Let me start by saying the reclining chairs at Hoyts Woden are amazing.
Now we have that out of the way, I love movies on the big screen with a coffee and no one around me. It’s why I go on my own and it’s why I got in the middle of the weekday. Very few people in the theatre make for a great experience, particularly when it’s a horror movie. They are my absolute favourite. Not the slasher ones, but the ones that play on your mind and get into your psyche. Winchester does that.
Here is the premise. The most haunted house in the world sits on an isolated stretch of land that’s 50 miles outside of San Francisco. Built by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester fortune, it stands seven stories tall and contains hundreds of rooms. To an outsider, it looks like a monstrous monument to a disturbed woman’s madness. I’ve heard building a house is stressful but this one more so than your average family home. Sarah has built a prison, an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts – and the most terrifying among them have a score to settle with the Winchesters.
I’ve known about the Winchester house for some time. I’m a bit of a haunted house fanatic even though I have never been to one. I’ve read a lot about this house and its stranger builder, Sarah Winchester. With the gun debate in the US continuously raging, the message in this movie is apt. The ghosts are all victims of the Winchester repeating rifle and they have come to settle a score with its inventor’s widow.
Winchester is an American – Australian production and the Australians in the audience will recognise lots of familiar faces. The wonderful Sarah Snook who shined in The Dressmaker is fantastic as Sarah’s niece. Angus Samson who plays Sarah’s right-hand man has been all over our TV’s for so long I feel like I know him personally.
Jason Clark plays Eric Price, a psychologist employed by the Winchester company to assess Sarah’s mental capacity. Dr Price has a little habit with drink and drugs after the deal of his wife and Sarah confiscates both. As he comes down from the effects he begins to see visions and they are enjoyable frights for the audience. His assessment of Sarah becomes a fight for his own sanity and we learn Dr Price is much closer to the mystery of the Winchester house than he wants to be.
Critics haven’t been kind of Winchester but for those of us who love a good psychological ghost story, it’s 99 minutes of bliss and I don’t think you can go wrong with Helen Mirren. The costumes, the architecture, the history, it’s all there to be enjoyed. I was immersed. In my reclining chair, with very few people around me, Winchester pushed all my buttons.
I’m selling my house. I’ve been told, perhaps I read it as I rarely speak to people, that selling a house is one of the most stressful things a person can do. I believe that. I’m stressed.
The decision making that is necessary to sell a house has been eye-opening and the number of questions I’ve been asked, ones I have no answer to, has been unreasonable. Mind you I rarely talk to people so I don’t know what a reasonable amount is.
First, I needed to engage an agent to sell my house. You need to shop around was the advice my husband gave me. Husband is in another state by the way, giving me this advice over the phone. The same husband who is far better at all these things that I am. Did I mention I read for a living? Engaging agents to sell our home doesn’t come up often as a plot line in a book so I had zero life experience to go on.
One of the agencies I called – a pretty big one here in Canberra – couldn’t get the call to go through the sales department no matter how often I called back. She said “transferring you” and promptly hung up four times. I didn’t go for try five, fearing she’d have a nervous breakdown at hearing my voice again. That left two, the one my son recommended and another major name. I won’t mention them because Canberra is a small town where seven degrees of separation really exists but at the time he was due to arrive he called me to say he was knocking on my front door, had I forgotten our appointment? Not being home would require me leaving the house. He obviously doesn’t know me. I poked my head out and found him knocking on my neighbour’s door. Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.
Attrition left the lady whom my son had recommended. She found the house. It wasn’t a test I meant to put in place but serendipity works that way sometimes. When I told my husband that was my method of choosing he said there are probably worse ways.
I figure she knows how to sell a house so I wasn’t worried, after all, she managed to find it. She’s been excellent. She seemed to understand that decision making isn’t my forte and kept the question asking to a minimum, instead gave me options rather than a long list of possibilities. I was happy for this. I like intuitive people who can guess your level of willingness to interact with other earthlings and she guessed mine at a very low zero. She probably goes home to her husband each night to tell him about the oddball client with a book in her hand every time she answers the door.
Our house goes up for auction tomorrow. Whether it sells or not is anyone’s guess. It’s an odd market but that’s not the stressful part. What is stressful is the expectation that other people place on getting the best possible price. Since my husband’s close call, our priorities are very different. Profits come in many forms, not just financial. This house owns us nothing. It gave us a cosy place to raise three lovely boys who turned into lovely men. It was a place they were always happy to come home to after a day of school or whatever they might be doing. It was a place they were happy to gather and talk with us about all kinds of things. Just now I had a long conversation with son #3 about bacteria. (Son #2 has been bitten by a white tail spider and the antibiotics aren’t doing it but that’s another post.) The kitchen has given me so many conversations with my boys. It was the place they opened up n and felt comfortable as I pottered around.
This house was witness to a really good marriage and two people who love each other. I like to think that love seeped into the walls and floor. I’m pretty sure it did.
People want us to hold out for the very best price, but what is the very best price and is that the best thing for this house? Wouldn’t it profit from another family talking about bacteria in the kitchen? Is the stress of waiting for a better offer really worth it? How does anyone know what might happen tomorrow or the day after.
I can’t speak for the people who decided that selling a house was one of the most stressful things a person can do, but I can say based on my personal experience, it’s not the selling as much as the expectation that wears me down. It’s been an experience for this anti-social oddball but experiences make us better writers so I grateful for it.
I will get around to telling you what I read. I have spiders to talk about first.
Some of the time I live in Sydney with my husband and the rest of the time I live in Canberra with #3 son. This is an odd situation but when has anything in my life been standard. The final 2 years of high school in Canberra are different to the rest of the country. A separate campus all to themselves. No uniform, teachers are called by their first names, responsibility is placed completely on the student. It’s like a mini-university experience. This is the experience sons #1 and 2 had and it’s the one son #3 very much wanted.
Four years ago, we returned to Sydney for my husband’s work and because he’s an only child and his parents are important to us. We wanted to be there for them. We moved with son #3 who only knew the nation’s capital as his home. He left everything he knew and two brothers behind and it was a lot of change. What is this strange place you call Sydney? This isn’t home. It’s not hot enough, cold enough, there are too many people, there is too much traffic and it’s not home and no one understands me. He’s was right. No one understood him. I had always understood him but Sydney made me doubt myself. I think there is something about the very anxious that makes other people nervous and what we don’t understand we tend to fight against. They wear the worry of the world for everyone to see whereas we stuff it down with food, drink, laughter. He is not afraid to wear his mood. He does not pretend, he just is. That’s difficult for many people. I get that.
So, we moved back to Canberra, #3 and I. There are people who think we are genuinely crazy and there are people I didn’t tell. I just moved. Didn’t say a word. Why you ask? I’m introverted to the extreme and while I do not suffer anxiety to the extent my son does, there is a little bit of me that avoids being judged even when the judgement is made up in my head. “You’re leaving your husband to accommodate the wishes of your child? But he’s a child, he has to fit in with you!” Yes, I know all that, but he’s my child and you’ll never understand so I’m not having this conversation in my head with you out loud, have you done that or is that just me?
It’s just me? Okay then…
We had kept our family home, rented it during the 4 years – that’s a story in and of itself – and we put the possessions we could fit into our car and drove home. The smile on his face began at the major freeway that would get us there and fully emerged as we pulled into the drive and unloaded our things. I had not seen that smile in a long time. I had to brush away the tears. He started to joke with me. He bantered again. He talked again. Good lord, doesn’t this child know I am anti-social and how do I shut him up? It’s like 4 years of not talking came out of his mouth in the first 4 days
But what did you do with your husband?
I put him in a box. There are air holes and food and water. He’ll be fine.
No, not really. DH is in Sydney, in my beautiful apartment in Sydney – I’m not bitter- because his specialist is in Sydney and he needs to have regular check-ups for the cancer. Multiple myeloma is a sneaky thing. It never really goes away, even after treatment. One other major reason why he stayed in Sydney is – he works. That amazing man works so I can read and #3 can come to Canberra so he can smile again. As I told you before, my job is reading and I do it philanthropically. No one pays me to work this hard at reading.
Now as much as son #3 loves Canberra, I love Sydney. I love Manly. But this is my child and he has a dream and I am the facilitator of his dream so here I am in Canberra, dating my husband. We meet on weekends and have dinners and in some crazy messed up way, it’s actually working. We face time and try not to giggle when one of us asks the other “what are you wearing tonight?” Absence does make the heart grow fonder. I’ve always enjoyed his company. His detailed, bossy, in control company, but now I look forward to his company. Plus, he knows how to change a washer and the tap upstairs is dripping.
Son #3 is old enough to leave on his own for a few nights and that will grow to a week every now and then so I can slip back to my happy place and sleep in my other bed. It’s not that I don’t like Canberra, I actually do. But I love my husband more and that’s where he lives.
It’s two years I tell myself. It will pass in a heartbeat but when your husband has a very serious cancer two years is a lifetime.
What do you do when your husband is diagnosed with an incurable leukaemia, your anxiety-ridden son is desperate to return to his hometown, you decide you need to sell your house and you want to spend your 50th year in bed reading?
You do it all of course.
Multiple myeloma, you are a bitch. I’d use a stronger word but I’m a lady. We were not expecting you. I thought turning 50 would mean more time to read. In the year of my 50th birthday, I sent up a wish that I might spend it reading, drinking coffee and wine and salute the first 50 years off with a trip to Europe – in that order. I got my wish. Well, some of them. I read in doctor’s offices, chemotherapy wards and isolation rooms. I drank hospital coffee and wine at home alone while my husband lay sick from a stem cell transplant. When my 50th rolled around in July, instead of Paris, I was sitting in a lovely room at Royal North Shore hospital reading about Paris by his bedside. He was so sick he didn’t know I was there. At least I got the reading part right. I really should have been more detailed when I made that wish but details have never been my thing. That’s his job, the sick husband that is. He took the year off to be an absolute superstar patient and left the details to me.
That was a mistake.
He’s always been the one who knew when the bills were due. He even paid them. On time! I was under some illusion that the lights stayed on through willpower and a little bit of magic. I had no idea how a direct deposit worked. I know how to order books though. I’m fantastic at that. However, ordering books online doesn’t fill the fridge. You see my job was to read. Yes, I keep the kids alive with love, a clean bathroom and put enough washing through so that you can see the floor of the laundry – and I write when the inspiration hit me. Reading is my main job. Unpaid mind you. I do it out of the goodness of my heart. My loving husband accepts this. My introverted, anti-social oddness was endearing and he handled the details of our life so that I could get on with the business of being introverted, anti-social and odd.
Until January 2017.
In what was supposed to be an uncomplicated foot issue, dependable husband – from here on known as DH, went to the GP after his loving wife, me of course, nagged him into it. He doesn’t do doctors. No one in his family does doctors. It’s a thing. They don’t need doctors. “My leg looks like it’s falling off? I’m sure I’ll be fine with a cup and tea and a band-aid.” “This lump on my head? That’s been there for years. Don’t worry about it.” I’m serious. They don’t do doctors. Who in their right mind doesn’t do doctors? So I tormented him until he went to the doctor and because he hadn’t been to a doctor since the early eighteen hundreds, the doctor did all manner of tests.
One of those tests came back with news we didn’t expect. He has leukaemia. Multiple Myeloma. Multiple what, I said. I’ve never heard of it. I was soon to learn all about it. There is no cure. It’s rather serious and he’ll need some serious treatment.
The serious treatment began soon thereafter. A bone marrow biopsy ( why don’t they knock a person out for that – it’s so painful.) A double femur implant to stabilise both legs where cancer had weakened the bones and left its mark ( we call him Wolverine.) Chemo. More Chemo. Stem cell harvesting. More chemo. Stem cell replacement. Recovery. And here we are. Over a year later but of course life goes on while your husband’s body is making other plans. You still have a family, children to love, coffee to drink and books to read. The world doesn’t stop when you get the news, though it should. Everyone should look and feel as horrified and afraid as I did but they didn’t. Everyone should have stopped in the middle of a car park and said out loud “how would I cope without him?” On one should have honked for me to move. “Don’t stand there love, you’ll get run over.” No one should have needed to say that because the most dependable man on the face of the earth has been diagnosed with leukaemia and that should have stopped the world.
It stopped me. What would I do without him, I wondered? He pays the bills, he reminds me when we need food, he puts petrol in the car even though I use it the most – to go and get books. He gets me out of the house to have breakfast on the weekends. He patiently listens to the plot line of the book I am reading and the one I am trying to write. Who else would I want to do that for me? How on earth would I survive without him? Who would love me as much as he loves me? I couldn’t think of a single person who knew me so well as DH. I absolutely refused for that to change. I still had that laundry floor to deal with and a teenager with a severe anxiety disorder whose beloved dad was sick as a dog before his eyes. That dad who had always been dependable, strong and took care of details was bloated from steroids, bald and throwing up. That is not something your son’s psychologist orders for his anxiety disorder. “Mrs May, go home and conjure up cancer, it’s just what the boy needs!” No, that wasn’t the wish list. I checked it twice.
This son, this beautiful, bright, quirky, introverted magical boy had asked to go home to Canberra where we raised him. The moment we landed in Sydney on the eve of his entry into high school four years ago, he was miserable. DH and I are from Sydney. We love it. It’s home – but it’s not his home and as the mum of every socially awkward brilliant kid knows, change is hard.
So what do you do?
I became a nurse, therapist, cleaner, organiser, bill payer, health advocate, researcher, dietitian, pill dispenser, needle giver, declutter and minimalist who lives in two states and tries to please everyone. Oh, and I put a house on the market. Did I read?
My work space has evolved recently due to the need to spread out at this rewrite stage and the desire to keep a computer out of my 15 year olds room. He’s using the desk in the living room and I was turfed out. It’s actually turned out well. I’ve taken over the dining room and we still have a bit of room to eat if we squish up at the end. This is also a great wall for my outline. This board is a simple bit of lightweight MDF that I painted with blackboard paint and hung it like a regular painting.
I’d love to see your workspace. I’m a huge voyeur of desks. I even watch youtube videos of desk set ups for fun.
Another year is here, at least for some of the planet. I’m thinking about all the people waking up to new resolutions and having none myself this year – other than to enjoy enjoy enjoy – I’m wondering if we put too much pressure on the January 1st.
If January 1st were a person I imagine it to be an neurotic elderly lady who wears a rather ostentatious red hat and one the other days avoid. She’s under a lot of pressure, they say to each other as she walks down the street. Some may even cross the road to avoid her. They wouldn’t want to get into a conversation after a harmless “how are you, January 1st?” was uttered politely. They remember the morning March 15th was trapped in the bakery for two hours listening to the outrageous resolutions that fell on her shoulders in 2008. It was a particularly difficult year and she still has a small eye twitch.
This year I will not add to January 1st’s load.
Instead I have hopes, and they are hopes because they are out of my hands. My hopes are that my family remain well and happy, that my two boys at university enjoy each day even though the work load is heavy. I hope my husband is not too stressed with work this year and that my youngest son stays as sweet and funny that the age of thirteen allows him to be.
What I have of myself are expectations. I expect that I will continue writing and continue loving life each and every day.
I wish, readers, that your hopes and expectations that you place on yourself remain solid through out 2015, and that January 1st can put her feet up and get some group therapy with February 14th and December 31.
This seems to be the question of the moment. I’ve been asked a dozen times in the lift by neighbours trying not to peer into my shopping bags.
For the first time in my life, I am hosting Christmas for the whole family. That means 22 people in my apartment, one new Christmas tree, three hired tables, 14 hired chairs, one tired old dining table with her tired old chairs, four different kinds of meats, vegetables Maggie Beer would be proud to grow, wine, and a husband who is sick of “just pop out and get me some figs will you honey?”
What are figs? Really, he asked that.
Normally Christmas is held at my mother-in-laws, but now that we are firmly ensconced in the area once again, it’s now mine. Had you asked me yesterday how the preparations for Christmas are going I’d have fallen to the floor with a dramatic faint, but today I am in control. It’s amazing what setting the table will do for you. Oh, and wine. Lots of wine.
I am having a relaxing moment watching Kirstie Allsop teach me how to decorate a tree after shopping for groceries with every other Christmas host on the planet – yes I forgot the figs.