Returning home to start overGWYNETH HYNDMAN
It all started with an envelope that landed at my feet, seal-side up, as I was carrying out the recycling four weeks ago. I glanced down, paused, and picked it up because of the staggered, pencilled, instructions down the side, in serial killer handwriting: '' use victim's body to weight the anchor.''
It was my own handwriting, actually, and I had to think hard about why I would be taking notes on an envelope about a victim or a body or why I would need either to weight an anchor.
I had given myself four days to shrink and then stuff more than a decade of my life in New Zealand - the last two years in Southland; the past seven months in a crib in Omaui- into an empty tramping pack that now leaned against the bed, waiting, as the waves thundered onto the beach below and polar wind blasts shook the uninsulated walls.
Within a week, this pack would be spilled open on the floor of my childhood bedroom in California under the hum of a fan, in the middle of a heat wave, with windows that looked out to an alfalfa field.
You don't think much of it when you fold these bits of paper up and stuffed them away year after year, but they build up.
And I'm 35, which plenty of time to collect.
Of all these possessions, it was these little memory triggers - which seemed weightless at the time, and had individually fit easily into a back pocket, or slid innocently into a clear plastic folder with the electricity bills - that collectively, had become heavy.
And it turns out there is only so much space and weight - both metaphorically and in the Air New Zealand 23kg checked baggage allowance - that I could carry with me from one side of the equator to the other.
Through an opened sliding glass door that morning, I could hear the sea and the birds as they fed from sugar-water in an upside-down wine bottle in the front yard.
I had loved this place like crazy - the pulling open of the curtains in the mornings to see the ocean; my brown, velvety 1930s-style chaise lounge in my bedroom that I had dragged around to face a window that opened to the bush outside; the scratched up Doobie Brothers, Tears for Fears, Sade, Pink Floyd albums - my growing Invercargill op shop vinyl collection - that I played in the evenings; the hospital blanket I wrapped myself in, to watch the stars, with lime-laced rum and coke, from a canvas chair on the deck on the nights I couldn't sleep.
These are all possessions that are tough to release.
And this didn't include trinkets from other places in the south I had grown attached to.
The azul-stripped cowboy boots I wore nearly every day when I worked at the Clutha Leader, before they got wrecked in the Milton floods.
Layers of sand-smooth glass, ceramic pieces and shells from the old Kaka Point landfill that had been exposed, after years of erosion, to the ocean's beatings - now placed in a jam jar by the kitchen sink.
The necklace made from pieces of a Speights beer bottle fished out of the Wakatipu.
The framed black and white photo of all the children in Clinton standing around the pool, and looking solemnly up at the photographer, a generation before it became the town tip.
Deciding what should stay and what should go is both awful and freeing.
I won't go into detail on which things got packed, set fire to, flung somewhere symbolically, given to Hospice Southland or placed tenderly in the back seat of my sold Toyota Starlet with the spare key and upholstery wipes for the Starlet's new owner (I felt the cowboy boots needed more road time before full retirement), but I can confirm the folded envelope with obscure instructions about using a victim's body weight for some kind of anchor did actually make it into the pack.
Because after turning the envelope around and squinting, I could finally make out words like ice axe, carabiner, and munter mule combination hitch knot, and I remembered.
These were notes on a crevasse rescue training I had tagged along to with co-workers, years ago, while working in a kitchen at an outdoor centre.
I had been wearing an apron splattered with cake batter at the time - an apron that must have had an envelope and a pencil in the front pocket - while fumbling around with ropes and harnesses in the sun, ''using the full weight of the victim as an anchor'', as instructed, while the cake cooled on the kitchen counter inside.
I had kept that envelope because it had been one afternoon in a long, beautiful summer of afternoons just like that one.
It was a summer when I learned that part of the freedom of being over 18 was that I was actually allowed to say yes to the things that fulfilled me and brought me joy and rest; just as I was equally allowed to say no to whatever sucked the life out of me, then left me there, depleted.
If it took a folded envelope to get me to sit down and remember how to do that before I left Omaui, then it was coming back with me to California - within a 23 kg checked baggage allowance, I think that's a memory trigger that's worth its weight.
And now in the August heat of an inland California summer, Omaui - and all that frenzied packing at the end of a wintry June in the southern hemisphere - seems far away. Everything that I have with me, or don't have with me, has been the result of clear decision.
I have chosen everything that that is coming with me from this point on. It's been done.
My pack's contents are tidied up, shoved back in, or stored in the trunk of the Subaru my dad has loaned me until I sort out what is next for me (not boot - one of the thousand words I have to readjust to an American context again) and of course I wonder if I have done the right thing by coming back to the town I happily left at 18, returning now without a career strategy, and in the middle of a recession that, at least from where I am, doesn't appear to be ending.
I am miles from the ocean in this ranching-turned-winemaking landscape.
I wake up to the sound of ground doves and sprinklers turning on, and go to sleep listening to crickets and the muffled late night news from the kitchen.
I spend my days doing job applications, writing, going for long bike rides, and reading the paper while drinking bad coffee at a diner, two doors down from a gunshop, and wondering if I will still be doing this a month from now.
We shall see....
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