Emptying the nest

Image: stock photo.

What makes someone pack up and leave Sydney for a sea or tree change? In Sunny Grace’s case, a host of reasons, both practical and poignant. She describes the reasons for her move in this powerful, personal essay. 

So here I am middle of the last year of my forties. I have just cleaned what became our last nest. A rambling nineties renovated rental that looks impressive at first glance – but if you scratch the timber wall-trimmings you find the mould lurking beneath. The landlord unwilling to spend any money on what he believes is unnecessary upkeep. 

We arrived at this house in a state of trauma five years ago after our previous modest Erskineville terrace house was firebombed by a teenager attending our son’s high school. They were both fifteen and the motivation was jealousy. The firebomber, as we call him, was gaoled after being diagnosed with schizophrenia, PTSD, ADHD, low IQ and pretty much every label you can give a person. He was the product of a society that doesn’t know how to deal with drug addiction, mental health or poverty. But that is a much bigger story for another time. 

We packed up that singed nest pronto, threw our lives into boxes hurriedly and fled the memories of the smell of petrol, black smoke and our lucky escape from serious injury. This was due to my husband’s bravery and our fire extinguisher (everyone should have one).

Arriving in Alexandria, we unpacked and spread our belongings around the house like feathers in an attempt to make ‘home’ feel like a safe place again. I don’t think we have ever touched some of the stuff since we arrived.  Well, I know we haven’t, given I have just come across the charger to my son’s laptop we thought we lost back in 2015. Then, like bowerbirds, we collected more stuff to add to the nest in a failed attempt to protect us from our trauma. 

Feathering that new nest, however, ultimately failed. My husband slowly withdrew from the house and us and himself as he descended into the hell that is PTSD and has now flown to the healing lands of the Byron Shire to try to grow new feathers. Our sons, now twenty and eighteen years old, in need of some fatherly life lessons, recently followed him, leaving me the task of dismantling the bower and sorting through their lives to keep the treasure or sell (Marketplace is the best thing about Facebook these days) or throw out the trash. 

An idyllic ocean view in Byron Bay. File photo.

It is emotional work, especially when one is alone. As an only child of a single mum who has moved regularly in my lifetime, I am used to this process. And to being alone. Over the course of the week, I oscillate between deep grief for the babies now grown men, and a sense of freedom at the thought of fleeing the nest myself. While I plan to spend summer in the new place up north, I will also be returning to my hippie kid gypsy roots, travelling for work and family visits, flitting around the country like a bird who has just flown the cage and needs some adventure before finding a hole in another tree to call home. 

Ours is an unconventional marriage. We were younger than our peers when we committed to each other and had kids. He was twenty-two and I was twenty-eight. We remain committed despite our current need for separate nests. We will be twenty years married in January 2021. Twenty-five years as a couple, give or take a few hiccups in the beginning. We have devoted ourselves to giving our kids the security we didn’t have growing up, as evidenced by all the clothes, shoe boxes and electrical device cords I threw out yesterday. Money spent on them rather than a house deposit. 

My neighbours are astounded by the shoe boxes that form a metre high wall when piled up. I try to justify it as sport shoes that wear out. Only partly true. And yet I am not sorry for it. The firebomb proved bricks and mortar do not a nest make.  The real nest, which is created by love and music and good cooking and laughter and tough lessons and kind lessons and family. 

I hope my sons know they can make their own nests now, as I fly towards my fifties and a sense of freedom, my imagination and fingers at the ready to write the words I have been longing to write since I was a child playing in the forests of Bellingen. 

Sunny Grace is a Sydney writer, producer and director. Her website is located at sunnygrace.com.au.

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