I’m not the sort of person who caves in easily. I’m good in ‘backs to the wall’ situations where my emotional steadfastness and coolness under pressure actually push me to go above and beyond. Without that pressure, I’m the high plains drifter, just bobbing along the ocean of life like a cork going hither and thither wherever the tides and eddies take me. My wife, Samantha, on the other hand, is emotionally fragile and prone to depression when the slightest inconvenience heads her way. I won’t bore you with examples but needless to say that when our life takes a hit, which it routinely does, I constantly find I have to take charge and restore our family to the chaos in which it thrives. So let me tell you about May…
In May, we know that it is a tight month financially. Our income is pretty ordinary at the best of times and in May both our cars have to be registered and insured. Now, in Australia, that’s about $2200. Also a bunch of utility bills hit us so we have to scramble to get through the month and then it’s pretty clear sailing for a while. We know in advance it will be tough but let me tell you about this May.
It all started right at the end of April. I was working away in the store when my phone rings. Samantha. In tears. ‘You’ve gotta come home quick. Madelaine has broken her leg trampolining’. Oh, shit! Hang on, be calm. Leg, leg! It’s a leg, not neck or back. Ok, that’s liveable. Bad but not life altering. A second call tells me to go straight to the John Hunter Hospital. I leave work and beat the ambulance to the ER. Maddie is on a gurney. Her leg is a mess. Both Tibia and Fibula sheared through and almost out the skin. Her leg is at about 60 degrees through the shin. The next hours are excruciating for her and us. Three days later she is released with hip to ankle cast and we are disrupted for the next three months.
At home we settle in to helping Maddie with every damn thing. In the meantime Samantha loses two weeks of work to look after things. May is now looking worse than ever. But wait, there’s more:
I’m sitting in the bedroom playing my guitar when the phone rings. Samantha brings it to me ashen faced. ‘Your doctor’. He advises me the carcinoma I had removed in April is still there. It’s malignant and aggressive and he advises urgent attention to prevent it getting into my system. Great, cancer. Everyone in our family dies from it. Samantha knows this and loses it. Now I have to step up or she will be out of control with depression. I act quickly and see a surgeon. It’s not too bad and should all remove cleanly. Phew!
Ok, think. Get the cars registered. That will knock over a big May task. Sam’s Mazda gets through easily. I have to get a new catalytic converter for the Volvo. There’s a $400 repair. I go to a mechanic to get a rego check. Fail. Tyres are bad at back and ABS light is on. Also blowing some smoke. Shit! I’m out of time. I get some tyres ($300) and fix the ABS light myself. I ring my main Volvo mechanic who is booked out for two weeks but will squeeze me in. In the meantime a massive water bill turns up ($650) and council rates ($290). I’m starting to crack under the strain. Samantha is too and panics by making crazy suggestions and demands. She has been saving to go to the UK for a long time and has to keep using her savings to bail out the family. Her holiday is looking a long way off. Next, the electricity to our house fails. A phase fuse is out. We call Origin Energy who come out promptly and just as promptly hit us with a $300 bill. Next day our plumbing fails and water is backing up through the drains. We have no water. The plumber costs $230 but puts in two new kitchen taps which we’ve been putting off. Can it get any worse than this?
Work is solace a lot of the time even though it bothers me to be back selling after being in senior management. I go to work to be with friends and do something that’s easy but there’s no trade and my pays are dreadful. Finally, I crack and lose control of my faculties to the point of not being able to work so I have a sick day. My university major assignment is due at the end of May and I can’t focus. Sam and I entertain thoughts of selling up and leaving, but to where. We need a sea change but it’s not possible. I spend a day with my head whirling in disarray and panic. I play Civilization on the computer for hours because I can’t bear to face up to the situation and need to empty my mind.
Civ is great. My life is like Civ. The hours of play realign my thoughts and priorities start to become clear. So does an action plan. I hit my budget and start shuffling funds. Pays come in but are meagre. Still, they are in. I manage resources and start reordering tasks. First, instill some discipline in the house. I do housework and establish command. Things start moving again and I am thinking better. More Civ.
My task prioritization has put things in perspective. Money would fix everything but I have none. At least, not at the same time. As each problem is tackled my confidence is restored and my energy starts to return. It’s still a disaster but there’s a disaster management strategy in place and the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train. Thank god for Civ. In this game you manage tiny resources as efficiently as possible, build where you can, keep on everybody’s good books, stay out of trouble and grow. Plan and grow. Hope you don’t get invaded until you are strong. This May my tiny empire was invaded by everybody at once and I didn’t have the resources to hold it off. I fend off every attack but ultimately there’s no victory in sight. Eventually, the attacks get thinner and then one day, last Wednesday to be precise, a letter arrives in the mail. Some company has found $3000 that once belonged to us and wants to give it back. For a fee but I’ll take it where I can get it. The cavalry just arrived.
What does all this have to do with kayaking? Are you kidding? If ever there was a time for a long paddle, it’s right now.