What Would You Do…

October 12, 2009 at 3:58 am (Uncategorized)

…with three months?  If it was all the time you had left?

It’s a question that’s bothered me – haunted me, to coin a cliche – since the news about my Uncle’s cancer came through a few weeks ago.

I used to think I’d take off; see all the things I so desperately want to see in the world.  Now, I think it would be different.  I’d have to pack up the house, for one thing.  Sort through all of my things, give away that which needs to be given away, throw out the remainder.  It’s something I couldn’t leave for my family to do, not when once I’d know for certain that it would need to be done.  I’d organise to put my house on the market; close all the open parts of my life so that when I went, my parents would not be burdened with the additional tasks of having to finalise a mortgage and sell the car.

I’d find new homes for Molly and the cat.

I’d have a party, I suppose – though the morbidness of that can scarcely be contemplated.  Yet I’d want the opportunity to see all the people in my life who matter to me, and time is limited.

I’d pull together all of my writing, try to place it in some semblance of order.

Then I’d spend as much time as I possibly could with my family and the people I love.

My uncle has found his own answers to this question.  He’s cutting enough firewood to see my aunt through a couple of winters.  He’s cleaning out the garage and the shed.  He’s about to go down the coast for two weeks with the my aunt, his kids, and his grandchildren.  They’re planning Christmas as a family – we’re all planning Christmas as a family – heavy with the knowledge that we may not see it.


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September 21, 2009 at 10:12 am (Uncategorized)

My uncle went to Sydney the week before last to have tests on new cancers that have formed in his chest.

My mother called tonight. The doctors have given him one month. Three at the absolute outside, but they expect it to be sooner rather than later.

He has a wife, a son, two daughters and a son in law. Two grandsons who are pretty much his world. He deserves a lifetime; instead, he has a month.

It’s so grossly unfair I don’t have words for it.

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The Exquisiteness of White Pain

September 15, 2009 at 9:57 am (I Know I Am)

I classify my pain with colours.  It’s an odd system and I’m not entirely sure how I came up with it, except that I was lying face-down on a massage table at the time.  The massage therapist’s elbows were digging deeply into the knotted muscle around my shoulder blades and it was so painful I was holding my breath, curling my toes and counting to ten over and over as she worked.  Then she moved her elbow a fraction of a centimetre, and hit the spot.  All the breath came wooshing out of me in a single exhale and bit my lip hard against tears.  “How does it feel?” she asked me.  “White,” I gasped.  And it was.  It felt white.

If I had to put a description on it, I would say that white pain is that moment when something has the potential to cross from really-effing-painful to unbearable.  It’s not a sensation purely limited to a deep tissue massage.  I feel white pain in my knee whenever I take a shift and the kneecap shifts, crunching bone over bone.  I feel white pain when an ovarian cyst ruptures, or in my shin when there’s a thunderstorm and the pins in the bone seem to vibrate.  There’s an association with white pain, that if the elbow goes one fraction of a millimetre deeper, if the kneecap twists one fraction of a millimetre further, it will overwhelm me.  If it overwhelms me, it moves into grey pain – the pain of waking up from surgery after your bones have been drilled.  The pain that is so deep, so intense, that there’s a primal response in the expression of it.  Grey pain is, frankly, not cool.

Nor are many types of white pain.  Knees, I’m looking at you.

But the right kind of white pain…the kind I feel in a deep tissue massage, when my entire body is tense under a pointed elbow or thumb and the muscles convulse and I find myself fighting to breathe and not call uncle…that white pain is exquisite.  There is an accomplishment to submitting to that pain, however momentarily, and then working through it.  In that situation, it always passes – it moves to a dull red pain, and eventually to a throbbing purple.  I feel that purple for days afterwards, and it feels good.

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External Validation

September 7, 2009 at 11:22 am (I Said I Am) ()

I got my major assignment back from uni today.  HD, which I am slightly gobsmacked about given the amount of work I didn’t put into it.  I’ll take it, though – especially as it puts my mark for the unit up to a HD.

You’d have thought that by 31 I’d have outgrown the thrill of external validation from a faceless academic; you’d be wrong.  I find it immensely comforting to know that this is something I am good at – that my undergrad degree (and the ease of it) was not a fluke.  I always felt as though I’d cheated my way through my undergrad degree.  I never seemed to struggle the way everyone else did.  Of course there was the odd essay that brought me (figuratively) to my knees – “Twelfth Nigh”, anyone? – but even when I struggled with getting started, I usually (almost inevitably) got better-than-good marks when I got it back.  The only units I graded lower than a Distinction on where the ones I did not like – the ones where I did not attend the lectures and only cracked the books two days before the exam.  I had no late night cramming sessions, I never stayed up later than 10pm finishing an assignment, I never struggled mightily (or hell, even a little) to understand the material.  I just…did it.

I feel a bit that way this time around too, I have to admit.  I know there are people on this course who really struggled with the course material; who had a hell of a time with the assignments.  I have sympathy, but I can’t say that I truly comprehend what it must be to feel it.

Ah, well.  It is what it is, and I can’t deny the small thrill of satisfaction I got when I downloaded my assignment this afternoon to receive my grade.

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It Started with the Crucifixion, and Went Downhill From There

August 31, 2009 at 11:23 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve had the strangest dreams of late – stranger even than my usual dreams.  I blame the sinus infection, or possible the meds I am taking for the sinus infection, but even so…strange.

The other night, I watched the Nazis crucify Christ.  Only, it was in modern times, and they knocked on all the doors in the street and made us come out and watch.  I had the girls with me, dressed in their very best dresses, and they held my hands as we joined the crowd of people swarming up the hill.  To my surprise, once we got to the top of the hill, there were only a handful of people there.  I was horrified, not only because the man they were about to crucify was starved, skeletal – a concentration camp inmate – but because the crowd was suddenly gone.  The only people there to witness this atrocity were myself and the girls, and the group of Nazi guards.

I wanted to protest that there should at least be a trial; they were supposed to offer the life of one of these three men.  But there was no trial, and the guards strung up two of the men in quick succession.

Was the third man truly Christ?  I couldn’t tell.  There was nothing holy about what was happening; no divine revolution occurring before my eyes.  It was just murder – the murder of this old, emaciated man, and I could not bear to let the girls watch it.

I reached for them but only Button was left.  I gathered her to me, pressed her face into my shoulder and carried her as far away as the group of guards would let me.  I knew I should be letting her watch this – making her watch it.  It was, after all, the moment her entire church formed around, the root of all her faith.  But she was just a little girl, and no faith was worth her having to witness this.  I could not bear to have her witness it, which is maybe the coward’s way out.

But I watched.  I couldn’t not watch.  I watched them nail this broken man to the cross and I should have wept for him, but I didn’t.  I couldn’t.

Written out, it sounds like a bit of a no-nothing dream, but the sensations it evoked – the choice I had to make in hiding Button’s face so she couldn’t see – have stayed with me for days…

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But It’s Not Infinite

August 26, 2009 at 10:49 am (Uncategorized) ()

The night my grandfather is hospitalised for the last time, I meet my aunt in the corridor outside Casualty.  I’ve already passed my other aunt, who is sobbing and barely coherent.  I hug her, then leave her to someone else as I almost-run down the corridor to find Deb.  “What’s happening?” I ask, and my throat is so tight with unshed tears it actually hurts to speak.

She explains it.  A few tears slide down my cheeks.  I’m shaking with the effort not to give into it.  “Be strong,” she tells me, grasping my hands.  “We are strong.  Strong.”

I nod.  She hugs me, and though she barely reaches my armpit, she somehow manages to enclose all of me.  “We’re strong,” she repeats, her own voice tight with tears.  “Strong.  Strong.”

And we are Scottish coal miners.

We are strong.

Scottish coal miners do not have hysterics.  We cry at funerals, but we do not break down.  We talk about what happened without talking about it at all: there is a whole language for it.  We smile when our hearts are aching and we cry in the privacy of our bedrooms and we don’t talk about our feelings, not in in depth.  We miss Poppy, but we find a way to cover the hole and we move on.  We are strong.  We are Scottish coal miners.

My mother rang me tonight.  She was cranky about something – tired, irritable.  How’s school, I asked her.  There’s a process to this.  How’s Dad?  How’s Grandma?  Grandma’s fine, she told me then added, almost as an afterthought, It’s not good news from Deb and Dennis.  They’ve found a lump in Dennis’s chest.  That’s not good, I said slowly.  No, said Mum.  It’s not.

We take this news the way we take everything.  We are Scottish coal miners, after all.  We all know what it means, so we don’t talk about it.  We don’t ask questions like “how long does he have?” because the answers aren’t going to change anything.  We move on with life, just as we’ve been moving on since January.

And we express our shock like true Scottish coal miners.  My aunt and uncle, my cousins and their kids, retreat to manage it in private.  My grandmother tries to be stoic.  My mother is pissed and irritable and ready to take the head off anyone who breathes wrong.

Me?  I climbed into a hot shower, let out three gut-deep sobs before I got control of myself, and climbed back out fifteen minutes later to finish what I was doing beforehand.

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Holocaust Photo

August 24, 2009 at 8:00 am (Uncategorized) ()

Who will take this pile of plastic limbs
and untangle it? Who will kneel
to breathe life back into each
set of blue-tinged lips?

St Peter doesn’t have the capacity.
His MASSCAL protocols are
insufficient for the task at hand.
He’s under-resourced, improperly trained.

He wanders between each pale mannequin,
stunned into decisive inaction.
“God help me,” he mutters,
a constant refrain,

but God is nowhere to be found.

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It Was a Game We Played, He and I

August 16, 2009 at 5:05 am (Uncategorized) ()

He never opened a present straight away.

We’d hand it over, and he’d tuck it absently in his lap.  He’d go back to whatever he was doing – finishing his smoke, draining the last of his coffee, picking up his story wherever he’d last left off.  Most of the time, he did all three simultaneously.  Finally, the person who’d given him the parcel would interrupt to tell him to open the bloody thing.

He always seemed to be faintly surprised to find it still in his lap.

He’d turn it over in his hands, looking for the taped opening.  He’d run one fingernail under the lip of paper, carefully separating the tape (or slicing through it, when it wouldn’t separate).  He repeated the process with each of the remaining opening.  He could never be hurried; he could never be convinced to rip the paper (and we tried, oh, we tried!).  Eventually, he’d get the paper off and he’d fold it carefully along the original crease marks and tuck it with great care down beside the bookshelf next to his chair.  The whole process seemed to take forever, but not until it was done would he turn his attention to the present in his lap.

His next words marked his reaction to the present.  “Thank you,” meant that you’d missed the mark.  “You didn’t have to do that,” meant that he liked it.  “Ach, shit,” meant that you’d hit the jackpot.

It became a game for me.  The more meticulous he became when removing the wrapping paper, the harder I made it to remove.  I taped down the folds completely, so that he could not get his nail beneath it.  I taped the folds invisibly with double-sided tape and then again with visible sticky-tape along the outside folds.  I double-wrapped presents.  I triple-wrapped presents.  On one memorable occasion, I very carefully sealed the folds of his present completely closed…the wrapped the entire thing in clear Contact.  I aligned all the edges of the Contact to the folds of the paper so he couldn’t tell I’d done it.  It took him fifteen minutes to figure out what I’d done, and I laughed until my belly hurt watching him wrestle with it.

It was a thing in our family.  He’d inspect a present carefully before attempting to open it.  “Did Meredith wrap this?” he’d growl, pretending to be annoyed, and sometimes we lied and said no, and sometimes we laughed and said yes.  A few memorable times he threw the parcel back to me with a frustrated “bloody shit!” and I crowed for months after, because it meant I’d won.

Last Christmas, he regarded his present with his usual frown.  “Did Meredith wrap this?” he asked, and I snorted, insulted that he thought I’d consider tissue paper a suitable paper for his present (it was shop-wrapped).  He give me that familiar, fond scowl and proceeded to open it.

Tomorrow night, I should be doing what I’ve done for the last thirty years.  I should be sitting on the floor of your lounge room, watching you wrestle with a present I wrapped extra-tightly with the strongest tape I could find.  I should be waiting for that “ach, shit” that came to mean more than you could understand.  I hate that I won’t be doing that tomorrow, Poppy.  I hate it.

I miss the sound of my name in your mouth.  No one says it the way you do; no one makes it sound so soft and full.  I read somewhere that love is when your name feels safe in someone else’s mouth.  My name always felt safe in your mouth, Pop. Even when you were growling at me whilst opening your presents.

Maybe especially then.

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August 11, 2009 at 12:20 pm (I Said I Am)

1.  I wanted to say something
I waited to say something
I wanted to be something
(Oh shut your mouth)

2.  Take what you need to turn you on

3.  I just don’t care anymore
I’ve reached the end of my temper

4.  I dreamt that I called out your name
You turned your face to me and started to say
Something so beautiful it hurt deep inside
Now I will love you till the day I die (Farewell)

5.  So no, of course, we can’t be friends
Not while I still feel like this
I guess I always knew the score

6.  If I wear a mask there’s
Somewhere to hide

7.  Yeah, we’re looking at you

8.  You’ve got to let her go because you’re breaking up the girl

9.  Sure we all make mistakes
But they see me so large that they think I’m immune to the pain

10.  As far as I can tell
It doesn’t matter who you are
If you can believe there’s something worth fighting for

11.  But there’s a hole inside my heart
Where all of my love comes pouring out

12.  I’m not scared of you
There’s nothing you can do
Or take from me

13.  The stars are out tonight
Only they can hear you breathing

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I Make No Bones About It

August 6, 2009 at 11:25 am (Uncategorized)

I wept.

Gorilla mourns dead baby

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