Posted on January 5, 2014
As I sit down to write these words, the body of a too young man drifts in the unknown dark under the deceptively calm waters of the Waranga Basin, just outside of Rushworth. If you are a regular reader of my words, you might recall this body of water from my memoir piece Wide Brown Land. It is from this water that the Waranga Channel derives its flow. The body of this 26 year old man has been drifting, unfound, since Thursday. He disappeared beneath the surface of the Basin three long days ago. That day, the second of January, was the 21st anniversary of the day that my father and brother drowned, a few kilometres away.
This man, like my father, sank beneath sight in front of his daughter. Mercifully for her, she is only 9 months old, and will not remember, though neither will she recall anything else about her father. The mans partner was the other witness to his drowning. Their speedboat broke down on the lake and he swam for shore, about a kilometre away, apparently deeming the life jacket on board as unnecessary for one reason or another. He made it about half way before turning back toward the boat and then vanishing below the water.
Now the people who love him are cast in the drawn out limbo of the wait. The trauma is suspended in a place beyond imagining. My family has been to this place, though our own three days of limbo are a place harder than most for me to revisit. My 25 year old brother – my big brother- disappeared underneath the rushing brown water on Saturday January 2nd 1993, along with all that he was or ever would be, and his body, emptied of his self, no longer him but essential, precious nonetheless, wasn’t recovered until the Tuesday morning. It is difficult to try to describe what those days were like for my family, when Grant’s body drifted in the unknown dark, alone. Though Dad’s body was found later in the evening of the day that they died, without my brothers body we could not fathom his death. When my sister and I wrote the death notices, we used the line
Missing, presumed drowned
as though there were other, plausible presumptions to be drawn from the facts at hand. It wasn’t a sense of misplaced hope, so much as an unfinished sentence, incapable of closure without the punctuation of a body.
I distanced myself early on from the idea of it being the brother that I knew and loved who was drifting in the dark. I reassured my sister that he wasn’t there, detailing to her a vision that had risen beyond my closed eyelids on the night that they died, a picture of the fluffy white cumulous clouds that had gathered on the afternoon of the accident descending to tenderly pluck the forms of Dad and Grant from the water. I said, it’s not him anymore, he’s not there. Yet on the morning that they pulled Grant from the water, as my grandfather called us all into the house to break the news, but prematurely divulged it as an aside just before I reached the paving outside the front door, I collapsed in a way that I never have before or since. Slipping from the waiting arms of my friend Ayesha, I simply refused to hold myself up a moment longer. I drifted away again myself behind closed eyes and was carried to a mattress, hearing the sounds of grief but no longer processing them, until I was taken to the local doctor, who sedated me and ordered bedrest in the little local hospital. From the hospital room where I lay, I had another vision, which I thought was true at the time, of a shiny black hearse pulling up just outside the window, and of my grandparents walking beside two gleaming coffins on trolleys. Ayesha closed the venetian blinds then, and I surmised that she thought that the sight of the coffins had upset me, but the opposite was true, I felt at peace to be reunited with the two men who had been torn so violently from my life days earlier.
A body is a kind of peace. No bandage or salve or tourniquet can be placed upon the fresh wound of grief without it.
I can’t stop thinking of that mans body in the Basin, wondering when or if they will find him, and I am thankful that I am 21 years past feeling what his family are feeling now. I hope that their sentence is quickly closed.