Friday, July 10, 2015

Hard Call

A few years ago, on a visit back to New Orleans, I had a truly fantastic dinner with CS Harris, CharlesGramlich and Sphinx Ink. (And Candy's husband Steve, but he doesn't have a blog to link to) That night, Candy said something deeply alarming...

I knew she'd lived in Australia. I didn't know she'd been there for over fifteen years, or that she'd been heartbroken to return to the US.

I remember feeling a chill. I'd only lived in New Zealand twelve or thirteen years at that point. Suddenly, those years didn't seem long enough.

Why, I asked, would she ever leave a place she loved? Her answer:


What a relief. I was about as alone, and as lonely as a body could get. My parents were used to having me on the other side of the world. Family, that single, treacherous, weighted word, had no hold on me.

I was safe.

But things change. Things always change.

Now I have a daughter. And lost a father. Either would be a pretty major event, and I got both less than six months apart. No surprise that my perspective has shifted. My world is different now, and every time my girls smile at me, I'm reminded that my decisions don't just affect me anymore.

We're leaving New Zealand.

It's been a hard decision, but in the end it comes down to carrots and sticks.

On the one hand, we could raise our daughter here. I make a decent living, enough to support us all. But the cost of living is high-- high enough that we get by, and not much else. Since the earthquake destroyed our housing stock, rents have gone insane. Our house is warm and dry, and over $2000 a month. The average price to buy-- the average, now-- is $485,000, and banks don't want to talk to you without a 20% deposit. For me, like a lot of people here, home ownership is out of the question.
And I want a house. It never bothered me before-- most artist are so far below the poverty line that just paying the bills is a triumph-- but now that's just not enough. I want equity. Permanence. Something to pass on to Charlotte when I go. In the US, the average house is $136,000, and there are a lot more options for finance. Like, a lot. As dreams go, that one's in easy reach.

And then there's family. My wee girl already lost one grandparent. I want her to see as much as possible of the ones she has left. Moving, I can put her family in England and her family in Atlanta within a few hours of her. And afford to make those trips too.

I'm going to miss Christchurch. I really am.

But this city is broken. The city I loved, with its relaxed and easygoing people, its heritage buildings and Edwardian feel, its art galleries and opera house and vibrant public life, that city is gone. It died one afternoon in 2011. The place we live now is road cones and single lane traffic, the country's largest consumers of alcohol and antidepressants, fields of rubble and clattering jackhammers. Government types in ill-fitting suits are using my city as a testing ground for conservative social engineering. No matter how badly an idea has been repudiated in the past, they're determined to try it again.

The social engineering aside, our Mayor and City Council swear that all the other inconveniences are temporary. Just stick with us, they say, and this place will be even better than it was before!

In twenty or thirty years.

I love this place. These people. I'll never be able to fully leave-- especially because my daughter is a triple-citizen, and I want her to be a part of her New Zealand heritage. So I'll come back. To visit.

Meantime, I've got a life to build.