It is one year to the day that my mother died. The first thing I do is construct a shrine in her honour beneath the urn on the mantle. I do it silently and carefully. When I am finished it is an offering of pink, glittery, flowery glory.
I get into my car and drive to the Crematorium Gardens. I wander purposefully over to the rose under which the remains of my grandparents reside. I place a single pink rose of perfection there. I ask aloud that my Grammy and Gramps keep my mother safe. I ask them to keep taking care of her.
After I have paid my respects to them I drive down to the beach – the one that mum and I used to love to swim at, down by the rocks. I am well equipped. I have a bottle of terrible pink champers (literally called Pink). I also have the CD I made of songs that remind me of her – the one that I sent out to all her family and friends. I have my journal, and multiple packets of cigarettes. I open the wine and commence drinking it straight out of the bottle – like she used to do when she got home from work. I slot the CD into my radio – there are fifty people listening to it with me, all over the world, remembering her. I also have two pink roses to surrender to the sea – one from me, and one from my son – in her honour. An offering to her and a plea for her happiness in the glittery pink pastures of utopia. It also must be noted that I have dressed for the occasion. I am wearing a pink shirt, two festive pink scarves, one of her pink rings, and her pink pearly bracelet. I have pink earrings on – that she bought me on one of her trips. My hair is out and wild – the way she liked it. I have bright pink lippy on, glittery mascara, pink glittery eye-shadow and pink perfume. All this, and my ugg boots. She would be pleased. I just sit there in my car for a while, thinking, drinking and smoking.
The amount of times that I have taken a bottle of wine down to the beach, and subsequently gotten utterly intoxicated as I contemplated my life, I could not honestly count. But this time is quite different. It is more potent … more desperate – yet more peaceful. It is more insidious, yet more beautiful. It is more aching, yet more hopeful. It is definitely more fucked … yet it is more healing. I feel like my soul is drifting out on these waves; gently ebbing away from me. Being carried somewhere safe. Being carried to her.
When I am ready I take my two roses down to the sea. Despite the fact that it is freezing I walk knee deep into the healing water. I throw my first rose into the waves and thank her for all that she did for me. The second one is much harder. I stare at the little rose and think of how wonderful she would have been with my son. How cruel it is that she never got to meet him. ‘This one is from your grandson’ I say aloud, as I surrender the flower to the sea. When it is done I heave a sigh of deep sadness and sit in the water, fully clothed, bathing in my grief.
The scene is magical. The ocean is a canvas for my thoughts …Titanic boats moored on the horizon. The dappled sunlight, making the sea glitter. The lighthouse, standing proudly in its black and white coat. Black or white. Live or die. Seize life or ruin it. Take it or leave it. Be who you want to be or fade away. Love or shrivel up and waste away. Become your own saviour or tiptoe backward into obsolete reckoning.
I will do all that I can for you. Did I do all that I could for you?
Memories … Ah, the memories. And they all come flooding back in a gigantic wave of pink nostalgia.
There are so many things that I remember … So many things that I am terrified that I will forget one day. I let the memories come and wash over me.
I remember the sound of her laugh – the way it used to fill the room with mirth. Her cheeks used to glow, like pink balls of delight, when she laughed. Her laugh was utterly infectious.
I remember the way she used to sing when pottering around the house, usually to something hideous, such as Il Divo. This is the way I was usually woken up at 6am on a Sunday.
I remember the way she beamed with childish pride whenever she did anything domestic. These were rare occurrences indeed, and she subsequently expected a great amount of praise when she made an effort to do anything in the kitchen or the garden – even pulling up a singular weed. I remember sitting out the back drinking a coffee one sunny day. She sprang out and started surveying her dismal garden – a most foreign and unforseen action in itself. I stared at her in disbelief as she marched past me and plucked a particularly large weed from the barren garden. She then held it up triumphantly, smiling at me, as she declared, ‘Look Rebecca, I’m weeding! Are you proud of me?’
‘Yes, that’s an excellent effort’ I replied quickly, smiling to myself.
Of course she immediately lost interest after she got the praise she was after, and padded back inside to do something far more interesting – like read the travel section of the paper.
I remember her expression of delight when I went to pick her up from the airport. This I did thousands of times. I enjoyed having the house to myself for a little while, but I always missed her after a week.
I remember the way she used to open the fridge, and leave it open to swig wine from the bottle like water – very poorly chosen wine.
I remember the way she used to make our guests get her a cup of tea. The guest philosophy in our house was help yourself. People well acquainted with us knew that they needed to go to the fridge or pantry themselves if they wanted food or drink, and no-one would dare make themselves anything without preparing something for Ellie first.
I remember the way she planned extravagant dress-up parties – by providing the house and getting everyone else to do all the work, including continually filling up her glass with Passion Pop.
I remember the shopping. I remember how funny, exciting and frustrating it was to shop with her. She never kept to schedule, had a chronic case of impulse distraction, and usually came home with nothing on her list, but many other things she didn’t need.
I remember her big blue zesty eyes, her glowing pink cheeks, and her gleeful smile. Her smile was always present, even in the darkest moments.
I remember the vacant look on her face when I tried to explain anything technical or scientific, or logical for that matter, like why a circle is 360 degrees.
I remember the way she used to delightedly gnaw on a bone with the upmost focus. Remarkably, this was the only time that she remained fairly silent.
I remember the Chinese food we used to get from the local restaurant and the way we used to gorge in front of the TV. I remember watching terrible TV shows with her and bitching about the characters in soapies. I remember the way we both used to wiggle our toes as we watched.
I remember travelling with her – to Saudi Arabia, Africa and Europe as a child. To Bali, Phuket, Bali, Rome and Bali again with her as an adolescent and an adult.
I remember the way she almost made me wet my pants laughing when she let out a ripping fart after tai-chi class that echoed through the gymnasium. As we were leaving she suddenly began to panic and said that she needed to poo. I turned to her and said, ‘Don’t be so selfish, you know it’s the season finale of desperate housewives, there’s no time!’ This made her laugh. And with her laughter came an almighty fart.
I remember going to shows with her, too many to count. But, to count a few I do recall, we went to Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Michael Buble, Phantom of the Opera, Don Quixote, Disney on Ice, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Russian Ballet, Human Nature, John Farnham and countless others.
I remember Debbie and I trying to teach her to drink shots out on the back patio. It was a difficult mission, made easier only by the fact that we were drinking Cock Sucking Cowgirls – which were pink.
I remember our dog, Lacey, bringing toys into us as we lay in bed together on a Sunday morning. I remember going on walks along the beach, just the three of us.
I remember her throwing my Chicken Treat burger at the kitchen window in a fit of rage when I had lied to her about touching her car radio when I was eleven. She called my Grammy and told me to tell her what a little liar I was. Ellie did have a tendency to over-react sometimes.
I remember how much fun we had at The Court that night with Debbie, Lara, Saran and Andrew. Ellie fitted in to a gay club like a pink glittery glove.
I remember the kookaburra snatching the drumstick out of her gesticulating hand during a play in King’s Park. I remember the whole audience killing themselves laughing as we were right down the front. While they were laughing, Ellie stuck her bleeding thumb in the sand and said to me, ‘Rebecca, I’ve really hurt myself’.
I remember her first meeting with Saran. He and I got so drunk that night. We sang and danced up a storm outside until Ellie burst out and threatened to call the police herself if we didn’t shut up. She was truly terrifying in such scenarios. I remember how much her and Saran adored each other after that first incident, and how they laughed about it after. I remember our first trip to Sizzler’s with Saran, and how we all got so hysterical that mum had to go and hide in the toilet.
I remember the sound of her greatest fart ever – how it echoed through the hallway and the entire house, stopping me, Trudy and Melissa dead in our tracks.
I remember her telling me that she had to crawl up the passage way at Gramps’ house because poo was coming out and she didn’t want to get it on her new shoes.
I remember writing her an email from Rome telling her how proud she would be at all the free wine I had procured from men purely through my charm. I remember how much she enjoyed procuring free things, like the little shampoo bottles at hotels.
I remember all the movies – particularly when she got a bad case of nervous hysteria during tragic scenes.
I remember sitting out the back while Georgia, Mum and I exchanged stories about the audacity of men, and about poo.
I remember the bum dance that mum, Trudy and I used to do. I remember the face that only our family could pull.
I remember the way she patiently played Yatzee with her father. I remember what a beautiful, loyal and devoted daughter she was.
I remember the way Denise (her best friend since school) used to come up after she finished work at 10pm to play board games with mum. Mum always said that if the front veranda light was on it was okay for Denise to come up to play games after work. The light was never off.
I remember the jovial family Christmas’.
I remember her terrible advice.
I remember her beaming with pride at all my achievements.
I remember her holding me.
I remember her loving me…
All these memories flood through my mind as I stare at the ocean. There is so much beauty in them. There is so much sadness in what I have lost that I cannot possibly ever describe it fully.
I think of the letter that I sent out to everyone to read today. They will all be reading it today. I think about the memory that I included with it. As I was asking everyone for a memory I decided to put one of my own in with the request. It took me ages to settle on just one to write about to share with all her friends and family. Then I remembered the night before she died. It was the perfect memory to share.
Monday August 31st 2009
I was working on my thesis, as per usual, on this ordinary Monday afternoon. Ellie was still at work. She’d just gone back after having some time off to mourn her beloved father, who had passed three weeks prior. I’d had a fairly productive day and was on a good roll with the final amendments to my chapter on Augustus when I noted the time was drawing close to 4pm. This meant that Ellie would be arriving home shortly. This in turn also meant that progress on Augustus’ magnanimous efforts at providing public entertainment towards the end of his long stint as emperor would be coming to an abrupt halt. Ellie liked to chat when she got home. Not converse – as this required the vocal contribution of another person – but chat. Usually she would have already commenced as she waltzed through the door towards the fridge in hot pursuit of her Lambrusco, which she would then swig vigorously from the bottle, whilst holding the fridge open and reciting a complete, unabridged version of the day’s events with elaborate and emotive hand gestures, both drinking and talking simultaneously without pausing for oxygen. Today the anticipation of this was slightly irritating to me as I was making such good progress and knew that I would be interrupted. Ellie did not consider the fact that the person she was directing her grandiose monologue to might be otherwise preoccupied with something more important. Obviously, in Ellie’s mind, nothing could be – nor should it.
This is, of course, is precisely what happened. Shortly after 4pm Ellie flounced in, full to the brim of vitally important events and subjective commentary that needed to be offloaded with the assistance of whatever bottle of unforgivably poorly chosen wine she had in the door of the fridge. I know that I wasn’t at my most attentive, and I let it show that I was irritated at being interrupted for such a long period of time. My lack of captivation was, as always, duly noted by Ellie and swiftly deemed insignificant. The monologue had to reach its natural conclusion before she would allow spectators to continue with their business.
Eventually her chatting subsided and she nestled into her spot on the grey sofa with her plethora of school marking spread out in haphazard piles around her. We sat in silence – with her buried in her marking on the sofa, and me curled up on the cream vinyl chair, analysing Tacitus, while both parties kept a keen beady eye on the situation transpiring on Neighbours. We sat like this for all of Home and Away and whatever was on at 7:30, with Ellie occasionally interjecting with some remark about her current situation in life that had absolutely no logical connection to what she was doing at all. To these remarks I gave various grunts and groans of approval or disapproval, trying to maintain some semblance of focus. She asked me what we watch at 8:30 on a Monday. ‘The Farmer Wants a Wife’ I replied. ‘Excellent’, she said.
As the eagerly anticipated show begun she half watched and half marked for a few minutes, then she looked up pensively from her paperwork, with her pen in her hand and said, ‘I don’t understand why these men even like these silly bitches, they’re so boring and they’re not even that attractive. Clearly they’d have much more fun with me. It gives me the shits’.
I nodded in agreement and continued reading. She pondered for a few more minutes. ‘I need to meet someone younger, someone with more stamina. People my age just annoy me, they can never keep up. I don’t know why I can’t find somebody fun who really loves being with me. I still feel so young and full of life’, she said. This made me look up and chuckle. I think I made some comment about no-one being able to keep up with her, age aside.
Then she hit me with, ‘That’s what I loved so much about being with Dave. He was so much fun. We had so much fun together. I just don’t understand why he had to end it. I still don’t understand’. I put my book down and looked at her. Her pen was still poised in her little hand, and her brilliant blue eyes had misted over ever so slightly. I had heard her lamentations on this subject for months now and I was getting tired of it. But looking at her in that moment I realised just how truly heart-broken she really was. She looked really bewildered and confused. She never let those kinds of feelings surface. She maintained her optimistic, cheery zest for life in the face of every adversity she ever vanquished. But this had really got to her. I had only ever seen her this upset over one other guy … Eric. Most of the time she managed to remain altogether cold and unfeeling toward her many suitors. That’s why I hated seeing her this upset. It was so unsettling. And because it angered me that someone had upset her this much, and because I was angry at him too, I did something I now regret – I snapped at her. I said, rather coldly, ‘Look I don’t understand it either, but he made his decision and you need to let it go’.
Her eyes misted over just a tad bit more and she buried her head once more in her marking. But I knew what I said had hurt her. I immediately felt bad for snapping. I put my book aside and started devoting my attention to the farmer’s ridiculous pursuit of love on the television. The lisp farmer was eagerly discussing his growing feelings for his two sheilas. He was our favourite. I stared at him amused for a while, then I said to mum, ‘He looks like a probiscus monkey’. She looked up and furrowed her brow at the TV as she analysed his appearance. Then she started laughing. ‘He does, he’s the image!’ she cackled heartily. I started laughing too. The laughter filled the open spaces in the house as it mounted into a joint surrender to hysteria. Ellie had tears pouring down her cheeks as she continually tried in vain to regain composure, failed miserably, and succumbed once more to thigh-slapping chortling.
Happy that I had made amends for my snappy comment I relished her laughter. I was still giggling when I suddenly felt my baby move. I was five and a half months pregnant and had just found out I was having a son. When he kicked this particular evening it took me by surprise as he had been asleep for ages, and I had only just started to feel him moving a few weeks before. About a week before I felt him move by placing my hand on my tummy for the first time, and I’d been dying for mum to feel it, but with no such luck yet. Every time I felt him she’d put her hand on my belly and he’d stop.
I excitedly yelled, ‘The baby’s kicking!’ I sat in my chair with my hand glued to my stomach, tracking his movement. He was especially active. ‘He’s having a great session!’ I exclaimed. ‘I think you might be able to feel him this time’.
I got up and raced over to the sofa and sat down next to her on top of all her piles of marking. She put her left hand on my belly as she continued to mark on her lap. ‘I don’t feel anything. He never moves for me’. At this point, after ten seconds, she had already lost interest. Ellie lacked patience when it came to waiting in general. She went to take her hand away. I grabbed it and forced it back onto my belly, nastily demanding, ‘Just wait, don’t be so selfish!’
‘Get out Rebecca, I’m busy,’ she said, in her girlish baby voice. Then I felt the baby kick really hard right where her hand was. My eyes widened and I looked at her and shouted ‘Did you feel that?!’
I knew that she had felt it, even before I finished saying it – her eyes, just a minute ago misted over with sorrow, had misted over with a new emotion – pure joy. She smiled the most breathtakingly beautiful smile and said, ‘Yes, yes I can feel it,’ in a soft voice very unlike her usual one. She put both her hands on my belly and left them there for what seemed like ages.
Now, I do not remember what in particular she was drinking that evening. Nor do I remember what it was that she was animatedly complaining about that afternoon. I don’t remember what she had worn to work that day, or what she put on after her daily rant (I have a feeling it was the grey half-master slacks and the peach pyjama top with the little sheep on it). I don’t even remember what we ate for dinner. But I vividly remember the exact sensation of how her tiny, cold, exquisite, fragile living hands felt on my swelling belly. That night her grandson danced for her. He abandoned himself to the rhythm of our mutual joy, bounding and leaping toward the start of his worldly life. It’s almost as though he knew it would be the only time that she would be close to him. He craved her that night. He craved his Grammy’s hands, her touch, and her unconditional love. She felt him dance in my belly as we looked at each-other, beaming silently with the magic of life and crying pearly tears of overwhelming wonderment.
In this time she was the most comforting, consoling, softest, gentlest, most vulnerable I ever saw her. And I was never filled with more love for her. When my boy had exhausted himself in his dance of golden dappled anticipation he nestled into contented slumber. Still overwhelmed with beautiful emotion I got up and said, ‘I’m going to bed, I’ll see you when you get home tomorrow’.
‘Goodnight darling’, she replied as she continued to mark her papers. I glided into my bedroom with a huge grin on my face, feeling sublimely happy and excited about the future, as I unknowingly drifted off into the last serenely deep sleep I would have in a long, long time. I did not know that would be the last time I saw her alive.
It is an agonisingly beautiful memory to remember. I will treasure it for the rest of my life.
Visions of her continue to flicker through my mind, and finally come to rest on the one memory that still haunts me. I knew it would come for me today. And I know I must honour it. I must relive it. I must feel it. Today is the day I acknowledge what happened to me on the first of September 2009 – one year ago.
The day that set all this is motion …