25 March 2016

I'm Joe From Wellington!

By Joe Wareham

It was around Christmas 2015 when my sister, who lives in the States, sent me the link to Lissa’s blog. My first reaction was embarrassment. I'm a fairly private person, have always avoided social media like Facebook. Even with my friends I'd often deflect when they ask how I'm doing and what I've been doing— send the question right back to them to change the subject.

Hearing someone I hadn't seen for 18 years had been maintaining a blog for two years talking about me, sharing pictures of me- was quite a shock. I wasn't angry with Lissa; even though I hadn't seen her for a long time I knew she was a good person with no ill intent. Of course I thought about writing her right then but after reading some of her blog: the car chases through the city and the taps on stranger’s shoulders, the more sentimental side of me hoped we'd just bump into each other one day soon. I live on Oriental Parade opposite the city’s most popular beach. Everyone ends up outside my house at some point in a Wellington summer.

Oriental Bay, where Joe lives
photo courtesy newzealand.com

Six weeks later on a February Wednesday night, a good friend of mine texted me (and all my other friends) telling us about the article on Stuff, the online version of the newspaper. Again, I wasn't upset, just a little embarrassed and unsure what to do. The next morning, seeing my picture on the front page of the paper with the headline: "Do you know Joe?" well, I just couldn't stop laughing. And I was still pretty embarrassed.  When my parents saw the paper, they noted the "don't ask" look on my face and just laughed and stayed quiet, knowing I didn't want to talk about it.

It was obvious any sentimental notions I had of bumping into Lissa on the beach would have to be laid to rest and that I was actually going to have to do something.  So I finally wrote her, told her I wanted to meet. And honestly, after we agreed to that, even knowing the reporter from the paper and a photographer would be there, I wasn't nervous at all.

I chose to meet on top of Mount Victoria. To me, Lissa’s blog is about this wonderful city, her journey to the bottom of the world and her adventure here. Nowhere else gives you a better view of this city then the summit of Mt Vic. I've spent around 30 of my 39 years living on its Western slopes. From the summit you look south and see the hospital where I was born, look north and see the elementary school where I spent most of the 1980s. Look west and you see almost every house I've lived in. And look east and see the airport that brings people here and takes them away.

On Friday morning, 5th of February, I drove to the top of Mt Vic to meet Lissa and her husband, Aaron. I was only a little nervous until I arrived, started walking up the steps to the summit and saw the Dominion Post photographer at the top snapping away at me already. Oh god, what have I got myself in to? But it was too late to turn back and I didn't want to let Lissa down so I put my head down and soldiered on.

February 2016 atop Mt Vic
photo Aaron Carlino

As soon as I saw Lissa my nerves melted away. I gave her a hug and knew I'd done the right thing. I only feel bad that it took me so long to hear about the blog, and then another couple of months to do anything about it. What Lissa and Aaron have done- moving to this little city at the bottom of the world- must be very daunting and at times rather lonely. I wish I'd bumped into Lissa back at the start, been available to help her and Aaron settle in while they make a life here.

Reconnecting with Lissa and getting to meet Aaron and their son has been wonderful.  Seeing her again after all these years brought back a lot of memories of that time in San Francisco and Minnesota all those years ago. To be honest, it's been a long time since I made any new friends or reconnected with any old ones. I have my small group, people I've been close with for 20 years but don't really make much effort to meet new people.

Aaron & Lissa Carlino with Joe Wareham
Oriental Bay, NZ February 2016

This whole experience has taught me two things: I realize now I've been far too private a person. Ending up on Stuff and seeing my picture on the front page of the paper made me realize I hold back too much, aren't open enough with people. Reconnecting with Lissa and making a new friend in Aaron, it's just been lovely. I only hope they'll stay here and we can all become even closer. I know other old friends from my high school and college years would like to reconnect with me like that but it's something I've always avoided. I realize now how wrong that was of me.

Who knows I might even make a Facebook account.... one day.

1 March 2016

Finding Friendship

On Saturday we had a glimpse of what life was sometimes like back home. Surrounded by people with whom we can joke, share stories, eat excellent food, and overall find comfort. We attended a barbecue hosted by Joe Wellington that was great! Friendship is hard to find and we've been fortunate down here.

These may be some of the nicest people I've ever met. Of course, I wouldn't expect Kiwi's to be any other way. Most of the group were friends Joe's had since high school. He's incredibly lucky to have such lovely people in his life.

Joe with his best mates

A 2016 remake of our 1998 San Fran pic

Hanging out with this group reminded me of my husband's friends back home that he's had just as long, if not longer. We all try to stay in touch on Facebook, but my husband and his mates have their own online group site they are always chatting on. It also made me reflect on the bond I have with my best friends back home, Dan and Nancy. We keep in touch. It's easy and works both ways- I call, they call. Naturally, after having such a lovely time and feeling nostalgic, I was met with a severe bout of homesickness the next day. I cried. A lot.

Lifelong friends back home, 2008

I think it's easy for people across the globe to think we're living down here having some big adventure- snapping pics of gorgeous landscape and embracing a new culture. In chatting with my aunt this week, she reminded me of this perspective. It's true; we are having a big adventure. And it's been wonderful. Like I've said many times, we've met marvellous people who I can't imagine not having in our lives. It's also the only life our son knows.

But what we don't talk about much is the endless amount of homesickness that sits in our hearts on a daily basis. My husband compares it to a bungee cord that keeps yanking us back to reality that we're doing this alone and we miss our loved ones immensely. Everything takes work and feels that much harder. And it takes real effort for both parties to maintain the relationship from afar.

My best friend Dan and I have maintained our bond for twenty years because we communicate. Combined, we've lived in eight different locations (maybe more) in our lives only living in the same state for about a year of our friendship. Crazy! Yet, we stay in touch. He's not on Facebook and we don't text. It's via email or phone calls that we correspond. We've always tried to line up our trips back home so they match in order to get together, and he didn't hesitate to be Man of Honour at my wedding in 2008. When it was time to move house, he and my dad road tripped halfway across the country in order to help. That's what true friendship is about.

My Man of Honour, Dan at my wedding 2008
photo by JP Candelier

Of course Dan and I have run into uncomfortable comments through the years about men and women not being able to be friends (trust me, I heard a lot of that with this Joe Wellington thing, too) but come on. That's complete rubbish and invalidates that I have a say in who I have sex with, if you think about it. Growing up with two older brothers, I guess I always had an easier time getting along with guys. And, not that it's anyone's business BUT my husband is more than my best friend. He's my soul mate; my life-partner. So, let's not worry about that sexist, opposite-sexes-can't-be-friends stereotype any more (also: it's 2016).

My girl, Nancy and I always have the other's back. The past twenty years, we've challenged each other and then we challenge you! Ha ha, and don't ever mess with us if we're belting out a Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand duet... we can't be silenced (did I just admit that publicly?).

With my best girl, Nancy, night before my wedding

But back to my point of this post.

Lifelong friendships are a gift. They're rare. Sometimes you outgrow the friendship, but even then, it's still a part of you. Maybe those friendships lost end up coming back to you. Reconnecting with Joe again has been awesome. He's as I remember him to be and I'm so grateful to pick up where we left off.  I don't want to speak for him, so I'll let you wait to read his post. It's been a crazy month!

There are people in this life who get you. There are people who will lift you up, always be in your corner, allow you to be flawed without judgment, and people who will cheer you on. It's a gift to find such people. Bring them in, embrace that connection and don't forget how important it is. It's difficult at times. Most relationships are work. But if you can communicate (talk and listen- a lot of people forget the listening part), you'll open yourself up to a loving life. Friendship is love.

And I believe in love. In all forms.

Thank you to Joe, his family, and friends for allowing my family to share in your celebration. It was nice to feel 'at home'.

P.S. These are my views on friendship only. The above men in the photos do not endorse the love message. Although they're lovely people and probably are okay with it, they're just dudes. Nothing more.