I don’t know where to begin this story. I could begin in media res, with a familiar yet disturbingly alien landscape trundling past a window. I could begin with the provocatively dramatic image of a nun aiming a revolver at a sheriff. I could begin before the beginning, with a little girl arriving in a strange, new place, being comforted with the promise of a kitten. Or with me being told that my beloved childhood pet must now be killed to protect my parents’ carpets.
I won’t begin with my boyfriend finding a lump on my breast.
This is a lot, so I’ll begin with what happened on Sunday, 1st May, 2016. My parents were visiting my boyfriend and I in Hamilton. It was a lovely day, so we all went for a walk around Hamilton Lake. Tim and I were very excited about a larp we’d be attending the next weekend, a western played over eight hours. We were each in the process of putting together a costume: he a sheriff; me a nun. (Explaining to non-larpers why we needed a cowboy hat and a wimple proved rather amusing.)
During the walk, I asked my mum, just casually, how the cats were. Her refusal to answer was enough. Fighting back tears, I demanded to know. Crookshanks, the kitten I’d got soon after immigrating to New Zealand nearly fifteen years previously, had started pissing on the carpet. You know it’s the end when cats start doing that. So I hastily packed a bag and returned to my parents’ house to say goodbye.
My parents live in Tauranga, but that’s not where we lived when we first arrived in New Zealand. Back then, we lived in a town called Waiuku. Coincidentally, Waiuku was where the larp would be taking place. (Well, at a place just up the peninsula from Waiuku, somewhere my family always went for picnics: Awhitu.) I hadn’t been back to Waiuku in ten years.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Tim couldn’t come with me to parents’ house, as he had to work and was in the process of fixing a beat-up, old car he’d just purchased. We needed the car to get to the larp. So I had to face saying goodbye to Crookshanks without him. It was quite an upsetting few days. I returned to Hamilton the night before the larp. That was when Tim found the lump.
You know what it’s like. Googling the symptoms. Most breast lumps aren’t deadly. That doesn’t stop me shaking and crying. I’m so scared. Tim’s mum died of cancer last year.
I’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning.
So the night before the larp I barely slept. I was too anxious. I’m the sort of person who gets anxious very easily. I have, in the past, literally cried over spilt milk.
Not just cried. Had a full-on panic attack.
I wrote quite a therapeutic article about my experiences with anxiety and depression a while ago, and a piece about how it relates to the existential crisis of the immigrant child, so I won’t go on about it here. But if that’s what I’m like with things that I have no real reason to get anxious over, imagine what I’m like now.
Which is why the timing of the larp couldn’t have been better.
The thing about larping is you’re spending a few hours pretending to be someone else. You get all caught up in their story and immersed in the drama going on around you. There really is no better way of distracting yourself from anxiety.
So the larp. It’s called The Train Will Whistle One Last Time. It begins with all the characters – cowboys, Mexicans, Indians and various other western types – boarding a train to a town called Perdition. For some, it’s returning to a place they’d rather not go back to.
In real life, I was returning to Waiuku – a place I never thought I’d go back to. It was nice enough when my family first moved there, but by the end I was fairly glad to escape. I was bullied rather badly there. I had some great friends too, but it was a small town in which one could easily feel trapped. It’s one of those towns outsiders make fun of.
As Tim and I approached the town in the newly-repaired car, the sight of the fields and trees trundling past the window made me feel odd. I kind of remembered them. I had this uncomfortable feeling that we shouldn’t be driving this way. No good would come of it.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Waiuku… has changed.
It’s gotten a lot prettier in the last ten years. Seriously. It looks like it might actually be worth visiting now. (And if you do, you can camp overnight in the library car park for free with a self-contained campervan rental.)
One of the oldest pubs in New Zealand, The Kentish Hotel, was a dingy, seedy-seeming establishment with sticky carpets and no real character when we lived there. Now it’s dead nice. This is the ceiling in the dining room.
History is apparently Waiuku’s main focus now. It has some old (for New Zealand) buildings, including a colonial jail and schoolroom. They’re down by the water, where there’s a new walkway. Of course, the buildings were there when I was, but there weren’t quite so many signs proudly proclaiming Waiuku to be this wonderful, historical town.
The depressing, gravel-and-broken-glass-strewn car park where I once tripped and split my lip now has plant life and a boardwalk around it. Small improvements like that make a lot of difference to a place.
But I was happy to find the weather stone unchanged.
So it turned out that returning to Waiuku was not at all like returning to Perdition. I won’t go into details about the larp to avoid spoilers, but I will say that it was possibly the best larp I’ve ever played. And I got to point a revolver at Tim! I didn’t end up “killing” anyone in the game, but at one point one of the other players ran back to the train shouting, “The mad Mexican’s shot the sheriff and the deputy!”
All in all, a great weekend.
Except I just thought about the lump again.
UPDATE: It’s just a cyst! A stupid, harmless cyst. I don’t even have to do anything about it!
Thank you to all the people who messaged me/commented with kind thoughts. Hearing about all the women (and men) who’d been through the same thing was greatly comforting, especially hearing that the vast majority of those lumps and bumps were benign!