The loss of Ellie has completely fragmented my once solidified family. The timing of it was most brutal. Having just lost a grandfather, father, father-in-law, uncle, great-grandfather – three weeks later, the family lost a mother, a sister, an aunty … a niece. It was too much. Nobody could take it. Les, my gramps, and Ellie, his beloved daughter, were the glue that held this formerly happy family together. They were what made the family come together for festivities, birthdays, Christmas’, all manner of gatherings. Now those events are marred by extreme loss. I don’t know if we will ever have one again. That saddens me, and yet, the idea of having one makes my body sigh with loss at the thought of the empty chairs that would haunt the space.
I am not enough to sustain my family. Ellie was so big, so fun, so vivacious, so energetic, so demanding, and so delightful, that she held us all together with her gigantic personality. Now she is gone. And I am deficient. I am not enough to make the ones left behind reunite once more.
And I remind them of what they have lost – I even look like her. Nobody can deal with losing her. Every member of this family has fragmented and gone into isolation, desperately seeking a way to cope and survive. It seems the only we can do this is as individuals – taking care of our own little families. There is no energy for anything else. It is so sad. But at least everyone seems to be managing to do it, be it as empty hollow shells of their former selves. No one has the power or strength to help anyone else. It is more than they can bear to simply attempt to save themselves. Or so it seems to me. I could be completely wrong. But it is the only way I can justify to myself why my family has fragmented and why I feel so abandoned. And I need to be able to justify it to survive myself.
New plans are being made. I have decided that I cannot buy the Bunbury house. I cannot deal with Uncle Chris’ reaction. He has taken away my will to fight for the house. We will find somewhere else to live – Ross, me and our son. The main thing is that we are together, right? We will look for another house, somewhere else far away from here. It has to be somewhere out of Perth. Staying here would mean death. I need to be somewhere else before I bring my child into the world. There is too much grief slipping off the walls of this place. It will kill us all.
I must continue with the practicalities. I must complete the tasks at hand. I must keep moving. I must try not to think about the Bunbury house, and the fact that it is lost. I must try not to think of my uncle hating me. I must only think of what needs to be done here, in this house that belonged to my mother.
My new task is to make pink thank-you cards for everyone that attended the funeral. I put a jovial picture of mum, Debbie-with-1-leg, and me on the front. I remember the night that photo was taken. Saran and his boyfriend, Andrew, were visiting from London. We met them out at a gay bar. It was mum, Deb, Lara and me. And I seem to recollect one of my many male suitors being involved too. Ellie and Debbie took to a gay bar like pink fluffy gloves. It was a spectacular night. We took so many photos. We were all so happy then. Yes, it’s a perfect picture for the funeral cards. I write a poem to go inside. I make hundreds of them, print them out, and fold them. I have to go through all the little funeral cards to see who attended, so I can send them a card. It is a horrid thing to have to do, yet I am compelled to see it through. I am happy for the action it gives my hands and mind. I write on all the pink cards, put them in envelopes, address them, and send them.
I then set my hands to decorating mum’s urn. It is currently a gaudy plain gold – far, far too boring and entirely and offensively lacking in pink. When I went to retrieve her ashes from the Crematorium, I got to choose from hundreds of urns. None of them were pink. None of them were festive. I decided quickly that none of them would suffice. So I just picked a plain gold one, and scurried out, with the intention of decorating it myself. It has sat on my bedside table until now – deficient in its lack of pink. The time has come to adorn it.
I go to Spotlight and I buy $160 worth of pink glitter, feathers, sequins, jewels and other adornments. I sit outside in the patio, with cigarettes and wine and sad music, and I painstakingly decorate the urn with my love for her breaking the inside of me apart.
It takes me days to finish the urn. Whilst I am plodding away at it, the man who lives next door knocks at my door. I am surprised, because I have had very little to do with him. My dad answers the door. Evidently the man next door has seen the skip bins out the front of my house, and is enquiring as to whether we are intending to sell the house. Dad tactfully explains. The man next door gives his condolences, but adds that he would like to buy my house for his son. This is a most unexpected tit-bit of good luck. If he does indeed follow through, then it would save us the trouble, and time, of having to put the house on the market. This would mean that we could move into another house much faster. I can’t stand it here any longer – every day is torture. If the man next door wants it, he can have it.
We settle on a reasonable price. It all looks good. But we have to wait for finance approval from his bank. More waiting – oh, how I hate all the waiting – there are just far too many things that I have absolutely no control over. Meanwhile we are searching for another house to buy. We look at houses in Pinjarra. If we move there then at least we will be close to dad and Jane, who live in Mandurah. After looking at only a few, we find one that’s perfect. It’s not a patch on my little blue house in Bunbury, but that dream is dead, and this one is nice enough. I can imagine having a family there. I cannot let myself get too sad about the blue house. I have become quite good at repressing my emotions – something I rarely did before death entered my world. In fact, I was against repression in general, and was a strong advocate for voicing your emotions and knowing yourself. I was a fool to think that principle would always stand.
We put an offer in on the house in Pinjarra. It gets accepted. We discuss it and aim to get ourselves to into the Pinjarra house before our son is born. It all looks possible at this stage. But we must wait for the man next door to get his finance first. While we wait, I get mum’s house ready for a new owner. With a huge belly I paint and clean and order and sort through every nook and cranny.
I have a garage sale of death.
I spread all her unwanted things out across my front driveway. It seems so callous and unfeeling. But in a way I guess I have to be unfeeling. If I feel then I will not be able to move anywhere. When all the stuff is laid out on offer, I sit and wait, looking at all the useless items, imagining her anger at my attempt to sell any of them. I used to get excited every time there was a verge collection, because it gave me a chance to have a good sort and throw some shit out. Mum always panicked at the idea, and would go down and examine every item I put on the curb – even though they weren’t her things. Of course, she too loved verge collections, but for an entirely different reason; she was one of those people who drove around looking for stuff on other people’s curbs. She would come back with loads of crap, quite mad with joy at her new and useless acquisitions.
As I watch the people come and scour the piles of items for sale, I am laden with heavy memories. Hundreds of garage sales from the past flicker painfully through my mind. She loved a good garage sale. She loved a bargain. She used to beg me to go garage sale seeking on the weekends. And now I am having one of my own. When I used to complain about her hoarding, which I did frequently, she always said she intended to have a garage sale. When she refused to throw something out, she placed it in her shed, saying to me, ‘Someone might buy it at our garage sale Rebecca’. She said that for ten years. We never had one. We got a mountain full of crap in the shed instead. And now I have had to filter through it, all alone. Now I have to sell those things, alone. Now I am the one who is finding it hard to let go of them; because they are bits of her life. They are bits of her life that are going away … following her away from me.
30th of August 2009
Ellie was not homely. She did not want to be homely, and she certainly didn’t understand anyone who was homely. In fact, she was quite fascinated that she had produced a daughter that was so naturally homely. At first she was slightly embarrassed by this unforseen development, until she quickly realised that there were significant advantages for her in having produced a child who actually enjoyed cooking, interior decorating and gardening – general pastimes that Ellie found unseemly and perplexing.
That is why it was such an achievement for me, on this particular Sunday, to have managed to convince Ellie to accompany me to Bunnings. Ellie didn’t understand why anyone would ever want to go to Bunnings, let alone why the establishment bothered to sell ‘gift’ vouchers. She, of course, liked people utilising things procured from Bunnings to do useful things for her, but she did not want to be involved in the process in any capacity. She preferred projects – such as a painted room or a hearty cooked meal – to be presented to her in their completed form.
As such, I had only managed to convince her to come to Bunnings this Sunday through cunning forethought. Ellie, like most children, could be easily bribed. So, by promising her that we could go to the hideous novelty store ‘Gone Bazaar’, conveniently placed opposite Bunnings, afterwards, she suspiciously agreed. Ellie loved novelty stores. I knew this was the only way to get her to come, despite the fact that I would spend ten minutes gathering my supplies from Bunnings, in comparison to her hour long browsing of the tacky merchandise on offer at Gone Bazaar.
As I drove to our destination she whinged about having to go to Bunnings first, and demanded to know how long we had to spend there. Being highly unfamiliar with the store, she also wanted to know if there was anything at all that she would enjoy looking at. I told her probably not, but there was a nursery section with very pretty flowers. She liked flowers; please don’t misunderstand however – she did not like planting them or caring for them in any way – she like looking at them.
We arrived at Bunnings. I sprung out of the car excitedly, with my shopping list, as Ellie slowly fumbled with her seatbelt in an attempt to stall the inevitable. As she got closer to the entrance, her speed reduced as she murmured, ‘Maybe I’ll just go to Gone Bazaar and you can meet me in there’. She looked like a frightened child.
I had anticipated this reaction, and I knew this was the time for me to be firm or I’d lose her. I replied, ‘No, you promised – we’re going in together and then I’ll come with you and look at the pretty things in Gone Bazaar after. It will only take a minute’.
Ellie hesitated, then summoned her willpower and brazenly marched into Bunnings. I walked in after her and began heading to my desired section, when I quickly noted that she was not beside me. I turned around and found her paralysed at the end of the entry aisle, clutching her handbag, staring wide-eyed at all the ominous signs, which bore distasteful things like ‘tools’ and ‘paint’ and ‘fixtures’.
I padded back to her and gently took her arm. I said, ‘I just need to pop over here to the craft section’. She physically shuddered in horror at the idea of being presented with a craft section. Noting this, I said, ‘Why don’t you go down to the nursery and look at the flowers and maybe pick one you like for me to plant in the garden?’ I pointed to the nursery, and a somewhat placated Ellie silently shuffled off toward the pretty plants, keeping as far away as possible from all the other ‘handy’ aisles.
I knew I didn’t have much time before she either panicked completely at her unfamiliar surroundings, or got bored, so I quickly gathered up my supplies. But because I knew I was short on time, of course I couldn’t find one thing on the list. I scanned the aisles and shelves, madly thinking, ‘Damn it, there’s no time, there’s no time!’
Sure enough, before I had found the last elusive item, Ellie was standing at the end of the isle. She boldly whinged, ‘I’m bored now, I want to go now, can we go?’
Relinquishing my search for the last item I went with her to the checkout, where she began to relax. She piped up cheerily with questions such as, ‘How long can we spend in Gone Bazaar Rebecca?’ and ‘Can we look for garage sales on the way home?’
To these childlike hopeful questions, I gave her the answers that would most delight her – as long as you want in Gone Bazaar, and yes, we can look for garage sales on the way home. Ellie was happy. Having finished my transaction, I left the counter to head for the exit. The journey across the road to the hideous cheap novelty store was the polar opposite of the one into Bunnings, as Ellie bounced in excitement in front of me, beaming, and exclaiming, ‘Quickly Rebecca! We don’t want everyone else to get the good stuff! I’m going to look at everything – maybe they’ve got stuff I could use for school or I’ve got few friends birthdays comings up, let’s see, who is there, I know I’ve got some, yes I can surely find some pretty gifts in there and maybe even if there’s something pink you could buy it for me, sort of like a present – like a little reward – because I was brave and I went to Bunnings even though I don’t like it there Rebecca, so maybe if you wanted to or I really liked something …’
It is bad news, again. The man next door’s finance gets rejected. My hopes sink. I knew it was too good and convenient to work out. Stupid fool that I am – expecting anything to be easy after what has happened! Nothing will ever be easy again. The man next door – whom I am beginning to avidly dislike – asks for more time to get his finances in order. We have no choice but to give it to him and hope for the best. All the while I know that the baby is coming and we need to move quickly. We are rapidly running out of time.
Three more hideously drawn-out weeks of delays pass. The finance is rejected for the last time. The sale falls through. As I am now learning, everything has a butterfly effect in the housing market. The purchase of the Pinjarra house also falls through. Another house, that we might actually have had half a chance of being happy in, is lost. We must now sign up with an agent to try to sell mum’s house, which could be a very long process.
With a heavy heart, I resign myself to the fact that we will not be moving anywhere before the baby is born. There is not enough time now. There is no buyer and there is nowhere to go to. I am completely empty of hope. There is no solution. My son will be born here … he will spend his first days residing in this brick casing of tortured dreams. There is nothing I can do about it. I have tried and failed. I wanted so badly to have him born somewhere else. I needed to bring him home to another place! I needed to leave all this behind and begin afresh. The universe, having already taken so much, has denied me even that.
I am left with no choice. I must make this house into as much of a sanctuary as I can. I must do it for my son. I must do it for myself – try to reclaim some of the strength and joy I had in my former life, to give to my child. I will put all of my energy into doing this for my little family.