Thursday, August 7, 2008

So RD, How Was Sri Lanka Then?

Someone said to me last week that I should write a book about how it is to get divorced and deal with everything from a father's point of view. I have no plans to do this for a few reasons, not least is that there are bookshelves of such books out there already.

I know this as I own several of them. Admittedly none of them are written with my curious mixture of British and Sri Lankan wit, but what about to be or recently divorced father wants to read a book on how to deal with what's to come, or what's happening, in his highly traumatised life when he gets hit by a poo joke every third sentence?

But it is my blog after all, so it seems that you'll probably allow me to be a bit self indulgent occasionally and chuck out a post or two to try and tell you what's been happening and what's going on in my head.

Divorce is a painful thing, probably even for my ex. I suppose if I was to run a class on the subject, well first I'd charge a shitload for the lessons as I currently need the money, but secondly I'd tell these fellows to expect the unexpected, which I guess you can't expect anyway. It's a lonely road at times, littered with "friends" letting you down, with idiots suddenly coming to the fore and acting like you wish your friends had been.

As a father the biggest shock for me was the physical separation from the girls. For thirteen and eleven years they had been in my life virtually every day. I had been able to tuck them into bed, to kiss them goodnight and to shout at them whenever I wanted to. If I wanted to sit on the settee and watch TV with a daughter there was often one around. If I wanted to fart there was always a child to go

"Uuurgh Dad, that's disgusting".

All of a sudden we've had to try to get used to seeing each other for about four hours on a Wednesday and on alternate Fridays until the Saturday afternoon. It's bloody hard for me and I'm an adult who chose this. My heart creaks a little bit every time I ponder on how it must feel for the girls. If I want to see them outside the normal arrangements it can feel like I have to walk through hot coals to do it and that's something that's awkward and painful.

I often go to bed at night and lie there wondering what they're doing and what they're thinking. Will they forgive me for the pain I've caused them? Will they ever understand that sometimes you have to save yourself before you can look after others?

The week in Sri Lanka was spectacular, massive and a powerful catalyst in our healing process. I realised that the time we had together gave us the contact we would have got from about three months' of time at home and it was such good quality time too.

It took the first few days for all of us to "settle in" with each other, or more accurately for the girls to settle with me. There were some strops, hissy fits, tantrums and sulks and the girls were a bit volatile too.

One of the interesting yet annoying things about having them at the weekend or on Wednesdays is that they take a bit of time to adjust to being with me. I've read that this is normal for kids in this situation so I don't worry about it, but I have to deal with it. They usually take some time to relax and, during this bit, things can be a bit tense and edgy. Once they're relaxed, everything's fine and dandy. Then, at some point before they're going to go back to their mother, they start to get a bit tense and edgy again as they get ready for the return.

So, if I have them for four hours, it may be the case that we only get an hour or two of quality time together. Of course the specifics vary and time is the great healer in all of this, it's getting easier and the quality time is getting more.

In Sri Lanka everything was condensed and concentrated. They didn't go back to their mother so the time and the relationship evolved and rolled forward continually at a faster than normal pace. We shared a room in the hotel. I had asked them some months ago if they wanted separate rooms or to share and I genuinely didn't have a clue what they would choose. At fourteen and twelve they're in that awkward age range when they're half grown up and half child, often both and so often neither. To compound things I'm a man, almost the complete opposite of a woman.

But they considered the question of room sharing for about two seconds and then said they'd prefer if we all shared a room. This warmed the cockles of my heart a lot. All the bravado of being grown up and big but they still wanted to share with Dad.

During the first days I started to question the wisdom of my decision to take them to Lanka. They've both been going there since they were six months old and are very familiar with the country and the people. They have many friends and cousins there and feel more at home than they do in other countries. I know and I feel lucky that the girls been exposed to a privileged lifestyle there that many can't afford, I wouldn't be pompous enough to think that they know a lot about life for the average man on the street. Yet I'm pleased that they're comfortable with the bits they've been exposed to.

So it seemed that taking them to Lanka on our first post divorce holiday would be good, that the familiarity with the country and people would negate the pain I knew they'd feel from going through the healing process.

But, for the first few days, that familiarity just reminded them of being there when there were four of us. I could see and feel the sadness as they went to places, saw people and did things that they used to do, only with their mother as well. I couldn't do anything about it though. This pain, that everyone feels in a divorce, is necessary and essential to make things better, just so hard to watch when it's your kids going through it and you've caused it.

Just as I was thinking my choice of destination was one I'd regret, that it would have been much better if we'd gone somewhere "new", the cloud started to lift. Maybe it was the power of Serendipity, perhaps it was a dead grandmother trying to help me and her great grandchildren or it might just have been the passing of time. I know not, the likelihood is that it was a combination of all the possibilities anyway, but it happened.

The girls started to relax, I started to relax and we all began to live the moments and enjoy our time together. It may be a coincidence but I noticed this was after the night they met Java. They both kind of fell in love with him, even though he's about eighty five or something.

For the last few days, as we evolved, we developed a bit of a routine. In the morning we'd go off shopping to the usual haunts. Then we'd grab a spot of lunch somewhere and the girls would spend the afternoon swimming. I'd hover around and mix swimming with emailing and general hanging about. The evenings were spent mostly discussing where we'd have dinner, then going there, eating and getting stopped at checkpoints on the way back. All the traditional Sri Lankan things really.

As we hit the last couple of days I felt sad at the thought of the end of our time together. It had been only a week because of the feelings of people, though I would have preferred to have gone for two, and once we got to the end I know another week would have been pure joy, possibly negated by the SAARC conference but that's a different matter.

I observed myself feeling sad and knew that it was best to forget that feeling and make the most of the remaining time. I did and I loved it. The last day was one on which we did last day stuff. A last trip to Odel, a last lunchtime drink in the Barefoot garden and a last swim in the pool. We'd taken lots of happy and smiling pictures of each other but none of them are as vivid as my memories.

In the evening we went to Galle Face Hotel to watch the sunset. They didn't have a sunset that evening, I assume it had been diverted or banned but it barely mattered to us. Like so many places in Sri Lanka there's something just magical and special about the atmosphere at the Galle Face Hotel. I can't figure it out yet it's so obvious too. It's hardly up there as a hotel in terms of its facilities or food or service or architectural splendour but it's steeped in history and feeling.

Is there a better way to spend a few hours than to sit there with a beer and a person or two that you love with all your heart?

Yes, of course there is. So we had some battered prawns and chips which made it just about perfect. The girls, Colombo and that setting are all I need to be happy. Maybe a drum kit or two would have rounded it off nicely.

I asked a passing tourist to take a picture of us. I chuckle to myself at the whole asking someone else to take your picture concept. Why can't my victim, on the rare occasions when I ask someone to do it, be a photographer or at least have an interest in photography? Why can't they be someone who knows and understands the rule of thirds? Why can't they have been a passing Sansoni or Posingis?

I end up with a nice and helpful Indian chap who takes one picture and chucks our heads exactly halfway down the frame. Luckily, in these days of digital photography we can view the image and ask the Indian to take another one, which I did. Unluckily you can't keep pushing the chap for too long, it's just not polite.

Can you imagine how it must have been years ago for the unlucky tourist who asked Amila Salgado to take a couple of shots of him and his kids. When the bloke got back to his home and finally got his pictures back from the lab he would have seen the most stunning macro picture of the caterpillar that he hadn't known was crawling on his shoulder or the most detailed image of the headlice in his young son's head. Nightmare.

We headed off to our hotel and ate our last Sri Lankan dinner. The day had been special, the week had been great, the journey had been eventful.

At about six in the morning I woke, showered and watched the city come to life through the hotel window. I watched the girls as they slept and was consumed with gratitude that I have them. I looked out at the skyline and felt as if I was watching one of those documentaries where they've filmed over a month and then sped it all up so you see it in a few seconds. Colombo getting ready for the day is like that. I saw people sweeping tennis courts, chaps washing their vehicles, tri shaws start to multiply in their numbers and the sunlight come out and paint the city with it's daylight coloured glow.

Off we went, back to the day to day bits for me and the rest of the summer holiday for the girls. We landed on Sunday evening and I dropped the girls back to their mother's and said goodbye. The week had been a mix of everything but it had moved the three of us on more than I had imagined.

Suddenly it was over. The girls were okay, they were back with their mother and had plenty of stories to tell and catching up to do. An hour later I was alone again. I thought of the girls and the times we'd had.

It was a mixture of happiness and sadness that made me cry.

Just for a bit.

Then I had to poo.

That's how my week in Sri Lanka with the girls was.


Java Jones said...

Nice one RD. Like the man said 'the love you make is equal to the love you take'(or was it the other way round??!). I'm certain that this trip made the girls see you in a whole different light and got to appreciate what they maybe had taken for granted for so long. And hey, I enjoyed them immensely as well, which is probably why they reciprocated. Give em hugs from me.


Scrumpulicious said...

It doesn't sound like you could have had a better holiday RD. And I'm sure the girls felt the same way that you did! :)

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Uncle Java - thanks for the words, the hugs will be passed on with pleasure.

Scrumpu....tastic - You're right. I want to go again, now!

ViceUnVersa said...

While not knowing the circumstances of your divorce I still firmly believe that it takes a lot of guts to go through one.
And it's definitely better for the kids if and usually the case, there is conflict at home.
It is important for them, that you too have a life.
Consequently living with the guilt is the biggest bitch I guess. Well, I do anyway.
You did the right thing, and you gave me a wee tear at the end of the story. Wish I had a dig at those prawns and chips!

N said...

Thats a sweet post man, glad it worked out.

pissu perera said...

you just had to poo at the end didn't you :p

really nice post RD. hope you have lots more holidays like this in the years to come.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

N + PP thanks very much. PP please do say hello next time.

Dhammika - thanks too, the prawns and chips were the best!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Rhythmic, for sharing your thoughts with us. I read with enough laughs and deep thoughts and wondering about daughters I don't have, yet. It is hard for me to understand divorces (not even married yet! :) ) but I think I understand your love for your children. Love them as much as you can, because whether we/they tell or not, love you ten times back. I am just telling what is in my heart.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Kalu - Thanks for the thoughts. I love you too!!