– Latimer Square, Christchurch Central, Canterbury, New Zealand

“Oh! Latimer Square.”
(yearnings from my temporary office on Friday 13 May 2011)

This warm, sunny, autumnal, Friday afternoon my grief for this inanimate, nothing of a place stings and makes me feel a little teary eyed.

I feel petty and insensitive to those who have lost more for saying that. But I can’t be the only one.

I imagine the large green square, the ‘ye olde worlde’ lampposts on concrete steps, the trees, leaves and conkers in the autumn. Sunny lunchtimes

The four sides of the square lined by perfect, large chestnut trees at ten metre intervals . Each autumn as I walk the square, even in my last autumn as a slightly cynical, mortgaged 26 year old, the feeling of excitement at finding the first fallen chestnut never goes away. I always pick up the first, and place it in my pocket. After ten minutes or so I’d think “what are you going to do with that then?” and I’d feel foolish and embarrassed and I’s toss it away and hope no one would see the stupid woman who still collects conkers.

The leaves, when they fall, are large and lush and rusty and I kick in them (despite the voices of those much wiser ringing in my ears, warning of the foul things that may lay beneath). The sun comes through the branches and hits the leaves and the whole square glows. Of all things, I liked the glowing most.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that I feel like today could have been one of those days.

It wasn’t a perfect place. On sunny afternoons homeless drunkards lie like starfish on the grass for hours, motionless and comatose. I used to watch them from my window and sometimes worry if they were still alive and wonder if there was something I should do. Syringes, vomit, broken glass and used condoms litter the paths sporadically. You must watch your step. And those big scary men with big scary dogs tied on old bits of rope and shipping chains stride the paths. The dogs leave their shit all over the show. You must watch your step. After dark the transvestites and transsexuals come. A well-known prostitution hot spot in Christchurch’s seedy, larger than we’d liked to admit, underbelly. Something the media never mentions anymore. Death = sainthood, I suppose, a sure fire way to have your sins erased.

Nothing significant before that day ever happened here – nothing to warrant such misty eyed reminiscing’s – no first kisses, virginities lost, political protests or tipsy nights spent sleeping under the stars – it was usually just a hurried thoroughfare, somewhere I had to get through on my way back from a lunch hour gone on 15 minutes too long, the route to morning tea on Fridays, or on a secret midnight walk home (when I promised my mum I would take a cab) – normal stuff like that.

Of course, on that day, something significant did happen here – this was the place we all met. Thousands of us from all four sides of the square and beyond. All seeking the same thing – an open space, away from glass and bricks and water and silt.

Safety.

Each of us bringing our own personal horrors from the last hour – noone ever being able to undertand what another had just been through.
Where we learnt the fate of our colleagues and relentlessly tried to contact our loved ones. Where we attempted to process what we had just been through and what we were going through.
Where we tried to fathom what the fuck was going on.
Where nothing felt real and home felt like the other side of the world.
Where the ground roared, grumbled, shuddered and shook so angry, pained and hurt. Where we huddled under blankets drinking wine from the bottle from the boot of someone’s car.
Where we listed to a radio and heard first heard the word we feared the most – fatalities. Where we cried and sobbed breathlessly.
Where the light glowed orange and hazy from smoke.
Where people bled and made bandages from their clothes.
Where helicopters and sirens were so prevalent that anyone who was there that day will forever flinch at the sound of them.
Where just like in the films, other, more helpful, practical sorts commanded “are there any doctors here?”.
Where, for the first time, mortality felt such a throbbing reality…but I don’t like to think about that (my dreams are working through it most nights though).

Today, I focus on the glorious leaves and the walks to the café, the deep gutters and ample benches.
How when I strode across that square I felt like I could have been in Paris, London or Edinburgh, which is funny, because today, as I sit in our temporary office, no more than 1km from this place it feels like it really is on the other side of the world. So near and yet so far, plus several other clichés.

One day I will be able to return and collect conkers and scuff the leaves.

One day, once the cordons have lifted, and the scars have healed I will return.

But I think it will be some Autumns away before I will be ready to do that.

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