I stare at words on the computer screen, trying to make them feel. ‘Write a scene that conveys mood,’ says the brief, and I have one — several even — in that manuscript that sits unpolished on my hard drive. Out of all the scenes I choose the one that takes place in a hospital room — it’s where my head is today.
When I first wrote that scene, when Ariana and Damon walked down the hallway, it was all imagination — what could possibly be.
It’s been edited since with the details only those who’ve been there can know. Details that add depth, even as the words unwritten make it feel shallow. I cannot write it all; cannot write what it’s like to watch someone you love die, and so I am left with feeling it’s not enough. How can I convey the mood, when it’s not enough?
‘If I write a book when I’m older, will you read it?’ I ask him one day. I’m eleven or twelve, and Dad and I are driving down Vanderlin drive, in Darwin. I can see the dirt from the scrub in the background as I look at him, but I can’t remember which car it was in. I suppose it doesn’t matter, even though it does.
‘I’ll definitely start reading it,’ he says.
I look at him, understanding.
‘Well you know, sometimes you start reading a book but it’s not that good, so you stop.’ I nod. I do know. Even though I usually read all the way through, I know he doesn’t.
Life’s too short for bad books.
I’m a lot like him I think.
I think, long and hard — maybe too much. I recommence conversations days after they’ve been had, much like he did. The pathways in my mind feel long and complicated. I think I get that from him. Sometimes I think I don’t say enough. Other times more than I should.
But maybe that’s the same for everyone.
He had speeches planned. When the end came, he knew what he wanted to say, and he said it.
Sometimes words failed him but in the end, I think he got them out. I think he said enough, although on some level it will never be enough.
And I? I have so many more things to tell. So many things to say. Things he has missed. Things that would have made him proud and others that would have made him roll his eyes. Things that matter and things that really don’t.
But now it’s May and he doesn’t call to tell me the dry season is late in starting.
He doesn’t ask ‘how’s the kids?’ or ‘what’s the news?’
Our home phone broke and we haven’t bothered to replace it because no one calls it any more; all that’s left is his voice in the form of an old message on the machine.
It’s not enough.
Those few words, they aren’t enough.
Tomorrow it’s your birthday. You would have been 78. We would have sent a card and the kids would have drawn and Ava, for the first time ever, would have been able to write her own message.
But we haven’t, and we won’t, because you’re not here to read them. Much like this pointless post that says too much and not enough at all.
You thought you would die as young as your dad — I’m glad you didn’t because I would never have been born.
I think you thought it was possible years ago, before you went into hospital for an operation. I remember you asked me to pray. You dropped me off at work, and I being self-absorbed and not too worried, was surprised that you asked. And of course I did, because what else could I do?
In the end, you outlived your mother. You told me that, in the weeks before, but I didn’t realise the significance.
77 and a half years you got.
More than you thought. More than your parents before you.
But still, it’s not enough.
I’m glad it wasn’t long and painful. I’m glad you weren’t the useless old person you feared you would be. I’m glad for the time we had before.
But it still wasn’t enough.
I don’t think it ever would have been.
I never asked if he had read Diary of a SAHM all the way through — perhaps I was too scared of the answer.
But it’s in the lounge room of my Port Lincoln home that he asks a question. He, sitting in the corner space of the couch, and me, harried and thinking of all the things I need to do.
‘So do you plan on writing any more books Jess?’
‘I’ve actually already written one.’
‘Really? Come on then, tell us what it’s about.’
‘Um, I don’t really want to talk about it now.’ And this time it is fear, because what if he doesn’t like it?
It’s only weeks later, after he’s gone that I realise the very fact he asked says more than any other words could have.
I look back at the screen, thinking about the mood of the scene I’m trying to perfect. It isn’t shallow and empty. It isn’t void of necessary words. It tells the story it’s supposed to — it uses words in just the right way. It is enough.
And maybe that’s what life is like. We worry over words that say too much, or not enough at all. But all we really want is to make sure we say things right; that the message comes out in the way it’s supposed to.
Hope that at the end of the day the ones we love know just how much we loved them.
You aren’t here anymore, but I am. I live on. And I know you loved me.
And that’s enough.
Happy Birthday Dad. xxx