20 Years ago today, my father exited this life and my 12 year old self stood in the headmaster's office at that school that I wrote about a year ago and thought a million different thoughts as that fat, pink man with the bald head and piggy eyes delivered the news of my father's death. What did this mean? When was I going to go home? Would I have to come back? He's looking at me, looking for some sort of reaction. Why can't I feel anything? I should cry now - why can't I cry?
I don't remember much about what happened immediately afterwards but I do remember that people - the teachers - were suddenly being extremely kind to me. As if my father dying somehow erased all my "badness" and I was now just an ordinary 12-year old girl.
I vaguely remember my mom coming to fetch me sometime that afternoon and the school staff being super efficient and putting on the Caring spiel that generally convinced those parents who were bothered to be involved in their children's lives that this place was something other than it was.
The next few days were a bit of a blur. On the day of the funeral, I remember getting dressed in a black and white skirt and blouse suit with a zip down the front. I hated the way the zip made the front of the blouse balloon out so that it looked like I was hiding a ball in there or something. I remember my father's wife doing the bereaved widow bit and us not speaking to each other. I remember the blue plastic flowers someone had brought - the kind in one of those weird plastic domes - supposedly from my brother and me. And feeling a little bit insulted when we learned later that he was to be cremated. As if it hadn't anything to do with us.
The day of the funeral was the last day I set foot in my father's house.
A few years ago, I started thinking about going back there, to see if it was really the way I remembered it. To see if I still felt any connection.
And a few weeks ago, on a whim and having missed another appointment, I took a drive out there - past the townhouse complex where we'd lived before he'd bought the house. Past my old primary school, where I'd fought the bulk of the fist fights of my childhood against boys who didn't know what to make of this scrappy little slip of a girl who didn't give a crap about social niceties. Past the old park where my brother had played cricket, where our father had at one time spent hours making him sprint the length of the park and timed him. Where many of the neighbourhood's kids would congregate and germinate all kinds of mischief.
Past the shops where I'd shoplifed countless packets of cinnamon candy and chocolate bars. Past the yard where my father's house had stood and the massive blue gum tree in the front yard had cost me all my Saturdays, endlessly dropping its leaves all over the yard.
My father's house has been bulldozed and the giant tree removed. There's nothing there now but a pile of garden refuse mixed with what must be the remains of the house.
I'm not sure why I've started thinking about things that have been dormant for so long. Maybe because I never really allowed myself to think about them at the time, simply because I didn't know what to do with any of it. It was what it was, you know? I think, when you're 12, you just kind of go along with it because it's all out of your hands anyway. Other people are going to decide what happens to you - where you live, where you go to school, what you're going to wear to your father's funeral, which of his posessions you're going to be given to keep. You know, I didn't get a single memento? Not that I would have thought to ask for one, but still.
And now it's all these years later and it's too late. I guess it was too late even back then.