Entering through the open doorway of ‘Rosedale’, Grace should have felt light like a bride from days gone by, being happily carried over the threshold into her new life. The difference was she was 57 years old and her soul was heavy. Her new life was a move from the city to a property in a small country town.
It had been their longtime dream and although her husband could still lift her trim body she didn’t want him to risk any back injuries. This time the wheelchair would suffice.
Under normal circumstances this move would have been right on many levels. Sloughing off the heaviness of city living – the demands of work, endless traffic lights, the white noise created by a multitude of vehicles and the weight of air shared by an ever-growing population. Grace had dreamed of her tree change as a way of experiencing simplicity in her life, of living with a low environmental impact and as a time for reconnection with her spiritual, natural self. Had the accident altered all these ideals?
Grace had tried to maintain a façade of coping after she left hospital. She was constantly aiming to prove that she would not be beaten by her injuries, yet deep inside her was the dark constancy of anxiety about the future and the outcome of her rehabilitation. Life just felt heavy and each day was a struggle to stay positive. Grace was desperately searching for a lightness of being, the chance to heal and reclaim her life, even with its new limitations.
Over the past five years before the accident, Grace and her family had enjoyed the monthly respites from the city at their country cottage, ‘Rosedale’. With its beautiful open gardens and towering trees, the peaceful surroundings were relaxing. As the family gathered together, Grace often noticed the strengthening of the bonds among her adult children.
Since the accident, all that had changed. ‘Rosedale’ had been left empty and life had been exhausting and weighed heavily on her soul. Without warning, her passion for life had all but been stolen from her by a mob of roos.
Grace was a country girl at heart and accustomed to hearing, “City drivers, they don’t know how to cope with country roads”, but the accident proved that wasn’t completely true. Growing up on a farm and driving the ute as soon as she could reach the clutch and brakes was a normal part of Grace’s childhood. She was an experienced country driver and thought nothing about the weekly city-to-farm journey as a uni student.
How many times had she rehearsed and visualised this ‘roo on the road’ scenario in her head to placate her father? She could hear her father’s voice saying over and over again,“Don’t swerve, keep the wheel straight.” Nothing ever happened and maybe over time complacency had set in.
Over the years, Grace had driven to the cottage on a regular basis and rarely saw any roos. Based on his grandfather’s advice, Grace’s son had placed an axe in the back of the car for her just in case she ever needed to finish off an injured animal. “You never know Mum, Grandad could be right. You can’t leave an injured roo to suffer.” All their good advice was reduced to nothing when faced with the reality. She was the injured animal left to suffer.
Dusk was approaching and the roos were stationed in the middle of the road. As Grace came around the bend, there was no time to brake. As she approached, the mob turned and safely reached the side of the road, except for a lone individual who remained transfixed by the car lights. As her vehicle and the animal’s body connected, Grace remembered hearing a thudding noise. The next sound was the smashing of glass and the crunching of metal as her car ploughed into a large eucalypt with the roo carcass wedged across the windscreen.
A passing motorist found her car five hours later and called for help. The ambos said Grace was lucky to be alive. She didn’t feel lucky.
Since the accident, time had passed in a fog. Grace’s broken legs required orthopaedic surgery to insert metal rods into the femurs. One compound fracture was a challenge, but two increased the risk of infection and blood clots. In addition her broken ribs reduced Grace’s breathing to shallow gasps. Vanity went out the window and Grace chose not to look in the mirror at her facial scar tissue.
Grace’s husband and family had never wavered in their efforts to make life feel and appear as positive as possible. The country community had rallied around and sent messages of love and support and occasionally surprised her with unexpected visits when they were in the city. But always the same question ended their visits: “When are you coming back to Rosedale?”
She longed to be going to ‘Rosedale’ for the weekend but with endless medical appointments and physiotherapy sessions, insurance claims and house adjustments to temporarily cater for a wheelchair, time was all but eaten up with getting through the darkness. Despite everyone’s best efforts and intentions, Grace felt her life was defined by ‘after the accident’.
Dwelling on the crash had caused both regret and gratitude in Grace’s soul. She was thankful that she was the sole occupant in the car and no family members had been free to join her that weekend. But the worry about coping with the future limitations from the impact injuries played out constantly in her mind. She felt it was time to face change and find a lightness of being, to move from dark to light. Maybe that was where new life could start, by replacing ‘after the accident’ with ‘when we moved to Rosedale’. It was time to believe in the future and face the challenges ahead.
‘Rosedale’ had suffered after the accident, too. The signs of neglect were all-pervasive.
The garden had become overgrown and nothing remained of the kitchen vegie patch, while the fruit trees were stripped bare by parrots.
Paint was peeling from the weathered windowsills. Wasps’ nests and cobwebs occupied most of the corners and crevices on the long verandahs. Swallows had nested uninterrupted in the eaves and their droppings formed a white trail down the walls onto the verandah boards. Rain had formed grooves in the gravel driveway as the water overflowed from gutters blocked with branches, leaves and bark from the towering karri trees. A milky layer of salty sea mist coated the paned windows.
Inside, musty smells pervaded the air and a film of dust rested on the still-made beds. Out-of-date cereal and pasta resided patiently in the pantry waiting to be eaten and the mould from the un-emptied teapot had died from lack of moisture.
Daddy-long-legs spiders and skinks had taken up residence, and the drawn curtains shut out any chance of light.
Crossing the threshold it all seemed overwhelming but as the door closed and Grace was wheeled into the dusty hallway, she felt a sense of excitement building. Was this the new beginning? This reclaiming her life was a challenge, something that would take her mind away from the daily strengthening exercises and the restless nights as she reduced the dosage of painkillers. Just maybe she could restore ‘Rosedale’ back to its former glory, create new memories and redefine her life.
Grace realised that following her accident, she had become completely self-absorbed and unable to see that others around her were facing their own personal struggles. She had almost overlooked the fact that her old cattle dog, Bob was also facing a challenge. In his case, rehab wouldn’t make a difference.
Old Bob was in darkness. In the six months since the accident, the progressive retinal atrophy had taken more of his sight. He was coping with limitations, too. Until the familiar smells revived his memory, Bob would have to relearn some of the pathways to get through the garden and find his water bowl.
Grace realised that she and Bob were on this coping journey together … only he would never physically recover. Bob would need to experience lightness in the joy of walking along the beach or from the smells on the bush tracks.
This faithful companion had constantly lain beside Grace’s bed after the accident and repeatedly licked her hand for reassurance. Bob’s loyalty and attention had never waned as though he could predict that one day, life would be light again for his owner. She felt a sense of guilt that her recovery had taken all the focus. Was this what people mean when they say they have come out the other side.
Weeks later, as her husband pushed the wheelchair across the bridge into town to go to the annual January market, Grace realised that the heaviness of life was beginning to lift. The tourists, the wannabe hippies and the ecowarriors all mingled together in a melting pot of humanity. Pottery, hand-made jewellery, knitted beanies, natural body products, spray-free fruit, chai tea and an endless choice of spicy, cooked foods joined with the smell of incense.
Never before had Grace imagined the feeling of being pushed through a crowd in a wheelchair. Guiltily she noticed a disabled child experiencing the same mode of transport, a lady with a walking frame, a young woman walking with the aid of two sticks and another limping along dragging one leg. She was not the only one dealing with life’s challenges. Effortlessly the market crowd accommodated the pace and space they all needed to cope with their disabilities. Grace began to sense that life would be okay. Her challenges and suffering provided an opportunity for her to understand and help others.
The sound of a gong filled the air, clashing with the drone of a lone bagpiper and the background lyrics of a local rock band singing, “It feels like home here with my honey”. Was it speaking to her? It did feel like home and it was great to be back at ‘Rosedale’ – this time to stay.
Grace realised she could let the lightness of being take over her soul again and embrace all that life and living in a small country town had to offer. The bowling club was designed to cater for people with access needs. Books in a library didn’t discriminate against the physical mobility of the reader.
Walks or being pushed up the gravel bush tracks with the dog would be a union of two creatures seeking the light in different ways. Grace’s passion for gardening could still happen with the visualisation of ideas, and support with the strenuous, physical tasks. It felt like the fog was lifting. The community had welcomed her return. Baskets of fruit appeared at the side verandah door from everyone’s bumper apricot crop. Eggs from the neighbour’s hens made quiches of a rich golden color. Drinks began at sunset on the deck overlooking the garden and laughter filled the air.
As Grace moved to the music at a local winery, she began to believe her dancing days were not as far away as they’d once seemed. Snuggled in blankets under the stars, the community came together to watch movies and the passion about local issues punctuated discussion. The emotions were open and honest and Grace felt embraced in the biggest hug ever. Her heart felt as light as a feather and her body and mind were beginning to heal.
Grace knew that city medical trips would always be a reality but she realised that this small country community was where she wanted to stay. After closing the door of darkness she had accepted that until you have known dark, you are unable to fully appreciate light.
Grace was ready to embrace the challenge to live life with a lightness of being.
MiNDFOOD Short Story author
Louise is a primary school teacher and mother of four adults. She lives in a small country town in the Great Southern of Western Australia with her husband and two dogs. She can nearly always be found in her garden tending to the vegetables, fruit trees and roses. Louise’s writing is an expression of her lifestyle, which is a passion for living sustainably and as organically as possible. Her stories are based on some of her many life experiences.