I have come to this place of retirement.
On the one hand, it is a place of community, conviviality, companionship, co-existence.
On the other hand, it is a place of sea and ships and industry.
When I sit alone on my balcony at dusk, looking east, watching the reflected light of sunset cast across the land and sea before me, I am consumed by colour and aloneness. The sound of surf crashing to shore enwraps me in its ebb and flow. On the right day, the green of the golf course intensifies; the watercourse flames pink, the ocean sparkles aquamarine.
The full moon each month fascinates me. I wait for the moonrise, its light tracking across the water, a distinct path stretching right up to the horizon. Ships at anchor are almost imperceptible, just faint dark shapes on the line where ocean meets sky. Night falls, as it does quickly here. Their outline emerges until, in the silky darkness, their safety lights blaze into merriment.
When I sit alone on my balcony at dusk, sometimes, a tear drifts down my cheek and I think to myself –
‘I am home.’
When I stand on my western balcony, I am never alone. I sense the presence of my neighbours. Maybe my husband is with me, and we watch the sun set over the escarpment. I shield my eyes from the dangerous fierceness. Slowly at first, then suddenly, the yellow orb drops behind the mount. If there are clouds, next comes the silver lining – literally – and I feel that far away, somewhere to my right, there are others who watch the sun dip beyond our line of sight. I am not the only one who is mesmerised in its timeless enchantment.
I need to shield my eyes from the piercing glare, so I look away to my left. There lays the steelworks, mouldering and burning and churning all day and all night. There is a strange beauty in their industry; by night I am fascinated by the cascade of white and orange lights spreading across a wide arc, and the blue and orange flames shooting high into the air beguile me. By day, I watch the steam scattering huge white billows up to the sky, coupling with the clouds above, and console myself that, since it is visible, then whatever that steam contains must have been purified. It’s the invisible emission I wonder about.
But I don’t wonder too hard.
Directly in front of me is the building containing our amenities. I can see the restaurant, set ready for diners with crisp white table cloths and separate glasses for white and red wine, just as one would expect from five-star class. The lounge, in the latest décor colours, awaits its pre-dinner drink guests. The tennis court lies below me, the aquatic centre just beyond. Out of sight and yet just behind, lie the games’ room and library and the in-house cinema.
When I join my neighbours in the lounge and restaurant, there is no time for reflection. I joke, and drink, and drink and joke, and eat, and eat some more until, over-excited by the company and festivity, I talk too much and become over-exuberant.
When I am in company, I don’t wonder about the steelworks or marvel at the moonrise. I don’t think about anything much at all.
But in the morning, when I have overcome worrying if I went too far the night before, I think to myself – that in this way too –
‘I am home.’
I didn’t anticipate that this place would complement the duality of my nature, the contrast of introversion and extroversion wrapped together in one package.
I never expected that the steps of my life would lead me here. So much comfort, so much companionship. I was not born to expect luxury.
And yet – in this place it is irrelevant who you were or what you did in another life. This is an ‘in the moment’ kind of living, full of opportunity and anticipation for the future. No-one is looking back.
Here people ask each other what they are doing right now.
Shall we Golf? Play tennis? Swim? Bridge? Book Club? Embroider? Tai Chi? Play Pool?
At Happy Hour, I tell people that I will use this time to write. For so many years I have imagined I will write. So many yarns have been born in my mind, slipped off my lips, disappeared. Stories and words, so glorified in my head, slipped away and lost to the monotony of the daily grind. How brilliant I could have been if only time had allowed me to write.
So here I am in this place of retirement with all the time in the world at my disposal.
And yet I have not written.
I have been here many weeks – and still I have not written.
I have unpacked. I have cleaned. I have updated addresses, organised the paperwork, and checked the finances. I have walked, swum, played tennis, and used the gym. I have explored the immediate area. I have shopped. I have cooked and baked – and cleaned again. I have entertained and I have socialised…….A lot, I have socialised a lot. I have put on weight.
And still I have not written.
And now this week Cousin Brian died – five days short of his sixty-seventh birthday. He is the first of our generation to pass. He was the fittest, the fastest, and the kindest.
When he fell sick, he told me he had many stories he wanted to tell.
But Brian was a man who worked with his hands, not his words.
And yet he told me he had words he wanted to share. I offered to write them for him. He believed that he had lived long enough to learn the way to tell them for himself. He believed he had the time and the future to do it.
Brian stories burned with him in the ashes.
Only his spoken words will live on, in the memories of those who listened, and those who understood.
As I mourned Brian’s death and reflected on his life, I pondered the role he played in the woman I became, and recalled these words of wisdom from Sandra Day O’Connor:
“We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone… and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something.”
(First female member of the Supreme Court of the United States).
I sat down to write about the tapestry of my life. I wanted it to be a story of achievement, of triumph over adversity. I wanted it to be a story of those who made the journey with me, to paint a picture of them that would endure to the next generation. Above all, I wanted to lay tribute to all those who supported and guided me through my childhood, who helped me to achieve who and where I am today.
It was not to be.
As one draft followed another, my story was overwhelmed with loss. It became the story of those whom I lost along life’s journey. My story spoke of the loss of the father that I did not know, the mother with whom I never bonded, the friends who went away, the cousin who suicided, the shredding of sibling love – even the loss of the husband that I left. Finally it spoke of the deepest cut of all – the loss of my child.
As these threads weaved from one to another it became clear. Loss is a part of the tapestry of life, we cannot avoid it, and we cannot change it. All we can change is how we react to it, and in that decision lays the creation of something. Loss can destroy, and it can build. In the end, then, this is a story of triumph over adversity, and I dedicate it to all those who nurtured and guided me through.
FOOTNOTE: This is a piece that I wrote in late 2008, shortly after we had moved to Wollongong. The last part was updated when I thought I had finished my manuscript. Little did I know I had many more drafts to face before I reached the core of my story. I am now on my ninth, and I hope, ultimate draft.*
FOOTNOTE: I Belong to No One, by Gwen Wilson, was published by Hachette Australia, in June 2015 (ISBN=9780733634079)
* After many more than nine drafts!