Tag: strong women

sacred places: a timely repost

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.

2009

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.

The Garden

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.

Memoir sneak peek

Here is a glimpse into my memoir I’ve been working furiously on, amongst the pain of a femoral hernia (go forth and google). I’ve not long to go before I wind up my story, so here’s a little insight into what I’ve been working on. Thank you for reading – just keep in mind that this is a first draft. My book will be called ‘Chasing Away Salt Water’.

*

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea 

– Isak Dinesen (Karen Christenze Dinesen)

For a very long time, I’ve been trying to work out where to start my story. While there is a beginning and middle, there is no end. It doesn’t make sense to start telling my story from the beginning, so I’ll start from when I began to die.

August 1998

When you are dying, you leak.

There is a condition – death anxiety or death and adjustment – when the body reverts to ‘primal’ mode; a homogeneous process of ridding the body of inessential waste. Like a surrender of dignity for the dying, where one oscillates between dignity and necessity – the necessity of death – there is a simple hope pinned to your chest that at the end of this life, you can retain a part of who you were before your body began to rot from the inside out. It is the slowing down and cessation of life. We will all realise senescence and we are all going to die.

By design, the body is physiologically wired to know what it needs to do during the process of dying. The body expedites the process of draining fluid in strange ways. Here are a few I experienced before and after transplant:

Inactivity and the eventual inability to walk liquefied my muscles; withering the sinew until it began breaking down like compost. Perfect textbook atrophy.

I became incontinent and would often wet myself during coughing fits so violent, my lips, fingers and toes would turn a persistent shade of blue. I’m proud to say I never soiled myself. I could deal with piss, vomit and blood, but not shit. I wasn’t ready to have a nurse wipe my ass like a baby. That indignity could wait. This is what happens when you’re at the edge between life and death with Cystic Fibrosis –

Coughing so hard and for so long, I would vomit, fart and wet myself.

Vomiting made my eyes water and nose drip.

Too much coughing can break ribs. Broken ribs hurt.

My lungs bled and bleeds can be perilous.

You seep.

Bodies discharge fluids and stink up a room. I was familiar with the stench of death and dying, but from other people – not me. I would lay in bed and think of lilies because I thought, ‘surely it can’t be me leaching out something so rancid?’

Life peels away like an onion. It shrivels, much like a hollowed out husk that cannot be fed, while the attachment you once had to your life is ladled out of you like soup. I found myself disconnected from the person I used to be. Where was the girl I had shaped into a woman from circumstance and experience?

End stage illness is not liberating. It is disempowering – akin to having your insides scooped out with a trowel and dumped in a bin. You must then crawl to the bin, recover what is left and shovel whatever goodness you find back into your body.

Death is nothing like ‘Meet Joe Black’. There is no Brad Pitt. There is no New York City. There are no fireworks or romance. There is no talking to death. There is no spare time. There is no bargaining.

*

Five days after my transplant, I had four drains removed from my chest. They were as thick as hoses and had been draining blood and sebaceous fluid from my new lungs. When the drains were removed, the leaking hastened. It had to be expunged, and it was urgent, breaking the levee. As I struggled to contain the flooding from my chest, my mood turned black – an odd narrative for me.

I had hoped all the leaking was over because I had survived, but the four hoses had left open wounds like crucifixes, and four spillways formed a syrupy pool in my hospital bed. And in my crotch. No matter how many pads of gauze I packed on, I leaked. Any exertion had pus spraying (not dissimilar to blood spatter) outward and down my trunk – the force behind it much like ejaculation.

I cried and swore at the nurses and whoever else was in sight because they weren’t helping me. I told them to go fuck themselves, such was my despair and pain.

The levee has broken many times since the hoses were pulled out of my chest, yet never anything like the torrent that was August 1998.

West End Magazine

And so the winter edition of the über glossy West End magazine has gone to print and is madly circulating. On pages 24-25 (yes, a SPREAD), you’ll find a feature about my journey thus far. It’s impeccably written, so I’m told and the magazine is a publication that celebrates all things South Brisbane – culture, people, food, fashion and local business. I’m honoured that I’m  a part of this edition which is their biggest yet. My good friend and kick arse photographer, Torsten Baumann snapped the colour images, while the black and white photo of my sister and I saying goodbye before I went to theatre for my transplant is by the indomitable Alicia Alit-Trevatt. Here is Tor’s photo essay about me from earlier in the month.

You can pick up a copy of West End Magazine around South Brisbane haunts or buy it at a newsagent. Ever since I moved to 4101, I’ve always looked forward to reading this magazine – it really is luscious.

Oh wait – here it is! 

Here’s my contributor photo. Hunt down a copy, have a coffee and enjoy!

super sad sucky love poem

My friend and fabulous feminist, Dannielle Miller of Enlighten Education http://www.enlighteneducation.com and author of ‘The Butterfly Effect’ and ‘The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo’, is working on her third book and asked me if I could write a super sappy break-up poem. Here’s the first draft – I think I can do better worse …

super sad sucky love poem

I thought we would be together forever,

but it wasn’t to be.

Instead, I sit here with my cats

swallowing whole blocks of chocolate

while knives fly into my heart because

I never thought we’d part.

The promises we made

that you could never keep.

Counting on you was something I should never have done,

but I did and now you’re gone.

My heart aches for your touch

and your kisses that I loved so much.

The tears won’t stop and I cannot tell

what is heaven and what is hell.

I don’t know how and I don’t know why

You left me alone until I die.

I think of the times we were together,

always believing it would be forever.

three haiku

18.4.12

Arousing menu

cream of corn soup, coconut ice

and a bucket of tea.

 

19.4.12

Dark hair, green smock.

Laughter lines and white pickets of teeth.

My old friend, the muse.

 

20.4.12

Doctors appointment.

Nail biting afternoon.

He is still not sure.

 

all things sweet

There is a little place with a big wooden door that jingles when you open it. As you walk into this little room, your ears are tickled by the crackly voice of Billie Holiday or a scatting Ella Fitzgerald and comforting smiles from ladies in lovely dresses and pearls slow your heart beat down and you feel your breath soften.

The tables are set perfectly – all white – and there are chandeliers and a wall of tea. Sitting down, you’re served with a mini cup of tea – usually one of my favourites, French Earl Grey – and you’re greeted with kindness and respect. Welcome to Queenies – a traditional teahouse in Nundah that feeds not only your belly with its sweet and savoury delights, but a place peppered with people who know how to nurture your soul.

Whatever emptiness you arrived with will be gone by the time you’re ready to leave this place of refuge. Which you won’t – you won’t ever want to leave this enchanting place that serves ribbon sandwiches, perfect cheesecake, tea and so much more in the way of comfort.

*

slices of comfort

on white plates speak to me in

sugar twists and nectarous blooms.

 

pastel cups and teapots

gush colour into our eyes –

our bellies heavy with love.

 

we breathe as the door

jingles open – a refuge

from dusty tracks of construction.

 

 

Certainty

After listening to my friend Darren’s speech at the Cystic Fibrosis Ball last night, and hearing him regale how his Mum managed to look after two boys, work, cook and do everything that a wonderful Mum does, I had to post this about my own Mum, Jewel. Yes – named after the gem.

*

Certainty is often equated with death and taxes.

I can slice certainty two ways. I could say there are no certainties or guarantees when one is sick or broken, or I could say that there are many certainties and guarantees when one is sick or broken. I’ll not take sides, so I’ll take a little from column A and a little from column B.

Living with a dis-ease can be trying. There is the certainty that you will probably die. There is also the certainty that you will live. There is a certainty that nothing is certain.

The most important certainty I had growing up was my mother. She was and still is, the spine of our family. She would look after everyone else except herself. You have to remember that my mother was not only looking after a sick child, but she was also raising another as well as shouldering the deaths of C.F kids she had grown to love as her own.

I do not know how she did what she did with such grace. She would be up in the ward when I’d clocked off at the hospital school for the morning, then she’d dash back to Jindalee to make sure she was there at 3pm on the dot to pick my sister up from school.

Then she would have had to cook dinner for my father and sister.

Then she would have helped my sister with her homework.

Then she would have cleaned up.

After that, I don’t know what my mother did. It pains me to think about my mother’s private hell with this routine of wake up, get daughter ready for school. Make school lunch and ensure daughter has everything she needs for the day. Drive daughter to school, drive home to finish chores. Drive to the hospital and trawl for a car park. Spend time with other daughter whose I.V has tissued and packed it in. Go with daughter into treatment room to be repeatedly cannulated. Talk to other mothers and cuddle other kids. Kiss daughter goodbye, rush back to school to pick other daughter up, prepare afternoon tea and talk about the day which may include problems or celebrations for any achievements. Cook dinner, help with homework, clean up, talk to husband.

It’s like a bad dream and it loops over and over and over where I can see my mother sitting with me in Turner Ward. I can see her coming to collect me from the hospital school early so we can sit outside in the park with our lunch; I can see her biting her nails to the quick. What I can’t see – and what she wouldn’t let me see – is what this was doing to her. How I ache.

The other certainty was my Dad. He wouldn’t stay long – maybe twenty or thirty minutes – but he came up every night. If I was off my hospital food and wanted something special for dinner, like most kids I’d ask for KFC or Macca’s, but instead of bringing me a burger, Dad would bring enough food for all of the C.F kids – burgers, chips, chicken nuggets – everything. A bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and my father was an instant hero. Not many people know that he did these things. People know him as a generous man, but Dad would be the last person to tell someone what he had done.

He probably didn’t think much of it at the time, or ever for that matter, but to us – especially me – it was everything. To the nurses, he was just a man visiting his daughter in hospital. To me, he was my Dad and that meant sustenance through love – a relationship galvanised by actions where he offered wisdom through silence, and the ‘never give in gungerdin’ attitude I still look to whenever it is time to fall apart again.

I get cut open, my family stitches me back up.