In 2011 I was short-listed for the Finch memoir prize 2012, for my memoir of childhood. I have since revised that memoir, which is still unpublished. It is now called This Place You Know. I have included my mother’s voice in it. In the revision, I’ve been encouraged and supported by my dear friend and writing buddy, Marian Edmunds. I decided not to re-enter this for the Finch this year, as they have what I consider a rather outdated requirement that the memoir be written as ‘told by its subject in his or her own voice’. Since I have woven my mother’s voice in with mine, this may rule me out.
So I have entered my revised memoir of my early adult life and first marriage and its sequel, the abduction of my children by their father. This was a traumatic time which split my life in two, and I nearly failed to emerge from the void created. How I came to marry a man who could do this, and how I mismanaged my escape from a loveless patriarchal bondage, and what I lost in the process, is the subject of this memoir.
Recent events have revived all this for me; forgiveness, some sort of reconciliation with the father of my children, and a reconnection with the man I fell in love with and who was the catalyst for the breakup of my marriage, have all made this a time relived.
Here is an excerpt from the middle of the memoir, after I received the terrible news that my children were lost to me for the rest of their childhood.
Sophia and Caitlin want to ride on the merry-go-round. They climb onto brightly painted ponies with long manes and tails that swing out as they sweep round on movable poles. I want to sit with Penelope in a little carriage on the fixed platform but they are all full so I hold her in front of me with the pole between us on one of the bigger ponies. The music starts, we begin to move. We are going faster and faster, the ponies swing out higher and higher. The faces in the crowd become blurred. The centrifugal force of the racing ponies is so strong I can barely hold onto Penelope. I cling to her, my arms aching. I can feel her body being pulled away from me. I open my mouth to scream to call for help for the merry-go-round to stop but no sound comes out. I can hold on no longer—Penelope flies from my arms up into the air across the heads of the crowd.
The phone is ringing. I lie for a moment, wondering where I am. I hear the roar of traffic outside and smell the harbour breeze coming in the window. On the wall above my bed is Caitlin’s painting of flowers in reds and purples. I am in my Birchgrove flat. It will soon be school holidays. The girls will be coming to visit me. Robert has promised to let them come down. He hasn’t said any more about going to America, and I am hoping he’s changed his mind. I struggle up from my bed and run into the living room.
‘Hullo?’ My voice is choked by the scream I couldn’t utter in my dream. I listen to the voice at the other end of the phone. My mouth opens to speak, but my tongue is thick, paralysed. My throat closes. A hoarse rattle pushes up from my chest. At last, the phone clicks. I sink down onto a chair and stare out at the water glinting in the morning sunlight beyond the roof tops.
Someone is knocking at the door. I walk stiffly over to it and open it. My friend Sarah is standing there. I stand and stare at her. My lips are stuck together. My eyes feel as though they’ve been scorched by a bushfire, my legs tremble. Sarah steps through the door and puts her arms round me, holding me tight.
‘Anna! What is it? You look dreadful. What’s happened?’
I begin to sob, and Sarah leads me over to the table and sits me down on one of the chairs. She sits opposite me.
‘Is it the children? Aren’t they coming?’
‘I’ve had a phone call from Robert. He’s in Los Angeles. He says he’s taken the girls to America. He says I won’t ever see them again.’