It’s November the third of the year 2019 AD, one day after my fortieth birthday which was celebrated as it should, with a party. It’s morning time and I don’t have a hangover because how can one drink when there are good friends and children running around, spinning one’s head with their sheer energy.
I’m in agony. I’m trying to remember very hard but a mental image of whatever present I may have received does not come to mind.
“I can see her face saying, “happy birthday!” but I can’t remember what the object was.” I look at him pleadingly. He’s angry.
“I can’t believe you’ve forgotten what your daughter gave you for your birthday!” he shakes his head in disbelief unable to wrap his head around how dismissive I‘ve been.
“Please, just tell me…” I search my memory and I can picture my little daughter, sparkling eyes wishing me a happy birthday. She’s only three so she wasn’t the one who picked out the present. She was following his instructions to give me the object. Arrgghh! Why couldn’t I remember? Maybe I have early-onset dementia?
“Go look in the cupboards.” I don’t want to play this game. Just tell me, why can’t you? I feel madness sweeping over me but I bite my tongue. I go to the kitchen with thoughts running through my head berating me for putting my family down by this memory outage I’m experiencing. I check the cupboards. In my anger, my mind doesn’t take note of what’s inside of them.
“I don’t see anything here that might’ve been my present!” I hear myself sounding like a monster.
“Well, look carefully.”
After much drama it comes out that the present I blocked out of my short-term memory is a stock standard mug he got made at Office Works with photos of my daughters. It’s the shape of any communal mug you’d find in an office full of cubicles and the photos are dark and not perfectly framed. In short, this is no work of art. This mug isn’t my idea of an object someone poured any real love into. It becomes clear why I dismissed it. It was hate and rejection at first sight. I’d judged it ugly as sin.
“So, tell me, did you actually put any thought into this present?” He looks hurt as apparently he had been planning it for days, picking out the right photos and thought it neat that Office Works could make a customised mug.
And with that, all the scenes from my childhood of mum throwing dad’s presents back in his face flood my memory. I am my mum… Oh my God.
Then a miracle happens. I get the sense that this modest mug is my holy grail. Only those worthy of it can see its brilliance and I am worthy. I take another look and everything about it celebrates me, the memoirist.
These days, when I look at that mug, filled with my very first latte of the day that I got from Two Bros café in Lane Cove, whilst trying to find the words like I am doing now, I see our fateful family holiday to Noosa. It was an acceptance of the life that was intended for me all along.
But let’s not rush to that now. Later that very day, another miracle found me in my own garden.
I’d been terribly stuck trying to write my first memoir about how like a successful CEO, I was turning around a dysfunctional family, where no one speaks to each other, to one of booming function and success where people would be listening to, seeing, hearing and supporting each other through life’s challenges.
Like a corporate change manager, transformation or disruption officer, I’d been wrestling with my mum and my aunties on a family WhatsApp group called La Sagrada Familia. I still scoff at the name of the group. Far from being sacred or reminiscent of the Gaudi Cathedral in Barcelona, it’s a place of conversation best had in low-class public places.
These people, my cringe-worthy family, have no idea of how to thoughtfully use space to make it valuable to all. I mean, let’s say you went to a place of worship, will you be whispering to your friends about what café you’ll go to, what you’re going to have there, swap recipes and gossip about politicians who may be gay? Would you be passing around photos of a dog taking a leak on some maligned world leader?
Truth be told, the biggest problem I had with the group was mum’s smear campaigns against me to fish for sympathy from her sisters, my uncles and cousins.
One of her unending attacks had to do with my lack of care for flowers. When she was staying with us earlier that year, I wanted to stop her moping around the house and seeing that she enjoyed gardening, tasked her with finding some geraniums in Lane Cove to plant in our backyard. She seemed to enjoy the activity but kept insisting that the only reason she did it was that she’s a good mother who was sacrificing herself to satisfy my love of geraniums.
How the hell would I ever come to have warm feelings for geraniums if she hadn’t loved them in the first place, so much so that growing up, our balcony was filled with all colours of them?
In this family chat group she’d keep asking for updates on these geraniums. I was sick of getting hounded about the darn flowers particularly since I didn’t make it downstairs to the backyard very often as the majority of my time was spent trying to keep my two-year-old from hurting her helpless baby sister whilst typing away on social media trying to prove my points.
Anyways, that miraculous day I took a stroll in the backyard and what did I see? The geraniums had blossomed into beautiful bright red flowers.
I took photos and was going to post them on the WhatsApp group to show all that indeed I was a good daughter. Something stopped me. My beef wasn’t with all these relatives I didn’t really know or care about. Mum might have hated them for not understanding her, but I didn’t know them at all!
Later that day I called mum on Facetime. I showed her the geraniums.
She looked at them lovingly and I let her enjoy this miracle of Mother Nature. I didn’t say anything. Nothing good came of me saying anything to mum anyway.
Then she started telling me everything that I’d been after, the missing piece of the puzzle to bring together my memoir. What her relationship with her own mum had been like. I don’t know where it all came from but that was the second miracle before Christmas.
“She was a narcissist who’d take hours to get ready for any outing.” The confession came out unrushed and from a place of acceptance and peace. As I’d suspected, mum never felt the support of her own mother, who was too busy playing the part of the nobility, a woman of quality, dressing and practicing her part meticulously and as a result, she was dismissive of a daughter who didn’t value appearances. Besides, she had a model daughter, literally, a fashion model, in mum’s younger sister.
I’d finally struck gold and could now leave the WhatsApp group as I wasn’t going to get any clarity or introspection there. The rest of the memoir could come from my own emotions, interacting with my own daughters, sticking up for the unrealised life within me. I had all the time in the world if I stopped wasting time on hating others for going for it.
As for that day in Noosa depicted on my birthday present, that was when I finally crossed the threshold and accepted that I have a gift that no one can see yet.
I’d been journaling for a month or so and was experiencing flow in my life but needed to get my head around writing a manuscript and as luck would have it, there was a memoir writer offering a method to beginning and finishing a manuscript. Louisa had already published two memoirs about getting to know her father after his death through his journals which were kept in a library in Melbourne.
There was one thing standing between myself and this roadmap.
You know how some people say money is no object? It’s very hard for me to utter those lines.
Growing up, we had more than enough of it, but my parents never wanted to spend it. They thought the purchase of investment properties was going to bring them the stability they hadn’t felt growing up. They wanted my brother and me to have a better relationship with them than what they experienced with their parents. So they never spent a penny on themselves or their hobbies, forgetting about all those things that connect one to life. Instead, they fell into a pattern of picking up extra shifts in dad’s case, or farmer’s markets for mum, to fund more houses neither they nor my brother would ever get to live in, or in my case, see.
I think what all those investments really bought was estrangement. The foundation for solid relationships isn’t found in buildings.
Here was the question of whether I wanted to enjoy life, to which I connected through writing stories. If so I had to make a sacrifice. I had to pay the piper to drive out all those rats nibbling away at my confidence and she demanded $3,000 USD. The USD was very strong back in October of 2019.
I mustered all my courage and with shaky hands transferred the money that had been sitting stagnant in my savings account, collecting very little interest.
Now, I know that only saints and Jesus are supposed to perform miracles, but I witnessed mere mortals like my partner, my mum, and Louisa transform a once ordinary housewife into a real-life writer.
I’d lost narrative control of my life for some-thirty odd years and it’s time to recover from that stupor one word at a time.