I’ve had a topsy-turvy time of it recently.
While we avoided any damage or loss from Cyclone Gabrielle at home I did lose my Rocket Lab drink bottle, along with some other personal mementos when my office flooded with silt, mud and water.
I’d received the bottle in a “Thank You” package from the kiwi aerospace pioneers after writing a piece praising their efforts helping Hawke’s Bay reach for the stars that appeared in Hawke’s Bay Today years ago. I loved it and used it regularly.
I sent a message on social media to the comms person who sent me the original package asking if they had any more bottles to replace my lost one. I would be happy to pay for it.
They said they would send me one free of charge and the next week a box much larger than just a drink bottle arrived containing a coffee mug, tote bag, mission patch T-shirt, stickers, medallion… and new steel drink bottle!
It was a very cool, unexpected lift after a few wibbly-wobbly working-from-home weeks.
Napier in Frame in Print and Online
My piece about Napier’s Cyclone Gabrielle blackout and isolation was published in The Spinoff as their Sunday Essay on the 5th of March and was well received with good feedback online and in person (but I’ll have to wait until 2024 to see if the essay is nominated for a Voyager Award..).
I wasn’t immediately flooded with offers of employment or writing commissions, but I did coincidently get asked to write my first piece in a while for Baybuzz on Wairoa’s post Cyclone Gabrielle recovery for their May print edition.
There were some difficulties getting the article written, as finding the wide range of people we initially wanted to cover proved harder than expected. Some didn’t want to take part, others proved hard to contact (for many in Hawke’s Bay affected by the cyclone “Business as Usual” is still far, far away) and receiving responses on deadline day resulted in an article re-write while I was in the middle of a week’s leave from my day job in the first week of school holidays.
I got there in the end and my editor liked it, but for me it wasn’t accompanied with the usual sense of completion or satisfaction.
Do not Pass Go
I applied for a new job earlier this year. I had a basic screening interview for it, and a week later Cyclone Gabrielle hit.
Naturally plans and hopes of the new job went out the window.
My workplace was flooded and wrecked.
Fortunately, we had been told to prepare to work from home on the Tuesday the storm hit, so I had all the gear I needed to work from home with me. In the flooding’s aftermath our company’s owners said they were dedicated to continuing and rebuilding, so my job and income was safe.
I was back working remotely before some of my colleagues even had power restored. A little over six weeks after the cyclone we had new, temporary, offices to work out of. Some semblances of work normality, but a different location, different surroundings, different processes and habits to form. Familiar and unfamiliar. All just slightly unbalancing.
A fortnight or so after Gabrielle my phone rang.
I got an interview for the new job I had applied for weeks earlier.
I felt the interview went well.
When they asked why I was looking at leaving my current job I answered honestly – Despite 18+ years of my dedication and service there was a lack of opportunity. I had been overlooked for a promotion recently and outright ignored for internal positions I had applied for previously.
They thanked me for my honesty and providing context and said treating established staff that way was not their company policy.
I though “Great – I’ll get a chance here!”
I left feeling positive about the opportunity that was potentially before me.
But I also felt guilty to be potentially leaving my colleagues in these uncertain and unstable times.
I needn’t have worried.
A couple weeks later I received a call to say my application was unsuccessful.
When I asked why, or how I could improve my chances last time they said I had the skills and talent, but it was because I was “too negative” about my current job.
If I was completely positive and happy about my current position why would I be applying for a job elsewhere?
During the interview they had said they understood why I would tell them my reasons for wanting to move on and that how I had been treated didn’t seem fair.
But now that was “too negative”?
I was being honest!
I was sick of being undermined, ignored or micromanaged by people who benefitted from my work more than I did – That’s why people change jobs!
This wasn’t just stopping me finally getting the sort of job I had been after for years, where talents I don’t currently get a chance to use enough could be recognised, developed and rewarded, It was basically saying I wasn’t allowed to feel aggrieved or call it out unfair treatment.
I somehow DESERVE to be denied career development or progress and spend almost 20 years doing the same thing every day, every week, every month, every year.
But I’m not allowed to be or feel “negative” about it?!
I give up!
For the past year we have been negotiating to sell my childhood home to my in-laws, who want to subdivide the section and build themselves a new, smaller retirement house down the back of what must be one of the last (almost) quarter-acre sections on its street.
Selling my old home will pay off our mortgage (and every other debt, loan, credit card etc. we have) several times over (we bought our house almost ten years ago before real estate succumbed to surreal prices) and free us up financially – Something not many people can do these days.
My in-laws plan to live in my old home while construction goes on down the back, and then sell it off to recoup some costs upon completion. With Cyclone Gabrielle reconstruction already pushing builders and building supplies to local limits, it might be quite a task!
Nevertheless, they decided to go ahead with the plan a few weeks after the cyclone hit.
As part of the deal, we had to give our long-term tenants notice of end of tenancy.
I felt guilty as hell.
They had been our tenants since we’d had to move mum into care years ago and looked after the place wonderfully. They tidied the house and section up after mum had been incapable of doing so, even improving bits and pieces like replacing old kitchen benches and bedroom carpets.
It was our house, but it was their home.
Renting out the house was never about money for us and because they looked after it so well, we charged them about half what market rents apparently were.
But I still felt horrible giving them their 90 days’ notice – Especially having even just a general idea of Napier’s rental market and how much more rents were likely to be.
As it happened, they found a place in Havelock North (Napier was just too expensive) only about a fortnight later, so my overdramatized fears of them being out on the street were, thankfully, unfounded.
It did mean, however, that I had to get back in and totally clear out the last of Mum and Dad’s things that I had left stored in the garage and shed on the property, as they would all be coming down as part of the subdivision.
Dad’s shed and garage are still sacred ground that I hadn’t had the heart, nerve, or storage space to strip of their contents when we first rented my old home out. The tenants had been able to use these sheds, but so much of Dad’s stuff remained I didn’t (and to a degree still don’t) know how or where to start.
I started making slow in-roads over recent afternoons and weekends, initially muttering “Sorry, Dad! Sorry, Dad!” guiltily as I went.
I can already see the piles going to the tip, metal recyclers and auction house / charity will be immense. Never mind all the ancient paints, cleaners, varnishes and weedkillers that will need to be taken away by hazardous waste removal.
First Star to the Left and on till Mourning
It’s not just the waste that’s hazardous – As I go through all the stuff I’m flooded with memories.
Memories of Dad and Mum, memories directly related to certain items and just memories of my first home.
Some memories clear and present, others foggy and indistinct.
Also, a fear of losing memories.
The former house of one of my Dad’s closest friends down the road from their place went up for sale recently. The people who bought it off him are moving on. I went to say “Goldfinch’s’ house is for sale!” out loud but stopped. Realising I’m the only living member of my family who would know what I was talking about.
My childhood was caring, loving, secure and fun. As an only child I was quite lonely, but I made up for it with creativity and imagination playing by myself and with my toys (and, probably, an unhealthy dose of 80s television, too..).
Now, at the age of 45 I realize it no longer just seems so far away now. It is far, far away.
Between plagues, floods and whatever the hell else we get thrown at us next that reassuring feeling of loving security our parents provided when we were young may as well be as far away as the stars.
Recently I went to Onekawa New World, the supermarket I had my first job at. I go there reasonably often – it’s not far from (either) home. It has markedly changed since I worked there off and on between 1993 and 1998.
I had stopped outside the shop’s stockroom doors to check my list and was just idly looking through the door at the space beyond when a staff member inquired if I needed assistance. I explained that I used to work there (before they were born, it turned out) and asked if it was possible to have a look out the back to see what had changed.
They kindly obliged and for the next 15 minutes or so I gave them a run-down of what the space was like a quarter of a century ago (yes, I had to do the maths on that, too). Removed walls, doors, offices and toilets, but new shelving, walk-in chillers and freezers.
I walked both past and present tense simultaneously, occasionally going back and forth to ensure my memory was in the right spot. The two staff who ended up accompanying me on my modern historic tour seemed quite fascinated.
I felt both incredibly present and temporally displaced.
Many of the dreams and goals I had when I worked there and lived with my folks have changed so much. So many never eventuated at all (never mind recent career goals…).
So much has happened in all those years. So much life, love, marriage, (doing the same bloody job over and over..), fatherhood, activities and events all packed into them.
But there also feels like so much wasted opportunity and time that I’ll never get back.
I don’t feel (or look, apparently) as old as I am, but when I do it’s enough to instantaneously add even more grey hairs to my head.
Selling my childhood home makes me feel just that bit older and more distant still.
The fact it’s going to the in-laws will keep it in my extended family, but it will no longer be “mine”. Knowing they intend to sell the existing house upon completion of the subdivision and new house build adds a drawn-out sense of inevitability.
Other inevitable things have been distracting me this year, too.
When I had my tachycardia issues seven years ago I struck up a camaraderie with a fellow patient named Eddie.
While no one initially knew what was wrong with me, Eddie, who was 15-20 years older than me was waiting in Hawke’s Bay Hospital Coronary Care Unit to be sent down to Wellington for a stent to help clear a narrowed artery. It turned out he needed more than that and ended up down in Wellington briefly with me to receive a multiple bypass – a significantly more severe procedure than the mere tests, scans, pokes, prods and eventual biopsy that I was exposed to.
Being in coronary care has been compared to being in battle. You’re isolated from the outside world and are neither alive nor dead, but can be very close to being either during the time you are there. You can never know what it’s like unless you’ve gone through it, so you connect with others who have been through it with you.
I saw Eddie a few times over the years since our time in “Six South”. We would catch up and chat occasionally. I discovered he lived just around the corner from Mum and Dad’s house.
After doing some clearing out one weekend after our tenants had moved out, I drove home past Eddie’s place and noticed a lot of cars and people at his house. I had texted our tenant about something that day and he had replied he was at a funeral. He happened to work for the same organisation as Eddie and when I saw the congregation of people, I put one and one together and texted out tenant back.
Eddie had died suddenly earlier that week.
I was shocked.
“Suddenly” to me usually denotes a coronary incident, although the recent pandemic has also claimed many lives in similar sudden circumstances and symptoms.
If I wasn’t already feeling old, tired and useless enough, Eddie’s sudden passing just ramped up the downward spiral being so close to (figurative and literal) home.
Eddie was older and, back then, obviously far worse off heart-wise than I was. Losing Dad taught me that heart attacks seldom happen as unique, single occurrences and the first one is seldom the worst.
What happened to Eddie was unlikely to happen to me, as we were two completely different cases, but losing a comrade I had been through an experience like that with was shocking and unsettling in already unsettled times.
It didn’t ease my stress levels that around this period my cardiac fibroma happened to be front of mind, because Eddie’s passing happened just when I’d been scheduled for my annual echocardiogram to make sure the lump hasn’t changed or grown drastically – A fear that has been ever-present since its discovery years ago.
The scan came back unchanged in size, and my cardiologist decided we could move to two-yearly scans due to the continued lack of change, which eased heightened tensions.
But the quiet concern leading up to the appointment had just added fatigue upon fatigue, upon fatigue.
Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey,,, Stuff!
So there you go. Yet again we have somehow managed to fit about a year’s worth of issues, stresses, worries and natural disasters into a mere four months.
All perfectly normal and healthy, right?
So often in recent years there has been so much going on all at once and it all needs doing “Now!”
Somehow, I always get it all done “now” (but have stopped bothering to hope for a reward, promotion, or new job out of my consistent, reliable performances) mainly by compartmentalising tasks – I’ll do this before lunch, and this in the afternoon. Or spend three days targeting three tasks – one task per day.
But the repetition, fatigue and detachment required to keep on keeping this up is taking its toll.
I’m losing big bits of my past, presently stuck in an endlessly repetitious work cycle and having to be the one clearing out parts of my own history in the present, while unsympathetic job rejections and front row seats to drastic climate change don’t exactly put a silver lining on the cloudy future!