We are having a second day of taking it easy, flopping around in our nightwear with warm woollies on top. Yesterday we spent most of the day in bed. Our bedroom in this new home has become a sanctuary — even though it’s never completely uncluttered, because we avid readers and compulsive writers keep piling up books and notebooks on the bedside tables. It’s a small enough room to be cosy and big enough not to feel cramped. We look out through one wall of glass on to our private, enclosed little courtyard garden. Though it has been low priority so far and the weeds flourish, the potted geraniums are bursting out of their pots and blooming in bright pink, the big plant in the corner —whose name I’ve never learned in years of caring for it — has glossy new leaves, and the vines are thickening on the fence.
Today we have finally got out of bed, late morning, and sit at our respective computers in our respective offices. This whole house is our sanctuary. Like the bedroom, it is both spacious enough and compact enough, and the offices are not so far apart that we feel disconnected from each other. We get up and wander about between typing, get a cuppa, fetch a book, talk to each other in passing. The cats come and find comfortable spots near us. Usually Levi keeps Andrew company and Freya clings to me, but this varies. Sometimes they wander off to the places they like best of all: Freya on the bed, Levi beside the heater.
We’ve had heavy colds for days. I’m paranoid now about the slightest infection, after Andrew nearly dying of influenza a few weeks ago — but we’ve now had the flu injections for the first time ever, and we’re taking echinacea and zinc. The doctor couldn’t suggest anything else helpful. Giving in to it seems to be working. We try to remember to drink lots of water, we flake out and snooze as inclination takes us — we get tired often — and we avoid anything too energetic. Bare minimum housework, and nothing but pleasurable tasks on computer. The huge, loud, repeated sneezes that shook our whole bodies have pretty much stopped. The aches and pains are less acute.
I realise my body is trying to process and clear some stuff. ‘What are you two unpacking from other homes?’ asks a Reiki Master friend, and mentions a couple of places with unhappy memories for us. She’s right on the button as usual. I have indeed been doing the last of the unpacking and thoughts of those other homes have been arising, and even earlier homes in my earlier lives (as child, as young mother ...). As for Andrew, he has been sorting out his files and boxes of papers at last, and looking through photos; and I realise he has been mentioning his own past homes too. It is as if, now we’re settled in a place that we love and know is permanent, we can allow ourselves to relax enough to release old angst.
I think back on the homes we’ve shared, particularly the ones that weren’t so great. I see how brave and optimistic we were, knowing the drawbacks but — having to be there for a time — actively seeking and even creating positive aspects. We explored our neighbourhoods, found places to go for walks, set up our books and ornaments and our writing spaces ... and sadly, at the worst places, had to leave a lot of stuff in storage. That wasn’t what made them so bad, but it became part of the general dissatisfaction. Without going into ancient recriminations, I could sum it up as difficulties with places that were unsuitable in themselves but all we could find at the time, exacerbated by further difficulties in sharing those spaces with other people — a residential landlady in one instance, fellow tenants in another. As most of our homes have been delightful, we haven’t dwelt on the few bad memories; it seems it’s time to deal with them now.
I seldom remember my dreams these days, but the last couple of nights I’ve had dreams around the theme of home. I remember little of the first, but in last night’s dream I was returning to a large hostel where I have lived in recurring dreams. (In this dream, I didn’t live there all the time; it was a place where I rented a permanent room for times when I might want to stay overnight in town.) It was a while since I’d been there, and there had been extensive remodelling in my absence. I walked along what at first seemed the familiar corridor to my room, looking for the number — but a laundry had been installed halfway along, and girls in undies and hair curlers were dashing in and out to wash and iron their clothes, laughing and chatting to each other on the way. I became confused, and when I got to where I thought my room should be, there was a wrong number on the door.
I decided to leave, and went downstairs to the foyer and then outside. The hostel was on top of a cliff. There was a steep, sandy path leading down to a street below. I stood at the top of it, about to go down, when something made me turn my head to the left to look out over the sea. I gasped at the beauty of the view: hills, ocean, islands, horizon, sky; at once sunny and slightly misty. Some other women came up behind me to go down the path. I stood aside to let one go ahead of me. Two others waited politely for me, but I told them to go on because I wanted to look at the view. They turned to look too. ‘It is lovely, isn’t it?’ one said, before they went on. ‘Isn’t it ever!’ I replied.
I don’t remember walking over to the edge of the cliff top, but next thing I was falling. I was falling very slowly, upright, and although it was a deep drop and I was probably about to die or be seriously injured, I was quite calm. I had some notion of making the most of what might be my last minutes. I kept moving my legs back and forth, with the idea that I might be able to catch the side of the cliff with my heels and find a footing. Another fast forward and I had come to rest at the bottom, sitting in a sandy hollow in the cliff wall, with my feet on one of those tubes that people put under their backs when exercising.
I looked again and realised it was actually a tube-shaped bag with a zip. I opened it and saw jumpers belonging to my [former] husband Bill and our schoolboy sons. [One of the jumpers does exist in real life, but Andrew and I got it in Peru long after Bill was dead and the boys grown up.] I saw that this bag was one of a number of items stowed under a low hedge at my feet. The beach disappeared and I was at home in the back yard. In the dream I knew it as the first home Bill and I and the kids had; now I realise it was actually much more like the home I lived in when I myself was a child.
How should I interpret this? There are suggestions there of several real-life homes besides the ones I mention, but no exact matches. It’s interesting, though, to recollect that I have a sort of parallel life, or more than one, in various series of recurring dreams. I become aware of this whenever I have another of those dreams; it always evokes the recall of others in the sequence. Then I forget again until next time. This time it aroused the waking memory of another series too, where I visit a particular shopping area tucked away behind main streets in a Melbourne suburb. I have a notion it‘s Prahran, but it might be Cheltenham. These dreams also contain a huge, sweeping, curving road I must drive on between this little shopping area and home, and there’s a fork that I have to be careful of because it’s confusing and a bad choice could take me miles in the wrong direction. I’m not altogether sure this is a dream, but it can’t logically be an accurate memory either; there were no such roads approaching Prahran or Cheltenham when I used to drive to either place. It’s more like one of the roads I could take home from Melbourne when I lived at Three Bridges in the Upper Yarra Valley. Maybe it’s a combination of two different recollections, or a dream series that has mixed them up.
[As an aside — I look back in wonder at all the driving I’ve done over the years, in what a variety of places and conditions. It’s amazing because I’ve been so shit-scared of driving most of my life, yet I did so much of it so successfully. Even today I don’t exactly take it for granted, but now that I’m the main driver in the family, I’ve become much more at ease with it. I see (again) that my past self was brave; also that my present self is competent.]
This home we love so much won’t quite accommodate all our remaining possessions; that’s becoming obvious. We’re having to make hard decisions now about things to discard or give away. Perhaps that’s what has led to this mental stocktaking of places I’ve lived, and griefs and trials associated with them, as well as fonder memories and things I find myself proud of. Or perhaps it is the knowledge that we won’t have to move again, and the very pleasure we take in this place, which occasion the looking back and putting into perspective all the ups and downs of the journey that brought us here.
Since I began writing this, our handyman mate Phil has come and put up a blind over the little bedroom window that looks out onto the street. The street is at the bottom of the sloping lawn, beyond our big back gate; even so we felt a bit exposed, and now we’re secure. He hung some canvas panels in the garage, which is taking shape as library / consulting room / temple: paintings of Indonesian dancers, which Bill and I picked up in Bali 47 years ago. I found them rolled up in a plastic bag the other day, in the course of unpacking the last boxes. It’s been years since I had a place to hang them and I’m glad to be able to look at them again.
They and other artefacts from Bali are mementoes not only of travels shared with Bill and our boys, but also of the house we lived in longest, where we first displayed them; the house where the kids grew from kindergarteners to university students.
‘You’ll have to get rid of that,’ said someone decades ago, of my precious coffee table. (I was moving house then, too.) I don’t know why she thought so, and I have it still. It’s big. It has a timber frame with no metal nails, just wooden bolts, and the top is ceramic tiles in burnt orange and darkest brown. (‘Of course she picks the most expensive one in the shop,’ said Bill when we bought it in 1972. And it was, but that wasn’t why I picked it; I just took one look and fell in love.)
The aforementioned residential landlady piled a heap of stored furniture on top of it in her shed when we lived with her — chairs and other tables, boxes full of crockery — even though she knew it was one of my treasures. ‘I thought it was solid,’ she said. It survived, but has been a bit wonky ever since. I don’t let anyone sit on it any more, though it invites sitting. Years before that, my very large dog took a chunk out of the corner one night when he was looking for something to chomp on. I was upset at the time, but it’s hard to notice the missing bit now, and when I do, I smile and think of my beautiful dog. That table has been with me in ten previous homes, and here it still is.
One of the first things we did here was put up pictures. Both our fathers were artists. My favourite painting by my Dad is above my desk. It is of Mt Roland in Tasmania, his and my favourite mountain while I was growing up, and for many years thereafter. (Mt Warning, near my present home, is my favourite now.) Andrew has his father’s etchings in his office and a photo of his father, himself and his brother sitting astride a cannon in a local park where he grew up. He’s at the front, being the littlest. He’s six, and he’s laughing with joy.
When we sit in our armchairs and watch TV in our well-heated house on these cold nights, I think back to evenings by the radio in Launceston when I was a girl, the whole family gathered around the fire. This is safe and warm like that.
Yes, we’ve arrived home: a home that partakes of all the homes before.