Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Driving back on the Hume Highway with road songs

Early Paul Kelly, a surprising amount of noise, I thought; accoustic, low key, folk-country but he gives sax and snares and guitar solos and dirty rock as well.

Family can be heartbreaking. Now I am in a better place and my role is to squeeze Beloved's arm and to help her steer through and beyond the broken timber into open highway. We drove for a long, long time, across two borders, for negligible returns measured in thimbles of warmth and cold spaces between hours.

I spoke to Beloved's mother. I asked for no more letters that represent the continuing tumble of psychological abuse and mental illness from generation to generation in that family. I heard about how my Beloved is unilaterally wrong, on everything, and how not one such thing could possibly taint the efforts of her mother. I noted the language of favouritism and rejection, the unpacking, in a few minutes of frankness that family never engages in, of years of building resentment and defences based on a false narrative, on a martyr complex, on an obsession with hating the former husband and shifting his ills to one of his daughters. I quietly, carefully (for my oft-assertive personality I was an angel of subtlety and restraint, I promise) pointed these things out. Perhaps the only person to ever do so. A sad, messed up but ultimately abusive person wrung her hands and refused to agree to even trying to meet her daughter half way, to conversation, to any sort of compromise, before walking quickly out.

I am glad we had this discussion. I repeated thrice that there be no more correspondence which, coming from such a place, can only be designed, no doubt subconsciously, to manipulate, draw out guilt, and cause continuing pain. She seemed to agree to this, if nothing else. Beloved, exhausted from 36 years of effort, did not complain about my uninvited intervention.

The JJJ hottest 100 is eclectic and that is a boon on a road trip. There is no sinking into a mood, an artist's favoured key or time signature, and becoming hypnotised by the gum trees. There is M83, and with that breadth of sound bringing to mind (in this time of 80s revisionism) Tears for Fears, and a ripping, screaming sax solo, I was disappointed to learn 'they' is just a 'he'. Starting to skip Gotye, out of familiarity but not contempt. Appalled at finding Lana Del Rey in my earworm.

Beloved lost her Pop, the children's Great Grandfather. For a variety of reasons, perhaps visible in the previous paragraphs, he and his now-deceased wife were quasi-parental figures for her. Dominating her childhood memories, providing a needed bedrock of stability and unconditional love. A sad life that commenced with more than a dozen kids living in a small shack, survived the most brutal battles of Papua and Borneo, lost 2 brothers in a terrible car accident when he got back from war, evolved into that of a successful farmer, husband, parent and, through the prism by which I knew him, much loved and stellar grandparent.

Gentle explanations of loss and death, hints of reflective comprehension from a 5 year old Bear. The generations assembled in the park opposite his hospital, in the final hours, and the joy of Bear and Mitts as they played with so much family they see so little of was ironic, but perhaps, as a celebration of continuity and the goodness Pop has left behind him, appropriate.

Why does it sometimes take a funeral to bring people together?

Beloved likes Emma Louise, Jungle, best of all. It takes her directly to Offspring, to cosy couch evenings stretching back through boxed sets of Secret Life and Love my way. It is strong, but also soft and reassuring. It is all I want to be as we ease in next to our house, back in suburban Melbourne, our children safe, excited cats already talking from behind the door, heater waiting to be fired up and a month's worth of chocolate to be eaten.