Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sliding backwards

Not long after she was handed her driving license my mother took out her new second hand car, a pea soup green Farina that was shaped like a woman, all curves and narrow fenders.

On the Saturdays on which my mother was rostered to work as a child care officer at Allambie, she drove to and from her workplace with her four youngest children in tow.   I was ten and the oldest of the four.
My mother took the car key with her into work and warned us not to lock the car should we decide to go for a walk or leave for any other reason.  Otherwise we would not be able to get back inside the car until her return at five o’clock.  We were not to interrupt her at work.
Those days were long.  My mother parked her car on Elgar Road not far from the Wattle Park.  We killed time by walking to the park and mucking around on the no longer functional tram that had been installed as part of the children’s play equipment.  

Back inside the car in the middle of the day we ate the jam sandwiches we had brought from home.  We doled them out slowly so as to have something to do and also to keep our hunger at bay.  We spent the late afternoon dozing and reading books in the fuggy warmth of my mother’s car.  Nine to five, so many hours to fill for four small children alone in a green Farina.
On the way home I sat in the front seat.  I helped my mother to drive by anticipating her need to turn corners.  It must have annoyed her when I insisted on clicking on and off the indicator light whenever she turned to right or left, but she did not protest.
My mother was a nervous driver and often stalled at lights. Worse still, her green Farina had sloppy brakes. We sat at the top of the hill at the intersection of Mont Albert and Balwyn Roads and waited for the car’s inevitable slow slide back, even with the hand brake raised.  I hoped the lights might change soon before the car hit anyone behind us.  

In the nick of time my mother re-engaged the gears and we shot ahead spared the humiliation of a collision.

My mother had a serious accident within a year of getting her license, serious as far as her Farina was concerned.  She gave up driving then, too terrified to get back behind a steering wheel.  With no one to encourage her, my mother lost her opportunity.
She told us years later that she had wanted to learn to drive again but by then my father was against it.  He was dependent on her company.  ‘If she gets her license,’ he said,  ‘she’ll never stay at home.’  He preferred to act as her driver instead and so my mother became a kept woman once more.

We’re slipping back into the past in this country with a conservative government at the helm.  There’s only one woman in the ministry among all those men, all dressed in dark suits, including the one woman.  We have a new title for our Immigration Department that includes the words ‘border protection’ – it seems once again we need to protect our borders.  And now we have no ministry for science, or for aging, disability or mental health, all those areas in which vulnerable people need assistance. 

We have slipped back into the one dimensional world of white Anglo Saxon, homophobic times and it terrifies me.  My only hope is this is cyclical and the slide backwards will not continue. 

I wrote a letter to a friend but did not send it.  I did not send it because I did not want to revive a situation that is now over.  I did not send it in part because I cannot revive a friendship that is over.

And so my letter sits in its envelope unopened, sealed forevermore, so many words unread, so many thoughts unshared. 

My letter will go where all the other letters-not-sent go.

There must be many such letters written by people in the heat of a moment, written with the intention of communicating to another, but lost through a change of heart.  
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