Up Front by Emma Hart


Life on Mars

You probably won't be aware of this, but I just had a discreet and utterly decorous short break in Wellington. I had some excuses: dear friends I hadn't seen for too long, and of course SlutWalk, but whether I knew it or not, my main need was to get the hell out of Christchurch for a while.

 Don't get me wrong, I love Christchurch. It's just that Wellington has always been rather like the Other Woman in my life. Even before the earthquakes, people would ask me when I was moving up there. Now they're all "Dude, you gotta get away from that city, it keeps knocking you round." And I'm steadfastly refusing to leave my disfunctional relationship.

 Anyway. My trip to Wellington and environs was enormously relaxing. I mean, relaxing's not just about long baths and nobody wanting me to cook for them. It's also about shouting to Bon Jovi at one in the morning and being called for illegal double-teams. And there was the being able to flush the toilet and having baths that didn't reek of chlorine and driving on flat roads and not looking at what you're walking under in case it didn't stay there. It's the little things.

 I flew out in the evening, and Wellington was all twinkly and lovely and "See you again soon, beautiful," but it was time to go home. The perfect length of a visit, when you're sad to leave and happy to arrive. So it was night when we flew into Christchurch. She's beautiful at night too, the missus, all her strong brilliantly-lit arterials pushing strongly into her heart... Her dead, black heart.

 That was Monday night. First thing Tuesday morning I had an appointment with neurology, to get confirmation of my brain WOF. The time of the appointment conflicted with the school run, which takes an hour now, since February. So this was everyone up early so we could drop the kids off, then drive to the hospital, search desperately for a park because all the parking buildings are shut since February, and then sit and listen to a guy discuss earthquakes with the man he was handcuffed to...

 So we were driving out to Halswell, and the relaxed high I'd come back from Wellington on was battling with the gray horribleness of being up in the morning, but still pretty much holding its own. And then we went down Colombo St and I saw the mess of the back of the Smiths City building, which I must have seen dozens of times, and something happened. I felt something in my chest shut down, lock into a hardness. Like drawing in a cold winter-morning breath and having it stick. It was, I realised, Coping. It was ensuring that what I saw wasn't going to make me feel upset – or much of anything else.

 I hadn't even known I was doing it. I didn't feel it let go when I left – though to be fair I was probably drunk. I'm not all that conscious of it now, two days later. This is just life now. But I felt it kick in. That's the only way I know how much I'm not myself any more, and you know, I don't much fucking like it.

 But. This is my home. I stay in my disfunctional relationship with the ground, never knowing when it's going to get up and smack me round again. You'll see: if I stay, things will get better. It'll calm down. It wasn't like this when we first got together. And it's not like I'm alone. We're all in this together, all Coping. We can talk to anyone now, as long as the conversation is about earthquakes. Now I know about the hardness, I can see it in the people around me, how they're so slightly different. More brittle. Especially since the June earthquakes. Now, we've lost any real sense that this will ever be over. We have so little left to give each other. We're all down to the last of our Coping. Brittle.

 I still love you, Christchurch, I really do. I just... right now, I can't be with you all the time. I know it's selfish, I just need some time to myself. Maybe. I don't actually know whether it's better to keep opening myself up, ripping all the scabs off. But come August, Auckland, it's your turn. You'll be all twinkly for me, won't you?

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

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