On that day in February 1984 as she inched down her steep drive, away from the orange weather-board house that had been her home for the best part of her Uni days, she was not aware of – or even considering – the fact that she would never call this place home again. She would (without the faintest glimmer sparking in her synapses) from this very moment forward, always be moving on. She would never live in this city again.
Would she have set off so brightly, car packed with her small life’s worth of detritus – books, tapes, cats and clothes, to her new job and government provided shared accommodation four hours drive away on the brutally beautiful West Coast, had she known how her life would unfold? It’s hard to tell what we would do if we knew the future, all of it.
This clear blue February morning she was leaving her youth behind, the easy life of a student, the unhappiness of her family and too many messy affairs, and taking up her first job – teaching English and Social Science to the youth of Queenstown.
It was a desperate place – embroiled in environmental stoushes these last few years; its mining industry in decline; its 14 pubs a reminder of the good old days; its gravel football field a testimony to the toughness of the townsfolk. Its high school small and inhabited by neophytes like herself. It was the second worst place to be sent as a high school teacher. But she wanted work – she was finally qualified – and she needed to go. Saying no to the education department meant no job, unless you’d lined up something in the private sector and she hadn’t.
Two years. She had to do at least two years and then she could come back – well apply for a more civilised posting. Back here, she’d thought and resume her life in a place she was quite comfortable in after all. She was inordinately fond of the river.
Three years and the car would be paid off and she could go overseas – Europe and the UK, spend a year there, working in the schools, making some money; travel and see all those things she’d read about for years. Neuschwanstein Castle, Paris, Athens, London – Hampton Court and the Tower. Then, if she hadn’t met someone on her travels (as many did) she would come home, think about settling down, acquiring a professional husband, she guessed, buying a house and having a few children. A modest, normal life. Nothing too grand, nothing too exceptional. Oh, and write a few books and get published somewhere in there as well.
If she had a plan, that was it. Good in broad outline but no details and only scant attention to time-lines. She wasn’t a particularly driven person, not ambitious, not hugely smart – well an Arts degree (and Dip Ed) were not for the intellectually gifted were they? Not Medicine, not like some of her mates – too much maths and science there. She was smart enough – she’d won a scholarship to uni and despite too many failures along the way (personal issues that even now she preferred not to think about) she’d had good teaching pracs, and would be all right as a teacher. Her mum had always considered it a good fall back profession. Her mum was thinking children – she was thinking writing – but that was in the indetermined future.
She drove on that February day with a calm sense of the future unfolding before her as the road did. She never thought of the alternatives, that she could have joined the public service, obtained a cadetship at the local paper. The alternatives that would have kept here, stopped her taking the first step that unhooked her from all that she knew, all that was familiar and comfortable to her.
Home would forever be a difficult word, used to mean so many things simultaneously. Belonging would be another word that she struggled to define and own. She played Split Enz loudly as she drove quickly, eager to get there, curious about her house-mates, nervous of the reality of classes all to herself – how would it all be? She examined her feelings – there was no sense of foreboding, no feeling that disaster awaited, only a sense that life was hers to take and mould and make of it what she wanted.