Unfinished Business

I’m guessing I was around 12 years old when I said it. My parents in the front seat of my Dad’s car, me in the middle of the back seat, leaning forward with my arms rested on the backs of their seats. I can’t remember what prompted the announcement but I can remember the silence that followed.

“I was born in Renmark, I’m going to live in Renmark, and I’m going to die in Renmark.”

I’m not sure if that was what prompted the suggestion of boarding school but I certainly think it played a part in the decision.

That was the beginning of my unfinished business.

Life changed dramatically for me from the moment I set foot in the gates of my all girl’s city school. My realization that not everyone went skating at the rec centre on Friday nights, or dreamed of a new pair of desert boots to go with their Lee jeans. I met girls from farms who drove 12kms just to reach their letterbox. Girls whose family names I recognized from the side of trucks and billboards, and girls from overseas who talked of lives in countries that I’d never noticed on a globe.

By the time I’d finished school my thoughts were of working and share houses with friends. I drove home once a month and was that annoying kid from the city who felt the need to share that the local radio was shit and the latest television series two years behind. “Molly’s still alive? Oh god this is soooo old!”

But as time went by I couldn’t help feeling that I needed to go back. I hadn’t lived there as an adult. And there’s a difference between filling in for the netball team on the weekend and fronting up week after week. What was it like to work in an office full time rather than stuffing envelopes for a few days for extra cash? What would life be like if I met someone, settled?Could I live there forever? I felt like I had unfinished business with my hometown.

A three year stint in Renmark answered all of those questions. It takes a certain sort of person to survive in a small country town. A good person. A person who knows when to shut up, how to balance being involved without being intrusive. Someone who can socialize with a group on the weekend and run a business during the week without getting under anyone’s skin. I’m not that person. A wise man who’d ran a very successful  business in the country once told me “make your words soft and sweet just incase you have to eat them.” It’s hard to do that full-time. In the country you never escape, Sue from the Post Office is going to be at the Football club on Saturday night so think twice before you complain about how long you’ve been standing in line. Remember that fight you had with Jackie Smith in Grade 5? She’s now deciding who gets an appointment at the doctors surgery that day. Good luck with that.

I float in and out of Renmark now, a privilege that most of us with unfinished business don’t get to enjoy.

Years ago on a trip home for Christmas G and I received a phone call, we would be leaving Libya and moving to Canada. I never went back. G’s work wanted him to go to London for a month and we had 3 children under 4, I decided to stay with my parents while G packed up the house and said his farewells. I never said goodbye to our friends. There was no last trip to the airport, no farewell drinks, we were just the family that left for a three week break and never came back again.

A week before I’d left for the Christmas break my friend Sam and I had walked through the Medina in Tripoli’s Green Square. A square that I would see televised 7 years later, Gaddafi sharing his undecipherable and scrambled thoughts with the masses. As we’d wandered through the ancient Medina with a familiar smell of shisha, I’d noticed a set of silver salt and pepper shakers but didn’t have any cash. “I’ll come back and get those next month” I said, thinking I’d be in Tripoli for at least another two or three years.

When the shipment arrived in Canada seven months later, I stood in my kitchen in Calgary unwrapping glass after glass, plate after plate. Surrounded by boxes and crumpled wrapping paper. “What’s thi..” I said as I began to unwrap an odd shape. There they were, my salt and paper shakers. In that moment I was transported in time, I was no longer in my suburban house on the cul-de-sac, I was back in the Medina with Sam standing next to me while a man in white nodded in agreement that I’d be back to pick them up later. As my lip quivered and tears began to fall G explained that Sam had arrived at the house with them before he left “she said she was pretty sure you’d want these.”

I have unfinished business in Libya.

My mother told me once that she thought it may have been easier if I hadn’t have gone away to school. I’d always thought they had felt they’d provided me with a huge opportunity so I was shocked by her comment.

“Why? Why would it be easier?”

“Well, you might be a little bit more like us.”

We both laughed at how outrageous her statement sounded. She shook her head immediately, “no, no, no I don’t mean you’re not like us, but maybe if you hadn’t seen all of that, or been a part of it, it would have been different.”

I knew what she meant. I thought back to that girl, the one who was born, lived and was going to die in Renmark. That girl was gone. That girl now sits with her husband and dreams about another stint in Asia, wonders whether once the kids are grown if they could do a couple of years in London, and has her husband on a promise that they will live in New York for at least six months. She has pieces of her heart scattered all over the world with friends who visit her in her thoughts on a daily basis. She dreams about visiting them just one more time.

She has unfinished business.

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