The Albatross Who Couldn't Have It All

Gibson's Wandering Albatross Diomedea Gibsoni off Kaikoura South Island New Zealand
Gibson's Wandering Albatross Diomedea Gibsoni off Kaikoura South Island New Zealand


Sometimes I need to remind myself why I live in an African Outpost -- so far flung I can't buy a cappuccino or broccoli or decent shampoo.

Because I'm married.

And I'm thoroughly married. My status underlined by my geography. No escape. He is my bread and butter, my only adult company; provider of grownup conversation. My sanity. Sometimes. (Though there are occasions when he tests it, sorely). I live in a place that distils my marriage; no small shots to dilute the mighty Marital status (I tick that box with bold black pen) measures I must imbibe.

God knows, I don't want to live here.

But I do want to stay married.

Which is why I Do -- do you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband: I Do. Live here.

I bore out a mental tussle that raged for weeks and then I succumbed to what I thought was the Right Thing To Do. (I do, I do: how many times must I say it?)

And because I was a bit afraid that if I did not come, if I did not live with him, I might grow too used to living without him. As indeed he might grow too used to living without me. (I also feared he might meet somebody else and fall in love all over again in that stereotypical way men of a certain age are supposed to. And then I got here and realized -- given the dearth of female company I can pick from for a laugh over a shared bottle of Chablis -- that that was probably an empty threat. Too late, though, I was already ensconced: Mrs R firmly in residence).

Some people are good at staying married whilst remaining apart.

I'm not. Possibly because I'm not very brave. Possibly because I'm a mite old fashioned (Until Death Do Us Part? I Do, I Do). Possibly because like a swan -- or an albatross (aren't they extinct?) -- my mate's for life.

Mainly because I have been with this man since I was 22; I have grown too used to his being there. Here.

I consider that my life now -- the one I have opted for in lieu of proximity to my children, my friends, the job I had - must fly in the face of what our bra-burning sisters of yesterday fought for: emancipation from male dictate. Am I anathema to the liberation they battled for? I cook for him, I run a home for him because he's the kind of bloke who enjoys a home with kids and cats and fat Labradors slumped on floors, I entertain his colleagues and sometimes I bite my tongue when they ask me how I find life here (sometimes, not always: I'm married, remember, not mute). I try to remember to consider my reflection in the mirror; I try to remember that it is not just me that sees the face that scowls back (and so I drag on some lippie). I try to smile when he comes home. I open a beer for him (and one for me too) and I relate my day.

And I try -- I really, really try -- not to complain.

Having it all is the stuff of myths and legends and media-hype. Didn't your mother ever tell you? You can't have everything.

I couldn't. I couldn't have it all: all my darling babies close enough to tuck up every night, all my friends near enough to laugh with regularly, my husband in a job that paid all the bills.

So I had to choose.

I rationalized that my children were probably -- and certainly will be soon -- ready to untangle themselves from my long and knotty apron strings. I asked my Mum, 'What shall I do?' Mum, who lost my father when she was younger than I am now. "Go with him," she urged. Nobody ever asked her; Fate just snatched him away.

And I thought of both my grandmothers who followed their men to India and to Africa and I remembered the adventures they enjoyed (and doubtless the ones they endured), adventures they collated as stories which they told to the wide-eyed, awed audience they had in a small grand-daughter.

So I realized I couldn't have it all. I could only have a bit of it. And I weighed it all up in my head and on the pages of my diary, frantic sideways scratching, testimony to my ragged thoughts and sleepless nights. And I found places for the big kids in boarding school and I ignored the perplexed expressions of some of my friends.

And I told my husband, "I'll join you."

And so now, now on days when my home morphs from Outpost to Bloodyeffinoutpost, I remind myself that my big kids calls me less often than they used to, (and that's a good thing I tell myself in trying-to-be-sensibly-brave tones), that I can collect adventures of inland seas and long drives. That two years ago I couldn't pay my bills. That I am a̶n̶ ̶a̶l̶b̶a̶t̶r̶o̶s̶s̶ a swan.

And mostly that my mum was right: that usually you can't have everything, not all at the same time.

And so I lipstick on a smile. And I tell myself, "Just Give it Your All Girl. For now just try to Give it Your All."