This photo of myself, Archie and Rissie was taken just over a year ago. It amazes me when I look at it, because it makes me think of what a difference a year can make in a life. I look at that girl in her winter uniform of 2016 and it fills me with a sea of emotion that is hard to articulate. I call myself a girl, even though I was 44, as woman has never sat well with me. A woman does mature things like waxes her legs, does not freak out and is not prone to cursing like Blackbeard. So, I use the term girl. My jeans are now more faded with an additional patch on the knee. My Birkenstocks fell to pieces in Italy and I now have a cheap Italian rip off pair that only cost me 23 Euro. Archie and Rissie are taller, their smiles are just as broad but I no longer consider them to be my babies, but rather my kids.
I am finally, gradually, making the move back into my cottage this week. The piss ridden carpet is gone, a new carpet has been laid and even though I can still smell that very distinct, fucking vile scent of cat piss, the house is ready. As am I. I think.
Moving back home marks the end of a very long journey. It signifies a finality. Everything is so final. Our journey is finally over and my sister is gone forever. Grief is a funny thing. I use the word funny a bit tongue in cheek, as there is nothing remotely funny about it. I am not sure what is worse. The intensity of the pain that ripped me apart in those first 10 weeks, or the awful feeling that sometimes grabs my heart. It pulls it out of my chest, when I am reminded, that perhaps a worse feeling is, that I am going to miss Tiney for the rest of my life and that that feeling will be a constant companion.
This week has worked out perfectly in that I have time. My Momma and Phil are away in Indonesia with my brother John. John sends me rather strange messages sometimes, that he is in bed with Momma and she is rubbing his bum with her foot. Or he cracks himself up with the fact that diving with Phil reminded him of watching a baby seal bob up and down in the water. His crudity and his continuing perseverance in trying to make me laugh warms my little black heart. I am not sure if there is a strange sort of bacchanal going on over there in Gilli Island but he sounds good, and that makes me happy. So, with Momma and Phil being away, I can potter at my own pace and come home to roost at their house, which is what I need.
My two little energizer bunnies are with their Dad for a week, so I have a few days to address my cottage and my unpacking at a very slow and steady pace. We have done a redesign of the cottage so the kids have their own room. I very selflessly have given up my larger room to Archie because that is the sort of mother I am. What the little fellow doesn’t know is that means I will be in the small room by the kitchen which has the fire so I can stop wearing beanies to bed in winter. The kids may well freeze, but then it was their bloody choice.
Their energy and enthusiasm and sheer bloody delight at moving back home is incredible to witness but up until now, I have found it difficult to embrace. Before we went travelling, I began a process of minimalism combined with a fund-raising effort and got rid of a huge amount of possessions. What I am left with, is our necessary furniture and essentials and boxes of memories. I have no bloody idea what I will be unpacking. I do know though, that it may be confronting and so it is good that I have a few days on my own to do it at my own pace. If it gets too much, I can retreat to Momma and Phil’s house where Momma says I am like Thumbelina. The curtains are closed, the house is locked up and the fire is on. It is like a warm, dark sanctuary where I can just be, to occasionally lick me wounds.
My cottage holds a million memories. It is where Tiney stole my favourite bloody pyjamas and when I asked for them back she told me she was wearing no underwear and I told her she could keep them. It is the place where she informed me that my sofa bed was the most fucking uncomfortable bed she had ever slept in. The new bed I have bought for my guest room was always meant to be hers. It is where I cooked her Mexican feasts and my Vietnamese salad because Tiney couldn’t cook. I have since found out that she was a brilliant cook and that is something that makes me smile, that for the 20 odd years she was an adult she had me convinced she could not cook. She always was a compulsive liar in addition to having me wrapped around her little finger.
My back deck is home to one of my favourite memories. That of Tiney sitting on the back-deck chain smoking in the morning whilst in the background Alan did his morning salutations or Qigong or whatever incredibly healthy thing he liked to do in the morning. The hedonist and the spiritualist. That crazy arsed couple who adored each other completely, whilst doing their own thing. The couch where we watched countless episodes of Walking Dead and discussed important things like if it was a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies, Carol would be the sort of friend you needed, whilst Daryl would always be a good shag. It was also the place where Tiney said exactly the right thing at exactly the right moment whenever I got dark and twisted and worried about my chances of a future. So many memories.
The other thing that I am facing, is that my journey is over. This amazing journey we have had is not one that I have ever really celebrated. It is so inextricably intertwined with Tiney’s death that I find it hard to celebrate. Still, there is that niggling seed of doubt that Gollum occasionally reminds me of, what if you hadn’t gone away, you selfish cow? What if, what if, what if? Would things have been different? Maybe at some stage in the future, I will find time to look back on the trip with fondness and even awe, but not now. It still makes me sad.
As I prepare to move back home, finally our backpacks will be put away and it is very hard not to remember things. The amazing US of A which I do so adore despite their awful choice of President. Our time in Providence when we lived off Hope. Baseball games and ice-hockey games. Great friends. Visiting Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, hearing Amazing Grace sang by a gospel choir. Being humbled by the memory of the incredible man Martin Luther King. Archie and Rissie in the stacks of the Athenaeum, the most beautiful library in the world. Being awed by Washington. Swimming in Narragansett bay. The kids doing the Penguin Plunge with Sara and Robert and Rissie glaring at me like she could kill me because it was freezing. Ice-skating in Central Park and in my head, instead of being a waddling, top heavy mother duck, I was a solitary figure of style and grace, skating on the ice in a beautiful red winter coat. And of course, there were those poor bastard swans frozen in the river when I became like Diego the wildlife rescuer. America for me was always about hope.
Costa Rica was the land of the dogs. The land of simplicity. It was where we almost shit our pants the first time we heard Howler Monkeys. Where I caught busses that scared the crap out of all of us and where sometimes bus drivers would expect us to hold our backpacks over our heads. Dogs, dogs and more dogs. Where I perfected Gallo Pinto and fell in love with rice and beans. Where we spent days on the beach doing nothing. Where I relished the beautiful experience of doing nothing. Il Dolce Far Niente. That Italian phrase was so appropriate even though I was in a Spanish speaking country. The sweetness of doing nothing. It was where I became a filthy pervert and became obsessed with my builders who had a siesta every day that reminded me I needed to nap too. I also became fascinated by women’s bottoms. It was where the kids and I climbed a mountain side to see a volcano and the clouds parted for us as if it was magic. It was where I tried to teach the little Spanish assassin and learnt the humbling truth that some people have so little and we have so much. Costa Rica was all about simplicity.
Then there was Italy. My Italy. A country that was all about love. As much as peopled joked about me having it off with an Italian stallion it was never on the cards. I am not talking about that sort of love. I would have to deal with my bikini line and shave my legs and I am not ready for that sort of commitment. I also don’t think I can remember what to do with all those bits. Italy was about love of life, of food, of the pure bloody art of living. I loved Italy with all my heart and it was there where I think I finally reached an acceptance of all that I had been dealing with and a happiness that I had not known before.
It was where I travelled the south of Italy with Momma and Phil on a monumental and magical road trip. Where I climbed those 1500 steps on the Amalfi Coast. Where I fell in love with Florence and Tuscany. We lived in a walled medieval village and shared our lives with the wonderful Italian family of Fabrizia, Maurizio and their kin. There was Imy, that Aussie kindred spirit who made me smile every single week. It was where I sat at the table of my dreams, sharing good food, wine and company. Allora. Allora. Allora. It was home to the most incredible gelato in the world and where we looked forward to Gelato Giovedi (Ice-cream Thursday) every single week.
Now Italy makes me sad. Florence, that city that I adored so much, was also where I stood on the platform staring at my kids, crying because I could not comprehend what lay ahead of me. Italy makes me so sad. We were meant to be going to Venice the Wednesday after Tiney died. I was meant to cook my Italian family a big Aussie spread with Imy. There were so many things I had wanted to do. Now it is the place that I link most to the loss of Tiney and it breaks my heart. But I continue to learn Italian and one day I will return. To create new memories and revisit those places that I loved. Right now though, it is a place that hurts my soul.
It has been a big year and I have been forever changed. In experiencing grief, I believe that I have learnt new depths of compassion, because until you go through it yourself, you can never know what it is like. I have learnt that I am capable of being broken, but I have also realised that I am strong enough to glue myself back together, even if it is a long and painful process. I have been reminded time and time again that I have an extraordinarily special family and my depths of feelings for them are bottomless. From my year I have learnt that I am brave, that I am resilient and even though I fuck up repeatedly, I know I am doing ok. This year has reminded me that life is a roller coaster of mind blowing proportions and that you can never predict what is around the corner.
It has taught me that life is short. But that it is sweet as well, so very, very sweet. It has taught me the importance of family and special friends who surround you and fill your life with love. It has taught me that one of the most important things in life is to love and if you are lucky enough, you will be loved in return.
As I prepare to unpack my memories, I realise that I am ready to go home. To return to being the guardian of the lemon tree.
It’s time to click my heels and say, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”