Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Shrine on Sydney Road

We drove past the shrine today. I was sitting in the passenger seat, closest to the side of the street that she had walked, and so I was the first to see the flowers. The blockades of blooms spilled out from the stoop of the shop that had caught her last moments on camera. Candles flickered in the last few breaths of the storm that had threatened to spoil the Big Game. Strangers stood, legs apart, heads bowed, hands clasped together in silent prayer. The Channel Ten camera crew; a man untangling long black cables. 

I saw all of it, at once; it was a streak of unfamiliar colour on a backdrop that I knew so well. I was prepared to feel upset, and maybe even angry.
What I was not prepared for was an influx of raw emotion. A slew of feelings without names, that came on as fast as we had driven past the scene. Some of the roots were easy enough to identify; the brutality, the unjust ending of a life. The thoughts of the husband, of the mother and father. The friends and family living overseas and around the corner, nursing holes in their hearts and fistfuls of unanswered questions.
But there was something else that tugged at me, that still tugs at me. A feeling of...of.  A feeling very close to dread, but not quite as palpable. A lingering.
Was it because she was women of my mid to late twenties age bracket? And that being a woman, and in that particular age bracket, had seemed to amplify her vulnerability? Was it the sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle inclinations of the media, suggesting that because of the hour of the morning, her physical appearance and her intoxicated state, she had unknowingly facilitated her own abduction?  
Or was it simpler than that. Was it just because she had chosen to walk?

She had walked. She had left the pub that my friend Anne had once chosen as the perfect place for us to see her off to South East Asia. She had walked past the Blythe St intersection, home of the Blythe St share house that I had frequented when my friends from university had lived there. A house that I had walked to from the tram stop on Sydney Road, sometimes in the dark, and often alone, clutching a Biology text book in one hand and a cask of wine in the other.
She had walked past the Turkish restaurant that I had eaten at the week before. The pub that I had got drunk and danced at until two in the morning the night after, to celebrate my Lovely’s birthday; the day before the posters had gone up on  the tram stop shelters and the telephone poles, before people had made Facebook groups and implemented hashtags. 

I've always been a little scared of the unknown, but right now it isn't the unknown that's scaring me the most. It's the knowing. It is knowing that if it were me, I would have walked it. If I had been out drinking with my work friends at the Bar Etiquette on a Friday night, and I had being living in the Brunswick/Coburg area, I wouldn’t have even given it a second thought. Hell, I’ve walked it before! What would have been different this time? What would have been the reason for me not to? There’s nothing out there, lurking in the residential darkness of driveways and backyards and poorly lit side streets, that could be worse than the things I have thought up in my own head! I’m always looking for stories in places where there aren’t any stories to tell.
I would have walked it.

And I have walked it since, but only in the day time. And I know that there will come a time when I will have to face it in the dark, and that I will have to decide; is it worth it to risk my life on a few hundred meters? Is it worth the fourteen dollar cab fare, the four minutes of awkward conversation, and the chance that I might accidentally leave my phone in the back seat?
If you were to ask me now, of course I would say no. But what about next week? Next month? Next year? Can I trust myself to remember what this feels like? To remember that, despite all my pride and femenist sensibilities, women will always come off as the preferred target?

I think I know what this feeling is. This burning in the hollow of my throat, the hollow space below my heart. It is the knowledge that I am not invincible. My life could be snuffed out as easily as the candles that now burn in memory of hers, beneath the Irish flag buntings on the steps of the church where loved ones and neighbours and strangers now gather to grieve. It is knowing that there doesn’t always have to be a pattern; no plot points or character arcs or a conclusion that might lead to understanding, or in the least allude to it. And that there will be no big reveal. There’s not even an answer, yet, to the simplest question; the one that everyone has asked at least once, if not one hundred times. Why did this happen?
It is the feeling of knowing that death is not a spell that can be broken. That monsters live and breathe and walk on the same streets that we do. That I do. That she did.
This is not a good story. This is not even a bad story. It is just a horrible thing, and it need not have happened to anyone. But it could have happened to me. 

Rest In Peace

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