THE SCATTERING OF GRANDMA'S ASHES 27.12.19
Today my grandmother Margaret Grace is having her ashes scattered by her extended family, on her mother's gravesite in Weethalle, New South Wales. I am not there, because I was too afraid to be around the maternal side of the family in a ghost town in the desert. My grandma was Jehovah's Witness. I don't know if she still is. I've been wondering. But half her children are still, and they are the ones who gatekeep functions like this one. When I was six years old, I was abducted by my mother and grandmother for a year, including being hid in the desert in a place I remember them telling me was called Skeleton. I'm going to look it up on Google Maps rn...
I didn't find any Skeleton place on the internet. But I did find a town called Silverton with a population of about 50. But in looking at photos, I realise it's too populated to be where we were. We would have generated a lot of talk in a place like that, and my mother and her mother were commiting a Federal crime, so it must have been something way more obscure. I remember it being like a real desert, with skeletons of animals and vehicles scattered around like chaosgiant-designed play-equipment. I remember playing on an abandoned, rusted out tractor with my mother. One of only a handful of times. I remember a frog in our corrugated iron shed dwelling, and us all bewildered at how it could have got there. Grandma said it was a sign from Jehovah, and they cut my hair to look like a boy. I remember wandering off and finding a caravan with an elderly couple just sitting there. The man collected silver figurines. He gave me one as a gift. I dont remember exactly what it was. It could have been Farlap or Sir Donald Bradman. They were so nice to me, and appeared out of nowwhere, it felt like the fey checking in on me. My mother told me off for going there and took the silver figurine away.
Seven months ago, I was up in Wagga Wagga attending my grandmother's deathbed at the last minute. She was expected to pass within a couple of days, but held on for ten. I didn't make it for the whole time, because I got too mindfucked and couldn't bear it. I hadn't spent any time with family for many, many years, some I hadn't seen for 25 years. Margaret had... seven kids? It's a big family. During my stay, my auntie and uncle became very candid and excited to tell me about the time when they evaded the Federal police to abduct me by inventing a code language and hiding me in the desert. The code language was very creepy, with negative and triggering words used, and I remember at the time not enjoying 'my nice holiday' in 'Skeleton' or anywhere else they took me. It was sad though, that I think my mother really enjoyed getting to have total control over me and spend that exclusive time with someone her own emotional age. I never fully relaxed or felt ok.
As they recounted their story, their faces became white with frenzied excitement. I remember one of them breaking down at the time, and telling my dad how sorry they were. Both feelings can be true, to be fair. And it is exciting, especially if you think you're doing the right thing. So I humoured them. My uncle offered to take me back there sometime, like it was a favour. It felt like the mafia. But I dont think it was intended that way? I'm going to deliberately recount this autobiographical tale as subjectively as possible, but they were caught off guard by my memory.
My auntie Linda was the only responsible, loving adult figure I had in my life as a child. When she realised what they were talking about, she physically tried to get in between and stop the conversation, but I went along with it anyway. I have experience with mixed ideas of culpability and justice in communities of people, and wanted to make the point that although I didn't agree their actions were necessary or valid by their justifications, it was still valid in its own context. Those two aren't Jehovah's Witnesses. They just got told that my dad was a pedophile. They get picked on by the J-wits aswell.
But as the days went by, I realised that the Jehovah's Witness side of the family had not changed that behaviour at all. They were co-ordinating my movements behind my back in order to force me to be close to my mother, who I had threatened with a restraining order the previous time we had spoken. I would also share some personal information with one person, and then walk to the next room, where someone with their phone out, and a smug look on their face, would ask me a question about the private thing I had just shared. Family was doing bedside vigil in shifts, and so I tried to time it so my mother and I would not be doing it together. Her schizophrenia involves obsessively not sleeping. I would feint leaving and going to sleep, and she would either be waiting for me on my route, or would leave shortly after, and then arrive back at the hospital shortly after I would, even if it had only been 45 minutes.
One time, at about 4am, I was walking back to the hospital. It was a foggy night. She was sitting in the middle of the footpath on the way. She asked me if I minded if she walk with me. I said I minded, and wanted to walk alone. It was the first time I had walked to the hospital, so a few minutes later, I casually walked up the wrong street, and then doubled back. It was a very foggy strange night. When I saw her again at the hospital, she walked up to me with someone who tells me she is a great mother, and put her face right up in mine and said 'You should be careful walking in the fog, Emma. You could get lost'.
She would follow me from room to room, where everyone wanted to humour her for being so attentive. I was trying to keep it nice because someone was dying. I feel they took advantage of the situation, and my mother even said that she wished it 'would just be over and done with in her opinion'.
I started to get sleep-deprived and delirious. At one point, she was sitting across the room from me in the half gloom of the hospital room, vacantly staring and staring at me over my grandmother's prone body. This lasted for about an hour. during that time period, the controlling Jehovah's Witness siblings of hers sat with us, and I felt a growing sense of aggression from all of them, as if I was going to be psychologically punished for not automatically entitling my mother to transgress the boundaries I had attempted to make. When I finally went back to this particularly controlling J-wit auntie's rich AirBnB to crash, she was waiting up for me. I assumed to bond with me and show me emotional support. I asked for a herbal tea. She made me a chamomile. She said she found these kinds of situations awkward because she doesn't experience emotions. I said I felt 'mind-fucked'. She didn't ask about it and said she'd leave me to it. Because I had no one to talk to, I got out my tarot deck. She came back out a few minutes later just to tell me off for 'doing spiritualism in her home'. So I said I would leave then, and she said that would be fine. I took me bags and shuffled deliriously out the backdoor, kicking jade gemstones on the threshold out of my way, and sheltered from the rain at a church on a cold, winter morning. My brother Ashlee sent me pics later of all the tarot cards and occult books in his room at the same AirBnB.
I've always been a pretty resourceful person. I've lived on the streets before, and am good in a crisis. But I knew that mentally, I wasn't ok, because I hadn't slept for three days and this was my worst nightmare coming to life. I had wanted to stay and nurse my grandmother til the end, because I am good in those moments, but I also felt I couldn't handle anymore creepiness and now I had nowwhere to stay. I just took the time to cry, and enjoyed the fact that it was still very early morning. Small places like that have large, core groups of J-Wits, and even the main streets etc can have a Trumanshow-like intrusivity in one's goings-on. I could tell it was shaping up to be a full schizoid projection from my mother if I didn't relent to spending time with her or staying with her in her bed in her hotel, which is what she tries to arrange without asking. For the ashes scattering, she arranged for my J-Wit brother to drive me up from Melbourne, and I would sleep with her in her bed. Even though I had made arrangments to go with someone else, and can afford my own accomodation. In the end, I just decided not to go, because it will be the last time those people can force me to spend time with them, and so I was afraid they would be more forceful than usual. In the months between, I had tried to raise these concerns and set new boundaries, but hadn't felt like I had gotten through at all, besides at least explaining the basis of my uncomfortability. But that morning, I did go back to the hospital for awhile. But that's a story for another day.
So here I am on the outskirts of Melbourne, sleeping on my friend's floor over the summer, saving for a rental together. And I suddenly start to cry, and then I remember its the 27th. I had been so focussed on missing christmas with my Auntie Linda on account of the bushfires, my lack of money due to homelessness, and feeling like people aren't ready to relate. And I just dont have any reason yet to know that so soon. Especially when I haven't given much love myself.
But the level of sorrow I started to feel was deep, deeper than just me. I semi-narcissistically psycled through the possibilities, perhaps that I was experiencing the group's sadness, and that people were actually thinking of me and acknowledging the shame of my absence. I thought also that my grandmother herself was sad. I felt a loss that I couldn't escape from with spiritual ancestorwork. The loss of a person that I had neglected to spend time with for fifteen years.
And then I felt this frustration. A frustration of disconnection, relationships fractured and not working. Things permanently unfinished, incomplete, inherently broken. Me. What am I to my family. A monster. Frustration as the constant universal currency flowing through every dysfunctional scenario in a chain, regardless of the details. And then I found myself considering getting off at this stop. Reading the station: Lake Denial. The very place so many of those people live. When frustration seems universal, because of dysfunction one cannot control, why not just distance oneself from it and just be a good sport?
And then I felt the anger. Welling up from my stomach, a bruised, twisted snag of ego. An anger that you just have to have if you want to have standards, don't you? It said. I could hear it talking through me... Because things often aren't how they should be, but when you're a mother and a grandmother, you have to stay angry about it, otherwise you'd be excusing it, but you can't show it, because you need to be the centre of things, and let it drive you, holding everything together. You can't really take sides, and sometimes people miss out. Like the gay people in the family, or me. And that makes me in awareness of her, angry. I've always been driven, but I think if you don't acknowledge where this drive comes from, it can make a person workaholic. Do you have your license yet, Emma?
This woman, from a long line of mitochondrial queens who live to be over a hundred. I met my great great grandmother. She knitted me a jumper and played me a song on the piano, and I still experienced the song and the jumper as the things she said they were. This woman who married a violent, alienated (probably autistic) Maori miner, and had seven kids out in the desert with him. Who regretted not leaving sooner for the sake of her children. And all of us, so it tragically turned out. A woman who once hit a tree in her car on the highway, and drove with one hand a few hours to the hospital, nursing her eyeball with the other. A woman who broke her pelvis on the way to the hospital to give birth, and gave birth anyway. The anger of a woman's faith in earthly things. There was no redemption beyond the necessity of that feeling. But I also felt blessed to know this side of things. And I took my water down to the creek and poured it in. The suburb I'm in has very old trees. I cried on the ground throne of an old oak, with a mother magpie and her baby perched in a branch right next to me. I found a redgum wand and suddenly felt the urge to go home and write about it all. Like a pen license that connects me to country. Instead of weighing up stories of fraught relationships, I wish I could hear her speak more about her country and our country. But, rest in peace, Margaret Grace. From your granddaughter, Emma.
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