Those few months were a strange time. My father seemed to age a year every week, and when we played chess, or watched cricket together, it was prefaced with this weight of an unspoken fear. What was going to happen? How would we function as a family without him? My parent’s bedroom that had always been a happy place now felt claustrophobic and necessarily gloomy under the burden of an impossible convalescence. The green room was named for its bristly carpet tiles that prevented the door from closing fully. I never tired from running my fingers over the various patterned glass panels of the perpetually ajar door, some smooth and bumpy like a polished tortoise shell and others cut finely into a thousand spiky teeth. Generous olive curtains could be opened to reveal a decorative chamber pot and other dusty ornaments, objects I had loved as a child reflecting the morning glow through stained glass. Above hung a heavy porcelain lamp shade were the light shot out of diamonds carved through its sides to throw ceiling shadows resembling a spiral carpet. All these things were now indelibly in shadow and belonged to a happier time, though the threads of their memory still move me and if recalled, they jerk and pull me back to my enduring youth.
The summer dragged as I waited, half reluctant for the return of routine and the start of school. My friends and peers rushed to me with news of the impending tragedy, ravenous for the drama of life as opposed to the fake heroics played out on the big screen. After the initial flush of interest however, I soon returned to my role as second fiddle and basketball hopeful – neither the most popular nor the castaway. If they had noticed me once, shifting uneasily and moving in and out of their conversation, they would not have recognised this inner turmoil. Voices trying to jolly me would fall like wet leaves and I’d escape to the Library or art room for uncrowded reflection.
Earnest inquiry from my peers about how my father was going gradually receded, the unspeakable finality of the truth not being a topic easily discussed. But also I usually remained cryptic and even glib with my response, a self defence making one harder to classify. Of course it was burning inside of me and continued to influence everything I did and everything I said, but it needed to be contained, this grief. It felt very much like I was coming in from the outside, through circles becoming denser, darker reaching for the centre of things through the boyish fog compounded of sugar, homework and sexual awareness. And by day as in night, the dream is peopled with those belonging to some other existence, their heads in their own neon cloud going about business and touching but never penetrating the fog’s silver gilded fragrance. Under the influence of this monumental mood, I often found myself walking around the school grounds, polishing appropriate retorts to unwanted attention. Stepping at times, uneasily, trying to match my stride with the rhythms of the mind.
At home things seemed to continue despite the absence of normalcy. The dark wood tall boy in my parent’s bedroom still held hidden treats tucked away in the under ware draw. The two oil stains on the wall where my parent’s had rested their heads continued their quiet introspection. The pets needed feeding, and dinner plates serving and the stories of the day were still passed around, although in a quieter fashion. Michaela shouldered much of the responsibility, driving to and from medical appointments, painstakingly easing over speed bumps to prevent jarring. Not many words were spoken, but I remember over hearing my father refer to her as his sterling girl. My father fought hard, but the illness had reduced his once portly stature to skin and bone. One morning early in March, he called for me from his sick bed to run an errand as I was already heading for the shops to buy milk and bread. He wanted me to buy him a fine art pen and presented me with a scattering of coins. The newsagency seemed to only have thick markers or common biro’s and instead of picking the closest alternative, I returned empty handed to his steely rebuke ‘I see you didn’t bother to buy my pen’. I felt very bad at the time, but that has since paled in comparison to my regret in reflection of having curtailed one of his last urges to create. A drawing from this time depicts a version of himself, isolated on a hill with his instrument laid to rest and in the distance his forlorn muse.
It was a momentous time in my life, reaching its climax with the family sitting around the deathbed in the Heidelburg Repatriation Hospital singing Beatles songs – the only ones we knew. At one point in the hospital, after exploratory surgery had determined that the cancer had spread to all parts of his body, my father said quite out of the blue and under heavy sedation ‘oh, there’s Doug Green’. It was later confirmed that his old artist buddy ‘was visited by Peter’ that very day. After his passing, I remember following coloured lines back through the hospital corridor in a kind of stupor; purchasing a raffle ticket for an Easter hamper, because life keeps on going apparently; and then the blinding light of day that lacerated my eyes and filled me with an unfamiliar mortification, to be in the presence of such gaiety. It was a beautiful Autumnal light that on any other occasion would have provoked an inner smile at least, but on this day it seemed quite wrong, an intrusion upon the sensation of being in some way outside of time, and beyond the reach of joy.
In the days that followed we wept together, reading through my father’s writings and sharing our memories. I felt a peculiar excitement when his golf clubs and slippers became mine, as if stepping into those shoes brought me closer to him and closer to the man I was to become. My Mother spent many long hours on the phone, breaking down as she delivered the news to friends and family, while I rubbed her back, letting her know that I was close. Everything seemed transformed somehow, a passing shower lingering like a great ocean, a song on the radio now an anthem to express the insoluble machinations of great emotion – I can’t live with or without you. Life stopped and started, as if waiting for a tear or the realisation of loss, and in the darkest hours, a room with a body imprinted in memory still remained, pulling me toward that which wants to be seen just one more time. My father was buried in the lawn cemetery on Phillip Island, a peaceful place a breast a hill abundant in she Oakes and lemon centred gums that seem to creak and whisper in acknowledgement of ones pensive presence.