loves the water as much as I do so I finally had a river buddy – it’s always too cold for Mark. We’ve had dim-sum (which they call “yum-cha” here – what’s that all about?), gone on the skyrail (in the rain), visited animal parks, hiked and sweated, gone to see movies, experienced the Cairns festival, parade and all (I almost got run over by the Pride float), eaten lots of delicious food (if you see Bronwyn, ask her to make you her chocolate ginger cake and change your life) and watched a lot of X-Factor. Bronwyn’s in Sydney right now, having driven down the coast from Brisbane, and she’ll be back up with us before she leaves in November. The problem with having a friend from home is that now I realize how much is missing for me in Cairns and have spiralled into an existential crisis, surely not unconnected to my imminent 30th birthday; I’ll have to make the most of Brony when she comes back, for as long as I have her. How many board game nights can I impose on her without threatening our friendship?
When we moved in, we had a lovely couple living across from us, Jay and Neil. (The bread man moved in when they left.) They are extremely fit – Neil looks like a fitness club poster – and are both police officers, or at least were both police officers but they hate it so much that they’re shifting into other fields. Neil works at a fitness club and is in the army reserves, Jay runs every day... Nice to chat with them in the pool but maybe not so much our perfect hiking friends, you know?
One day Mark noticed that Neil had tennis rackets in the car; we mentioned it to them and they were relieved, since Neil gets frustrated having to slow down his game to match Jay’s lack of skill, so breaking off into two games would be the best thing for them... Which means that all of a sudden, I was involved in these big tennis plans. To my great relief, it kept not working out – with scheduling problems and the consistently wet weather – but a few weeks ago it was on and unavoidable and I was dreaming of humiliation and defeat on the tennis court on a nightly basis.
Let me tell you, though, it turns out I’m not so bad. Or, at least, when Jay said she really can’t play tennis, she wasn’t being modest. I think I may have some kind of genetic thing – I was trying to channel my racquet-sport-champion dad – and while I am no Venus Williams, I held my own. On the other hand, while Mark and Neil were grunting and sweating and pulling muscles all over the place, Jay and I were volleying the ball around and chatting, like a more physical version of sitting down for coffee. We talked about the good restaurants we’ve found in the city, uni programs, visas, jobs, my mom’s visit... Tennis is fun! And we did play a doubles game for the last ten minutes, though Jay is so all over the place that it was mostly just trying to keep the ball in play. I managed to place a couple of excellent balls and briefly decided that I should really take lessons and become a tennis player, but when they all laughed at the “funny” “joke” I had just made, I realized that being able to approximately hold my own in a friendly doubles game does not a secretly gifted tennis player make. Venus can breathe easy for now.
The big new thing is that I’ve started running. Well, jogging. Bronwyn and I followed the couch-to-5k program (courtesy of Jill – thanks!), which starts with a little bit of running and lots of walking and then slowly phases out the walking – I’m at 25 minutes of running now and while it’s not like I love it, per se, it feels pretty good and I’m really proud of the fact that it’s happening at all. Bron’s been keeping up while she travels; she was happy to do some running somewhere less humid and miserable than Cairns, which means that if I just manage to keep it up, some day, somewhere else, I could actually really enjoy it. I only go after the sun’s gone down, the problem being that I swallow about one bug per three minutes, but now that I’ve hooked up one of those cool kid arm bands for my i-pod, at least I have something to listen to other than the bats flying terrifyingly over my head. Which brings me to:
Once, Bronwyn and I passed under a tree just as a bat took off and flew low over our heads. The sound – how can I describe the sound? You’ll only have ever heard it in a movie, like a pterodactyl or one of those scary flying death things in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, because in normal life, nothing is big enough to make such a huge wing flap. Except in Australia. They are like flying doom and the two of us practically jumped out of our skin – good inspiration to get you running, though; with one of those monsters flapping above my head, I’d run for days.
There’s a strange bird called a frog-mouth that we see in the wildlife parks, and a few weeks ago there was one in the tree beside our balcony! It stayed there for hours and even turned its head for a picture, which was a treat.
Less of a treat is the big huntsman spider living on the ceiling directly above my pillow. We’ve tried to shoo it away somewhere, and it acts like it’s going along with the plan, but then it comes back. Why? I guess there are lots of mosquitoes, hovering around sucking the life out of me, but how is the spider going to get them without a web, which it can’t build on a flat ceiling? Does it just shimmy down on a string and hang there, above my sleeping head, killing bugs? Ew.
Meanwhile, The Mystery of the Fourth Fish continues. We have a kind of zen pond at the entrance to the flat, very chic, and when we installed a real-live swamp lily pad in it, we got some goldfish to add a little pizzazz. There were already some fish in there, little black guppy-type things and one big one, but we generally ignored them – and vice versa. So I bought these four goldfish and they loved it in there, swimming around like crazy, except that the big fish kept bullying them and beating them to the food. And then one day, only three goldfish. I figured Bully ate the fourth one, Mark thought it must trapped in the filter or something, but we cleaned it out and there was nothing... Ooh, did I ever hate Bully and curse his name to the stars. I watched very carefully to make sure he left the others alone; I was ready to scoop him out and throw him in the swamp.
Now, though, none of the other fish has disappeared, and Bully has stopped being so aggressive with the food, which makes me guiltily realize that he was just hungry, our having never fed him. (It’s too late to change his name from Bully but I say it apologetically, or with air quotation marks so he knows I’m being ironic.) So what happened to the fourth goldfish? Will we ever know?
Just for your reference, I have included pictures of the “moat” and of the three who remain: Big Red, Jim and Talulah (with the fancy mouth). Bully’s camera-shy and I gave up trying to get him involved.
Now my horror story: it’s the middle of the night, everyone’s sleeping, and a rustling sound wakes me up. I’ve told you that there are no screens on the windows in our house, which is great for air and light and all that, but obviously means that creatures can come in, like centipedes and cane toads. Sleeping with the door closed is out of the question, though, as we will suffocate and die.
The breeze tends to blow in and rustle the blinds, which make a clicking noise that we hear pretty constantly. This time, though, the clicking is a lot more persistent and focused. I’m sleep-confused and struggling to make sense of things but I’m absolutely sure there’s something in the room, rustling around in the corner – it’s hard to hear anything past my own terrified heartbeat, but maybe there’s a bell somewhere? And scratching sounds? I’m sitting there, paralyzed, squinting into the dark, when all of a sudden a creature jumps up on the bed.
Now, imagine that you have just woken up into your own recurring nightmare and you’re confused and it’s dark and you’re convinced that a rat has jumped onto your bed to chew off your face – can you imagine what kind of sound you might make? I’ll tell you: a gut-wrenching scream that is so deep and loud and full of terror, I mean proper terror, that your throat will hurt for two days. And now imagine that you’re Mark, sleeping peacefully, and you are woken by such a sound – he thought that I was being murdered. I couldn’t explain what was going on – couldn’t speak – but he saw the shadow of something running off down the hall so while I shut myself into the shower, huddled and shaking, he went to slay my dragon.
Um, it was a kitten. Which explains the bell, the curious rustling and the light pounce onto the bed – in retrospect, of course. He came back with it in his arms – poor thing all freaked out by my screaming – and we had a good laugh about it. Well, he did – I was still crying and shaking and thought I was going to throw up. I didn’t sleep soundly for a good week; I still wake up with a start about twice a night.
All this to say: if there’s a crisis, you don’t want me around. Turns out I don’t handle fear well.
As for joyful animal experiences, Mark and I did the koala picture thing. It was so quick and professional that I didn’t have time to get all weepy and emotional like last time, but it was just amazing. To hold the koala, you have to lace your fingers together and just stand there, no cuddling or anything; Mark is wonderful and made the sacrifice so that I could actually pat it. So fuzzy – like a teddy bear. Like a beautiful, achingly adorable Yoda teddy bear. I considered applying to work there so that I could become friends with the zoo-keepers and get to hang out with the koalas all the time. I might have to go back and do it again – maybe if I tell them I don’t need a picture, they’ll let me touch it for longer? I want a koala. Really, I want a koala. I don’t know what to do about it – such useless longing.
If I told you I got a bad motorcycle burn on my leg, you’d jump to the obvious conclusion that I was riding with Mark, right? Or at least that I bumped into Mark’s bike? Well, you’d be wrong. I dropped Bron off at a car rental place (she went and did the waterfall circuit that Mark and I have been trying to do all year! Dagnabbit!) and then was early for my carpool to work, so I went to have a hot chocolate at McDonald’s. I can only assume that the gods were punishing me for frequenting such an establishment, even if only for a time-killing breakfast drink, because when I reached into the back of the car to get my bag, my outstretched leg came into sizzling contact with the just-parked-and-still-extremely-hot motorcycle behind me and a maroon oval was seared into my upper calf.
Now, luckily, my mom had just recently sent out a “home remedies” e-mail, including one about toothpaste on a burn, and my brother, enraged as only a health care professional can be, had replied that one must never, under any circumstances, put anything other than ice or cold water on a burn, lest the heat should be trapped and burrow deeper into the skin, creating a second- or third-degree burn where there was none. And if that’s true for sunburns, I could only imagine how true it would have to be for a big, fat, painful burn like this. I got ice from the McDonald’s, put my cold water bottle on it during the drive to school, and kept ice baggies on it all day, to the fascination of my students. It blistered, it looked really gross for a while – now, a few weeks later, and probably thanks to Michael’s sage advice, it’s fine. No real reason to tell you about it, other than because I like to think that you’re out there somewhere feeling a bit sorry for me. I’ve included a picture – Mark told me not to but what does he know?! I didn’t put in the gross one, or the one where you can see my hairy, chubby leg, but I wanted you to be impressed with what a big burn it was!
There’s a video store nearby that I never really went to because we have one right across the street. Getting a blood test for my immigration stuff, though, I happened to drive by it and noticed a sign about $1 movies. Wow, I thought, you can get old weekly movies for a dollar. Great.
But no – it’s ever y movie! Every movie in the store is one dollar on a Tuesday! And then there are three for nine deals and two new releases for seven and whatever - deals, deals, deals. I’ve been watching five or six movies a week – yesterday I got NINE movies, which I may or may not get through.
One dollar! Amazing! And they have Twizzlers there, too!
Well, it’s raining. Still.
Okay – that’s it!