My Research Project

If life is a series of breathes, Sharon wondered how many she had left.  In her mind she could hear Dory from the Nemo film singing, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”  Just keep breathing.

Sharon stood in her hallway and stared at the boxes stacked randomly in the lounge room of her apartment.  A strange man was busily packing her best dinner set.  She could hear his colleagues in the rooms down the hall packing her children’s treasures away.  And some of their junk as well.  She couldn’t comprehend the cleaning that many of her friends did before a move.  Sharon shuddered at the thought.  There was more than enough pain in moving without having to decide what should stay and what should go.  That was better left for the other end.

Shaking her head, she took a deep breathe.  As she let it out some of her anxiety left her.  Just a little bit.  She watched as each piece of her life was wrapped in paper and placed in a box.  She could feel herself taking a step towards her future in Singapore.  A step away from her present in Copenhagen.

A removalist walked towards her.  Mentally she searched her mind to remember his name.  It wasn’t there.  She mentally kicked herself that she had, once again, failed to hear a name.  She smiled at him hoping that he would start talking to her and she could pretend as if she knew exactly who he was and what was going on.

“We have almost finished for today and will be back tomorrow at 8,” the packer said as he approached her.  Sharon nodded and failed to resist the temptation to look at her watch.  It was barely 1:30 in the afternoon.

“Why are you finishing so early today,” she asked.

“We work till 2,” Lars said.  Lars?  She wondered if that was his name.  He looked like he could be a Lars.  It probably wasn’t but that was the name now stuck in her head.  “There’re a few things I need to check with you before we go,” he said.  He walked towards the bedrooms expecting her to follow.

As they worked their way through his list, she tried to keep her mind focused on what he was asking her.  She and Peter would play 20 questions later.  She couldn’t blame Peter for not being here today but sometimes she wanted to.

Finally the packers left and she was left alone.  She wandered from room to room checking the progress they’d made.  The rooms echoed and already the apartment felt vacant.  She glanced quickly one more time and then left.  Everything was going to Singapore.  It’s not like she wouldn’t notice if something wasn’t packed.  In any case, Peter would do this all again later.  It was time to collect the kids from school.

As she locked the door behind her she temporarily locked the door on her present.  The now routine repacking of their lives was getting easier in some ways.  However it still contained enough trauma for her to feel relief that she could walk away from the mess of her apartment.  It felt good to lose herself in the familiar routines of the school run.

As she walked to the train station she realised she was running late.  She texted Caitlyn asking her to tell her children that she was on her way.  If she still had her car she would be at the school quickly but they had handed the car to the new owners over the weekend.  She was now returning to the joy of relying on public transport.

Sitting on the train she closed her eyes and took a deep breathe.  At times her life was a series of deep breathes.  Every time she had a minute alone she allowed herself that moment to breathe.  To concentrate on inhaling and exhaling.  Her moments alone were becoming more frequent now that the move date was closer.

Sharon had been busy with goodbyes and last minute get-togethers.  Everyone she knew, and counted as a friend, wanted to milk the last minutes they had left in her presence.  That had lessened with the arrival of the packers.  She had to be available to supervise them as Peter was working till the last day.  She already felt that she had left some people’s lives.  As her life was being dismantled theirs were continuing.  For many the goodbyes had been spoken and the hugs given.  She was moving out of their world into a limbo that she would not exit for quite some time.

Rushing into the school she saw Caitlyn and waved.  “I’m sorry I’m late.  I thought the packers would be working longer.  They needed me to answer questions.  I forgot all about the kids,” Sharon said.  She took a deep breath to calm herself.

“That’s fine,” Caitlyn answered in her Scottish brogue.  “I found the kids and they’re playing with their friends.  It’s fine.”

“Thank you.” She sat down and settled herself.  She tried to focus on the conversation at the table.  The five girls at the table were her core group of friends.  She had had coffee with them weekly, often more frequently, for the last two years.  An odd mix of women with shared circumstances.   None of them worked, they all had children in grade 4, and they had moved to Denmark following their husband’s careers.

Antje was her closest friend and kept her organised.  She was from Amsterdam and happily bore the responsibility of making sure that Sharon knew that the class newsletter was on the school’s webpage and what she needed to remember each week.  She generally organised her life and they regularly spent time together.

The last few weeks had been very difficult though as neither of them knew how their friendship would fare long distance.  Antje’s husband’s move to Denmark was a novelty in their lives and unlikely to be repeated.  Sharon’s move to Singapore was so remote from Europe that reconnecting would have to be a very well planned affair.  She hoped that Antje would stay in touch.

“I’m sorry?” Sharon said as she realised the conversation had turned to her.  She glanced blankly at her friends realising that Stacey had asked her a question.

“I asked if the packer’s were finished?” Stacey was also from Australia, although from Queensland, and seemed much sunnier than her Melbournian friends.  Probably much sunnier than Sharon herself.

“No.  They said that it will take two to three days to pack.  Then the following day they’ll load the truck.” It constantly amazed Sharon at the number of mundane conversations she took part in.  How many times did she have the same conversations with different people?  Without any shared history and limited scope for a future, many friendships did not venture past the mundane.

Helen, the token Danish friend in the group, asked, “So are you still in your apartment?”

“No, we moved out this morning.  We’re staying at Charlottehaven apartments in Nordhavn.  It should work well as it’s easy for Peter to get to work and it’s only a few stops on the train line from the school.”

Helen frowned, “I don’t know this apartment.”

“Yes you do,” Caitlyn said.  “They’re the apartments Sandra Johnson stayed in when she left last year.”

Still frowning, Helen shook her head while Helen asked Stacey who Sandra was.

“Yes, you must remember Sandra!  We had dinner with her the night before they flew out for Florida.” Caitlyn insisted.

“Oh, yes.  She was nice.”  Helen smiled.  “When do you leave again?”

“Saturday morning.”  Sharon had had this conversation so many times that the answers rolled off her tongue without thinking.  A wave of feeling washed over her pricking her eyes and prompting another sigh.

“Are you flying straight to Singapore or will you go home first?”  Stacey asked.  Sharon smiled at Stacey wondering if she realised how odd her question was.  Home!  Her home was being packed up!  Ben and Sarah had never lived in Australia and definitely did not regard it as home.  They actually considered themselves Americans!  Sharon and Peter had been trying to teach them how to say G’day but were failing miserably.  The kids could hardly remember to say garbage rather than trash let alone manage the delicate pronunciation of the Australian national greeting.

“We fly to Singapore. We’ll stay for a month while we find a place to live.  I tried to organise a tour of the schools but it is the mid year break and the schools aren’t open.  We could do it when the staff go back but I dunno.”

“So will you go home once you’ve found a house?” Stacey persisted.  Did Stacey not realise Sharon had no home.  Her parent’s had recently renovated their home so even the comfort she had found there was no longer available to her.

“Yes.  We will go to Melbourne and stay with Mum and Dad for a bit.  I’ve don’t know what to pack.  We need clothes for hot and cold.”

“At least you won’t need your heavy coats in Melbourne.” Helen added.  Sharon agreed.  She had recently given away the numerous jackets, shoes, gloves and hats that the family had accumulated during their short stay in Copenhagen.

“Why don’t you go to the Gold Coast? That would be fun.  It would also kill some time till school starts back,” Stacey suggested.  Inwardly Sharon growled.  Could she not give it a rest.  The plans had been made and Sharon did not feel like changing them now.  She’d had enough.

“I thought about that.  Maybe.  The problem is that Peter won’t be able to come with us as he starts work three days after we land.  He has time to recover from jet lag and that’s about it.  Right now I don’t like doing theme parks on my own.  If we’re in Melbourne we’ll have Mum and Dad to talk to and won’t drive each other nuts.

“Sometimes I feel as if I am killing time.  There is always this break between the ending of one assignment and the beginning of the next.”  Sharon said.

Sharon kept to herself that at times she felt like one of the many appendages in Peter’s life.  She was sure she was often viewed this way by the company he worked for.  They were very generous as far as Peter’s salary and package were concerned and they always organised help for her to find housing at their new location.  Beyond that she was on her own.  While it was not the Company’s responsibility to provide her with a new life, there were a few aspects she felt they could improve upon.  The new boss taking the time to meet her would be a good start.  Often she knew everyone’s name, their position, but rarely their face.

“You’ll have a great time.” Caitlyn said.  Caitlyn was married to a Dane.  They had been living in Edinburgh for the last fifteen years and had decided three years ago to move to Sune’s homeland after a job had opened in the Danish office.  It was a great opportunity to give their children a taste of his Viking heritage.  The family had settled in so well that they were considering a permanent move.  The one complication was Cailtyn’s difficulty in getting a job as she needed to be fluent in Danish.  Something they had not considered before leaving Edinburgh.  Not being able to work was like a shadow hovering over Caitlyn.

“I know we will.  I’m just tired of moving. So many times I have felt as if I am marking time.  Waiting for the next act to begin.”  Wondering what this life would bring.  Who she would reincarnate to next?

The group nodded but Sharon wondered if they understood at all.  Perhaps she was being unfair.  They all had moved for similar reasons.  However, it was the first move for all of them bar Jessica.  Jessica was from Washington DC and generally very quiet.  Her husband worked for the Embassy and this was their second foreign posting.  Between each posting they returned to Washington. She felt as if Jessica was on an extended holiday.  She didn’t seem invested in her life in Copenhagen and forever compared Copenhagen to The States.  Not in Copenhagen’s favour.

Sharon had moved five times in the last ten years.  She was tired.  Each time she managed to settle, find a level of comfort and routine, Peter came home and announced they were moving again.  Now that the kids were older, people were asking her what she did with her time.  Being a mum was no longer a full time role.  She knew the questions were asked out of interest but she often felt a need to justify her not working.  To somehow define herself as more than the lah-di-dah expat wife who never lifted a finger and lived a luxurious lifestyle.

“Anyway … “ Sharon sighed.  She turned to look for her kids as the other women began to pack up and get ready to go to their homes.

“What are you doing this evening?” Caitlyn asked her as they walked towards the playground to call their children.

“Antje is coming over. We’re going to eat at the cafe and share a bottle of wine.  The kids can play in the playground.”  Sharon answered.

“Ok.  If you need any help with anything, let me know.  I can always watch the kids if you need me to.”  Caitlyn offered.

“Thanks.  I should be fine.  Once the packers have finished there’s not much to do except wait.”  She smiled hoping her face did not portray the frustration she felt inside.  Caitlyn’s offer of help was thoughtful but not what Sharon needed.  With so many things being taken from her she needed something to hold on to.  Her kids with their routines and small needs helped her to hold on to a part of herself.

The children came reluctantly as their mothers called across the playground for them.  To calls of ‘Bye’ and ‘See you tomorrow.’ Sharon waved and bundled her children with their bags and started walking towards the train station.

“Where are we going?” Ben asked as he nudged his sister out of the way.

Sharon grabbed Sarah’s hand and pulled her to her other side.  “Antje is coming for dinner.”

“At our place?” Sarah asked.

“No.  At the apartment where we’ll be staying.  I moved our bags there this morning.”  Sarah nodded as she remembered.

“Are Thomas and Lucas coming?” Ben asked.  He was always quick to jump to the important points.

“Yes.”

“Yay.” They both replied in unison.  Sarah skipped past her brother and stuck out her tongue.  Sharon glanced back towards the emptying schoolyard.  She gave a few final waves as her friends loaded their children into their cars.  The clench in her stomach tightened and again her eyes felt moist.  She blinked and reminded herself to breathe.

With one last look, she took a deep breathe and began her walk away from this life she had been living.

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