Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On the weekend I was honoured to be asked to write and read a letter at the wonderful Women of Letters event at the Regal Ballroom in Northcote.
Joined by the hilarious Collette Mann, Margaret Roadknight, Dr Anne Summers by video, Tracey Spicer and Jacinta Parsons- we all had to pen a letter 'To our Cliffhanger Moment.' 
For those of you who couldn't make it, I thought I should put it on my blog.
I was the only one to use images (typical) along with my letter.


Dear Cliff,

Is it OK if I call you Cliff? I know that over the past few years I have referred to you by a number of names;

 ‘The moment I got my first grey hair’
 'The moment I started taking sugar in my tea.’
or,  affectionately ‘The moment that SHIT GOT REAL.’

And actually Cliff , when I come to think of it- there were many moments preceding you where I got a glimpse at your edge. In most cases, it was kind of like someone-else’s cliff- if you know what I mean- Cliff hanger by proxy- where the life changing moment happened to someone very close to me, close enough for me to feel the bold gust of wind that snagged their shirt and pushed them over your precipice- and each time I was well and truly shaken by it.

This poster reminds me of the first time.

It was when I was in about grade 3. My best friend’s older brother had it on his bedroom wall. He was much older than us, old enough to have a poster that had a swear word on it. Even though he was older, we used to tease him relentlessly about his acne, about how no-one liked him. We were cute and precocious and he was a moody, stinky teenager and a boy.
Then, one day he reached his cliff I guess and threw himself off it, to his death, in front of a train.

This was the first time I realised you could either hang on or let go.

Around the same time, we were really obsessed with Milo and Otis, the film about the ginger cat and the pug. Remember it?

 Did you know that they reportedly killed over 20 kittens in the filming of it? Literally threw them down a waterfall in a box.

They could never get away with that these days could they?

Anyway, I digress!

The next real moment came later, during art school, and was more of an existential one. I clearly remember feeling like I was on top of the world-

we were all in our early twenties, we had to chose at least 4 parties a weekend to attend, we lived on a nutritious diet of porridge, beer and paddlepops and we were on track to living the dream. Then, one art history lesson, my favourite lecturer stood before a packed auditorium of third year students and declared

‘ Only 3 of you in this room will actually become successful artists in your lifetime.’

I could almost hear a cacophony of cliffs cracking underfoot as people’s dreams were pushed over the edge by their doubts. I clearly remember thinking, ok, I’ll just deal with that one when the time comes, hopefully never.

Then, just after art school, I experienced, once again by proxy, perhaps the most literal of cliff hangers you could imagine.

My recent ex-boyfriend at the time, a notoriously free spirit, was spending his first New Year’s Eve without me since our break up. I was pretending like I couldn’t care less where he was or what he was doing, but of course, in reality I was sober and waiting for a phonecall.

It came on New years day, in the morning. He was unconscious and in intensive care. After partying all night at a music festival on the coast, just after sunrise he had taken a stroll with his dog along the cliffs, to see if there was a good spot for a refreshing dip. Ducking under the safety rail to get a better look, the edge crumbled and he fell 10 metres onto the sharp rocks below. His dog did a lassie and ran back to the campsite and alerted the others.
The cliff face was so sheer that the emergency services had to airlift him by helicopter- his limp, naked body swinging above the thousands of coming-down party goers, looking on in disbelief.

The doctors said that due to being so inebriated his body was relaxed when he hit the rocks and as a result there was no spinal damage or brain damage, just 3 broken ribs, a broken arm, leg and neckbrace.

But you came nearly 10 years later Cliff, my Cliff, on the morning of August 25th, 2010.

After spending most of the evening before up a scaffold painting a mural, then going to bed early and without dinner, my waters broke at about  3am.
Even though it was almost 4 weeks before my due date, I was pretty calm and oddly OK with it all. I’d been to calm birth classes, how bad could it be?
I was actually excited. 
That is until I saw the look on my obstetrician’s face when he sussed out the situation down there.
Put it this way, he called the anethetist before he explained it all to me, to save time.
It was a real emergency. The first one in my life, I remember thinking as they hooked me up to the machines and slide me on to the operating trolley.  The baby was what they call ‘footling breach.’

He had one arm up, one wrapped around his body, his head up, one leg kind of up and the other foot almost out my cervix.
All of a sudden, what had been a lush bucolic field of ideas of rhythmic breathing and holding hands with my partner through labour turned into a sheer, cold cliff face- to which I was hanging on with one terrifying word- EPIDURAL. Followed by C-SECTION.

‘But I don’t want a caesarian!’ I protested naively. To which the doctor replied 

‘Do you want a dead baby?’

I almost fainted a few times, first when they shaved off all my pubic hair, then again when I saw the giant needle, then again when they shoved the giant needle into my spine, mid contraction.
But the most terrifying moment came after all the cutting and the passing of implements and tugging and beeping machines and polite doctor chatter. It was the moment the baby was held up, his body bright blue, eyes closed.
I remember holding my breath and only finally gasping for air when my son did.

And then we were safe. My partner, my son and I. Huddled together, alive. On firm ground. A family.

And you, Cliff, were a fleeting moment that could have gone either way and you have indeed changed my life forever.

So thank you,

Love Me.

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