The cicadas have turned it on tonight. The bitumen has cooled off with the rain but that won’t last long. It’s Day Three of the Yggdrasil Riding Intensive with back-to-back tack and sweaty ponies and dust and chats long after the lessons have ended.
Most of today was spent at Rose Hill, a friend’s horse property. To get there you have to drive past Blackhill Rd. I’ve driven past it a few times in the last few weeks but today, I slowed down and stared down the long sweep of road, green grass to its edges, grey skies pressed low, not a car in sight. It’s the road where Jill Meagher’s body was found six days after she was raped and murdered, buried in a shallow grave. She lived in Brunswick, just around the corner from where I used to live. We mourned her death. We took to the streets. We refused to be silent. Still, I felt ill to think it could have been any one of us walking home from the pub that night. We got to live.
We’re reminded over and over to cherish the small moments as they’re easily missed in the busyness of our lives. I’m grateful to meet people every day through my work who keep me humble, keep me wanting to be the best version of myself, make me laugh till I wet myself and imagine it’d make a great podcast!!! Maybe it’s because I turn 50 next year and there is a finite amount of time left and it’s more in my face and how can I make each day count.
It’s a busy kitchen. A table cluttered with scripts and old newspapers and plastic pill bottles. A small Christmas tree tucked into one corner near the sliding door. John’s son is cutting potatoes and the room smells of roast in the oven. Jenny gets up from the couch and comes and sits at the table where I’m sorting out her medication. She probably won’t make Christmas, but she’s stoic, and barely grimaces as she adjusts the cushion. Her partner, John, sits next to me, nursing a cup of tea. He’s just moved into an Aged Care Facility and is home for the day. His clothes are dishevelled, a missing button, jam stain near the collar. His voice shakes as he reaches out and takes Jenny’s hand.
‘I need to ask you something, for when you’re gone,’ he says.
‘Yes, John. What is it?’ says Jenny.
‘What am I going to do?’
He begins to cry. Jenny squeezes his hand.
I sit next to Gladys, a woman with dementia in an Aged Care Facility, who is agitated and upset that her daughter hasn’t visited. Her daughter is overseas for a month. ‘She didn’t tell me… I’m very annoyed at her going… she’s not coming back… I want to go back to my place, all my things are there, if I had a friend I could live with…’ Her voice becomes louder and more insistent and I’m not getting anywhere with our chat.
I spy her phone in the front pocket of her walker.
‘Oh, your phone is the same as mine,’ I say.
She picks it up and the screen saver appears. It’s a photo of Gladys with a horse.
‘I have a horse,’ I say.
Her face lights up.
‘Do you want to see her?’
And we spend the next few moments looking at photos of my pony. She oohs and ahhs at every shot and her eyes sparkle with happiness.
‘Writing isn’t a patch on palliative care,’ a nursing colleague said to me recently after we’d spent a day on the road together. Like fuck, I thought. Writing is everything. But perhaps she’s right about some things. I probably wouldn’t be the writer I am without the life of death and dying running alongside. They both sustain and drain, give and take, compete. I’m slowly realising that it’s living in this tension that gives me life. And at the end of the day there’s always pony to inhale.
Blackhill Rd is just like all the other roads around here, except it isn’t. It’s a reminder to cherish life. A reminder to value those who you choose to share your life with. I was reminded of this today sitting under the verandah at Rose Hill with some of my favourite humans; and nice cheese, and kale and feta salad, and Duck Duck Goose quiche and peach pie and spirited mineral water…
*all names have been changed.