2018/19

2018 was one for the books.

This appropriate phrase was first uttered by my brother as he, his fiancée, myself and my then-fiancée, sat in an AirBnB in New Zealand, sharing a drink and fervently wishing the clingy and slightly creepy owner of the place wouldn’t come down to his lower storey where we were residing and interrupt us again. At the time the statement was more of a prediction as 2018 had yet to happen, but the plans were laid out before us and all signs indicated that it would indeed be a year for the books. My brother was not wrong.

Of course, not everything went to plan.

I referenced my partner as “then-fiancée” because in the past year she transition from my fiancee to my wife. That was part of the plan. At the time of writing this we’ve been married for four months, but do not live together. Not even in the same country, in fact. That is the part that did not go to plan.

But I should start from the start.

 

The first half of 2018 continued as my previous few years had. I toiled in London, working stupid hours as a Rapid Response nurse, while Alex continued to labour away in her office job in Vienna. Between these activities we also planned a wedding, and by we, I mean Alex. I contributed where I could and all decisions were reached as a team, but due to the language barrier, and distance barrier, the lioness’s share of the work fell on Alex’s shoulders. She somehow managed to balance this weight of work and produced spectacular results, both professionally and extracurricularly, and for this I will be forever grateful. Luckily for me, I am now legally bonded to her and so have a lifetime to repay her kindness.

This routine continued up until July when two best friends came knocking and the first of those well laid plans for a year worthy to be one for the books was enacted. My twin brother, Damian, and his fiancée, Holly, had taken three months of leave to spend a chunk of time with us, attend our wedding, and cross as much of Europe as they could in the process. They started with Austria, and I took two weeks off to revel in their company while simultaneously completing a two-week intensive German language course. Because what fun time isn’t improved by completing a two-week intensive German language course.

Having my people come to a place they had only previously visited via video chat was like putting the last jigsaw puzzle piece in the picture that was my new home. Despite my continued residence in London, Alex’s apartment was my true home on this side of the planet, and having Damian and Holly physically present gave it a solidity, turning my European fantasy into reality.

They saw the sights and the city, and thankfully for me fell in love with it all as much as I had. But the best times we spent together were dinners around the dining table, movie nights, picnics by the river and drinks on the balcony. Domestic things not unique to Vienna, and therefore all the more cherishable because it wasn’t the location that made it special but the company.

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Damian and Holly ventured on into forests and mountains, and for a brief period life resumed its normal rhythms. Alex and I added the extra task of collecting various documents for my residency in Austria amongst work and wedding planning, each of us reaching out to assorted governmental bodies for an equally assorted list of paperwork. Each of us had to prove identities, incomes, and criminal histories, the latter of which we thankfully had none. We hoarded these documents like a squirrel hoards nuts, ready for the day we acquired the final piece of paperwork, the marriage certificate, and could put them all into action.

Then family descended upon Vienna. If Damian and Holly gave my new home solidity, then having my brother and his family, my parents and my cousin and his partner, and Damian and Holly back again, all together in the same four walls made it as firm as a foundation. Which only made sense, as the foundation of my life is exactly what all these people are.

Life became wedding centric and after bbqs and crafternoons, buck’s nights and venue decorating, the day came and Alex and I were saturated in love for each other and from our community of family and friends. The rain pushed away, sunlight poured down on us, and we had a ridiculously picture perfect wedding day, the kind you see in wedding magazines, roll your eyes at and mutter “as if.” Yeah, we were those people.

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After soaking up as much family time as possible, Alex and I ran away to Greece to get to know one another as husband and wife, while my family ventured off into unknown parts of Austria and then on into wider Europe. The year once again was living up to its reputation.

To add to the book-worthy status, 2018 also saw my beautiful sister, Angela, have her first child, providing me with an adorable new nephew by the name of Eli. For the first time in years, all of my immediate family was off from work, either through annual leave or maternity leave, and all of us were adventuring. Our family thread of messages became clogged with photos of some of the most stunning and dramatic parts of central and eastern Europe. I watched my sister be a mother through videos provided by her fiance, Ben, and met my cherub of a nephew this way. I saw my other nephew and niece, Ella and Harry, casually take to planes, exotic landscapes, and new languages and cultures as if it was just another Wednesday, getting on with it and smiling all the way with the adaptability of kids. My ongoing video messages with my older brother, Matt, became a lot more interesting as the backgrounds behind our heads transition from the same tired bedroom settings to Santorini beaches and old beautiful cities.

 

Eventually this exotic period had to end, and Alex and I headed back to reality, jetting from the Greek Islands to Vienna for too few days before I had to return to London. Despite our new status as man and wife, that alone didn’t give us any rights to reside together, and so I had to say goodbye to my bride. After three years of a long-distance relationship we are sadly well-practiced at these goodbyes, but doing it as a newly married couple came like a punch to the gut, and the wedding high evaporated as I sat on a plane and took off from the place I really wanted to be.

I submitted my application for residency at the Austrian embassy in London the next day, slipping in amongst the mountain of other documents the all important marriage certificate stating I belonged to Alex and she to me, and therefore it would be nice if we could be together for our mutual ownership. I was told it would be approximately three months until I got any sort of response, and so I returned home and picked up my routine of work, trying hard to pretend every day wasn’t a small torture of missing my wife and waiting for an email that would say I was allowed to be with her.

After about a month this wait was briefly paused when a letter arrived in Alex’s mailbox, but it was only to ask for even more documentation. Alex had queried with three different officials if the police check I provided needed be from the UK where I’d resided for the past three years, or from Australia, where I had resided for the previous twenty-eight years. All three officials scoffed and said they didn’t care where I had lived, only where I did live, and that a UK police check was all that was necessary, please and thank you.

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, that letter in Alex’s mailbox stated in no uncertain terms that we had failed to provide an Australian police check, and that we needed to do so in a timeframe of eight days. Apparently they hadn’t figured that postage time alone to get the document from Australia to Austria would exceed our allotted time, not to mention the collection of yet more documents and processing time required for the Australian government to run my background check and determine I was not a criminal. Alex contacted the residency office and explained the situation, and they very reluctantly granted us a bit more time, huffing all the while as if the delay was our fault and we were lucky to be getting the extension. How generous of them.

We resubmitted and the wait began again.

Thankfully, they arduous process was interrupted by the wedding of my best friends, the aforementioned Damian and Holly. The distraction was welcomed, and I’m sure they timed their wedding purely to give us something else to think about. They’re good like that.

Alex and I boarded a plane and flew away from our distance and our problems for a time, swapping winter for summer, her home country for mine, and landed in Australia and sunshine, and the always warm company of my family.

The next three weeks saw us visiting family and friends with the speed and frenzy of speed-daters, and amongst it all we geared up for the second wedding of the season. We also had a small sewage problem that constituted of the contents of the toilet bubbling up on the soon-to-be newlywed’s front lawn, that was ultimately remedied by diggers and the loss of the toilet the day before the wedding.

Despite this small hiccup, Damian and Holly’s wedding was a thing of beauty. Once again, the clouds rolled away, literally last-minute as the groom and I eyed the dark dripping sky on our way to the park where the wedding was to be held, a pocket of sunlight opening up and drenching the clearing with sunlight so warm a groomsman had to sit down mid-ceremony to avoid fainting. The pre-ceremony whiskey, beer, and lack of water may have also contributed to his condition.

Damian and Holly’s story was said for the benefit of the crowd and they exchanged vows so honest, so loving, so real, so silly, so thoughtful and so aptly them that there was not a dry eye in the garden, the eyes of yours truly amongst them.

The party kicked off and I danced with my family, and celebrated my two best friends legally bonding themselves to one another, and drank and laughed and sang too loud and all the good things you can do when life for the moment is just about love and nothing else. In short, the wedding was kick-ass and book-worthy.

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The three weeks passed too quickly and Alex and I found ourselves morosely packing suitcases for the return home, buzzed with the high of the wedding, but sad to be leaving when we’d just gotten into the holiday rhythms. The parting was as hard as ever, and I shed tears with my family, both happy and sad for it to hurt because as least it meant I was so lucky as to have a community who loved me and whom I loved that the distance mattered so greatly.

But I am doubly lucky, and upon touchdown we were greeted but the second community in our lives and soon celebrated Christmas with the Vienna side of our widespread family.

Throughout it all, despite my best efforts, my heart still raced every time my phone pinged announcing I had a new email. Logically I had reasoned that I wouldn’t get a response about my Austrian residency until the new year, despite the fact that the eighteenth of December marked the three-month anniversary of when the application was submitted. But every email was nothing of note, and at the time of writing this no decision has yet to be reached.

 

Which brings us back to where I started. As demonstrated, my brother did indeed prophesise correctly and 2018 was undisputedly one for the books.

But, sadly, the continued dual lodging of Alex and myself also demonstrates that not everything went to plan.

I fly back to London tomorrow, on the second of January, 2019, once again saying goodbye to my wife for a period of time. I don’t know what 2019 will hold, when residency will come and Alex and I can finally start building our life together under the same roof. I’m not setting dates in mind or making plans because it hurts too much when things don’t go according to those plans. But I know however the dust settles, 2019 will contain more family, and laughter, and problems, and solutions, and Alex, and that with our widespread community we’ll do everything we can to make 2019 one for the books.

That’s all any of us can ever do with a year.

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2017/18

2017 was an exhausting year.

It was a year that found me working more hours per week than I ever thought I would. Twelve-hour days became the norm, bookended with hour long bus rides through the suburbs of London, crawling my way north over the Thames and back again, german audio courses filling my ears for the morning journey, and Alex’s voice filling them for the return trip home.

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I went in and out of a thousand patient’s homes, into apartments of squalor and into estates so grand they could have housed five families instead of the single rich elderly resident that they did. I took endless blood pressures, felt an infinity of pulses, and inserted blessedly few suppositories. Maybe around four. Not too bad, really.

It was a year that found me spending more time away from my loved ones than in any other period to date. I was away from Australia for thirteen months, and saw my partner for only three and a half days of every fortnight. I was either working or in my tiny bedroom in Tooting, where my primary activities were eating, skyping and sleeping.

It was a year where the news reports seemed determined to bend us and bow us, to convince us the world was a doomed place being run by morons and bigots. The endless stream of click-bait fed us a diet of hopelessness and negativity, and sapped already depleting reservoirs.

It was a taxing year, certainly, but don’t believe it all, because 2017 was also an exhilarating year.

It was a year that saw my brother, Damian, become engaged to his best friend, Holly. It was a year where, in an uncharacteristic display of twinliness, I also became engaged to my best friend.

My voice quavered and my hands shook, and I asked my lady a question and she gave me a lifetime of happiness by answering in the affirmative. This happiness commenced almost immediately when, at four o’clock in the morning, with both of us too juiced up with adrenaline to sleep, we sat in bed, watched TV, and ate potato chips. Perfect wife material, my friends.

It was a year that contained a visit from my parents who crossed oceans and continents to meet me, my new fiancée, and my new fiancée’s parents, in Greece. The six of us soaked in the sun and the sea of the Mediterranean, ate our body’s weight in delicious food, and shared in the excitement of the coming nuptials.

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We explored the city of Vienna, my second home, and I journeyed with my parents across the United Kingdom. My previously isolated existence was suddenly occupied, and places and streets and homes that had been segregated from my former life became infused with the flavour of family. Those lonely locations in London now carried memories of Mum and Dad, causing the loneliness to have a harder time taking hold.

The year contained adventuring as the three of us road-tripped, dipping into the wildness of the Scottish highlands and tracking the coastline of Northern Ireland. We explored the isle of Skye, trekking on foot into the beauty and fierceness of the land, standing at the crest of the Old Man of Storr and whooping into the wind that tried to uproot us from the rocky soil.

 

It was a year where I shared texts and photos and videos with my older brother, Matthew, and spoke to my sister, Angela, through computers and phones, and realised I wasn’t as cut off as I imagined myself to be.

It was an exhausting year, and an exhilarating one, and one that helped highlight the significance of each of these attributes. Because although the adventuring was eye-opening and inspiring, and it was for the adventuring that I originally stepped out of my house in Ardeer and trotted off to Europe, it was the more subdued moments that really made my year worthwhile.

It was weekends with Alex, chatting over coffee or making meals together, or doing nothing at all but sitting on the couch and watching TV, that made the hours of work slip from my shoulders.

It was sitting with Mum and Dad in an irish pub or an Airbnb kitchen and having a beer or a cup of tea, and talking as if the miles that had previously separated us and the months spent physically apart were a brief nuisance already evaporating from our memories.

It was seeing my family’s faces in my laptop and mobile, and laughing like we always do until I could have sworn they were in the room with me, our conversation creating a temporary bubble where the laws of time and space were suspended, that punctured my isolation and deflated it.

It was all these interactions, these small and intimate moments amongst the labour of work and the highs of adventuring, that made the external stressors of the rest of the world that usually hammered at my attention become nothing more than the sound of rain falling somewhere outside while I was tucked up warm indoors.

2017 exhausted me, but it also exhilarated me to learn that what I really want from my life is these quieter moments, moments with Alex, conversations with my siblings, tea with my parents. Because while the adventuring is great, and standing on a mountain in Scotland laughing and screaming into the wind will have your adrenaline racing, it’s the getting warm and dry at the bottom with someone you love that gives it significance.

So bring on 2018, a year where I will marry the woman I love and build a life with her. A year where, by the end of it, I will no longer be torn between two cities, but will finally have a home in Vienna. A year where I’ll celebrate two weddings with my family, and see my brother marry his best friend.

A year where I’ll work less, and probably adventure less, but instead make time for the quiet moments that make both things worthwhile.

DIGITAL MEDIA SAID YES

Once again I am reaching out after a period of long silence, and once again I can only plead sheer exhaustion and lack of available time as my excuse. My ten day working week has continued, sometimes stretching out to a fourteen day working week, and once (and only once as I learnt it was a very bad idea) into a twenty-one day working week.

But, ladies and gentleman, I am now an engaged man, and have a wedding to pay for.

That is correct, since we spoke (or since last I wrote and you read) I have procured myself a fiancé. I dropped to one knee, offered up a ring, and she deemed my offering acceptable and agreed to sticking around for the rest of my life. I am now a very happy man.

But that is a whole other blog. Or, in reality, a whole other novel. Despite neglecting this blog and you dear readers like kids now neglect the fidget-spinners they desperately needed six months ago, I have not been idle. In fact, I wrote a book. It was with this (along with said ring) that secured me a future wife.

The book detailed the rather exotic and epic journey my relationship with Alex has been on over the past four and a half years, beginning in Vietnam, over to Austria, interweaving through various European countries, to Australia and the hoard of family and friends Alex met, and finishing up in Greece, where I read Alex the last page of the story, finishing with the line, “Alexandra, will you marry me?” whereupon she said yes.

She didn’t really have a choice, I’d written her a book after all. (Note to any prospective proposers: Trap your partner with an act so kind they’d look terrible to refuse. Guaranteed future happiness).

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(Book Cover: Designed by yours truly)

In addition to that book, I’ve also written a novella, which has gone through its alpha reader, Damian, and beta readers, Holly, Matt, and Alex, and is now almost ready for the public. I’m hoping to submit it to a publisher in the long-term, but more on that when it eventuates.

Because now we’ve reached the crux of this blog, and the reason I have revived, yet again, this faithful dog of a blog: I’ve also written another article. I metaphorically got down on one knee to the American Journal of Nursing and offering up a ring of my words, and they said yes. The article was published yesterday, not in their physical magazine as with my previous articles, but on their blog, which can be found here for your reading pleasure: https://ajnoffthecharts.com/unusual-privilege-patients-memorable-grace/

Thanks to all for reading, for also accepting my ring of words, you’re all fiancés to me. But just so we’re all clear, Alex is the actual fiance. That could have gotten messy.

More (hopefully) soon.