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Another Milestone in Our Lives

October 2016

We stood wrapped around each other, braced against the blustery northerly wind – cold now that it was June. We spoke no words; they were less than necessary. Anything uttered would have been invasive.

We gazed instead across tops of the gum trees of Warrandyte that hid the Yarra. It was comforting to know that the river continued flowing below, like a metaphor for life. Despite the heartache and tears, the deep pain of loss, we both knew that this was another milestone in our life adventures – adventures that touched, and ran, branched out and flowed separately, then re-joined for another life event. Today was one of those shared days. But today was of a depth we hadn’t shared until now. It was our first loss of a parent. It was a day we’d remember.

As teenage girls, when we first met, we dreamt of lives filled with horses and kangaroos, open spaces and Princes Charming. By that time, life had already dealt us a few rough cards, so we both knew the need for someone we could trust, who would hold firm in the storms. We must have perceived that in each other. That year had seen her parents’ marriage finally crack and splinter like a ship smashed on rocks, casting all aboard into a tortured sea of rejection, self-blame and doubt – tossed about like pieces of shell, the edges worn and reshaped by the crashing surf. My friend’s heart was forever changed – scarred in one way, softened in another. I watched on in sadness.

The following year my father succumbed to the judgement of the world. Work harder; do better; give more; be like your brothers. It was impossible, but that didn’t matter. It was what they wanted. So he gave until the voices drowned out his own and he disappeared below the surface of reality. From my perspective, he was suddenly gone – housed for a short time in a hospital full of tormented people who cried out in unearthly rants. We were glad to get him home. But he wasn’t my father any more. The man who came home with us that day was a stranger. An empty husk of a creative soul – the life sucked out of him. We learned to tiptoe around the husk, fearful that our presence would somehow fracture what was left. It never did, but the fear clung. My heart, too, was scarred and softened. And my friend watched on with her own sadness.

Then, as girls did in the 70’s, we blasted our cares away with music. Abba, ACDC, disco. We danced and laughed and brushed off the uncertainties and learned new rhythms to suit our changed worlds. We choreographed joy into our days. We tried new makeup when we stayed with her mother, and travelled on weekends to Warrandyte to visit her father. Those weekends were super special because they gave us a new level of freedom to explore. And they gave us the space to love her father without being judged. We swam in the river, and bought bangles and incense from the local shops. We ate ice-cream and read her father’s secret magazines when he was out playing piano at night. And we looked out over the tree tops and the Yarra from the patio of his ramshackle shack on the steep hill. Those weekends always went too fast.

After leaving school, we branched out into newly adult lives. She travelled widely as a Flight Attendant and I ventured into Western Australia for a short while before settling back in Melbourne. We shared a weekend here and there, months melting away as we giggled at our challenges and celebrated our achievements. There were stories of hair dye gone horribly wrong in Japan, and the look on her boyfriend’s face when she arrived back in Australia looking like an orange Smurf, complete with orange eyebrows. I loved her ability to laugh at herself, and her ability to love everyone. We always liked to see the best in people, although we found that trust could be misplaced. We continued to learn together, and apart, and to weave more of our mutual tapestry.

Over the years, there were weddings and divorces, broken hearts and celebrations. Finances gained and lost. Pets loved and mourned. And finally our lives settled down, hers in country New South Wales and mine in suburban Melbourne. She continued to travel, mostly by four-wheel drive, and I continued to long to escape the ever-growing noise of the city. Her parents remarried and grew in their new relationships. She gained a step-sister and a half-sister – her father’s other daughter. My parents continued to battle the mental illness and found some solace in relocating to Warneet on Westernport Bay. We each had a son, although years apart. Having an only child each was not by choice, but it seemed to work for us and they were lovely lads. And we both had awesome husbands who we fully appreciated after dating too many Princes Not-so-Charming and What-was-I-Thinking.

We would come together on this balcony overlooking Warrandyte and the Yarra and have our annual catch-up. We were now both teachers, passable cooks and still lovers of the outdoors. She would tell me about her horses and students and how she diverted red-bellied black snakes by clapping them away from her path. We would make fun of our now rebelliously sagging bodies and laughter-wrinkled faces. And we would spend time reacquainting ourselves with her father and celebrating the extra time that the doctors had given him after he survived the heart attack several years earlier. We always felt blessed.

And today was another day that we would feel blessed. Blessed to have our families and to have shared this life with her father. Blessed to live in this wide, brown land, even though our bits were generally wet and green at this time of year. Blessed to have seen enough of life to cherish what we had. And blessed because we had each other. That didn’t need explaining. Another milestone shared.


Another Milestone in our Lives: Work
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