A Woman of Wonder

I miss something that doesn’t exist. A whisper, a feeling, a brush of a hand. It used to be so solid, so clear. Now it’s fuzzy and distant, this thing I miss. It’s like trying to embrace a cloud.

I took my first plane trip when I was 11. My brothers and I flew over to Australia to see my dad. As we flew I looked out the airplane window and imagined I was flying through the clouds, bouncing off each one like they were cotton balls. My mother had parachuted through a cloud back in her Navy days. She described it as passing through damp gossamer. Clouds have no substance, she told me. They’re like dreams.

On long road trips past oceans, I’d imagine the sea had frozen and I was ice skating over the waves. It gave me a feeling of freedom and power to believe that on some plane of existence I could conquer the impossible. 10 year old me could command the weather, use my ridiculously long hair as lightning, stop an oncoming train with a look. In my mind, I was unstoppable.

It should be no surprise that Wonder Woman was my first crush as a kid. I became obsessed with her at the age of 5. She encapsulates everything I want to be: strong, fast, awesome boobs, a lasso of truth, the ability to run in heels and an innate capacity to take no shit. She’s a saviour with good and honest morals and values. She’ll cut a bitch, but only if that bitch is violating the liberty of someone else. Also, she likes girls and boys, but that’s besides the point.

Being my own version of Wonder Woman is intoxicating, particularly when someone else is prepared to be Steve (or Stephanie) Trevor. Being the one who saves the day is empowering and satisfying and ego stroking and extremely dangerous. It lulls one into a false sense of invulnerability, which then makes the inevitable fall from the messiah pedestal that much more painful.

The thing about superheroes is, they don’t exist. I mean, yes, there are extraordinary people who do amazing, miraculous things, but they’re just people. No capes, no superpowers. No one can leap tall buildings in a single bound. If only. There are plenty of damsels and dudes in distress, though, that fuel the need for superheroes. But it’s false. No one can save anyone else. We can only rescue ourselves, truth be told, and I used all the skills I learned in my journey through life for the one I loved, all the while forgetting that even Batman was not always everybody’s favourite guy in Gotham City. Bruce Wayne had to eventually acknowledge that saving the day was not going to take away his trauma.

Growing up has a tendency to curb those thoughts of indestructibility, to transform them into things more attainable. There’s always been a part of my mind, however, that has believed that the improbable is still possible. The Universe has a way of making things happen along a path we least expect. Goals can be achieved, dreams can come true.

Ah, yes. Those dreams again. Paper thin and fragile. Unsubstantial and deceptive, like a cloud. Like you turned out to be. My cumulonimbus. I believed in those dreams, in those clouds of my youth. I allowed myself to be swept up in the fantasy, in the idea that me and my love could overcome anything, that the Wonder Woman inside me would stay vigilant and true. It could have, but it didn’t exist. I miss a thing that didn’t exist. I miss my Paradise Island. I miss you – not the victim you, not the damsel you, certainly not the abusive you, but the version of you that was loving and strong and generous and kind and honest. Sadly, that version you gave to me was as false as it was true. What I felt was truth. Who I felt it for wasn’t.

So, my heart breaks one last time as I reach for those flimsy, filmy illusions, wishing so hard that they were real. Wishing I could grasp them to my heart because they were so beautiful. My belief in making the impossible probable hasn’t died. I’m sure you didn’t intend for your abuse of my love to do that, any more than my saviour complex was intended to deny you your autonomy. I like to think you’re not aware of what you do to people. I guess I’ll never know.

But, it’s no one else’s concern, my awakening. It is mine. My renewal is my responsibility. For probably the first time in my life, I’m being my own superhero. I’m saving myself and although I have wise, wonderful, pull-no-punches honest friends and family to guide me, I’m doing it alone.

And it feels so good.

 

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I’m Still Here

CW: Suicide.

I called the CAT team tonight. There are a couple of reasons why I did that. Firstly, because I really, really wanted to die. Secondly, because I wanted to die but I didn’t want to disrespect the people whose house I’m staying in by ending my life in their home. Thirdly, because I made a promise to my friends that I would reach out if things got bad. Fourthly, because I didn’t want to burden my friends with another night of me sobbing on the couch.

I’m on a ridiculous amount of anti-depressants, and they’re probably going to go up in dose this week. I see my therapist regularly. I have wonderful, supportive, amazing friends who love me and tell me so all the time. I have a talent – many talents, actually – that I’m proud of and work on constantly. I have moments of awesomeness. I have moments of being babin’. I’m fairly intelligent, I’m quite funny, I’m fun to be around. But I consistently seem to fall in love with people who don’t believe I’m worth fighting for. And right now, I’m very, very alone.

I’ve never really had a problem with being alone. But now, it looms. It’s crushing. My family, whom I adore, are away from me in other countries and on other plains. There is nothing more lonely than being surrounded by incredible people, but only wanting the company of one. And when that one proclaims that they no longer have love for you, that in essence, you’re not worth the fight, suddenly the world seems very large and expansive and empty.

It’s an odd feeling to know that I’m worthy and deserving of love and happiness and all that entails, but feeling so lost and hollow that that knowledge seems meaningless. I, once so independent and fearsome in my knowledge of my place in the world, am now directionless. Without a home, without my beloved cats who are not doing well without me, without my family, I’ve been very, veeeery slowly hauling myself up a very steep hill, all the while impatient to be settled again, to be over and done with her, to be happily single, living the life of my dreams. Unfortunately, the realisation of that dream seems to be moving further and further away, like when you try to run down a hallway in a nightmare but it keeps stretching on away from you.

I don’t feel like this because my marriage ended. That hurts, yes, but it’s not the reason I am teetering at the edge of the pit. I feel like this because I never saw it coming. I trust my intuition keenly, it’s never steered me wrong. But this time it gave me no warning. I had relaxed – maybe a little too much, but I finally felt safe.

And then I wasn’t.

I feel like this because it all seems so cruel. I didn’t deserve any of what has happened to me. I’m not blaming anyone, because I’m tired of that pointless circular game. I’m usually the type of person who will cry and wail when I’m hurt, but then I’ll pick myself up, dust myself off, acknowledge the part I had to play in why things fucked up, and with that acknowledgement, things seem to move on naturally. Awesome things happen, and suddenly I find myself not grieving anymore. This time, though, it’s different, and I’m struggling. I’ve acknowledged and acknowledged and acknowledged, but I still feel so very lost.

I was doing fine. I actually was doing really fine, and then something happened and I rolled back down the steep hill, bumping and grazing myself along the way. I didn’t fall down as far as I was when I started, but it’s a significant drop. I don’t have the energy to start heaving my way back up that bloody stupid hill, but I can’t stay here. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know where I’m going. I’m relying on other people so much that I feel like I might forget my own autonomy. I don’t trust anyone. I still have a lot of love, but my wall is getting higher and thicker and I feel myself hardening and cracking like cheap paint in the sun. This feels bad. It feels so bad, and nothing I’m doing seems to be helping, and I’m really, really scared.

I had made peace with suicidal ideation just before everything fell apart, and then it’s like the Universe went “okay then, let’s test that theory.” Fucking Universe and its experiencing itself through me in a way that’s not starry and delightfully magickal. Fuck it.

Do I really want to die? Obviously not completely, otherwise I wouldn’t be here to write this. But the desire to be with my mum, to be away from this endless darkness, to be free from this sticky, sickening pain is so great that sometimes I have to call the CAT team. And that sucks.

I’m sharing this because writing about it whilst in the thick of it helps, and also because a friend of mine once told me that she had spent an afternoon reading every single post on my blog and it helped her to feel less alone. I know I’m not the only one out there in the pit.

We’re okay. We’re still here.

Born to Love, Cursed to Feel

I can be on my own. I’m actually quite good at it. I enjoy my own company. I think I’m funny, smart and a good conversationalist. I could talk to myself for hours. I can be silent by myself for longer. I function better, actually, on my own. I have more money, I eat better, my career thrives, I’m thinner. I’m better on my own.

I never expected forever; I wasn’t brought up in a family of forever, but I must admit I got used to the idea of it. I felt like I could relax. I had no fear of making future plans.

I’ve been in love before.  I have loved keenly and powerfully, but with you, I don’t know, it was different. I can’t even say why it was different. I mean, I can give you reasons, like my eye was never turned (except once by an old high school friend who lives in New Zealand so there was no chance of anything coming of it and I wouldn’t have done anything anyway because I was so ridiculously in love with you). Like I could be myself around you, my full mentally unwell, ageing, thickening, witchy, farting and burping self. Like my family loves you. Adores you even. Like I could be wrong and you still thought I was cool. Like, I married you.

And then you lied to me. You did something that hurt me and you lied about it. I was angry and betrayed and I did what I knew I was allowed to do and I felt that anger and betrayal and I didn’t let you slide away from it softly. But I was prepared to forgive because I have been forgiven. I was prepared to love you anyway because I have been loved anyway and to be honest, I couldn’t help but love you. I always knew that I would with you.

It was hard, don’t get me wrong. Everything you did triggered (I hate that word) what had happened with my ex, and all that distrust, that black, sticky doubt came creeping back in, but I wouldn’t let it infect me like it did back then. It was a struggle, but I was determined. Sometimes it overtook my thoughts and strangled them because my BPD doesn’t let go easily, but I was working through it and trying to find ways around it. Understanding myself and my own hand in it. Understanding you and where this behaviour comes from. I understood. It didn’t take the pain away, but it would have eventually. If you had just held on.

But it was too hard. Facing up to not being perfect, owning that sometimes you’re an asshole – just like every single member of the human race is sometimes an asshole – was too hard for you. The fighting that is inevitable after a bond has been tested was too hard for you. The work that had to be done was too overwhelming because you believed you couldn’t do it. You believed you weren’t worth it. So you left. And again, I understand. But my God, it cuts deep into the depths of my soul, a place that I have kept wrapped up and hidden away from the world. The path to that place was something I allowed only a very few of you to discover. A wiser person would grow vines around that path, obscuring it, allowing no one to ever again stumble upon it. But it appears I’m not wise, because I would let you find it once more. You left your mark there. It wants you back.

I was put on this earth to love. I am a nurturer, a guide, a gardener. I am a welcomer and a helper. A healer. But I forget that I need those things too, and I am cursed to feel all my experiences and all of yours and yours and yours and yours and I am left empty and broken but I still feel. I cannot stop feeling.

I am not perfection in any way other than my imperfection. I am a child, stumbling around in the dark, pretending I know the way, faking it until I make it. Life taught me that I must be prepared to make mistakes in order to grow, so I have made them gleefully at times, ready for the wisdom that comes with it. I am a hermit, I am insular, I block people out because I feel too much, I isolate myself because the voices in my head are too much company. I’m a terrible friend one minute and the best person to be around the next. I am selfish and selfless, I am strong and fragile. I am beauty incarnate and the hag of your nightmares. I am the queen of the Universe and the muck on your shoe.

This is who I am. And I will walk this trail again and again until the day I die. I’d just prefer to walk it with you.

Two Years of Phenomena

I haven’t written much of late. I haven’t really had much to say. Well, I have. I had a whole rant fest about the plebiscite and Trump and racism ready and waiting to go, but I wasn’t saying anything that anybody else hadn’t already covered.

My mum died two years ago tomorrow. Two years is a relatively short time in the scheme of things. It still doesn’t seem quite real, although I know it very definitely is. I can look at a photo of her without crying now, although occasionally I get a flash of her face when she was dying, and my heart drops down into my butt, and I can’t breathe, and there it all is again.

My life changed inexorably when she died. I have had a leaden pall over my head since then, a feeling of greyness. My therapist calls it grief, and it is, but it’s also something else. It’s fear. Mum was my safety net. I may have hated her in my youth, but as I got older her value became more and more apparent to me. It’s that thing, you know, when you’re feeling like absolute shit, and all you need is a hug or a word from your mum and you suddenly feel better. I know not everyone experiences that with their parents, and despite the wounds of my childhood that still seep blood every now and then, I am distinctly aware of how lucky I was to have mended my relationship with Mum so I could have that.

Now I miss it. So, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of life without my emotional safety net. K tries, she really does, but she’s young and scared too. And really, let’s be honest, a partner is no replacement for a parent.

But, yeah. I’m scared.

Like, really actually scared. All the time.

I’m scared of being wrong. I’m scared of being not awesome. I’m scared I’m actually an asshole and no one told me. I’m scared of getting older. I’m scared of getting fat. I’m scared of losing my hair. I’m scared of randomly meeting my wife’s ex in public somewhere because I think I might not be able to stop myself from punching her. I’m scared I’m full of shit. I’m scared that people don’t like me. I’m scared of being pitied. I’m scared of my own anger. I’m scared that I’m not writing for me but for others to see how “human” and “awesome” I am. I’m scared that my marriage won’t last. I’m scared that BPD will ruin everything. I’m scared that my wife will wake up one day and decide I’m not all that because I’m too old/fat/lazy/stupid/ugly/fucked up. I’m scared that my Dad will die soon. I’m scared that I’ll never get over Mum’s death. I’m scared of never making it as an actor. I’m scared I’m damaged goods. I’m scared that sex work has left a smear on me that I can never get rid of. I’m scared I’ll never be well. I’m scared that I’m lazy. I’m scared of being stupid. I’m scared of men. I’m scared of women who are stronger and smarter than me. I’m scared of being wrong – have I said that already? I’m scared of being alone. I’m scared of expectations being placed on me that I can’t fulfil. I’m scared I’ll never love myself. I’m scared of injustice. I’m scared of change. I’m scared of demons. I’m scared this spirituality thing I’m into is bullshit. I’m scared I’ll never be able to have a child. I’m scared of not knowing things. I’m scared of people. I’m scared of needles. I’m scared of ambiguity. I’m scared of pain. I’m scared of being judged. I’m scared that women will never be equal. I’m scared of secret governments and big corporations. I’m scared of guns. I’m scared of being raped again. I’m scared of violence. I’m scared that I’m self-indulgent. I’m scared of you.

Here’s the thing: You are scared of me too.

And all of that other shit that I just purged all over the page.

At the end of the day we are all the same. We are all scared. Terrified. Of everything. No one is better than anyone else because we are all the same. The only things that separate us are constructs of our own design: wealth, privilege, education, race, etc. Put a cross section of us on a deserted island and sure, some of us will be cannier than others with ideas of how to survive, but we all need the same things: food, shelter, water. Therefore it’s kind of silly to be scared because we’re all in the same boat and we’ll all die one day, so stick a geranium in your hat and be happy!

Yeah, okay.

Fuck, I don’t have the answers. I turn 40 in a few weeks and I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I actually made it to this point, to be honest. There’s a term psychologists use for the feeling someone gets after they’ve attempted suicide, but they’re still alive: it’s called phenomena, apparently. I’ve felt it before because I’ve tried to die before. I feel it now, not because I’ve tried to die lately, but because in spite of everything I’ve subjected myself to, I’m still here. It feels … odd. What’s even odder is that I’m alive and Mum isn’t. I still can’t quite get my head around that one.

I miss my mum because I knew, despite everything, that she was always on my side. I said at her funeral that the stuff I have done in my life, the things I’ve thrown at her, could have caused her a great deal of shame. But it didn’t. She took it in her stride, she understood that shit happens, and she told me as often as she could that she loved me. And she did.

She visits me sometimes. I’ll smell her perfume, or a song she used to sing will come on the radio somewhere, or – as happened this time last year just before I was about to go on stage – she’ll just be in the room, and I and the people around me can feel her. A medium friend of mine did a reading for me recently, and she said that Mum has been unwilling to come forward very often because she was ashamed of what she did to me as a kid. She could see my mother, standing to the side, looking abashed. I’ve never seen my mother look abashed in my life, but I believed my friend because I’ve been feeling it. I never told Mum that I forgave her. I do. I do forgive her.

This is getting easier, this life-without-Mum thing. Actually admitting that I’m afraid has helped. Time has helped. Getting rid of awful, unsupportive people from my life has helped. But there’s still that piece missing; that scar that will never quite go away. Phenomena. This is life now. It’s never going to be what it was again.

The Long Journey Home

Stepping off the plane onto the tarmac at Brisbane airport, I’m hit with a wave of sticky humid heat, like a slap in the face with a warm wet towel. My hair immediately responds with vigour, springing out from my head like little snakes, unruly and untameable. I am reminded one should never wear jeans in Brisbane.

Here ends the first leg of my journey home. I have a headache – a persistent sickly thud in my temples that has been present since the car ride to Melbourne airport. I have cried already today several times. My eyes are sore and the salt behind my contacts is making my vision fuzzy. I think back to the day already half gone: my brother Karl’s phone call at 7.30am (“get on a plane, sis”), having a bath to soothe an anxiety attack, phone conversations with my father, my cousin, my mum, the trip to the airport, K and I playing ‘spot the lezzy’ as we wait for me to board the plane. I think I cried as much for leaving her as I did for anything else.

Brisbane smells like salt; a sea breeze. The air is thick but fresh – an odd combination. I trundle my suitcase to the Airtrain while on the phone to K. This is my first experience of a layover itinerary. I had connecting flight jitters and needed the sound of her voice in my ear. I’m already thinking about the future and how lacking it will be without Mum. I feel ashamed, as if I’ve failed her somehow.

I board the flight to Auckland, my eyes puffy and red. The attendants take pity on me, asking if I’m all right. I smile that defeated smile of one who isn’t all right, actually, but has to be. They stow my baggage for me. I’m grateful for someone else taking control of that one little thing. In the plane, gaining altitude, I have the unexpected pleasure of witnessing an achingly beautiful sunset reflecting vaguely off the darkening Tasman Sea. It seems fitting, somehow. A last hurrah.

I knew Mum was going to go since I heard about the heart attack. When my brother told me of the plan for open heart surgery I got that cold prickly sensation in my chest. That knowledge and the acceptance of her impending death made me feel callous and cold, like I had given up on her already. But I know that feeling. I seem to have a gift for predicting doom.

K kept saying to me right up to the moment I left that Mum could pull through. My beautiful wife with her unending optimism when it comes to me; I wanted to jump on board with her. But I knew. My brother knew. Mum knew.

I sit, uncomfortable in the airplane seat, screaming kids everywhere, it seems. Their high-pitched whining is boring into my skull, and their mother sitting behind me talks too loud because she’s wearing headphones. The kid kicks the back of my seat. I want to yell at them to fuck off but I don’t because it must be hard mustering three kids on an international flight. I spill wine on myself because I’m clumsy and that’s what I tend to do without fail on any plane trip, so now I smell like bad South Australian Sauvignon Blanc. I’m starving, but I didn’t book the ticket with food, so I miss out. I begin to feel resentful and shitty, my weariness turning me into a brat. I just want to be there already.

Mum
I arrive in Auckland at silly-o’clock in the morning, met by one of my 50+ first cousins, Cleave. I’m already exhausted but I heave up my heart and am spirited away to the hospital. I am met at the hospital by a gaggle of my mother’s sisters. All these women, all eight of them, are alpha females. I can only imagine what that must have been like to contend with in a family of 13 kids, but at this moment I am glad of their staunchness. They prepare me as best as they can, but the sight of my mother hits me hard in the chest and my breath is knocked out of me. This woman, this strong, intimidating woman is now as fragile as a butterfly, her wings paper thin. She has been waiting for me. She cries as I take her hand. I cry. When will I ever stop crying? I sit with her as the aunties rally. They have stepped up to heights unimaginable. Their support and their love is as thick as syrup and I am enveloped by it. My mother has been safe in their care.

My brother, my poor, wrecked eldest brother walks into Mum’s room after catching a few hours’ sleep. He’s been here since yesterday, a constant presence. He looks like I feel: wasted, drained exhausted. Yeah, that is a word that will live with us for the next 24 hours. It will define us from here on in. Exhausted.

I hold Mum’s hand as my brother fills me in. My mother, weak but present, interjects.

“Missey, where are you?”

“I’m here, Mum.”

“What are you saying?”

“It’s okay, Mum,” my brother says. “I’m filling Kristina in on what you’ve been up to.”

My mother smiles benignly. “Misbehaving,” she whispers.

My mother is a crack up.

I sleep badly for two hours that night, curled up in an armchair in Mum’s room. My mother has restless leg syndrome, so my Auntie Doreen stretches her legs and massages them. Mum talks to her all night. I catch snippets of the conversation but I tune most of it out, my body needing my mind to rest. I know Mum is achieving catharsis in talking to her sister; I don’t need to know what is said. My eyes open at the sound of the nursing shift change and immediately they fly to Mum’s heart monitor. She’s been having VT episodes – Ventricular Tachycardia – which is when her heart rate spikes to upwards of 208 bpm, so I’m making sure she’s sitting nicely at 74 bpm. She’s alert, perky and engaged. My aunt is exhausted. I wake Karl and we go to breakfast and there’s that faint hope again that she maybe might come out of this. We discuss our dad, how many hours we’ve slept since Mum went into hospital, the outrageousness of hospital cafes not automatically serving real butter with their eggs and toast, a little about politics and a lot about my wife. We go back up to Mum’s room and she’s sitting up chatting to more of her sisters who have arrived to see her. The rallying of the family has amazed us. Their presence has kept her heart rate stable and the love in the room has made her cheeks rosy again. Karl and I decide after a few hours that we’re going to go home for a shower and a nap because we’re wrecked, despite the few hours of sleep we’ve had.

Ten minutes after leaving the hospital we get a phone call. Mum’s had another major spike and she had to be shocked twice with the defibrillator to bring her back. Karl and I look at each other and that inkling of hope we had earlier in the day has gone. Neither of us say it, but we both know this is not going to end with Mum walking out of hospital. I ring K and my other brother Hiran. Come now. You need to come now. Hiran is still in Kuala Lumpur, waiting for a flight. K is reticent because she’s a stresser. I’m tired and I just want them here.

I shower and go back to the hospital. Mum is quiet and faint again, her colour faded. More family turn up. My nana comes to see her daughter, another strained filial relationship that is now being resolved. I can only imagine how my 95-year-old grandmother feels about knowing her second born child is going to die. Everyone thought Nana would go before her children. No one expected this.

My mother’s heart rate suddenly spikes to 198 and she gasps. Nana is pulled out of the room as the nursing team rush in and I watch my mother lose consciousness. I yell for my brother. The nurses call all clear amidst the chaos of people running and machines screaming and Mum is shocked back to life.

I am shocked. And terrified. I can’t describe how it feels watching that for the first time. Karl has seen it before so he rushes me out of the room and I sob and keen like a child. Less than half an hour later it happens again, and this time I watch my mother die and be brought back. I see that heart monitor go to 0 and it’s clear my mother is not going to last the two days until Hiran arrives. The nurses are calling her name, coaxing her out of the darkness. “Cathy! Catherine!”

My mother’s eyes open. “What? Stop yelling at me.”

The laughter breaks the tension enough for us all to take a breath.

Mum insists that she must be kept alive until Hiran is here. Karl and I are asked to make a decision. Strangely, it’s not hard to make. Mum is feeling no pain during these spikes, but the damage these electrical bursts are doing to her heart and her body mean that it’s going to happen again and again and more frequently and none of us can do it. Despite Mum’s burning desire to see her middle child, it’s destroying us to see her die over and over again. The cardiologist has a chat to Karl and me, and then he has a chat to Mum.

The decision is made. No more resuscitation. The next spike that happens may well be her last and we just have to let her go. We can do that. We know we can. Mum’s been in pain for so long, emotionally and physically tortured by the circumstance of her life that her death will be a blessed relief. She has struggled and fought and been knocked down so many times, and although she’s gotten back up every time it has taken its toll. Her soul is tired. She misses her father, 50 years gone. She wants to go home.

We get Hiran on Skype; he’s still in KL. They say their goodbyes. My heart is breaking.

I am exhausted. Debilitated. Sapped, shot, wasted. I have walked from the cardiac unit to the car back to the cardiac unit time and again. I know the journey down that corridor like the steps to my own house. Everything is surreal, coloured in stark light like an over-exposed photo. I’m running on autopilot: have a cigarette, wash hands, watch Mum, talk to cousins, make huge decisions, be responsible. I feel like a child lost at the supermarket.

I sit next to Mum as they take the wires and catheters and IV tubes off her. I tell her I love her. She tells me she blesses my marriage, that she wishes she could be there to see me be married legally. She says she can go, confident to leave me in K’s hands. She says to tell K she loves her and she will be looking out for us both from above. She tells Karl to find someone who makes him happy. She wishes she could touch her son Hiran just one more time. We all fall silent, waiting for her to go. We sing Pokarekare Ana, one of Mum’s favourite songs. The aunties sing a waiata, we sing Amazing Grace, for my mum is a Grace and she’s amazing.

What feels like hours pass, but in reality it’s probably only 20 minutes. Mum stirs.

“Oh,” she murmurs. “I seem to be still here.” She breathes. “You must be so bored.”

Again, laughter. We disperse, Mum’s not going yet. Karl and I have a discussion, how are we feeling? Wrecked, tired, drained, sad. Karl says he needs a drink and some food. Cleave and I go on a fish and chips and wine run. We smuggle booze back into the hospital. The nurses don’t care. They’ve been so excellent, the care they’ve provided has been extraordinary.

I eat, sigh because the food is awful. I sit by myself as I need the space. I’m so tired. I announce to my cousin that I’m going to take a nap.

“Kristina.” There’s an urgency to the voice calling my name. “You need to come in now.”

Mum has a look about her, like she’s not quite behind her own eyes. There’s no longer the beep of the monitor to let us know the state of her heart. There’s just that look.

I sit next to her again and take her hand in mine. She’s still holding the rose quartz crystal I gave her when I arrived at the hospital. It gives her comfort. I tell her I love her. I can’t seem to say it enough. She whispers to me, “you have no idea how much I love you, my precious baby girl.”

Karl is standing on the other side of the bed, holding her other hand, stroking her forehead. The aunties, uncles and cousins are crowded around us, but all I can see is my mother. My strong, independent, imposing mother who taught me how to survive in a man’s world; who hit me as a child but loved me fiercely; who accepted every decision I made because she knew it was my life to live; who spent the last decade making up for bad mistakes; who tried her best, and despite the circumstances raised three good kids; who gave up dreams of owning her own home so that we could have music lessons; who did it all on her own.

My mum’s face changes – she’s going. My auntie Doreen says very quietly, “her pulse is threading.” Suddenly, Mum opens her eyes, queerly blue after a lifetime of hazel. She gazes directly at me, long enough to register my sad smile, then her eyes shift to just behind my shoulder. She has a look of wonder on her face and I know that she’s seeing her beloved dad. She closes her eyes again, her mouth slackens (oh shit, this is it). Her breathing becomes laboured and shallow, more time lapses between each gasp. It is disturbing to watch, but this is apparently a peaceful death. Doreen quietly informs us that Mum’s heart is fibrillating and then she stops breathing.

My mother is dead.

Something in me cracks and I sob like I’ve never sobbed before. A list of facts races through my mind: she’ll never see me marry legally she won’t see me on the big screen she’ll never get her house she’ll never meet my babies oh god what do I do when I’m pregnant I took it for granted that she’d be there I need her to be there what am I going to do what am I going to do? I’m panicking so I don’t realise I’ve said the last part aloud. Karl looks at me. “Karl, what are we going to do?” My big brother, who stepped into the role of my father when he was only 8 years old rushes around the bed and wraps me in his arms.

“It’ll be okay,” he murmurs. “We’re going to be okay. We’re all going to be okay.”

We may be. But we’re changed.

A few of the aunties and I wash Mum down and then the wonderful nurses help us get her into the shroud. We form a guard of honour as the orderlies wheel her to the elevator to take her downstairs to the morgue. One of the nurses comes out and stands with us. We sing again and then we escort her down. Mum’s gone. We say goodbye.

The next few days until her funeral are blurred into hours awake and hours asleep. I sleep simply because I can’t stay awake. I’m awake because things need to be done. K arrives just over 24 hours after Mum’s gone. Hiran arrives a few hours after that. Arrangements are made, people are informed. My father is coming over for the funeral. The boys (my brothers) and I prepare for the event. Mum wanted music so we have to rehearse. We play together like it hasn’t been 20 years since the last time. We sleep little, we eat little. I cry a lot. K is a rock, she sheds tears privately with me. She is trying so hard to be strong.

The funeral is beautiful and brutal. I can’t sing the beginning of our second song, but then I do because it’s Mum and all she wanted was to hear us kids play together again. My father breaks down and into applause simultaneously, leading the charge for the Benton kids. I don’t know how we did it, but we did. Karl and I cry. Hiran is as stoic as ever, but I know my brother. His heart is breaking as much as mine. Our fractured little far-flung family.

The next week flies by as quickly as the last. K and I get New Zealand married; a legal, happy celebration with a few of our aunties from both sides of my family in the midst of such sadness. Three days later, my grandmother dies. Mum’s 95-year-old mum. We reel in shock again. It was expected, but not yet. I can’t do another funeral. I know now what I can and can’t take, so K and I decide to fly home. The extended family step up again and my auntie Liz and uncle Pat offer to cover me financially so I can stay. The offer is considered simply because of its generosity, but I have to go home. I can’t escape my every day life – now without Mum – any longer.

I fly home with K with money given to me by another wonderful aunt Carolyn who has now taken a responsibility of sorts for my welfare. Our rent is paid because of that money. I can’t thank her enough. On the plane I finish this piece of writing because I need to. I am no longer what I once was. My mother is gone. I, ever the empath, the sensitive, can’t feel her. I get messages from her. I get information, but I can’t feel her. This scares me because now I feel so very alone, even though I know I’m not. But I’m too young to not have a mum. I know she’s happy. She’s no longer in pain. She has her garden and her house and her dad.

But I don’t have a Mum.

Catherine Mary Grace (Benton until she reverted to her maiden name by deed poll), born on 26 May 1943, died on 22 November 2014 at the age of 71 from Ventricular Tachycardia. She also had cancer in her uterus and liver. She is survived by her three children: Karl 42, musician, Hiran 39, musician, and Kristina 37, actor/composer. She is also survived by her sisters and brothers Anne, Bill, Rita, Mary, Elizabeth, John, Doreen, Marie, Patrick, Robert, Carolyn and Valerie. Cathy’s years of sacrifice enabled her children to follow their dreams and their art. She left behind a legacy of music, responsibility and accountability, which I will uphold to my dying day.

Her last word was my brother’s name. “Hiran.”

Young MumI love you, Mum.

Homeward Bound

It’s just past midnight as my plane approaches Auckland airport. I lean over the man sitting next to me to look out the window at the lights of the city. If it was daylight, I’d see the sparkling water of Weymouth estuary, the iridescence created by distance and sunlight belying the grottiness of the Manukau harbour on ground level. This is home. I haven’t been here in five years, and that last trip was only for two days for my grandmother’s funeral. This is home, where I’ve come to reconnect with myself.

I arrive at my brother’s house feeling strange, not quite believing that I’m actually here. Within a day, I can hear my vowels flattening and my speech returning to the idioms of my youth: I call my brother “bro”, “bra”, “eho” and “ao”. I say “choice” constantly, meaning “excellent”, and the Maori words and place names roll off my tongue with an ease I haven’t experienced in years. I see my mother, who is suddenly old. I see my nephew who is suddenly 16 and tall and skinny, and I feel all of my 37 years with a sense of finality. I remember things: the reason why my hair was so fluffy as a teenager (Auckland is bloody humid); how to take off on a hill with the car in first gear (you have to put on the hand brake, then give it some gas to stop the car from stalling); the taste of New Zealand milk, ice cream, and lamb; kumara chips; driving at 50km/h, which Auckland roads seem to demand; the hills, all the undulating hills.

I think I expected a feeling of relief being here. I’ve always considered that home is where one can stop for a moment and take a breath, where one can relax a disquieted mind. I was quite depressed when I left Australia, and I expected New Zealand to lift me. It does, after a fashion, but I think it’s more to do with spending time with my eldest brother and his girlfriend, and hugging my mum than it does being physically present in this country. It’s not the country of my youth anymore. My family members live in suburbs far removed from Manurewa, where I grew up. There’s no click of recognition as I walk the streets of Ponsonby and Northcote Point, I don’t feel that “phew, I’m home” feeling. I’ve always idealised New Zealand, I know that, as I suppose a lot of expatriates do. I am immensely proud of being born and bred in the little country that could, the nation that legalised same-sex marriage and where the indigenous culture is not only represented but fully integrated into every day life. I’m proud of the culture, the common sensical ingenuity of the average local, and of course, the physical beauty of the land of the long white cloud. There is something deeply spiritual, even magical about certain parts of New Zealand, and I feel a connection to the earth here that I don’t feel in Australia. I ate dirt and sand when I was a toddler, my mother tells me. New Zealand is in me, flowing through my veins.

So, why don’t I feel like I’m home? I put it down to still being a bit depressed, but then I’m having a conversation with my brother about petrol prices (Auckland prices were $2.19 per litre. Atrocious!), and I said “yeah, they’re much cheaper at home.” Melbourne. Not New Zealand. My heart breaks a little – only a little – as I come to the realisation that Melbourne is my home now. It could never replace Auckland, but it has given me opportunities that Auckland never could, and I find myself telling my mother that I can’t make a life here. She frowns. “You mean acting?” she asks. “Yes,” I reply, but that’s only part of the reason. It’s too small here. As my brother says, it’s small-minded. As my cousin says, it’s boring. I don’t tell my mother this, but as much as I love my family, and miss them intensely, that love isn’t enough to keep me here. I begin to get really honest with myself, and I admit that my memories of this country and my childhood here are not entirely pleasant. A lot of trauma happened to me here, a lot of innocence was lost. I finally realise that my aroha (love) for Aotearoa is based on the romanticised version in my head, not on the reality I now experience.

You can never take New Zealand out of this girl. I will always be a die-hard, up-standing and proud Kiwi. As I walk towards the departure gate to get on the plane that will take me back to Melbourne – home – I weep a little. I weep for my mother, who I fear I may not see again any time soon. I weep for my nephew, who will spread his wings and fly away from our little country at the arse end of the world to go find opportunities not available where he was born. And I weep for my country, the place of my birth and I say goodbye to the shining ideology of what it means to be home.