By Christmastime there was a disturbing lack of certainty in our lives and with our project. We still had not settled on a home to rent together, after several months of searching. We owned a piece of rural property that we didn’t know what to do with. I felt edgy, fractious. My patience was wearing thin and I could only assume that it was the same for the others.
I loved them most of the time, but there were moments when our project was beginning to feel like a bad idea. To add to the disquiet, my mother was down for a visit and our daughter Jenn was planning a one-way trip to Canada. My brain was in overload trying to deal with it all.
However, the Shedders had a tradition of spending Christmas together – and it was Christmastime. Eve was unwavering in that intention, so the six of us discussed the issue and decided we would spend the holidays on Mitchells Island.
We realised it wasn’t going to work to install ourselves in our Shed, because we would be too cramped in that small, hot space for two weeks. And even if the six of us could have sandwiched in, my mother would definitely not. She was used to living alone in her home on coastal Vancouver Island and, while she was happy enough to be included in what the six of us were doing, I was careful to respect her privacy and her need to be alone.
And of course we all had offspring and friends who wanted to visit. Obviously we needed more accommodation than just The Shed, so we rented a three bedroom apartment at Manning Point above our favourite eatery, the Blue Water Café. The flat was a functional place with a big comfy lounge room and a decent kitchen. It was near the river, the ocean and the general store, as well as being a short drive from The Shed. We decided we would take turns living in The Shed, depending on what guests were around and what felt right at the time.
Rick and I spent Christmas Day in Sydney with Mum and our kids, then headed up to join the rest at Manning Point. I finally put on my beach gear and prepared to settle into a happy routine of swimming, walks, games and conversations.
Early in the piece, however, there was an incident.
One afternoon, after Mum had settled onto the patio to read her book, the Shedders sat down for a meeting to discuss what we wanted to do next with our property. It was an uncomfortable topic because we didn’t know – or, worse, we all knew we didn’t have an aligned view. I knew we needed to talk but I wasn’t confident we were going to get to a happy outcome.
With Mum out of the room, we slid off our good-behaviour pedestal. The meeting got off to a bad start. Judy was busy fossicking around for a magazine she wanted and she had to be called to the meeting. Eve made a scratchy comment about people who couldn’t be counted on to show up on time. That caused an explosion that ended up with both Eve and Judy in tears.
We all took a deep breath. Eve apologised and confessed to being tired and oversensitive; Judy apologised and said she’d had a dust-up with Michael that morning as they were walking on the beach, and was feeling fragile. There were hugs. Eve and Judy’s friendship was restored.
Eve wondered if Michael wanted to say anything, given he was named in the morning’s dust-up.
He most certainly did not; everything there was to say had been said between him and Judy earlier.
Yeah, right. My stomach clenched a little tighter.
Okay then. On to the meeting.
We began the discussion as we often did by each having a turn at speaking about where we stood on the issue at hand – in this case, what we wanted to do with our property.
I took the first turn, confessing I was beginning to feel impatient. Over a year ago we had committed to a three year time frame to get us into a communal home, and we were at the point where I could no longer see it happening. I was still keen to get started, to choose an architect or pick out a house design or at least make a decision about how we were going to put a roof over our future heads. I reiterated that I intended to leave work in two years and wanted the new house to be ready when that happened. Out of this meeting, I said, I’d like to get a fresh commitment and get started.
Everyone looked a little sober and there were no nodding heads. It did not bode well for my blunt opening.
Eve went next, saying she was firmly behind making our project happen. But she wasn’t sure about the timeframe. She had to manage the wind-down of her yoga business and she had a concern about her hips, both of which were arthritic and would require replacement in the not-too-distant future. She should be in Sydney when that happened. It was a lot to have to juggle, she said.
Daniel spoke about his business. It was going well and he was feeling confident he could find someone to buy out his share. He’d spoken with his partner and there was some thought about selling up the company. However, there wasn’t anyone who could take his place yet and the business had little value without him. Again, he didn’t have a clear timeframe in mind. These things take time, he reminded us.
Rick followed. He said that everybody knew how he felt about the place, how eager he was to get up here full time. But it had to be right for everybody, and he would wait as long as it took for that to happen.
I glared at him. That’s Rick all over, I thought: loyal and forgiving to a fault.
Judy spoke next. She said the holiday reinforced for her how much she enjoyed having the six of us together. But she was about to take a new job and she’d need to give her employer two or three years of her time as part of her commitment. Besides, there was still a lot of money to be made before she and Michael could retire. So she wanted the project to happen, but couldn’t commit to a timeframe.
I sat curled on the sofa, hugging my knees and feeling as if I were watching the dream go up in wispy curls of smoke. I wanted to climb onto the coffee table and shout, “BUT YOU SAID! A YEAR AGO WE ALL AGREED TO A DATE!!!” – However, I didn’t say anything. The atmosphere just got a little thicker.
Michael still hadn’t said a word. “Your turn, Mike,” someone said.
“Well, I don’t have anything to say,” he said edgily. “Nothing has changed. I like it up here as much as anyone else; I haven’t lost interest in the project. But I can’t see myself moving out of Sydney for a long time. My business is on the verge of taking off and as Judy is so quick to bring to my attention, we still need to make more money.”
“You’ve been pushing hard on getting your business to flourish for a long time, Michael,” Daniel said carefully. “Maybe there are other issues…”
Something in the comment cut Michael to the core. He got to his feet in a rage, towering over the rest of us.
“Well, I’m just not good enough for you lot, I’ve always felt the odd man out, I can never get anything right. There’s nothing I can say or do, my point of view isn’t respected, I might as well just leave. Do what you like, I’ll just go along with it.” He grabbed his beach hat.
I glanced out the window, noticing that Mum’s book was resting on her knee, with her ear cocked toward the screened door as the argument drifted out to her.
Heart hammering, I spoke loudly to be heard over the general kafuffle. “Michael, you can’t leave. You’re a partner, you’re my partner in this, and you can’t just walk out.”
The words must have reached him. He stopped, glowered at us and sat down.
“Give me a minute,” he said, and put his head into his hands.
We all sat still as mice.
“Okay,” he said after a moment. “I’m sorry I shouted and I’m sorry I threatened to leave. I can see that, as Judy said, I’m still feeling scarred from our quarrel this morning. I’m feeling like the rest of you don’t have any problems and don’t get how much I want my business to succeed.” He went on to speak about his passion for the work he was doing and his frustration at the challenge of bringing in new clients at the same time as designing and delivering the programs. We listened and nodded and heard him out.
In the atmosphere of honesty that Michael had created, I shared my own upset about the ever-moving timeframe. I said I could understand everyone’s dilemmas but just couldn’t find a way to cut through the challenge we were having getting our timing to match. I fought back tears as I described my frustration and my concern that it wasn’t going to work out. Eve summed up with a metaphor comparing us to a series of ocean liners randomly strung out across the ocean – ships that we were now trying to gather into formation.
A frank discussion followed, and in the end, we recommitted to three years. Three years from NOW. Eve could see having and recovering from hip surgery in that timeframe, as well as preparing her yoga studio for sale. Daniel could see his time in his business being tied up. Michael could see fulfilment in his ventures, and Judy in her work. Rick and I could see waiting the extra year. It all rang true. We could go ahead with our planning for our future together. And we would continue our search for a house in Sydney to rent for the next two years. There was a strong feeling of openness, trust and intimacy in the room.
I was slowly learning that no matter how tricky our differences seemed to be, we could and would always come through the eye of the needle. We each believed that anything could be resolved through communication. We understood that we had to say what was on our minds – and had to be willing to listen to what was on others’ minds. I was developing trust that if we were willing to ride the tiger, we might get to some unusual destinations – but we’d always arrive safely.
It was going to take all of our strengths to make it work. Eve was skillful at opening up communication; she would keep at something in her warm, loving way until the whole truth was ferreted out and relationships were back in shape. Judy was unafraid of strong emotion, and good at saying what she was experiencing and thinking. Michael was a role model for speaking his mind, warts and all, and then quickly getting back his equilibrium. Rick was good at bringing loyalty, humour and good will to any situation, as well as an analytical eye. Daniel could tease the knot out of any dilemma, identify the sticking points and see where the breakthrough might lie. I was good at bringing warmth and empathy when it was required, with a firm dose of dogged determination.
Not long after the meeting, as I stood poised in the water waiting for a wave to body-surf in, I thought to myself, we’re not bad at this. We might just pull it off.