There are some truly wonderful things that come with being an expat. There's the obvious, the chance to make new friends from all over the world, the opportunity to travel and of course the eternal optimism that comes with the search of an unobtainable upgrade from an airline.
The really crappy things that come with being an expat are usually related to missing things from home. After 11 years away I've learnt to go without Maggie Beer pate and Freddo frogs, but it definitely hasn't got any easier being away from my girlfriends. Sure, we keep in contact easily with facebook and Skype but we all know there is something magical about sitting with a girlfriend and having a really honest chat.
I once worked for a man who called himself a "realistic optimist". I think because he was the CEO he didn't want to look irresponsible with the optimism aspect so he made himself realistic. I think I might be an unrealistic optimist.
I always think everything will work out. I forgot to buy a ticket? Let's just check at the door and see if they'll let me in. I forget to put fuel in the car, I'm sure they'll be a petrol station at the next intersection. I'm perpetually late because I have this belief that somehow I'll magically get there in time. I truly believe the 20 minute trip may only take me 5 to 10 minutes and sometimes it does, sadly, unrealistic optimist are further encouraged by their luck.
So when my very good friend Fiona told me she was getting married on January 8th I thought I might have been able to get there, somehow. Even though I knew we had to spend Christmas in Qatar and even though school begins on the 9th, and even though we are financially more strapped than ever and I have 4 children and she is getting married in a country 14 hours flying time from mine......I entertained the idea. I guess I just couldn't imagine missing it.
I first met Fiona when I was in my mid 20's, I found her fascinating, in fact there were many nights when we first met that I couldn't stop staring at her. She was beautiful, not pretty, she was simply, beautiful. It wasn't just me staring at her, there was usually a crowd of us, men mostly (both gay and straight). Fiona was one of those girls that seemed to have it all, she had an hilariously dry wit, cooked like a chef, skin women would pay a fortune for and she had her own business. She had one downfall.
She had really shocking taste in men.
I was going to say that I found Fiona intoxicating which is kind of ironic because we spent a lot of time intoxicated. There was a group of us, we traveled in a pack. We were a dangerous combination, with our mutual love of champagne and our mutual dislike of going home there were some interesting evenings. The evenings were followed by hysterical "catch ups" the following day, piecing the evening together. We giggled. A lot.
I have many things to thank Fiona for, particularly in that period of my life, but the most obvious is the day she introduced me to G. After I told her the next day that "he just wasn't my type" she persisted and set up drinks and when I left drinks early she continued and set up a dinner party. When I found out he was coming I groaned and repeated "I told you, he's just not my type".........within a few weeks G and I were engaged, the rest, as they say is 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle
Fiona's sense of humour is naughty and wicked. After a long stint away from Australia we met for a drink at the local pub, I was excited about a few hours away from the little travelers and we decided to revisit old times and have a sneaky cigarette. "How much do they cost now" I asked as I pulled money out of my wallet for change, "oh they're REALLY expensive now, about 30 bucks" she said giving the barman an inconspicuous wink. At that stage I think they were about $12. She kept a completely straight face as I monotonously poured $30 worth of coins in to the machine, after pushing the button what seemed like thousands of coins spat out on to the floor. It still makes me laugh.
A few years later it was Fiona who put her hand up when G was looking for someone to come and stay with me in Canada after the 4th little traveler was born and he needed to travel for business. It was Fiona who boarded roughly 7 different airplanes traveling via Pluto, Mars and Venus to get to Calgary because we did it all on air miles. Her luggage lost for two days, she persevered through my post natal "oh no they smashed the vegemite!" I'd asked her to bring it, there were shards of glass and vegemite all through her suitcase. She apologized for the inconvenience. How she didn't slap me I'll never know.
I'm not sure how she got through those couple of weeks with the little travelers and I. We were living in a parallel universe at the time. Fiona a single career woman living in a fabulous area in Melbourne, couldn't have been further from my life on a cul-de-sac in the burbs. The little travelers were 6 weeks, 2, 4 and just 6.
She had excitedly arrived with Bill Grangers new cookbook with visions of us all sitting around the table, looking like Bill's family and friends, stripy shirts and white teeth to match our pristine white pants, we'd be busily chewing while the children entertained us with their cuteness. Fast forward a few days, after a day of finding one child hanging on to the automatic garage door while the other pushed the button making it go up and down, Fiona was picking up the Spaghetti Bolognese off the floor when she looked at me and said "I had no idea, what was I thinking?".
It was while she was in Canada that she told me about Carl. They'd met a few times, it was still new but she really liked him. She said he'd been married before and had kids. I looked at her incredibly flat stomach, perky boobs and thick glossy hair and wondered how I'd cope if G and I split up and he bought home Fiona. I couldn't think about it for too long as I was starting to taste the vomit in my mouth. In my post natal state I envisaged her with the little travelers being "that" Mummy, the relaxed Mummy, the Mummy who remembered to put deodorant on and didn't have throw up on her shoulder, toothpaste on her shirt and wobbly thighs.
Over the next year Fiona fell madly in love, but she did it like a grown up. She become friends with the ex wife, not fake friends, real friends. When I asked about the children, she told me all of their achievements, who they were and what she liked about them. She didn't try to become their new mother or their best friend, she was herself. I thought back to my original thoughts, she was exactly what I would have wanted if G had to be with someone else (just not with such a flat tummy and beautiful skin).
The best bit though, was for the first time I saw a man who truly loved Fiona and over the past 4 years they just get better and better. Without controlling each other they both make each other better people, it works.
So next week a group of girlfriends will watch Fiona get married, I imagine with a little tear in their eye and probably up until 15 hours before the big moment I will hold on to an unrealistic optimistic hope that I will join them. There are some crappy things about being an expat.