Ten weeks after the car accident, it’s a grey, wet and windy pre-spring Melbourne day. Without a car , I would arrive very windblown and soggy-bottomed if I had to be somewhere today. One of my favourite quotes was made by comedian Billy Connelly, who observed that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Looking out the window, I thought “Dayum, I haven’t got a Driza-bone”, which is an iconic Australian oilskin coat. I’ve acquired a couple of pairs of comfortable walking shoes, a shopping jeep in which to haul home the 15L bag of kitty litter, and have backpack will travel. I always thought it would be fun to do the backpacking thing when I was younger, so that chook has come home to roost in a quirky way.
Being catapulted back into the lifestyle of the carless, I have enjoyed the reconnecting with the relationship between my body, clothes, the community in which I dwell, and the Elements. Been a long time – a real long time since I’ve not had my own vehicle and been reliant on my feet to get me places. Once I got my driver’s licence in 1979 and first car, a Hillman Hunter station wagon my father bought for me that was barely roadworthy, I stopped walking and could venture further afield. Go to places off the beaten public transport track and not be limited by timetables, or inconvenienced by strikes.
In the week before I survived the roadtrauma, I was frustrated with a lot of things and sent up the prayer, “Remove all the obstacles from my path , or take me out of the game”.
A few hours before the fateful collison, I had been around at the Library blogging. When I left the Library, an amazing – and unusual – seafog had descended over the suburb. I love fog. I drove around to the beach, parked the car, and walked out on the sand. Awed by the banks of rolling cloud floating just above the water. The beach was deserted and it was so beautiful and silent.
I remembered the last time I saw a seafog like that. It was the last day of a retreat-like holiday I took to the small coastal village of Robe in South Australia in 2000, which was a profoundly lifechanging year. The seafog rolled in and as I walked along the main street with its quaint 19th century architecture, I thought “It’s bloody Brigadoon!” and laughed.
Eleven years later, ten weeks ago, I stood on the beach marvelling at the life around me and thought “It’s a good day to die’. Less than four hours later, as I faced the inevitability that my car was going to hit a brick wall, I felt nothing other than interest in what was about to transpire.
I had been warned that a major car accident was coming down the pike and that it wouldn’t be my fault ~ and it wasn’t. I had known for months before the event, I simply asked that I not see it coming. Not know when or where or how. The day before the accident, I had to brake swiftly to avoid a collision with a car driven by a man wearing a hat, a dog sitting next to him, who blithely failed to give way to me, and sailed through the intersection. Didn’t even look. I watched this car drive away, wondering if my eyes were cheating me, if that car was real or a fetch giving me the heads-up.
I have dwelled in this area for five-and-a-half years now and am familiar with the local driving habits, the reckless driving, the failure to pay attention. In 32 years I’ve never had an accident, had always been a conscious driver able to read the traffic conditions, and not get caught up in the collective aggro and rush-rush. From the first day I sat in the driveway of the Hillman Hunter, as the engine warmed up, I was intensely aware of the responsibility of being a driver, and being on the road. That I could be killed, or kill others if I didn’t pay attention. Didn’t keep my wits about me. I suppose you could say I received a ‘divine download’ that day for the sense of clarity I felt before driving off, has never left me. The awareness that a moment’s inattention on my part could have detrimental ramifications on the life of another.
The severe bruising to my left breast and pectoral region from the seat-belt has faded. My wounded knee, which hit the underside of the dashboard, no longer hurts and I have also lost my fear of having a panic attack on public transport. Which isn’t to say I don’t have moments of anxiety, I do. After 25 years of avoiding the whole public transport deal, it’s a totally new experience again and enormously liberating.
The attachment to my car was the obstacle. The concerns surrounding meeting the on-road costs: insurance, registration, maintenance, petrol were weighing me down. As long as I still had my car, I had no reason to use buses or trains and my fear of having a panic attack went unchallenged. The strategies I had developed for coping with a panic attack remained untested in the last arena, for reasons that I became aware of in the weeks immediately after the accident.
I had stopped using public transport in the mid-80s after being tired of being verbally assaulted by drunken and belligerent fellow passengers, all of them men. I became scared of men and their capacity for random acts of violence. A few years later I would develop Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia, but I had ceased using public transport for another reason, that isn’t that irrational. I’m a woman. Men are physically bigger and stronger and, when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, unpredictable.
I used to be a barmaid when I was 18-20. Worked in some pretty rough pubs in Melbourne and New Zealand surrounded by violent outbursts, wiping the blood off the walls after the regular Friday/Saturday night stoushes. I loved working as barmaid. Wouldn’t be the first time, not the last, that I would love something that was not good for me.
I can choose to view the loss of my car in the negative, or I can choose to interpret the evidence of the last ten weeks that it hasn’t been a negative loss, rather a necessary shedding of an attachment that was holding me back. Adapt and overcome. Been a lot easier than I thought it would be. Been a lot of fun actually. I remembered how much I loved riding on trains, all the books I read commuting to work, and looking out the window at the passing scenery.
There’s a view across the suburban treetops to Mount Dandenong from the train as it passes over a high bridge that is breathtakingly beautiful. The holy mountain of William Ricketts. I recall the author J.K. Rowling saying that she received the inspiration for the Harry Potter books while riding on a train…..and that is an encouraging thought.
All the obstacles have been removed in so many uncountable ways.
Navigating The Best of Times, The Worst of Times: Part I and Part II ~ Blue Light Lady