Today in a flash of delayed insight, I realised I am heartbroken and have been since about 3.30pm Friday 6 September. That’s when I stepped out of the carpark at the Tugun Fruit Market and saw a massive black groundswell of smoke roll across our mountain.
Right there and then my heart broke because the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the impossible happened.
Wildfire began its surge across Binna Burra with the Timbarra and Summit neighbourhoods of about 100 homes, right in its path. Mt Roberts and Binna Burra Lodge too. Lamington National Park alight.
When my sister Cal called that afternoon and said the Beechmont Firies were running down our driveway crying and hugging her, telling she and her partner Adi they had to leave now; my heart broke again.
It broke for a third time when, on Sunday 8 September, Cal and I approached her still-standing home, saw the smashed and stained front doors swinging agape in the westerly wind, and Cal slumped as she stepped across the threshold into the charred ruins of her house, all the life-energy for a moment, free-falling out of her.
After laughing hysterically at the intact book of poetry lying by the front door, the mysterious “Ashes and Bones” that nobody owns; I fell mute.
I haven’t written a thing since the 6th except for a climate strike speech which seemed to channel my whole community’s grief and anguish into a 12-minute warrior-roar at Broadbeach on 20 September, two weeks after that black cloud engulfed our community.
I lost my words.
I lost my capacity to engage with people except those in my immediate family and neighbourhoods.
Then, after Cal found her desolate home, I could only engage with immediate family, sticking like emotional glue to my sister, Adi and my mum Joss. Not even the closest of Beechmont friends could entice me out.
Five days and nights displaced but safe, in a blessed caravan in the backyard of a friend’s Palm Beach cottage (yes, there are still a few cottages left in Palm Beach).
Forays to community disaster meetings at Canungra with other haunted neighbours.
Long daily walks with Sherlock the hobo dog along the beach, so very very thankful to craft and cling to one daily routine like a life raft.
When we were allowed home on the fifth day, home was guarded by a roadblock of diligent cops. We showed our driver’s licences and were waved through, over and over again.
The air was stuffed with smoke and barely breathable. Sirens punctuated our little country road with emergencies and choppers filled our skies.
Through it all we met with kind-efficient insurance assessors and entered, re-entered, re-entered, re-entered Cal’s toxic, frightening, burned-out home, gave our details and made grateful-stilted small talk.
In between the long stretches of hell, we laughed in snorts at the black humour surrounding us. Cal’s undies charred and melted, dripping like a Salvador Dali masterpiece on the indoor drying rack upstairs at her place.
“Do you think they’re dry yet?” she asked and we fell about until our bellies ached.
Then I set out for a few days with my surfing tribe to the legendary beaches near Yamba. It was a leap of faith to go – mute and broken – for who wants a refugee housemate and hobo dog in a ‘no pets’ holiday home?
But this tribe rallied like no other.
They had my back, my front, my sides, my heart and they lifted me to the water to surf and rediscover the healing properties of the ocean and communal life. I returned from those precious days allowing myself to feel joy again.
And now here, with Mum at Bruns; in a sweet white onsite mobile home – her home until she has a mountain home to return to.
Long walks morning, noon and dusk. The sound of tent pegs being hammered into dry earth as school holiday-makers land.
I watched the first arrivals last night and remembered how much I love the feel of holidays; but this time feels grey.
And then, in a flash of delayed insight I see, I feel my broken heart.
Now the words return.