A small piece of normality in a broken city

VICKI ANDERSON
Last updated 13:08 01/07/2013

You are being ridiculous, I tell myself, no-one cares about it, it'll be gone.

My heart is pounding faster and faster as I walk through Cathedral Square.

Past the space where the Regent on Worcester movie theatre used to be, my legs are moving robotically.

The tram stop on the edge of Cathedral Square is covered in mesh.

Police cars are parked opposite the police kiosk.

The Christ Church Cathedral sits, gap-toothed, raw, broken, just as it did that fateful day.

As the cordon officially came down on Sunday, residents cheered and farewelled our cordon soldiers, forming a corridor and applauding our defence force as they marched down the boulevard.

This street has been open to walk through for some weeks but I have deliberately detoured, instead, down past Noah's Hotel, past a propped up Our City Otautahi building and down Gloucester Street to work.

Each day, at the Defence Force barricade on the corner of Gloucester and Colombo, I have offered a salute to a pink stuffed horse in a Corona jacket on the side of the army office.

On their arrival, a long time ago now, someone from the army told me the stuffed horse was their mascot. It brought a smile at a time when there was little to smile about.

The pink horse has weathered the storm and now it, like the Defence Force, will leave. I will miss it.

On Friday morning, the mood at this cordon post was joyful.

Through rain, snow and quakes they've been there. Their leaving their post, job done, is a positive sign that we're on the mend.

Today is the first time I have walked past Cathedral Square, now that the cordon is gone it seems fitting to do so, and I have a particular destination in mind.

Around me lone people loiter, cameras strung about their necks, eyes craned up at buildings in various states of rebuild.

Their eyes tell more of a story than any picture they will take. The pained expressions, the sorrow just at the surface. Strangers stop to say hello.

My destination is not a grand one but to me it means a lot.

Over two years ago, in someone else's house, with army choppers circling overhead, I promised myself that one day I would let myself cry.

Then, I had to stay strong for my four children. I had to be positive, upbeat, hopeful and not let my anxiety show.

Over two years ago, I promised myself that one day, when life wasn't so chaotic, there would be time to let the tears flow freely.

When Cathedral Square was opened again, I promised myself, I would go to this particular destination and cry until all the tears were gone.

In over two years I have cried often, after my children are asleep.

I cried alone, not letting my partner see my anxiety, after he was made redundant from his job and I, terrifyingly, became the sole provider for a family of six.

Turning the corner, this morning, past the Cathedral, it is still not immediately apparent that it is still there.

My heart beats faster in my chest. I feel tears welling. Maybe it has been removed?

It's a plain thing, nothing grand in the scheme of a whole cityscape.

But there it is, surrounded by workmen's parked cars, unscathed but for a touch of frost - my bench. For over 30 years, from a very small child, this bench has been my touchstone.

 Waiting for my mum outside The Press building, as a small girl I sat on  it and swung my legs, wishing my freckles would go away.

 In my teenage years, legs now too long to swing, I'd cry about boys  that didn't like me and read the black shiny plaques nearby, dedicated  to writers who had gone before, and dream that one day I, too, might  be considered worthy of a plaque there.

 I remember when the tree behind the bench was planted.

 Over the years that I grew, it grew too, and in the shadow of the  Cathedral it marked the changing seasons.

 For over 20 years, the bench was where I went to sit and think about  life. It was where I went to cry during life's curly moments.

 This morning I once again sat on my bench and cried quake tears I  didn't know I still had.

 The black plaques, dedicated to former Press writers are mostly  unseen, covered now in the debris of a broken city.

 Using the heel of my boot, I wipe away a good chunk of filth from one  and promise these writers I never knew that I will return, to clean  their memorials properly.

Despite everything, my little wooden bench, and the tree guarding it, have survived.

It's just a little thing that's not broken in a broken city, but this small piece of normality fills me with hope.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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