“Oh time moves on like a train, it disappears into the night sky…
Yeah I still get a sad feeling inside, to see the red taillights wave goodbye…”
The strains of “This Old Love” by Sydney’s Lior drifted by, almost unnoticed by India-Rose as she coasted along the freeway. I would’ve thought she wasn’t paying attention to the irony, but for the wry half-grin teasing the edge of her mouth.
“It’s going to be okay, Indie,” my empty attempt at encouragement smacked me in the face as it resounded from the dash in front. I knew there was little point saying anything, but she was my best mate. I had to try. Her heart was shattered into a million shards. This wasn’t anything a few well-meant words could fix. We were numb as two grommets in the winter surf without wetsuits. It all seemed like a dream…
India-Rose and I had been kicking around together in the dust of Sydney’s southwest suburbs since we were grommets. We did everything together. When I had something important going on, I could always count on her being there. The same was true in reverse; there was no way I’d miss this day, gut-wrenching painful as it was.
Indie’s mum was dead. Neither of us could believe it was real, even though we’d half been expecting it our whole lives. China-Rose, Indie’s mum, was a class “A” junkie. She was hooked on the works, but her greatest vice was H. Still, precarious as her life was, hanging out there on the edge of the real world, it was a shock that she was gone.
China had good and bad days. On her worst days, when she couldn’t get up off the floor, Indie couldn’t make it to school. Our school was right across the road from their house, but Indie couldn’t reach the lock on the door. She’d sit at home on the floor beside her mother’s near-lifeless body, eating stale cornflakes out of the box.
On a good day, China was the most exciting person in the world. She had this crazy, vivid imagination. She could play with us all day, never running out of ideas or getting tired. On those days we never felt like a burden. But on bad days, she ranted and raved and swore at anyone within a five-metre radius, like the world had it in for her. Honestly, sometimes I think it did.
China never had a hope of a good, “normal” life. Her parents were both alcoholics and physically violent. She learned to escape early into her own imaginary world. As soon as she was old enough, she was running away on adventures. By the time she was thirteen she’d tried H for the first time; when she was fourteen the cops brought her home after catching her with a couple of armed robbers. Indie’s Grandma decided it was time China got some discipline. She packed her off to an all-girl’s Catholic boarding school in another part of Sydney. It didn’t last long- she got expelled. Something to do with a boy, I think.
After Catholic school, Indie’s Grandma gave up hope of ever reforming her wayward daughter (somehow failing to understand how she ever got that way…), and let her do as she pleased.
As she pleased, China left home. She’d always been a bit of a wanna-be hippy. She was interested in Eastern philosophy and all that jazz. I think if things had been a bit different she might have nicked off up to Byron Bay or somewhere, and had a relatively happy life. But it wasn’t that easy to bust out of Sydney in those days. Not for white trash like China. She was stuck in the ring like a boxer on one knee, desperate for that king-hit that would end it all. But she made hippy-type friends wherever she could, and kept the Byron fantasy before her like the Oasis in a thirsty nomad’s desert. I think its dreams like Byron that kept her alive as long as she was.
That night, driving north en route to Byron, it was hard shaking the feeling China was with us. When we got there at dawn we paddled out beyond the break at Wategos, and let her ashes fly. The memory of the wind as it carried her to freedom will, I hope, remain with me. One thing I know will- the relief on Indie’s face. Her mum was finally at peace.
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