Every night before I turn the light out I read. Lately I have been rereading a book which was given to Jesi, a memoir written by Rita Zoey Chin. On the title page Rita has written a special message to Jesi which distinguishes it from my copy of Let the Tornado Come. Her writing is wobbly as she pretends to be Claret, her horse, whom Jesi loved.
Jesi met Rita when, after I had been a student in one of her writing classes about five time over, I told her that Jesi was learning to ride and loved horses, and “Would it be ok if I bought Jesi to the stable to meet Claret.” Rita beamed.
Rita already loved Jesi from my meager attempts at writing the story of her illness and wanted to meet her as much as I wanted Jesi to meet Rita, and of course, Claret.
As I prop the book up in bed, I put a picture of Jesi between me and the book. Jesi looks straight into my eyes.
Sometimes when I finish reading I don’t close the book for a while. Instead I look into Jesi’s brown eyes and tell her how much I miss her. One night tears spill out of the corners of my eyes and I ask Jesi for a sign that she is still with me. I always want a sign, and I often wish for one, but I feel more desperate that night. “I really need one, Jesi” I whisper. “Would you come to me in a dream?” Then I close the book and turn off the light.
I do not sleep well that night. The birds, chirping their vibrant dawning songs, wake me. It is 4.30am and I am in Queensland in the north east of Australia. My mum and I are staying in a small apartment. It resembles a demountable; one of the temporary classrooms I have often seen in school yards. There is a kitchette, a living space, a bathroom and a couple of bedrooms. French doors lead onto a verandah where we eat our breakfast at an old wooden table, or sit and read watching the tips of the eucalyptus trees sway in the breeze while we drink in the peace of country Australia. We leave the doors and the windows open overnight, the screens closed to keep out the bugs.
I lie in bed determined to get back to sleep. I have not had the dream I want. For an hour I lie motionless with my eyes closed. I sense them move back and forth beneath my eyelids and finally I doze. A kaleidoscope of color, violet and indigo and scarlet pass across the screen of my mind. Suddenly a butterfly, vivid blue and black flutters along a tall stone wall. I know the butterfly is Jesi and I immediately a strange feeling of contentment pass through me, something inside my body is settling to rest.
Later that morning I am walking around a brick wall of our hostess’s house when I am startled by a large black butterfly darting out in front of me. It was the first butterfly I had seen since I had arrived in Australia two weeks earlier.
The following day I am back in Sydney. It is one of those cloudy mornings and I am making my way up and back in a 50 meter swimming pool. My mind drifts as I watch the black tiles on the bottom of the pool, the line which guides me forward, extending as far as I can see.
My stay in my homeland is coming to an end and once again I will be leaving my mother to go home to my children. I think about Jesi, how difficult goodbyes have become since our final farewell; how fragile and unpredictable life is. I wonder about my own life, it stretching before me before me as I grow older. I had imagined Jesi would be there, guiding me as we explored my homeland together, her driving, knowing where we were and where we were going, whilst I sat in the passenger seat trying to keep up as the road signs speed by. How she would find us a small apartment in the bush or by the ocean to stay in, where we would wake up to hear the birds chirping and the blowflies buzzing and the cicadas singing, just as I had done for my mum for our few days in Queensland.
Then I remembered that Jesi was gone, that I would never have those adventures with her, that her love of my homeland would never manifest in our journeying together.
Even though it is eighteen months since she has been gone, sometimes I still forget that our goodbye was forever, and it will only be in the next life that I will see her again.
Swimming in the pool that cloudy morning, the tears form under my goggles and my cries muffle with my bubbles. Yet because there is nothing else to be done, I keep stroking left then right then left again, making my way along that steady black line to the end of the pool which I cannot see.