I made the decision to live as a recluse shortly after hearing I needed to be at home for six weeks without my family.
It made perfect sense to me, to lock myself away. I didn't want to talk to people about the children, and if they were missing me. I didn't want to see anyone else's children, I knew it would just remind me of what I was missing. I wanted to concentrate on healing, and doing the best I could at getting better. No extra coffees, no okay just another glass of wine. I wanted to keep the iPad next to me at all times incase one of the children called. I didn't want to ever be unavailable to them. More importantly, I wanted to try and get as much writing done as possible. I wanted to be able to meet G and the children at the airport when it was all over and have something to show for it. Something that wouldn't make me feel like I'd wasted my time and it was all for nothing.
It's been hard to explain why I want to be alone.
I miss my parents, family, and friends terribly when I'm away from them, and now here I am, right here in the country, choosing to be alone. After looking after me for that first week out of hospital, my mother cried when she had to return home and say goodbye.
"Oh Mum, why are you crying? I'm right here, we can talk everyday. I'm not going anywhere."
"I'm not crying" she said with tears streaming down her face. My parents live a few hours from the beach house, they have their own lives to get back to. My mother texts each morning to check I don't need her to come back, and then she texts that evening just to make sure.
My sister and I spoke on the phone for nearly two hours last night, and as much as I'd love to see her, I know it's better if I just lay low. We talked about camping, toilets and generational changes in women's expectations of men. We both agreed that yabbies need to be served hot, that vinegar is essential in the process, and seafood sauce is redundant in the world of a yabbie. We giggled, a lot. We agreed that we have one of the best mothers on the planet.
We did not discuss how the children were "coping" without me. She knows I don't want to think of them "coping". She gets it. This period of time is going to be about being productive, not about being miserable.
I have mechanisms I have developed over time, on how to deal with being away from the people I love. It comes from years of practice, of staring at photos of smiling faces and reconsidering the cost of travel again and again and again - only to have to face the fact that we cannot afford to go home.
After years of travelling there's a hardness, an outer shell or crust. Maybe it's a strength, maybe it's just denial. In the beginning of your expat travels, there's the sadness in a goodbye, the tears at the airport, the melancholy of knowing what's about to be missed. I've heard many expats say the first thing they learnt to let go, was the airport goodbye.
"We don't do airports, it's too hard, why put everyone under that pressure". said one girlfriend.
Next comes the actual process of saying goodbye.
I was at a table of six long term expats when a girlfriend said "we don't even do goodbyes now, we just say 'see ya next time' with a really cheery voice" everyone at the table admitted to now doing the same.
Years of experience teach you how to effectively avoid getting yourself in a miserable situation. I had coffee with a woman earlier this year who told me she had said goodbye to her father with the full knowledge that she may not see him again.
"I had to say, well Dad, this could be it." she told me.
I wouldn't have said it, I couldn't have. I would have said everything I needed to say in the weeks leading up to the goodbye, but when it came time to go, I would have embraced denial and held on tight.
I thought back to a time with a family friend who had cancer. We had caught up at my parents house, he was thin and not well, I'm sure he knew it was our last time together. As he drove out of our driveway he looked me straight in the eye and gave me a wink and a smile. That was enough, that was a good enough goodbye for me. If I think of him, I think of that wink. It was perfect.
On the morning of my surgery, I sat in the reception area of the hospital completely alone, waiting for someone to take me to where I needed to be. I knew it wasn't just wanting to be alone, it was needing to be alone. I didn't want to make conversation, I didn't want to see the stress in my mothers eyes, and I didn't want any goodbyes on the way into surgery. I wanted to stay tough, keep strong.
We have passed the half way mark. It is now three weeks and two days until I see my babies and that bloody gorgeous over achieving husband of mine.
I get a little stronger every day, a write a little more, listen to the birds, and marvel over the colours in the flowers (we're a little bird and flower deprived in the desert). Some days I stay in my pyjamas, some days I drive to the shop. Every day I chat with each of the little travellers and giggle along with their updates. Recently, the fourth traveller told me that his friend went home because his Grandma passed out.
"Yes! She must have been somewhere up high when she passed out, because now she's looking down at them from somewhere?"
I was about to explain that maybe Grandma had actually passed away, rather than passed out, but I stopped myself.
Sometimes a little bit of denial is okay.
Particularly if it's stopping you from being sad.