Monday, 29 March 2010

New Beginnings

Mandy and Tony's wedding was beautiful. They were married at Shakespeare's Point. The vows they spoke were profound, moving and real. I wept and wept, for happiness and for sadness. I felt joyful to see my friends so happy. And I felt so overwhelmingly sad for the love that I have lost.

I have not been coping well with the avalanche of grief that I am experiencing. For Gabby's death, for my cancer and for Nick's cold indifference. I cry too much. I shake too often. I am going away for three weeks to a 'retreat' for some emotional, spiritual and physical healing.

I will be back on the 20th of April.

Goodbye, for now.

Lily x

Saturday, 27 March 2010

God is in the Water

I long for a peaceful night of sleep. But I’m awake again at four a.m. At six I go upstairs and make fruit salad from organic papaya, rockmelon, blueberries, lime and mint. I eat the fruit salad. I drink a cup of organic tea with organic soya milk. Samantha and the girls still slumber. It is dark. What am I going to do now? Smoke a cigarette. But I’ve run out.

I drive to the nearest petrol station in Rose Bay. They’re just unlocking the door as I arrive. “What time does the car wash open?” I enquire. “Seven a.m.” I buy the cigarettes.

I drive back up the winding S bends to Vaucluse and then down to Nielsen Park. This place has become central to my life. Australia’s smallest national park runs down to the harbour where there is a small sandy beach with a netted swimming area. The bay itself is properly called ‘Shark Bay’. I’m grateful for the netting. The foreshore is grassy, shaded with Banksia trees and magnificent Moreton Bay Figs. In the middle of the promenade is a simple but elegant building housing a café and restaurant. I come here frequently to swim, to walk, to read books and to meet friends.

I sit on a bench and smoke one of the cigarettes. I feel less than virtuous. A soft pinkness is beginning to infuse the darkness. A ferry slides across the harbour with all its lights aglow, heading for Manly. It seems that I could almost reach out and touch it. I am surprised to find that I am not the only person here. Figures waft here and there in the gloom. Each person seems to be enclosed in his or her own cocoon of silence, alone.

Who goes swimming in the dark at 6.30 in the morning? These are not the body conscious babes and beautiful boys of Bondi Beach. A silver haired lady breast-strokes gently by. As I sit I hear a shuffling noise approaching. It is a man who has obviously had a stroke. He slides his feet in small, mincing steps. His right arm does not swing as he walks to the water. A handsome blonde man swims toward the shore. But as he emerges I notice that he has a withered leg. A single girl does yoga stretches on the sand. The dawn frequenters of Nielsen Park are the old, the crippled, the damaged and the broken. The people who really embrace life. The people who find true peace and freedom in the sea. People like me.

I walk back to the car, don my swimming costume and slip quietly into the water. I feel like I belong here.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Nail Drama

Despite my miserable state of mind I am still swimming every day. Sydney’s March weather has been utterly glorious: sunny, warm and breezy. Samantha and I are bathing at Nielsen Park. When alone, I put in serious lengths: backstroking, breaststroking and freestyling up and down inside the shark-netted swimming area. I wear flippers in the hope that the increased resistance will help to build up my leg muscles.

But this afternoon, Samantha and I are simply floating about and gossiping. What are we gossiping about? Other people’s lip jobs. Fat Russian men on the beach. Milla, the mad leg waxer. The same things everybody gossips about. I find it a delight to be idle in the sea on a sunny Sydney afternoon, talking about anything but Nick.

I have been assiduous about applying the factor 40 and wearing my rashie. As we towel off Samantha looks at my long, lily white legs. “You have to get at least two drops of sun on your body before you go back to London,” she says. “Well I think my toes may have a bit of a tan,” I say, looking down. And there, at the end of my right foot is a sight I have been hoping I would not see. Nearly five months after the completion of the Taxol chemotherapy, my big toenail has started to come away. It turned black back in November. Since then I have painted it over with fluorescent pink nail varnish. But now it has split right across, about halfway down the nail bed and it is lifting off completely.

Just in time for Mandy and Tony’s wedding tomorrow.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

I’m Gonna Cut That Man Right Out of My Hair

At last, Deirdre has blown in from Paris to attend to my coiffure. I sit on a staight-backed chair in the middle of her very small living room in the middle of her very small flat in the middle of Bellevue Hill. Baby Eddy has had his cast removed at last. Now he is getting around in a plastic brace. It holds his little legs in position whilst allowing him to execute a tottering walk and a kind of down-dog crawl with his bottom raised high. In the last three weeks his thigh muscles have developed magnificently and he has transformed from a baby into a little boy. He has started to be naughty. It is wonderful to witness.

Ashley is barbecuing homemade organic burgers on the tiny balcony. Smoke drifts in and gently fills the room.

Despite being a top international hair stylist, Deirdre is the blondest, bubbliest, nicest person a friend could wish for. Kind of Claudia Schiffer meets Bridget Jones. We chat about Paris and London and far away people that we both love and miss. “Do you remember Lily when I cut your hair in the Camden Brasserie?” How could I forget? It was about thirteen years ago. I had recently ended a nine-year relationship with Brendan, the self-obsessed photographer. Deirdre and I got good and drunk and then she cut my hair - in the restaurant. “How poetic,” I say. “That was the end of Brendan haircut and now here you are again, doing the end of Nick haircut.”

Friday, 19 March 2010

Puppy Love

I have been waiting for Deirdre, who is a top hairdresser, to come back from Paris where she has been teasing tresses for the catwalk shows. Because, you see, it is now time for my first haircut. Nurse Lottie’s parting words echo in my head: “Get it all cut off again Lily. The first growth will be rubbish!” She is not wrong. Whilst I wouldn’t say that my hair is exactly “rubbish”, it has grown back quite wiry - and it's curly! When I arise in the morning it has assumed the ‘squashed feather duster’ effect: high and bouffy on top yet flat on the sides.

A few weeks ago, a beautiful grey Burmese kitten came to live at Watsons Bay. Felix is ostensibly Lyla and Lily’s pet but really Samantha and I are in love with him and vie for his attention in surreptitious ways. He is a most affectionate cat. He loves to languish on my lap or wrap himself sinuously around my legs as I stumble my way down the stairs.

Then, only a couple of days ago, Lola arrived. Lola is a pug puppy. She is beige with black ears and a black face, the size of two pats of butter with legs attached. She is as cute as a button.

I settle down on the couch to read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. This vast novel is beautifully written, vibrantly descriptive of street life in Bombay and peppered with profound insights into the beauty and the terror, the rapture and the cruelty, of being human. I have been riveted.

Felix drapes himself across my chest, stretched full length and purring. It is a moment of perfect bliss. But Lola feels left out. She patrols up and down the side of the couch making frantic little jumps to try to get up. I turn my concentration to my book. The last time Lola got on the couch she peed on the cushions. She starts crying a sad little puppy lament. She continues prancing and crying for ten full minutes. After I have re-read the same paragraph about a dozen times I relent. “Ok Lola, up you come,” I say, scooping her into the palm of my hand.

Lola steps on Felix’s stomach. Felix digs his claws into my breast. I scream. Felix leaps to the floor. Lola snuffles delightedly, charges forward onto my head and sets about determinedly chewing at my hair. If this puppy simply chews my new hair off I won’t be needing the services of an international session stylist after all.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Screaming in the Car

I am still wading, swimming, drowning in the pain of breaking up with Nick.

Throughout all the ghastly cancer treatments I held fast to love and to my dreams. I anticipated the day that Nick and I would be together in Australia, putting the past horrible months behind us: camping, lying on the beach, laughing, swimming, eating and getting stronger together. I invested all my hope in our holiday. Then, the day I landed in Sydney I discovered Nick deleting texts from his mobile phone. When I challenged him about it he told me that he had been seeing someone else. He told me that he was not in love with me. He told me that he had never been in love with me.

“I have never loved you Lily” Those were the cruellest words I have ever heard uttered.

So now, instead of eating in nice restaurants I am forking out $150 an hour for therapy. Instead of touring Tasmania in a camper van I am being driven slowly insane with grief. I am very far away from my friends. I feel so alone. Nick is icy cold and distant. The more I have tried to salvage our relationship, the more he has rejected me. Repetitive questions circle in my head, as monotonous as scratched cds: "Why did you tell me that you loved me? Why did you fly half way across the world to be with me? Why did you burst into tears when Mr H told you that I was safely out of surgery? Why did you beg me for a second chance? Why did you insist that my family go to visit you in Queensland when you were already seeing someone else and planning to break up with me? Why did you book flights and a camper van and make all those plans with me? Why did you tell me how excited your children were to meet me? Why did you lie to me from the very beginning? Why did you abandon me when I needed you so much? Why did you think it was ok to hurt me like that? why? why? why? why? why?"

And then I found a lump under my arm.

I made an appointment to see Dr Hargreaves, Sydney’s answer to Mr Hadjiminas. I spent a week waiting, barely able to eat or sleep. I didn’t tell anybody.

“How are you?” Dr Hargreaves enquired, beaming at me. Well he did ask. So I told him: about the lump, about Nick, about crying all the time. “Oh dear,” he frowned, “well the Tamoxifen will definitely be contributing to depression. Let’s have a look at you.” He examined my neck, chest, breasts and armpits. I have always maintained that Mr Hadjiminas’ hands are better than any mammogram. I get the impression that Dr Hargreaves has the same kind of magic fingers. After all, these top breast surgeons feel women up all day every day.

“It’s just scar tissue,” Dr Hargreaves proclaimed. I expelled a breath that I seemed to have been holding since the beginning of time. “After surgery and radiotherapy you will get these lumps and you are bound to freak out. You just have to get them checked up.”

This morning I am driving to see my therapist. It is rush hour and I’m in a slow crawl along Old South Head Road. I divert into a side-road to take a short cut. Ten minutes later I’m lost and hopelessly snarled in a gridlock situation. Then I begin to scream. It’s weird. I have never screamed in my life before, not even as a child. I feel as if I have grown two heads. One head is observing: “What is that extraordinary noise? Where is it coming from? How are you capable of producing it?” The other head is simply screaming: deep, loud and vibrating with horror, the sound fills the car. And it will not stop. It screams and it screams. The first head remembers a song, by an American folk singer, titled “Screaming in the Car”. She sings about being pulled over by the cops for “screaming in the car in a twenty-mile zone.” My screams convulse and bend into sobs of laughter.

Does anyone know that song or the name of the singer? I would love to get hold of a copy.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

What Was it I Was Going to Do Again?

Text from Marcus:

Text from Lily:
Eat lunch

Saturday, 13 March 2010

How Do I Love Thee?

Little by little, friendships are beginning to be established in Sydney. They are still tenuous, like the delicate roots of new pot plants. Marcus has invited me to breakfast. By the time I stumble from bed, find the restaurant and slide into my seat, Marcus has been to the gym and already had a preliminary breakfast with another friend of his. He has an hour before his next appointment. I gather that Marcus is something of a high achiever.

This is Sydney and it’s another glorious blue-sky morning. Ninety per-cent of the tables are positioned on a terrace under sun umbrellas. Business must be scant when it rains.

“How are you?” he asks solicitously. That is just the wrong question. I burst into tears. I turn my head away in shame and flap at my face with a tissue. But the crying will not be suppressed. After a very long few minutes of sobbing in a crowded restaurant in the middle of a sunny Saturday morning I dare to turn back to face Marcus. He is gazing back at me with a look of clear, unsentimental compassion. It sets me off all over again. Marcus reaches across the table, wipes the scattered strands of mascara from my cheek with his thumb and then strokes my face with his palm until I am calm.

“Lily, you have to love yourself through this.” I look at him, “ But I don’t know how to. Everything I’ve done with the best of intentions has ended up being disastrous. I loved Nick and he has destroyed me. That is what my love does.”

“Do you agree that love is an action?” asks Marcus. I nod. “Then the answer is to do kind and loving things for yourself.” “Oh my God!” I say, “I’ve never looked at it like that.” Suddenly I am inspired. “What do I do? How do I start?”

“I want you to call me at eight a.m. every morning and tell me three loving actions that you are going to do for yourself today.”

Thursday, 4 March 2010

A Bikini Frenzy

I must have a new bikini for my trip to Byron Bay. Yes, I know it will be covered up at all times by the body obliteraing rashie but it’s a confidence booster for me just to have it on. At least I can satisfy myself with the secret knowledge that there is a potentially desirable, if scarred, body lurking beneath the lycra. And you never know, maybe some gorgeous male person will invite me for a spot of night swimming.

I drive to the dreaded Westfield, Bondi Junction. This ghastly conglomeration of mediocrity long ago obliterated the local charm, not to mention the street layout, at the same time sucking the life-blood from all the small businesses in the adjoining neighbourhoods. Stepping out of the lift from the subterranean car park into the sanitized, muzak-wafting concourse I reflect that this must be what it is like to know the gentle oblivion of a frontal lobotomy. It’s Prozac purchasing for all.

But Samantha and I had seen a collection great bikinis here a couple of weeks ago. Or at least that is how have reinvented them in my mind’s eye. I make a beeline for Zimmerman, a middle-of the road boutique with a somewhat Max-Mara-ish flavour. After beelining up and down for fifteen minutes, realising that I must be on the wrong floor, or in the wrong tower, or in the wrong universe, I stumble through the doors of the shop. Sure enough, the fabled bikinis are there. And they are more or less how I remember them. Zimmerman have the sense to sell their bikini tops and bottoms as separates so one can mix and match styles, colours and sizes. I work through the rails with a forensic eye. “May I try these on?” I ask the sales girl as I hold about fifteen bikini bits aloft.

Now the process of elimination begins. The bandeau top is too flattening. The simple triangle too boring. Another draped style looks great on the hanger but the volume of fabric just overwhelms my boobs. A softly padded classic halter top is the winner. I discard the string-tie pants and the boy-shorts. A pair of Ursula Andress style hipsters balance the halter top perfectly. “Ok” I say at last to the very helpful sales girl, “I’d like these styles, size two in the bottoms and size one in the top, either in electric blue, watermelon pink, emerald green, pewter grey or midnight blue.” Off she scoots and returns with another armful of brightly coloured Spandex. But amongst all the many combinations, there is not one matching set in the correct sizes. After much hopeful trying on – maybe the size three pants with the size zero bra? – we both have to admit defeat. The sales assistant consults her stock computer. “We have a size two bottoms in our Paddington store,” she offers.

What am I waiting for? Twenty minutes later I march confidently into the Paddington Branch of Zimmerman. “I know exactly what I want,” I announce and describe the style and colour of the bikini that will make my life complete. “My name is Maria,” replies the sales assistant, “may I ask your name?” “It’s Lily,” I reply, slightly thrown off course. “Ok Lily. I’m sure I can help you. I will just go to the stock room.” Maria return shortly looking slightly abashed: “I’m afraid we don’t have the size two, even though the computer says we do.” Undeterred however she continues, “Would you like to try on some of these?” She dumps an armful of assorted bits of cozzies on the counter top. I’m exhausted with trying on so instead we lay them all out on the glass and try to make a matching set. It is soon apparent that my dream bikini does not exist in Zimmerman Paddington. “We can get one shipped in from another part of the country,” Maria says. “No! I need it today,” I reply. “You could try David Jones,” she suggests.

With the single-minded determination of the hardened addict I return to Westfield. Minutes later I am in the swimwear department of David Jones. But they have moved into winter collections. The bikini range is a dirge in black, brown, white and navy. Boring! I want sexy. I want drop dead. I want the bikini that is going to change my life.

I march through Westfield like a robot on speed, scanning and rejecting rail upon rail of swimwear: Seafolly; Cotton-On; Speedo. No. No. No.

At the far end of the mall lies the door to Myer. Now, if you don’t know, David Jones is a practical department store with pretensions of style, possibly John Lewis meets Harvey Nichols. Myer on the other hand is the Aussie equivalent of House of Fraser. By this time my hopes are pretty much dashed. I will try anything. I ride the escalator up. Myer’s swimwear department, it turns out, is an Aladdin’s treasure cave. Beautiful bikinis in jewel colours, leopard prints and sexy styles are piled up with gay abandon. Most of them are marked down to less that half price.

Back at Watson’s Bay Lyla and Lily are agog to see my purchase. I proudly hold up two bikinis. One is a padded halter style in a red-and-white Ikat print. The pants have a sash that ties at the hip. Very good for diverting the eye from any tummy wobbles. The other has a cute balconette bra in dark blue with a vivid print of large pink roses. “Would you like me to do a fashion show for you?’ I ask the girls.