Saturday, April 11, 2009


Australia is a strange land.  It’s nothing like North America.  It’s not even anything like Europe.  It feels familiar, but foreign.  It’s like stepping into another dimension, parallel, but unrelated to this one.  It’s just Australia unto Australia.  Itself unto itself.

And when I was there, I was like a parallel version of me.  Like Alice in Wonderland.

In Australia, I had a new name.  Tricia, the way they say it.  Michael’s Tricia.  I had new friends – a whole group of them – that seemed like they’d just been waiting for me to get there.  Strange, romantic, wonderful people.  So inclined to like me, to love me.  I had  new money in my wallet.  New streets and towns.  New words jangling around in my head.

And there was no adjusting to it!  There was no time of “settling in.”  I went to sleep on the plane and woke up and then suddenly Michael’s arms were around me.  And I was in Australia, deep down the rabbit hole, among mad hatters and march hares.

It just happened.  The week just happened, as though it had been happening all along and I'd never really known it.

I moved Michael into a house and we lived -- lived -- there.

We cleaned the old kitchen and hung clothes on the line.  I met the neighbors.  We ate cold chicken with Dave and Lucinda in the middle of the night.  We ate cereal in the morning sun, sitting on the flagstones in the backyard.  And we wandered Sydney at night with Simon and Victoria, ducking in and out of pubs, dodging early-autumn rainstorms.

And Michael was there.  He was there when I went to sleep and there when I woke up. 

And every time I saw him, it was like a miracle.  That we were there, and I could reach out and touch him.  That we could go buy groceries.  Groceries!  Shopping was a revelation.  Riding the train?  An adventure.

And yes, of course, we did things.  But we didn’t do anything that wasn’t a part of his life now, a part of my parallel life.  A tourist goes somewhere to see something they wouldn’t ordinarily see.  I felt like I was seeing things I’ve already been seeing things for months, for years.  Because they are familiar to Michael’s eyes.

And because Michael is a part of me.

And because when Alice wakes up, she finds herself on a riverbank, and she tells her sister the dream of Wonderland.  But her sister knows that Wonderland is not a dream, not an inaccessible dream anyway, but a lovely dream that lives and breathes and goes on and has a life of its own.

And that’s Australia.

I’m back in California now.  But Michael and I have a life of our own.  And that life goes on.  We carry each other.

And we go on, parallel, Australia, California, Michael and I together like a heartbeat, on and on.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

In case of BLOOD TIES

This is my brother.  He is neat.

But tonight, he's asleep in the ICU at the Hospital.

For anyone that doesn’t know, Alex has been going through some pretty scary stuff lately.  He developed some weird symptoms about six weeks ago.  His torso was strangely numb.  It didn’t make sense.  He told my dad.  My dad was worried, but said nothing.

Then, on a Thursday – two weeks ago from today, exactly – Alex woke up and had trouble moving his legs.  My dad took him to the doctor.  The doctor drew blood and ordered a CAT scan and an MRI.

It was the first time I’d heard about any of this.  And suddenly it really looked like my brother had MS or, worse, that he had a tumor on his spine.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  That was a horrifying weekend.

My brother is 18.  He’s the star of the cross-country team.  He’s long and angular, built to run.  Just like my dad.  He’s the lead in the school musical.  He has a lovely tenor voice and a beautiful girlfriend.  I’m frightfully proud of him.

But with this sudden threat of slowly debilitating diseases and cancer, I’ve started remembering that my brother wasn’t always cool.  And it wasn’t just that he was neutrally neither cool nor uncool.  He was ACTIVELY UNCOOL.  He was a downright GEEK.  My brother used to be a natural klutz, socially awkward, incredibly misunderstood. 

We used to call him the Master of Disaster.  In his childhood, he split his gums open and had to get stitches IN HIS GUMS on two completely different occasions.  There’s also a home video in which toddler Alex picks up a kitchen knife and ALMOST falls on it.  I mean, every single time you watch it – though you know it all turns out okay – you still want to grab the knife away, or catch him, or something!  No, Alex, put the knife DOWN!

Plus, Alex was the kid that EVERYBODY tried to ditch.  Like, Lisa and I are going out to do something.

Mom:  Take Alex with you.

Me:  No way!  He’s too little.

Mom:  Well, you can’t leave him ALONE.

Me:  Watch me!

Lisa:  (feeling vaguely guilty) He can play with…Ben…

Though, of course, we always LOVED Alex.  But he had trouble fitting in.  In fact, for a while it seemed, we were his only friends.  We were very imperfect friends.  But we were stuck with him.  So we made it work.

But then, abruptly, it seemed…Alex grew up.

He did this mostly when I wasn’t looking. 

And the second I realized it was happening, that I was in California, and that Alex was coming into his own…

And that I was missing it…

This is my brother.  My BROTHER.

Some people AREN’T friends with their siblings.  But I never wanted that for us.  I wanted – WANT – to be a part of his life. 

And I want his life to continue.

Anyway.  It turns out that Alex doesn’t have MS.  And he doesn’t have cancer.  But he does have a mass on his spine – or did, until this morning.  The mass is a birth defect.  Alex has probably had it his whole life.  It’s a cluster of blood vessels that, about six weeks ago, started to rupture and bleed into his spinal column.  This is still very bad.  It can cause nerve damage and, obviously, a loss of motor skill, etc.  And it still requires – required, past tense – spinal surgery.  Risky.

But it went smoothly.  And tonight, I know, though slumbering in a deep haze of pain and painkillers, Alex will pull through. 

If you know him at all, you are lucky. 

But my sister and I are the luckiest.  We’ve gotten front row seats to watch him, to watch this KID, beat it all.  He beat accidents, beat injuries, beat bullies, beat abandonment, beat everybody on his cross-country team, and now…

Now we get to watch him beat potential paralysis and death.

Alex, I love you.  Fight, Bud.  Fight.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Although my hopes could not have been higher, I was surprised at just how wonderful Australia was.

A full update to follow.  But for now, this.