Sometimes it’s hard to say with precision where a story begins. So it is with this one. Was it September 27, 1928, the day Mom was born? Or November 21, 1951, when she was married? Was it 06:00 on January 28, 1956, when I inhaled my first breath? Or April 23, 1990, when my grandmother exhaled her last? Perhaps it was April 6, 2000? Or August 21, 2006? Or some other milestone of which I’m not aware. Maybe it began generations ago on a dark and stormy night. It’s hard to know. This part of this tale takes place in early October 2011.
October 2011: I look out at the Dubai Marina nightscape and pedal furiously as I Skype with my friend Kate.*
I rarely do one thing at a time. Exercise is no exception. The road bike I bought when I took up triathlon a few years ago is fixed to an indoor trainer that allows me to spin inside. That’s what I’m doing in the bedroom of my twentieth-floor flat. It’s still too hot to ride “au plein air” in the UAE at the beginning of October. After 18 years I’ve gotten used to it. Even grown to love it. There’s a whole other story about that.
“I have to give up everything.” My voice cracks, and the tears start to flow.
“Think of it as a new beginning,” Kate tries her best to comfort me from the other side of the world. “Once you get the right care in place you can reboot your business here. There are lots of opportunities.”
It’s funny how people think they know how you should run your life and that it’s up to them to tell you what you should do whether you like it or not. They give you advice when what you really want and need them to do is listen. It’s even worse when it’s unsolicited advice from random strangers, which thankfully Kate is not. Listening takes patience, practice and compassion. We all say we do it, but mostly we don’t.
“Kate. There are no opportunities for me there. I can’t do what I do here in Quebec, in French,” I’m in full-on waterworks mode now. “But I can’t leave Mom on her own either. I just can’t. She’s all alone in that big house with the cat, and she’s scared. She’s terrified. Oh god.” I stop because my throat seizes. Kate picks up the slack.
“You’re doing the right thing. The universe is going to help you. Things will fall into place. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen,” she says.
Her words begin to sound blah blah blah. My laptop threatens to lose its balance on the “tri-bars” in front of me, and my earbuds keep falling out. I’m overheating despite the air conditioning. Everything has suddenly become slippery. Sweat trickles down the back of my neck; tears slide down my cheeks and drop onto the tiled floor. I’ll mop them up later. Then I imagine the bike and I breaking free from the trainer, crashing through the floor-to-ceiling window and plunging into the black waters below.
And in a way, that’s exactly what happens.