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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Home

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.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Writer's Journal (exercise): The Watch

My grandfather wore a fob watch. It was silver, it was big, it was round, and the case was carved with strange symbols. I supopose they weren’t strange; perhaps they had pattern or meaning, maybe they were even words. But when I was little, they looked like arcane curlicues, magickal and mysterious. He wore it in his pocket on a little chain. His waistcoat pocket, that is. He always wore a waistcoat under his jacket, and over his shirt. He would fish the watch out of his pocket by the chain, click open the case by the little snib thing at the bottom of the circle, and look at the face, which had large, black Roman numerals. He did this several times a day. It had a formality to it, this slow series of actions, a deliberateness. Time was obviously very important, and the knowing of the time.

How I loved that watch! I coveted it. I hoped my Grandpa would leave it to me when he died. Not that I wanted him to die; he was my great companion who told me stories and went for walks with me, pointing out the shapes of the hills, the colours of flowers, the kinds of trees we passed. He was in a sense my playmate, only we didn't play games, we played with ideas and shared experiences of the world. That was when I was little, of course. When I got older, he wrote me letters on his typewriter; long letters about all sorts of things much too old for a little girl to understand, like politics and art — but I did understand and reply. He also gave me many of the books I grew up on, for birthdays and xmases: I read most of Dickens and Dumas as a child, and the Bronte sisters too, all presents from Grandpa,

He did die, when he was over 80, and he didn’t leave me his watch. I don't think he had any idea that I’d have wanted it, but in any case it would surely still have gone, as it did, to my Uncle Ian. He left me his typewriter, because everyone knew I was going to be a writer when I grew up — in fact that I already was one, even as a child. It was a big black Remington and I loved it. I still see it in my head without even trying; and I can still see his watch too, and him taking it out of his pocket to look at the time. I always wear a watch myself except in bed or under the shower. Not for me the New Age disdain for telling the time, the leaving off of watches.  I know that time and the telling of it is very important.

Like so many, I am writing my memoirs, or at least bits and peices that may become that if I persevere and do enough of them. This too is a way of telling the time, and telling about my times, and my Grandpa’s times, and my Grandpa himself. Strange, he wasn't my Grandpa — as my cousin who was his true granddaugher was keen to remind me — only my step-grandpa. I didn’t care, nor did he. To him, my Mum was his daughter and I was his grand-daughter anyway.

That cousin was a child of his only actual daughter, and she loved to claim that true inheritance. She must have felt insecure in some way, I realise now, but at the time I just thought she was being nasty. (Well, she was.) Late in life, she had a lovely studio portrait of Grandpa copied, and gave copies to her sister and brother but not to me or to my other cousins who were also his step-grandchildren. For years I begged her to give me a copy; she always swore she would but never did. She’s dead herself now and I could ask her widower, and he probably wouldn’t have a problem with giving me a copy at last. But after all, I don’t need it. I was the oldest grandchild, the one he took for walks and wrote to. He probably did that for all the rest too, but that's beside the point. The point is that I need nothing to remember him vividly. I don't even need a copy of that studio portrait. My parents got a copy at  the time, and I can see it just by thinking — a white-haired man, dark-skinned and smiling.

Interesting, that dark skin. I often wonder of he was Anglo-Indian too, like my Nana, even though they met in England. He went back to India with her after they married and that's where Aunty Franki, my cousins’ mother (my Mum's half-sister), was born.

‘My cousin’ I say, as if she was the only one. She was the sibling cousin.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Writer's Journal (exercise): The Emerald Ring

I remember the emerald that Mum used to wear, a big square cut emerald in a ring on her right hand. Her left hand was for the wedding and engagement rings. She was a woman of taste, my mother, and wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing rings on every finger as her daughter now does.

I loved that emerald ring! So did she. We used to look at it together, at the way it caught the light, at the way it was cut with a sort of double edge inside the gold setting. We were both upset when one of those edges got a chip. Even then, it was many years later that I realised my mother’s ring was glass, and that she must have been well aware of that all along. But she used to call it ‘my emerald’ and I knew that dad gave it to her. I now have a different interpretation of the way she smiled when she said  to her friends, ‘My emerald,’ flashing the ring. They would have known too, of course, and openly. It was a little joke between them as they agreed it was a beautiful ring. It was. I can still see it now, that deep green — and the size of it. A real emerald of that size would have been worth a great fortune.

My mother’s opal ring was real enough, but it was a doublet, two pieces of opal stuck together. It was deep blue and green. I liked fire opals best, still do, but Mum’s opal was very beautiful. She didn’t wear that often; it lived in a drawer. She always said she would leave it to me, but one day when my Aunty Kathleen was admiring it, Mum had a sudden fit of largesse and said, ‘Here, have it.’ Years later she said, You wil leave it to Rosemary, won’t you?’ Aunty Kathleen did, but by then it was not what it had been. No-one told her she shouldn’t put it in water. With a doublet, that changes the glue so that it shows through and ruins the look of the stone. I still have Mum’s opal ring, but I don’t wear the poor, pale, discoloured thing.

I wonder what happened to the emerald? Perhaps she threw it away after she and my dad divorced. She could have had real emeralds in her second marriage, but she went for diamonds instead. She left me her three-diamond ring which she was so pleased to have bought in Singa[ore for much less than she believed it was worth. It is an impressive ring, but when I wanted to raise some money recently I found that I couldn’t sell it. No-one is buying diamonds that size now. They are quite big, but not big enough.

All in all, I think the great big green glass ring was probably the best value, in terms of the pleasure it gave.

Writer's Journal: Easy Writer

Forgot it was Tuesday for tanka. Did it halfway through the arvo. Not a great tanka, though interesting enough, I think — but it was incredibly easy to write something that fitted the form.  Not sure if this is a good or bad thing.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A Dear Ghost

I looked at the date and saw it was his birthday, again. I smiled at my dear ghost and wrote him a little poem about remembering his eyes — his eyes which I always likened to the summer ocean. He was all sun, it seemed to me: light and warmth, shining. Yet in truth he had little warmth or light in his young life, my 24-year-old love who did not live to be 25, choosing to leave eight days earlier.

That was in 1982. This year, 2010, was the first of all the years since then that I missed noticing the anniversary of his death. But my body remembered and gave me a cold. My psyche remembered and gave me a sudden loss of delight. From one moment to the next, the world was drained of all colour, all meaning. I should have remembered then.

After he died I got my ears pierced. Before, I had always thought of that as self-mutilation; afterwards I wanted some visible, permanent sign that everything was irrevocably changed. This time, not consciously, not on purpose, I got my hair cut very short — too short. It will grow again, of course. As for the earrings, they long ago became personal adornment, not a symbol of grief.

On Friday I saw the psychologist. I told her about my present love, my 81-year-old love, coming close to death in the last two months and slowly recovering. I relived my distress and fear. It seemed more than enough to account for my symptoms. I cried in her office for most of the hour and walked out with a new lightness.

Then I was able to recall the recent anniversary: the death that did happen, after which nothing was ever the same again. I was able to see that these two occasions of pain, these two far-apart winters, had become emotionally entwined.

He came to me several times after he died. At first he contacted a psychic friend who would get in touch and tell me the messages; then I began using this friend as a medium, asking questions over a cuppa and receiving what answers there were. Finally I could see and hear him myself, without needing a third party. I was not reconciled to what had happened, but I understood it better. I still took many months to move through the stages of grief, even though I set out to experience them fully. I thought that plunging right in would get me out the other side quicker, and I’m still certain I was right. But it wasn't very quick.

I went for long walks alone, talking to him in my head. My psychic friend told me that our grief keeps the souls of the dead from moving on immediately. ‘Too bad,’ I told my dead love, talking to him in my head as I walked. ‘You chose to go; you owe me my grief.’ I walked through one of the longest, hottest summers on record. I barely noticed the heat.

One day, next autumn, the world regained its radiance. I saw life shining in grass and leaf; the sun and sky had colour. Not that I didn’t still mourn, but I could be in life again; I was back.

For many years it was as others too have described their own situations: not a day went by that I didn’t think of him. Even now, it still happens often. The emotion accompanying the thoughts gradually changed. It’s always love, that doesn’t change; but now I can think of him with happiness. My husband’s recent danger brought back the old pain; I know too well already what it’s like to lose the most important person in my life. Perhaps it’s good that I’ve had a little preview. Last time the death was a shock as well as a sorrow. I sat down with a cup of coffee one Saturday afternoon and opened a newspaper, and there was the headline. (No-one knew that I was someone who might need to have it broken to me ... but there, how do you break such news anyway?) Next time — if I don‘t go first — well, I have been prepared.

Meanwhile, about to go to bed just after midnight last night, I noticed today’s date: his birthday. I’ve come out the other side of grief yet again. I smiled at my dear ghost and wrote him a loving poem, a birthday gift. Did my thoughts call him to me this time too, or was it simply a memory? No matter. Love never dies.