I am the girl from the perron. Am I? I don’t know. It’s not my memory…it’s my father’s. One of the last of his memories. I see him nearly every day and the greeting is almost always the same: a realisation that it’s me, followed by a wave of relief and joy communicated by his face and a physical impulse culminating in a shudder of pure gladness and the inevitable: “Ah, it’s my girl from the perron.” He describes that time when he saw me on the perron; the platform at the train station. I was on the other side and I needed to get across and he was frightened that I would go onto the tracks but the locomotive was coming. “I didn’t want you to jump”. “I’m not Anna Karenina!”, I quip, and he laughs. His sense of humour remains strong and present despite the gaping absence of so much else.
When I arrive, his eyes immediately reveal the status quo. When they’re grey and vacant, the confusion is palpable. When they are blue and smiling…well, it’s going to be a good day. Our patriarch…our guru…is being felled…slowly. The rot of dementia weaves its way across my father’s brain, casting its net of tributaries, journeying insidiously through each and every neurone, blocking the action potentials in its wake. But he remembers this scene. Is it real? Did it happen? If it did, it is no longer contained in the microfiche files of my memory bank. Indeed, we are not capable of remembering the myriad memories of our whole life. Is this one that I’ve forgotten? It’s certainly not ringing any bells in my grey matter.
My daughter Ebony thinks it might be her, from the times when he used to pick her up from the station, but Dad insists it’s me. Definitely me. Another idea rears its ugly head from the dread within me. Perhaps it’s a scene he remembers from those dark Holocaust days? My guts churn at the thought. Could it be? I don’t know. I never will. Does it matter anyway? It’s not something negative for him. He enjoys this memory.
After we reminisce about the perron he sits bolt upright. “Indigo! How’s my little Indigo. Such a clever girl.” This is part of his repertoire of reflex responses upon seeing me. Trying to make connections. Some days he is able to share other memories, albeit with his speech and language ominously at the mercy of the ocean’s twists and turns, before it sinks beneath the surface forever. Sometimes there are words and sometimes there just aren’t. Well, they’re in there, I can see they are, but they can’t seem to find their way out.
He mourns the loss of language. He was well and truly in his 30’s when he immigrated to Australia and had to learn English. He is a published author and despite the current fog, from time-to-time in precious, priceless moments, like joyous bolts of lightening, turns of phrase escape the inner shackles of his dying mind and trip off his tongue with poetic splendour: Phrases like: When you are with me, I breath different air; the zenith of desperation, remind me of his mastery of his second language. He bemoans the deterioration of his articulation. “I used to be a public speaker. Speech and language were my superpower. Now I’m mumbling and bumbling….my speech is…” he looks left, he looks right, checking if anyone is within earshot, (because above all else, he’s still an absolute gentleman), “fucked.” “Not fucked enough to not say ‘fucked!’”, I quip, and he laughs. Deeply. Heartily.
“We‘ve been through a lot, you and me…haven’t we? All the appointments and so many things….my girl from the perron.” And we’re back at the station. And you know what? I’m happy to be at the station, fact or fiction, it doesn’t matter. I know all too well that the dreaded moment is nigh; the day when he won’t know who I am. But right now he does know who I am. I am his girl…from the perron.