The poncho spread over the manikin’s shoulders and called to me like dolls and teddy bears call to small people in children’s toy stores throughout the world. It was expensive by my standards, a class two social worker in a community care centre, but I knew my husband would not object.
When I went inside the store and pulled it over my head, its warmth and weight, like a gigantic hug, convinced me I must have it. Mohair and three colours, fawn brown, cream and a dull charcoal, each colour blending into the other reminiscent of tie dying and Appalachian Indians from somewhere far away.
We were on the cusp of the Easter holidays with plans to go camping with a group of my husband’s friends and although I imagined the poncho would be perfect against the cold nights I worried it might absorb the smoke from the campfire, so I left it in the car.
I wore wet weather gear instead but longed for a time when I could wear my poncho without threatening its integrity.
I wore it over the next few winters but by the time I reached my mid-thirties and had passed the hippiedom of the seventies, I could not justify its languishing in my cupboard where there was scarcely room for other clothes. I put it into a garbage bag which I filled with items no longer worn and dropped it at the Salvos for someone else’s pleasure.
The poncho stays in my memory as one of those pieces of clothing I can never forget. One I regret saying goodbye to, though I doubt I would ever wear it again and even my children who have gone through their own hippie periods would not want to wear such an item. It has lost its allure.
To wear the poncho was like wearing a blanket with arms free to move below the fabric hidden from view. And it was shapeless in the way of a tent hanging from my shoulders. My body was hidden. My legs only visible from the thighs down, like two ten pins, and I could slip my hands out to pick things up and do whatever might need attention, like a snail sliding inside and out of its shell.
It could also get in the way if I needed to move my hands and arms in a hurry. It was good for walking in.
We must mourn these dead objects, but we cannot let them overtake us in the present. Like regrets we must tuck them away, otherwise we can be paralysed.
I crawled into bed the other night and worried I might slip into another sleepless night such as I endured the week before, the first time in my life I can remember when beyond waking up around midnight after an hour’s sleep I could not get back to sleep for the rest of the night.
My thoughts ticked over and over in that cruel restless way when you find yourself thinking about something that’s not too loaded, say about the movie I had watched that evening or plans for the next day, and in the next breath, I should be asleep but find I’m still thinking.
Stop thinking, I told myself. Don’t entertain such thoughts, even the non-stressful ones. You should be slipping into sleep. Why are you caught up in thoughts?
In time, it was not just the thoughts but my thoughts about the thoughts that kept assailing me, as if I was driving a car and shifting gears too often. The ride became uncomfortable and the more often I jerked myself awake, abandoning one thought for another, I became even more awake, even as my eyes felt like beads of pain. Then still another thought took over.
I tried breathing techniques, the inbreath for four seconds, holding for seven and then the long slow outbreath for eight seconds, again and again. As I breathed I had no thoughts and I hoped after a series of such calculated breaths I might slip away, but again and again I reverted to consciousness and things grew worse.
Not only was I now thinking relentlessly about the next day when I would tell people about my restless night, the next day when I would write down the experience, the next day when I would be able to get beyond this endless night, I found myself moving my fingers in conjunction with each thought, as if I was transcribing my thoughts onto the computer and my fingers moved in rhythm with my mind. I tried to still them. To stop thinking thoughts and then writing them down in my head. I sprayed the room with lavender. The stuff I use to settle my nerves when it’s time for sleep.
Twice with the lavender, and endless times those breathing exercises and all to no avail. When I heard the first tram at five am, I imagined if I could get to sleep then I would at least manage a few hours and survive the day ahead. I wondered whether I was being punished for two days earlier when I was unwell and stayed in bed all day, reading my book. I thought of the book, Maggie about the priests who abused this young woman and my rage towards them. I thought about the priests in my life, my admiration of them when they were more god-like than God.
When I heard that George Pell had died I felt nothing. Even as here was a man whom I consider the core of the problem. His conservatism and hypocrisy.
I have heard through backchannels from people who knew him, despite his staunch religiosity, he could be exploitative of young men and boys. He typified the priesthood. The things that kept me awake that night have not gone away. The things of life.
When I die, will we leave such a mess for our children that they too will split and divide in much the way my own siblings have done? My own siblings whom I once loved as a mother loves her children. Only now such distance has crept in I feel towards them as towards George Pell, a cold distance, especially towards my brothers.
Our connections lie in the past. They do not exist in the now. When we get together my sisters want to talk about the now. But we have little in common now. Only in the past can I find a connection to them and then when we do, I want to spend time together.
Back in the past as it was with my poncho. Only when we give such things away, like my poncho, like memories of how it was, we lose connections that are hard to revive in the moment that is now.
I cannot bring my affection back any more than I will ever find my poncho and from now I can only hold to the memories until they too slip away.