I had a feeling it was going to be One of Those Days.
All started well and sprightly. Sam was in good spirits. Mum had had a good nights sleep. Breakfast was smooth. Sun shone. I suppose really that feeling of the planets being ever so slightly misaligned started after Cedric, who had kindly, once again driven us up to the commune - sorry nursery - in the woods turned to me as we got out and answering my question about whether he might be free to pick us up and take us home he said, with his broad immaculately white toothed Trinidadian grin, "You know I will be here!" I closed the door and fought off that shifting feeling of uncertainty.
There we were, some hours later, boy and I sat on a log happily munching our apple after playgroup when I have Cedric on the phone explaining he would not be able to get to us till after 12. It was 11.10 at this point. We were fairly in the middle of not too much-ish and a foresty trek to the nearest bus stop. I had agreed to jump around with my friend Beth at 12 back at the ranch. "Ok," I say trying to hide my disappointment and steadily rising frustration seeing as we had, after all, made an arrangement (its a hormonal time of the month, more on that later). Rising into intrepid explorer I saddle boy on my back and we pretend to be Andean mother and child braving the South American wilds in search of bus number 1, which my too-clever-for-its-own-good iphone tells me is leaving in 5 minutes from quite a ways uphill away...
I am a sweaty mama by the time I have power walked to the stop. Sam has been instructed, somewhat forcefully I might add, to stand perfectly still on the muddy bank by the bus stop (where did the nature loving free and easy mum go who looked a lot like me back in the playgroup go?!!!!). Taking a moment to sigh - a little loudly - my frustration away we begin our meditation on waiting for buses in neighbourhoods you don't know and opposite forest. It is a nice day after all. Could be raining. Or thunderstorming. Or hurricane-ing. "You happy mum?" he asks. No better way to keep your demeanour in check than a three year old lookng at your frown and making you realise what a mountain you are making of a missing bus induced mole hill. No sooner had I surrendered to the wait does a car pull up.
When the window winds down I realise that it is the handsome couple from playgroup, Deidre and Otis and their beautiful little daughter Zealand (yes like the country, I never did catch the full story). Minutes later Sam and I are ensconced into the back of their car being driven back to the city, and I am enjoying hearing the story of their romance. Having met at high school, they are now respectively a Doula and Pastor. Two deeply nurturing souls and their young daughter is a testament to their talents. They ask me about ou rjobs. I explain our plans and alittle of our itenarary. I tell them my official title for the year is Blogger-novelist apprentice - and - green-card-applicant. Oh yes and Mum. And wife. And P90X student. I also warn them not to take offence at the fact that I affectionately refer to our playgroup as the commune, just in case they do have a look at the blog....
Perhaps I was a little hasty on the whole planet alignement thing. From experience I have found this thought state to be a brutally self fullfilling prophecy. Just ask old Macbeth he'll vouch for me. So, there we are, witnesses to the kindness of strangers, back safely at home and I am poised and ready to sweat when I realise I barely have time to run an errand of a "feminine kind" at the store (as are, I am told, most of the women in the troupe. We are now officially a pack). I dash down to the deli on the ground floor of the hotel and head to their sundries cabinet. Quickly I realise I cannot reach the top shelf for what I am needing. It soon becomes apparent to the man mixing a take away salad that we are about to enter into a somewhat awkward conversation in which he has to sell me something I would rather buy discreetly at a supermarket amongst my groceries. Exchanges about size pass between us and I don't care for the look that sweeps across his eyes when I tell him which packet I need. Rumble number two.
A little sweat does a world of good though, especially when the boys join us - Cory with his white t-shirt tied up high to reveal his ample belly and Sam sporting his father's dance belt over the top of his trousers. The four of us pump out the last half hour of a seriously army style cardio session with belly laughs in between. That room has never been witness to such a motley crew nor will it again. I'm sure the security folk on the cameras upstairs must have enjoyed the comedy.
Off we then leave for the streets and the search for a suitcase for Sam. Turns out a small carry on is not enough for him after all (remember how everyone spoilt him on his birthday?!). We find a suitable receptacle in a cut price store, though the numbers on the tag don't seem that cut price to me. Victorious after our search we jump in a cab and head for France, aka Bonaparte's bakery down by the old harbour. It stands looking out over the water, tables on the cobbles outside, inside all classical music and fat tea house chairs reproduced from those of 19th century studies. Cookies, croissants and coffees all round. Turns out my body is craving just a little more sugar after losing half it's weight in sweat a few hours ago. We laugh, we put the world to rights. We generally give thanks for these precious moments of ease and joy in each other's company. We ponder on the fleeting nature of time and space and reality. On the decadence of the chocolate in the chocolate almond croissant I don't really need to have another bite of. We take in the 4.30 afternoon sun. And then that little pang. Its a familiar belly whack which our little unit seems horribly accustomed. Once again, we have left belongings in the cab. Namely case and pushchair (stroller). It becomes my mission to get both back home by the end of the night. Cory, in vain, tries to remind me that a case, is not, a son, but I will hear none of it. Its the principal.
Perhaps I should spare all the tedious details. Suffice it to say that cabby number two gives us cab office number. After four, yes four, calls to them (three of which I apparently talk with a breathing automated response unit) I finally connect with a lady who actually asks the relative questions (hormonal surge number two abated) and a message is sent out to all drivers. When I miss two calls in my room three hours later - I hadn't realised it was our phone unaccustomed to it ringing as I am - I ring front desk. They tell me no-one has called for me. I explain about the cab and the possibility that it may be someone calling regarding that. They say they cannot help. I am awoken at 9.30pm (the bedtime story even put me to sleep) by our driver from earlier on the room phone who tells me he has tried to call twice and left his number behind the desk for me to ring and verify it was indeed my baggage in his car. After another 15 minutes of two and fro-ing with the front desk who seem reluctant to send my belongings up in the lift with somebody seeing as I can't leave the room with Sam alone, the driver himself eventually does the job. I hand him a beer and what I thought was a handsome tip. Later my husband explains that double what I gave him would be the acceptable sum. I am, it would seem, still English after all, despite the new haircut and the dreaded transatlantic twang seeping ever so slightly into the end of a few worrrrds. Round two of the kindness of strangers. I send a quick prayer of thanks to the working wheels of the universe.
Then came the email. It was exciting at first. Some news from immigration. I click it open with anticipation. Scanning the message the words "held up" and "request for evidence" ping off the screen. Mr or Ms. Immigration Officer needs more proof. Nothing to worry about I tell myself, most likely they don't have all of the five hundred and one things the lawyers asked us to prepare. I quickly forward the email to the lawyers office to keep them abreast. I have learnt my lesson from november when for three weeks they failed to chase us on immigration office fees and we assumed they had charged our card. The delay they caused in this action (You can be sure if it was their fee we owed they would have been hassling me everyday) has made me take on the role of chief nagger. Just as one does back home say, when dealing with solicitors and buying a house, who always seem to take on too many clients and slow down the process for all parties involved. I am terrier number one. Top dog. The one they can't wait to get green-carded so she will stop sending messages and questions. I receive a reply some moments later, from our lawyer himself, explaining that whilst communication is important he does not have time for this "back and forth" dialogue with all his clients. In other words get off my back. I did not reply. I will wait, obediently, as he requests, for the letter to reach his office in which the USCIS will tell him what they need. I can't promise I won't resume my bee in a bonnet behaviour after that however. I must get to my best freinds wedding in May you understand. This is my underlying motivation for pestering. All prayers and good vibes on this are most welcome...!
It seemed that the night held unsettling vibrations for others in the troupe also. Anne, who plays the blonde bombshell Inga, was taken incredibly ill with what appeared to be food poisoning. She spent the night in the ER. Whilst she and Beth were there (they are sharing a room in the hotel this stay) they found out another colleague was at the hospital also. Jen, who is a dancer and plays a number of parts in the show and has been travelling with her father whom she looks after. I mentioned her some months ago, in awe as we were by the fact that she was taking on the role of nurse during the day with her father having been left somewhat dependent after his stroke a few years ago. Her husband is touring the country with another show and between them and the hired help of professional nurses they took their roles on with impressive fortitude.
It can as a deep shock to learn that her father passed away this morning. He didn't recover after a seizure. Turns out they were a regular occurrence, but when the one this morning seemed to be going on longer than usual an ambulance was called but he had passed before they arrived. Jen was surrounded by colleagues when it happened. Lara, a fellow dancer offered some comfort, words which stick in my head, "You can close the door of this bathroom Jen. You will never have to see this again. You are not at home where the memories will linger in the air. You can just leave." And so she has, for a few days at least. The girls packed her cases and trunk. Head of hair, Jeff, fixed her locks before she left, literally helping her paint on a brave face. The touch of caring hands are priceless in times of stress. Everyone rallied around and all are in various states of shock. Cory rang just now from the theatre at intermission to say there are gremlins running around stage. Props are being dropped, actors are tripping up or falling. Perhaps that funny feeling wasn't so far off after all, though how it affected my day and it's little irks obviously pail into insignificance compared to Jen and her family's plight.
I lit a candle for Jen's dad. I never even met him, only managed to send him some sauce back in Chicago as a meagre offering of support. Apparently only a few days ago he met up with an old friend and enjoyed a couple of burgers and beer with him, reminiscing, living it up a little. He had a happy time here in Charm City. I know she will return to the troupe and find the travel a tonic. We will all cry for her in turn. When death touches one we know a deep human need for empathy makes it near impossible for it not to flood you with memories of loosing your own loved ones. I wonder if we ever allow ourselves to stop it feeling so very recent? Is this our true source of comfort? Perhaps a more painful sense of loss is our eventually relinquishing the grief. That seems far too final. More so than death itself.
Our jobs may be deemed pure escapism of sorts but living a life on the road with a host of different people and their converging lives the business of show feels intrinsically real.