Travel as Metaphor

The blog of novelist Sue Swift.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Travel is a Metaphor: Somehow, Say Good-bye


I have always loved to travel. Any time, to any place. The world's my playground, and there isn't a corner of it I don't want to see.

Until now.

To explain:

My friend Kelli has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Our families have been friends for nearly fifty years. She was the older sister I never had, a woman I looked up to, admired, adored in the special way that young girls have for their impossibly golden, beautiful older sisters. She was about five years older than I, short and slender, with hazel-green eyes and long hair she wore tinted blonde.

Our families took vacations together. She was my older brother's first love. When I married, she signed my ketubah, my Jewish marriage contract, as my witness. That's how close we were.

A verbally fearless woman of decided opinions, she was brilliant, a veterinarian who'd gone on to advanced studies in marine mammals and opthalmology. She'd lived a charmed life: born to wealthy parents, she and her family had gone everywhere, and I mean, everywhere. For example, they were the only people I knew who'd toured Antarctica more than once.

Later, she'd married another vet, an Australian fellow who was equally interesting. They lived a life of accomplishment and apparent happiness. She and her husband owned three homes in two different states and, in fact, on two continents. They'd created a flourishing veterinary practice that boasted three offices in two states.

No doubt you have noticed that I am using the past tense referring to Kelli.

I visited Kelli and her husband about two years ago, driving with my golden retriever from my home in northern California to their veterinary practice in So Cal to have Kelli fix Blondie's eye. My dog had glaucoma, and our vet up here wanted to take out her eye. Kelli, contemptuous, suggested that she could save Blondie's eye, if not her sight.

So I loaded the dog into my Rav and drove eight hours down Highway Five to the OC. The trip was surprisingly easy. Though midsummer travelers also used H-5, I’d started at 4 a.m. and avoided a lot of traffic. I want to fling a laurel wreath toward CalTrans, the California state department of transportation. Though H-5 is designed to avoid towns, the state has built a string of rest stops along the road that are pleasant and well-maintained, usually with clean toilets and a patch of lawn to walk your dog.

The next day, Kelli performed a cryosurgery and saved Blondie’s eye. We left the dog to rest and went to Kelli’s home, where I exercised. Long drives leave my back in agony, and I never skip stretching while on trips. Kelli was interested, explaining she had long-standing back and hip issues. Treatment, including surgeries, hadn’t been successful.

After I went home, Kelli and I talked frequently, with Kell avoiding discussion of her back unless pressed.

And so we come to the present day. On the morning of September 17, my mother called. She was sobbing, on the verge of hysteria. “I don’t know how to tell you this…”

An icy boulder clogged my throat. My brother has cancer, but was doing well…what had happened? Then Mom said, “Kelli and Ray committed suicide.”

Details are sketchy, but a few facts have emerged. Ray told one of his secretaries that Kelli was experiencing abdominal pain. Her back and hips were so painful that she couldn’t walk on the beach. Everyone’s best guess is that they got bad, very bad news about her condition, perhaps that she had cancer that had metastasized to the extent that it was untreatable and incurable.

They rented a car and drove six hours out of Melbourne. Australia’s a big place, and six hours out of Melbourne, you’re in wilderness.

They drank. They took pills. They connected the exhaust system of their car to its interior and went to sleep. Forever.

And that’s why I don’t want to go to Australia. I couldn’t drive out of Melbourne without wondering if this highway, or that lane, was the place where Kelli chose to take her life.

Despite the speculations and the educated guesses, amidst the pain and numbness, Kelli’s family and friends are left with only one question:



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