God Moved to Australia and He Did Not Take Us with Him

It is 3:30 in the afternoon on a Saturday and I am drinking a glass of champagne. I’m not celebrating anything or I’m celebrating everything. I do not know which. Earlier, I cried to no one because no one was here which is usually how I prefer to lick my wounds:  in private.  Image

Yet here I am blogging because writing for me is a release and even though blogging can often be thought of as sloppy writing – please pass the champagne – I find it therapeutic.  Plus, I know it will prevent me from having to repeat this one hundred times.

I am grateful you understand, grateful that there might be one hundred people who would actually want to hear this story, but my gratitude is waning so bear with me as I bare my soul—not really—as I bear witness to my own life (yes, that’s better).    That’s about as crisp as I can make this intro.

The Hooks Are Not Down Under

A couple of weeks ago in a moment of despair, I pounded my fists against a bare wall and screamed out, “Are you on crack?”   I was screaming at God of course because someone was pulling the strings in my life and it wasn’t me.   God was either on crack or He was in Australia or both.

My blog is late but my period is not.   It has been these small blessings that have carried me for the past four weeks, and this update is long so I’m going to give it to you straight.  Are you with me?

The Bad News:

–          Hook has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

–          We had to move out of our house with barely a week’s notice amidst doctor’s appointments because we had leased out the house in anticipation of Oz.

–          Our year and a half of planning for a year’s sabbatical in Australia is off.

–          Hook is having a hard time going cold turkey on smoking.  (If you’re thinking about not feeling bad for this man because he ‘brought it on himself,’ those are words you never want to say to me or even hint at.)

–          I am angry all the time.   It’s like I’m in an endless week three of my cycle where I vacillate between manic happy and manic sad.

The Good News:

–          Hook’s cancer is not stage four. Someone asked if it was stage two or three, and I said, “I don’t know.  I only know the oncologist kept saying ‘It’s not stage 4’.”   Apparently stage four equals quick death. Instead the oncologist and the surgeon, who seemed to welcome Hook into their sciency brotherhood with a medical Q&A I wasn’t able to follow, believe they can kill/shrink/remove the mass and send us on our way … to Australia … maybe in a year.

–          Hook’s university pushed out his sabbatical and pulled him back in for the academic year.  (Translation: They did not make him waste his year of sabbatical while getting chemotherapy and radiation treatments. This is a very, big deal.)

–          Qantas, oh Qantas, how do I love thee.  Qantas, those wonderful, odd-sounding Aussies refunded our $3,599 airfare 100%.   One hundred percent!  They didn’t even take a change fee.  The Qantas lady, that beautiful strange-sounding Sheila, had this extra-sensory perception thing where she could tell I wasn’t making up our horrible turn of events.  God bless that woman.

–          Hook has been prescribed medicinal marijuana.  Just kidding.  Wouldn’t that have been cool?  We could have sold it on the streets in our new neighborhood, which would have fit right in with the meth lab I’m convinced is in operation next door and with our neighbor-no-more who was arrested two days after we moved in.  Hook said, “Good morning babe.  The police arrested the neighbor across the street this morning.  They walked her out in handcuffs around seven am.”   I looked at him with sleepy eyes and replied, “Hmm, is the coffee fresh?”  We are sleeping in our own bed again and we only live ten minutes from where Hook will get his treatments for the next three to four months.  It’s the little things that matter now.

–          A literary agent asked for 50 pages of one of my manuscripts.  More on this in the next blog.

So it sounds like the Good News outweighs the Bad News, right?  Yes.  So then where does God on crack come in?

God on Crack

We hired a local property management company for our two properties assuming we would be out of the country of course.  The irony that Hook and I own two homes but had no place to live did not escape either of us.  But we had signed a management contract and we meant to honor that contract even after we had received the diagnosis of Hook’s biopsy.  The list of how the property management company screwed up is too long to share.  I would type their company name here but I’m afraid if I see itImage again in print, my head might actually explode from all the venom built up inside.  I’m like that horse in Young Frankenstein. Every time I have to say the name of the company or Hook says the name, words of a dark nature start to spew from my lips and they come so fast I can’t even enunciate so that it just sounds like I’m gurgling and Hook has to walk over to me and rub my back and soothe me with words, “It’s okay babe. It’s okay.”

They lied about when the tenants signed the lease.  They lied about whether we had any say in who moved in.  They lied about when the tenants were going to move in.   And get this, the tenants still haven’t moved in yet and we haven’t even been paid our June rents as of today, June 30th, even though the company received both rents on June 1st.   What this all means is that we never had to move out, only to put our stuff in storage for two weeks, only to call the moving company a second time in less than a month to move us again, only to find ourselves living out of suitcases, driving back and forth from north to south for almost daily doctors’ appointments.  I’m hysterical just writing this.

Crack, remember?

A simple, “We’re sorry, we screwed up,” would have gone a long way with me, but instead the company tried to explain their way out of it.  You know how it goes, when you tell a lie then you have to tell another one to cover up the first one, then you start to lose track of what you told and to whom, and pretty soon all that ever comes out of your mouth is a lie even when you don’t have to lie, even when the truth would actually be better.

Crack. Cocaine.  Please, somebody buy me a margarita and don’t be stingy with the Don Julio either.

And In the Present Moment

Yes, Hook is doing chemo now although right at this moment, he is likely fishing or collecting bugs in Port Aransas which is where I sent him for a long weekend so he could relax and have some much-needed Hook time.  I’ve been doing my best to avoid most of the public, only attending the most basic of events or those things that don’t require me to speak or to think or that allow me to be somewhere else in my head for a short while.   Mostly, I’ve been avoiding people I know because I don’t want to hear or say the word “cancer” except sometimes I blurt out the story like a tourettes patient to someone I run into who doesn’t already know.

I actually hate the sound of it: Cancer.  Why couldn’t they have called it cake or candy or curtains?  Why does it have to be called cancer?   “Hook has cake! Hook has candy!”  Doesn’t that sound much better?

I don’t want to see little brochures that read ‘Fight Cancer’ or to hear people say, “You’re going to beat this thing.”  It’s not a war, cancer is not a person.  I don’t even know what it is except this incredibly scary, uncontrollable thing that seems to be running our lives right now.   I hate it.

Yes, I am losing my mind.  No, I have not upped my alcohol intake except for today, and that’s only because it’s a Saturday and I have emptied the last of the last of the moving boxes and I deserve a toast.   Here’s to me, damn it.

And here’s to my husband – that kind, funny, ornery, obscene man I fell in love with four years ago.  He deserves a more patient wife, a stronger woman who would know how to manage the uproar better.

Next Blog:   Hook Quits Smoking for Good.  Or, Man’s Anus Stuffed with Cigarettes, Found in Alleyway.

Remember, God is in Australia, possibly on crack.   It’s just me and the champagne.

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South Center to Hope Street

We appreciate that we have so many people interested in renting our house – really we do — but can I mention how incredibly inconvenient it is to have the house always looking as though we don’t really live there?

There’s how we pretend to live (show house), how we wish we lived (surface clean show house where we hide towels and toss our messes into closets), and how we really live — piles of papers everywhere, books half opened throughout all three bathrooms, Hook’s water glass obsession obvious in the empty glasses found in almost every room in our home.  Our greatest inconvenience though is our struggle via la commode.  In the Hook house, we do our part to conserve water and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Last week we had five male 20-somethings look at the house.  The only thing that saved us from their rental was the indication on the application that there would be a big dog and our requirements forbid any big dogs.   Today, three young female 20-somethings showed up who looked like they’d like nothing better than to spill tequila and rum all over the floors and run up and down the stairs in spiked high heeled shoes that would tear at the Berber carpet all the while being chased by half naked 20-something males.

We had hoped that by putting a high rental price on the house, we could avoid any 20-somethings, but we hadn’t counted on roommate situations.   I wish I would have had the foresight to “accidentally” vomit on the floor this morning, thus turning off the young females altogether.

The location of our home in south Austin, so close to downtown, would be a dream party house to 20-somethings.  We can discriminate against big dogs, but we cannot discriminate based on age and perceived stupidity.

What we would really like, what we keep hoping for is a nice male “couple,” two males who are “partners.”   Or, how about a mid-30s married couple with a husband who has a yard fixation and uses tending-to-the-lawn as a ‘cave’ escape?

We don’t sound very renter friendly, I know, but we’ve been kind to our home, and we’d like that whoever moves into our house to be as kind as we have been to the unblemished hardwood floors, the flowing backyard of green lawn, and the newly painted colorful walls.   We want someone who enjoys weeding out the bed surrounding the Mexican oak tree.   We want a renting miracle.

Enough about what we’re leaving.   Here’s where we’re headed to:  43 Hope Street in Watersman Bay just north of Perth.

Hook had originally set up a one week’s stay at the Drake Apartments in Perth, and for an extra $10 Australian dollars a day, we could have a vehicle with the rental.  Yes, Australia is on the dollar, too, and the exchange is about even.  The difference lies in the high standard of living.  I’ve heard cheeseburgers cost $30.  I’m assuming that is a monster cheeseburger at a really nice restaurant and who wants to eat a burger at a nice restaurant.  Not us.

But then, our academic contact at Curtin University of Technology where Hook will be a visiting professor connected us with a Curtin colleague who has been in the process of moving out of their old house into their newly built home on the same property.  They have a fully-furnished, 3-bedroom, 2-bath home for an unbelievable $400/week.  Fully furnished as in not only furniture but towels and dishes, all the stuff you forget you need to have a functional home.  We said, “good-bye Drake, hello Hope Street.”

I know what you’re thinking.  $400/week — did they use to rent to hookers?   The Australians give all rates by the week instead of by the month.  Who knows why; who cares why.  The cherry-on-top news is that 43 Hope Street is walking distance to a nature preserve  on one side then walking distance to the ocean on the other side.  Walking distance to the ocean!!!!   I may have to walk a couple of blocks to catch a bus that will drop me off at a train station that will take me to the heart of downtown Perth, but I’ll have easy access to the Indian Ocean.

The best news of the day is that the small profit we’ll make on renting out South Center will mean we’ll end up paying less to live in Australia than in Austin.  It doesn’t get much better than that for a year’s sabbatical.

Bring on the college kids so long as they pay the rent on time and do not burn down the house.   The rest we’ll just have to deal with when we return in July 2013.

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Where In Australia?

Just yesterday I found out that I have an approved work visa for Australia – yes!   So let’s get back to how the Hooks came to choose and answer the “Where in Australia?”

Most folks know that Australia is both a country and a continent (pretend like you knew.)  It’s not as large as the U.S. in land mass or in population, but Oz is pretty darn huge.  If someone said they were moving to the U.S., your first question would be, “That’s great.  Where?”

We chose Western Australia (WA) or I should say Western Australia chose us.  Since neither Hook nor I are big city people, we were actually hoping to land anywhere except Sydney or Melbourne.  Oh, of course, we’ll probably visit Sydney and take in one of the many Sydney wine tours but remember, we need less people and more bugs.

Choosing Perth

In his pre-Rosemary days, Hook lived in Brisbane while he was pursuing his doctorate work.  Since he’d been there before, he knew that his landing spot had to include a tie to a university that would provide him certain privileges, e.g. bug collecting permits, lab space to study specimens, and an intellectual community he could engage with.   And both of us wanted ready access to a full-sized swimming pool, someplace we could frequent daily (one of the many benefits we had both enjoyed while working at St. Edward’s University in Austin.)

Hook threw out inquiries in the western and northern territories.  The first was to Charles Darwin University in the tip of the northern territory.   I was still riding the high of “Australia!” and didn’t know enough about the Darwin area to know that living there for an entire year would have been like living in New Jersey or Seattle or some other city close to water that looks really good on a map but you’d really have to work at enjoying yourself there.

The other quick replies of interest came from the territory of Western Australia (WA).  I’ve since learned that WA also stands for wait awhile in the laid back city of Perth, home to the Western Australian Museum and a large private university, Curtin University of Technology.    Hook settled on Curtin which has a student population close to 48,000 which is even larger than the University of Texas in Austin.  Apparently not everything is bigger in Texas!

The competing university to Curtin is the public university, University of Western Australia (UWA), but Hook had already settled on Curtin when we received word back from UWA.   As it is, Hook will likely store his specimens with the Western Australian Museum which is run by the Australian government.  This means both universities and the museum will have free access to Hook’s contributions which benefits everyone.   Plus, the majority of what Hook collects and researches will stay in Australia because there is a limited supply of bugs that customs will allow him to bring back into the U.S. when we return in 2013.

And that is how we chose Perth, the second best city in the world (Austin, Texas being the first of course).   Perth in Western Australia rests against the Indian Ocean in the southwest corner pocket of the country.   Perth not only looks great on a map, but it is the most idyllic place to have as a home base down under.  Can you imagine yourself in a Perth harbor, sitting inside a café that looks out over the water, your laptop on a table and you, writing your little brains away?   Oh sorry, I was imagining me and not you.

“Babe, we’re going to be spending weeks at a time camping in the Outback.  It’s going to be a little rough.  Are you sure you can handle it?”

Hook is serious when he asks this so I respond likewise.

“Will there be little cabins like we had in the jungle?”  The jungle he took me to on our honeymoon.  The jungle that had cabins with only three walls!

“No.  We’ll only have a tent.”  Hook says and I can tell he’s wondering if I’m kidding.

“Can we bring little cots with us to sleep on?”  I ask because I am most definitely not kidding.

“No.”

“What about an air mattress?”   I inquire because if there aren’t any cabins and we’re not going to take any cots, where does he think we will sleep?

“Honey, this is the Outback.  We’ll be sleeping on the ground.”   Hook says this with his matter-of-fact voice, his voice of reason, a tone an adult might use with a 6-year old.

“Okay, well, you’ll be spending weeks at a time in the Outback,” I say as I kiss him on the cheek, “I will be in Perth waiting for you.   Please don’t get eaten by anything.”

I’m not kidding about the getting-eaten-by-anything remark.  Hook zones out when he’s collecting.  A party of Australian crocs could  easily sneak up on Hook and half of his leg in their jaws before he realized anything was amiss.

I’m sure I’ll spend a couple of nights in the Outback.  How could I not?   It’s Australia!

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