I’m sitting upstairs in my small apartment on a Saturday morning, eating brunch at the formica table that sits just off the kitchen. The view from the window is sunny and clear, and I’m enjoying the Spring warmth. There’s a knock on my door, which is down the narrow wooden stairs, and I go to answer it. My mother and her friend Pinky bustle in, looking excited and pleased to be there.
I invite them upstairs, happy to see them, albeit unexpectedly. We sit at the table and I make a pot of tea for the three of us. We talk, catching up – it’s been a while since I’ve seen my mum, and it’s nice just to be there in the diffuse sunlight, talking.
Mum and Pinky – a voluptuous and energetic woman – tell me that they’re putting on a show, which is going to start on Thursday night. There’s going to be singing and acting – something that both of them are good at – and I know it will be excellent. I’ve seen Pinky perform before (a breakfast show for two weeks at the restaurant I once worked in), and I’ve been watching mum in shows for years.
Mum gives me a ticket, and tells me that she looks forward to seeing me on Thursday night. She’s sorry they can’t stay longer, but they have other things they need to do. We stand, and she kisses me goodbye. I walk them down the stairs and out the door. Then I return to my table and my sunlight, and look at the ticket in my hand.
I was going to die. I was going to die in a week’s time, and it was going to be okay.
That was a dream, you see. A dream I had back in 2001, two-and-a-bit years after my mum killed herself. And I genuinely believed that it meant by the next Thursday I would have died, and prepared myself accordingly.
(Why yes, I may have been a little not-sane at the time, but I certainly believed implicitly.)
Such is the impact my dreams can have on me. I spent a week organising myself – knowing that any time I left the house and cuddled my cat goodbye, I could be hit by a truck or have a brain aneurysm. So I prepared accordingly, writing a formal document for my brother detailing where he could find my will and my insurance policies if need-be – and driving to Hamilton to deliver it to him and say hello (goodbye?). I treated every hour of every day as if it were potentially my last.
And the Thursday I believed I was going to die – because I hadn’t at that stage – I couldn’t face the thought of work. So instead of driving out to the airport and sitting at my desk at the logistics company, I turned my car towards the Coromandel Peninsula. It was a gorgeous day in early September, with the sun shining brightly. I took the top off the car, and enjoyed the wind in my hair.
Would this turn be the last? Was there a lumbering truck on the wrong side of the road? I made it to the Coromandel township by 10am, and spent half an hour wandering through the shops, looking at the bizarre trinkets and pretty jewellery. I was in my work uniform – dark slacks, navy polo shirt. A second-hand store had a bright pink-and-white singlet, which I bought for two dollars. A bargain.
I remembered that the Coromandel township was only about 20km from a bay where our family had rented a holiday home for a few summers, up at Waititi Bay. Following my nose, I headed off (along winding gravel roads – but no death yet), and soon found it.
I parked at the top of a small bluff, and sat on the bonnet of the car and looked at the sea – sparkling and bright, full of motion. I took my shoes off and put them in the boot. Then I skidded down the sandy cliff-face, and wandered along the shoreline, feeling the coolness of the water on my feet.
An idea occurred to me. It was 11am on an early Spring morning, but I was going to die, right? And who wants to die without ever having skinny-dipped? The beach was obscured from the road by tall bushes, and all the holiday homes appeared to be deserted.
So I found a flat rock up the top of the beach, took off my clothes and earrings and watch, and ran down the beach and into the cold water. It was chilly as all hell, but I persevered, and swam out deep enough to cover my body. It was interesting – my breasts floated, for one thing. And I could see my legs, just a little, waving underneath me as I bobbed up and down. It was a gentle beach, with only the smallest ripples for waves, so I pretty much stayed put and enjoyed the sunshine.
I got cold very quickly, so after five minutes I pelted back up the beach to my clothes. But as I stood there wondering how to dry myself, I remembered that I might never do this again. So I let out a rebel yell (yes, I actually whooped!) and ran back down to the water. And stayed there.
I was out there for about twenty minutes, thinking of nothing in particular except how great it was to be alive. But it was time to come in – my goose-bumps were getting goose-bumps. Unfortunately my timing was crap – just as I was thinking about it, a middle-aged couple appeared the next bay over. They could see me, and I could see them. So I bobbed, only my head showing, for a while longer as they meandered around and poked at shells.
And I waited.
* shiver *
Eventually I gave up, and swam closer to them, as there was a smallish rock formation separating my bay from theirs. I came as close as I dared, and then waited until their backs were turned. Taking my chance, I splashed up to the water line, and scooted up the sand by the rocks, until I reached my own. The sun was hot on my skin, and my cheeks were burning with the streaking thrill.
I put the underwear on while I was still wet, and then sat on the rock until I’d dried a little. My work polo dried most of the rest of me, and then I put on my new singlet and my old work slacks, and attempted to comb my hair out. I felt incredible!
Back in the Coromandel township, I found a small cafe and ate pita bread with hummus and lettuce leaves, drinking a Phoenix Feijoa drink. I swear my grin was fit to break my head. If I was going to die, I wasn’t afraid. My life, for all its ups and downs, was good, and I felt that whatever was going to happen, it would be OK.
And eventually, I drove back to Auckland. No truck hit my car; no meteor descended and struck my forehead. I lived another day. I spent another three weeks or so waiting to die, and only gradually realized that it wasn’t going to happen – it was a dream that I’d read too much into.
But I still don’t have a fear of death. I don’t particularly want to die, just yet – my life is so full of interesting people and experiences and felines and love – but the concept of death is one that I greet with open and unclouded eyes.