The Memoirist
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The Memoirist

The Horror of What Happened to Nat

Gruesome and brutal things happen a lot in rural Australia

Image by Dieter from Pixabay

I didn’t particularly care for Nat a good deal of the time, but he had gone to school with me in primary school. He had gone on to the closest high school, and he lived down the road.

Nat lived “down the dusty,” which is what we called the one-lane if you were lucky and driving a sedan dirt road. Anyone who lived down the dusty knew better than to drive a sedan on that road. My house was right before the the dusty started.

There were lots of people that lived down the dusty, but the school bus only went to the end of the paved road, and so all the kids whose families lived down the dusty had to wait for the bus on the edge of the road in front of my house, which was on top of hill and set back from the road.

School buses in Australia in the 1990’s were all different. There were no yellow buses with stop signs and lights like there are in America.

Our bus had broken down and one day our bus driver had shown up in a coach and we loved it because we were in that coach for the rest of the school year and the one after that.

We lived in a rural area so the coach was one of the highlights of our lives. Nat sat in the back of the bus now that he was in high school. There were two choices of high schools in town, the public school, or the Catholic school.

Nat wasn’t Catholic, and his parents didn’t have a lot of money, so he went to the local public high school thirty minutes away.

The primary school that I attended, with all the other kids from preschool through year 7 went to the small rural school in the middle of nowhere that was still a good twenty minutes away. If you happened to miss the bus, you weren’t going to school that day.

Some of the small rural schools in Australia in the 90’s could have as few as seven children in the entire school. The state started shutting them down if there were less than twenty students in the school.

My primary school had seventeen kids. Apart from my family, and Nat’s, the rest of the families were Italian Catholics. All this to say that everyone was up in everyone else’s business. There wasn’t much else to do.

One Sunday afternoon, my father called me and my sisters to the kitchen table.

“Nat won’t be on the bus with you anymore,” he said to us.

I figured that Nat had must have molested one of the girls if he wasn’t allowed on the bus anymore. Anger surged up inside of me. Nat wasn’t the kind of boy I thought would do that kind of thing.

“He was killed over the weekend.”

Now it was grief that surged inside of me, and I began to cry.

“He died because he was stupid,” my father continued. “If any of you are ever that stupid you’ll never go anywhere again.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“That stupid boy was drunk, and he was riding in the car with a friend to get home. He stuck his head out of the window, and the stop sign down by school chopped his head off.”

I shivered. I knew which sign. The only stop sign within cooee of where we lived.

Cooee: native to Australia, it’s a shout that one calls out when lost or in danger to attract attention.

In other words, the only stop sign within shouting distance. The term had come to mean what was close, which is loosely defined in rural Australia. Within cooee, or within shouting distance, could mean anything from down the road to thirty minutes away.

Nat’s friend had been driving so fast that when Nat’s head connected with the sign, it severed completely. This was horrible. I couldn’t get over it.

I found out later that Nat was gay.

Being gay was the unpardonable sin in the 1990’s, especially in rural localities such as ours, where sugarcane farms were everywhere.

Everyone thought Nat’s head was severed that day because of his sexuality. My father said that things like this were judgment for sin. It wasn’t random, it wasn’t a freak accident, God had done it because he was mad. My father has always had that kind of black and white thinking and been a staunch fundamentalist.

Nat’s only “sin” had been to live the way God had made him.

I don’t roll down my car windows even today, and if I’m driving, I certainly do not let anyone stick their heads, arms, or legs out of the window. No rolling down the window and holding anything out, either. I will pull over and stop the car.

Recently, I saw Nat at the stop sign, holding his head in his hands. He recognized me, and he talked about how he felt he had been stupid and that’s why he was dead.

I asked him not to blame himself, and told him there were better things for him, and that it was time to go home. I helped him move on to a place of healing and joy.

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MaryClare StFrancis, M.A.

MaryClare StFrancis, M.A.

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She/her. I write memoirs, feature articles, essays, poetry, and more.