“Missing” Christmas memories

imageA Christmas photo taken without us knowing reminds me of my last Christmas with Ursula. She has red scary flash eyes in the photo. It’s not flattering. She doesn’t look beautiful. She isn’t laughing and joking. It’s just a snap. Our Aunty probably took it. She always had a camera in hand.We are sitting side by side. Like we did every Christmas. We are on the floor. Squeezed between furniture, decorations and other family members. All trying to get the best view of the tree. None of us close to it apart from the designated Santa and his helper who dishes out the gifts.I am dressed in purple. My favourite colour. Ursula in a greyish patterned jumpsuit. Very stylish in 1986. I am trying to find the clasp on some beautiful new purple beads I have just unwrapped. I loved those beads. I wore them with everything. So stylish. So 80s.The only memory I have of that day, apart from what the photograph captures, is walking and talking outside with Ursula and standing underneath a lush and shady honeysuckle. We didn’t stop talking when we stopped walking. We never did. I reach into the depths of my mind, struggling and straining to recall the exact words. Nothing. Just a feeling. Hot Australian summer’s day. Standing in the coolest shadiest spot we could find. Away from the adults. As they wanted. As we wanted. Dirt under our feet. It’s too shady here for grass to grow. Trucks and traffic would have been going past but we were so used to the passing traffic we never heard or smelt it. Tears wash everything away. Not wet tears from my eyes. Tears that form a lump in the pit of my stomach. They never reach my eyes. They just sit there inside somewhere I can’t reach. Threatening to come. But they never do. Just like the memories. They are threatening to come. But they never do. I am frustrated. And very very sad. The memories are gone. I don’t remember anything of my last Christmas with Ursula. All I have is a photograph and a feeling of standing with her in the shade of a sweet honeysuckle. If I had known it was my last Christmas with Ursula I would have wrapped the day in the brightest red paper I could find and tied it with a shiny, sparkly green ribbon. I would have gotten the scissors out and dragged it along the ribbon strip to make it curl magically and create the most beautiful, handmade and most loved Christmas gift ever. Then on Christmas Day forever more I would carefully unwrap this special gift. What would I find inside? Seventeen years of memories, conversations, events, moments and treasures. And 26 years of questions with no answers, a mystery unsolved and a longing for the truth about what Ursula is doing this Christmas Day.

Confronting? Absolutely. As is life. And death.

WriteAboutMeConfrontingPicAs more and more people read “Write About Me”, I am forced to confront the fact that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But just as I am confronted by a range of feedback I realise I am confronting people as well. People closest to me have admitted it’s not something they’d normally read, and others have struggled to finish. Not because of the style of writing but because of the subject matter.

One reviewer writes: “Melissa’s story is hard hitting and necessarily confronting. It makes you shift in your seat and cringe with discomfort.”

And another: “It is heart warming, cringe worthy in parts and eye opening. Based on a true life missing persons case, Ursula Barwick, it will tug at your heart strings as you realise the reality for some people.”

And the latest from today: “Well written, but has an adult scene in it. Brothel, rape, killing. It was an interesting read.”

After getting over the initial shock of today’s review posted on Amazon, I think it raises some thought-provoking issues. Firstly, thank you for “well written” – that has been a common thread through all the reviews so far. And thank you for “interesting”. I continually strive to interest people.

“Adult scene. Brothel. Rape. Killing”. Confronting? Absolutely. As is life. And death. These are things we are exposed to online, computer games, television, newspapers, radio in many various forms each and every day.

These are also things that my cousin Ursula Dianne Barwick, missing now for more than 26 years, may or may not have endured after she disappeared from our lives. The adult scenes throughout the book are there for a reason. I hope that if Ursula did end up in a brothel, that it is the made up Kellett Street brothel run by the very kind fictional character Bessie Fleetwood who found the equally fictional Annabelle on the street. If Ursula was raped as Annabelle was, it breaks my heart just like it breaks my heart to hear that anyone is raped. And if Ursula was killed as Annabelle was, then that is a reality we will all have to face.

But while Ursula is still missing the fictional adult scenes, brothel, rape and killing in “Write About Me” remain fictional. These are Annabelle’s reality. Not Ursula’s. And not mine.

  • On this day, I would also like to share one of my favourite quotes from Nelson Mandela, who has died aged 95: “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”