Author: Carly-Jay Metcalfe

About me? About YOU.

A trip of infinite sadness and regret

I’ve been sorting through index cards, rogue pieces of paper and old photos because I’m moving. Moving out of the city, and returning to the trees and all of the secrets they’re waiting to tell me. They’ve been calling me for a while, and it’s time. I’ve become weary of city living over the last couple of years, and the more time I spend at the farm, in the bush or up in the mountains, the more I yearn to be in silence, amongst the trees and the stars, harvesting bush lemons, herbs and having a veggie garden with a couple of rescue chooks. Maybe even a rescue dog one day.

People ask me if I’ll miss living so close to the city. No. And yes. I won’t miss the sirens and incessant traffic, the dust, the cranes, or the crimes against architecture which seem to spring up while I am sleeping. I will miss the sunsets out to the west, watching the lights come alive in the Gotham City building, my many murders of crows, and the kookaburras, rainbow lorikeets and magpies that gaggle in the trees every afternoon. Perhaps they might like to follow me if I ask them? I suspect that there are going to be many murders of birds and other wildlife where I’m going.

There are people I’m going to miss, but I can visit them, and they can come by any time. It’s just that it’s time for me to move on, and when an almost inconceivable opportunity presented itself, I leapt. It was a quick decision, but most of all, it was an easy decision (which are the best kinds of decisions).

I’ve started packing, and that’s where I found a bundle of index cards and rusty paperclips from a couple of my trips out to Barcaldine – another place that calls me, and one I hope to see later in the year. Below is some writing from 2001 and 2002 – long before I’d found my writing voice (I’m still finding it) – and it’s about my time at Cumberland, the cattle property where my dear friend Meagan grew up. Meags died in May 1999, and I have mourned the shit out of her. You cannot imagine. Or maybe you can. Grief is one cruel mistress.

In 2001, I finally got out to her family’s cattle station to see where Meags had spent so much of her life; a place she had wanted me to visit when we were both well enough. But that wasn’t to be after Meags died in May 1999 from Cystic Fibrosis – the illness we were both born with. The last time I went out was in 2013 when I was addicted to opioids. A part of the reason why I decided to get clean was because I was alive, and Meags was not. I realised that I needed to recalibrate my compass, so that’s exactly what I did. I daresay the next trip will be very different.

An infinite trip of sadness and regret

Thursday 9th November, 2001

Stock and forty degree anarchy

Here I am at Cumberland, wrestling with hollow hope that the clouds, thick and full of promise, might crack open and give me a belated baptism. Blue funny faces remedy the forty-three degree fever for one quick minute, the coloured ice glossing my lips until I’m a pale shade of cyanosis. Swigging down coffee doesn’t sit well with the melting barbs of ice in my throat; my teeth frozen in a futile resolution to my thirst.

Frogs croak with my hot feet moving across the floorboards, so I walk outside and sing to them. I sing to them that we are missing the rain, too. Cumberland and surrounding properties are still on town water for now, but for how much longer we do not know. We do runs around the paddocks dropping off licks for the cattle, making sure they have enough water, the grass and wayward sticks whacking the ute. I wonder if the stock will be here when visit next. The cattle aren’t fat by any means, and look like the animal kingdom’s walking dead.

A palomino dropped dead yesterday afternoon from colic. The mare had been sick for days, splayed on her side to draw out the pain, her gut distended as though she was ready to foal. Just before Kerry went to get the shotgun, she got to her feet, hobbled over to the fence, and dropped to her death in the dirt.

The stock will not die from colic. Instead, they will starve and thirst until rib cages protrude through paper thin hides; craggy, matted hair shrouding more bones and bleeding skin.

I try to write and I sit under the weeping willow waiting for the words to come, but they do not. The arbour is green, and it grows grapes, although I don’t know how productive it is. It looks like a green and twig laden blanket, covering wire and wood, and it moves me with the breezes that roll through the garden.

A hot, bullying wind has risen, and the sky has swollen with charcoal coloured nebula – clumps of hope just out of reach from where we stand sentinel on the prickly grass. I’ve never felt rain on my skin out here, and doubt I ever will. At night, I dream of pellets of rain popping on my skin, and me – coming alive in the mud as the water volleys against the dry earth.

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In the city, I’m in limbo. I feel shackled and ambushed. Out here, I am free. I eat cheese and tomato jaffles and icy poles, drink hot coffee and cold beer – all the while looking at coloured vignettes of Meagan, her eyes like chocolate discs swimming on her face – her blonde hair swathing her young neck, olive and soft.

I feel a sense of permanence here. Something like belonging. I don’t know why I come here. It could be to be close to Meagan – to sit at her grave and memorial garden in silence. It could be to air my regret at not seeing her the day before she died. It could be to tell her what’s been happening – we always loved hearing about the other was up to. What adventures we’d found, what adventures had found us.

Or it could be so I can remember her, and to read those words on her epitaph – ‘Rest, little one, rest.’

Wednesday 2nd October, 2002

I woke late in the night and had a skirmish with what looked like a bird eating spider above my bed. After I’d half-killed it, it showered me with its babies. I trundled off to the shower thinking that it never feels right killing a sentient being.

In the morning, Sue still had the bread out on the table and the kettle and been boiled. The Walker’s had an ironic thirst for coffee. Ironic, purely because they can drink several cups of the stuff in forty-seven degree heat. The office and the bedrooms are air conditioned, and Jay had said year after year that he’d have the whole house cooled. ‘Maybe next year,’ Sue said last night.

Today had been no different after looking at the weather station that had been Jay’s grandfathers – the arrow pointing at ‘dry’, with the temperature stuck on forty-one.

In the afternoon, we transplanted two trees. The first one looked like it had more guts to it – fatter trunk, leaves more evenly splayed with plump branches, and not on too much of a lean. The other was brittle and grey like a ghost gum, its threadbare leaves devoid of a middle vein running through the ashen foliage. It didn’t have much spirit about it.

And so, today was the tale of the two trees. Kerry dug them out from the old station hand’s quarters where the grand bull ring once stood, the excavator bouncing around like a feather on the wind. His kids visiting from Warwick looked on as their Dad tried to uproot the trees as gently as one can with an excavator, and one by one they sprung up and out of the earth, averse to being torn away from their tree family. Kerry drove them back to the homestead, and gently set them down into where he had scooped out the dirt – Katrina pointing her freckled hand at where they needed to be. She had left a hose in each to saturate the soil, and when both were in, we watered them for another half an hour, and soon enough the weakling was on a lean.

Jay poured a rum for himself and a wine for Sue. Katrina and I had a beer each, our eyes mulling over the flat plains as the sun dropped behind the spine of the mountains far away.

Jay, a man of few words, looked over at the trees and said something about ‘waiting and seeing’. This day, like every other day, had carried with it thoughts of his daughter who didn’t survive, then he looked to the girl who did, with a lopsided grin. Me, a bottle of beer in my hand, lost in the stars of an inky sky that will always lead us home.

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The Spirit of Things

For the last eighteen months, I’ve been on the organising committee for the 2017 Spiritual Care Australia conference, alongside three other incredible spiritual carers, Tanya, David and Pauline.

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Earlier in the month, the three day spiritual bonanza/lovefest was held on the Gold Coast where it was a resounding success (no, I’m not being biased – we kicked ass and totally killed it). We had extraordinary keynote speakers like Molly Carlile AKA the Deathtalker AKA current girl crush. I managed to score her autograph and a hug, which was like hugging an energetically super-charged sparrow.

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Good golly, Miss Molly!

I delivered a seminar about the duality of being a lifelong patient, and how that informs my work as a spiritual carer. Thanks Matt Glover for writing such lovely things about me! We’re going to miss you terribly as our EO, but our incoming EO Nalissa is also seriously fabulous.

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Thanks Matty G!

We were also lucky enough to have dementia advocate Christine Bryden speak. Her address was incredibly affecting, and she received a standing ovation. ABC broadcaster Rachael Kohn spoke about Spirituality in the 21st Century, and on the first afternoon, we had organised a death cafe to be facilitated by Dr. Ralph McConaghy who heads up the palliative care service at the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane (I think I’m just a little bit in love with him).

Afterwards, I was invited to be a part of a three person panel which saw some strong opinions, and me say the word ‘hell’ in front of 200 odd chaplains, pastoral carers and priests. I may have also talked about the importance of sex when a person is dying (I swear I didn’t start it). After the panel, I was approached by the etheral Rachael Kohn, who is this curly haired Canadian goddess, and she asked to interview me for her Radio National program ‘The Spirit of Things’. Of course I said yes, and the following morning, we sat in her hotel room and talked. Here’s the interview, and a few photos from the conference. It was exciting, exhausting, hilarious, illuminating and everything in between. I met some incredible people, and connected with some old friends.

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Queenslandahhhhhh!!!!
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Getting through conference was mind bending. My hardcore half a nip of whiskey on the first night had me all like #CHAPLAINSGONEWILD
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Being the teetotaller I am, I was DJ for the party post-dinner. I may not drink, but I was DRUNK ON POWER.

The day after conference, I drove back to Brisbane where I spoke at International Nurses Day at the P.A. I spoke about how the role of nursing has changed in my lifetime, and how nurses have impacted my life (where do I even start with that?). I threw in some scandalous interesting stories from when I was growing up, managed to lose four pages of my notes, but did well enough to remember most of what I wanted to say. After I spoke, I was one of two judges for the nurses talent quest, and I have to say HOLY SHIT – do we have some gifted nurses at the P.A (I’m not even being biased). Singers, Johnny Cash tribute bands, fiddle players, and the rest.

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I had initially titled my talk ‘HOW NURSES ARE FUCKING RAD’ but was politely asked to drop the profanity 🙂
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Nurse holding my hand between recovery and heading back to theatre when I had my transplant #somuchlove

I promptly went home, and fell into a coma.

The birth of my fourth decade

I’ve been thinking about my thirties. About how they started, and how they’re about to end. Ten years ago at my thirtieth birthday party, I was bloated from massive doses of steroids I’d had to have earlier in the year due to a serious respiratory virus. I was puffy faced and swollen, and going into my third decade, I was fat (for me, anyway. Or at least my face looked like a puffer fish).

For what it’s worth, I haven’t exactly loved my thirties. They started off on a bad note when I had to be treated for the early stages of vulvar cancer. My oncology team and I tried  to keep the cancer at bay with a topical chemotherapy, which would leave my vagina looking like I’d sat on a cheese grater and ridden it like a champ. I know – so glam.

In November 2007, I underwent surgery so the cancer didn’t travel into my lymph nodes and metastasise, which would have afforded me protracted suffering and death, and while the surgery saved my life, it left me teetering on the brink of death. I had a poo bag and a broken vagina pieced together with skin grafts, and I honestly don’t know how I got through three months of non-stop shit explosions and blistered skin from a stoma that refused to stick, but I did (thanks for all the late night laundry, Mum).

When I was 31, I got myself into a destructive relationship, and my boundaries with men were still pretty woeful when in my mid-thirties, a person I was seeing got into a fight and called me for help. I cleaned and dressed his wounds, after which he pissed in my bed. The next morning, he helped me move the mattress out onto my balcony, but left before I had to bring it in myself. I was on home IV’s at the time, and nearly popped my CV line out of my jugular.

My response was an almost ethereal calm, simply because not much fazes me. I thought, ‘hey, that’s ok – mattresses can be replaced.’ WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK, CARLY?! My response now would be entirely different, and for all intents and purposes, he should have bought me a new mattress (he didn’t). Now, I’d kick him to the kerb without a second thought, block his number, and never connect with him again. It was only then that a close friend began to teach me about boundaries, self-worth and self-respect. This friend has also helped me plug in to my intuition – something I’d struggled to get in tune with before. There was other stuff. My sister’s divorce and its ongoing aftermath has been confounding in its cruelty and acrimony.

All in all, I’ve learned my most powerful and empowering lessons in my third decade. Yes, my thirties saw its share of death, but through this came unexpected gifts. I discovered my true purpose and passion with wanting to care and advocate for the dying. I went to my first Spiritual Care Australia conference which opened up the world of hospital chaplaincy (I call it spiritual care), and in 2015, I graduated from my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. My CPE training was one of the most rewarding learning experiences of my life, and I’m now working at the city’s biggest trauma centre as their only non-religious spiritual carer – such a privilege and so incredibly humbling (if you ever want a lesson in humility, go and sit with people at the bedside, and listen). In 2016, I was asked to be on the organising committee for the 2017 Spiritual Care Australia conference, and I’ve been made to feel welcome by all faith groups.

In 2014, I was invited to speak at TEDx Brisbane where I  shared my story and my hopes for how we can do death differently and how we must do death differently. After seventeen years, I discovered who my donor is/was after realising that I needed to know about her, even though I’ve had information about her since just after my transplant.

I have been lucky enough to work and learn with the best people in the death care industry, I did my first Vipassana, let go of my survivors guilt, and got clean. I’ve been clean for three years, and honestly can’t think of anything worse than taking opiates again. In fact, you’d have to render me unconscious to get any narcotic into my system.

On Christmas Eve, I was accepted into the Karuna Hospice Palliative Care Support Volunteer training program – an intensive I’ve been dreaming of doing for many years. It’s as though the world is opening up for me, and for that I sit in a space of deep gratitude. Transplanniversaries came and went, but never without much introspection and indebtedness.

I discovered what I needed to keep and what I needed to let go. I realised that just because I have a history with a person, that it doesn’t mean I have a present or a future with them. I know what ingredients help make me my best self, and I’m clear in my purpose. I’m settled, happy, and in love with giving zero fucks about what anyone may or may not think of me.

So why is that? It’s because I’m done with not being and living as my authentic, no-bullshit self. I was done with that a time ago, but as 2016 and this decade comes to a close, having lived with so much uncertainty, I am certain of one thing – life is beautiful, and all that matters in the end is the love you share and the love you get.

My wish for you, going into 2017, is that you embrace the simple things, because these too have been my greatest lessons. Go and hug trees, howl at the moon naked, walk in the rain (naked again), take less and give more, love yourself, treat others with kindness and suspend your judgment. Own your shit, be accountable, tread lightly upon the earth, and as my dear friend Andy who died last month waiting for a transplant would say, ‘don’t be a cunt’. Life is short – paint it your shade of spectacular.

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The bitter taste of defeat and failure

One year on, and three years drug free. Just quietly, I’m feeling quite proud. And strong – SO strong.

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Always expect the unexpected. Be prepared like a girl scout without the rules (but with teh cookies). That’s always been one of my life’s mottos. After taking my last ever dose of opiate antagonist therapy last Friday, I was relieved when I only had some minor restless limbs when I turned in for bed that evening. I had been on the lowest dose possible, so I couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen next. On Saturday night, I drove up the coast for a prawn fest and I lay awake all night. I only had a couple of ‘punches’, in that my arms went a little haywire and my legs were sore, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

I’ve always adhered to the adage that our hell is here on earth, and on Sunday night, that was very much the case. My legs were kicking uncontrollably, my…

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Chaaaaaanges

Someone I’ve known just shy of twenty years said something to me back in September, and I’ve been ruminating over it as I approach my fortieth birthday. We were talking about our inner voice. You know, about what we say to our selves in the quiet of our hearts; the things we think, but keep to ourselves – that internal existential screaming (I know I’m not the only one). I’ve always had a contentious relationship with this person for various reasons, but we’re older now. Time has passed and there are children, and far bigger things than just us. She said she hadn’t changed much at all – that she still just blurts what comes out of her mouth without too much thought.

‘I have no inner voice,’ she laughed. ‘You never had one, but you’ve changed,’ she said. ‘You’re not like you were at all.’

‘I should hope not,’ I replied, smiling as I bounced her beautifully chubby baby in my lap.

I laughed it off with some friends later, although a couple of them were a little affronted on my behalf. Being offended was the last thing I felt. For me, it was like the linchpin of this year, because it anchored and grounded me in both spirit and purpose. I’m really fucking relieved I’m not the same person I was eighteen years ago, although …

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No pants. So nothing has really changed.
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Two Frenchman. Now, that’s not trite.
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Who doesn’t wear a string bikini and stilettos to a party?

From the outside, I’m so far removed from ‘who’ I was, or what I embodied. Certainly, I’m not as loud or as shut the fuck up ready to roll at any given moment, as is evidenced by the photos above. I was never one to take no for an answer, I would introspect and rage in equal measure, I’d rarely walk away from a situation without a fight, and if someone said I couldn’t do something, I damn well did it. It was never about ‘winning’ – it was about being heard. I learned from a very young age that growing up with a terminal illness like Cystic Fibrosis, I was either going to sink or swim.

I’m talking about what us old skool CFer’s call the ‘good old days’, when we had no mother to keep us safe at night in hospital when things like IV’s and naso-gastric tubes failed. Where any old doctor could waltz in in the middle of the night and have you held down with excessive force as they tried to access a vein. It was brutal. Parents couldn’t just decide to stay the night beside their child because it was never an option. It’s only very recently made sense that my first visual memories are of steel bars, as if looking through a jail cell. That’s how hospital cots were designed, but that’s a story for another time. So sink or swim, I found my voice very early and was quite the ham (conservative statement).

You see, the voice I was born with – my literal voice – was a gift, a weapon and my currency. It was how I steered myself in the world and was often my greatest ally. It was always with me. It didn’t matter where I was – I could use it, and use it I did. I could sing delicately and brutally, create incredible sounds and boom over all and sundry. I had twenty-one years with that voice, and when I woke up after my transplant, it was laying paralysed across my larynx in a state of eternal dysphonia.

I’d lost my gift, my weapon, my currency, and what I believed was my essence. Who was this squeaky woman so afraid to speak in case the wrong noise slipped out? Over the years I’ve buttressed myself against the world without it, and while I could say it’s taken me time to realise that my fractured voice was just a metaphor for life, that seems so trite and platitudinous, because we are all so much bigger than that.

I still sing every day. Some days I squeak like a pre-pubescent boy, and some days I can belt out a sound akin to a finalist on The Voice for very brief periods of time. I’ve learned to embrace the mystery, because singing with one vocal cord can be tricky.

Every year, my best friend and I go and see Deva Premal, Miten and Manose, where we sing, chant, laugh, cry, hold hands with people we don’t know, and connect. In February, I joined Deva Premal and a room full of strangers on a three day chanting retreat – all of whom I ended up praying with, hugging, eating with, and singing to. I re-engaged with my voice and felt connected to something tangible from what actually is a lifetime ago. On the first afternoon, my mind was filled with picture perfect captures of my pre-transplant life. It was like a Vipassana of my voice, where every moment played on a loop in my head.

I remembered competing and winning eisteddfods for primary school choir and vocal group, winning drama prizes in high school, and when I sang in the school musicals. The fun I had, the friends I made and still have, and the music director of one of Brisbane’s best GPS boys’ schools stopping me mid-song to ask if I’d sing in his jazz band. His well known jazz band, at that. I wish I could have, but in senior year, I was in survival mode with study and sickness and death.

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Not-so-sweet 16, and a semi-formal. Semi, indeed.
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Sixteen and sun kissed.

I thought about when I was offered a coveted place in the acting strand straight after my audition for my drama degree, but was in full possession of the knowledge that my health was declining and was never going to get better. The acting strand was voice and movement oriented, and the physicality it would have demanded in such a small collective of students meant that I would have needed to not be sick. I didn’t want to let anyone down, so I politely declined and instead enrolled in the ‘open’ strand with most of the other drama students. I declined not because I couldn’t do it, but because I made a conscious choice not to start something I couldn’t finish. Did I ever resent my illness? Did I ever look at that elite group of actors and think ‘that could have been me?’ Of course I did, but I’ve never had a case of terminal pissed-off ness. I focused on what I could do, instead of what I couldn’t. In some strange, yet pernicious way, I turned my attention to more academic pursuits and did very well.

So while I meditated and seemingly went back in time on the first day of the retreat, I felt a towering shift where I was able to finally let go of my voice. I cried, my body moving like a metronome, ticking from side to side, and for the next two days, I was immersed in a space of love, support and devotion (and vegan food – nothing’s perfect, after all).

Was this a broken piece of me on it’s way to healing? It was not. As I’ve already alluded to, by the time my left vocal cord was paralysed, my life as I had known it was already over, and another that had been waiting for me was busy being born. A person is not and cannot ever be the same when they’ve experienced something as profound as a transplant. It’s like a one-sided exchange and a permanent declaration of gratitude. A debt you can never repay, except in compassionate actions, kindness and love.

I used to think that there was a redundant, unloveable, unusable piece of me that would be strung across my throat forever, taunting me. Like a silent bell that won’t peal when it’s rung. I now find comfort that there’s a fleshy piece of the ‘old’ me that sits there dead, making me brittle of voice. When I speak (or squeak), I have to think about how I’m going to hold my head so the sound comes out. A lot of people think I’m down with the lurgy, so that’s something that’s never changed – it’s just not my lungs anymore, thankfully.

Was losing my voice a blessing? Oh, yes. But more than anything, it was a powerful lesson in economy and expansion. Economy of words, sound, emotion, and so many other things. Expansion in compassion, empathy, love, self-awareness, and purpose.

Most of my fellow chanters said they’d be back next year, but I knew that I wouldn’t be. I walked into that hall with no expectations, but left with what I needed and more. Three days of memory tripping, chanting and emerging into the quiet heart of my mind, and I was full. This year has been one hell of a lesson – an awakening, if you will. I perhaps Some people have called it a fucked year, but with what I’ve learned about myself and other humans – the good and not so good – I wouldn’t swap that for anything. Three years drug-free, one year off opiate-antagonist therapy, and I am FLYING.

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A love letter to my lungs on this, your eighteenth birthday

Tonight as the waning moon floats between shelves of cloud – the stars liquid and alive – I will whisper, ‘I am still here.’ A bittersweet offering, but one I cast into the world as a call to arms.

With each passing year, I harvest guilt, siphoning off grief as I pick the fruit and plant more seeds for the following year. As I stand under the beating sun, I divine my contrition and cast myself as an apostate, as a modern heretic; nothing but a taker. These aren’t empty postulations. In fact, they are very real, for I’ve watched most of my friends die, and I watch now as others are dying as they wait for a donor that may never come. I should be dead, and be dead many times over, but I am not. Thoughts like these catch my untrammelled breath, lodging like a barbed pip in my throat.

When I listed myself on New Year’s Day, I wasn’t ready for you because I was afraid, but I soon became too sick to evaluate the risk. You kept your first caretaker – a beautiful redhead – breathing for twenty-two years. Yes, I know who you came from. That door was opened long ago, and it is one that can never be closed, never mind how hard I push. For 234 days I was tethered to oxygen tubing like Major Tom on a space walk, until I was cut loose and given new breath.

I think of my family, my friends and my lover in footholds of despair as we braced for the most terrifying, yet exciting news of my life. Then comes the horrible realisation that one family has had to say goodbye to a daughter, sister, wife and friend, while I was given a chance to resurface. It is a notion that can sink a person even with the best of intentions to live.

I have imagined my surgery thousands of times over – of being sliced under my breasts from armpit to armpit, my sternum and ribs lifted so surgeons could drop their fists into my chest to pull out my native lungs – sticky masses, black and Lilliputian, like little lung caricatures. My lungs are curtly dropped into a plastic bucket, and then the magic happens: you’re plucked from your watery grave of preservation solution, slippery as a placenta. Busy hands usher you into my empty thoracic cavity in a highly choreographed animation of fingers, clamps, retractors, clips, wire and sutures.

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Native lung.

Twelve years on I was still tweezing the ends of old suture that had pushed their way to the surface of my skin, as though wanting amnesty from my beating heart. I would look at these tiny black slivers of silk under a magnifying glass and confide, ‘you’re a part of me’, keeping them until I felt strong enough to let them go. Closing my eyes, I would blow them away, never to be seen or touched again. Another part of me gone; my life in a perpetual state of mourning.

I don’t know why I am still alive. Is it luck or chance or something to do with planets aligning? Is it compliance? Am I one of the lucky ones whose immune system is unusually strong, or were you and I such a perfect and indomitable match, that failure was never an option? It’s impossible to say.

I have my doubts that we will be here in another 18 years, although my doctors assure me that there isn’t any reason why I won’t. There may come a time where I need a third set of lungs, but I hope that’s not the case because I’ve grown rather fond of you. In fact, I loved you from the start, even though you tried to kill me.

When you think about it, we’ve had an odd relationship. Where I shook the hand of death, you peeled me away from the death grip I was beginning to see as a friend. The first fortnight, we fought bitterly. I rejected you, or perhaps it was a mutual renunciation. Whatever the case, it was an education in terror and pain we both swiftly learned from, and we never fucked with rejection again.

That’s not to say we’ve haven’t had our fair share of shit. Cancer wasn’t one iota of fun, and you’ve gifted me lungfuls of air when I’ve sobbed through seemingly impenetrable sadness.

The scar under which you lay is now a pale pink seam of refuge, like still water beneath a bridge.

I love all five lobes of you equally, and I will always be your biggest champion. That you must know. Every year, just before (y)our transplanniversary, the weals of scar that have hardened into runes on my trunk begin to itch. I scratch, but it is so far beneath my skin that it cannot be touched. When ‘the itch’ presents, it’s as though you are trying to tell me something. It never fails to make sense, but not before I have scratched my skin until my breasts and that tender seam of scar are raw and streaked with blood.

I acknowledge that my life date is your first caretaker’s death date. The day she died, I returned to life, and ever since I have been making my way all slipshod through a special kind of purgatory. I needed to suffer before I felt worthy enough to commemorate my new life with you, and for many years, I have marked this day timidly, humbly and with a quiet voice. Maybe next year will be different.

And so today, there was no grand celebration. I chose to commemorate you and your original caretaker the best way I know how – by living my life. I enjoyed an ordinary day at work, because I’ve long preferred the beauty of the ordinary, because within that realm of normality, that’s where I chance upon the extraordinary. Ordinary doesn’t have to be mundane or insipid. That I can get out of bed, feed and dress myself, pull on my boots, go to work, and walk around the hospital visiting patients (an ironic reflection of my own life), double back to the bookstore, have a coffee and share a meal with my family is a day meaningfully and well lived.

Tonight I will light you a candle. The flame will thicken in the cool winter air, and I will give myself pause. I’ll sit on my balcony as a retrospective of the last eighteen years  plays across grey hems of cloud, and then I will go to bed with a grateful heart.

Last month when I was beach combing, I found a miniature set of you. Two lungs, the structures of a heart and even the intricate plumbing of the carina of trachea. I held it against my ear and my ears filled with the gentle rush of waves pitching over pebbles.

I listen to you. There’s rarely a rumble. You have held the line and kept me anchored to this life and for that, I owe you everything.

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The places I go …

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It is akin to a dream, this dense clump of trees unfolding before me, reaching sharply into the sky. As I walk through the forest under canopies of palms and eucalypts and a discord of screaming birds, my feet arrive at a bog. I’m at the lip of a lake I cannot reach for the rain that has distended the ground. Perhaps Jacky can take me tomorrow so I can see where it splits from the earth and drops away.

There is life above, around and below me. The swollen ground silently objects under my boots and as I lift my feet, it plumps up like a pudding.

The air is slow and dense from woodsmoke, and it anchors me to the moment. I crush leaves between my fingers; that stain of scent not leaving the folds of my hands until I bathe later that evening.

With the sun caught in the canopies – splintering shadows onto the ground as though they are dancing a jive – the screech of a cockatoo and flurries of parrots embroider the Piccabeen palms. Their silver mottled skins are grooved with what looks like inverted feathers, as though someone has taken the time to stencil each one.

Early evening yields to the call of the kookaburra, cackling at our stupidity and the irksome way we do not love them every minute of every day.

Diamonds scuttle across the water as the day reaches into dusk. The milky way splashes across in silver and white – a smattering of light and relief in their spilt majesty. The sky cradles a waning moon.

Being here, it takes time to breathe at a slower pace; to let my belly soften and sink into my winter bones. I find myself in a world where it is becoming more difficult to disconnect from the goings on of humanity, my country, my community. There is a deep well within me of wanting to be free from the destruction, the war, and the suffering I have no control over. But then I realise for the millionth time that I control nothing. I can but try to go forwards in what seems to be the right direction. I can shepherd and steer myself, yet control does not belong to me. It never has.

I am finding myself enjoying growing older. Not only because I never expected to, but with the growth itself. I am assured as a human being, though never would I believe that I am particularly ‘good’ at any one thing, although I am on my way to becoming an exceedingly keen listener, and that itself is an art. 

Another art (and something I am not particularly good at) is writing. It is a pursuit I will never be great or even exceedingly good at. If I ever become half the writer I have yearned to be all my life, would that be a paragon of happiness? How am I ever to know if I am anything over than average unless someone tells me differently? And even then, can I bring myself to believe them? In all likelihood – not a chance.

With age comes wisdom and truth. Some are fraught with despair, while others have a far more convivial pulse. I remain unconvinced that absolute truths do not exist, although these things often come down to perception.

Breaking my bonds with the city, I ‘go within’ as Jacky calls it, and reach back into the folds of myself I have forgotten or allowed to lapse. I come back to breath, firing my body in the sun. My lungs expand; each lobe bristling with each seemingly bottomless breath. I readjust the way a spinnaker does downwind. Silence is my ballast.

As I come to see my senses as a decoy, I’m carried towards a deeper understanding of who I am, where I am in the world and how I came to be here. I temper my body, but do not become weary, and there is a far greater element of not needing answers – to embrace the mystery and come home. Should books and music, baths and tea, shadows on the wall from the moon, and the odd storm be all I had for company, I would want for nothing. For there is equanimity in the quiet, and peace in patience.

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