The day after the funeral I don’t feel as bad as I thought I would. This is very surprising to me. Obviously I still feel like I’ve been gutted by a collection of vengeful creatures attacking in unison – piranhas, tarantulas, wasps, asps, those weird speedy ants that coat you and eat you as your walking through the Amazon, box jellyfish, all manner of stinging jellyfish, sea urchins, cougars, hyenas, vultures, crocodiles, black widows, wolves, cobras and leeches. They’ve all had a go and eaten up my soul. But I’m glad the funeral is over, so I feel capable of letting them half-heartily chomp away at my remaining bits while I quietly contemplate what the hell I’m supposed to do now.
But quiet contemplation is not on the cards for me today. No, that would be far too merciful of the universe. Uncle John, Trudy’s dad and my mum’s oldest brother, comes up to see me. I am perched on the veranda, smoking. Evidently he needs to discuss the house – this house, my gramps’ house. I hadn’t thought about it until now. Gramps died a month ago, so naturally nothing had been sorted out in regards to his estate before his daughter was also taken. We must now discuss what is going to happen. I am forced to think about it, though I am still incapacitated. I know there had always been a tentative plan – mum and I had discussed it over the years because the house was so special to us and neither of us could bear to think of losing it. The idea was that mum and John would buy Uncle Chris out, then divide the property, and put a duplex on it – one for each of them. Mum didn’t want to let go of the actual house itself, but in terms of money and practicality it was the most she could hope for.
Now being put on the spot about my intentions, I immediately refer back to the plan mum and I had. I assumed this plan would still be going ahead I say to my uncle. I want to honour her wishes and I have no problem with the plan. But a large ugly spanner is thrown in the works. John cannot afford to buy Chris out. In fact, he needs the money from the sale of the property, and he needs it quickly, and so does Chris. I am completely surprised and unequipped to deal with this right now. From what he tells me – the day after my mother’s funeral – it now seems that if the treasured little house is to remain standing, then I alone must find a way to buy out both my uncles – and I must do so soon. I know straight away that the only way possible to achieve this is to sell mum’s house in Perth. But I don’t even know if that will cover it – the land here is worth much more.
My mind is a whirlpool of practical questions that I have no capacity to answer. Yet one instinctive thought forces its way through the fray. I MUST find a way to keep this house. I am instantaneously aware that my very survival depends upon it. But action needs to happen now – I have to get things moving now. I feel utterly overwhelmed. I sink into a decline at the prospect of having to do anything at all. But my mind is bent on it. Consumed by it. Possessed by it. This house is mine, and my child’s, only salvation.
Thank god for my father – my beautiful, intelligent, loyal, logical, practical father. I have told him of my predicament. He will help me find a way. I have no idea what to do and I am emotionally crumpled, but he reassures me that he knows what needs to be done. The very first thing we must do is go to a lawyer to sort out mum’s estate. We need to get mum’s house valued. And we must get gramps’ house valued too. This will tell us if it is even possible to buy my uncles out. If it is, then we must negotiate. And we must start doing all of this now.
But, before all of this, I must go home and face the dismal reality awaiting there in the shadows – that she is not there, waiting for me to return from my stint in this hellish nightmare. Luckily Trudy is still with me, and my Ross. We make the arduous journey back to Perth. A growing feeling of life dissolving sickness takes hold of my body and soul the closer we draw to the city … to the house I once shared with my mother. A feeling akin to panic grows in momentous proportions within me with each kilometre gained. I do not want to go back to that house. But I have no choice.
Suddenly it is there before me; the brick house in Padbury, with so many memories, both good and bad. It is standing there, as though nothing has happened. Somehow I manage to get my broken body inside the house – the house once filled with joy and laughter and parties and pink vivaciousness. Ross, Trudy and I stand in the living room and survey the scene of our grief. Flashes of a life once lived dance torturously through me. The house is an empty shell of abandoned dreams. It is devoid of life. I hate it. I realise that I feel nothing but contempt and hatred for the bones of this house. In that moment it becomes horrifically clarified that I cannot stay here. The little blue house on the hill in Bunbury is my one and only hope of survival.
The next days, weeks and months are a violent haze of practicalities mixed with torturous episodes of soul devouring grief. By day I focus on the tasks at hand, guided by my father. I do what needs to be done, though every action rips another piece of my heart from me. By night I retreat into the ravenous wilderness of death, as the grief takes over and forces its way brutally into the vacant, motherless night.
I have days where I am strong. I cope with the administrative crap all around me and manage to survive and think of my baby. And in truth, most days are like this. But I have other days as well – days where I believe I will not make it through and some where I don’t want to. It is on these days that I need to write – to purge my hallowed heart. The very worst aspects of who I now am are unveiled to me on these days. So much so that I do not recognise who I am anymore.
Mum loved life. She soaked it up like a greedy vivacious sponge. If there was a word to describe the way she moved through life, it would be GRAB! Her zest and enthusiasm for living put others to shame, and she would frequently complain about the lack of superhuman stamina possessed by others. She was, above all else, enduringly optimistic, cheerful and bubbly. Life threw her many obstacles and heartaches. But she bore them with a strength that continues to amaze me, and she never for a second lost her deep love for the vast adventure of living. She packed more into her 55 years than is humanly possible. There are only a few things she didn’t conquer, explore or experience. It was a truly magnificent life, a treasure trove of existence that one can only aspire to.
To get a sense of knowing Ellie it is first extremely important to grasp the fact that anyone who did know her loved her dearly. She was a monumental individual – completely and utterly spectacular, funny, clever and remarkable. She was the character of all characters. She didn’t just influence people’s lives; she bombarded them with her brilliant self-proclaimed magnificence and demanded to be of unparalleled importance, a feat which she easily accomplished.
She was very beautiful. Even as she got older and stacked on a bit of chub, she was still gorgeous – with radiant, big, adventure-loving blue eyes, and a smile that could light the entire world. She was under no illusions about her own beauty. She knew she was beautiful and had no difficulty exploiting it to get what she wanted. She also thoroughly enjoyed boasting about the exceptional genes in our family and was subsequently eager to keep the breeding line true to its original flawlessness. She was the funniest person on the planet, and everyone that knew her, whether intimately, or just crossing paths, would whole-heartedly agree. She lived her life by the philosophy of ‘love and laughter’. She built her empire around those two things. She filled lives with love and more laughter than the recipients could take. So much so that many people were known to wet their pants from laughing in her presence – be it with her or at her. She got immense fulfilment out of being a vessel of joy to those she cared for and was often known to demand that someone ‘do her’, whereby they would do an impression of something she had done or said that was amusing, at which she would laugh hysterically and slap her over-sized thigh.
Admittedly, she wasn’t the deepest person in the world. In fact, I would often make fun of her so-called ‘shallowness’. She loved the small and the grand things in life and was never known to wallow or reduce herself to self-indulgent bouts of sadness, though she would have been justified in many cases. She was not the type of person to reach into the confines of her soul and search its contents bravely, tackling the inner problems that lay dormant there. No, on the contrary, she blatantly ignored them, refusing to let them have an impact on her joy defining life experience. With this aspect of her personality her and I differed somewhat.
On a more serious note, Ellie was an exceptionally devoted and kind individual – rare traits in someone who also managed to be very selfish. Her loyalty and dedication to her family and her plethora of friends were unsurpassed. She provided those she loved with care, tenderness, compassion and empathy. She did, however, have a reputation for being rather ‘cold’ when it came to matters of romance. But this was merely a product of her experience – a defence mechanism if you will. Yes, the path to Ellie’s heart was an arduous one. Yet many men made the journey, or attempted it at least. That heart was indeed coveted by many, but seldom given fully.
Ellie loved to socialise. Her social agenda put me, and most others, to shame. She had more energy than the whole of humanity combined, which earned her the reputation of being like the pink energiser bunny. She was happy with this comparison due to her passionate love affair with the colour pink. Ellie adored all things pink – the tackier and gaudier the better. One could easily win her affections by procuring a two dollar pink item coated in glitter, wrapping it in festive pink paper, and offering it to her.
She lived to learn and travel. She was a gifted teacher and she made a lasting impact on her students, a fact that was clearly evident upon her passing if not before. Travel was her true passion. She was always planning her next adventure and there were few places in the world that she hadn’t ventured to. It was an exciting, action-packed life that spanned the width of the globe and left no stone unturned. Ellie loved travel so much that she put all her funds into it. Whilst her house decor remained mix-matched and relatively un-homely due to her lack of investment in it, the rest of the world received her full attention.
Ellie’s path through life was full, extravagant, jovial, greedy and zesty. She was born in 1954, in Bunbury, where she grew up in the little blue house on a hill, near the beach. Her parents, Hilda and Leslie, were beautiful people who were somewhat opposites. My grandfather was the gentlest, kindest, most content man I have ever known. My grandmother, on the other hand, was energetic, extravagant and slightly mad. She was known to throw dinner plates at my Gramps in a futile rage and burst into fits of laughter whilst performing a serious play at the theatre. The arrival of mum was a bit of a surprise. She had two older brothers, one 14 years older and one 7 years older. Grammy was 40 when she fell pregnant for my mum, and my Uncle John, at his impressionable age of 14, thought that it was utterly disgusting and refused to speak to my Grammy for the whole pregnancy. This only changed when Grammy caught him looking into the crib one night when mum was a tiny baby, and John grunted that he supposed she was pretty cute. Even then it was impossible not to love her.
Ellie was adventurous from the beginning. Though she was clever, she was more interested in socialising and dating then she was academic pursuits. She left school at 15, got a job as a receptionist in a doctor’s surgery, and begun to save for travel. She began travelling when she was 18 and she never stopped. Once she started to explore the world she was utterly hooked. She also had a gift for the stage, just as my grandmother had done. She appeared in many lead roles and even had her own television programme. She had a beautiful voice too, a talent that would one day see her performing for the Royal Family in Saudi Arabia. She was, in every sense of the word, spectacularly theatrical, both on the stage and off.
Throughout this time in her early adulthood she had many suitors that she was quite happy to dally with for a limited amount of time, before moving on, quite unfeelingly, to the next upgraded model. None during this time could truly capture her heart, despite their best efforts. She met my father, Brian, when she was 23. He had moved to Bunbury and was working as an engineer for Telecom. He approached her one night at the Rose Hotel under the pretence of knowing the friend she was with, and the sparks flew immediately. He asked her to come to his birthday party. She replied by stating, very matter-of-factly, that she was going out with someone else and asking if she could bring him. My father told her no, that she had to get rid of him. This impressed Ellie. She respected a man that had the strength to stand up to her as few ever did. She did go to the party, though she arrived without a gift as she thought he’d lied to her about it being his birthday. They quickly fell in-love, got engaged six weeks later, and got married soon after that. How they fell in-love is still a bit of a mystery to me as they are so extremely different, but I suppose opposites do attract for some people (though I’ve never found that philosophy to work for myself personally). In regards to the wedding, Ellie planned nothing and cared about none of the details. The two exceptions to this were her wedding dress – she was bent on wearing pink Chantilly lace, and the church – she chose St Bonifice because it had the longest isle in the South West.
After they were married they continued to live in Bunbury for a while and travelled the world together, as my father shared her passion in this regard. I was conceived five years later on one such adventure. I was born in 1982, given the hideous name Rebecca Jane, and I spent my first two years in Bunbury. We then moved to Perth where we built the house that I continued to live in until I was 27. When I was five we went to live in Saudi Arabia for a few years as dad had got a job over there. During that time Ellie quickly usurped the position of head social organiser of the ‘compound’ we lived on. She organised social events and taught at a local school, all of which she found remarkably fulfilling (She got her teaching degree when she was pregnant with me I might add). The Gulf War struck whilst we were living in Saudi. Mum and I came home, but dad got stuck over there. It was during this time apart that he met his now wife Jane, who I still maintain is a much better match for him. My parents got divorced when I was eight and my father remarried quite quickly. Mum and I stayed in the house in Padbury and she got work teaching.
During my adolescence and early adulthood Ellie was the object of many a man’s attentions, though she gave her full heart to none. She created a wonderful life for the two of us, although it was at often times very hard for her as a single mother. She never once let it show though. She crafted a remarkable sense of optimism and hope for me as she skipped through her life like a bright, sparkly pink social butterfly.
We were two peas in a comfy little pod. As it was just the two of us we became extremely close. We shared both the space and our hearts for 27 years. I moved out of her house twice, both times to live with a man, and quickly came scurrying back. We shared our whole lives openly. I talked to her about the audacity of my relationships with men, and she did hers. My friends were also known to request a session with Ellie, whereby they would bring their problems to her like one would a surrogate mum. She infallibly gave terrible advice, but she was guaranteed to make my friends and I double up laughing, no matter how bad we were feeling. Ellie was more like a big sister than a mother in this regard. She was also known to accompany me and my friends out on a serious drinking night. My 26th birthday springs to mind; a small group of us went, with mum and Debbie-with-1-leg, to the Hippy Club, where we danced and drank and courted all night, practically having to drag Ellie home at 5am (Debbie-with-1-leg will make various appearances in this book as one of our closest and most fabulous friends. Her absence of leg was due to a nasty bout of bone cancer, but Deb, much like Ellie, never let anything crush her enduring sense of adventure and optimism. The fact that Deb was also a mad drunk sweetened her appeal to both Ellie and myself).
I did remarkably well at school under Ellie’s somewhat oppressive encouragement and since leaving have been studying ever since. I got my bachelor’s degree, my honours in Classics and Ancient History, and then I got a scholarship to do my PhD, a feat that Ellie thoroughly enjoyed boasting about to anyone or anything with an intact pair of ears. It suited me fine to stay in the house with her whilst completing all this study.
This leads us up to the point I now find myself at – in this house that I shared with her for 27 years, a mere two months off finishing my PhD, and five and a half months pregnant with a child that I did not plan for. But it has all changed. It changed in an instant, on the 1st of September 2009. The sail was directed a completely different way, one that I did not expect, nor could have prepared for. The first day of spring will never be the same again. My life will never be the same again. I have just been to her funeral …