Well, recently, G and her husband were in the loft. (Australian houses have roof 'space' known as 'lofts'. These are spider web infested places with no floors save for the layer of insulation between the rafters and years of dust and boxes...........)
"What's this box here?" calls Hubby from the loft.
"How do I know?" calls G from the safe environs of the kitchen floor 8 feet below. After a bit of investigation it became obvious that it was a box of my leftover 'things' which had put up for safekeeping 12 years ago.
Knowing she was visiting soon, G pulled one precious item from the box and carried it over with her in her suitcase. This is it!
Now this painting has history. About 20 years ago I had the great privilege of living in one of four flats in a 1920's building up on South Head in Sydney. In the picture here you can see an area of park graced by a lighthouse at far left.....well, my flat fronted onto that! There were two flats downstairs and two upstairs. Mine was downstairs and the two above were owned by a delightful couple who rented one out. About a year into my residency, the upstairs second flat was leased to a very young couple. They were also delightful. She was beautiful, graceful and slightly Bohemian. He was intelligent, witty and starting his own business in the infant industry of computers for print and design work. He was also often on crutches. When I enquired about his injury, he explained that he was a haemophiliac and that he sometimes bled into his joints causing swelling and pain. We expressed sympathy and were fascinated by actually meeting someone with this novel and rare disease (previously encountered only during stories of the Russian aristocracy).
One day the two of them sailed up our driveway in a Porsche convertible.
"It's Dad's," came the response from Damon (or it may have been his brother's, my memory is hazy). "We've been to the launch of my father's book."
Being a lover of books I sought more information. The book was a novel, set in South Africa, about a young boxer. It was called 'The Power of One'. How lovely I intoned naively.
Now, as it was about 19 years ago, my memory struggles with the sequence of events. I do remember that Damon worked hard to establish his frontier business, Celeste worked as a waitress to support them and in between times all residents of the building had chats, BBQs and dinners/drinks in each other's flats. It was a lovely, communal period.
In Dec 1988 I turned 28 and had a small party in my flat for all residents. Damon and Celeste came down with birthday offerings. They presented me with an unusual mexican silver photo frame and a hand painted birthday card. It was a 30cm x 20cm painting of our lighthouse
(it flashed into all our windows at night) albeit in a slightly imagined setting. Celeste had been experimenting with watercolour and although she was a little unhappy with the lighthouse itself, we were all enchanted by the curve of the horizon and the hustle and bustle of figures gathering to look over the cliff edge. It went into my box of treasures (see the real thing at right).
Life started to move fast then. I was transferred to a post in the country and, as was to become the pattern of my life, left some of my furniture with Damon and Celeste. Within the year I received the shocking news that Damon had contracted AIDS. Being a haemophiliac from birth meant he had been receiving blood products and blood transfusions for years and was of course exposed quickly to the contaminated donations of the 1980s. I heard that he had moved with Celeste and was being cared for by his family. I looked back on my final photos of him at my party in 1988 and saw the gaunt, tell-tale face. How had we not noticed then?
Whilst out in the country I also had a friend recommend a book to me. It was 'The Power of One' by Bryce Courtenay. "You must read it!" she enthused,"It's a marvellous story."
I remember feeling ill. This was the book Damon had been celebrating back in the days when he still had colour in his cheeks and no death sentence over his head. It was with an initially heavy heart that I read and loved the book.
And so I framed the lovely 'birthday card' Damon and Celeste had given me for my 28th birthday. I was eventually able to contact Celeste again when I moved back to Sydney in the 90s and heard of Damon's passing at home, where he wanted to be. His father told his story in 'April Fool's Day'.
Although I have lost touch with Celeste over the years, I have recently been reading yet another Bryce Courtenay epic, 'Four Fires'. His gift for story telling continues but I can't help thinking back to the two radiantly happy 'kids' piling out of the Porsche, full of the excitement of his first book launch.
Another strange post script to this story concerns the church where I was married. St Peter's Anglican Church, Vaucluse is a tiny but beautiful church up on the South Head with extraordinary views from many directions. It has a sensational Garden of Remembrance tucked away behind it, near the infamous Sydney Gap, with even more sensational views in all directions. It was in this garden, whilst visiting the church to make arrangements for my 1992 wedding, that I came upon the plaque commemorating Damon. I'm not sure if his ashes are there, if so, what a glorious place to finally rest and how amazing to accidentally find them there....
So, as G handed me the painting that was lost and now was found, I was filled with delight and renewed sadness. Even though the years have passed and people have moved on, Damon and Celeste were an integral part of my life at a time when all of us were at a crossroads. I thank God for the brief privilege of their friendship and the lasting joy this painting brings.
(from my previous blogsite Dec 2006)
Last night I was privileged to be involved in the Annual Candlelight Vigil in memory of the SA victims of HIV/AIDS.
Best Friend invited me to attend and I was so pleased I did. When she was describing the proceedings to me, the night before, she mentioned that we would be writing down the names of those people we knew who'd died of AIDS. "But I don't know anyone" I protested..."Of course you do" she replied..."What about Damon?"
How could I forget???? Damon was my upstairs neighbour in Vaucluse, Sydney 1987-9 (approx). He and his lovely girlfriend Celeste moved in to one of the units in my block and we knew him well. He had mentioned that his father had written a book, something called 'The Power of One' and that his name was Bryce Courtenay. (I actually met him at Celeste's 21st birthday which we attended at The Courtenay's home in Double Bay (I think)....)
Damon was a haemophiliac.
After I had moved to the country teaching I heard that Damon had contracted AIDS either through transfusions or through his coagulation agent, administered regularly and derived from donated blood. He died on April 1st 1990 while I was in Booligal.
The Candlelight Vigil was lovely. Simple, solemn and full of emotion. There were a handful of, I don't know what to call us.....people affected by HIV/AIDS? Mourners? Rememberers? Anyway, only a handful compared to the vast numbers of people taken by and affected by the disease Australia wide let alone world wide. But everyone was profoundly affected by the revisiting of memories.
After the reading of names, a panel of the Quilt was unfolded. Most people are aware of the AIDS Quilt where family and friends created and donated panels in memory of lost friends and loved ones. This was the thing which really got to me. To see the appliqued photos of real people along with scraps of their lives, items of clothing, favourite props, poems and symbols displayed on these panels, encapsulating their characters, their lives and the love and pain felt by those left behind was incredibly powerful.
I wrote Damon's name and my relationship to him on a piece of paper. I remembered accidentally coming upon his memorial plaque in Sydney at the church where I was about to be married. I remembered the two photos I have of him, taken 6 months apart and showing shocking decline........
and I remembered I hadn't been able to say goodbye.
We tied the names onto balloons and let them go. Again.