Rose Garden – The Day my Sister Died.
The 16th of November 1988 dawned a sunny warm spring day and I woke up around 7am feeling fresh for once. Jumping out of bed, I wandered out to the kitchen to make a cuppa of coffee to liven me up. I stood there listening to the birds singing in Dad’s aviary out the back as I waited for the jug to boil, little realizing that the day would turn out to be the worse day of my life.
It was five days before my 22nd birthday and the house was empty, mum and dad were in Sydney at dad’s heart specialist, as dad had only been released from hospital the week before after having a near fatal series of heart attacks. I sat reading the paper and shortly afterwards there was the sound of a key turning in the front door, my sister Cathy had arrived for her morning cuppa on the way to work.
Cathy lived half an hour south of us in Jamberoo with her husband Trevor and worked about ten kilometres north of us in Fairy Meadow so it was logical for her to leave home earlier of a morning and stop in for a cuppa with mum and dad before work. I was usually fast asleep at this time and missed seeing her. I started work at 10 of a morning and my nights were full of partying so lazy late mornings were the norm for me.
But this morning my body clock decided different for me and my sister sat down and drank her coffee with me and we talked. We really talked, for probably the first time in our lives we talked, as two adults, as sisters. We talked about me starting uni in Wagga in the new year and how excited I was that my life was going where I wanted it to go, that the confusion of my teen years and relationship with Zoran, Krystals father were behind me. We talked of Cathy’s inability to conceive and how it had hurt me that nobody had told me about it. My parents and sister were very closed in “private matters” and felt that it was something not to de discussed within the family. So I never had a clue there was a problem and just thought that they hadn’t decided to have kids yet. Me being me, was a “stirrer” every time I would see her I would tease her about her extended wait to have children, little realizing the pain and torment I must have visited upon her each and everytime I “stirred it up”. Why hadn’t mum quietly taken me aside and said hey there is problems. I ended up finding out through one of my sister friends.
My sister and I discussed this for the first time. I told her I was prepared anytime to be a surrogate mother for her and she was over the moon. I told her if she had told me prior it would already be happening, I would have done it anytime. She explained that she had an appointment later that morning with her gyno and she would tell him what I had said and see what we had to do if her current treatment didn’t work.
I had two jobs at the time, one at the fraternity club as a cashier and bar wench and during the day I worked at the TAFE food school which was also at Fairy Meadow as a chef’s assistant. Mostly I worked with the pastry chef and at the end of the day I would take home delicious cakes that had been baked, chocolate cakes, tea cakes, butter cakes, birthday cakes, Christmas cakes, cupcakes, cream sponge cakes, buns and slices, biscuits and cookies every single goodie and sweet imaginable.
So before Cathy left that fateful morning I handed her two giant cakes for her workplace’s morning tea. I walked her down to the car, still chatting a way, a pleasant relaxed feeling inside and a hope that our relationship would be little easier from now on. I watched as she placed the cakes on the floor of the car then she climbed into the drivers side and drove off. I stayed standing there long after her car had disappeared around the corner in Gundarun street.
It was 8.35 am.
A little while later when I had gotten out of the shower there was another knock at the door. It was Lisa one of my friends who had come to say hi on her way into town to do some shopping. We chatted while I continued to get ready and then she said “Oh by the way, don’t go your usual way to work today. There has been an accident on the F6 and someone died.”
I froze, my blood froze, I knew at that point, I just knew I didn’t know how I knew I just did. I looked at Lisa and said “where”. She explained it was about 200 metres south of the Gipps road overpass, a silver car had gone under a truck.
The blood drained from my face as I pictured myself not 40 minutes earlier waving to the back of a silver sedan as it cruised down my street. I shook my head and sensibility set in. “No, thousands of cars travel along the expressway each day, hundreds of those cars are silver”. The thoughts raced around in my head, a million scenarios.
I explained to Lisa my fears and we both found a hundred reasons for our imagination getting away from us. Lisa left soon after and I fnished getting ready and jumped in my car for the journey to work.
I just had a “bad feeling” I couldn’t explain the pit in my stomach or why I felt the way I did. It felt like the sunny day was overcast by a grey shadow. I drove off and as I turned into Robsons road down towards the expressway onramps, I could see to the north the flash of red and blue lights. The traffic was banked up on the southern side traveling north only, way back as far as I could see past Figtree, the next suburb to the south.
I went straight ahead instead of attempting the onramp and drove along the parallel side road amongst the housing estates. When I got to Gipps Road, the fear and curiosity got the better of me, instead of keeping on going the direction I was going, I detoured again, driving along the road that would take me over the overpass. I got to the bridge and slowed to a crawl, many other drivers were stopped and there was a crowd on the bridge looking towards the accident. I craned my neck to see amongst the people towards the accident which I could see about 150 metres to the south of me. Then I saw it. A silver sedan that looked so familiar.
“I had to keep driving, there was cars behind me and I had to get to work. Once again the sensible fairy sat on my shoulder chattering away. Don’t be silly, there is hundreds of silver cars, many many silver cars, beside you are as blind as a bat, you haven’t got your contacts in so you couldn’t see what it was, It could be a Ford or Toyota and even if it was a Holden, it could have been a commodore”.
I reasoned with myself the rest of the way to work but always at the back of my reasoning was this awful pit of fear and knowing.
I walked into the food school in zombie mode, I don’t remember arriving in the staffroom but when I arrived I found I couldn’t bear it anymore. The bells were chiming loudly and I ran upstairs to the Head Teachers office to ask If I could use his phone. I dialed the number to Cathy’s workplace and shook as it connected, expecting to hear Cathy’s voice and then having the sensible fairy slap my face and tell me to go lie on a couch somewhere and talk about my Histronic personality disorder. But no, one of the other girls answered “oh no Cathy’s not in yet”.
Thud, my heart hit my feet as I replaced the receiver. I looked at my bosses secretary who I knew lived at Figtree to the south of the accident. I asked what time she had left for work and she answered “oh about 8.40”.
I asked her if she had been held up and driven passed the accident and she nodded and said she had been held up about 20 mins but still got to work only a little late. By this time the alarm bells were deafening but the sensible fairy kept running around with cottonwool and silencing the sound.
While this was going on some my fellow staff not working in classes, had gathered and two of them asked me what vehicle she was driving and then left to drive back passed the accident to check it all out. My boss rang the police and hospital only to be told there was no details. I dialed my brother in laws number and was relieved when he answered the phone. I asked him if Cathy was going anywhere else before work that morning. He said no and told me about the appointment later that morning that he was meeting her for.
He asked why I wanted to know and once again the fairies came out arguing but I felt I should say something.
“I don’t want to scare you or alarm you Trevor but there has been an accident on the F6. It’s a silver car and Cathy’s not at work yet”.
Silence and then Trevor said “Hang on a minute, it’s 10 am the news will be on”> He dropped the phone and I could hear the radio faintly in the background reporting the accident as the top headlines.
“The sole famle occupant of a silvr grey Camira has been fatally injured in a head on collsion on the F6 this morning at Gynneville”.
All of a sudden I could hear Trevor keening in the background, “noooooooooooooooooooo”
He came back on the phone after a minute and I told him to calm down and that we didn’t know for sure. I relayed the hundred sensible points I had argued with myself over all morning to him and told him I was ringing the hospital again. He said he would get ready and come up to Wollongong immediately, earlier than he was going to.
They whispered to my boss and strangely enough his own face began to mirror those same looks. Meanwhile I rang the police and when I finally got through explained I was worried about my sister. “We don’t know anything Ma’am you are going to have to ring the hospital”. Frustrated I slammed the phone down and dialed the hospital. After a wait on hold I was put through to four or five departments before I finally got the response. “I am sorry ma’am you will have to ring the police for information”.
Back in the eighties there was no mobiles or cell phones, I couldn’t dial her cell to find out if she was ok. By this stage I was frantic but the voice of reason kept me under control. I was still reasoning in my head that this was a dream, it was surreal, that I was going to turn around and look like a ripe fool for wasting everyone’s time and concern.
I was afraid I was causing drama and being a drama queen over nothing and I really wanted that to be so. The pit of despair, the knowing, the reaching out in my mind knowing she wasn’t there were all pushed to the back of my mind, to hang like dark shadows, by that same reasoning.
I just knew. I didn’t know how I knew but I had known a week before and I knew now but I refused to accept that I knew. I didn’t want to know this one. This one was too much.
Vivian approached me and offered to drive me to the hospital to see if we could find out more info, it all felt so surreal. We drove in silence, I was locked in an inner battle of wills. “Yes or no, Don’t be silly. What a drama queen. Snap out of it Margaret. You do KNOW, so now accept it. Nah, what an imagination, aren’t you going to feel the fool tomorrow”. The thoughts and fears ran around my mind in scattered sequences.
We arrived at the hospital and made our way to emergency. By this time after umpteen diversions and detours I just wanted to know the truth. We explained our story yet again to the woman behind the counter and she disappeared off to find yet another diversion for us. I leaned back against the wall and the thoughts drifted once again around in my head. It was fairly dark in the waiting area and I turned towards the corridor and the emergency theatre itself, to see four doctors in white coats striding purposefully down the polished white, tiled floor. The first one came up to me and asked me my name. he then said that he didn’t know anything and that the police were on their way to the hospital to take my details. Oh great I felt like such a criminal. Everyone in the waiting room was staring at me by this time and the doctors ushered Vivian and I into a room at the very eastern end of the hospital wing.
We sat on a chair in the tiny room and waited. I got up and looked out of the tiny window towards the sea, I could see the police car snaking its way up the emergency entrance drive and I went back and sat in silence opposite Vivian.
Not long after three officer came into the room, the two male officers beckoned to Vivian and took her outside, leaving me with the female officer. I stood up and said “look I am sick of this shit, I have been sent everywhere and told nothing all morning I just want to know the truth”
She sat there and looked up with her big blue eyes into my own pleading ones, the answer I didn’t want to see was plainly written there. She sighed and hung her head and said “we think it is your sister, I am so sorry, she died instantly”.
I spun around and punched the wall, standing there stunned, the mornings events crashing down on my shoulders like a ton of bricks from above. The reasoning fairy was triumphantly squashed by the voice of doom……….all my nightmares all my fears, all the horror. Any moment now I would wake up and be back at work planning which cakes to take home for the days to be eagerly consumed by my parents and sister.
I took a deep breathe, pushed it all away and turned back to her. “What Happened?”
She explained that Cathy had been driving in the right lane near the medium strip (think driving left hand side of road) and she came to a spot that had a gushing riverlet of water running across from the night befores rain. The pipes hadn’t ben build under the road to contain the rainwater flow and it flowed across the road in this one “dip” point. The car in front of her had slammed his foot on the brakes to get into the left lane to take the Sydney offshoot and she in turn had braked hard, just as she was driving over the flowing water. Her car was front wheel drive and it belonged to her husbands brother, it wasn’t her usual car so she wasn’t as familiar with it as she was her rear end drive holden.
She skidded and went over the medium strip straight into the path of an oncoming truck. The seating area of the car where she was had not sustained any damage, the left front side had gone hard up against the truck and under it’s cab. Cathy’s head had snapped to the side and she broke her neck on impact with the window.
I sat there for a minute trying to absorb what was being said…. I finally spoke. “and what about the idiot who decides to brake on an expressway to change lanes way to late to be ready for the offshoot”?
The policewoman shook her head. He had gone in a cloud of dust, never to be seen again, possibly never realizing the tragic devastation and catastrophe he had left behind. The truck driver was sedated, he had no time to avoid the collision.
The policewoman looked at me and spoke again “We can’t find your parents and your sisters husband is sedated as well now. Thank you for calling him, he called his parents after he spoke to you and they arrived just before the police wagon pulled into his street to tell him the official news. I need to ask you, we can wait for Trevor but the media already has the details and we need the body identified, do you feel up to it.”
I nodded slowly although every fibre of my being was screaming no, no no . I don’t even like horror movies and this was real life shit. But I didn’t want my parents in any morgue identifying her body and Trevor too, the wife he loved and adored so I made my way down to the morgue with Vivian and the three officers.
We stepped inside. It smelt of disinfectant. This was the second time in my life I had been inside such a place, the first time was my birth in a morgue and now this, 5 days shy of my 22nd birthday to identify my dead sister. I was taken to a room with a glass screen covered by a curtain on the other side, Shortly after the police officer came and stood beside me and warned me that my sister had died of head injuries and it would not be pleasant.
I didn’t want to hear her, I just wanted to do what I had to do and be out of there, I wanted it all not to be real, I wanted to get a hug off my mum and her tell me it would be ok.
The curtain slid back and my eyes lifted to slowly take in what I was seeing. It was my sister but it wasn’t. She was lifeless, purple, swollen and bruised. Her eyes were closed and there was dried blood around her mouth. A sheet covered her up to her chest but I could see the massive bruising on her chest. She didn’t look asleep, she looked dead, white gray swollen dead.
I turned away and walked out of the room, saying yes that’s my sister as I left. As I walked out I asked the officers if they had managed to get my parents at the roadblocks up the mountains and they shook their heads.
I turned to Vivian and asked her if she could drive me to Gran B’s. Mum and dad would go straight there for lunch on their arrival back from Sydney and pick my daughter Krystal up to take her home. We pulled into the street and I gave a sigh of relief to see my parent’s car out the front. All emotion was locked down, there were things to be done. I got out and went up to the wire security door. I looked down the hallway to my father sitting there in puzzlement at my arrival in my pink work uniform.
Grandma came and answered the door and took one look at my white face, asking me what was wrong. I floated past her into the dining room where my parents were sitting, obliviously enjoying a salad lunch.
The radio was on in the background, the strains of the 12 oclock NEWS broadcast runin music already blasting into the room.
Dad stood up. “whats wrong”.
“Cathy’s been in an accident I said, without a flicker of emotion in my voice and on my face.”
Mum jumped up. “Is she ok”.
“No she’s dead,” I answered and sat on the sofa staring straight ahead. “she was in an accident on the f6 and she was killed instantly. Oh mum I am so sorry”.
Mum and dad looked at each other in horror. Grandma jumped up and turned the radio up only to hear it broadcast at that exact moment
The body of a woman killed in the head on collision on the F6 Freeway today has been identified as Catherine Frances Honey, 25 of Jamberoo”……………………
Mum Screamed, Dad placed his head in his hands and dropped to the floor rocking, no no no, Grandma sat there with her mouth open in shock.
This has been the hardest Blog I have ever written. I promised all year I would write this event today on the anniversary of my sisters death, the 16th of November. Today the emotion has run free and I have relived those events as if they were only yesterday. The pain is as strong as it was then. The tearing apart. The never getting to say goodbye. But I like to think I did say goodbye that morning. I had told her my hope and dreams and plans of the future, we had talked, we had said sorry, we had reconciled our childhood, we were adults. One with a path that’s was tragically cut short in her prime, and one whose live was about to change forever that day.
for now I have to go outside and smell the roses… and remember my butterfly.. my sister.. the golden pure one…
The lion sleeps tonight
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