The 15th May was your birthday, Serena. You would have turned 41. This time last year, I was wrapping your gift, and my daughter was writing in your 40th birthday card. Tonight, we were getting ready to take you out for dinner with the kids. There was no indication that you were sick at all. Six months later, you were gone. I wish I had told you how much I loved you, how valued you were. I hope you knew. What would we do differently if we had known? I was grateful that my daughter had a science workshop. It meant getting up early, and taking a train and bus to Balmain. It meant escaping.
We had breakfast in a dear little café.
I had wilted spinach and mushrooms on sourdough bread. It was spectacular. Serena, you loved Balmain. You loved the city. I took my daughter to her workshop, run by a wondrous educator called Luisa. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki was going to answer the kid’s pressing questions. My daughter gave me this look, as she ushered me out.
I was left to wander the streets of Rozelle and Balmain. It is such a happy place, filled with beloved dogs, families, musicians and art. When I was eighteen, I lived here, in an old stable. I lived close to the wharf, and remembered my first home fondly. There I was, living in a stable, and my landlord was named Moses. I wondered what it was like now? I walked down Darling St, until I came to the series of stables.
I moved one cold winter night into Balmain, and our neighbours greeted me the next morning with coffee and toast. They leant me furniture, and were so very thoughtful. I shuddered when I thought of the neighbour who had died after I moved out. She had been sitting up in bed, playing a computer game, when a person unknown had shot her through the window. I was devastated when I learnt of her passing. She had loved Balmain, been there all her life. She was her husband’s sweetheart, and he unabashedly told everyone he met. Grief, there it was again. Sorrow as I looked at the home in front of the stables, where she had lived for twenty years in a quiet street in a leafy suburb. She left a lasting impression with her kindness and warmth. I have told my daughter about you. Another neighbour, Sid, had hidden about ten wild cats in his stable, despite the fact we weren’t allowed pets. He gave me a television set he had fixed up because I was kind to his felines.
I wondered why I had ever left this gorgeous place. It still feels like home. I was uncovering parts of myself when I lived here, my fingernails cracked and dirty after digging through shattered fragments of my psyche. I remembered when I sat in the park, elated, after having gone to the shops by myself. It was a very big deal. Living in this little village had made me brave. I walked for hours, up and down Darling St, and through laneways groaning with greenery and flowers. I was trying to escape the heaviness in my chest. I knew it was only a matter of time before the heavy clouds released their burden.