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Ten Thousand Kilometres

By: Catherine FitzHugh-Byrne Posted: December-24-2011 in
Catherine FitzHugh-Byrne

1st Place winner in the Cash for Christmas competition


Last week my mother told me she has cancer. She lives 10,000 kilometres away. On Tuesday my mother was poked, prodded, scanned and operated on. She lives 10,000 kilometres away. Yesterday my mother told me they don’t think they got it all. She lives 10,000 kilometres away.

I’m new to this expat lifestyle. I’m only six months on the job. And I was finally getting good at it. From initial months of homesickness, house-hunting, job searching, friend making, acclimatising - then acclimatising again once the rain went away – I had finally found my stride. “Check me out, I live in Cambodia. Those 10k km? They ain’t got nothing on me.”

I’m a Skype pro, a Facebook fiend, a Twitter addict and a resident on Gchat. I’ve got that whole trans-continental-communication thing down.  I don’t let time difference get in the way (I’ll happily wake you up at 6am) I’ve worked out the most flattering web cam lighting (on the sun-soaked balcony for extra effect) and I end up telling my family the local news I’m so abreast of it (“Oh you didn’t hear who’s getting married?”).

But this past week, simultaneously the longest and the shortest in my life, with all its new emotions, revelations, mini victories and massive defeats, has brought it all home how far away from it I really am. Those ten thousand kilometres, may as well be a million for all the good I can do so far away.

“Sure you’d only be sitting here looking at me” my mam says when I apologise for my, in hindsight, ill-timed move – though that’s probably more of a reference to my poor Dad, who I can imagine has spent much of the last week doing just that; sitting, and looking at her. But that’s what you do on such occasions. Just be there. Make endless cups of tea (or is that just Ireland?), make small talk about the weather (just in Ireland again perhaps?) all the while avoiding, never mentioning, completely shoving under the carpet the gravity of what’s really happening (okay, that one’s definitely just in Ireland, right?).

I can’t make the tea over Skype, but I can chit chat about the weather and waffle on about everything but what really matters. But that point that eventually comes, the bit where the wall collapses, when the sadness, the anxiety and the sheer fear comes spilling out, that’s the part that Skype can’t really transmit. No one wants to be a blubbery face on a computer screen. Staring at another blubbery face 10,000 kilometers away.

So instead, the nattering about nothing continues. Until we make our excuses, say our goodbyes, press the little red phone at the bottom of the screen, hear that funny hang-up sound the computer makes and then, once we're sure the line has dropped, once we're sure there's no need to hold it together for a second longer, we break down in tears. Simultaneously, equally, but 10,000 kilometres away.

My mother doesn’t say I love you. It’s not that she doesn’t think it – or at least I hope not – it’s just that gushing emotions aren’t really her style. “It’s a bit American” she reckons, akin to seeing a therapist, having a boob job, or getting divorced. She’s a strong Irish woman, and saying such things is maybe frivolous and unnecessary. 

My mother has said I love you at least a dozen times this week. She doesn’t realise, this is utterly disconcerting to me. It shows me she’s petrified, and it makes me petrified too. It shows me she’s sad, and it makes me sad too. And it shows me, she’s not just my mam, she’s a human too. And this is the most heart-breaking, gut-wrenching part of all.
Because all I want to do is give my mother a hug. But she lives 10,000 kilometres away.


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