Under the Bridge
Posted on January 2, 2015
Precisely 22 years have passed since that day. I entered dates on the Internet and it calculated 8035 days since my dad, Bob aged 45 and my older brother Grant, aged 25 entered the rushing brown water in the channel at Rushworth and took their last desperate breaths, as my cousin and I looked frantically, powerlessly on.
It was a day very much like today, hot and dry in that country Victorian way. It was mid afternoon on a Saturday, which stretched benignly before us like yours might have today. The four of us, along with Rex the dog jumped into Dad’s yellow ute and drove out the rusted farm gate, down the dirt road to our respective fates.
I am reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver at the moment, and last night, in the passenger seat returning home from seeing friends at Anglesea, I read some devastating prose about not just grief but the survivor grief of witnesses, and it described a bewildering moment in the time outside of time that I remember clearly:
‘There’s a strange moment in time after something horrible happens, when you know it’s true but you haven’t told anyone yet. Of all things that is what I remember most. It was so quiet. And I thought: Now we have to go in and tell Mother. That – is, oh sweet Jesus. – is gone. We had to tell our parents, and they were still in bed, asleep.
I didn’t cry at first, and then, I don’t know why, but I fell apart when I thought of Mother in bed sleeping. Mother’s dark hair would be all askew on the pillow and her face sweet and quiet. Her whole body just not knowing yet. Her body that had carried and given birth to – . Mother asleep in her nightgown, still beieving she had four living daughters. Now we were going to put one foot in front of the other, walk to the back door, go in the house, stand beside our parents bed, wake up Mother, say to her the words -. Say the word dead. Tell her Mother wake up!’
I remember standing on the sharply stubbled yellow grass on the channel banks, afterwards, when hope was gone, and yet I didn’t quite believe my eyes. My cousin, collapsed on the bank, vomiting water, blue eyes broken, asking me if they were gone. I remember standing in wonderment that nobody knew, that their lives were still carrying benignly on, that afternoon, with no inkling that everything was shattered forever. Within me, I carry the stories,each separate, as were none of us together that day except the two pairs, living and dead, at the channel, of what the rest of my family were doing that day, and how the terrible news travelled to them.
Something truly dreadful happened to a friend of ours early in 2014. I didn’t hear about it until late in the year, and afterwards she drove out to Geelong to visit us. We talked and talked, and she was able to easily recount the awful, terrifying ordeal that she had survived, though the details made me recoil in horror at what she had gone through. As she talked on, I came to recognise what was happening. For ten years after I saw Dad and Grant drown, I too was able to easily recount every detail without tears or emotion. It was just like a story that I was telling, and not one that happened to me, or to people that I loved.
Ten years later, something finally shifted within me, and I have never since been able to recount the details of that January 2nd without it taking my breath away – as though to breathe is disrespectful to those who breathed no more after that day. The psyche is a strange thing, and it does what it needs to survive trauma.
I don’t think that you pass through grief like a rainfall, which is only a matter of passing clouds, for me it has been an ongoing journey, and the moisture of everything that I have felt and thought and cried is absorbed deeply within, growing some mysterious complex, organic tree that tangles and entwines through all that I am. I was saying to the friend that I mentioned earlier, what happens after trauma or grief is something like what the author Alice Sebold described as The Lovely Bones that grow up around it.
I played Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers this morning. I always play it to remember Grant. I was explaining to Al that it was still a new song when my brother died, and my brother Jim and I remembered sitting in Grants car outside The Punters Club one night late in 1992 and listening to it with him. It is his song for all time now, and still, 8035 days later, tears flood my eyes for an instant to remember that they who were here have been so long gone.
I find myself needing to react with gratitude for the days that I have lived since, as a tribute to my father and brother, who would have lived so well. Thank you for the days.