Back in Johannesburg everything started to speed up Vaughn’s spreadsheet of things to be done was getting shorter. I tried bargaining with God. I promised all sorts of good behaviour and charitable works, if only He would send some miracle to keep us in South Africa with our family.
The predetermined date approached, and still no insurmountable obstacles blocked The Plan. In fact, everything dovetailed into place so smoothly, it would have been perverse not to see those things as signs. Vaughn was offered the first job he applied for. Our house sold the first day it went on to the market, for more than we had budgeted. And still I clung to the dream that we wouldn’t really go.
The week of Vaughn’s departure arrived. The arrangement was that he would go three months ahead of me in order to sort out his job and accommodation. I would stay in Johannesburg and finalise the packing, the cancellations and the money.
Everything started to take on an awful air of reality as I watched Vaughn saying goodbye to all the family. I felt his daughters’ pain as they hugged their father for the last time until heaven knew when. I felt his sorrow as he hugged our grandchildren, knowing Matthew and Caitlin would not remember him when they next met up.
I left him at the airport, in the drop-off zone. I didn’t even go in with him. We’d had too many family goodbyes to face another one. That hollow feeling as you sit at a grubby airport table forcing down an overpriced lukewarm coffee and struggle to find something cheery to say.
So different from the excitement you feel when you come to pick someone up, especially family you haven’t seen for a while. I always get to the airport far too soon, just in case the plane is early, which it never is. Sometimes we’ll have a drink to pass the time, but I usually drink mine too quickly, and then need to go to the bathroom but am too scared to go in case we miss them coming through. Which is silly, because our relatives always seem to be the last people through customs, and by the time they do emerge my eyes are red. I’ve shed many tears at the sight of everyone else’s emotional home-comings or granny-visits.
So Vaughn dragged his many suitcases into the airport terminal, and I drove home, thinking about anything but the situation I was in. The house still looked normal, as completion on the sale was six weeks away.
I thought I should probably start cleaning out the cupboards, and doing the second round of treasures to be thrown out. But first I went to the computer to play a quick game of Scrabble, my habitual form of procrastination. I hadn’t cooked, so I decided to have a slab of chocolate and a bottle of wine…
The rest of the time, I cooked healthy meals, but no matter how good the food was, there was something missing. Having never had to eat alone, I missed the social aspect of the meal. Even after the biggest meal, I kept wandering in and out of the kitchen all evening, looking for something, but never finding anything that satisfied.
I finished the second round of sorting, crying over old birthday cards that had to go out, but I couldn’t part with the children’s first pictures and schoolbooks. They went in round three. By that time I had grown a steel armour. I was still in denial and had switched off all emotions except the pleasure of spending time with the children and grandchildren.
Abi and Irwin had their second child, a beautiful boy, and I felt sad that Vaughn wasn’t around to welcome little Luke into the world. Not that deep sorrow that I would expect to feel. In fact, when I thought about it, I really felt angry with Vaughn. He could have been here. It was his choice.
I packed my suitcases with everything I would need for the next two months, and moved in with Abi and Irwin. The packers arrived at our house and worked through it all with great efficiency. Abi and I watched, she with more heartache than I.
Everything was packed, even things I had said must remain. Abi left her shoes by the front door, and they were packed. Naturally we weren’t about to let the baby out of our sight.
Eventually everything Vaughn and I owned was cardboard-bound and standing in the driveway. I didn’t think the packers could possibly get it all into the twenty foot container, but somehow they did. When they finished, there wasn’t even room to squeeze in a matchbox.
I felt nothing. It was just stuff. I could live without it all. Let it go to Australia. Abi saw it for the reality it was, but kept her tears bottled up inside herself.
I said good-bye to the house. It was just a shell. Part of the past. Must look forward.
But actually I lived entirely in the present for the next few weeks, in a state of anachronic myopia, unable to focus on the past or the future. I had a lovely time with my children and grandchildren, making the most of every second, and completely ignoring the fact that I would soon be on my way. It was a special time of closeness, during which I insulated myself by blocking out thoughts of the pain to come.
The children felt it though, and Nikki developed terrible headaches and had to be hospitalised two days before I left. No diagnosis was found, and I felt responsible. I thought it was the sign I had been looking for, that I shouldn’t leave. But somehow, I seemed to be on automatic pilot, heading for Australia. I managed to say good-bye to her, in her hospital bed. We both cried, but she was strong, so I was strong, and my body kept going on its way to the airport, but my heart stayed behind.
Many tears were shed the afternoon I left, but by the time I reached the airport I was back in my layer of insulation, focussing on the matter of getting through passport control and on to the right plane, almost as if it were happening to someone else. But as the plane took off and I watched the African land disappear behind clouds, sadness engulfed me and I cried until I finally fell exhausted into a restless and uncomfortable sleep.