Each day there is a moment, and in that moment, I find myself talking to you. Unquestionably a one-sided conversation, it soothes me to imagine you hear it, as it eases me imagining you out there, watching, and guiding me.
I lived with Dad once you left. He wasn’t equipped for the erratic behaviour a 12-year-old can manufacture in less time than it takes to breathe. Thank God he was the sturdy stoic type; it’s probably what saved him from a long list of stress-related complaints. Living with Dad taught me about independence. He was a busy man; work, bowls, drinking with his mates left little time for supervising a daughter, so I learnt rapidly to look after myself.
I didn’t finish high school. At the time, I couldn’t see the wisdom in having an education. I’ve come to realise teenagers of every generation can be short-sighted, but at that stage short skirts were essential, as were boys and partying. Besides, having spent less time in school than out of it, there was little likelihood I was going to pass any exam.
If there had been a test in forgery, I’d have got A’s. In important matters I was diligent, I spent days getting Dad’s signature just right – It took years for him to find out. When he did, he sat on the end of my bed and cried. Nothing else he could have done would have punished me more than those tears, but it was not enough to change my behaviour; as I said, boys were more important, and the important boys spent their days at the beach. School never stood a chance!
I did ultimately revise my estimation on education and its merit. So far, I’ve revisited the schooling system twice. Well, let’s be honest, I was pushed. It was either retrain or become one of those who bemoan the unjust treatment life has accorded them. Bitter and twisted as I can be – on occasion – that didn’t seem the best method to survive.
I live in New Zealand now, so Kiwi jokes are no longer considered funny, and all windup toys to do with sheep go straight into the bin. I left Aussie bound for the northern hemisphere, hmm, makes you wonder about the validity of those women navigator slurs.
I got married along the way. Yes. Me. Married. Just once, that was sufficient to put me in counselling for years. Like all good love stories, our eyes met should say it all. But, like all good love stories, the truth is a little different. Our eyes did meet, in a hotel in South Africa. He was getting his bath plug from the office safe. No more need be said about the type of hotel it was.
We spent the next six months crammed with 19 others on a bright orange truck. We travelled north on dusty roads until no quantity of scrubbing would remove the grime. Rationing water, digging holes to shit in was expected, but falling in love was a shock. God, he was beautiful! Tall, blonde, slender, and with an accent that made my fingers actually move to touch him. However, being the perverse young lady I was raised to be, I resisted all attempts at romance for a good month. But while I had perversity on my side Willem possessed perseverance. Let me illustrate; where the jungle met a shanty town, he managed to find a French restaurant. I’m serious, white table linen, silver cutlery, crystal glasses. The food was awful, and we ended up discarded by our taxi driver in the bush. But what I remember most is the warmth from his hand when he slid his fingers between mine.
He was the first person who didn’t have to, that loved me – really loved me. Perverse, bad-tempered, impulsive, insecure, it didn’t matter. He was there, beside me, behind me, fighting for me, fighting with me, loving me. We had fun roaming the world. Through Africa, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, we kept looking for the place to stop.
It’s the little things I remember now. Teaching me to ride a bike in the football club parking lot, curled up in bed talking and sipping Baileys, the sight of his hand cradling our daughter’s and son’s heads minutes after they were born. These are the moments I choose to embrace, the memories I choose to pass on to my children. For, like many other love stories, the ending sucked. While it started in a burst, in dying it went quietly.
At the finish we lived beside each other without ever touching, both too afraid in case we’d see pain in the other. Like polite strangers conversing for the first time, calmly arranging the end. The leaving was a relief.
The reality of life as a solo mum was however, quite different to the romanticised version I had envisaged during those last months. Days were about staying busy. As long as I kept moving, I felt safe. Safe from those moments where your hands begin to shake or your back seems to lose its ability to keep you upright, safe from the incessant dialogue that echoes in your head about your ability to cope.
The children’s bath-time became a long and unhurried ritual in the evenings. Storytelling could be prolonged with a little effort on my part. Night-time wasn’t safe you see. It was so quiet I could hear my breath, and that meant hearing the echoes. Those hours I filled with too much alcohol and too many sad songs. When the tears came, they left my skin sticky.
Those years were busy. Afternoons spent trying to offer advice about homework, Saturday mornings on soccer fields that all looked the same, cheering whether they won or lost. Late night TV on weekends watching infomercials on how to obtain a six pack stomach in minutes a day waiting for the phone to go so I can play taxi driver.
Education comes in many formats. In the years between then and now, I’ve learnt a great deal. As well as the mundane things in life, such as how to change a flat tyre or a blown fuse, there have been bigger lessons. I know that there are always going to be problems, as there are always solutions.
I know that there is little I would change. The face you see in the mirror depends on experience. I’ve often wondered what face you saw when you looked in the mirror Mum, and what you’d make of mine. Would you like what you see? What I can say to you is this, it’s what I wanted, and it’s what I chose. But the 12-year-old left behind that night – she hopes you approve.