On a night out a few months ago, I was on my way back to the bar from the toilets when I overheard a dear friend talking about me. She pretty much went to town.
“Celia is so shit. Nothing she does is of worth. Have you seen she has a website? What for?! She thinks she can write. Those little blogs of hers are lame and depressing. Oh, and those beer articles, is she an actual alcoholic? Who writes about beer? No one is impressed.
She tells me she goes to the gym. Do you know she only goes for half an hour a week? Half an hour!! What a joke. As if that would do anything. She’s fat. And don’t get me started on her fashion sense. Does she even have a mirror in her house?!"
Her words kept coming. All I could do was stand there and take it.
“She’s so boring. She has no kids, no real commitments, but does she even do anything interesting? She can barely keep plants alive. What, so she has a job? Great. Anyone could do what she does. Why doesn’t she go on a holiday? She never goes anywhere.
All of her friends pity her. They are all doing so much better than she is. In EVERYTHING. She’s still living in that apartment, taking photos of her cat. No one likes her cat photos. Oh, and I say “all of her friends” but what does she have, like two friends?!
Speaking of her photos, have you seen her Instagram? How shit are the photos? Beer cans? The sky?! And she’s supposed to work in a photography department?! What a joke.”
Prior to this moment at the bar, I had always considered this girl a dear friend. She knows absolutely everything about me. But her words were nasty and really hit me hard.
Somewhere along the way she had turned on me. When once she was a confidant, my BFF who was there to help me in all of life’s challenges, who readily assisted me to process my thoughts and feelings, she now for some reason didn’t want to be friends with me anymore.
Her nasty words were why I started saying no to most plans. I believed that if I were to catch up with friends I would bore them to death with my dull existence.
I stopped posting photos of my cat and tasty beers online. Anytime I went to share a new IPA with Instagram, I would delete it five minutes later, as I didn’t want people to think I was an alcoholic.
My once so-called friend is also why I unpublished my website, stopped blogging and lost my creative mojo.
Usually, I actually could give less fucks about what people think about me. Most of the time I am very comfortable in my own skin. But this girl is so close to me that her words had impact.
My friend is my inner voice. And she had become an asshole.
I reached breaking point. She would not shut up with her horrible comments. So, last week I decided I had to confront my inner voice. It was the only way to talk some sense into her. I didn’t want her hurting me anymore.
I sat her down with a skinny latte and went to town, just as she had that night at the bar.
“You know what you are? You’re a fucking bitch. How dare you say this stuff.
You’re so fucking rude and all your comments are baseless. Why do you want me to feel like crap for doing the things I love? Like writing, seeing my friends, discovering new IPAs, or going to work at a job I love?
Oh, and for what it’s worth, It might be for half an hour, but at least I go to the gym!
There is enough criticism and bitchiness out there in the wider world, we shouldn’t be adding to and fuelling this negativity towards each other. We’re supposed to be a team. You and I are stronger together.
So how about you sort yourself out and be fucking nice for a change?!”
My inner voice was pretty silent for a few days after our confrontation.
Yesterday, she spoke to me for the first time in a while.
"I love you and I love your words", she said.
I think we might be slowly on the way to becoming friends again.
I got picked for jury duty once. I remember it was summer and a damp type of humidity; the tram journey to and from the courthouse was a bit like when you blow dry your hair in the bathroom when the person before you didn’t turn on the fan when he had his shower five minutes previously. It was the end of February, and the jury summons had arrived after I had successfully deferred my first summons with the reason “I have a scheduled Christmas party in December.” Priorities.
I was actually quite excited to go to court. Imagine that I was picked to be on a jury for a case involving a celebrity? I hoped that I didn’t get a gruesome murder. Unless it was a gruesome murder involving a celebrity, of course. I consciously decided on an outfit that was very neutral. Inoffensive. The reasoning was I had a better chance of being selected that way.
As we waited in the jury pool room, I spied a mature aged lady with a kind face, in a vibrant floral blouse. With a wide smile, she excitedly took a seat at the extreme front to hear the briefing session, attempting to engage others around her in conversation, they attempted to busy themselves with their iPhones.
“Were there any questions from the audience?” The young girl taking the session looked around the room, filled with a lot of people in inoffensive attire, many also wearing furrowed-brows. I heard more than one sigh from the moustached man, transfixed on his laptop to my left. This jury summons was, seemingly, an extreme inconvenience to his full-time job that mostly consisted of responding to and writing inane emails.
Mature Aged Floral Blouse (MAFB) wasn't inconvenienced. She asked, “What happens if you fall asleep in the middle of a case?”
She then laughed. She had a raspy jolly laugh, one peppered with the results of a lifetime of cigarette consumption. After every second laugh, there would be coughs into a deteriorating tissue.
The question, and the resulting frivolity, even caused the furrowed brow to be lifted in surprise.
Well, guess what. Alongside myself and others, MAFB made it to the final round of “Jury Idol” and was picked for jury duty in a civil case. While my fellow jurors and I sifted through our notes, and the pages of evidence handed to each of us by the judges to clip into the special white binders we had been given, MAFB told us everything that had happened to her in her 70 plus years of life in the lead up to being selected to be on a jury.
She had left school at 16 as it didn’t agree with her. She started out as a dish pig but eventually elevated herself to the chef who prepared and made the meals in a nearby nursing home. MAFB married a man who came to visit his father most days. He drove trucks. Her three kids looked like her (she showed us photos from a book in her handbag). She wasn’t too keen on daughter number two’s boyfriend though. “Too clean!” she laughed.
She told us she had been in the jury pool room yesterday but wasn’t selected. She begged the staff to be allowed to come back today.
“Being on a jury was on my bucket list!”
It was a no brainer, then, when we had to select which of us would be Foreman, the one who would speak to the judge on our behalf. When we tallied the votes, I swear the flowers on that blouse multiplied and opened fuller when her name was announced.
During breaks in the trial, she liked to read bits of the three-day-old newspaper out to us in the lunch room. There are a few things more annoying than somebody reading out whole newspaper articles to a group, but not that many things. She was also feasting on some chicken as she read. Leftovers from last night’s dinner.
The newspaper became translucent each time she went to turn the page with her chicken fingers. The chicken had taken over the room with its aroma as it was reheated in the lunch room microwave.
The parties to the civil case we were presiding over reached a settlement a couple of days in, so in the end we didn’t have to reach a verdict. I recall MAFB lingering outside on the street once we were dismissed, like she wanted to hang out with us a little longer. As she reluctantly said goodbye to us all, those flowers on her blouse kind of drooped a little.
This all happened about five years ago. Why am I bringing it up now, I hear you ask, dear beautiful, attractive, attentive reader?
As I was reminiscing on MAFB, I wondered why I could remember so much of my time with her when I struggle to remember details of conversations from two nights ago, my 752 passwords, or what I was wearing yesterday. I know I was pretty keen to undertake the special civic responsibility of jury duty, but surely excitement couldn’t be the only reason I remembered so much?
Then I realised. The whole two and a half days I was with MAFB there were big chunks of time being in a court where I was deprived of access to my phone due to it needing to be switched off and out of reach.
She had my undivided attention. My brain was only absorbing her behaviour and natter. My time with her had time to stew, and settle, into it’s new home in my memory.
I wasn’t near WhatsApp group chats, I couldn’t click on endless Facebook baits such as “5 reasons your cat purrs” or “You’ll never guess what child celebrities from the 90s look like now!” for hours on end, and I had to rely on only my brain rather than Google when we all participated in the quiz from the three-day-old chicken soaked newspaper.
A lot of us say we’re great at multitasking. We can watch Netflix on our laptops while watching the footy on the television, all the while simultaneously looking up questions like “is it weird that my orgasm brought on a 24-hour migraine?” on our phones whilst catching up on our work emails as well as, at the same time, nodding at our partners when they try to explain to us what the electrician is coming over to fix. (I think I gathered that he’s coming over to fix my migraine.)
There are moments that doing all of the things at once is ruining my life. I’m too distracted and I’m missing the depth and the detail of the real people and the world around me. I’m kind of living in a weird limbo where I’m an octopus spinning lots of plates, not really absorbing the moments that matter. The moments that should settle into their home in my memory.
It’s a delight to be able to recall the face of a lovely, mature aged lady wearing a floral blouse full of colour who’s just been told one of her bucket list items has come to fruition. It’s time to imagine I’m still on jury duty and put my phone away and close the laptop. As fun as it can be to be an octopus spinning plates, sometimes I need to put the plates down and focus on what’s in front of me. I wonder what I’ll see?
Today we drove to my Dad’s place to pick up some bits of furniture and boxes of various family items destined for rehousing in our place. He’s moving out and off on a road trip, to spend time up in the warmer climes of Far North Queensland. There’ll be picturesque places for him to write, and giggly chocolate-loving grandchildren to keep him on his toes. He doesn’t like living alone.
As we pulled into his street, it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be coming to this suburb for a while. A suburb from my childhood, forever linked to my parents and my siblings. Now, I was a little hungover from celebrating a wedding the night before. I tend to get a little depressed when I'm hungover. Nevertheless, I became sad.
Give or take, I’ve spent every Wednesday with Dad over the past year and a half. Just hanging. Working side by side on our laptops. Yes, occasionally going to the pub for beers at lunchtime, occasionally having afternoon naps, and occasionally one of us (okay me) taking photos of Dad napping and posting them on Twitter.
I was sad because I realised I was mourning. Sad that another little family chapter was coming to an end.
One day last week I ate lunch in the park. it was a beautiful sunny autumnal day. I wanted to make the most of it as I figured there wouldn’t be too many more sunshine-y days before winter hit.
I heard a familiar bird warble. I dropped my book, letting my empty sushi packet blow away, and spun around to the tree I heard the birdsong come from.
The kids rolling down the grassy slope near where I lay looked at me oddly as I waved and warbled at what looked like nobody.
“Hi, Mum! I love you!”
I can’t remember when I first heard this particular bird. But I do remember the times when hearing it, that it gave me comfort.
One night I sat and listened to endless YouTube bird sound recordings in a futile attempt to pinpoint the type of bird that was warbling to me when I needed it to. My Mum was one of a kind, she was singing to me. She’s not discoverable on YouTube. I may sound crazy, but I don’t have to rationalise something that has given me comfort. Mum has been checking in, just wishing me good morning and goodnight, just like she used to when I was little. It’s a way of keeping her alive inside me.
It’s getting colder. Mum hasn’t said hello in a few days, I haven’t been hearing her. I thought she may have migrated for the winter.
But then I found places for some of the family furniture in my house, where they now look at home. I opened one of the boxes before placing it in storage. There are folders sectioned out for each of us five children. There’s Dad’s love letters to Mum before any of us even existed! And an unsent postcard Mum had written to a friend in 1997 when she was holidaying in a Tuscan villa, drinking chianti and cooking regional pasta and she writes “I’m missing the kids”. Far out. It’s brutal but also very beautiful to discover this Drummond Family Archive and know it exists.
It looks like I’ll have to wait until next spring to hear that familiar bird warble, and maybe to take photos of dad whilst he naps. In the meantime, I’ve got memories. If and when I need reminding, they’re in the random items that my mum took so much care saving for all of us throughout our childhood living in her nest, and that dad took care not to throw away once she flew.
I told Dad I was sad that he was leaving the other day. Guess what he said.
“I’ll only be a Tweet away.”
People don’t have to have passed away for you to miss them.
People don’t have to be alive to be able to say hello.
It’s always important to remember though, that they’ll all be around somehow, however you want them to be.
Last week I dragged a couple of bin bags full of unwanted clothes to the Salvos. The bags were those purple scented ones that smell like lavender. I held one overloaded bag in each hand, willing them not to break in my weak arms as I crossed the highway before the lights changed. I think I prefer the yellow, citrus scented bags but the lavender ones were the only ones on special last supermarket shop. Some guy yelled out at me from his car as I trundled along, I think it was something to do with my breasts, not his choice of citrus versus lavender.
That same day I also crammed a heap of rubbish and recycling into the wheelie bins in the garage. As I sat rifling through boxes in our storage cage downstairs for items to chuck, I laughed as I rediscovered stuff including a folder full of Wikipedia printouts on random subjects, boxes from items I don’t own anymore and two broken unfashionable handbags. Why do I keep this shit? Was I going to mend these handbags? No chance.
My apartment was not spared from the big clean out. The oldest socks and underwear in the world were extricated during an archaeological dig of the back of the top drawer. Items that may have been classified as “plants” when I bought them from Bunnings but now more like “desert in a pot” were soon laid to rest in the museum of the rubbish pile I had created on the balcony for visitors to buy tickets to and marvel in. I rounded up takeaway flyers from local restaurants that no longer existed from my fridge door, destined for the recycling bin where they now had the chance to one day be recycled into a takeaway flyer for a new restaurant.
The big clean hasn’t all been about the physical junk. It’s a bit harder clearing out the mental mess, but I’m committed to this next level of clean. As I was sitting amongst the unfashionable handbags and Wikipedia articles I came across a little list of positive mantras. I had inherited this list from a departing work colleague a few years ago who gave it to me as they cleared other items of their desk into an archive box. I used to have it stuck to my computer monitor and it was always there to keep my thoughts and actions on track.
Creating a positive mindset is common, I know. I love discovering how others live their lives to their full potential with positivity. I secretly spy and marvel at a certain friend's ability to smile and lift the mood of any dull social gathering. Another mate sends me links to awesome articles and books on how to acknowledge negative things happen, but it’s how we deal with these moments that is more important. I had a chat over sushi with a lovely work mate about positivity and gratitude the other day; she has started a daily gratitude journal. I nodded vigorously in agreement in its benefits as the sushi fell apart onto the plate and my clean shirt. Being thankful encourages the positive thinking. Before we drift off to the land of nod, I try to think of at least one good thing from the day. Ok, so whilst the first response to this question I could muster was, “I had lunch”, it’s nice drifting off to sleep with a smile rather than a furrowed brow.
Since rediscovering my little gem of a list amongst the Wikipedia pile, I have been refocusing and taking especial attention to those items on the list of a mental nature. These are helping to massage the negative useless thoughts away in the day spa in my brain, and calling up my inner garbage man to discard of the unnecessary worries I have about inconsequential things before they build upon my mental nature strip.
Before I get too into the year, I reckon this is an ideal time to begin as I mean to go on. In consequence, I’ve been working on my regular mental cleaning system the past few weeks, focusing on keeping my brain free from clutter. Despite generally being a sunshiny, look-on-the-bright-side type person, there are definitely certain situations and times the negativity can creep in. When irrational gloomy thoughts and actions try to muddy my clear and happy brain, I am consciously not allowing them to affect me or accumulate and take up unnecessary space in my mental storage cage.
The little gem of a list is now once again in sight, stuck on the fridge where an old takeaway menu used to be.
Here are some common mantras that help me stay on the positive track. They’re still pretty good even if they’re just listed on a blog post rather than as part of some Instagram tile with a sunset/creative font/blessed hashtag, don’t you think? What are some of your favourite mantras? I’d love to hear them and add them to my list on the fridge!
One day I think I'm gonna write a collection of short stories based on life in an apartment building. Here's some real life ideas that may feature in the Apartment Anthology:
A Meow at the Door
A party goes on into the small hours of the Sunday morning. A couple of the party guests stand outside my front door and meow.
Do they know I have a cat? My cat doesn’t even meow. Should I let them in? Maybe they have photos of their own cats. I'd love to see them.
A Girl's Gotta Eat
A Deliveroo guy rings the apartment intercom. He holds up the bag to the monitor, it looks like there’s a substantial meal in there. Problem is, I didn’t order any food.
Do I take it?
The Curious Case of the Hot Dog Trajectory
One morning I found a raw hotdog stuck to the balcony floor.
Was it thrown up from below or dropped down from above?
Stylish Bedrooms of Australia
It's New Years Day. The top half of a man is asleep, snoring in our electrical cupboard. His bottom half is in our hallway, also snoring.
We step over him and just double check that he’s not dead and he’s gone when we get back.
I wonder what his first thought was when he woke up?
Prostitute Plumbing Pty Ltd
A girl knocks on the door with a long story about how she hasn’t slept in 5 days. Something’s keeping her up. She reckons we have a dripping tap or pipe. We walk around the apartment, crouch on the floor, listening for drips. We hear nothing.
I never did find out if she resolved the issue. I did, however, see her chatting with a local prostitute outside her own apartment early one morning.
Maybe the prostitute was a plumber on the side.
Silent Showering for Dummies
We get a new dishwasher installed. Two guys deliver it, although only one of them actually installs the dishwasher. The other is in the bathroom the whole time.
I didn’t hear him go to the toilet or use the sink. Or the shower. When they leave I do a Sherlock Holmes on the bathroom. Nothing is different.
Sometimes when there are lots of dishes stacked in the dishwasher waiting to be cleaned it stinks like a toilet.
A Great Pair (Of Eyes)
I often forget people next door can see into our apartment if the blinds are up. Which they are often.
I am often not wearing any clothes.
Tips and Tricks for Removing Cat Piss
I like to take the stairs rather than the lift. It’s my daily exercise.
I was walking behind this guy who was headed to the bins with his bag of used kitty litter. It burst. Crystals, shit and piss all over the stairs.
His head drops. I jump out at the ground floor fire exit and walk outside into the sunshine.
Fourth Floor, Carpets & Haberdashery
Someone once took the lift up to the top floor where there is only one massive penthouse apartment.
From what I can gather, the lift door opened, the person vomited all through the entrance to the penthouse, then caught the lift back down to where they actually lived, vomited a little in the lift for good measure.
It was a summer public holiday weekend so we had trouble booking a cleaner. We also had trouble breathing.
The Sweat Burglar
I sometimes have a peek inside other people’s storage cages. Why do you have that? And why is it locked up?
It’s like when people lock up their smelly gym gear in a locker. Does anyone want it other than you?
The Great Australian Dream
Every year we get a Christmas card from the real estate agent who sold us our apartment. They are high-end, glossy, nice smelling cards and he handwrites them. Or maybe his assistant writes them. While he yells over their shoulder, "Faster! Faster!!"
It’s nice to be annually reminded of the mortgage money you still owe the bank. Especially at Christmas time.
What are you writing about? You’re overdue for a blog. I feel like you need to blog more. You shouldn’t write about beer next. You should write about something funny. Real and imagined voices, giving me advice as I sit down and stare at a blank page. My brain is what I imagine a small crisp can of craft beer that’s been shaken up by a bored kid in a bottle shop feels like. Full of pressure. Pressure to write something witty and hilarious. Pressure to write about something other than beer. I need a beer to think about what I can write about to please everyone else.
Ahh wait. I think that's my problem. I’ve got writer’s block from stressing about what everyone else thinks I should be writing about.
The other day on the way home from work, a day where I sat for 89.2% of the time, I managed to get a seat on the tram home so I could sit some more. At one stop, a very, very wrinkly old man got on and held on to the handrail. Oh yes, here we go. An excellent opportunity to show everyone on the tram what a kind and empathetic citizen of the world I am. I will offer this poor frail old man my seat.
I stood up, full of show-offy pride and walked up to the senior citizen.
“Do you want a seat?” I asked.
He turned, looked at me with a furrowed brow. A very grey furrowed brow, as he was very old. Too old to be standing up on public transport. He should be sitting down.
"Why do you think I need a seat? I’m fine standing up here. I’ve only got a few standing opportunities left in my lifetime and I’m gonna take ‘em!”
Then he turned back to look out at the sunny day rolling past the window.
What a hero. This champ clearly doesn’t worry about what everyone else thinks he should do. Maybe I should take a leaf out of his wrinkly old book when it comes to feeling pressure about what to put down in prose. Like my old man friend, I don’t necessarily have to take other people’s well-meaning advice just because they have said it. I might be a bit nicer about it, though. I mean, he could have at least thanked me for my incredible, selfless act to sacrifice my hard-earned rather small and uncomfortable tram seat that day.
I absolutely love that people take an interest in my writing. I actually love asking others about what they think about what I have written, or what I can write about next, or ways to approach my writing. I want to get better and be exposed to other opportunities so I take all this advice on like a sponge. It's important to remember that I don’t have to take on all this spongy goodness advice all at once, or at all. I can use some of the sponge water now. I can squeeze some of it out; I can save some suds for another time. But I shouldn’t just keep adding to the sponge as it will just lose its sudsy goodness and become full and soapy and of no use.
Great analogy, I know, you don’t have to tell me. Actually, do tell me. In the comments section below.
Ideas need time to develop and become witty and Celia-esque. Ideas do not come when I worry about what people think I should be writing about, where I should be writing, or when. Like my old man friend, I don’t necessarily have to take other’s advice. I can’t just sit down and write something just because someone wants to read a blog post. Coming up with ideas for pitches and blogs is fun; I don’t want the fun to be squeezed out. (Yes, like you squeeze those fun soapy suds out of a sponge).
Some days I have heaps of ideas that will flow out of my fingertips but I’ll be at work so I’ll have to pretend I’m writing a Very Long And Important Email. I’ll build up the first draft of some pieces but everyone around me must think I’m exceptionally busy and they’re probably in awe of my productivity.
Other times it is a bit trickier to come up with the goods, but still just as fun.
There are nights as I’m drifting off to sleep where I think I’ve come up with the most brilliant idea for a story or a blog and I’ll quickly scrawl it in my book, or type it on my phone. Oh yes, I’m going to be writing about the greatest thing ever, this is so goddamn witty, no one has ever come up with this line of thought, and it’s not even beer related! A wide smile forms as I drift off to sleep, excited for the sweet writing session ahead for me in the morrow. Flashes of brilliance.
I want to get down off this jigsaw puzzle.
The girl hummed. Every time she ate sushi it was too windy.
Great Celia. I’m glad you took the time to jot these down. You’re pretty brilliant, you know that?
No more fretting about the fact I haven’t written a blog for a while, or trying to think of something other than beer to write about even though I really enjoy writing about beer. I’ll get out adventuring for some inspiration. Maybe I’ll get in a fight with someone. Or maybe I’ll take a walk in a forest without water or GPS. Or I could try eating sushi on a windy day. Maybe I need a beer to think about some other fun inspiration igniters. Ah yes – I’ve got it!
Next time I am going to write about what I imagine it would be like to live as a very, very old and wrinkly man who really wants to sit down on the tram. He’s just been to the supermarket to buy some sponges. Unfortunately, this particular old man decided 43 years ago that he wouldn’t do what everyone else thought he should so now he has to refuse offers of a seat when exceptionally gorgeous, witty women offer up theirs. He must stand up like a fool on the tram. He’ll watch the world go by and pray that he doesn’t fall over before his stop.
“I want to get down off this jigsaw puzzle.” He’ll think to himself.
Brilliant. Can’t wait to write it.
I had a tooth pulled out the other day. This is apparently what happens to people who don’t visit the dentist for 12 years. I made a dentist appointment primarily because my darling sweet husband’s face had slowly changed each time he went to kiss me. Like he didn’t want to go near my hideous-haven’t-been-properly-cleaned-in-over-12-years teeth. I honestly do not know what his problem was. I floss. Occasionally. Turns out, when the dentist had a look-see in my gaping gob, my dear husband’s disgusted face was somewhat vindicated despite the vows we took on our wedding day to love and obey me no matter what. My teeth needed a good professional clean, and one of my wisdom teeth needed to go.
Since the extraction, there has been a slight pang in the left side of my mouth where the adult tooth once lived. The pang will subside. Eventually, I won’t be able to feel any pain but until then I’m following the dentist’s instructions and eating soft foods only.
Okay, I’m just eating ice cream and drinking non-carbonated drinks as directed (wine).
Losing baby teeth as a child, the pang felt as the tooth came loose subsided as I hid my little tooth under my pillow and in the morning received shiny little coins from the tooth fairy. As an adult, I didn’t really think about losing any of my teeth and the dental nurse kind of looked at me strangely when I asked if I could keep the tooth. Instead of receiving the shiny little coins under my pillow, I’m paying the dental practice hundreds of shiny little coins for the tooth to come out. My bank account feels a pang, however I did get a free packet of dental floss with my tax receipt so things aren’t that bad.
Sometimes I wish I was still living in the time when I was small, wobbling and waiting for my baby teeth to fall out so I could get money. As a kid, I would wonder if mum had bought any ice cream and whether she would let me eat some that night; a wonder I had while I was eating the sandwich she had made me for lunch. I knew it was my sandwich because when I retrieved it from the freezer that morning she had put a little hand drawn “C” in the wrapping like she did every day.
Little moments like this, from a time when I had baby teeth, flash into my brain and I feel a pang.
My siblings and I used to sit around the dinner table, talking shit and laughing uncontrollably. We would share Simpson’s quotes and try and out-joke each other while my parents shook their heads and laughed too. Another little moment. My heart goes pang.
Unlike my tooth, I don’t want to extract and remove emotional pangs such as these that come and visit me from my childhood. I may get sad and teary, but I feel a pang in my heart because these moments mean so much to me. I feel a pang knowing my brothers and I will never sit at that end of the dinner table again; we are no longer babies, but adults with adult responsibilities, such as making sure our teeth are clean enough to kiss our significant others.
Just like a bit of saline solution and numbing gel can soothe my mouth, the emotional pang is soothed by the adult moments that triggered the pang in my heart in the first place.
As adults, my siblings and I are still as close as we were as children, if not closer. We hang out and talk rubbish. We send each other silly texts in our group message chat and tag each other in Simpson’s videos on Instagram. We laugh and giggle still, trying to outdo each other in who can be the wittiest around our virtual dinner table.
One dear brother recently made me a sandwich, and wrapped it up just like my mum used to, complete with the little letter “C”. Another pang, a wonderful feeling that my brother holds that special little childhood memory in his heart too.
So yes, I kept the tooth. The dental nurse kindly wrapped it up in a little bag for me for safe keeping. Despite it being removed from the place I first came to know it, it’s still part of me and can’t be lost. All the little pangs I feel when recalling moments from when I had baby teeth, I also have wrapped up in a little bag in my heart for safe keeping. They'll continue to come and say hello and make my heart go pang in my adult life from time to time. They are still a part of me and can’t be lost. Instead of hurting, though, I know they'll make me smile, albeit a smile sans one adult tooth.
Now, time to get my husband to the dentist. His teeth are shocking. Maybe I can entice him to go with the promise of ice cream for when he comes home.
A few nights ago I received some bad news. My high school - the one I spent six years attending classes, learning, and undertaking exams - rang to tell me that they were very sorry, indeed so very sorry but there had been a mistake. It had taken a while for it to be confirmed, but it had come to their attention that I had not actually submitted all the coursework for one of my subjects. Technically, this meant I had not actually passed high school, and therefore my university degrees regrettably also needed to be revoked immediately.
I had been processing this news the next evening, when suddenly one of my teeth fell out. I fumbled around the ground searching for it in surprise, and wouldn’t you know it, another one came loose. It was so strange. There was no blood, but where my adult teeth once sat, clear gaps in my mouth remained.
Something else odd happened to me recently. I was at a five-year-olds birthday party. The parents spared no expense, hosting the celebration at a pirate ship themed adventure park, where all the slides and ropes and planks were suspended above water. Most people were happy enough to swim around if they happened to fall off the plank, or lose grip on the rope for a moment. Conversely, I could not bring myself to enter the water for fear I would drown. I was completely stuck, gripping the sides of the slide watching all the other party guests swim to the poolside restaurant to cut the cake.
All this. All this after last week when I was asked by a lovely elderly lady whether I could drive her home in her car. She had called me over to her car as I walked home from work; she was feeling dizzy and couldn’t manage the small journey a few blocks away. I really wanted to help, so, ignoring the glaring warning sign in my head reminding me that I didn’t actually have a drivers license, and didn’t actually know how to drive a car, I hopped behind the wheel. Yes, we crashed.
Things clearly aren’t quite going according to plan. I’m failing. I’m losing body parts. I’m stuck. I can’t help people when they need me.
All this drama is making me tired.
I dream of having the ability to fly, to soar high above the ground. I dream of twisting in and around the clouds with the birds, having no immediate worries, fears or concerns to pull me back down to earth. My wings are strong, I can fly for hours with my feathered friends, oddly, one looks kind of like Luke Perry from his 90210 days. Anyhow, I rarely feel tired even when Luke and I fly over multiple countries and oceans.
I dream of wading through crystal clear water, the bathing suit I purchased at the airport on the way to this beautiful tropical beach fits me perfectly. As I wade, I’m avoiding the murky, muddy areas, where things fester and appear bigger and more dangerous than they actually are. Instead, I happily lay in the water, drinking piña coladas with the Disney version of Robin Hood, you know, the fox one. We talk about how much we would like to invest in the canvas bell tent industry.
I dream of winning the meat raffle at the local pub, sitting at a table with all my nearest and dearest, The Beatles are doing a sound check on stage, ready for their set in a few minutes. For some reason, I have crab claws for hands, and the pub looks like my bedroom from 1992, but these trivial details don’t worry me, because I am content.
I know I can fly. I know I can be content. It is possible. Even with crab claws as hands.
Maybe I just need to get some sleep.
A crazy storm hit the city’s peak hour the other day. The apocalyptic conditions caused frantic Melbournians to wade through the torrents and maim each other with their flailing umbrellas.
The regular commuters scrambled into the tram home, shook off the rain from their sodden fur and took up their usual positions. During the journey home, most started Instagramming the photo they took of the beautiful light of the storm rolling in over the city before it hit. I had a sudden urge and need to jump off the tram and dive back into the wintry downpour. No headphones, no umbrella.
Catching the same tram with the same people each day. Scrolling through my LinkedIn profile to see who has endorsed me for skills I don't think I have. Watching seemingly normal people get abusive towards each other as they jostle for a tram seat even though they've probably been sitting on their arses all day. Triggers that snapped me into the present and caused me to dive into the stormy elements that evening.
I walked home along the beautiful bay while winter took over the neighbourhood. I felt the fresh rainwater hit my face and allowed the wind to push me off track. My clothing got heavier as I trudged through the deluge. I stood under the palms and watched them sway from the blustering, biting gale.
It was magic.
Walking from the hospital to the car last Christmas morning, I was still wearing my Santa hat, unable to contain the tears. I was overwhelmed by the realisation that my beautiful mum was going to die.
It’s been 12 weeks since she died. I found her wallet recently. There was her driver’s licence, her credit cards, and exactly $7.05 in coins.
Also tucked away in her distinctive handwriting on a folded up piece of paper were the mobile phone numbers and addresses of my dad and siblings. Mum didn’t have a mobile, nor did she have any social media accounts. She didn’t know how to use a computer. Still, she knew how to contact the people she loved the most. How much I would love to receive one of her beautiful cards, perfectly picked for whatever the occasion in question, in my letter box just one more time. She would send a card with a sweet note inside, often with a scratchie or two included, to celebrate birthdays, new jobs, or just to send love.
Beautiful mum was in a great deal of pain. “I don’t want you to see me like this” she said to my little brother, our partners and I, as we sat around her bed attempting to share some yuletide cheer on Christmas Day. It was only three days earlier in a different ward, before her last round of radiotherapy to treat her bowel cancer that we were with mum, celebrating her 69th birthday with other family and friends. She loved all her family being around her, laughing, telling jokes, and being together. We made Christmas Day plans, asked for the secret Pavlova roll recipe. For a present we had bought her some Cotton On shorts and t-shirt as requested. She smiled. She loved them, as all mothers love presents from their children. A flicker of a thought passed through my head, “When will I see mum wear these?” but I dismissed it.
Three days after a very sad Christmas, the funeral director was sitting at the kitchen table, the same table we all had sat at as a family more often than not sharing another one of mum’s culinary masterpieces. He was helping us with the funeral arrangements; our beautiful mum had wished to be cremated. “A lot of people like to dress their loved ones in a favourite item of clothing” he offered, gently. Mum was wearing a lot of grey in the year or so before she died. This wasn’t her. I recently re-read her diary from 1988 to remind me. That was the year our parents took us 5 kids up to Port Douglas. I was only 4 but have wonderful memories of that year.
Most of my family memories are wonderful. I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a loving household, full of laughter and shielded from sadness. My grandmother died on my birthday yet my parents didn’t tell me until the day after. They didn’t want me to not enjoy my favourite birthday meal – chicken schnitzel and mashed potato. In the 1988 Port Douglas diary, mum recounts driving to Cairns on that scenic Captain Cook Highway for clothing patterns. Looking through photo albums from that time, the day after mum died, there she was in gorgeous aqua, peaches and classic eighties colour block patterns.
I know now that mum’s experience of being a nurse meant that she was aware of what was happening to her body but didn’t tell us. I have been feeling incredibly guilty about this. I often think, “What could I have done? Should there have been more visits? More cards? More love? How could I possibly have given my most favourite woman in the whole entire world more than the unconditional kind?”
Mum never told me she was unwell. She would always deflect the conversation. I am sure it was because she didn’t want me to be upset, or to worry. Mum didn’t want to get old. I am slowly beginning to accept that this is the way she wanted the last chapter of her life to play out. She always always put everyone else first.
Her illness manifested itself in other ways. She drank a lot. She developed serious anxiety. She didn’t leave the house. She stopped wearing the colourful clothing she was known for. As the funeral director waited at the kitchen table, my brother, in tears, brought out the summery blue Cotton On shorts and white t-shirt emblazoned with silver stars. The cancer, the drinking, the anxiety had stopped. Mum could wear colour again.
Constantly talking about death and dying can be depressing. But we need to talk about it. We need to share. I have discovered in these horrible fresh weeks that sharing photos and memories of my mum via social media is very therapeutic and helpful in the mourning process. As a family we decided to announce mum’s funeral details online, as well as via a traditional death notice in the newspaper. I worry that I am becoming one of those “over sharers” online, but an unexpected result was receiving heartfelt messages from old school friends whom I hadn’t seen in years, with memories they had of my mum. I often think of the irony that mum never used social media, but now this platform is helping me with my grief.
I will never forget how mum looked in her last days in the palliative car ward, those hospital machines beeping, that hospital smell so distinct, mum conscious for a few seconds, us straining to know that she could hear us so we could tell her that we loved her so much. I stroked her hair as she took some of her last breaths; she had two purple hair clips from Woolworths in her hair. My hair is too thick for them but I cannot bear to throw them out. Recalling the experience of someone dying can consume your memory of the person you love and miss. I never want to forget this beautiful time that my immediate family was lucky to share, but I am also paranoid I will forget the beautiful happy memories of my beloved mummy.
So I draw. I examine the gorgeous handiwork on the dolls she made for the Mirabel foundation. I over share Instagram photos of a gorgeous young mum with a love heart emoticon. I write blog posts on my emotional state. I wave to the Frankston & Peninsula Airport Shuttle Bus. I take photos of nasturtiums. I catch myself nearly buying the latest Women’s Weekly at Woolworths to bring to my next visit to mum. I walk up the Flinders Street Station steps and remember when my brother and I got separated from mum that time. My heart aches when I see a mother and daughter on the street. I make sandwiches for my dad with lettuce my mum grew. I replay the two voicemail messages I have from mum on my phone when I have had one too many beers on a Friday night. I exchange wide eyed glances with my dad when he tells me he had a whiff of mum’s perfume at 3am, then a few minutes later heard me talking and wailing in my sleep, that night I slept over to keep him company. I had dreamt mum had come in to kiss me goodnight.
It’s only been 12 weeks. I know the literal emotional rollercoaster will continue. Despite my dad and I going through the gut wrenching experience of picking up mum’s ashes – how can such an influential life be condensed into such a small box? - I still feel like it’s just at the ‘Mum’s only gone on a long overseas holiday and will be back soon’ stage. I am also more acutely aware that more people I love are going to die in the future. I want to be present and cherish time spent with every person I love. I want to care less about things of no consequence, such as crazy work colleague email etiquette. In recent weeks I've done a lot of plan cancelling with friends in favour of eating Nutella out of jar on the couch nights. I struggle with wanting to embrace life’s experiences and wanting to hide away, as I am so sad that I cannot share these times with my mum.
It is true you find out who your real friends are when the chips are down. My four brothers and I have strong, supportive partners. I have such great people around that know when I need space, and when I need an ear to chew. I am so amazed and proud that my beautiful mum bore five children! How thankful I am to have siblings and a lovely, sweet dad, my favourite people who help prop each other up, who help share memories of our lost maternal love. I want to send them birthday cards, cards for new jobs, and cards for everyday, any day love. With the $7.05 I found in beautiful mum’s wallet, I bought my eldest brother a card and a couple of scratchies for his recent birthday. He won $3. I know mum would have loved that. And that makes me smile.
An edited version of this piece was published on The Huffington Post Australia. You can read it here.