Author Jessie Cole had a relaxed childhood in Northern NSW, there were no words like “must” or “should” spoken by her parents. Instead, Cole and her brother learnt freedom, and were given free range to explore the trees and shadows around their rainforest home, unafraid of the spiders, bugs or the unknown. It all seems to be sunshine and rainbows. That is until Cole reached her early teens, when the unthinkable happened, and the family’s world was torn apart.
The loss of her stepsister shattered the family spirit, and suddenly all those sunshine and rainbows disappeared. After her father’s suicide, the second within the family, Cole’s past became a difficult topic of conversation. Family and friends began to avoid the topic, and avoid Cole, leading her to a point where she was unable to express what had happened, and had begun to distance herself from others. She didn’t have any “good” friends, for example, because she simply did not want to have to answer questions about her family, and her past.
Cole started writing this memoir over ten years ago, at a time when she felt she had no-one to talk to, as a way of helping her ease her pain. She found that by having the words on the paper, she was finally able to speak about what happened. The truth of her Father’s downward spiral is sad to read, but somehow Cole has managed to remain afloat, and become almost the backbone of her family. Though, the book’s tender finale suggests she may not have fully recovered.
But, it is clear to me that everyone could learn from this book. Whether it be: how to be someone who has experienced trauma or a wounded past, but to be able to continue. Or simply to be more aware of others, to be able to hold out your hand, and offer support to others experiencing hardship, allowing that person to dip their feet in the water a little bit more each time. To support and allow that person to talk about their past, and process it, as it will only help in the present or the future.
Whilst reading Staying I often forgot that it was non-fiction. I often had to remind myself that this was real. That this actually had happened to Cole and her family. It made me feel sad for the family. Though, and I feel strange saying it, I also enjoyed reading this book. It’s an honest, raw and well-crafted memoir about a family torn apart. Whilst I would have liked to read more about Cole’s mother, and whether she managed to settle down, or move on, I realise that some stories are too personal to be penned.
Staying is about how Cole remained in a place where she was wounded, how she learnt to live with the heartbreak of her past, until she had finally recovered the strength to move forward. It is a book that Cole hopes says to readers, who might be carrying their own hurts and painful past: ‘I’ve got you. Come with me.” Words she wishes someone has said to her all those years ago.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Staying is available now through Text Publishing