“We are laid low by grief, taken below the surface of the world, where shadows and strange images appear. We are no longer moving in our brightly lit, daytime existence. Grief punctures the solidity of our world, shatters the certainty of fixed stars, familiar landscapes, and known destinations. In a breath, all of this can be shaken, will be shaken, by unexpected loss.” Francis Weller, ‘The Wild Edge of Sorrow’
It was during Year 12, in the middle of my most critical year, that my parents decided to move house, a sudden decision prompted by a bushfire in the hills that summer. They started looking at houses in the suburbs while I was absorbed in study. I never thought much of it until the day they went off to an auction, and won. It all happened while I was still in bed, and by the time I got up, my parents were back and it had been signed and sealed. That was the day the ground caved in beneath my feet. Soon I would have to pack up and leave behind the one place I had found some sense of stability and refuge in my world of bullies and ever-changing schools. We had moved here during my first year of school, and now we would leave in my last. We would move to a house far more exposed to the world. The road our new house was on had two lanes separated by a white line painted down the centre which made our little street seem like a laneway in comparison. It was also on the edge of a roundabout. I had told my parents I thought it was too noisy, but they still went ahead and bought it.
We had to vacate our house while the real estate agent led strangers through. Eventually they would get to my sunny room and gawk at my floral blinds, warm, gentle yellow walls, and matching yellow bedspreads. It made me cringe; they did not belong in there. I tried to come up with a story that would put them off buying our place: that it was haunted, that we found out it was built on top of an old landfill that was leaking gas. Unfortunately our little orange weatherboard lodge was snapped up in no time and there was nothing I could do about it.
The day came when we had to move. It was meant to be exciting, which made being sad even more difficult. I stood on the gravel driveway with our neighbours, a nice young couple who had recently had a child. Fed up with people acting happy, I blurted out that I never wanted to move. They didn’t really know what to say to me.
My dad took down my long swing from the gum tree, and some of the other things he’d built me. I took one last look at my tree house, the platform in the tree from which I’d spy on the girl over the back fence. I took one last look at Rebecca’s place, or what I could see of it through the bars of the gigantic security gate her family had since erected. They, too, wanted to keep the world out, I figured. Or maybe they just wanted to keep me out, like everyone else wanted to. Since building the gate, my friendship with Rebecca had started to fray. Rebecca was now grown up and I barely saw her anymore. I said goodbye to my memories growing up in this curious corner of the world. At least I wouldn’t have to see Melaina and her house anymore.
My parents realised we couldn’t move everything by ourselves and needed to ask the neighbours for help. We were not short of kind neighbours and they happily helped us out. I got in the car with one neighbour from across the road, and I cried the entire trip down the hill.
Our new house was a tiny, worn shack which we needed to renovate to make it liveable. It used to belong to an old woman who passed away. My parents set up my bed in a bright room with windows facing the road. The next morning I woke up not to kookaburras, the whisper of the wind between the trees, and the gentle lul of the bush, but to the groan of engines accelerating outside. It felt as though I was standing on a highway. It didn’t feel like a home at all. I wailed hysterically. My parents ended up moving my bed elsewhere. They also decided to book in at a nearby motel while we renovated. Meanwhile I had to push on with my study, despite all the changes and my grief. For a while I studied in one of the bedrooms of the motel. Then when we moved back to our house, I set up in the laundry which was the quietest room of the house.
I never got used to the new house. I was a painfully sensitive girl, and in my family I was the least able to deal with noise. I missed having a yard I could enjoy and a boundary to the world. My senses were sharpened to all the different ways the world intruded through my walls and into my space: the noise from the road, our next door neighbour’s stereo, the neighbour over the road’s motor bike, another neighbour’s lawnmower and whippersnipper, the neighbours’ WiFi, the manmade chemicals added to our food. On top of the sense of hopelessness, fear and alienation I felt, I developed a severe case of misanthropy, a general hatred, distrust and contempt of the human species and human nature. I couldn’t relate to my own species, from the way they drove around in enclosures completely cut off from the damage they were causing the planet, to the way they interacted. I hated being at school and I hated being at home; I got no relief anywhere. I retreated further and further into the laundry, escaping into my study and my head. I put enormous pressure on myself to achieve academically and sometimes I broke under that pressure, tears streaming down my face in the middle of tests. My heart raced and I couldn’t remember how to answer the questions despite studying so hard. In one maths test I got up part way in and, trembling, handed my blank paper to the teacher before walking out. But study was as much my redemption as it was my crucifix. It gave me something else to focus on, and staying on top of the material made me feel more on top of life. Despite everything, I managed to keep my grades up. Deep down, I believed perfection would liberate me and make me safe, good and lovable.