October quickly rolled around and I embarked on my journey. The plan was that I would fly in to Perth, Western Australia, spend a week with my mother and her family, then fly to Melbourne for Linda's wedding, visit with my Dixon relatives and friends that I had grown up with. Lynn would then come to Melbourne and spend a few more days with me to introduce me to her family. As it turns out, the only other people in the family that had known of my existence were my grandmother and Aunt Val. In fact, when that taxi driver knocked on my Grandfathers door in Mt Macedon, he had been completely in the dark about Lynn's first pregnancy. I guess there was an interesting phone call to him after our initial call. She said that he had been surprised, and perhaps a little hurt that she hadn't felt like she could tell him, but ultimately, supportive and happy to have another grand-child. Likewise, Noel, Anne-Maree and Sean were in for a surprise on that Mother's Day. The Priest/Bentons are an easy-going lot, and I can honestly say that I have never felt any hint of resentment or jealousy from any of them.
I embarked my flight at LAX with two oversized and overpacked suitcases. Remember when luggage first started coming with wheels? Wheels that were so tiny that unless the bag was packed so that the weight distributed evenly, the whole think would topple over every few feet when you dragged it on it's side by that detachable leash thingy? Yeah, I had two of those. Remember when you could check two pieces of luggage without being charged for the second one? I'm pretty sure I'm the reason that was changed.
The first leg of my trip was from LA to Aukland, New Zealand. As it turned out, my layover between my connecting flights was to be 14 hours- instead of two. My dad had booked my flight as he is the ultimate bargain hunter when it comes to these things. He was so proud of finding this incredible faire for me- only to find out a few days before departure that the connecting flight to Perth actually left in the PM- rather than the AM. I remember thinking it would not be so bad- I could spend that fourteen hours people watching. Just thinking of that reminds me of how much I have changed in the past 25 years. There is no way I would stand for that these days- unless I could be guaranteed a quiet and cozy place to lay down (flat) and sleep. I am one of those people who CANNOT sleep on planes- unless I have the unheard of luck of scoring and entire empty middle row. You scoff- but that was once a possibility. I flew home from Europe in the early 90's on a near empty flight. It was Heaven.
As it turned out, I had struck up a conversation with a gentleman during one of my leg stretching strolls during the flight. If I remember correctly, smoking was still allowed on some International flights. Can you even imagine? People would congregate in the open area between sections where there were bathrooms and an emergency exit with a port hole style window. Am I crazy? Was that ever allowed? Well, I feel like people were smoking there- but it really has nothing to do with anything so I'll get on with it. Oh yes, the "gentleman". I don't remember much about him except that he was an Australian expat who worked for some combination of BP, Aviation, and the film
industry. He was polite, about mid forties (same age as my mother) and mildly interesting to chat with- though I have an intolerence for "braggerts" (and he was one)- at the time such a disposition was easier for me to endure. Ah youth. As it turned out, he too had made the mistake of booking the 14 hour layover- as had two other individuals ( strangers to each other as well, a man and a woman)that we had been conversing with. Shortly before landing in Aukland "BP" (that's what I'll call him) sidled up to me and announced that he and the twosome had decided to rent a car and take in the sights for the day and would I like to join them. "Sure", was my immediate knee-jerk response, thinking that it would be far better to spend the day sight seeing with three complete strangers (or axe-murderers) than slowly turn to grey matter in the Aukland Airport. Screw the "people watching". I remember Aukland being chilly, rainy, and very pretty. The people had accents that sounded Australian- except it seems as though their vowel system is "off-set". For example, "this" becomes "thes", "bedroom" is "bidroom" and ....well, you get it. I can't remember anything about our companions except that one of them was Eastern Indian (no memory of which one). The day was appropriately awkward- until the moment that "BP" made an attempt to grab my hand as we were strolling through some...green, grassy area with a view?? At that point it became completely awkward. In hindsight, I should have been totally freaked out, but I think that if I had allowed myself to be afraid it would have been admitting that I really didn't have any control over the situation. When he suggested that we (all four of us) get a hotel room to rest and freshen up, I politely declined and made my way back to the airport. "BP" was kind of a creeper. As I embarked on the flight to Perth, he found me again and started talking about "getting together and exchanging numbers" at which point I informed him that I was about to meet my mother for the first time in my life and I really needed some time alone to gather my thoughts. "BP" got it and backed off. So, the lesson here is if ever you want to lose the attention of an unwelcome stranger- tell him that you are mere moments away from a possibly metamorphic experience. That'll scare the crap out of most creepers. I never saw "BP" for the rest of the flight. As I write this, the whole "spending a day with strangers in New Zealand" thing tracks like a fever dream. It's a very abstract memory- but I assure you, it happened. Let's have a moment of silence for "BP".
As we circled the Perth airport I gazed down at the twinkling lights- wondering if she was already there. Wondering if she had butterflies in her stomach as well. Of course, that would not have been something I admitted. I had once been told that if I admitted that I was nervous, that that would make it so. Since then I've never been one to admit to nerves- even in my own head. I've always been one of those people that others identify as "confident"-even "intimidating". Over the years I've worked hard to hide any vulnerability that I may be feeling. I think it was a mechanism that developed within me because showing that I really cared about something would hurt even more if it was obvious that I had really wanted it. As a result, I often come across as rather jaded. Well, I AM rather jaded- but I think it developed throughout my youth and really came to fruition in my 30's and 40's.
Anyway, we finally landed and all I had to do was get through customs. I assumed this would be a breeze what with me still being a citizen and all. Wrong! No sooner did I get to the customs agent and declared that I was returning to Australia after several years in Los Angeles did I get pulled aside for a "random" luggage search. Well played fate, well played. I watched two customs agents hoist my leatherette luggage on to a stainless steel inspection table and begin to rifle through my belongings. I had several photo albums with me and they took it upon themselves to peruse them. "What's this a picture of?"one of them asked me. I craned my neck to inspect the offending image. "That's me performing at a convention in Boston". His face was deadly serious. "It looks like you're in jail."
What does that even mean?
Thankfully I had the presence of mind to keep my snark to myself as I didn't want to be detained even longer. By the time they were finished searching for contraband, the rest of the passengers from my flight were long gone. What must my poor mother have been thinking happened to me? I approached the automatic sliding doors knowing that beyond them was the woman who had given me life, and loved me enough to give me promise of a better one. I held my breath. The doors slid open and as I pushed my trolly forward there they were. It was easy to see them. They were the only three people left on the concourse. I pushed the trolly to the end of the ramp, all the while giggling self-consciously. Waiting there was a tall lady with a warm smile and outstretched arms. It felt natural to hug and we held on for a long time. Over her shoulder I saw two young men. A tall adolescent with a large camcorder perched on his shoulder and aimed directly at my face. The other was slightly shorter and older. These were my brothers, Sean and Noel. Of course, I don't recall every beat. I believe the boys each grabbed one of my suitcases- all the way ribbing me that I must be smuggling bodies or something. Lynn and I walked together to her car occasionally glancing at each other. There was no need to acknowledge the awesome awkwardness of the situation. It went unsaid between us that we were experiencing something that is very rare and we were just going to have to deal with being familiar strangers for a while.