Class was boring so I looked out the window. But, what I saw was not the view outside. Instead I drifted off into a long, long daydream of a distant past.
“We’re going to Deer Park,” my father said much to my pleasant surprise. Any stranger hearing this would likely question, ‘What for?’ But for me, those words would always fill my heart with an anticipatory excitement. When my father said ‘Deer Park’, he didn’t really mean the suburb but our relatives’ house, the centre of our Vietnamese family gatherings. Always, the whole house would get ready and drive there together in the old Holden Commodore whose model I can no longer remember.
A family gathering always meant delicious food and loads of fun and games. The adults would hold one for the most random occasions. No one celebrated those Australian holidays like Easter, New Years or Christmas. They made up their own days to celebrate. It was an occasion for everyone. At home, my parents forbade me from playing video games, but in Deer Park, all the children could get together to play console games like Nintendo 64 where up to 4 players could play at a time, or go out to the backyard and reenact scenes from the Vietnamese-dubbed Chinese serials we watched. The adults, too, partied in their own way to relieve the stresses of work and life. They’d sit together chatting, laughing, drinking Victoria Bitter, and taking turns to sing karaoke to Vietnamese songs in a drunken frenzy.
The adults all knew each other but the kids rarely did. We were family, yet we were also strangers; but that didn’t stop us. It didn’t matter who we were. We were all just kids driven by a desire for fun and freedom.
When everyone ate, it would never be on a table. There was just too many to fit around one table, and putting together many tables was too troublesome. Instead, everyone would sit around the layers upon layers of newspapers spread on the garage floor. Everyone was always very nice, offering to refill cups with drinks or bowls with food.
Everyone partied, ate and played from day till the end of night like some extravagant feast. The end of the day would always be a ‘goodbye’ no one wanted to say. It still had to be said, though, and just as well, for there’d be another gathering some other day, or so I used to think.
“Ahem,” came the distant sound of someone clearing their throat. “Ahem!” Oh, it was the teacher. “Class is over, so I’d like to lock up the room...” I appeared to have reminisced right up until the end of class. And what a shame that I was woken by a teacher and not a classmate. “Dreaming something happy were you?”
I pondered the question for a moment before looking out the window again with a smile on my face, chin resting on my hand.
“It was a sad dream,” I replied.
At some point in time, everyone began to grow up and apart from each other. Each slow dusk was a drifting away of hearts and a letting go of hands. All the kids grew up and, now, only hung out with their own friends they had made at school or on the Internet. Some families and friends moved away to other states. There were no more gatherings or parties. These days, the grown-up kids party and gather with their own friends.
I don’t know how many years it’s been since I last saw my cousin who was also my greatest childhood friend. To my knowledge, he still lives in Deer Park. Even if I went to visit him now, I’d have nothing to say. We are different people now. Having both changed, I don’t really know him much at all anymore. Between us, only fond memories of a happier time remain. With just the two of us, there’d be no crowd nor bells - too few for cheers and yells. Thus, our goodbyes would be short and swift. ‘Farewell,’ I’d say, and he’d say the same - ‘Farewell!’
What would my reaction be if, one day somewhere ages and ages hence, if I were to hear my father utter those words again - the words: “We’re going to Deer Park”.