Pick Up The Phone Now

It was my friend Erika who said it best. We’d played phone tag, or Skype/Facetime tag as expats tend to do. Here I was in Qatar, newly diagnosed and chemo ready – there she was in Amsterdam on a new expat posting. Both of us sailing unchartered waters.

She’d tried to call me when I was at the doctors, I’d tried to call her when she was on the school run. It had been going for weeks when I finally got the exasperated message.

“Babe, I feel like we’re a couple that hasn’t had sex in a really long time.”

I rang immediately.

For an hour we reconnected with the stuff that can’t be read between the lines of updates and emails. The recent holiday, the kids, the new house, new school. I explained the bits about breast cancer she hadn’t wanted to ask through a keyboard. Why I hadn’t had a mastectomy, G’s initial reaction, what those first few weeks had looked like.

She cried while I bit my lip. And I looked into the screen thinking the thoughts of a thousand expats before me how did I get so lucky to meet you, how can life be so completely unfair that I now how to live it without you.

Chemo this week has been a surprise. It’s different this time, different things on different days. There’s an underlaying ache. I’m short tempered, my patience is thin. I internally praise myself for sitting through things I wouldn’t normally notice like clarinet practice (held centimetres from my head) a long winded story about, well, I’m not exactly sure. I’d recently had enough and knew I had to call in the big guns.  I rang my sister. I shuffled my way outside to the couch, looked up to the sunshine and called her with the sole purpose of venting.

After she’d agreed, giggled, and made a couple of jokes she said “I don’t know what else to say, it’s just how it is, I don’t know what to say because it’s not going to change.”

“I know, that’s why I called you. I just wanted to vent, complain, tell someone. You’ve done exactly what you were meant to do.”

“Be selfish – if anyone has the right to be selfish right now it’s you. You’ve got so much shit on – you look after yourself. You do whatever you want – you’re allowed to.” I knew exactly what her face would look like, the defiance to match the voice. I’d seen it on the netball court, talking to my parents, at work. I instantly felt better.

“I’ll take a photo of what it looks like here in my backyard” The world had kept turning. I was on to the beauty of the bougainvillea, how much I loved my blue windows from the souq.

These are the calls that save us. We need to make them.

Whether it’s your sister, your friend from that first expat location, or the person you’re about to lose. Get on the phone. Indulge in the mundane. Giggle at the ridiculous and cry about the loneliness.

Take a photo of your backyard, share it with a friend. Explain where you’re at, how you feel, what it looks like.

Look after yourself. Pick up the phone now.

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