Story by Stephen Andrew
St Andrews, Victoria, 2 April 2009
The 2009 Black Saturday bushfires on 7 February 2009 killed 174 people. Stephen Andrew was living in the township of St Andrews, where twelve people died. In the aftermath of the fires Stephen wrote a diary. Below he reflects on a difficult 24 hours two months after the fires.
It’s been a crap day. I feel awful. It was a crap night too. Thought-jams that crunched like truck gears through the night moved in and out of my dreams, dreams that tumbled as I tossed through the dark hours.
It is a day of minor stumbles. Nothing is working. A conversation with a friend on the aftermath of the fires feels perfunctory and unformed. Things break around me. The computer goes down and takes the printer with it. I write a shopping list that disappears by the time I get to the shop. I attempt to clean up around the house and just make more mess. Phones calls drop out.
I forget things and blur out. I feel like an angry drunk, uncoordinated and vile, stumbling from one trivial defeat to another.
I have a sleep in the afternoon and wake feeling lighter but badly smudged. I feel caught up in something I can’t see. I weigh a lot more than I actually do. I can’t find the beat. I shower and the water doesn’t touch me.
I get into my car and there is nothing I can feed into the CD player that seems right. I check the rear view mirror and see that I am scowling.
At the end of a day of fray and countless loose ends, a fragment of a lyric with a one note melody enters my consciousness.
The phrase I knew had to come… floats through me. I drop this lyrical ghost into a search engine to see what is shadowing me and the Joy Division song Passover pops up as the answer.
While I am sceptical of the word “crisis” as an accurate description of where I am right now, the rest seems to fit.
This is a crisis I knew had to come,
Destroying the balance I’d kept.
Doubting, unsettling and turning around,
Wondering what will come next.
This full-stops my day. I am moved, instantly, to a sort of bruised peace. The bell beside the ring has clanged and I can now stagger to the red corner and be towelled and talked into another round. But that’s for tomorrow.
Tonight, I dig out my copy of Closer, allowing its ivory cover to send me into a soft trance. The music plays. Pristine. Primitive. Shaky. But performed with a stark, ironic confidence.
I was lost when I first heard this, a long way from home, a boyish teenager intrigued by the echoes of this distant Manchurian soundscape as it boomed into my own life. My ears were wide then, hungry for the new sounds that would soundtrack my entry into adulthood.
Now, nearly two decades on, the sound of Joy Division still calls me. Again, I am lost. Again, I find solace in Closer.
Inside the music I am offered something like the grace I am going to need if I am to rise again tomorrow and face the fire-blackened landscape of my town. I have no idea what this will mean.
Tomorrow, and whatever it may hold, seems a very long way off. Tonight, I am touched by the sounds, steadied, more hopeful that my sleep will be restorative. I select the second last track, The Eternal, lay down between the speakers and close my eyes.
Stephen Andrew is a psychotherapist, lecturer and musician. He is also a former writer for Juke, Rhythms and Rolling Stone Australia. As well as Joy Division, he also listens to Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Dylan, Wilco, Neil Young, Bob Marley, Status Quo and hundreds, if not thousands, of other bands and performers.
An earlier version of this story was part of a longer article published in the February 2010 edition of Wellbeing magazine.