Something the glossy magazines don’t tell you about living abroad: Some days are quit days. Any number of obstacles have presented themselves and you feel like you just don’t have the energy to take them on; this whole living abroad thing is too hard. You want to quit.
When All the Little Things Pile Up
Last week I experienced a series of unfortunate events. (See what I did there?) I had been ignoring signs from my laptop that something was wrong with the cooling fan—the laptop was getting rather warm—and Wednesday the fan stopped working altogether. (It might have been a day or two earlier than that and I was oblivious.) I checked online. It was not an unusual thing and a can of compressed air would probably set it right. But Wednesday was a national holiday, the little grocery stores in my village do not carry compressed air (no surprise there), the buses, whose schedule seemed squirrelly at best were not running, and I decided I would just cool my jets and take care of it the next day. I can be patient. (Stop laughing.)
On Wednesday night, my Internet went out. I checked the breakers (the usual culprit) but my lights were on and the breakers were fine. I’d have to call the cable company. This is a frustrating thing in the US. Now imagine that voice mail tree in Portuguese. I decided it was wiser to go to their office at the mall and talk to them in person (they are fluent in English and very helpful).
So, no Internet for the night, no problem. I decided to try the regular cable channels but then I remembered why I hadn’t used the TV for months. The little message came up: Sem Sinal. No signal. For some reason the cable “box” (technical term) had not been talking to my TV which is why I stopped using it in the first place. Not a problem. I looked at my small collection of DVDs, pulled out a couple of choices and hit the button to open the DVD player. It would not open. I turned it off and on, hit the button again. Nada.
No Internet. No cable channels. No DVD. Time to go old school. I grabbed a print book. That worked.
Oh yeah, did I mention the mouse? I had had a mouse in the house when I got back from Greece. It took me a week to get rid of it which involved supplies and plans on the scale of D Day and the execution skills of Lucy Ricardo. But eventually it left. Or it was dead. At any rate, it was gone.
Until Wednesday night when I heard something definitely mouse-ish in the back room. I quickly shut all the doors, trapping it in there. Then I grabbed the broom, went in and opened the slider to my little courtyard, encouraging it to leave, thank you very much. I do not like little running things. I do not like little running things in my house. I want to KILL. It had the night to vacate the premises but then the big guns were coming out.
Needless to day, I did not sleep well. I jumped at every little noise. Which probably affected my mindset the next day.
The Quit Day
Thursday morning I took the router for the Internet and my laptop and went hunting first for the computer repair store. I read the map wrong. (Really? I passed navigation for my mini Coast Guard Master’s License. What the hell?) Put in about 5,000 more steps than were necessary and finally found the shop. (About a five minute downhill walk from where I started. Oh well. I need the exercise.) They take my laptop in and promised to call me with the prognosis.
I then walk down towards the center of town to the taxi stand. (Five minutes uphill would have brought me to the train station taxi stand but nooooo. I walk into town.) Did I mention it is hot? So I am very attractively dripping with sweat when I get to the taxi stand. My driver jumps up and we set off for the mall. I open the window, letting the rushing air hit my face. I understand the happiness of dogs.
At the MEO store in the mall, I pull the router out of my Trader Joe bag and the eyes of the three clerks show a bit of panic. I can tell they don’t do the fixing. They ask me when a good time is for the technician to come. At least, that’s what I understand them to say. Apparently, a technician calls, runs some diagnostics, and if it can’t be fixed over the phone, they send someone out.
I grab the free bus that goes to various points around town back to the bus station, where I can renew my bus pass for the month. But the office is closed until three and the bus I need to take leaves at 2:40. The next bus would get me home too late to meet up with the technician.
So I go home. I look at the closed door to the back room and decide to deal with the mouse tomorrow. Because at this point, I can’t even.
I am hot, sweaty, smelly. I don’t want to shower in case the technician shows up early and I don’t hear him. I cannot contact anyone in the States without Internet. Well, I can kind of: I can use Gmail and Facebook with my Portuguese phone data plan. I don’t do very well on my phone but I check Gmail just for the reassurance that yes, I can reach someone if need be. It helps.
But I feel alone and icky, strangely untethered, and if that mouse had made a sound I probably would have just started crying because some days, all the little things are just too fucking much and everything is harder than it should be and I really miss my little convertible and the ease of just jumping in it to get shit done.
But guess what? Some days back “home” were quit days, too. I will tell you I cried longer and harder when the transmission went on my car than I did over most breakups with boyfriends. There were times when I was rehabbing houses that I worked until I literally bled (and then kept going) so I could get my next round of funds approved. I have had clients ghost me on the final phase of projects when everything is pretty much done except for sending the final payment. (There’s a reason why my agreement has certain clauses in it now.)
From time to time, life is just fucking hard. And all the things I experienced last week were just things. Nothing was unfixable. Nobody died.
I got a call from the cable company. Actually, I missed it and had to work my way back through the phone tree to get an English speaking rep. But I did it. The rep walked me through checking the connections and determined that we needed to send someone out. It was 4:30. Would between 6 and 8 be okay? Same day? Ah… YEAH!
I got a series of automated messages saying the tech was checking lines and I thought, Great, but I hope he doesn’t leave without stopping in because my Internet still isn’t working. Half an hour later, I get a call from the tech—he is at my door. He comes in, rewires EVERYTHING, changes out the converter to something one-fourth the size of what I had, and leaves me with the best picture the TV has ever had.
Now I have TV and Internet, but no laptop. And, no phone minutes on my Portuguese phone because I ran through them all trying to figure out the voice mail tree in Portuguese. So I was this many years old when I learned how to top off my phone minutes using my phone.
I shower. I find reruns of NCIS on one of the channels. I read the Portuguese subtitles, hoping to learn something.
Tomorrow is Another Day
The next day I take the bus into town, renew my bus pass in record time, and then hop the little town bus to the stop near the computer shop. It’s a five minute walk today. Downhill. My laptop needs many things that we have to order, but the tech there has put in a processor for me and I have a working laptop til the parts come in. (Just don’t run it too long without letting it cool off, he warns. I promise him I won’t.)
I go home with my laptop, which basically holds my life. At the bus stop, I run into a couple that I met on the little town bus yesterday. We chat like old friends and will likely meet up later this month at a ladies’ luncheon.
I get home and I feel good enough to brave checking on the mouse. It is dead. (Peanut butter and rat poison. Who says I can’t cook?)
As the tech showed me, the laptop start up takes forever. I exercise patience. Once online, I check all my social media notifications, make a few posts, check my emails, and make my Zoom meeting on time. In fact, my Zoom seems to operate slightly better than it has previously. I credit the newly rewired Internet. My laptop touchpad, which hasn’t worked properly in months, is now working like it should. I finish up a few quick online chores, and shut the laptop down, careful not to overstay my welcome. Later on I watch some TV.
Quit Days Happen
I have had other quit days in the time since I have moved here. Those days usually involve a lot of walking in the heat. Or waiting for buses that never come. (I showed the woman at the bus station the schedule I was using. She said, “No, no!” and handed me a new schedule.) There are new ways of doing things that you need to recognize, learn to navigate, and then get used to.
Sometimes it is a bit scary. I remember waiting at a train station one night, not sure that another train would show up. I grabbed the first train going in the right direction, paid extra for the short ride and got where I needed to go. There’s a lot of uncertainty and you have to get really good with not knowing shit. And have a lot of faith in yourself that you will figure that shit out.
Right now, all the little bumps in the road are handled as best as they can be at this point. This week my laptop will get a new cooling fan, battery, and hard drive installed. The computer tech will try to take care of it with as little downtime for me as possible. My life here will go back to normal. Eventually, more stuff will come up and I will have another quit day and I will remind myself that quit days happened when I lived in the States, too.
As my mom would say, “That’s just life.”