I didn’t realize how terrified I was of today until I wake up and it crashes in on me… This is it. Come 2:34pm– give or take a minute or two, but not much– and I’ve lived a whole year as this strange, strong, almost–Lori person.
The day before today was Tony’s birthday; and I pack my kids and my car and one of my best mates and we head to Paradise. We walk on the beach in the cool afternoon light and I whisper ‘Happy birthday, babe, I love you‘ into the salty spray.
I am an ugly, acidic, frothing mess come Friday morning. I pull myself reluctantly from slumber, only to fall asleep again on the lounge an hour later. There is something not quite right with me… Who can sleep for ten hours, then sleep again an hour later? Someone who is running from the world, who prefers the black warmth of a dreamless sleep to reality. Someone like me.
We spread Tony’s ashes in a beautiful place almost a year ago, and that is where I will be today. No greatly significant reason… This place is not special to me as it was to him, I don’t feel him any closer to him here than I do when I’m curled up alone at night. I just don’t want to do today, and I don’t want to visit the spot where my husbands ashes were carried out to sea. So I may as well get it all over with at once.
I consider attempting to explain this to my son… But how do you explain the concept of ashes to a four year old? How do you tell a child that this is their father’s resting place when you’re not one hundred percent sure of their grasp of psychical realities, of someone being dead and not moving back?
It hurts, to be the bad guy all the time. Other people talk to him about his daddy, but I’m always the one who has to reiterate that he is not coming back. I’m the one who has the job of extinguishing simple, normal childhood flights of fancy when the Chop comes to me with hope all over his face– “Mum, Mickey and Donald have a rocket on the TV and it went all the way up to space!! Could they go to heaven, and then cone back again?”
How do you think it feels, to have to answer that question?
In the end, I decide that the whole ashes thing is just too much, for both my little man and I. There’s plenty of time for that… Years of question ahead of me, years of confusing, heart breaking answers to give.
It’s difficult to hate a place that is so breathtaking.
The bay where Tony’s ashes are spread is tiny. It’s a ten kilometer drive in there, on a corrugated dirt road, through a weapons range that’s still in use.
It’s worth it.
You follow the signs to whatever particular beach you’re heading to, tiny dirt tracks that sneak off into what appears to be miles of scrubland. Have faith, follow the road, and it tapers off into a cluster of campsites, not as full right now as they would normally be come January– the weather has simply not been warm enough.
Park your car, grab your children, your camera, all your bits and pieces, and wear your shoes for the walk down to the bay– it’s a stroll but rough, gravel and sticks and banksia bits lie along the path, litter the wooden steps that have been planked there for your assistance.
You’ll hear it, the waves, and smell the salt before you see it.
And suddenly the scrub opens up onto the next closest thing to Paradise… This looks like Heaven, as my husband would have imagined it.
It’s a huge round of crystal clear, green water. The sand is so soft and fine and it curves almost the entire way around this naturally conceived wonder, right up until it meets rocky outcrops, two of them positioned at ten o’clock and two o’clock on the far side of the bay. Between the rocky outcrops is the ocean.. It rushes in and out, filling the bay with clear salty water, but the gap in between the rocks is only a few meters wide… It breaks the waves, and any swell that does make it through are tiny shore rollers without even a peak of angry foam.
The entire bay and beach is no more than 500 meters wide. It is low tide today– last time, the day we spread his ashes, we did it at high tide, spreading handfuls of them that looked like green sand into the water from a rock that pokes it’s head out of the middle of that green, crystal expanse. I was crying and laughing as I cursed Tony’s name, because he knew how much I hated the cold water, and the ocean was freezing.
But today the water is shallow. It’s still cold– far too cold for me to venture in– but my children never notice and splash for hours in the sparkling water. My son can walk, unaided, almost directly across the middle of the bay, and the water is no higher than his waist.
It is quiet here, peaceful and secluded and beautiful. This was Tony’s favorite place to be as a kid, his family has been coming here for generations. As the crow flies it’s only twenty kilometers from where I grew up, in my own Paradise. We used to get milkshakes from the same old–fashioned cafe in the nearest Big City Town, and that has an odd comfort to it. It took us another 25 years to find each other, but we were there all along. The sights and sounds and smells of our childhood where the same… We lived the same reality. Just separately.
I am grateful I don’t have to drive home… I am exhausted, my head hurts and my body is aching. I lay back in the sunshine and close my eyes and half doze, drifting in and out of sleep… One eye opening balefully every now and then, to check the ticking advancement of the clock.
At about 2pm– when I could have, would have, changed things, given half the chance again– I let out a tiny, involuntarily wail and squeeze my hands shut into fists. The only way I can explain the next half an hour is hot… An ugly, fetid, green heat that smells of rotting things. I live through that half an hour all over again, for the trillionth time. I try to remember details, words, timelines… Things I know I have forgotten from that afternoon, because they just don’t bear remembering. (“Was then when he put the rope around his neck, Mrs D?” The police woman is lovely but her partner is a plastic copper, young and green and he has tears in his eyes and I want to slap him.)
Some things, they’re best left forgotten.
The flashbacks, that awful heat, is begins to recede as I watch the clock tick past… 2:34 pm (his shirt beneath my hand); 2:37 pm (my neighbor shaking his head, saying “Call an ambulance”); 2:42 pm (my son, confused and half asleep, deposited into my lap). By 3pm that ghost who wanders the lane way behind the Purple House, she’s on her way to the hospital, to the Quiet Room. My heart slows. My headache is gone. I am exhausted, depleted, shell shocked all over again.
But I have done 365 whole days inside my ow
n personally tailored hell.
And I have survived.