Rainbows by Maura Pierlot
It's been two years, nine months and seven days since I saw my family.
That was when the accident happened. We were driving home to Melbourne from Nana's house in Albury. Tara was singing the song from Little Mermaid and I kept telling her to stop. Ben kept kicking me for no reason and then saying 'Jack kicked me first'. Mum made us switch places so Tara was in the middle and she still kept singing. That's all I remembered for a long time.
Now I live with Aunty Jess - she's my mum's sister - and Uncle Rob and their family. They moved into our house in Nunawading so I could still have my old room and go to the same school. My cousin Tommy has Ben's room and Katy has Tara's. I'm getting used to seeing my cousins in the beds where my brother and sister used to sleep, but it's still strange. Yesterday, I heard Tommy ask Aunty less if he could paint his room - his room! - green.
'You can't paint it green,' I begged him. 'Ben hates green.'
'Well, Ben's not exactly here, is he?' Tommy said. Aunty Jess got very angry with him and told him he couldn't paint the room.
'Ah, c'mon, it's been almost three years already,' he told his mum and then did a little foot stomp, like he always does when he doesn't get his way.
'I said no - it's not time for that - and if you keep it up you can forget about Erica Johnson's pool party on Saturday,' she said. I don't think it's ever going to be time to mess up Ben's room like that.
People still look at me in a funny way and whisper. I think they're saying, 'There's Jack - he's the poor boy who lost his family', or something like that. They always smile a little half smile, like they would feel so much better if I would just smile back, and then they look away when I don't.
There's still so many jumbled things in my head. Rocky tells me that's normal. His real name is Dr Rockman and he's a special psychologist for kids. At first, I couldn't remember anything about the car accident. He said that was normal, too. Then, I remembered Nana standing on her front verandah as Dad backed our car out of the driveway. We were all waving goodbye. It had rained really hard that morning, and Tara was excited when she spotted a huge rainbow. She loves rainbows. Nana had just given Tara some pinky-purpley roses called 'Delilah', and the minute we fastened our seatbelts she started tearing off the petals, saying - in this really annoying voice - 'he loves me, he loves me not'. I thought, oh no, four hours in the car listening to this. Now, I feel guilty that I even cared about such a silly thing.
I'm not sure how to make sense of what I'm feeling. It's like there's a ball rolling around inside me and it's getting bigger and bigger. It's sharp and silvery-black and spiky, liked barbed wire. When I drew it for Rocky he-said, 'hmm, that looks seriously nasty'. I think he was trying to be cool but it just sounded a bit lame. No matter what I do, or say, he tells me that it's part of the 'healing process'. I'm not sure what he means. I wish there was a bandage I could put on my heart and make it better, but I don't think there's one big enough or strong enough.
Last night it was nearly 10pm and I couldn't sleep, so I snuck into the kitchen to get something to eat and I heard Uncle Rob tell Aunty Jess, 'You've got to go easy on Tommy. He's just acting out because you're always putting Jack first.'
'I am not,' Aunty less said in a half yell, half whisper.
'You don't realise it, less, but you are. You can't bubble wrap Jack - kids are a lot stronger than we give them credit for. And anyone can see Katy and Tommy are crying out for attention from both of us,' Uncle Rob said.
'You're probably right, but it's so hard. How do you move on when something like this happens? I can't even imagine how Jack feels,' she said.
Well, some days I feel OK and other days not so good. Usually it's worst when adults make a big fuss over everything and get all teary. Then I get really sad again. Or I get a funny feeling and it hits me real hard, but sometimes it's in a nice way, as if Mum, Dad, Ben and Tara are still with me. Like the other day, our class had an excursion for water conservation, and we went down to the wetlands near the river. My family used to go bird watching there. Dad's really good binoculars would dangle around his neck, and Mum would wear her special bright blue gumboots. Ben would skip stones, and pretend he was aiming for a bird, and Tara would yell at him to stop. I swear I could see all of my family there in their favourite spots. Birds were doing nose-dives and there was a beautiful rainbow that stretched from Dad, through Ben and Tara, and on to Mum, as if they were all holding it up. They smiled and waved at me, and then Joel Mussman started laughing and said, 'Hey, why are you waving at the birds, do you know them?'
'Yes I do,' I told him, and he walked away, shaking his head like he was really confused.
Thank goodness I have Gus in my class. He's been my best friend since kindergarten. We're on the same cricket team - he's a pace bowler and I'm a spinner. When I went back to school about three months after the accident Gus was the first person to come up to me.
'I'm sorry about your family. That really sucks,' he said.
'Yeah, I know.'
'Are you going to be able to play cricket against Easts this Saturday?'
'You bet,' I told him. And we slaughtered them that match - I got 2/7 and Gus 3/14. In a funny way, cricket took my mind off everything for a little while.
Everyone says life will never be the same but sometimes I wish things would be more normal. I'm tired of those strange looks adults give me, and I hate when they stop talking when I walk into the room. I can handle anything. Dad always called me 'little man' because I was the oldest and toughest. Now I'm nearly eleven and I wonder if he'd recognize me - I've grown over six centimetres!
Whenever I feel sad, I like to think that my family is looking down on me. I was only six when Grandpa died. I cried and cried for days because I would never see him again. One night, when Mum was tucking me into bed, she told me, 'You may not be able to see him, Jack, but he'll always be watching over you, like an angel.' Mum said when people die their spirits lived on as angels, and they would stick like magnets to the people they loved.
'But how do you know when the angels are with you?' I asked her.
'It's hard to explain,' she said, 'but when you're ready, the angels will send you a sign. You'll see something, or remember someone, and you'll know with all your heart that they're with you.'
Nana comes to take me to Uncle Pete's farm in Western Victoria. I love going there because I get to help my cousins shear, and once Jeremy let me steer the ute when he was driving around the paddocks. Aunty Denise called last week to tell us Mabel just had a litter of black and tan kelpies. And she said the old neighbour, Mr Gillespie, said I could help him hay cart.
We always celebrated 'Christmas in July' at the farm during school holidays. All the sisters - Mum, Aunty Jess and Aunty Denise - would make a huge turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and everyone would eat way too much. Then the adults would talk in front of the fire and most of them would fall asleep. That's when we'd sneak off with our older cousins to go yabbying.
Thinking about all these memories makes me happy. Nana's concentrating on driving, but she glances over and gives me a big smile that seems to light up the car. This time I smile back. I look out the window and see the biggest rainbow ever and it's leading the way to the farm. I hold up my left hand, so it looks like the rainbow is coming out of my palm, and with my right hand, I wave.
Copyright © 2012. Maura Pierlot