I'm back from my annual trek to South Africa. I had zero interest in blogging while I was gone and even now that I'm back I had to beg my fingers to the keyboard. My trip was a difficult one, and I think that's part of it. I'm not sure I feel like writing about it, but maybe it will help.
So where do I begin? Maybe by saying that in the years I've lived away from my family, I've worried about things happening to them, and me not being there, or able to get on a plane in time. As it happened, I didn't need to worry so much, because I was very much there for two horrible things.
In week 2 of my trip, my mother started farming me out and making social plans for me, which I thought was highly suspicious. If she had her way, she would keep me in her pocket the entire time I was there. But I didn't think about it too much, and went off shopping, lunching and Pilates-ing with my cousin and sister-in-law. What she was doing was having x-rays, and her blood and urine tested. When her next step was an overnight in the hospital to take a closer look at a tumor in her bladder (a cystoscope) while under general anesthetic, she had to spill it. Because he is a doctor, my dad got to see what they had biopsied right after surgery and even though he didn't let on much, I knew he was very concerned. And because she had gone in on a Thursday, we had one full weekend of not knowing how bad it was. So hard. The final verdict was that although the tumor was malignant, it hadn't invaded beyond the bladder wall into any surrounding tissue. She had already had one dose of chemo directly into the bladder during the cystoscope, a decision her urologist made based purely on the size of the thing, and will go back for more of the same in 6 weeks. There aren't words to describe the relief over it not being as bad as it could have been. And seeing her walk around her garden in a bathing suit and gardening gloves, tugging at weeds the day after her surgery was very comforting. My mom is a skinny whip of a thing, but she's tough, with a lot of fight in her.
But then. Fast forward to week 4, and my last day. Always a sad day, and this one even more poignant than usual. My flight wasn't leaving until late that night, so we had one last family dinner at my parents' house before setting off to the airport. The luggage was in my brother's car; my mother and I were in the back seat sharing a laugh at something I forget now, and there they were. Three of them, walking down the driveway as if we'd invited them over for a cup of tea. And I knew. This was something to fear. What happened next comes to me only in flashes, things I experienced as if I was outside of my body. The car door opening; the gun to my head; my purse being taken from me; my mother being forced out of the car before being shoved down against the garage door; me begging for them not to shoot; the gun in my back; my dad and brother each with their own gun to their heads; until finally, after the longest 10-15 minutes ever (if even that), they were gone.
Car theft at gun point is something that happens far too often in South Africa and we are so fortunate to be around to tell the tale--so many aren't as lucky. And of course they didn't just get the car and the immediately obvious valuables, but also my two suitcases packed to the brim with all my favorite summer clothes and shoes, toiletries, make-up, gifts for friends, new clothes purchased, i-Pod, digital camera, photos I'd pilfered from family albums. The whole freakin' lot. They're just things, I know, but the thought of someone rummaging through all my carefully-packed belongings makes me feel very violated, even though most of it is replaceable. (Why, oh why didn't I download any of the pictures I took?)
I did manage to hang on to my passport and Green Card--I'm not sure what came over me when I asked to retrieve them from my purse before handing it over, but my request was granted. Now I could pee my pants just thinking about asking for anything while a gun was being brandished, but I suppose my adrenalin-infused behavior is more functional than I thought. Good to know.
Now I'm home, and it all seems like a dream, but a bad one, without any of the relief that comes with waking up. I'll be fine, and David is being wonderful and so understanding of this emotional roller coaster I seem to be rattling up and down on. Flashbacks, worrying about my family, missing my family, wondering if such a thing could happen to them twice, needing my mother to stay healthy and get the better of her internal uninvited guest, needing her to be there for me.
My first few days back, I didn't want to go anywhere, see anyone, do anything. But today I dragged myself to the DMV to replace my driver's license, and walked all the way home (a VERY long walk), stopping at the Fairfax Library, the Farmers Market, Whole Foods, Joan's on Third for a strawberry buttermilk muffin (the first thing that's sounded good in days) and things are suddenly looking more normal. It's good to be back.