In the winter of May of 1964, life took an unexpected turn. My 14th birthday was a modest but pleasant celebration marked by a pair of dress pants gifted by my aunt and a family gathering with a cake to celebrate.
My father appeared on the doorstep after dinner, an unusual occurrence. He handed me two pounds and a birthday card, a gesture alien to our relationship.
Later, trying to make conversation, he said, “You’re a woman now.” This baffled and bewildered me. My aunt, ever the pragmatist, interjected, dismissing his statement sternly. “Well, I wouldn’t go that far.”
Thankfully, my father’s crass sense of people and the world was still beyond me.
My routine continued with my fortnightly bus trips to care for my great-grandmother, a duty that tethered me to the known, to the constants in my life. Yet, an unexpected twist awaited me a few Sundays after my birthday.
My aunt announced that we were embarking on a journey to Melbourne next weekend to reunite with my mother. She had deemed it time for our paths to cross, driven by my persistent tales that had painted her as a fairy godmother in my mind’s eye, a vision of beauty and wonder. I was quite shocked by this turn of events.
We departed for Melbourne on a Friday afternoon, soaring through the skies on the wings of excitement mingled with trepidation. My emotions were often turbulent, making it challenging to discern what lay beneath the surface.
Upon stepping into my maternal grandmother’s house, I found myself enveloped in an aura of painstaking domesticity. Yet, for all its outward grace, it offered no haven from the ethical complexities my paternal grandmother had warned me about. I chose not to speak, distancing myself emotionally as well as physically. This was a woman I had little desire to know, a woman who had once declared during a visit to Aunt Betty’s that the accumulation of dust under one’s bed was a reliable barometer of moral fiber.
Later that evening, I found myself in the same room as Diane, the last born of my grandmother’s children. Memories, diaphanous and remote, surged to the surface of my consciousness. The last time our lives had any meaningful intersection, I was but a child of four, captivated by her then-six-year-old vitality. Today, she was sixteen, her hair newly styled, coming off a day’s labor. But Diane’s story — well, that’s a narrative for another…