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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  1. I loved this entry, I can completely relate to your story, I also went to biarding school at 15 and never returned, my parents still regret their decision because I was never the same again. Curretly in Brasil as an expat and have unfinished business in many places in the form of friends and family that I will visit again one day. Thanks for sharing your unfinished business!!!

  2. This made me cry! Kirsty, your blog posts are amazing.

  3. At home in town says

    You know, Renmark is a warm, gentle place, not filled with the boring old bumpkins you portray us as. Not all of us feel the need to move away. Some of us actually like it here.

    • Wow! Is that what you got from that? I love Renmark, it will always be my home. I don’t think I’ve ever once said it was boring? My apologies if you feel I’ve portrayed you as an “old boring bumpkin” that was definitely not the intention. Thanks for the comment though.

    • I live there too it has a fairly simple place

    • Having worked with Kirsty long before she embarked on her expat experience, I can tell you that girl has such love in her heart for Renners and I have never heard her once make any criticism of the people or town she grew up in. Well, except about her wedding day – it was 43 degrees and not a fan to be seen in that church.

  4. Oh yes… my defining moment came early, when parents packed us up and move to Canada for two years, then we traveled 6 months home via Europe and Asia (back when it was safer!)

    I remember starting a new school in Perth for Year 5 and standing on the verandah looking at all the kids in the quad (waiting for a new friend to drop on my head I suppose..) and feeling infinitely older than the other year 5’s around me. From that point I think my path was to travel, and I’ve sure done so. I have the same unfinished business with Perth and still crave the opportunity to live there as an adult…

    PS I heart Renmark too, my step-dad has most family in Paringa and Renmark. I spent a summer fruit picking there after first year uni… riot. “At home in town” I’m sorry that you felt Kristy’s post was a knock against Renmark, I didn’t see it like that! Country towns worldwide are unique and amazing and not better or worse than any other place.

  5. Sometimes my parents marvel at their children flung to far corners of the earth, and their grandchildren growing up globetrotting. I always ask my mom, “What did you expect, moving us to Russia as teenagers? You’re the one who showed us the world was a big place, but we could make a home in any corner of it.”

  6. My upbringing didn’t really indicate that I’d wander, but I remember standing at the beach looking out at the North Sea when I was really little and feeling a huge longing – for something. I didn’t even hate where I grew up, so it wasn’t that I had to get away. I always knew I would live somewhere other than where I grew up though.
    Apparently when I was about 12, a friend of mine remembers me announcing that I was going to live in the States. I don’t remember this and actually had no desire to live there. Perhaps it was a premonition?
    Great post.

  7. Sarah Derrig says

    Love this post so much. My parents instilled the travel bug in my Sister and I from an early age and my parents pushed me into backpacking for a year around the world and then moving to London. They are now our biggest supporters in moving overseas and being expats even though they miss us (the 5 year old more like!) terribly. LOVE that your friend remembered the salt and pepper shakers, what a lovely thing to do x

  8. Alli @ ducks on the dam says

    Love your description of country town living. It is so true. A trip to the supermarket takes 3 times as long as it should because you see so many people you need to catch up with. I am still joining the dots 8 years in and trying to work out who fits with who. At the pool this afternoon a school friend walked in with another girl from school and it clicked that they were cousins. My girls looked at me as though I was STUPID – of course mum! She is cousins with everyone! There are times I wish I were anonymous – but I just go to another town for a day trip when I need that.
    I want my girls to dream big. I want them to settle here – at some stsge – but I want them to fly first xxx

  9. This post made me cry! I have just left the small town I grew up in after a few days there with my boys. All the little things I did as a kid and took for granted, were wonderfully exciting adventures for them. Growing up in Hong Kong their childhood couldn’t be more different than mine was, and I’m grateful for it. But at the same time I can’t help but want them to have just a little bit of what I had – I sometimes feel like I’m depriving them of something while trying to give them something else. And I’m also constantly reminded that my parents feel like they’re missing out too! I’m in Sydney right now and feel very much like I have unfinished business here too.

  10. Oh Kirsty, so nice. I have unfinished business too.

  11. How do you always make me cry! How do you know us girls from the quiet country backwaters so very, very well?

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