The Material Disconnect

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It has been a strange week. Our bruised and battered little group of survivors suffered fresh wounds. I have been hammered by wild mood swings. I found myself unable to cook, sleep or write for several days. I’m not sure why I chose this week to take on a very hard job. In reality, I suppose that it was because the support which I needed to take it on was available.

Since I returned alone to Madang from Australia, carrying Eunie’s remains in my backpack, I have laid on the bed each night and tried not to think about her clothing, shoes and the heavy blue box of ashes behind the closet door a little over a metre from my head. I want to think of Eunie; oh, how I want it. But, I don’t want the memories to be provoked by things.  I find it very disturbing when I’m suddenly confronted by fear, loss and profound loneliness when I look at objects which initiate those emotions. Unfortunately there is hardly a place in Madang where my eyes can rest comfortably. The memories I desire are those which come spontaneously from inside when I sit staring at the sea or the sky, when my mental space is not crammed full of images of objects. She can break through the remaining clutter and touch me.

So, one evening last week Trevor and Karen came over to help me “survey” the situation and devise a plan. As it happened, I had come home from work early that afternoon, because I could not keep my eyes open. I lay down to sleep for an hour or so. Upon waking, I felt strong enough to begin. I decided to take on one drawer. It was the top drawer in the tiny chest which we shared. I talked to Eunie as I worked. I whispered my new theme song over and over, Oh, baby. Oh, baby.  When I had finished the top drawer without collapsing, subduing intrusions of negative emotions as best I could, I decided that I might as well continue. Within an hour or so, I was surprised to find that all of the contents of the three drawers were sorted and piled neatly on the dining room table.

By the time Trevor and Karen arrived I had nearly worked my way through the one metre of closet space allotted to Eunie’s hang-up items of clothing. As we sat at the table partially covered with Eunie’s things and ate the pizza which my friends had brought with them, I could not escape the feeling that I was putting on a brave face for them. I know that they are very worried about me. They helped me to decide which things should go to the Country Women’s Association to benefit the charitable projects which Eunie had supported for decades and which should be held aside as special gifts for her friends. Once again I felt a profound appreciation for the kind of emotional support which is given to me so freely and unconditionally.

In the morning I took some of Eunie’s nice cotton pull-over tops over to my next door neighbour’s house for her to give to her daughters and nieces. One of Sisilia’s daughters, Esmerelda, came over to help me to carry Eunie’s clothing to the back seat of my truck. After she left, as I stood there surveying the sad little scene, I did what came naturally. I took a picture:

As you can see, all of Eunie’s clothing, everything that she owned, could fit on the seat. I found that startling. It seemed to me to be such a small collection. Eunie was always beautifully dressed, but spent very little on clothing. She had a knack for choosing wisely but modestly. She looked great and smelled great. Nice perfumes were her only luxury.

Quiet elegance. Subtle sensuality. Beauty which gets under your skin:

My baby.

Okay, we need a transition here. I may as well make it abrupt. I have to get up and get ready to go up to Blueblood on Rich Jones’ boat. I have to do something to try to lift my spirit. I did get some decent images yesterday. This is a young Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteri):

As they grow older they get more freckles and grow darker. You can find other images of them here by searching for “freckled”.

I like this shot of a tubeworm growing out of a large coral head with Rich Jones hovering in the background:

Nice depth.

Rich spotted this tiny nudibranch. I don’t know the name of it:

I couldn’t get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the little bits at the front which were vibrating frantically in the current.

This is a kind of sea squirt which I have shown here before:

It strikes me as very elegant, indeed.

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18 Responses to “The Material Disconnect”

  1. Steve Bennett Says:

    the freckle fish is cute. That’s a tough undertaking MadDog, it sounds like you have achieved another step, nice work. I think the consolation is that in PNG, a donation of clothing is a worthwhile cause. A large percentage of the population relies heavily on the western second-hand clothing trade, and if your wantoks can benefit from your hardwork and generosity then you’ve done the right thing.

    And its good to see Rich in the water. Thanks.

  2. MadDog Says:

    Steve, I’m going to write a post soon called I Couldn’t, But I Did or something like that. My life for the last few months has consisted of a constant stream of tasks which I did not see how I could do, but somehow I did. I hate that my life has been reduced to unremitting desperation. Though that may sound overly dramatic, it fits with the view from inside my skull.

    Right, many people here do depend on the used clothing stores. I remember when they first became widespread. They made it possible for people with little means to have some dignity. If I had gone instead, my pitiful wardrobe would have already been sold at a CWA fund-raiser. I would be smiling about that.

    Yes, Rich was out of the diving game for some time after he got bent. He can now dive up to twenty metres. I stick with him because he’s a good spotter and photography becomes a lot more difficult any deeper than that anyway.

  3. Fortescue Bullrout Says:

    That’s an interesting little nudibranch, I don’t think I have seen it before.

  4. Steven Says:

    Hey MadDog! Great post. I, too, found that looking at objects associated with a love one who died was *the* hardest and most likely to set me off on a crying jag. So, I know what you mean.

    You are doing some really hard stuff, my man. Big hugs to you.


  5. Ali Says:

    Jan, do you have any friends in Madang who do patchworking? Maybe you could ask them to transform some of the pretty fabrics (from Eunies clothes) into a little quilt or quilts for your grandaughters to keep?
    I don’t know if this is an appropriate or practical suggestion, but a friend did the same with some her mothers favorite clothes.
    They are now a beautifully practical piece of art, created in her memory.
    You have taken a big step.
    Don’t forget to be kind to yourself.

  6. ZydecoDoug Says:

    MadDog, consider yourself well hugged by a friend. We all need that from time to time. And, well, even with the great support you have among your most caring Madang friends, you really need that. From half a world away, I wish I were there to deliver said advice, sir.

  7. MadDog Says:

    Fortescue, I took about a dozen exposures of the tiny thing and this was the best one. I could have done better if there had been no current. All of the fiddly bits on the critter were vibrating furiously. It’s very pretty, in a clown-like way.

  8. MadDog Says:

    Steven, you are right. If I had to rank the things which cause me the most pain now I think that the problem of constantly being reminded of Eunie’s death by everything that I see would be close to the top. Unfortunately, everything I see in Madang has some connection to Eunie. She touched so many aspects of life here. Dealing with her clothing and shoes was a milestone event. I got through it with less damage than I expected. One more hard thing done. When will they stop?

    Thanks for the encouraging message.

  9. MadDog Says:

    Ali, it is interesting that you mention that. Several of my female friends have also given me the idea. I would certainly consider it if there were friends who wanted to do it. The main things which I want to get to my granddaughters are her items of jewellery.

    The kindest thing that I can do for myself now is to keep reminding myself that I have done some very hard things in the last few months and I haven’t messed up anything yet so badly that it can’t be fixed. Each time I come up against something that I would really rather die than do I’m surprised that I suddenly find that it’s done and I’m still more or less standing. I don’t take any particular credit for this, because I feel weird that these things terrify me so. I feel physical fear, as if I were being attacked by a lion. What I am coming to understand is that we all have this ability to cope with the unthinkable, undoable tasks, when survival or honour or a promise require us to do so.

  10. MadDog Says:

    Thanks for that, Doug. I also have many friends I have never met. That’s a feature of our time, I guess. I am amazed by the number of people I know now. I’ve been on Facebook nearly three years. Friends such as yourself keep popping up out of the ether of the web. It’s interesting to me how people come to care about each other based on such a limited amount of information.

  11. Ali Says:

    As the unescapabley sad and frightening “HAVE TO DO” list dwindles, you might want to make a new list.
    A “WANT TO DO” list!
    Doesnt matter if you cannot possibly achieve everything on it….. make it anyway…. it’s good for the soul and you absolutely deserve it!

  12. Steven Says:

    I love and second Ali’s “I want to!” list idea…at some point, when causes and conditions give rise to it, that might be a most skillful thing to do. We do need affirmation, and a remembering of what makes our very being sing, even when so much has been lost. And its what our lost loved-ones would want us to remember, at some point, I believe.


  13. Paul Reinbara Says:

    MadDog, I love reading this post, its a blessing to have friends. Great to know the neighbors are willing to help you out. I know you will keep yourself busy in the coming days and it will be a norm for you to walk on. Merry Christmas wantok.

  14. kristy Says:

    Continued prayers and thoughts sent your way, as you navigate the holidays.
    What is the quiet elegance pic creature? It is really beautiful!

  15. MadDog Says:

    Well, Ali, that’s what I’m praying for. By the time I show up in Toogoolawah with Val I sincerely hope that my “Have to Do” list will be nearly complete. I still have a few really big ones on it, but I’m working on those items as best I can. I really want to get started on that “Want to Do” list. I need to have a break and have some new experiences. This has been a long haul and It’s nowhere near over yet.

  16. MadDog Says:

    Steven, the time is not yet ripe for the “I want to!” list, but I believe it is approaching by early March. Because of logistical problems, I’ve only now found a source for Eunie’s headstone. I’ve paid for it and expect it to be here within a month or six weeks. As soon as it arrives, we will put her ashes in the ground on Kranket Island as was her desire. If all of the insurance stuff is finished then and the house is sold (supposed to close on the 29th of December), I’ll be ready to fly to Australia, visit Val in Gympie for a few days and then go up to Toogoolawah for some skydiving. That’s definitely on my “I want to!” list. That seems fairly skillful to me. I know that Eunie would want me to get some relief.

  17. MadDog Says:

    Kristy, it is a species of coral. I think that it is Euphillia ancora. It is very lovely. This is a very young colony.

  18. MadDog Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Paul. I really appreciate my neighbors in the LUSHIP compound. We all look out for each other. Keeping busy is not my problem, Paul. There is plenty for me to do. My problem is that the depression makes me more than usually lazy. All I really WANT to do is lay around and read. However, if I do that, I’ll eventually be in big trouble, because none of the important things will ever get done.