Late this afternoon I had the peculiar feeling of having spent the day in an alternate reality; in a parallel universe. I was wondering if I should start introducing myself as Quog from Zog, the planet on the other side of the sun. You know - the one that shares Earth's orbit.
The reason is this: a sad and terrible story has been unfolding here in New Zealand. Actually, in West Auckland, where I work. It happened on a street that I regularly see, and which I stop on to visit a couple of clients. A normal Kiwi suburban street. Tree-lined, neat lawns. You know the picture.
A child went missing. A two year old toddler, cute as all two year olds are. Her parents had brought her with them as they were visiting a deceased relatives home, to clean it up, and prepare it for sale.
They turned their backs for a couple of seconds. As any parent will know, that's all it takes. A newly mobile kid can disappear quicker than toast and honey on a cold morning. They searched, frantically. They eventually understood the reality was a lot greater than a mischeivous child playing hide and seek, and phoned the Police.
The cops and volunteers have been heroic in their dedication. While this young couple - they'd be in their early 30s, I'd estimate - became more and more fear-stricken, backyards and trees and creeks and gullies and streams were searched. The cordon was extended, hundreds of doors were knocked on. No body has been found, and the Police have been coming to the terrible conclusion that the child has, in fact, been abducted.
This event is rare in New Zealand: apparently just five children have gone missing with no explanation in the past 50 years. Well, the explanation's been obvious, but the children have never been found,and no-one has been suspected or apprehended for abducting them.
One every ten years. This is the country that - around twenty years ago - featured a stolen Ford Cortina on a nationally televised crime show. We have our murders and our drugs. We have our child-abusers, and we have our gangs. But we're still a pretty innocent bunch. And so it is that a young couple will go to bed tonight, not knowing what has happened to their child.
But it's not the fact that this appalling event has taken place here that made me believe I wasn't spending the day in my beloved New Zealand.
It was this: after 50 hours, I hadn't heard one single journalist use the god-awful phrase "a parent's worst nightmare'. It's a triteness that gets trotted out whenever there's a dog-bite, or a scraped knee. I was obviously in a parallel universe, one where the journalists aren't hidebound cliche regurgitators. No other explanation was possible.
Then the parallel lines met: some dimbulb on the TV news used it, bellowing ands gibbering some sensationalist report. TV1, you're despicable.
READING: "Diary of a Cat", by Leigh W. Rutledge. Insightful. About cats, that is.
LISTENING TO: Portishead, "3". If this is where rock's going, I like it.
WORD OF THE DAY: Nightmare. When tempted to use it in conjunction with "worst", shoot yourself. It's less painful than dying with the embarassment of it all....
“These were our vows that we made 14 years ago. Do you think we should use them again?”
“Too right,”said Chutty.
The minister started us off, with an impromptu little speech about two people coming together to re-make their promises to one another, and so on. Actually, he was pretty good: either he'd done this sort of thing a hundred times before, or he was a very good at extemporising. He then read the thing in the letter to the Ephesians about love, and then Chutty and I turned to one another, our pieces of paper in our hands. Chutty started, as he did, 14 years and four months and nine days ago.
“Moana,” he started, reading from his paper, and looking at me earnestly. “I've counted my blessing every day that I have known you. Since you first came into my life, I have been complete, a whole person. No matter where I am, or who I may be with – you are there. You are as much a part of me as my breath, as my shadow. With you in my life, all that can come is good. No matter what trials, what trib – trib-”
I should have known he'd stumble there. He did once before.
“Tribulations, love,” I said.
He grinned at me. “Thanks, love. Bloody five dollar words.” He looked at me for a long, slow moment, then dropped the paper, and, keeping eye contact, said “What trials, what tribulations life may throw in our path, we will carry on.” He grabbed a my hand, and continued. “Because, my love, it is our path. And we shall choose to share our path only with those we love, our children, our wider family..”
I was stunned. I look him in the eye, and said “That’s not what’s written down!” And he winked, and said “You’re not the only one who can make things up, love. I committed myself to you twenty-five years ago when we met, then fourteen years, four months, and nine days ago, so I’m re-committing myself to you again now. Moana Wrigley: if you consent to remain my wife, my lover, my friend, my mate – then I shall work hard to see you are provided with all you need to be a complete woman, a whole woman, a free woman, a woman who knows to the core of her being that I shall always be beside and behind you, providing all that I can provide.”
Crikey, I thought. What I said was “Oh, Chutty.”
“Probably didn’t come out right,” he said, looking down at his shoes.
My eyes were leaking again. I gripped his hand, hard, and wiped my eyes. He handed me a hanky, and I blew my nose.
“You're a good boy, Chutty,” said Mum. “My girl done good when she got you.”
“Crikey, Dad,” said Treen. “You'd better mark that one up.”
Chutty looked at me, and said, quietly, “Your turn, love.”