I wake up early one morning. I am still sleeping in mum’s room. Ross is already at work. I open my eyes and look around at the shining, gleaming, happy pink walls, and I am instantly driven by a need to make this room radically different. I cannot bear to look at it the way it is for one second longer. I must repaint it – now. It cannot remain pink. It is a beacon of remembrance that saps my sanity. If I am to stay here, then I must erase the overwhelming ‘Elliness’, or it will surely drive me mad. I must make this room into my own, and I must do it right now.
As I manically drive to Bunnings with the aim of procuring paint of the non-pink variety, I remember when I painted her room pink to surprise her. She was away on one of her trips, and I decided to paint it pink for her birthday. I chose a dark pink feature wall, with lighter pink for the other three. I plodded away at it for days. Then I got drunk one night with my friend Kale, and thought it would be a good idea to finish it off. I was absolutely amazed at my painting skill whilst inebriated – until I woke up the next morning. Let’s just say it needed some touch-ups. I remember how excited mum was when she first saw her new room. She loved that room. I cannot bear the pink anymore. Remembering it all, and how happy it made her, is too painful.
I am quite mad with desperation for it to be not pink, as I chose from a wealth of paint samples. I used to love the paint samples. I would spend hours eagerly looking through them all before I decided on the perfect one. As such I would go and collect giant wads of them, then take them home to peruse, before making a short-list and eliminating each contender until the final one reigned supreme. This is the fastest paint-related decision I have ever made. I quickly scan the shelves and pick a sunny light yellow – one that’s nice, but not too cheerful. I also hastily select a shade of white. I smack the samples down on the counter and drum my fingers, while the insufferably slow Bunnings man makes them up.
I roar back home with them, fuelled with purpose. I drag them into the house and plonk them down in the doorway to her room. I am immediately confronted with a problem. Mum’s hideously oversized bed is obstructing access to the wall behind it, and her monstrous drawers are against the opposite wall. They can’t be moved to the centre of the room, because there’s not enough space. They need to be moved out of the room. I look down at my very, very large belly. I know I shouldn’t lift anything – particularly of this magnitude – but I am just so desperate to remove the pink.
I consider the dangers for a brief moment, before decidedly storming into the room and proceeding to heave the cumbersome bed and drawers out of the way. With a great deal of groaning, and some very questionable and skilful manoeuvres on my part, I finally stand in an empty pink shell. I spend a few moments allowing myself to soak in the pink before I erase it. That one moment is enough allows enough space for the memories to begin to pour through me; sad, happy, blissful, hilarious … they all burn through me. It quickly becomes too much to bear, so I pick up my roller, pause briefly, and then slap it onto the pink. There is no going back now. I roll so ferociously that I break a nice sweat. I need to cover the pink. I need to replace it. I need to cover the feelings. I need to cover the grief, coat the anger, hide the sadness, and replace the madness.
When Ross comes home from work, he is greeted by an exhausted, pregnant girlfriend, standing in an empty room of yellow and white lies.
Next, with a slightly more rational mind, I consider the need for a nursery. We were going to do up the spare room for the baby. But now that my room has moved to the other end of the house, I want the baby closer to me. The study is the better option. Now, when I say ‘study’ I must clarify; this little room (technically a fourth bedroom) was for years utilised as Ellie’s ‘study’. But it was not a study in any sense of the word – it certainly never functioned as a working space. This was because mum filled it to the absolute brim with crap she hoarded. It contained mountains and mountains of books and teaching ‘resources’. Had anyone else ever entered the space they certainly would not have been able to locate anything useful. Yet, somehow, mum was always able to pluck out what she needed from the seemingly endless piles of carefully constructed chaos, which always amazed me. When I started my PhD I announced to her that as I would require a neat, functional working space and that I intended to transfer all her things to the ‘games-room’, and make the ‘study’ into an actual study. I did just that, and it took me weeks. She didn’t help of course; she just hovered restlessly as I moved her stuff, demanding to know exactly what was going where, suspicious that I might be tempted to throw some decrepit things out. Tempting though the idea was, I would not have dared.
Now I need to transform that space once more, though this time turning it into a nursery. Hopefully he won’t need it for long, but I feel I need a completed room for him regardless.
Now I stand in that same space, that is indeed now a tidy study, devoted to a passion that has entirely left me. I cannot imagine that love of ancient history ever captivating me ever again. It once enraptured me. Now it seems hollow, and meaningless – irrelevant even. It’s amazing how death changes your perspective on everything.
The space is no longer required as a work space. I have a much more pressing use for it. I pack up all my stuff and box away what I want to keep. Then I set about transforming the space into a place fit for a baby. I decide to keep it green, so I just move in the wardrobe and the cot, and I place the toys that I have collected around the room. I take my time doing this, though it is a fairly futile effort. I know that this space will never be what I need it to be. I need it to be a sanctuary – a haven of peace and delight for my son. Now that death has entered this house, no room within it is capable of providing this. But I have no choice but to try my best to make it so. When I am finished, I stand in the new space, and I feel content with what little I have been able to achieve under the circumstances.
And then, as I take my time looking at the new room, some new feelings arise in me. As I look at all the baby things it really dawns on me for the first time … there will be a baby soon. I am bringing another little person into this world. The thought is both exciting and terrifying, and my mind flits between the two sensations. I can’t wait to meet my son. But I am so indescribably sad that mum will not be there to greet him at the hospital. That thought makes me freshly angry at her … how dare she not be here for that! She had no right to leave, particularly not before the most important moment of my life! Now I must face it all without her. And that terrifies me to the core. I don’t know how I will cope with motherhood without my own mother. I am still grieving, so I don’t even know how good a mother I am going to be to my child. I had a great mother – in that I was so lucky. I want to give my son a great mother too – one that is captivating and hilarious, and clever and happy. That seems so impossible now, so utterly implausible. Those emotions elude me now. How will I find a way to get them back?
I shake my head free of the anger and the fear. All I can do right now is to try to make this space liveable. And I am doing it; as hard as it is, I am making the place into ‘our’ place. I have actually managed to make it quite beautiful, and it grief has not been the only force driving it, for there has been love in in too. But, no matter what I do, I am still haunted by the overwhelming absence of her. Still, there is nothing I can do but move forward, and try to create some peace here. I will do it for my son. I will do it for us.
All the while we are still trying to sell this house. The notion of having to simultaneously get it ready for our child, and for sale, is quite ridiculous. It seems so unlikely to have to do both, and yet that is precisely what we are doing. We have hired an agent called Harley; I quite enjoy that name. A strange man comes into the house and photographs all the rooms, knowing nothing of the memories or emotions that have filled them. Within a week we get a good offer on mum’s house. We agree to sell. And this time it does go through. Now it is just a matter of finding another house to move into. It is such a critical decision, and yet I am so pressed for time.
While I am debating which house is right for me and my little family, Trudy calls me. I update her on everything, and tell her mum’s house has been sold. She begs me to reconsider buying the Bunbury house. She is absolutely certain that I will regret it if I don’t buy it. She puts serious doubt in my mind. Have I made the right decision to let the house go? I am frazzled with indecision again.
Of all things, it is my dreams that save me – the very same dreams that have been terrorising me. That night, after I have spoken to Trudy, I have a different dream. I dream that I am in the Bunbury house, in my grandparent’s bedroom, at night. I hear a tapping on the window. I go to the window and shift the curtains to peer out. My Grammy and Gramps are standing there. I go to the front door and let them in. We sit at the kitchen table, as tons of strangers filter through the house. They ask me why I have given up, why I am not buying the house, why I am not honouring their memory. They say that the house needs to be with me – that they meant for it to be that way. They tell me that they want me to have the house …
I wake up the next morning with a sense of purpose and urgency. Ross is sitting outside in the patio, drinking his morning coffee. I stride outside, and blurt out that I’ve made a huge mistake. I tell him I think we need to reconsider Bunbury. We talk it over. He can see the rekindled hope in my eyes. I know that nothing has been done about the house as yet, so it is technically still feasible that we could buy it. We agree to ask my uncles if they are still willing to sell it to me. I call my dad straight away, and tell him that I have changed my mind. We talk over the practicalities and I assure him that this time I am absolutely certain that I want it. I know that I do. I know that this was always meant to be – the house should be mine. He agrees to call my uncles’ and negotiate. I just pray it’s not too late.
The sale of mum’s house is finalised, and Dad has negotiated on the purchase of my little blue house. It is not too late, and my uncles are still happy for me to buy them out, praise the lord that I don’t believe in! A price is agreed upon. Luckily I have inherited mum’s share of the house, so I only need to buy the other two thirds. A contract is drawn up. It is a bit tricky, because the house is still in gramps’ name. This means that it must go into mum’s name, along with John’s and Chris’, and then mum’s share must go into my name. There is a procedure for bypassing mum, but it still involves paperwork. But by now I have had so many dealings with lawyers that I am proficient at lawyer related documents. The paperwork is handled, and settlement is set for February. It is now near December. I am working against the clock. My baby is coming; he is due on the 16th of January. He will still be born here, in Perth, and he will still spend the first weeks of his life in this house. But it doesn’t matter, because we are moving to the little blue house soon after. It is going to be my house after all. The slightest tingle of hope re-enters my being.
The remaining six weeks of my pregnancy are consumed by getting ready for the birth, and the arrival of our son. We continue to get the house organised, just keeping what we need, and putting the remaining things into boxes. It is frightfully remarkable how difficult big boxes are to come by when you actually need them. They seem to be all over the place when you don’t need them, but as soon as you require multiple ones they are nowhere to be seen. I have actually had to go to a place, in an industrial area, that sells cardboard boxes. What a thoroughly boring occupation, I muse as I select as many boxes as my little car can carry. I never want to look at another box again after this ordeal! I never want to have to move again – it’s a pain in the arse – and I imagine it would be highly irritating even without being grief-stricken and eight months pregnant. Luckily, now that I have my blue house, I don’t intend to move again for the rest of my life. I will happily spend all my remaining days there, watching my children grow and form their own families.
Ross and I are getting excited about the imminent arrival of our son. Some good emotions captivate me for a time, which is so unbelievably refreshing. But the bad ones still linger, mercilessly, in the background. But for the most part I manage to ignore them somehow. I focus on my baby and the prospect of giving birth, and of moving. We will be moving at the end of February. If he comes on time, then he will be about six weeks old. To prepare for this we try to pack up as much stuff as possible before he arrives. There are so many boxes everywhere!
Despite many things being finalised, there are still more decisions to be made. But there is hope now, and that’s the most important thing. And there is actually genuine excitement. Our child is coming … finally. Our salvation is going to come into the world.