On the 2nd of September, 2009, I wake up to aqua. I hazily open my eyes to the bright light. Lying on my side, my bedroom wall is the first thing I see. For a moment it is just my wall. And then it all comes flooding back – like a tsunami of black tar. My body crumples up in a tight ball of pain. The pain sears my face and contorts it into a myriad of angry lines, all pointing inwards. I want to retreat as far into myself as possible. My very soul turns in upon itself, unwilling to face the truth.
My mother is dead. She died yesterday. Her heart failed – suddenly and without warning. I remember this fact within seconds of waking up, but I cannot believe it. She can’t be dead, can she? No, she can’t be – it’s ridiculous to even think it! She can’t be. She can’t be … dead. Can she? No, she cannot! She is. She is. She is dead. But she can’t be dead. She is, she is, she is … she is. My mind rattles with desperation for it to simply not be true. The argument occurs calmly, as I am still numb with shock. She can’t be dead, but yet I know she is. I saw her. She is dead Rebecca … your mother is dead. You can never see her again. She is gone … forever. No, she’s not! She can’t be. She’s not. She’s not. She’s not. She can’t be. She’s not dead. She’s alive. She’s alive. She has to be … But eventually, in a sickening thud, the truth wins out. No Rebecca … she … is … dead.
The sobs come from a place I don’t know. I have cried a lot in my twenty-seven years, but this place of sorrow I am not familiar with at all. It does things to my body that I cannot control – primal, aching, wounding, stabbing cries emanate from my form. They fill the room with the agony of the one left behind.
With my eyes closed tightly in pain, I place a hand on my belly. It is only then that I remember the child – the one that has been residing in my womb for the past five and a half months. Oh no! My child, my child, my darling child! What will I do? Whatever will I do?! The reality is suddenly all too present. I must confront this nightmare of grief whilst carrying my baby. I am pregnant, and I have just lost my own mother. The frightfully cruel irony of it overwhelms me, and I quickly rise to a state of panic. I need a sedative – immediately. I need to make it all go away, for it is far too much to handle. My brain cannot deal with it all. I need it to not be. I need help. Help me.
I am vaguely aware of other people in the house, as I lay paralysed with my rising panic. Ross and Georgia are in the house – my partner and my best friend. Then words are coming out of my mouth – sentences even, though I am not really conscious of producing them. Georgia pops her head in the door.
‘Xanax. I need Xanax – call the doctor. I need the doctor’s consent … the baby … need consent …’ I murmur, without looking at her, my body still crumpled up in a tight ball.
Georgia calls my doctor and explains the situation. She comes back and tells me that it is okay to have one Xanax. I wolf one down with a shaky hand. Five minutes horrendously tick by. Then a small tingle of relief courses through my frazzled, frying veins. The little pill takes forever to work its magic, but then it is marginally better. But it is nowhere near powerful enough to stop the raging thoughts. The reality still penetrates, forcing its way through. She can’t be dead. She can’t be. Hours of fuzzy mild sedation sliver by, marked only by those words in my head.
Somehow I find myself getting up. I am all of a sudden driven by the need to write a eulogy, which takes me by surprise. I must testify my love. I must find a way to write. I know the only way I can do it is with wine and cigarettes. I debate this momentarily. A small part of my brain functions well enough to register that this is probably not a good idea. But the urge to write is so strong that I cannot ignore it. I decide quickly that I will allow myself to fall apart tonight. I will open my heartbroken, wounded soul to the pen and paper in my lap. I will torture myself though it. Then I will get up tomorrow and do what needs to be done.
I stand in the living room, but the task now seems impossible. I need to ritualise the writing somehow. I need music, and darkness. Barbara Streisand … perfect. I can’t do it in my ugly track-pants. I must put on a beautiful gown. I do just that, and then I pour a glass of red wine and listen to the music. I have no ability to question what I need. I just keep drinking until inspiration comes. I think of her and only her. The pain … the pain is insufferable. I keep drinking to numb it. I let the music create images of her infinite beauty in my mind and then I begin to translate it onto the pages. I tell myself to just write, and that afterwards I can melt. And so I write. I rip the eulogy out of my breaking body.
It is done. And I am left horrifically aware of just how much I have lost … And there is nothing to do but drink.
I find myself in a state of tumultuous intoxication. Unbearably hot pokers turn my heart in circles. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t face the truth. I need to be somewhere else. I stumble into the bathroom – her hideous, powdery pink bathroom. At the sight of the pink walls I fall to the floor, my energy suddenly sapped. My energy will never come back. She will never come back. The truth and the wine both make me vomit. There is so much vomit. It is gelatinous grey agony, pouring into the bowl. But it is away from me. Just get out. Get out … OUT! I collapse over the shiny bowl of waste. I sob my heart out. My life is a wasteland. I sob for so long; no, not sob, this is not sobbing – sobbing I have done before – this I never have. This is primal, agonised despair coming out, coated in injustice and terror.
Suddenly my Ross is there beside me. My soul is heaving upon the tiles.
‘I can’t do this!’ I scream.
His comforting hands are upon me. His soothing voice sounds in my ears, ‘Yes you can love’.
I realise that I have to do this. I don’t have a choice, because of the child … my child. I have to survive because I am having a baby. If I cannot get through this, then my baby will die. The cruel twist of fate stabs freshly at me. Maybe if I keep drinking it will go away. I need more wine, more something – anything! I need it to all go away. Go away! I can’t face you! I cannot bear for this to be my truth! It is not. It can’t be. But it IS! FUCK, FUCK, FUCK!!!
I don’t know what else to do, so I write some more. I pour out feelings onto the pages. Suddenly, I find myself overcome with anger; a volcano of seething rage swirls within me – rage at her for dying. My being is vibrating, but it is not with life. I’m not alive. How can I be alive right now in this moment? Living is so insurmountable, so paradoxically impossible. I rage at her in my head. I begin to go mad. I scream at her, ‘You give me the one task I cannot possibly humanly achieve, you extravagant mole?! And what am I left with? These mediocre lamentations of a past that was so gloriously beautiful but which I ignorantly did NOT fully appreciate?!’
I am so raw. Help me. Please, please, help me. Make this not real, I beg of you. Make this not real – an illusion that I’ve unknowingly stumbled upon. I will wake up tomorrow and find this just a hideous dream. What is tomorrow? I don’t know now. But it will be okay tomorrow. You will come home to me. I cannot exist without you. I need you to guide me, love me … help me. Come back to me!! How am I supposed to do this?! No one can. You ask the impossible. You have always asked high of me, but this?! It would serve you right if I couldn’t survive it! But you know I will you cunning, gorgeously pink bitch of a thing. You know I have to. You’re all smug there, aren’t you, in your perfect fuchsia utopia?!
I love you. Please come back. Please. Mummy … please …
I want to stab – yes, I said STAB the grief out of me. Grief does not even explain it. It is too futile a word, and not nearly powerful enough. I need you mum. Please come back to me. MUMMY!
I suppose you’re up there, all proud and mighty, ASSUMING that I will – in my grief laden, apocalyptic, sadistic fury – produce the best writing of my life, get it published and thus become famous, so then you can live vicariously through me, revelling in the sheer genius of your one spectacular offspring! And thanks for that by the way – way to go not giving me any siblings to help me through this RIDICULOUS phase of what I suppose is still life!
Breathe, please just breathe Rebecca. It’s not all lost. Just try.
Won’t you just come back to me? Take a breath now. I beg so desperately for you to come back. How can you do this to me!? I need you! Who protects me now? FUCK! PINK NEON SHINING LIGHT OVER THE WORLD BLARING THE WORD ‘FUCK’!!!
My hands are moving. They are performing tasks. How extraordinary. How can they do that? They are surreal; not attached to me at all. Nothing is. And it’s better that way. Protect me.
You were so wonderful. You drove me nuts, but by god I loved you.
My hands – the hands that aren’t mine – run down my neck and wrap around my body, in what would be a comforting gesture from a mother. How easy is it to break a neck? I need another reality. Produce one. If you love me, if you care for me at all, then you’ll produce another one this instant!
Fuck you. I’m not drawing you a monumental portrait to hang ominously and majestically over my hearth. I won’t do it, damn it! Haven’t you got enough photos strewn around the shop as a testament to your greatness – images that will now torture us all!?
Please don’t make me think anymore. Tell me about your day instead. Please come home and tell me about the movie you saw. What the fuck am I doing this for? How am I even making shapes on this page? I want to SMASH everything in existence, but I have no strength to do so. There is writhing, searing pain enveloping me. I can’t cope. I can’t escape it. Oh death, please stop gnawing at what’s left of my consciousness …
I finish writing. The anger is strewn across the pages. But it is still not enough. I am now completely mad – mad with shock, anger, and alcohol. What to do? What should I DO?! I must do something. I manically search for motion, because I can’t sit with grief. I hate him – HATE him!
I feel an urge to paint. Yes, I must paint. I’ll paint the nasty prick Grief, and then maybe he’ll be satisfied and fuck off. Luckily I have a big canvass lying about – how ridiculously convenient. I grab it. I throw furniture out of the way and toss the canvas onto the living room floor. Ross brings me paint. I set about making a giant tub of pink – lots and lots of pink. I coat the canvass in pink. It’s not enough, so I start to slam colour onto the canvass. I put the colours on the silly, insignificant, inadequate brush, and I push them, throw them, punch them, slash them, rip them, splatter them, smear, flick, scratch, DESTROY THEM!!!
Paint is everywhere. My body is covered in paint. The blobs are the smashed colours of my smashed heart. Furniture and floor are sprayed with the colours of death. I am spent. And I don’t feel the slightest bit different. I have used oil paint, so Ross has to wash it off my naked, shaking frame with turpentine. I wish it could burn the grief out of me. I get put to bed, knowing that I have to get up in the morning and start making arrangements for the funeral, knowing that I have to survive tomorrow.
Mother’s Day 2009
The preparation starts at least one month ahead. There is a gift protocol – as there is with all festive occasions. But the Mother’s Day protocol is especially stringent; it is, after all, the one day of the year when Ellie can unashamedly be herself – that is completely and utterly selfish, childish, exuberant, cheerful, and openly demanding of adoration and worship. To fulfil her expectations one must provide offerings, both material and service wise. To make her happy a minimum of six gifts – all pink and all individually wrapped – must be purchased and offered, with one ‘primary’ present to be opened last, and a very soppy card with lots of moving words. But to make her really happy it is advisable to get ten gifts.
Ellie herself makes suggestions for these gifts months in advance. She sees something she likes out shopping or on TV, and she says, ‘You could get that for me for Mother’s Day if you like. It’s coming up you know’. Then, as the day draws closer, she suggests things more frequently, as she begins to panic that maybe there won’t be enough gifts. To these comments I always reply, ‘I already got you something’. I word my response very carefully. I enjoy seeing the hint of panic in her eyes at the mention of ‘something’, as ‘something’ implies only one thing. So there’s no mistaking the fact that she expects more than this, she adds, ‘Well, you could get me that as well if you wanted to’. I smile and continue doing what I’m doing, knowing full well that we are both aware that I have already purchased her many satisfactory gifts, that all lie in wait, safely stowed away, ready for her rapturous, greedy, grabbing paws.
The blessed day finally arrives. I set my alarm the night before to get up early. I rouse myself sleepily, gather my strength, and then get up and begin the preparations. I grab my supply bag – one of those massive plastic bags that are so monstrously large that they drag on the floor. This particular specimen of giant bag is bursting with pink goodness, positively bulging out with abundant goods. My first move is to check Ellie’s whereabouts. Being a person that needs little sleep, she’s obviously gotten up several hours prior. My best guess is that she’s either fallen back asleep in her recliner whilst reading a book, or she’s on a cleaning frenzy listening to Il Divo. Other possibilities could be that she might be glued to the travel section of the paper, or chatting on the phone.
I sneak out of my room, my stealth made slightly more difficult due to the noisy, bulging bag. As I make my way down the passage into the living room I am immediately alerted to her whereabouts by the sound of snoring coming from the lounge room. I sneak a peek. Ellie is wrapped in her fluffy pink dressing gown, with her hair sticking up, lying stretched out on the maroon recliner, with a book open on her lap. Her head is tipped back and her mouth is open, dribbling, and making fretful snorts. Excellent – this is the optimal position from which I can enact my master-plan.
I glide past her, pause for a second to consider getting the camera, but then quickly reprimand myself, ‘There’s no time you FOOL!’ I quietly shuffle outside. I go round to the ‘grassy’ patch (Ellie did not care for gardening) around the corner and begin arranging the plastic outdoor table setting. First I place a bright pink tablecloth over it. Then I get out the first tub of multi-coloured glitter and pour it over the table. I then arrange the ten individually wrapped pink presents on the table in a giant, aesthetically pleasing pile, with the primary present strategically placed at the bottom, and the card balancing on top. Satisfied with the structure, I get the second giant tub of plain pink glitter and pour it over the gift heap. I place the chairs around the table. I place a pink sarong on her chair and put it within easy grabbing reach of the gift pile. I then take the third tub of multi-coloured glitter and make a path with it from the table to the back door. Right – stage one is complete.
The next step is to create the atmosphere. I grab the little CD player and take it outside, perching it near the table. I sneakily place a CD in it, which is actually one of her gifts – Ronan Keating’s, ‘Songs for my Mother,’ that I loathed to have to purchase. Of course the CD itself needed to be wrapped as one of the ten gifts, so I wrapped the cover after taking out the CD. I turn the CD on and set the volume low.
Time to enact stage three … I tip-toe inside and make her breakfast, whilst listening out for continued evidence of sleep in the form of snorts. I make a cup of tea for her, with one sugarine, and a coffee for myself. I use a carefully selected pink mug with a kitten on it for her tea (a former present from me). I also make her some vegemite on toast. I take these items to the table and place them near her chair so she is able to sample them without restricting her immediate access to the gift pile, which will be her primary focus.
Feeling particularly chuffed with myself I go back inside with the final task of waking her up. This is never a pleasurable experience. I have found that it’s best to do it like ripping off a Bandaid – shout at her and then jump backwards. I do just that. I pad into her, stand near her, but not close enough to get injured, and gently but loudly say, ‘Mum, time to wake up!’ Then I quickly back away.
Her eyes fly open as with an almighty snort she lifts her head and begins flailing madly in the chair, like a turtle on its back. Finally my face comes into focus and she settles down, putting her face into a childish pout.
‘Come on, time for brekkie, we’re going outside,’ I say.
She furrows her brow, pouts her lips and murmurs, ‘Get out Rebecca. I was sound asleep’.
‘Ah yes’, I say, ‘But I think there may be some gifts outside for you’.
Her big blue eyes widen like saucers, and she girlishly giggles whilst simultaneously trying to extract herself from the chair. She is – of course – in flannelette pyjamas sporting some frighteningly cute pink bunnies on them, and her pink fluffy slippers. She pads to the back door and sleepily peers out, her hair sticking up at the back like a wet cockatoo crest. The gift table is deliberately obstructed from her view. This creates a moment of unnecessary but reflexive panic in her.
‘Where are my presents Rebecca you little tease?’ she says, in her baby voice.
I open the door for her and she immediately identifies the path of glitter. She squeaks with delight and scrambles after the glitter, gasping in glee at the sight of the gift table. She nestles into her chair and sips her tea whilst eagerly surveying the pile. Her expression tells me that it is to her upmost satisfaction. I sit down with my coffee, ready to enjoy the show.
She reaches delicately for the card, opens it, reads it, and gets a little tear. Then her smile grows mischievously wide, as she asks which pressie she can open first. The little one at the front I say. Receiving permission, she greedily snatches at the gift and unwraps it quickly, yet skilfully, so as to preserve the paper, and triumphantly holds up the pink calculator.
Now, a word must be noted about the gifts themselves. They were purchased some time before at one of those hideous variety stores. Ten tacky, cheap pink items were selected, along with pink paper and glitter. As Ross and I were going through the checkout I seriously contemplated lying when the cashier asked me if we were shopping for our daughter’s birthday. Making a quick decision that lying may lead to more questions and subsequently more lies, I sheepishly answered, ‘No – my mother’s’. She stopped what she was doing and looked at me. Then, as she slowly kept loading the items into bags, said, ‘Oh, how old is she?’
’55,’ I replied, quite boldly this time. I smiled at her poorly masked confusion and grabbed my overstuffed bags of pink tackiness and waltzed out the door. Now, finally, I was enjoying the rewards of that embarrassing exchange, as Ellie manically devoured each gift, getting more and more delighted, smiling and laughing and clapping her little hands together excitedly with the unveiling of each one. Well, well worth the effort; a happy Ellie is a wondrous thing to behold, even with the knowledge that my duties have just begun and there will be dinner and five hundred rounds at the pokies tonight.