It’s funny how the mind plays tricks on you, worse perhaps for those of us with dissociative disorders who experience time as anything but linear. I knew I’d been to New Zealand as a child but it wasn’t until writing “The Devil’s Wife” that I started to uncover a mish mash of memories from that time that didn’t make sense. I knew we’d had a great time over there so why was a part of me so frightened to see Diamond again as an adult?
I eventually realised I must have visited the country more than once. After consulting my old passport I discovered it had in fact been there three times. Pieces of the puzzle slowly began to fall into place and the memories unfolded in front of me like a slideshow.
At around 10 or 11 years old my parents had sent me over to visit The Devil’s Wife in New Zealand, flying by myself for the first time. At the time I was anxious to learn that Diamond was on speaking terms with her again and that meant at some point I’d not only be meeting my infamous Aunt but actually staying with her and her husband too.
Now I’m not a big fan of flying, not because I’m afraid the plane will crash but because I had a bad experience on a plane trip as a 6yr old that I’ve never gotten over and I get horribly sick in pretty much anything that moves. I can’t do boats or amusement park rides I can’t even watch first person shooter games without getting nauseous. Anxiety doesn’t help the nausea and when you’re anxious about getting nauseous it quickly becomes a catch 22.
I don’t remember the plane ride. I know that as an unaccompanied minor the flight crew boarded me first along with older people and those with disabilities. I know that I got sick as soon as I walked down that little gangway and smelled the jet fuel and I know that when I arrived I was still feeling pretty awful.
I was met at the airport by the three of them, The Devil’s Wife, Diamond and her husband Mal. Diamond was all smiles, she had short blonde hair immaculately styled, long painted nails and heavy make up. She spoke quickly in a thick New Zealand accent that had a raspy quality to it indicating she’d smoked most of her life. There was something I found immediately intimidating about her, perhaps I was just anticipating someone scary based off of my family’s conditioning or maybe it was her unfamiliar air of unwavering confidence.
Mal seemed like a nice man, he was gentle and calm with kind brown eyes. He drove a limousine for a living and had brought it to pick me up. I know I was quite excited to be driven to my grandmothers home in his fancy black car but still feeling seedy from the flight I was worried about vomiting in it. I remember Mal telling us tales of various celebrities he had chauffeured around the city over the years from prime minister’s to movie stars, it sounded very exciting.
The Devil’s Wife lived in a small bedsit unit in a retirement village, a big brown over crowded bookshelf separated her bed from the kitchen and living area and for some reason I picture that space to this day whenever I eat a ham, cheese and tomato sandwich although I couldn’t tell you why. I slept on a squeaky camp bed in the living area and vaguely remember the sounds of a train line close by through the night.
Life with my grandmother was relatively boring, I know we played bingo and darts at the little community hall with the other oldies and walked up a small hill to the local Safeway. I remember the Safeway specifically because it had interactive signage displays in the various departments, giant fish and the like, my favourite thing there was the sound of thunder playing when misting things activated in the fruit and veg section. Australian supermarkets are boring, we don’t have anything like that here; pick up your game Woolworths!
Anyway where was I? Right. so The Devil’s wife liked to talk a lot, unfortunately she had a venomous tongue. She was painfully judgmental and frustratingly racist with a tendency to make awful comments about people just as you walked past them. Having spent the majority of childhood on the receiving end of rude remarks, this sort of behaviour fills us with hot shame and it made me pray for the ground to open up and swallow us. Thankfully English is her second language and she had a thick accent that was quite hard to understand so a lot of what she said probably wasn’t absorbed by it’s targets.
My grandmother had told me tales of her childhood and the hardships of growing up with 9 (or was it 11?) siblings every time she’d visited us and one of her favourites was the time she’d been in hospital for an operation as a little girl during world war 1 and a bomb had exploded nearby the force throwing her off of her hospital bed and onto the floor bursting all of her stitches.
The other thing she liked to talk about frequently was how absolutely awful Diamond was. She claimed Diamond would say mean things and treat her badly and steal from her. She said she still hid her money in little jars all over her flat just so Diamond wouldn’t find it and take it from her.
It seemed odd at the time, Diamond and Mal both had jobs and they lived in a big house that was so immaculately presented that I was scared to touch anything. My grandmother on the other hand was a pensioner living in a tiny very cluttered flat, surely she didn’t have much worth taking. Mal also drove my grandmother to doctors appointments, helped her with groceries and with her garden. While I could sense there was definitely animosity between them, it seemed that Diamond and Mal spent a lot of time caring for my grandmother and she was less than grateful for it.
Despite what I had been told about Diamond and Mal by my grandmother and my parents, they were both nice to me and showed me a good time. I remember meeting Diamond’s oldest daughter, my cousin Angel. She lived a distance away and Mal drove us all out to spend the day with her family. They lived right on the beach and I had a blast scaling down the small cliffs onto the sand with Angel’s two sons (who were around my age) and we spent what seemed like hours digging for and collecting little sand crabs. We got a bucket full in the end and presented them to Angel who praised our fine crabbing skills then sent us back down the cliffs to release the poor creatures before they all died from shock.
I don’t remember much more unfortunately but there are postcards in the photo album collected from places they took us sightseeing, we went all over Auckland and to various parts of the North Island in Mal’s limo including The Bay of Islands, glow worm caves, the Kelly Tarlton’s penguin zoo and Rotorua’s hot springs. I also know we watched traditional Maori dancing, ate a hungi and got up close and personal with some Kiwi birds too and if the photo’s are anything to go off it looked like we had a fantastic time.