Whispers From The Past
Life is sometimes uncanny in the way events unfold to reveal circumstances from the past that were very important at the time. Some junk-mail arrived in my mailbox today from a real estate agent who had organized a letter-box drop to advertise an apartment for sale in my area. In looking at the photograph of the property available, I recognized it as the apartment block where Natalise and I settled after we moved from the previous apartment – after my mother had passed away. Of course, this generated a raft of memories – some happy and some quite sad – but I was happy to be able to go back over those memories to recall a very significant part of my life.
It was a part of life in transition for both of us after the grieving process was complete. The surprise for me was how my mother's passing affected Nat. The bond that had developed between them was unusually strong, considering that Natalise was Thai and that my mother had always been quite xenophobic toward Asians. Mum took to Nat as if she was her own daughter – and Nat looked after Mum as if she was her own mother – fussing over Mum like a well-trained nurse.
Due to Mum's declining health, she had been placed into residential care – and I knew that she was on borrowed time when Nat and I returned from Thailand. Mum had always expressed a desire to be with us, so we agreed to take her into our apartment and to look after her in a family environment. It was a nice apartment where Mum had her own large bedroom with an en-suite and a nice view over the parklands at the rear, where she would often sit, watching the birds coming and going in the many trees beyond our fence-line. Nat would buy her small gifts and often sit with Mum, talking together and doing all she could to make her comfortable. If Mum felt like coming downstairs to breakfast, lunch and dinner, we would help her with the stairs – but, often, we would provide her meals in her room on a tray, in front of her TV.
There were days when Nat was required to go to TAFE College for English Lessons – not that she needed spoken English lessons, as her spoken English was good – but she did need help with written English. I would often go over to TAFE with her in the mornings and come back home with her around lunch time.
It was on one of these days when I remember all three of us sitting and watching the unfolding events on TV of the terrorist attacks on The World Trade Centre in New York on 9/11. It all seemed surreal to be watching this unfold. Little did we know that Mum would be rushed into hospital by ambulance, in October – where we were faced with the decision of giving our consent to her having life-saving surgery. The good intentions were not enough – it was obvious that her time was up – at 84 years of age and with compound medical problems. The surgical Professor came out to advise us that Mum would be kept pain free but they would gradually begin to withdraw the facilities that were keeping her alive, after we had rallied all those who would like to be there to say their last goodbyes.
I called my son and daughter and they came up to the hospital quickly – then we said the last goodbyes and they wheeled Mum into another room for the fatal end. What struck me most of all was how this affected Natalise so badly. She cried like a baby – as if Mum was her own mother.
In the weeks following the cremation and the memorial tribute, Nat began waking me in the middle of the night, saying she could hear Mum knocking at the outside of our front door – wanting to come inside. I never heard any of this – but it really began to cause problems for Nat, as it continued. Being aware of how Thais have a fear of ghosts, I suggested that perhaps it would be better if we moved from our current address. It only took around a week to find a suitable apartment and we moved from the old one into the new one, fairly quickly. We spread Mum's ashes in a shallow hole at the base of one of the trees where the birds would gather – the thing that gave her so much pleasure. We covered her ashes with soil and a bunch of roses. I still go to visit the tree every now and then – and Nat sometimes asks me if I have been to see Mum. I tell her that I do. It's funny, but when we would visit the tree together, Nat would say to me that I should pray out aloud because Mum would not hear me unless I did. Ever since she said that, I always do say my words out aloud – but quietly. God bless you Nat – I think you know more than I do.
The new apartment had a very large garage and storage area underneath – and that suited us very well, seeing that Nat had recently registered an ABN and had begun to operate her own import business. What struck me most was how cool and peaceful it felt to be in that new place. It wasn't as modern as the previous apartment – but this had a nice patio with a northerly aspect and there was always a cool north-easterly breeze in the summer. We settled into a happy lifestyle, although a busy one with Nat's business that was growing steadily.
Although we were mostly happy, there was the pressure of the eventual issue of Residency that caused stress for both of us – more so for Nat, as her two girls were still in Thailand and she was beginning to feel sorrow at being separated from her children. All we could do was to assemble the evidence for Immigration that ours was an ongoing and genuine relationship, by providing photographs, copies of utilty bills (such as power, telephone and Internet) in both names, bank accounts in both names etc. – along with statutory declarations from those who knew us both over a set period. Of course, there was our marriage certificate as well. Only those who have been through this process could understand the stress levels involved.
There were times when Nat broke down – and I would find her sitting on the floor of our bedroom, in a corner and crying her eyes out. I had learned that there was little that I could do to console her, so I tried not to intrude on her privacy – and I would leave her to purge the moments of grief out of her system. I guess it was perhaps a little easier for Nat, having regular contact with her family in Bangkok by telephone and Internet – a thing we did very regularly, due to ordering stock from the wholesalers and organizing the air-freight agent, quite frequently. Normally I would do the stock ordering on-line and I would also organize the stock clearance through Customs on arrival, with our Agent at the airport. Nat's strong point was selling – and boy, she was good at it – so I took care of all the paperwork and the "grunt" jobs associated with her business. Mostly, we worked well together – although I won't lie and say we were without our disagreements. They were more frequent than I would care to have had – but hey, it was her business and I was only the "grunt". I can smile warmly about it now – but we had our "moments" – as anyone who has been married to a Thai would understand. Still, you can't help but love them, can you?
The most trying, yet rewarding, period came in 2003, when we went to Thailand for Nat to get sole custody of her two girls. Of course that brought a completely different set of dynamics into our lives, when we all arrived back in Oz. It was a steep learning curve for me because I had to take charge of homework duties with the two girls and I was the driver who took them to school and collected them in the afternoons when school came out. I guess I enjoyed it, as I had not experienced those things with my own two kids, when I was married to my first wife. Starting the youngest one in first year of Pre-School was a difficult day, with lots of tears – but that was natural – a strange system, a strange language and missing home, so far away. The amazing thing was that the youngest one became a real "star" in school – topping her class almost always, once she got into the upper grades of Primary School. The elder girl always found the going difficult with English – but she was very good at maths.
As the future unfolded, it became clearer to me that the likelihood of the marriage lasting the distance seemed more unlikely. Was it anything that any of us did? I don't think so – it was more a situation where their needs were outgrowing my capacity to adapt to the changes experienced by all of us. Nat needed more independence and less of the responsibility that business placed on her. She decided to cancel her ABN and de-register the business, taking a well-paid job in the hotel industry. Of course, more independence meant more time to explore the night life of the city – a scene that was never of any interest to me – apart from when I used to play music in bands – and, even then, it was only for the money. If I could name one particular cause for the failure of the marriage, it was the age difference between Nat and myself. She had grown past the period when she was happy to have a night-time home life – while that was all I wanted. Clubbing and boozing was not my scene – I disliked the club scene intensely. Even in Bangkok, it was not my scene – I much preferred quiet beers in a quiet beer bar and chatting with the Mamasan.
The split came in October 2004 – and we did try a reconciliation for a week or so – but Blind Freddy could see it was a lost cause. We talked it through for a few weeks before I took myself off to Thailand again. In retrospect, I truly do wish we had lasted the distance – but reality is a hard master to do battle with. I never regret having married with Nat nor doing any of the things we did. There are some really wonderful memories back there – and I feel good to know that, in some way, I was able to facilitate a new life for two young girls and their mother. They have made a better life for themselves here than they would otherwise have had in Thailand – and the best thing is that we all remain friends after going through so much.
I am really glad the real-estate lady dropped that junk-mail in my mail box. I always kicked myself for never taking a photograph of that block of apartments where we lived together. Now I have that photograph. Isn't it strange how things work out?
Still, I often think of the "what-ifs" with those others whom I loved in Thailand – and still do. Would Nat be living now in some other Farang country? Would I be living in Bangkok now … or would I be in Chiang Mai? In the world of Quantum Physics, perhaps all three of those are now happening simultaneously – and I'm not even aware of it.