A couple of weeks ago while I was walking in the center of town I bumped into an old friend. I was feeling a bit low so it was good to talk. She has twin daughters in Jesi and Kari’s grade, and when I asked after them she told me they had just celebrated their sixteenth birthday with a trip to Paris with her husband.
Paris…I remember Paris. It would have been well over ten years ago. Chris was a youngster. Were the girls even born? It was certainly before Alan and I divorced in 2006. I don’t think I ever appreciated just how magical it had been, those few days of freedom to do and see… Waking up in a Parisienne hotel, wandering down the narrow cobble streets which opened up into the enormous open spaces without warning… “Place de la…” Evenings relaxing, eating out at fine restaurants.
“They always wanted to go to Paris,” my friend’s voice interrupted my musings.
It was a cold but sunny morning and I had my winter coat wrapped tight around me and my scarf pulled up high. Mimi my little shih tzu was wearing the thickest of her two coats. I was grateful I had bought this one for her, remembering how I had hummed and haa’ed over the purchase before I finally decided to get it. She stood next to me patiently waiting while I finished the conversation. When we continued our walk I somehow felt better, despite the niggling thoughts of “why can’t my life be that carefree and easy.” I replaced them with memories of the warm winter day last June when I stood on the hill over Watsons Bay, Sydney, my hometown, with an girlfriend chatting while watching Chris, Kari and Jesi leaping and jumping over the rocks and exploring all the Australian plants and insects that were foreign to them. I was enjoying the warmth of the winter sun and the energy of home. Alan was talking to my mum, the two of them not ten feet away, leaning on the rails that stood firm atop the cliff which dropped away on the ocean side of the headland. We were at “The Gap”, where many desperate Australians would choose to end their lives jumping into the frothy ocean below. We read the heroic stories of a particular individual who would watch for these desperate folk, and come and talk them out of jumping. He saved hundreds of lives with his work.
What a marvel we had all made it to Australia, the country Alan and I were both born and raised in. What a gift. The last time we had traveled there together would have been 2003, the kids still in elementary school. And here we were, Chris over six feet tall and nudging his way into college when we returned to the US, the girls teenagers. If it hadn’t been for Jesi’s leukemia, Alan would have taken the kids in 2010 and I would have remained in the US, not able to witness the kids meeting my family and friends.
Cancer had broken the barriers fixed by divorce.
Last Monday the girls turned sixteen. Again many fortunes turned our way. Jesi remained home from hospital, and Chris was able to return from college for the weekend so we could have a small relaxed celebration at Alan’s house.
Since Jesi has been home from hospital we have all been hanging out at Alan’s house because it is most convenient for Kari, who goes to school in the district and for Jesi who needs a lot of nursing care, and for our family of animals which Jesi adores. Three cats who always reside with the kids when they are at Alan’s, and Mimi who would typically live at my place with me and the kids when they are there. It makes sense to manage life this way. Alan’s house can accommodate us all.
Kari let Jesi decide on the friends she wanted to help celebrate their birthday. Just a few close friends. Chris asked one of his good friends who attends college locally to join the celebration. Kari asked for home made pizza, and for her “cake,” a fruit arrangement. Jesi has always loved the cup cakes from Quebada, a ritual in our family for birthdays. As Chris’s nineteenth birthday is also coming up in early April, both he and Jesi had special cup cakes. The platter was decorated with cupcakes, an assortment of white on white, chocolate on white, white on chocolate and chocolate on chocolate, topped with orange and yellow candies, Jesi’s color choices.
The kids all crowded round the kitchen island, spread the tomato sauce and various toppings on the pizza bases. Their laughter was delightfully deafening. Kari made Jesi’s pizza, whirling the base on the tray as she lathered tomato over it and sprinkled it with mozzarella. A little later Jesi got up from the lounge and joined the others in the kitchen. She nibbled on as much of the pizza as her stomach would allow. After the pizza we all sat around the kitchen island watching Jesi and Kari open their gifts, and then it was onto the cupcakes!
The piece de resistance was a decorative candle shaped like a lotus, which when lit, shot a spark straight up like a fire cracker! As the flame diminished candles on each of the closed lotus petals caught light, opening the petals and spinning as the Happy Birthday song rang out from it. As the lights of lotus flower went dim and the room was left in darkness, we were left with only the light shining out of Jesi’s and Kari’s eyes.