In May 1999, I lost one of my dearest friends to Cystic Fibrosis. Her name was Meagan Walker and I thought I’d best provide some back story for you, so here’s a post from my memoir about beautiful Meags I wrote back in 2009. I’m heading out to Barcaldine – specifically Cumberland – Meagan’s home where her family’s cattle station is – in late August until mid-September. Serendipitously, I’ll be in Longreach for the Meagan Walker mini-marathon on Father’s day. There are new family members (babies!) to meet, paddocks to dance in and dust to kick up.
the brave one
A decade seems a long time, doesn’t it? Try telling a family who have lost their child such a thing.
Today is all about Meagan Walker.
This day ten years ago one of the most beautiful people to grace the earth lost her fight with Cystic Fibrosis. There are only a couple of people I can say are truly perfect and beautiful. Meagan is one, while another is a friend who also died from C.F in 1988. In fact, Meagan and Ineka share many of the same traits – both tiny in stature, but giants of courage, beauty and spirit. They are the brave ones.
Meag’s died about ten months after my transplant. The guilt was tremendous, simply because I had survived and she had not. Meagan grew up on the land in Barcaldine and we had both always wanted to spend some time out there together. I had heard of this ‘Barcy’ place, but it was only after Meag’s death that I was able to get out to Cumberland – the cattle station where she had been raised with her two sisters. Like many people from the city, I had never been to the outback and while I wasn’t – and never have been – hit with culture shock, everything changes when you leave the city. The silence really is deafening, as hackneyed as that sounds and I soon discovered (and have to remind myself every time I head out to Barcy), that it takes a week to settle into the moods and layers of the land.
Meagan’s family welcomed me into their home and into their lives. I was introduced to the terrain and so began my love affair with the outback. I rode a horse for the first time and rode on horseback for the annual Meagan Walker Mini-Marathon which Meagan’s Aunt Midge created to both raise money for C.F and to celebrate her life. I sure as hell wasn’t going to walk for eleven kilometres and despite being unable to move the next day because I was on a horse for two hours and only for the second time, every trot and every stinking turd Sally the horse dumped on the road to Longway (Aunt Midge’s place), was all worth it.
I galloped through the gates of Longway like I was chasing down the dawn, knowing Meag’s was looking after me as my tits nearly popped out of my singlet. I can imagine her giggling with her hand over her mouth saying, ‘oh my god, Carly!’ which is exactly what her dear Mum said. I’m not sure whether it was the threat of flying breasts or that it looked liked I had a death wish. I was flying, and not just because I hammered my feet into Sally’s flanks. I felt I was setting my grief free with every single hoof beat that stomped the rust coloured dirt. I sent my regret over choosing to not see Meagan the day before she died, out into the void where it belonged. I was no longer tethered to it, yet I felt closer to Meagan.
When I am at Meagan’s resting place which is where she grew up, I go on a writing bender. I’ve written some of my best work out there. For the final unit in my undergraduate degree, I was the only (idiotic) person who decided to write five thousand words of poetry. So I did. The poetry peeled away the layers of grief and cleansed me of the stink of the city. The poems covered all manner of terrain – pastoral themes; loss, hope, gardening, roo shooting, regret, trees, children, grief, string bikini’s and Fleetwood Mac. Some of these poems have been published, as well as some of the non-fiction (which I will endeavour to post) I have written over the years while ‘stationed’ at Cumberland. Today has been hard to swallow. It is all hard to swallow. Meagan will never be far from me – mind, body and soul. How I loved her. How I always will.
Some writing from 2001—
Bulls with clotted horns and loose balls fossick around the fence with faces like forked cheese. I’m swimming, watching them from the water. They don’t know I am there until I paddle to the rim of the water, sink under and push with my legs from the wall of the pool. I lean into a curve; arms out and feet pointed, slicing through the water. When my body slows, I jump up and they stop eating grass and snorting dirt; dropping their heads so their forked cheese faces won’t be scratched by the overhang of trees. You don’t get that in the city. You can’t get that in the city.
When I went out to Barcaldine for the first time, waves of words crashed into me, and the next time and the next time I visited Cumberland, the same thing happened. ‘The Garden’ is about her dad Jay, who dedicated his days to a garden that he created for his daughter.
Stops his ears,
taps his eyes
slanting into a mulch of memories
to space a burrow where the orchid will fatten.
Marigolds work well with hay.
Bougainvillea’s burst holes through plastic pots,
prodding out of the earth, up to the terrain –
biting their nails, crowning their thorns.
Picks at the stones that pull the roots,
ploughing his senses like a father would.
One daughter short with the pair of size five boots
sitting by the helmet she wore on the horses;
jodhpurs and sticky reins,
trotting around barbs, cantering around the source.
She’s gushing from her chest, barreled with blood.
He sees her teeth – stained red looking like humans do
when we bleed from our mouths or after too much red wine.
Thoughts of her hold him to ransom
so he squats in the garden with no moments to give away.
Picking at the pitiful soil,
crumbs of humble pie,
the sheep that has no mother
strides by him for good measure.
Dusk now, and he stops picking at stones.
Flicks the lighter, the cigarette offering hope among
the darkness of a western sundown where he
dismisses the loneliness and balks at a sitting crow.