We have some English ex-pats as friends, and they invited us to Christmas in July celebrations. My mate Dianne loves Christmas, and couldn’t wait to revisit it at the halfway point in the year. Out came her glorious white Christmas tree and decorations. There was enough food to feed several families, and my daughter devoured five Yorkshire Puddings, declaring them a winner! The feeling around that table is one that I delight in, laughter, irreverence and warmth. Hilarity ensued when I found myself locked in the bathroom, unable to get out as the door handle was missing! They heard my little screams eventually!
There were games aplenty, which produced more laughter.
Oh, and a snow fight indoors! It was eventually taken outside. I loved that the family couldn’t care less about the mess left behind. They were living in the moment, and it was great fun!
These Brits mean business with their snow!
Santa even made an appearance, to everyone’s joy, and we were each given a gift, as a sort of incentive (bribe), to behave until December 25th.
I feel overwhelmed that I was welcomed into this family’s celebration. They do real, they know that mess can be cleaned up, and that it is great fun to make! They play games and have fun. They laugh at guests who get locked in their bathroom. I adore them, and I love that Christmas can occur in July.
It was as much my daughter’s day as it was mine. A day of remembrance. To contemplate what was taken and what has in turn been bestowed. She has had her life altered as a result of that July 25th long ago. This term, I can’t commit to taking her to drama classes in the city, as I have to attend to this chronic pain once and for all, and have viable pain management strategies in place. She doesn’t complain when I can’t take her out, nor does she wonder why I fall silent on the way home after a long day. She comforts me when she sees the mask fall and views the agony in my face. I haven’t been able to do all that I want with my daughter as money has gone on maintaining my health. I can’t run like other mothers, nor skate or ride horses with her. Her life has been shaped in so many ways by what happened to me. I didn’t tell her the date’s relevance, yet she knew it was a big, important date.
Being a ham, she had to strut into a bank through its turning doors, pretending to be a banker. To the mirth of the employees, she shouted, “this isn’t my jam!” and ran out. She then discovered this chess set, and was annoyed that a King was overtaking the others. She sought to rectify things.
We spent the afternoon hanging out, having fun. I have learnt that it does no good to not acknowledge the memories, nor try to have an ordinary day on the anniversary. What I needed was to see beauty; to be pulled out of my own mind. It helped!
As we left home at noon, I was flooded by intense gratitude. All those years ago, I would have given anything for what I was able to do this particular morning. Wake in a comfy bed in a secure home, then shower and dress. Have a nutritious breakfast and a pitcher of water. To look forward to the day. All the things you take for granted… As dusk fell over the city, winter began to bite, and I felt the cells in my body grow anxious. Dusk was when the final torment began. We walked to the Lyric Theatre, and stood enjoying the celebrities walk the red carpet, my daughter eating a croissant. I lovingly brushed the pastry flakes from her hair, and tried to avoid embarrassing her by crying out of sheer and giddy joy.
The award show surpassed all expectation. It was thrilling to see Matilda receive thirteen awards. The Australian Theatre for Young People won an award for the sublime Sugarland. Supporting the Arts is incredibly important. It takes us out of the everyday, into a world of unequal splendor. It is no coincidence that musicals hit the height of their popularity during the Great Depression and wartime. We need to transcend the drudgery once in a while. We need the Arts to give us different perspectives and to provide commentary on the times we live in. Griffin Theatre’s The Bleeding Tree won Best Play, and when accepting the award, it was hoped that the piece about domestic violence would be viewed in the future with a shaking of the head, and the utterance of “this is how it was back then.”
When Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director, Stephen Page was honoured the JC Williamson Award, his speech left us spellbound. There were magical performances from musicians, musicals and dance companies. Water escaped my eyes and I gave thanks that I got to see this night of celebration, and as I slumbered that evening, July 26th rolled around without fan fair. I also got to see the dawn. The evening reinforced that we must tell our stories, not only for our own sake, but for everyone’s. I look forward to somebody in the future stumbling across my work and saying ‘things were different back then! Thank goodness we live in better times.’ Times when perfect storms in a young person’s life are abated, before they are consumed by a wave. We are on our way. No more secrets, nor hiding of abuse.
If you have a painful anniversary coming up, I would advise you to acknowledge it. Write about it, or create art around it. Plan a special day with loved ones who get it. If that’s not possible, then go out by yourself. Eat and drink delicious things. View beautiful things. Talk to strangers. Whatever you do, don’t curl up alone with the memories. In my view, such a day has to be tempered by art; it’s potency diluted by loveliness.
I thought I was going to die on July 25th. It was not a destined date, rather a number shooting forth like a musical note from a crazed fiddle player. I was held against my will in a number seven apartment, on a number seven street. I fell at seven pm on the seventh day of the seventh hour on a date adding up to seven. I was in a new cycle of seven, according to numerology. I wasn’t at sixes and sevens’ only sevens! Out of curiosity, I investigated and believe that it must have meaning.
The other day, I visited a friend’s cafe and opened a delightful magazine, called Happinez. Can you believe, they had a story on July 25th? It is termed an Out of Time day. The old year ends the day before and the new year begins the day afterward. The Sun and Sirius are aligned on July 25th, which is why the date has relevance. Google it!
As much as I find all this research into the significance of numbers fascinating, July 25th also brings up memories. It is winter in Australia, and the nights can be bitterly cold. I recall I was dressed in white trousers and jumper. I never dress in white, and wonder why I had on this particular evening. Everything seemed to happen so quickly. Being jostled up the stairwell, trying to talk him down. Being choked into unconsciousness. The fall. The fall seemed to defy time as I understood it. Waking on the ground and having him attempt to finish me off.
Every year a feeling of discontent rises in me, particularly since I have become a parent. You see everything differently, including your own trauma. Memories re-emerge as winter chills my bones. The hand-woven blanket I had shaken to refresh, has now been pulled close to my body, cocooning me. Normally, I would retreat on July 25th. I have always felt the need to mark it in some manner. I have been back to the site, and left flowers. I have written that young girl poetry. I light candles and give thanks that I am here. I have been to dinners with my daughter and danced in celebration of having survived.
He brought me to that dark building with the intention of killing me. He had decided that I would not see July 26th. A cacophony of emotions rattle inside my soul. I need to hold the numinous creature I birthed close, and give thanks. I am so grateful that I got to grow up. I feel despair, rage and everything in between. So many surgeries. Hundreds of hours of physical therapy, body braces and casts, wheelchairs and Intensive Care Units. A lifetime of physical pain. Weakened lungs and renal system. A small fortune in medical bills. This is the legacy.
It is also a day of defiance. It may have been marked as the day I would die, at all of fifteen years of age, but I still got to decide the lightness of my being. I look back and am amazed at how brave I was. I was cheeky, with a serving of bravado on the side. He couldn’t take the ‘Raphiness’ out of me.
I was online recently, and saw tickets for the Helpmann Awards, Australia’s night to honor standouts in theatre. I promptly got tickets for my daughter and I. Tonight, as the clock strikes seven pm, I will remember the girl who fell. I will be celebrating theatre of another kind, the little girl from my dreams by my side.
My first surgeon informed me that I would be left in agony, over twenty years ago. Sitting would apparently cause me to weep after an hour, as would standing. Pretty much anything other than laying down would bring me to my knees. Sharp shards of bone, as well as metal artifacts are piercing into my spinal canal, causing a 50% reduction in the vital space. Despite this, I managed a pregnancy, and raising my daughter. I have traveled and have a demanding schedule every day. That surgeon was right; it does bring me to my knees.
I had to do a grocery shop the other day, and found my spine seizing up. There I was, draped over my trolley, groaning. My daughter didn’t bat an eyelid. She just asked what we needed and went to get it. She then loaded the bags into the trolley after I paid. I crawled into bed, and she made me toast for dinner. I lay there for fourteen hours, until I became concerned about the load on my kidneys and knew I had to catheterize.
The next morning was comical. I have a portable TENS Machine, which has proven to be gold. To my dismay, I couldn’t find it! I was rummaging through every drawer in the house in desperation. I finally sourced it, only to find the battery was dead! I could have cried. We had to go down the street to get a new battery. I had applied heat to my back, and a magical ointment, taken three different medications and put on my back brace before leaving home.
These are the things I adore. They make a real difference in my life. I have spent an obscene amount of money on things which have promised to relieve my back pain. I have done the magnets and fancy exercise equipment, the oils and potions. The tools below actually help. The degree to which they assist, depends on the day and the obscenity of the pain.
A blessing in a hot bath at night.
This was recommended to me by a scientist friend after I fell over and broke my back again six years ago. It can even be used on fracture sites.
My portable TENS machine is my saving grace when out and about.
Heat Pack. Needed throughout all the seasons!
I sometimes relay the severity of the pain and aftermath to people. I want to convey that I am not avoiding anyone, nor have I been in the space to answer messages, etc. It does irritate when people say that they hope I feel better soon. Honey, I am not going to feel better soon! I have pieces of bone and metal, similar to knife blades, sticking into my spinal canal! My fused spine is disintegrating, as are the grafts. It isn’t going to get better. I have accepted that. May I ask that you love me instead. Come over and have a cup of tea with me. Pour me a wine and commiserate. I don’t have a cold, which can be overcome.
I almost kissed the lady in our local bargain store, who upon viewing the little battery from my TENS machine, assured me they had one in stock. The relief! So I continue, as we all do. Broken yet somehow whole. Small and yet ever so tall.
True, dat! Most of those I adore have toxic people and situations in their lives that they feel they have to endure. They are pleasant when they want to be assertive; indulge when they yearn to say “no.” It is frustrating, draining and exhausting. These extraneous demands take precious time from our lives; time we aren’t going to get back. You were built to progress, to keep moving. We aren’t built for stationary situations and toxic people. Why do we put up with so much? To get an occasional pat on the head and be told we have behaved according to expectation? So they won’t get angry?
I have lost several people in the past six years whom I adored. Some I expected to travel with my entire life. It is too short for nonsense, this life. How about we make up a list of those with whom our heart comes alive? How about we prepare a list of those with whom we recede into the shadows, deflated? What a difference, hey? How about we start to create a world with only those in the first list. How wondrous that would be! This is your precious life, and it goes so quickly. Too quickly to put up with nonsense. I want to take my next vacation for pleasure, not for escape.
They certainly did not know that we were seeds! Seeds containing the most fragrant, vibrant flowers. This life, it can get so ugly. I have had my body smashed up, bloodied and ground into the dirt. I have been saved by garden mulch. When I am out, and find it has stuck to my shoes and clothes, I am not in the least irritated. Rather, I am grateful for being reminded of the time it saved my life. If I had landed on concrete, I would be gone. The mulch softened my fall, allowing me the opportunity to live.
The battle was far from over. There I’d be- lovingly attending my budding garden- when a slug would come along and eat the shoots. Pesticide was poured over the dirt, and it seemed that everything had died. Over and over again. Little did they know that there were slumbering seeds buried way underneath the mulch. They couldn’t destroy what would flourish underground! As a grown woman, I have tools to keep the pests at bay. I have a little fence (not white picket in nature), and those seeds are about to rupture. No matter what they do, they can’t access those seeds. I think it’s time for us all to bloom. I will scoop up a handful of mulch, and give thanks.
This was me at the end of term 2. I was hanging out for the school holidays, longing for days at home. The last week of term, I was in the city five times for workshops, shows and other commitments. It is a journey of almost two hours each way. I would curl up in the shower each morning, allowing the heat to wash over my spine, willing myself to get going. When you are in that level of pain, you operate on automatic pilot. The promise of a two week break got me through. We have been for walks through our beautiful town, and have had plenty of home days. It has been bliss.
Getting the house in order and planning for Term 3 has been wonderful. Resting when I need to, and playing with my daughter has been a treat. Life gets so busy; too busy. There needs to be retreat as well. I don’t know how anybody with a massive amount of daily pain does it. I certainly don’t know I get through! I do it because I have to. I am grateful that I still can.
This is sometimes where I find myself. I have to rest, and connect with my daughter. I need to lay flat, as it’s the only way I find relief from the relentless pain. It is frustrating when there are so many marvelous things going on, and so many special friends to see. Those closest to my heart are those whom understand and patiently await our return to society. I appreciate them with all my being. No pressure, just love. I am starting to let go of feeling bad if I have to have a day in bed to recover.
These are indeed the best moments; the pockets of time where we can heal and grow strong. On my walks, I have been able to appreciate the sound of the bell birds and kookaburras, the sight of llamas, horses and cows, and the pleasantries exchanged. I have caught up with friends I haven’t seen for well over a year, and it is as though no time has passed. We pick up where we left off, and there is nothing but love. I will keep going on this strange and wonderful journey, and during term, whirl around from event to event. In the holidays, I will continue to retreat into the mists, emerging refreshed. It is how it has to be.
When I need my courage strengthened, I intend to go to the Art Gallery of NSW to see Frida’s paintings, letters and photographs.That steely gaze is affirming for this gal. Fortunately, my daughter adores her as much as I, and indulges me. Whatever will I do when the exhibition eventually closes? I will have to absorb as much courage, conviction and Frida as I can, whilst her glorious work is here.
When I was seventeen, I was informed that I would be crippled and then die if I didn’t have risky surgery. I hadn’t had time to digest this information when I came across the extraordinary visage of Frida, gazing at me from the newspaper. I cut out the story, continually gazing at her face. ‘The Broken Column’ spoke of my own wounds. I couldn’t believe that a woman from another era had captured my experience. She was a storyteller of the highest order, unafraid of revealing her pain. She touched death with each stroke of her brush. All the things we commonly run from, she embraced. I had found my heroine. When I heard that Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s work was coming to the Art Gallery of NSW, I could hardly breathe. I had waited twenty years for this moment. I took my daughter, and she was as entranced as I. She knew how much Frida has meant to her mum! We stood in silence at each painting, holding hands. Frida inspired me to paint my body cast. Rather than viewing it with disdain, my former cocoon was kept out of respect.
Frida was unafraid of confronting what would ordinarily remain hidden. She paved the way for a legion of young women. I remain in her debt.