wings and things

Chapter 10: Tomorrow [2021]

Tomorrow will be the 23rd of August and at around 6.30pm Anthony will die all over again in my memory of four years ago.

Our own doctor was on leave so another doctor came and gave him morphine to ease his sudden, terrible discomfort with pneumonia, Then, to my surprise, this doctor hung around for about 20 minutes to see if the morphine had improved Anthony’s condition. Ming was with us. Ming was with us. That was/is important.

Anthony was semi-conscious so I wasn’t sure if he would hear my whispered conversation with the doctor out in the hallway.

Doctor: Your husband is dying.

Me: Yes I thought so but I wasn’t sure.

Doctor: If he doesn’t improve soon I will give him another injection.

Me: Oh, okay. When you say he is dying do you mean soon?

Doctor: It’s impossible to say as it could be a day or two, maybe longer.

After the second injection, I went back into Anthony’s room to my spot on the armchair next to his bed and I held his hand in a clutch that must have hurt him because he flinched slightly and pushed my hand away. The relief that he was now breathing normally, and not doing that ghastly Cheyne-stoking thing, was so wonderful. I went outside with Ming for a breath of fresh air and just minutes later a nurse came out and said “He’s gone.”

I thought she meant that the doctor had gone so I just nodded an okay. Then she said, “Anthony has gone.”

In my mind I had the doctor’s words “it could be a day or two, maybe longer” so, as I hugged and sobbed over Anthony’s still-warm dead body, my mind a flurry of utter disbelief, all I could think was why didn’t that doctor warn me that it might just be minutes?

I think I know why Anthony pushed my hand away but I’m not sure and I will never know. Ming and I were just several meters away, outside, while Anthony died alone. I realise in retrospect that this may have been his intention.

But it still haunts me.


Chapter 9: The aftermath [September 4th, 2017]

Not long after you died I wrote the following:

“I’m glad I believe in Heaven, Anthony, because you weren’t so sure yourself but apparently the gates were wide open anyway and there was a big crowd waiting to welcome you. As you walked towards them, your back straightened, and your grin returned, and your voice came back. When you reached for my hand, and looked for Ming, your mother explained that we weren’t there yet, your brothers and sisters embraced you, and my dad introduced you around….

In the twelve days since Anthony died, I have woken up each morning, forgetting that he is dead, and even forgetting that the funeral has happened. The empty feeling inside me is like an icy wind tunnel and I cannot seem to get warm. My mother and I went to the grave-side a couple of days ago and yesterday, Father’s Day, Ming and I thought of going but didn’t. The impulse to go and see Anthony in the nursing home comes and goes constantly as I forget, then remember again. The many, many messages of condolence have slowed to a trickle, the beautiful flowers sent to us are now wilting, and whenever Ming leaves for work I almost say, “Can you go and see Dad?” And yesterday my mother was undone when, after church, she had to head home instead of to the nursing home.

On the day of the funeral, Ming and I had arranged for a viewing – just for the two of us. My only reason for this was totally irrational; I just wanted to make sure Anthony was really dead. And even when I kissed his cold forehead and lips I kept expecting him to open his eyes. He didn’t.

Ming and I had picked wormwood from Anthony’s favourite hedge to be used instead of rosemary sprigs, and a melody Ming had composed played as people placed these on the coffin around the branches of camellia trees we’d also picked that morning.

My feet seem to have grown bigger because they fit perfectly into Anthony’s ugg boots which I am wearing now. I keep watching the funeral dvd over and over and over again. So this is the grief I have anticipated for so long, raw, relentless, like a terrible storm.

But gradually, softly – away from that person sobbing – I am picking myself up. The special camellia tree Anthony bought me began to flower the day after the funeral, the dogs are constantly by my side, and Ming is here.

I’m glad I believe in Heaven.”

And now? Four years later? I am still glad I believe in Heaven.


Chapter 8: The eve of the eve [2021]

This evening is the eve of the eve of when you left me nearly four years ago.

I’d had plenty of warning of course as you had almost left me many times during the latter years of our marriage, but you always came back.

Now, as the hours crawl towards the moment you left me for good, I keep forgetting to breathe and when I remember to breathe the tears squirt out of my eyes onto the keyboard of my laptop and I don’t wipe them off. I don’t even wipe my eyes. I half hope that the wet keyboard will wreck the laptop and then I won’t have to write another word of this story until I get another laptop and, as I am very good at procrastination, that probably won’t be for awhile.

But the tears dry up no matter how much I try to coerce them to continue; their moisture evaporates from the keyboard and I am still reluctantly writing this chapter that I thought would be the finale. I guess writing the final chapter now gets most of the sadness out of my system and I can write the other chapters with more clarity? I’m not sure.

I remember this nearly-four-years-ago-evening vividly because, despite the fact that we were separated and had reverted to our original platonic relationship, I decided to stay the night with you. It just seemed right. You went to sleep early but I stayed up late watching a thriller with the sound down so as not to wake you.

You looked a bit surprised to see me the next morning, almost as if you had forgotten the previous evening. I think we spent most of the day watching Downton Abbey or it might have been The Office. You were quiet and I was noisy. You were sick and I was well. You were dying and I wasn’t.

You were dying and I didn’t know it because you had done this before and always returned like Lazarus.

This evening is the eve of the eve of when you left me nearly four years ago.

You left me and this time you didn’t come back.


Chapter 7: The child Ming [1994]

I have wanted for so long to write our love story in book form and, despite blogging about it for so many years, I just couldn’t quite get it into a coherent beginning, middle, and end. Until now. Sort of. In a back and forth way.

Anthony and I eventually got married and, exactly nine months later, I gave birth to a tiny, screeching creature who we named Menzies (pronounced Mingus with a soft ‘g’). It was a very difficult 40-hour birth and Ming finally emerged at around 1am on January 5, 1994.

“It’s a boy!” Anthony yelled just before our bemused doctor handed him his little penis-blessed clone. A few minutes later Anthony said he need to go home as he was exhausted and he was milking the cows in the morning.

And then, after I was stitched up and all of that, I got to hold my tiny, swaddled, beautiful baby.

I wish the English language had a better word for joy because from that day forward, Anthony and I had that un-wordable, beyond-joy feeling for Ming. We would stare and stare at him while he slept in his crib; we were beyond doting parents, we were quite ridiculously proud of our accomplishment.

I have wanted for so long to write our love story in book form and, despite blogging about it for so many years, I just couldn’t quite get it into a coherent beginning, middle, and end. Until now. Sort of. In a back and forth way.

In looking back, I realise now that our love story always had a very solid middle, a centre, and that was Ming.

There were three of us.


Chapter 6: The hug [1978]

After my dad died I went back to working for Anthony’s mother in a caring capacity. During the months I had been away at Bible college, Gar (the name her grandchildren and I called her) had become frailer but she still managed to wield her walking stick in a rather formidable manner. In her mid-eighties, she still had the upper hand when it came to the business of the dairy farm that she owned and ran with her two youngest sons, Anthony (the bachelor who she lived with), and John, who lived across the road with his wife and four children.

It was such a strange sensation to be enfolded back into this extended family and when Gar began calling me “darling” I knew that I was accepted into a clan that was so alien to any experience I had ever had in my sheltered childhood and adolescence that every day felt like an adventure. Brandy or beer on the verandah at 5pm after milking, learning how to make salmon mornay, sleeping on the floor beside Gar’s bed when Anthony occasionally went out, babysitting the youngest of John’s children, a 4-year old blonde, adorable brat who would lock me out of the house every time I hung the washing out, picking figs …

I experienced so much joy going to work and, even though I now realise that my mother was probably relieved to be able to grieve the loss of her husband in private, the guilt I felt as I happily cycled the twelve kilometres to the farm was awful. I was so sad and shocked about the sudden death of my dad; simultaneously, I was elated to be back in Anthony’s proximity again. After all my dad said it was okay, didn’t he? Did he?

One lunch time, after Gar put her knife and fork down and proclaimed that my fish cakes were “diabolical” (my cooking abilities were still in-progress), I apologised and took her to her bedroom for her afternoon rest, then I went to the bathroom and had a little cry because I was so confused and then I came back to the kitchen to do the dishes.

Anthony was clearing the table and just said, “Sorry about Mum” and went to his own room to have his after-lunch siesta which usually only lasted ten minutes.

I only had a short window of time but I was too miserable to know what to do with it. So I finished washing the dishes and then, before I could think it through, I knocked on his door and entered just as he was sitting up on his single bed.

“Would it be okay if you gave me a hug, Anthony?” I asked, my sad, confused heart beating into the drums of my temples.

“Oh, Jules,” he said, patting the space next to him.

And he hugged me, and hugged me. He smelt like cow-shit and hay and a lack of deodorant and I was in heaven!


Chapter 5: Bible college [1978]

In late January, 1978, by which time I had turned 19, my parents thought it would be a good idea to get me away from my crush on Anthony and send me to a Bible college on the other side of Australia. I am not quite sure why I agreed to this because to leave the proximity of this man I was so in love with, and his elderly mother, for whom I had developed a deep affection, was the purest version of misery I have ever felt, before or, remarkably, since.

Don’t get me wrong; my relationship with Anthony was utterly platonic at that stage. After all he was over 40! My parents must have been extremely concerned. Even now, a 23-year age gap is seen to be somehow unhealthy, indecent, and/or at the very least odd and I am sure Dr. Phil would suggest therapy until the younger party came to her senses.

The trouble with me going to this Bible college was that it only made me more certain that I was certain. I knew, without a shred of doubt, that Anthony was ‘it’. So I survived the strange antics of the Bible college, despite various experiences of attempted exorcism of forbidden love from my poor confused heart, conducted by other equally confused students down in the basement of the boarding house.

Of course I now realise that this particular Bible college was what we could now call a cult. The offices where we went to lectures was at the top of a Bondi Beach high-rise and morning prayers would include all of us holding hands and looking down from our privileged perch, praying for the sinners below us. I HATED IT! The arrogance disgusted me.

I asked for a sign from God (you see I was still very much a believer) and, when, a couple of days later, I received a hand-written letter from Anthony saying that he missed me, I took this as confirmation that I was right! Of course there is more to this bit of the story but I will save that for another chapter because ….

‘Bugger them’, my dad said on the phone, ‘Come home.’

I was in a telephone box down the road from the Bible college and I was about to run out of coins. ‘Are you sure, Dad?’

‘Yes, we both want you home.’

A few days later, with my bags secretly packed, I was reluctantly participating in an evangelistic skit night when the phone rang in the office adjacent to our activity room. The minister who headed the organisation went to answer it but I already knew, even though I didn’t know how I knew.

My dad was dead.


Chapter 4: Hindsight [2021]

It would probably be easier for me, emotionally, to write this story as a novel, to change our names, to make various wishes come true, to somehow fix all of the things that needed to be fixed, to write something neat and tidy. But I think the auto/biographical nature of this story is necessary; after all, I have blogged about it for many years.

Anthony must have thought a hippie was at the front door all those years ago.

Julie must have thought the cowhand had answered the door all those years ago.

I will never forget the feeling that washed over me that moment when he opened the door and said hello gruffly. It was as if I had entered into a rough draft of a Mills and Boon novel and somehow ended up in Narnia.

Happily lost. Happily found.


Chapter 3: The key [2009]

One day, during one of the many weeks my husband was away, two policemen came to the door. I was a bit alarmed at first because at the time I was in the habit of speeding slightly on occasion, so I thought perhaps I hadn’t paid my most recent fine. Wanting to make a good impression, I invited them into the kitchen for a cup of tea.

Well it was nothing to do with speeding, it was to do with his firearms, the ones he never used. I had forgotten to pay the firearms license, so the guns needed to be taken away.

Bad cop: We need to seize the firearms.

Good cop: Could you please show us where the the gun cabinet is?

This was slightly awkward as the gun cabinet was in the corner of the tiny office I had at the back of the house and it was a terrible mess because it had also somehow become the junk room.

Bad cop: Where’s the key?

Good cop: We will need to open the gun cabinet if you don’t mind.

I suddenly realised that the bad cop’s question might be a trick question because the gun cabinet key is supposed to be hidden safely somewhere far away from the gun cabinet so I looked imploringly at the good cop until he said, gently, “do you know where the key is?”

Prepared to lie about anything and everything as I wasn’t used to having two uniformed police officers in such close proximity, it was a relief to be able to say, truthfully, that I had no idea where the key was.

I was given 24 hours to find the key in order for the firearms to be seized.

After they left, I began to search the house for the key. The only thing I remembered about the key was that it was rather large as, ever since it became law to have a gun cabinet, we had never opened it and, in fact I didn’t even know if it had guns in it or not.

I didn’t want to bother my husband while he was away and, due to his eccentric habits of secretly hoarding and hiding things, I didn’t want to have another argument about that; I also didn’t want him to know that I had incurred a fine!

Well it took a lot longer than 24 hours to find that key; it took about a week during which I found many stashes of tiny antique keys. The bad cop sent the good cop out to visit me on several occasions and, despite his good intentions, I still felt a bit like some sort of criminal.

It wasn’t until I suddenly remembered that we might have put the gun cabinet key in one of the the cupboards of an antique sideboard in the dining room we never used that I had an aha moment. But none of the many tiny keys worked to open its cupboards. The situation had become desperate partly because the good cop had become far too friendly and I suspected the bad cop might want to put me in jail.

The locksmith idea only came to me just in time, sort of. As he carefully pried the sideboard cupboards open and I was about to say “how to you want me to pay you?” wads of $50 notes fell onto the carpet – around two thousand dollars! “I’ll take cash please,” he said, laughing.

Oh and the gun cabinet key? It was wrapped in a paper towel on the windowsill adjacent to the gun cabinet in my tiny, disorganised office at the back of the house.

When my husband eventually came home, I decided just to tell him bits of the story and not the whole thing.


Chapter 2: Wondering [2021]

I keep meaning to ask you if you felt the same way the day we met but so far I haven’t had the nerve to pose what seems an important question. I think the reason I still haven’t asked you is because I am nervous you might say no in which case I might feel embarrassed, and if you say yes I might feel angry and launch into a bunch of why questions.

It’s silly to feel nervous after all these years and I think I would prefer anger to embarrassment. Of course, if I never ask you if you, too, felt the orchestra in your chest when you answered the door that long-ago day, I will have to keep wondering and I quite like wondering.

I remember exactly what I was wearing – a mauve t-shirt, long batik skirt and thongs. And I remember exactly what you were wearing – a tight black t-shirt, black football shorts and striped football socks (I don’t remember the colours).

I didn’t know back then that falling in love could feel so much like the adrenaline that accompanies a very loud alarm – the kind of alarm that only sounds if there is a fire, or a bomb threat, or worse even.

I didn’t know back then that falling in love would devastate me.


Chapter 1: The moment [1977]

When I was 18, I accidentally, and instantly, fell in love with the rugged looking man who answered the door to my first job interview. He wasn’t particularly welcoming but he ushered me into the kitchen and then left me there with a rather stern elderly woman who asked me if I could cook. Distracted by the brand new falling-in-love sensation, I forgot to lie and said yes.

I was hired on the spot. It was 1977.