As I drive along the long, flat, dusty road edging closer to my childhood home and my parent’s front door, I have waves of bitter sweetness and it is hard to work out how to handle it.
I have had this feeling wash over me each time I drive home since my dad’s death, which is surprising to no one I know.
Funny thing is the 50 times prior to his death it was just a drive . A long, annoying drive.
I was so caught up in a big load of nothing important that I failed to take it all in, failed to let it move past the rear view mirror and back into my heart, my lungs. Failing to realise it all belonged to me. An inexplicable part of me, just as my arms and my fingers and my toes; the road and the hills and the sunlight across the cotton, sorghum and bright yellow canola fields.
I try but fail to explain with any real eloquence, how it feels to recognise every tree, field, hill and bend in the road. It all goes in and mixes around and fills up parts of me just as much as all the other stuff.
To only notice it now, to let it in for even just a second; a breath, brings me closer to my sweet father. His voice, his strong hands as they worked hard, his bushy eyebrows. His smile under the rays of the summer late afternoon sun.
Having lived here his whole life and working for a lot of it on the land too, it is hard not to see him in everything as I drive closer.
I guess that is why I love travelling home so much now and quietly dread it all at the same, confusing time.
It’s easy to keep busy in my own little life, as soon as the sadness and burning in the back of my throat comes swiftly and from nowhere, I can distract myself and it soon subsides.
But here I could wallow easily, allowing myself to dive head first into the pain of the enormous and gaping loss.
When we first came home from the hospital, well it was something else.
His shoes at the door like he took them off moments ago, his trousers over the back of a chair ironed ready for a new day that never came. His paint pots and brushes left like he was off making a cup of coffee.
Walking through his garage filled with golf clubs and fishing rods and a lifetime of tools made me want to hug and kiss it all while at the same time wanting to burn the whole shed down.
It was hard for me to leave this space the first time I had to, I could swim around in all of this for much longer, pretending he had just slipped off to town and would be home before we noticed.
Why didn’t I come home more often before it all went wrong?
I am angry with myself that I did not stop and take it all in sooner and appreciate the loveliness of what I was lucky enough to feel, connected to a place. I see now what my parents so wisely always knew and tried to pass on.
I realise now, as I drive into my hometown that I had not ever noticed before the spot where he first taught me to ride my bike and I fell scraping both knees, or where I first bunny hopped our car all the way down the road with him not knowing whether to laugh or shout. The track I used to walk every day to catch the school bus, taking a shortcut through the yard of old Mr Jones with the 78 cats. The pretty little bell like purple flowers that grew in clumps every spring along the dirt road to our driveway. The old weathered pub where Dad would inevitably stroll home from at 6pm on the dot, to enjoy mum’s cooking with a sparkle in his eye.
I am sitting in my old bedroom right now, as cliched as it sounds. I am gazing at the bazillion stars laid out before me with the crickets chirping and that certain country, crispy spring scent in the air. I have never felt safer.
During a time home, sorting through Dad’s belongings that came home from the hospital, we discovered a little notepad Dad had kept and written in from time to time – an exercise the counsellor had recommended. We found one entry, a tiny sentence in a sea of blank pages.
He had written during his final days, that his only wish was ‘to go home and sit in the garden and listen to the birds’.
I cannot express the impact this innocuous sentence has now had on my life.
I will forever soak up every bit of sweetness the trip home provides me and when I get there I will always make a cuppa with mum and sit in the garden and watch the birds now with her.
I will always lift my face to the sun and breathe in the beautiful crisp air on a summer’s day.
For it does not escape me, none of it does.