When I was growing up, I knew exactly which way was due North. It was the direction our house faced: towards the Mountains, which I greeted every morning when I opened my blinds, and stared at through the window as I ate my breakfast cereal very, very slowly.
Also, when I stood with Dar Dar at the top of the second story of the house on Sinclair Avenue, due North was the direction of the City, which for some reason I could only see on overcast days, like faint finger marks on a watery horizon. When Dar Dar was living the last hours of his life, I went to the end of the pier at Albert Park, and looked due South – back across the water, to wave goodbye.
I used to be confounded when I heard about people getting lost in the bush. Didn’t they know which way North was? I knew – and I could work the other ones out just by saying ‘Never Eat Soggy Weatbix’. I would never get lost in the bush.
So it came as quite a shock to me when I found out that our house didn’t face North at all, and that my bedroom window opened out in some odd non-direction, somewhere between North and East. When I think about it, I really should have twigged earlier. After all, the sun always set behind the house, closer to the direction I had assumed to be South. The power of denial is an amazing thing.
I count that moment – of discovering the truth about which direction our house faced (or didn’t face) – as one of those pivotal points on the way to Growing Up. As a child, there were certain Truths that I just took for granted: that we would always go to Rye for the holidays; that Gran and Dar Dar would always be able to take us down the beach; that there would always be a million of us doing the present-opening frenzie on Christmas morning; that we would always be together. That North was the direction our house faced.
It’s not like I ever really thought about these things. They were deepest, base-level Truths for me – known realities, as solid and reliable as concrete.
There is a point in our lives where we find cracks in the concrete. Cracks that have always been there, but that we never took notice of, as we chalked our hopscotch lines and skipped back and forth.
Grandparents get frail. We go to the beach on our own. A tree that has been there all our lives falls down. Friends perish in a bushfire. A brother dies. Soon my grandfather is gone: the one who taught me that I’d be okay, just as long as I never turned my back on a wave. I took his advice, and I’ve not yet drowned at sea. But I’m still not quite okay.
I look to Gran and hope to God she is smiling, because if she is then things are still Alright. Gran is sort of smiling, so I’m feeling a bit better, for now.
But the house I grew up in no longer faces due North. Its windows glint towards some strange, in-between, unfamiliar direction, which up until that moment I never even knew existed.