this (miraculous) life
LAST year I finally completed my postgraduate studies in aviation, the result of a decade dreaming of changing my career. In 2002 I worked for one of the major banks, spending my days gazing at spread sheets, covering two mortgages and running two European cars. At night I would get a cab back to my home in one of Melbourne’s leafy suburbs and collapse with exhaustion on the couch in time for Lateline with my dinner. This was accompanied by a few glasses of wine to send me into a quick but restless sleep before repeating the process the next day.
My married life had long deteriorated, the hopes and dreams of my early 20s had changed and I spent more time at the pub on Friday nights. I had my first panic attack in 1999 on a rainy afternoon when I was alone in the house; a tight gripping feeling in my chest and inexplicable anxiety. I was prescribed beta blockers but still spent a lethargic week in bed mostly sleeping.
After my marriage broke down I decided to leave Australia and travel. It was a crazed roundthe-world trip often with daring adventures fuelled in alcoholic glory; climbing the fire escape stairs on New Year’s Eve in New York, wandering fearlessly through Berlin’s seedy suburbs at 3am and, reflecting on it, shocking myself even now. An inebriated night in Brooklyn took me to a bar that my friends refused to attend; the music was great and I was the only white face to be seen. After a few more drinks I fancied the African-American girl sitting with her friends and I was lucky to have the escape clause of being an Australian. Sometimes these anecdotes are fun to recollect, but there was a dark cloud over everything; alcohol was a cover.
Returning to Australia, I was greeted with misery — a total loneliness and emptiness. I started the studies that would take so long to complete. They were the only thing I managed to do well in the first decade of the new century. The rest of my life was spent in a daze, and I wonder now if I was in fact crazy for a while.
Another failed relationship found me again aimless. It was yet another sad tale, perhaps one of the worst in a long series of hopeless days.
I started talking to a girl from Lima, Peru, in ‘‘Spanglish’’. In a spontaneous moment I bought a ticket to Lima, telling my family that I would bus my way through South America and be back in six weeks if things did not turn out.
A year later we are married and our baby boy arrived last month. I am working with a major airline and have rapidly adapted to a new culture. We have a nice apartment and have travelled through much of this amazing land. Yet most importantly I have found what I never had, or thought I never had: love, the value of family despite language barriers, the value of religion although I remain partially sceptical, self-respect and dignity.
This has been the miracle of my life, a life saved despite the best efforts of doctors, a life with meaning and purpose. One day we will leave South America but I will never forget the legacy that I owe this country, its people, the love and friendships that I have here.
Slowly the nightmares are fading, I feel good again after 20 years of not knowing which road to take. I recommend taking the one less travelled. It saved my life and has given those I love and who love me happiness. In return for this I am the richest man in the world.
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