Open road, going somewhere, elsewhere – she loved that feeling. She knew that about herself. She knew she loved leaving more than a drink, more than sex, more than hunger, more than books. The road didn’t have the caved in feeling of a hangover, it could have any wonder in the whole world.
– Tara June Winch
My final weeks in Sydney were shrouded by the same grey brought up the coast by the bushfires. Ashen. The sapphire Sydney sky was an iconic fixture for me. I loved seeing it when I returned from Victoria: the depth of the blue had a quality I imagined it picked up from the sea. Sunsets like nothing else too. But their disappearance into the smoke was the perfect metaphor for someone who needed just another reason to get the hell out.
The heavenly blue was barely visible as I packed my bags, wrapped up my job, my house, my friendships. I told myself I wasn’t moving to leave heartbreak behind, the heartbreak was in the leaving itself. Maybe it felt like I was breaking my own heart again, but ultimately preserving it for future use. But anyway all that…I’m going to go too far into it. That’s just the gateway story to my exit.
At the Lizzo concert on January 6, I realised maybe it would take longer to heal than I anticipated. I worked at the big white building where she performed, a job that challenged me beyond anything before, on all the levels that matter. Yet Lizzo’s positivity is unstoppable. She said we are accepting compliments this year, we are loving ourselves. Two songs in, tears streamed down my face and did not stop.
Through January I gave away things I didn’t need—clothes I didn’t wear, donated books to the Marrickville Metro book swap (and perhaps by accident, my passport, which I lost in the move and have not found yet), gave my large furniture to the girl taking my room, and packed the rest into my sister’s Subaru Forrester which I had driven up from Victoria.
I planned to drive down the coast through some of my favourite beach towns: Coledale, Thirroul, Kiama, Woolongong and down to the Victorian border, one stop overnight then straight on to Melbourne. Some of the towns were singed and some of the towns were ravaged. Farms had signs on their front gates – THANK YOU FIRIES! – and when I passed a fire truck, I tried to flash my lights in a gesture of solidarity. In the bush between each town, smoke still lingered in the trees, giving them the look of a wintry English landscape.
In spite of the hard evidence through the window, I thought I could at least make it to my overnight stop. From there I would assess whether the fires were obstructing the roads across the border. About 90 minutes away from my pitstop the choice was made for me. After inching along, passing police cars, it became obvious there had been an accident. Cars were decisively u-turning out of the queue. I delayed making any decision until I got to the front of the line, where an SES volunteer said that the highway was closed, the farthest I could go was not at all close to my destination.
All the accommodation was booked out in Moruya, and Jervis Bay would be no better, said the woman at the pizza shop. She spoke to the SES volunteers out the front, who had been out fighting fires since November and were on their evening break. They said the crash had been a man driving a ute into a truck. Three fatalities, apparently. Each needs a coroner, detectives and it takes a while to get for them to come from the nearest big town so the road wouldn’t likely clear up that night. I noticed that one of the volunteers had coffee and the other just had dessert. If she had a spare room she’d let me crash at hers, she said. But I had a brainwave and all my worldly possessions with me, so I asked her where the closest caravan park was.
Everything from the day before washed away in my early morning swim at Broulee Beach, where the shoreline was dusted in ash like all the other beaches that summer. Over coffee and banana bread I decided to drive inland through Braidwood towards Canberra and take reliable M31 National Highway all the way home.
I felt that I could swim for miles, out into the ocean: a desire for freedom, an impulse to move, tugged at me as though it were a thread fastened to my chest. It was an impulse I knew well and I had learned that it was not the summons from a larger world I used to believe it to be. It was simply a desire to escape from what I had. The thread led nowhere, except into the ever expanding wastes of anonymity.
– Rachel Cusk
I moved into a 1950s flat with a yellow bath in a a bayside suburb.
On my walks by the water is when I have my most profound thoughts. Far away from my pens and paper or a keyboard. Of course that is when it becomes most clear how to connect the disappearing light, ripples on the glasslike sea and the ghosts of lost love. Outdoors may surface the most daring thought of all – one that is safe to float away on the same scandalous breeze it wafted in on – why should there be any connections at all?
Sometimes I am aware that I would prefer to keep pushing at the idea of loneliness. Become most alone. Go beyond loneliness into dissolve. Retreat into nothing.
I would love to weave sense out of his beauty, confusion, pain, joy; knit philosophical threads. But I’m brave enough only to have that thought outside, let it out where the sun dips and the tide goes. Can’t it all just be there ebbing or disappearing to its own rhythm over and over again?
Another morning walk in early June I saw the Aboriginal flag hung from a window on The Esplanade. One of the brown towers near Catani Gardens. The symbol gave me a jolt back to my bigger purpose. How committed I had been to retreat into intellect. Seduced by my mind’s dark corners, dragged into emotional sinkholes. Desperately wondering these past months what keeps me coming back there, when echoes of lost love fall fainter the closer you get to them.
My healing journey is long. But seeing the flag at the top of one of those towers literally helped me pull my head up. Personal healing is not possible without political or communal liberation.
I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.’
– Toni Morrison
Susie Anderson uses words to reconnect with culture. A Wergaia woman from Western Victoria, her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Lifted Brow, Rabbit Poetry, un magazine, Artlink Australia and she was part of the anthology Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia. Recently, Susie was a writer-in-residence at Overland.
The Yield, Tara June Winch. P245
Outline, Rachel Cusk. 73-74
Toni Morrison in O Magazine 2003