Last year, Friday October 8 was moving day and I rode out of Canberra in a two car one truck convoy. This was significant because in Canberra I had run my ship up onto rocks, and after eight months of being beaten around by the tide the Hume Highway was like a rolling ribbon of light leading someplace...else. Canola fields were flowering in buttery waves, and everything I saw flashing by me seemed sharper than usual, more meaningful.
Now, a few memories are as clear as laser-cut crystal, but most are streaky and scrambled. Great gaping holes were ripped in my head. No air passed through the holes, but water seeped in, got stuck and stagnated. It swished around for many months. The sound filled my ears, some days it was all I heard.
I have to look back in my black notebooks from this time to remind myself of things, and tend to mostly only really remember the things I wrote down. It's different now, though. When I moved here a draining process began and the water started dripping out like sump oil.
Friday the 8th Oct 2010
-"It's like someone took a knife baby edgy and dull/and cut a six inch valley through the middle of my skull"
-Richie in the car at Hertz, excited: "I got myself a Police CD!" - 7:25am.
-Susu came round to Eric Northman, as I knew she would. We slept on the mattress in the lounge room and watched episodes 8, 9 and 10 til late and I dreamed about Brett Morris and that I was in confined quarters with like the entire NRL and was too shy to talk to any of them except B.Moz and he was so adorable and sweet that I became paralysed with shy awe all over again. Which sounds about right.
-Hurry up Richie where the truck at already - 7:45am.
-Maybe this time next week I'll be sitting in a wicker chair on my new front verandah. Without this freight train running through the middle of my head.
Saturday the 9th.
-Back in Canberra to clean the house.
-Whippersnippering is boss - venegance is mine. It was like I was cutting down Canberra cockheads with every swipe - i.e. the young couple in matching brand new yellow hi-vis vests and round scout hats doing their mowing and gardening in tandem at the bottom of Waller. I WANTED TO FUCKING KILL THEM. I really really wished I'd had a gun. I would have fucking utilised it without hesitation. Instead I drove to Dickson for fuel and credit and freaked the fuck out in the supermarket and spilt coins in my panic. Everyone, all fucking pigs. I didn't want to come back here today. Grey horror.
-The fucking flesh is in danger of sliding off my fucking arm because I splashed fucking Ezy Off Bam oven cleaner up it. Bitch is bubbling and blistering. William texted and made me laugh: 'another night in the Kings X, another stretch hummer...", and then Richie, who said, in all seriousness,
-"maybe I should open a pie shop..."
-"have you ever made a pie?"
-"so why the pie shop?"
-"well, a lot of people seem to like driving to pie shops to... eat pies"
-The cashier at Tarcutta servo: "Oh a panel van! I haven't seen one of them for years! The truckie standing chatting to her: "What, the inside of one?"
-I stopped at Yarrawonga and shit was real. Saturday afternoon. Stoners in loose trackies and slides, and hooligans in tiny obscene white footy shorts. Good people. Racing down the Hume spooning warm yoghurt from a tub gripped between my legs was pretty real too.
Sunday the 10th.
-Ok hey. My new home. Finished up with the lasts/started in on the firsts.
Among the many things about Canberra I failed to understand while living there was why the majority of the pouplation hadn't experienced mental collapse. How had they as a people held it together and not just flat-out fallen apart and become incapacitated en masse? Were they drawing from some deep well of ancient knowledge, these native Canberrans? Did I just miss some kind of essential, psychic memo? There was a fucking ocean breaking inside my brain the entire time I lived there and yet - and yet - tens of thousands of people were managing to go about their dreadful daily business unencumbered and apparently untroubled. This seemed impossible, far beyond the realm of possibility, but then these kinds of things always do to both the chronically maladjusted and the very clear-eyed.
Two quotes - exchanges between a man and his small daughter - from a beautiful Bukowski story:
-"There are many people who pretend that they are happy"2.
-"Because they are ashamed and frightened and don't have the guts to admit it."
-"Because if I do I might get caught and put in jail"
Well anyway, who really knows what's happening with anyone? We're all in airplanes, we're all just flying over. This is the reason that we so commonly hear words to the effect of "they kept to themselves" and "they seemed like nice people" and "I never thought anything like this would happen in our street" from shattered neighbours speking to news crews after some kind of savagery has torn apart the fabric of their suburb. This inevitably encourages a series of unhealthy comparisons pertaining to questions of 'could that have been me?' and 'how did I not know?' that are probably best avoided. Our present social structure is in no way equipped to deal with questions of this kind, best to keep the eyes ahead and the blinds drawn and the great wash of humanity at bay.
Canberra is a city with a firm grasp of this concept. The streets are always empty, and it's obscenely clean and orderly. It has no dark, squalid heart, no filthy corners, and, crucially, no central rail service. The impact of the absence of trains and train stations is arresting and immediately obvious - no graffiti and no hobos. No city, no city at all.
My neighbour; a criminal lawyer named Mark, told me that the lawyers he dealt with in Sydney sounded spectacularly relaxed over the phone: "they even call me mate!" This comment put me into rapid shift and tilt. The place had me. I didn't stand a chance. My girl Susu drove down from Byron to bundle me out of there. This is one of the greatest things friends can do for each other. Another is to shout a booking for a colonic irrigation across a crowded room full of swivelling, scandalised eyes, and she's done that on my behalf too. She solid.
It doesn't surprise me now that I found it impossible to maintain mental and emotional equilibrium there; what with the heavy nothingness that hung in the air, but at the time it was confusing and confronting and cast a very long dark shadow.
One year on and even though walls still surround me and I still have an oily high-water mark inside my head I have that wicker chair I sit in on my front verandah and I can't even begin to tell you what a satisfaction it is to be able to say that I no longer live in Canberra.