Mask.

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I was doing my make up which I’ve discovered is a really good way of making me feel like I have shit together. If I didn’t do my make up I’d sit around in sweatpants all day full of lethargy (can you BE full of lethargy?) and spend hours waiting for something to kick start me. If I get up and do my make up then I’m forced to do my hair, get dressed, be productive.

So I was doing my make up. Foundation was all on, I’d added a bit of colour to my cheeks so I looked a little more like a person and then I was in the middle of filling my second eyebrow when it felt like I was looking at the sky underwater. Like all my feelings were shimmering below the surface.

When I lived in the country we had tank water and there is a little pipe at the top so that when the tank fills it can overflow without busting the tank. That felt like what was happening. My feelings had filled the tank and it was threatening the overflow pipe.

One tear slipped from my left eye, snaking down my cheeks, carving a path. I ignored it because I’ve become very good at ignoring things. The right eye filled and I put the brush down. Looked myself dead in the face in the mirror and watched the overflow happen. I drew breath in slowly, carefully measuring each one because I must be very, very careful here to not let this get out of hand. This is actually good, I told myself, just a little overflow, more room in the tank.

I slid to the floor and bundled my discarded pyjama pants into a ball and pressed my face into them because he was sleeping in the bedroom next door and I didn’t want to make any noise. I didn’t want to be comforted, I didn’t want his hands to stroke my hair, I didn’t want him to know because then I would have to acknowledge my feelings which might make the whole tank split at the seams, so I buried my face into the soft fabric and muffled my sobs for two minutes.

Two minutes of overflow. You can get through the day with two minutes of overflow.

It stopped. I got up. Blew my nose. Wiped my eyes. Looked myself dead in the eyes in the mirror. Then I fixed the rest of my make up. Deep breath. Smile. Open the door.

“Good morning!”

A Gift from my Mother.

When I was in high school my great uncle passed away. I didn’t go to the funeral but I went to the gathering at his home afterwards where my cousins and family had come together to celebrate his life and mourn his passing.

My great uncle was the husband of my Nanna’s sister who had died of breast cancer when I was 7. They had 4 children and one of them had daughters who were two years older than me and two years younger than me. Growing up, I had no siblings or first cousins until I was 8, so my second cousins were the closest in my age and my playmates. My family is very close knit so when my cousins lost their grandparents I felt their pain quite keenly. I couldn’t imagine the loss of my own grandparents, in fact even now with them in their 70s and 80s I feel like I’m not ready to do life without them. I’m 35. I’m still not ready. So I couldn’t even fathom that at 7 years old. I’m very aware of how blessed I am. I am thankful every day.

Coming home from my great uncles funeral my friends came over. Way more of them than usual actually and we were all going to walk over to another friend’s house and hang over there. My mother made sausages for everyone, the kind you wrap in a piece of bread and slather with sauce. She was in the kitchen. I was wearing this god awful dress reminiscent of 60s furniture and I felt like I was doing okay, I was a bit subdued but otherwise I felt okay. I don’t know why I remember what I was wearing. Memories are funny things. So I wander into the kitchen and I talk to mum a second about my friends and my plans and they’re all chatting in the lounge room and it just hit me.

He was gone. That life was done. His children and his grandchildren were without him. My grandparents had lost their friend. And I began to cry. Just my eyes filling with tears at first, but soon they became big raw sobs of grief. My mother took me in her arms. And I think I remember this so much because my family is close knit but we are not touchy. Emotions are usually kept pretty in check. I can only remember seeing my mother cry once in my life and I’m sure there have been many tears she has shed in private.

So I’m crying and my mother is holding me and I begin to apologise. I say, “I’m sorry. I know I didn’t know him that well…”
And my mother says, and I will never forget, “That doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know someone well for them to touch your life.”

And I’ve never forgotten that. That day when my mother gave me this gift. That while the sausages fried in a pan and my friends in the next room laughed and talked, my mother gave me one of the most valuable pieces of life advice I ever received.

That we all matter.

That sometimes the most fleeting of contact can change someone’s life.

That our grief does not have to be measured for value against how well we knew someone.

That empathy is one of our most important gifts to the world.

Never lose it.

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Chaotic Random or The Universe in motion.

I’m going to preface this by saying this is a long post and I apologize for that and also for the heavy conversation on a Friday night. Bear with me. 

Yesterday I read an article another writer shared about the phrase, “everything happens for a reason”. In the article the woman spoke of her multiple miscarriages and how that platitude was painful and cruel.

I understand that because in the throes of painful life experiences it can feel like someone is discounting the unfairness of the situation or devaluing the pain you feel when they say these things.

Sometimes there is no right thing to say. Especially when it comes to pregnancy loss because “I’m sorry” doesn’t really cut it. Sometimes people want to not talk about it. Sometimes they need to in order to process it.

I have been on both ends of that conversation. The one with the painful raw wound that is being offered comfort, and the person presented with someone in unseen agony and awkwardly realising that of the thousands of words at my disposal…none are going to help. I’ve known when people have offered me a platitude that they’re doing the best they can. They’re at a loss, bereft of words and what they say doesn’t really matter, what they’re offering me is love.

This world is such a strange place. I don’t really understand it and sometimes I wish I didn’t think so much because I think about EVERYTHING and it’s exhausting. I think that despite the differences between faith and science both are seeking the same purpose – to make sense of what the hell is going on. And there are two options here. Everything is guided by some force, which basically means all our major life changing moments are pre-ordained – fate, hand of God, destiny, divinely ordered. Or it’s chaotic random, in which case there is no reason or logic to anything at all.

I can’t live like that.

If everything is chaotic random then does anything really matter? It sends me into existential crisis and I may as well drink poison and be done with it.

Most people I have met are not true chaotic random believers. Even if they don’t believe in God sometimes things will happen they can’t explain and they seek to justify it in some way. I’ve met self proclaimed atheists who believe in karma. Which is a form of faith in itself.

In 2011 I was caught in the worst flooding in Brisbane in decades. I was about 20 weeks pregnant and I was shooting my last wedding for the season. I had taken the five kids to Brisbane with me and we were staying at my grandparents. My ex husband was working away in WA on the other side of the country. I expected to stay for two nights. I left the animals at home, the cats and chickens with enough food and water to last two days. It was raining before I left. I worried the roads would wash out and I wouldn’t make it to the wedding, but the day I left it receded a bit and I made it down. It rained on and off the day of the wedding. Then it poured. I waited an extra day at my grandparents, the roads were cut the way I usually went home. And then I got some texts from a friend that lived near me saying her husband was driving down through Toowoomba. She kept in contact with me and when he made it down I left immediately.

This is when things happened that didn’t usually happen that I can’t explain. Firstly, I had never had a car phone charger before but that day my mother had given me a spare one she had saying she didn’t need two. Secondly, I stopped in at a petrol station and filled not just my main fuel tank but also the reserve – something I never did. Next, I called into shops to buy snacks and for some unknown reason I bought a lot of food for the 2.5 hour drive. Bananas, bread, water etc. I did all this very quickly, as though I was in a rush. I had $1000 cash on me – me, who never carries any cash and lives off cards.

We drove towards Toowoomba, me eyeing the churning water under bridges as we drove over them, following my phones directions because I had never driven that way before. I could barely see through the rain. I followed the tail lights of the ute in front of me, when he swerved, I swerved…he could see the potholes before I could, chunks of bitumen removed from the rain that was relentlessly bearing down on us. Just after Helidon we were near a place called Tomatoland and the guy stopped. Cars in front of him were stopped and we were about 10 maybe 15 cars back. People were getting out of their vehicles. I opened my door and looked out.

You know that scene in Lord of the Rings when Arwen calls the river to wash away the wraiths following them? And the river turns to horses barrelling down the banks? That was what I saw. Crossing the highway, bashing through Tomatoland. There was no river, it was just flooding from what looked like no where.

What I didn’t realise – none of us did – was that Toowoomba had just experienced flash flooding. On the top of a fucking hill. People were being swept away, people were dying. And all that water was rushing down the mountain, down the range and heading straight for us. If I had been 15 minutes earlier we would have been on that range on our way up the mountain. We would have died.

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We waited ages. Maybe an hour before some folks started crossing the highway and turning around. At this point I decided to head back to my grandparents. I turned around and started back. The water was now moving through a gully to our left. It was inundating houses, a boat drifted by, smashing into trees and continuing on. I told the kids not to look. Soon we were stopped again by SES. We were a few cars back. She said the bridge in front had washed out and we had to wait. I asked if we were safe. She didn’t know. I asked if I could get back to Helidon. She didn’t know. There was another bridge after this one. If we made it through this one we would have to wait again before the next bridge. If we got through there, we would have made it to Helidon. I called around to see if there was anywhere the kids and I could stay at Helidon. A pub told me all the rooms were full but if I could make it he could offer me floor space on a verandah.

Right that second while the water rose in the gully beside us and it truly looked like we would not make it was when the situation hit home. I looked back at my kids, I looked at the raging water and I thought, “I’ve killed my children.” I literally thought we were not going to make it out of this. I apologised to them. “I’m sorry, I made a mistake. We should have stayed at Nanna’s. I’m really sorry.”

Soon the SES worker was letting some people through. I started driving down this highway – completely alone. There wasn’t another car in sight. It was apocalyptic. We were supposed to drive to the next bridge and wait to get through. But on my right I saw a motel on a hill. On instinct, I turned around, drove the wrong way up the highway and pulled into it. They had a room, no power though, could I pay in cash? I could.

If I had not have pulled in there and waited at the bridge to get into Helidon we would have been there that night when the rest of the water poured through Helidon and Grantham, decimating property and killing people. Again, we could have died. Not an outside chance we may have died. But entirely likely.

We waited on top of that hill for a few days. Grantham was declared a crime scene, dozens of people were missing. The phone lines were sporadic. The worst thing was at night when you couldn’t see the water and you worried it would be on top of you before you knew. I parked close to the building so we could get on the roof from the car if we needed to. There was no power and the water was barely running. They ran out of food after the first day but people shared what they had. During the day helicopters droned overhead – searching for bodies. We all knew that, but we tried not to speak of it. The car charger was handy. With no power it allowed me to run the car for awhile and get some juice back into my phone. The lines were so congested my mother couldn’t get through and listed us as missing persons. Also, because I had filled both fuel tanks I wasn’t as scared to run the car to charge the phone.

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After another couple of days the water completely ran out at the motel, but by that stage I had heard a rumour they were reopening the range. Leaving and taking a chance I handed in the room key. Before I went up I drove into Helidon, still in shock – we could buy some food if we could pay cash. Which again – I could. We were the second lot of cars allowed up the range and into Toowoomba where we would stay another night before trying to get home. There was no chance of going back to Nanna’s. The flooding had now hit Brisbane and it was a disaster. The police warned us that they couldn’t guarantee what we would see on our way up the range, that they had done their best to clean up. He said it seriously so I knew it was bad. I told the kids to close their eyes on the way up. I watched the road. I did not look around.

The next day I filled up with more fuel, paid cash, no eftpos was working still. We made it home.

If I had been 15 minutes earlier or 30 minutes later – we may be dead. If I didn’t suddenly decide to go to that motel on the hill instead of trying to get to Helidon, we could be dead. If I didn’t fill up both tanks of petrol, I would have run out. If I didn’t have a car charger, I would not have been able to hear reports that allowed me to assure my mother I wasn’t drowned, get home when I did, know I couldn’t go back to Brisbane. If I didn’t buy food we would have been a lot more desperate. If I didn’t have an unusual amount of cash on me, we wouldn’t have had a room, food, fuel, water.

Hand of God?

Divine intervention?

Chaotic Random Luck?

I can’t believe that is chaotic random. It didn’t feel that way. Anyone I explain that too – especially anyone who saw what came out of Toowoomba that day – whistles in appreciation of our sheer luck. They tell me it was God. They tell me it was fate and it was not my day to die. They tell me it was a guardian angel.

But if I had died? If I had been 15 minutes earlier and my car had washed out on the range and myself and five children had died? People don’t want to believe that’s God. They don’t want to believe that’s fate.

People only want to believe that fate brings the good. Everything else – chaotic random.

But it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to pick and choose. Either EVERYTHING is random or EVERYTHING is pre-ordained. The same God that saved me in 2011 could kill me tomorrow in a five car pile up.

That is life. It’s not all beer and skittles. Some parts fucking suck. Okay, a lot of it sucks. Bad things happen. Why do you think it was ever going to be easy or good? What ever gave you that impression?

In 2011, I nearly died. I nearly killed my kids. People did die. Children died. It was senseless and horrific.

And people lived. A woman drove around with bags of food delivering it to stranded people and checking on elderly folks. A man had his son standing on the back of a ute handing out bottles of water to stranded motorists. A complete stranger offered to pay for my fuel at the petrol station because he didn’t know if I had cash. People shared food and resources – they were good and kind and empathetic. THAT, my friends, is divinity.

I can’t make sense of the bad things. I don’t think anyone really can. Not the way we can make sense of the good things. Sometimes I don’t think there IS a reason or a lesson. What lesson is there in a child dying? Who would ever demand someone learn that lesson? I think it’s just up to us as human beings to provide kindness, caring, empathy and love in our clumsy human way.

It’s a strange world, the way our heartache must sit side by side with our love.

I would love to hear others thoughts about this either in the comments or via the contact page. 🙂

The Goat.

Right now I am doing my usual sitting outside on the daybed under my nest of quilts. I am drinking a whiskey. Well, I’ve mixed it with coke but it’s a strong whiskey because I poured the coke in first and then eyeballed it. I have a black cat to my right. And some rogue stuffing from one of the cushions because when I was babysitting my ex husband’s dog this last week it discovered a hole and pulled the stuffing out and danced in it like it was snowing.

I am writing so I won’t think. Here I am brutally honest, raw as I can be but there is this one thing I cannot write about so instead I am sitting here, drinking a strong whiskey with a cat under a nest of quilts and rogue stuffing and missing my mother who is not in the country.

I want to write because it is cathartic but I can’t write about this one thing so I will write about something else instead. I flick through my memories, sifting them through my fingers and hold them to light trying to find one to dive into. Kind of like that basin in Dumbledore’s office where he can dunk his head like a weird wizard baptism and immerse himself in a memory.

What shall I write about? Pain? Joy? Confusion? Heartache? Love?

Okay, I am going to tell you about my goat.

So, a few years back I learnt to spin, I’ve probably told you about this before. I explained how I like to know exactly how to do something. So I use to knit and crochet and then I wanted to learn to spin, which I did, and then I needed to learn how to process raw fleece and I did. And then I decided I want to ‘grow’ the fleece.

So I find some dude selling baby angora goats and I arrange to pick two up. I didn’t realise until I got these babies that they were literally babies. I was actually pretty devastated thinking about it. I brought them home in a crate and when I took them out I realised they still had little dried umbilical cords on. I judged them to be a few days old. My heart just bled thinking of them missing their mamas and the mamas missing their babies but I knew if I took them back he would just sell them to someone else and that most people would think me some kind of bleeding heart, too soft for the country. Which in some ways I am.

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So I decided I was going to be the best mama to these babies ever. They needed to be fed 6 times a day in the beginning and I warmed their bottles diligently and squatted over them, pressing the nipple of the bottle to their mouth. One of them would nurse immediately. The other refused. Even if I opened her mouth and closed it around the nipple she would not suckle. I dribbled as much as I could into her, rhythmically squeezing the nipple and allowing it to build up in her mouth before she would swallow instinctively…but she wouldn’t suckle. It would take me an hour to get a feed into her, milk clotting her fleece near her jaw and running down my arm and leg. I would have to change my clothes after and wash the sour milk smell from my skin. She wasn’t gaining weight like her sister though and she was so timid that when she saw anyone come to her she would hide in a corner and turn her face to the wall. She refused to make eye contact, her beautiful sweet green eyes staring to my side or behind me. I was distraught and worried she would die.

I went to the vets and asked advice. They said that some babies just won’t drink. I could keep doing what I was doing or wait until she got hungry enough to work it out. They warned me that she may not gain weight and would one day not wake up. I tried to wait. But after half a day I felt so bad for this baby, this shy little timid creature I gave up and lay her back on my lap; went back to steadily squeezing milk into her. She never learnt to suck. For 8 weeks I sat with her, day after day, the first feed of the morning at 5am, and got that bottle into her. However long it took. I kept this baby goat alive by sheer stubbornness and determination. You will not die. You will not die on my watch. I am going to show you how to live. By the time she weaned she was eating just fine, the tamest, most beautiful little goat you have ever seen who would run up to me in the yard and nuzzle my hand, snuffle at my face if I was sitting down.

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There are few times in my life that I refused to concede defeat. I’ll put up a good fight, man, but at the end of the day? I know when I’m pushing shit uphill. Only a few times in my whole life have I stood up and said, “This is happening. I am MAKING this happen.” Not letting that baby goat starve herself to death, that was one of those times. And I realised while I was writing this – I have never done that for myself. Anytime I’ve done that it’s been because someone else was at stake. Those times I saw that shit I was pushing uphill and thought, “Screw it. I’ll move the mountain, because this? THIS is moving, damn it.” But never for me. For me, I lie down and take it. But when there is shit to be moved – you want me to have your back. Because God fucking damnit…I will fight until I’m bloody for you.

Aren’t I worth as much as a goat? Can’t I fight for me? Get up. Move the goddamn mountain.

Also? I’m out of whiskey.

Dad.

I’m going to tell you a secret. It took me years to love my dad properly. I didn’t understand him really. He was never a mean dad, he joked with me, I have a picture of us on the beach, him giving me a piggy back so I know he played with me when I was small. But as a child I took those things for granted. But mum was my go to, alright. I knew mum bought all the birthday and Christmas presents and Dad was just as surprised as me to see what was inside, I knew mum cooked the dinner and washed the clothes.

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My dad, seemed this odd mystery to me. He disappeared in the morning before I was awake and came home and lay down on the couch where most nights he promptly fell asleep. He was always really into things I didn’t understand, like cycads and palms and occasionally I would be pressed into watering these which I really begrudged. He was always finding things he loved and bringing them home like rocks and cow skulls and broken birds that would chirp on top of the bathroom mirror light where it was warm while I brushed my teeth. He would sometimes say to me, “What do you think of this design? Do you think it would make a good chair?” And I would be bewildered by this because I didn’t know if he was planning to quit his job and become a chair maker. One time mum and I had to role play customers while he pretended to sell us smoke alarms. The falling asleep on the couch alarmed me. My friends and I creeping by him on the way to my room dodging the cup on its side on the floor where he had been practising his putting before he fell asleep. Sometimes he would have two TVs going in the same room – both on sport – and he would be asleep in front of them.

It took me years – I’m embarrassed to admit – before I realised he was sleeping because he was exhausted. My dad would get up early and go to work and often stop by the family farm on the way home to round up cattle or feed them or fix something. I never connected these absent hours to the sleeping on the couch. He worked and worked and he was tired. In my childhood innocence I didn’t connect this with the yellow pay packets that came home, with the clothes on my back, with the food on the table, with the tennis lessons or tae-kwon-do lessons or those Christmas presents he was just as surprised at as me when I opened them.

It took me years to think…oh. My dad went a great many years dreadfully under appreciated by me. When I sit with him now a part of me whispers “I see you, I see you, I see you.” because for years he was invisible to me. And I learnt that my dad is funny, he tells hilarious stories. He is quirky. He is kind to animals which I think shows great character in a man. He will fix something before he throws it away, or at least have the intention to. He loves my mother in a way that blows me away. Years ago on my wedding night my mother fell asleep and he came in and stroked her hair and said, “God, she is so beautiful.” And I thought how magical to have someone love you so fiercely even while you’re asleep that he blurts out his love and you never even know.

So there it is. My dad. Happy Father’s Day. I see you.

Blocked.

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I don’t know if other writers do this but every time I post a blog post I have this paralysing fear I will never be able to write anything ever again. It’s a crushing pressure. What if that’s it? What if no words ever come to me again? What if this time next week I’m sitting here staring at the blank screen forced to make the blogging version of small talk and ask how the weather is at your place?

I have the same fear every time I’m about to do a shoot. For a few seconds just after a client has arrived and just before I lift the viewfinder to my eye? Every pose I have ever done immediately leaves my head and for just those interminable seconds I’m sure I’m going to stand there dumb before them while they exchange awkward glances and I have to confess I have no idea what I’m doing. “Terribly sorry, guys. I’m a fake. I actually have no idea what I’m doing here. Best we all go home, hey? Haha.” Then the camera is up at my face and I slip back into my role and can direct. But for a few seconds there…my god. Terrifying.

It use to bother me so much, the performance paralysis, that I would do bad sketches and little notes to myself prior to a shoot so I could refer to it if I freaked out. I suppose it was a kind of cheat sheet and eventually I finessed it so I would plan the shoot on the iPad with a collection of images from previous shoots and called it a “Look Book” (industry term) which sounds infinitely better than, “Collection of cheats in case I get Shoot Amnesia.” I suppose it’s the photographer version of stage fright.

Anyway, I have this same fear every time I sit to write something even though I tell myself encouraging words like, “Writing is like building muscles, you have to use them or you lose them. This is like running laps.” And, “It doesn’t matter if it sucks. It’s the act that is important. Not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.” Yadda yadda. I wonder if painters get paralysis when they stare at a blank canvas? If potters ever fear the clay? If all writer’s sometimes stare at a blank sheet of paper and it looks like more of a threat than an invitation?

In other news…I have writer’s block.

Go East.

There are days when I do nothing.

Literally nothing.

I sit outside under piles of quilts and listen to the never ceasing traffic along the roads nearby. I browse the Internet. I drink tea. I wonder what I’m doing with my life and why I’m not doing it right now and I feel guilty and yet, I still sit there doing nothing.

I like to imagine me gathering energy, because sometimes on those days where I do nothing I feel like there is something ‘off’ inside me and I wait for it to feel ‘right’ again. I can’t even put into words exactly what that feeling is, it’s like a piece of tin roof flapping in the wind. Inside the house everything seems normal but you know from the sound that something isn’t nailed down properly where you can’t see. I gather energy and I wait. Sometimes I write but when the roofing is flapping everything comes out strange and disjointed and I might start a half a dozen different pieces and discard them all.

Those were the times when I use to shoot that I would go outside and centre myself by looking through the lens. Those are the times when I use to spin that I would get lost in the drafting and twist of the fibre as it left my hands, in the click of the wheel. But I don’t do those things anymore. Now I gather energy and I wait.

I don’t know what I am waiting for. I know I’m waiting for something because it’s the same feeling you have when you’ve gotten ready to go out too early and you’re sitting in your living room with your handbag by your side and your shoes on just waiting for the time you can leave the house. It’s the same feeling when you’re in the doctor’s surgery trying not to breathe in everyone’s germs while you wait for your name to be called.

And I’ve been waiting for a long time.

Years now.

And sometimes I’m not sure if I am supposed to keep waiting. If the ‘thing’ I’m waiting on just needs a little longer. I’m not sure if I am supposed to be getting up and finding my own way but I don’t know yet what direction I’m suppose to take so I’m paralysed without an address. Like someone handed me a slip of paper that just says, “You should go now.” And I’m like, “Yes, but where? Can you give me some more information? Even just ‘go East’. I’ll leave right now if you can just wave your hand in the general direction and we can get to the the specifics later.” But no one answers me. Just that same slip of paper.

So I wait.

And I gather energy in case it’s a long walk.

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Survival and Ghosts.

When I was little I was really scared of ghosts. Not like a white sheeted floating figure but actual spirits. I’m a pretty reasonable person and I like to think I’m fairly grounded in reality and yet I don’t know everything and there are millions of things in the world I don’t understand so while there may be (and probably is) a reasonable explanation for this when I was little I was plagued by this apparition of an old man walking past my bedroom.

To set the scene we were living in this old house that was owned by The Blue Nurses who were left it in a will by the old guy that lived there before us. We had just moved back to QLD after living down in NSW in a caravan by the beach where we ate so much fresh fish that I seem to have developed a permanent aversion to it (but that is beside the point) and taken up residence in this giant old house. I assume at one point it was all joined together but it was like a duplex by the time we got there. Two large bedrooms either side, bathrooms and kitchens and living areas and on our side a wide enclosed verandah. No toilet. The toilet was downstairs and I was terrified of it. My parents are like the King and Queen of ‘making do’. Most women would be driven crazy by having to cart a 5 year old outside and downstairs in the dark to the toilet but my mum just stoically bore this burden. This wasn’t the only flaw in the old house. The bedrooms which came off of the enclosed verandah had large glass doors – beautiful – but impractical to shut every night so we left them open. And the enclosed verandah had windows but no glass. Just fly screens. And some didn’t have fly screens because they had long been torn off. One night I woke up basically exsanguinated by mosquitos. My dad also liked to pot plants (once in the living room which did drive my mother to distraction although we can laugh about it now) and at that stage he was in a cactus phase and he kept them all over and he was also fond of rocks and he carted ones he particularly liked home and put them on the verandah. My mother worried the verandah would collapse under the weight but she just puts up with these little eccentricities. I should mention that I actually really love rocks also so this isn’t weird to me. I just managed to have both my dad’s love of hoarding with my mother’s love of purging items so I collect them and then throw them all away in a fit of decluttering. Anyway. Back to the house.

The other side was linked to ours through various doorways that were closed off with furniture. In my room it was kind of barricaded by my large wooden toy box, which I was grateful for because the other side was completely full of stuff that had belonged to the old man and his wife before she passed. It had their pots and pans, clothing, her make up, furniture etc. I assume the Nurses went through it and cleared out anything of major value but the fact there was still rouge that had once coloured this dead woman’s cheeks kind of freaked me out a little.

Most of the time when I was small my mother would read me Enid Blyton books and draw on my back until I drifted off. But sometimes I would be lying there awake and I would see this old man walk past my door. It freaked me out so badly because I kind of knew he shouldn’t be there and that he wasn’t actually THERE. I lived in fear he would one day not just walk past but turn his head and look at me and if that happened I would just die of fear but I couldn’t stop watching for him in case he DID look at me. I kind of brushed this off as an overactive imagination on my part. Nothing is there, nothing is there, lalalalala, go to sleep…

Anyway, I had this cat Tinkerbell and one day she got hit by a car and died. After that I kept seeing Tinkerbell. Lying in a patch of sun on the verandah, walking through the house casual as you please like she wasn’t dead and buried under a tree in the backyard. Finally, I come to my mother and tell her I’m seeing Tinkerbell. And mum doesn’t appear shocked by this at all and says, “That’s okay. Sometimes they just stick around for a little while after they die.” (Years later she would tell me she wasn’t shocked because she herself had also been seeing Tinkerbell). THIS COMPLETELY FREAKED ME OUT. Because my line of thinking was that if I was seeing Tinkerbell because, no big deal sometimes they just stick around awhile, then maybe I WAS seeing Old Man because HE was sticking around. And I didn’t not want Old Man to be sticking around. I wanted him to not be walking past my room, thank you very much.

We moved into my parents first bought house when I was seven which effectively put an end to the Old Man walking past my room but I was still completely freaked out about going to sleep. I would lie awake for ages. I would pile dozens of teddies around my body in bed in order to confuse any potential ghosts about where I was, perhaps they would just miss me if I was camouflaged by teddies. Almost every night I was anxious about ghosts. Avoiding ghosts was my primary goal in life. And then one day I got sick. Probably with just a flu or something but I was completely miserable and far too sick to care about anything except sleeping and trying to keep down fluids and not boiling my brain with fever. And I stopped caring about the ghosts. I was so sick I was just like the seven year old version of, “I’m too sick to deal with your shit.” When I got better I began to worry about ghosts again. But I found that interesting. That when you were very sick, you didn’t really care about anything except being sick.

Now days when I am having a rough patch with myself mentally it’s difficult for me to care about anything but how sick I am. It’s consuming. It pushes everything else out. I don’t do my hair. I don’t care I’m wearing jeans four sizes too big. I don’t care that I’m 34 and don’t know what I want to do with my life. Every single fibre in my body is dedicated to one purpose – survival. Last week though I found myself obsessing over my face. I get hormonal cystic acne on my chin when I’m about to ovulate because my body is under the impression the best way to catch a mate to fertilise it’s impending egg is to be sure he sees me by planting a beacon on my face. It’s frustrating to the extreme but my body is very firm on this being the correct plan of action so I suffer through. And last week I was like “THIS IS BULLSHIT! No one should have to simultaneously deal with acne AND the emergence of smile lines.” And I was googling how to clear the cystic acne and really miserable and then I remembered that a month ago I wouldn’t have given a shit about my face. Because I was too busy just surviving a month ago. The fact I was caring about something so trivial was a sign of WELLNESS. Cystic acne was basically my ‘ghost’. You only have time to obsess over the little stuff when you aren’t busy doing battle with the big stuff. I was still morose over my face but I was happy I could be morose. That there was enough of me left over to give to something petty. To care enough to be vain.

I looked into the mirror. And I smiled.

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Today.

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Today I did the four hour round trip to drop my kids off to their dad and his partner. (Don’t stress, this photo isn’t for them who I am fond of). On the way back I was alone for the first time in a long time. Like, completely alone. I sang loudly to Christina Anu about stepping out in my deadly red shoes. I drank soft drinks. I nibbled at a donut. I made weird popping noises with my mouth because when you’re driving along at 100ks for two hours and there is nothing but fields and cows for company you get kind of bored and start doing weird shit. I talked to myself. I paid attention to tiny details and wished there was somewhere I could safely stop to photograph the echidna that emerged from the grass to snuffle at the dirt, a falling down fence, a large tree stump that I would have liked to sit on, the way the light dappled across the mountain to my right which was just the shadows of the clouds but knowing that couldn’t strip it’s magic.

I take the scenic route when I drive out there, I like to look at the trees that emerge from the water in this one spot. I like the way the grass is so green and reaches out to the water like fingers. I like the bridge that only one car can travel at once so you have to stop and wait. I like the cows grazing by the water’s edge. I like the strange pyramid house. I took my camera and drove slowly along it on my way home and pulled over so other cars could move past me.

And then I was alone.

I was standing by the side of the road and it the silence was so loud that when a bee went past me it’s hum reverberated in my ear so intensely I wondered if I had ever really heard a bee’s hum before. I stood by the side of the road and watched the water below – you can’t walk down because it’s private property – but I wished I was down there lying on that marshy grass, I wished I was part of that scene so still and yet impermanent. And I thought, fuck you. Fuck you to my anxiety that told me I would never get out of that house. Fuck you to the inner voice that says I’m not good enough or pretty enough or clever enough or strong enough. Fuck you to the shadow that stalks me and whispers fears into my ears. Fuck you, because I am here and it is beautiful and I am enough.

You will never be able to leave the house.

Fuck you.

You will never be well.

Fuck you.

You aren’t good enough.

Fuck you. I am still here.

ps. It’s really hard to give the finger to yourself.

Three Stories.

Sometimes I take out little random memories like jewels from a treasure chest and examine them in the light. Ahh, here is the time I was about 5 and got shy and accidentally hugged the Tupperware lady instead of my Mum. And here is the Christmas Day I got given not one but two kittens. Recently I found three stories that seemed completely unconnected at first and when I went to write them down I realised that my life actually has this theme to it. I’ll put them below. Three Stories.

~1~

One time when I was about 15 I was in my kitchen partaking in one of the great Australian traditions of eating Milo directly out of the tin. I had just put the world’s biggest tablespoon of Milo into my mouth and was busy trying to breath carefully through my nose lest I succumb to Milo Lung which is the greatest tragedy to befall all Australians partaking in the great tradition of Milo eating when suddenly there was a knock at the door. Wait, let me explain. * Milo Lung is where you accidentally inhale the granulated Milo into your lung while eating it from the tin and immediately begin to cough, spraying Milo all over everything within a 2 metre radius and try not to die while asphyxiating on chocolaty goodness. It’s a dangerous sport but a rite of passage. * Anyway, there was a knock at the door. I stop mid chew to see if mum or my brother would answer the door but they’ve all gone somewhere and I can’t not answer the door. I know it’s for me anyway because it’s that time of day when someone would knock at my door. I peek around the corner and it’s my partner who is basically getting a glimpse of his future twenty years down the track when he will catch me in all manner of compromising food situations where I’m stuffing my face just as he walks in. But back then I’m not really ready for him to see me with Milo all stuck between my teeth because we don’t have that sort of relationship yet. So as I dash by him I am holding up one finger in the universal “just a second” gesture and I have to dash to the bathroom and brush my teeth about five times because Milo is the most tenacious bastard you have ever met. It took about 17 years for me to come clean about that moment. Finally, I’m sitting there with him and I say, “I don’t know if you remember this but this one time you came to the door just as I’d started eating Milo and I was horrified and had to rush to the bathroom to brush my teeth and when I came back you asked what I’d been doing and I lied and made something up.” He has one of the most fickle memories – he can recall every song lyric he has ever heard but can’t remember this one time when we were about 14 and went into the city and he pinched a monorail from the Expo 88 exhibit at the art gallery. I’m like, “How can you NOT remember that? It was a MONORAIL!” But he forgets things. Meanwhile through some miracle of mind he manages to recall one arbitrary day nearly twenty years ago when I ran past him with my cheeks puffed like a squirrel full of Milo. “Oh yeah, I get it though. Milo can be such a bastard to get out of your teeth.” Seriously? 17 years I held on to the shame of a covert Milo eating mission and he just accepts it as normal.

~2~

My first break up was a truly horrendous affair and occurred when I was 10. I’m about to revive good old Peter Brown for this story because he was my first boyfriend or what passed for a boyfriend in fourth grade – which basically meant we played together at lunch time. We had a whirlwind love affair that lasted approximately one month. That was because his usual friend who he played with had up and gone to America for a month to visit some NASA camp leaving Peter to his own devices. Peter attached himself to me and my best friend and we had a grand time that month, catching ladybugs…actually I can’t remember what else we did except catch lady bugs but I assume we did something. He sang me Beach Boys songs. I gave him a matchbox car which was actually one of my very best matchbox cars so this was A BIG DEAL. Anyway, fast forward a month and his regular gal comes back from America and he just DITCHES me. I was so mad, you guys. I GAVE him my CAR. Right so I write him this note and I’m like, “I’m not going to be your friend anymore because you are mean.” And I give it to Peter. And he is like, what the hell is this? And I’m like, what’s it look like, asshole? And he is like, I’m taking this to the teacher. And I was like, oh shit. (I’m paraphrasing, neither of us swore). And he goes and stands in line behind a bunch of kids getting their work checked and I’m FREAKING OUT. I’m sure I’m going to be in so much trouble for writing this mean note. I end up cutting in line and telling the teacher I’m sick and need to go home and off I go. Every day for about a week I freak out after lunch that Peter is going to tell the teacher about this note and I have to go home because I can’t deal with the anxiety of this hanging over my head. Finally mum gets the shits with having to pick me up early and takes me to the doctors to see if there is actually anything wrong with me. The doctor says my lymph glands are up a bit and I probably feel poorly and I think it must be a miracle and I’ve made myself sick but feel completely well somehow. Mum now believes me but I know the jig is up and I’m just going to have to face whatever music is coming. The next day I go up to Peter and I’m like, “Look, are you going to tell the teacher or not?” And he looks at me bewildered and goes, “Tell the teacher what?” And I’m exasperated and say, “About the note!” And he goes, “Oh that!” And waves his hand, “I threw it out. I don’t care.” And I walked away completely amazed I’d made such a big deal about nothing. The next day I open my tidy tray and my matchbox car is sitting inside.

~3~

When I was 18 I had two daughters. My youngest was a couple of months old and despite not managing breastfeeding with my first daughter (lots of issues with prematurity and my own inexperience) I was totally smashing breastfeeding this time around. Still, it was all new to me and I didn’t really have a good grasp on how my boobs really worked at that stage and I was still pretty shocked at the amount of force a let down would have. For the uninitiated when you breastfeed at some point during the feed you ‘let down’ which is where the milk starts just flowing of its own accord. I didn’t realise this occurred before I had kids. Like, I’d read about it but reading and seeing are different things. The milk comes out in multiple sprays and just SHOOTS out. Like a water pistol under extreme pressure. I can’t really describe it. Sometimes the milk runs out so fast the babies can’t swallow quick enough and they’ll pop off because they’re only small but that know this is crazy. By this stage though my baby had gotten bigger and learned to cope with the flow but I’d discovered that babies are also really distracted and if something is interesting they’ll just come off and have a look around the room with absolutely no regard for the fact your boob is now exposed to the world. So here I am. Sitting on the couch in my living room and my then partner has invited his work mate around for a visit and this is the first time I’ve met him. The work mate whom I shall call Paul is sitting at right angles to me on a separate couch and he seems nice enough. Paul is impeccably dressed and very gay and hasn’t had a lot of experience with babies or boobs but he politely ignores the baby I’ve just put to my breast which is nice for me because I was still kind of getting the hang of this myself. My then partner and his work mate are chatting away and I continue to nurse and just as I let down and the milk turns into a fire hose they start laughing at something and the baby pops off to check out the situation in case it’s something she might be interested in. My boob is now free and seriously shoots milk across the room on a trajectory that’s going to land it straight towards poor suspecting Paul’s arm. I clamp a baby wrap down on my boob to stop the flow but it’s too late and some has definitely landed – if not on him – near him. I’m mortified. I’ve just met this man and I’m squirting milk at him. I’m not sure what is the socially acceptable thing to do in this situation. Firstly, I’m not sure he has seen, he is giving me no outward signs of having seen. But if he is just being polite and HAS seen and I say nothing he is going to think I just go around shooting milk at everyone. So I should definitely apologise. On the other hand, if he hasn’t seen and I apologise I’m drawing attention to a fact that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. I really only have a second to decide so I go with an apology. “Umm, I’m really sorry about that…the milk, I mean. And how it kind of….shot…at you. I didn’t mean it.”
Paul is perplexed and has no idea what I’m talking about. So now I’m forced to explain about the lactation process and how it’s unpredictable and babies are inquisitive. Paul is now thrilled with this knowledge, “You mean it just SHOOTS out?! That’s amazing! That’s hilarious! I’d be squirting people for fun. Don’t even worry about it.” While Paul didn’t have much experience with babies or boobs he knew exactly the right thing to say.

Three stories. And you know what I learned? Most of the time nothing is as bad as you think it is.

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