It’s not surprising that I can’t remember, it’ll be twenty years, in December, since the accident. Twenty years. It’s hard to believe, but there it is.
I had been back once since that fateful day, a couple of years back. That time, I made myself go along the road, to where I estimated that it had happened. The sky was just as vast, just as blue, just as beautiful. The road, still beautiful too, stretched ahead as we drove with Florence & The Machine blaring through The Silver Unicorn’s speakers, making conversation impossible. I had no words.
I’m not sure what made me go back, it just seemed important. Perhaps I’ve watched too many Hollywood movies. Mainly, I think I wanted to prove that I could still go down that road, that even though it broke me, it hadn’t scared me away.
This visit was just to Cradock, not via that road. It was part of the work road trip and I’d included it on purpose. They were lovely to me there, at that little hospital, on that bright, hot December day in 1996 when I was brought in by ambulance.
‘I’ve been in an accident,’ I remember saying to my Mom on the phone in Casualty. ‘But I’m okay.’
The doctor took the phone from me ‘You need to come. We’re transferring her to PE.’
That conversation? That phone call? That, too, I’m not sure if I remember it right, or if it’s just my love of a good story. It’s too long ago, the details blur.
Back to this visit. We drove into Cradock and stopped, as always, in awe of the hugeness of the big church, it’s spire piercing the blue Karoo sky as the sun turned the surrounding hills pink.
Driving up the hill looking for our accommodation for the night, I burst into tears, snot streaming, huge fat teardrops rolling down my cheeks.
GM was horrified. ‘Let’s drive on. We don’t have to stay here. It’s too much.’ She stopped the car on the side of the road, exactly opposite the place that had elicited my outburst.
‘I can’t remember,’ I snuffled.
‘What can’t you remember?’
‘I can’t remember if I went to the loo there.’ Sob, sniffle.
We were parked opposite the garage where we’d stopped to fill the car with petrol, to stretch our legs, that morning, almost twenty years ago. It was the last place I walked: the forecourt of a generic South African petrol station in a small Karoo town. And I couldn’t remember what I’d done with those few, precious, last steps. And that broke my heart.
I looked back up at the garage and the wide road leading down to the bottom of town, to the surrounding pink hills and felt myself calm and laugh.
I had just had a good, hard cry because I couldn’t remember if I’d gone to a grimy garage bathroom? Yip, that’d be about right.
And off we went, down to the peaceful old Anglican churchyard to look for Great, Great Grandpa Gilfillan’s grave, the church cat eyeing us suspiciously, and then on to the welcoming Tuishuisies and the old Victoria Hotel, filled with ghosts and stories, and I was okay.
I am okay.