A Glimpse into Another World
Ever since I was a young child I have enjoyed taking myself for long walks. Typically I would leash up the cocker-spaniel Sophie and walk in the direction of the ocean that fringed the beach-side suburb of Melbourne where we lived.
Sometimes I would challenge myself by traveling routes that weren’t so familiar to me, weaving through the backstreets as I went. Although my path may have varied, my aim always remained the same – to stay away…far away from the family home as long as I could. Poor Sophie would often look up at me, tongue dripping, panting furiously as she pulled in the direction of home, only to be ignored and told to ‘walk on’. Even though my late return would earn the wrath of my mother when she heard the side gate latch click sometime just after dark, it was worth it. The chance to escape into my own thoughts and transport myself into a land of happy families was too precious to be limited by the turning hands of a clock.
We lived in a fairly comfortable middle class suburb in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It was the 1980’s… a time of financial prosperity, for “keeping up with the Jones”. This was reflected by the number of fancy Volvos and shiny Fords housed in the double garages attached to architecturally designed homes that became more abstract and ostentatious as I made my way closer to the beach. I recall one home I actually nick-named “The Castle” because it’s façade was fashioned to represent a miniature castle, complete with turrets and all!
However, it was not the silver badges standing up proudly on the bonnets of the cars that pulled into drive-ways around me, nor the obligatory BMX bikes that dropped on the pavement before me as children ran to greet them, that caught my attention. It was the emotion that permeated the air as families regrouped after their day apart. Strong enough to filter through the otherwise constructed symbols of contentment, when those remote controlled electric gates opened, it hit me like a rush of warm breath on my skin…Happiness, Unity and Tranquillity. I inhaled, allowing it to soak through every pore on my skin until my heart swelled with a painful longing that jolted me into moving on.
I was around eleven years of age when my older sister married and I discovered that her new brother-in-law and his wife lived with their two young sons in my suburb. I had met them maybe once or twice…he was tall, robust in stature and handsome; she was young, blonde and fashionable. Their street name was instantly recognisable to me due to the scoping of the area that I had accomplished over several years worth of long walks. I remember spending one evening walking up and down in front of their home, ecstatic to discover that they had not yet closed their gates thus allowing me a viewing section a metre or so wide between the walls of their high blue-stone fence. Slowly I would stroll across their drive-way trying to inconspicuously snatch a glimpse into their world. Dusk had just fallen so the light of the living room lamp illuminated my view of two tall glass vases filled with oranges, strategically placed on each end of the mantle to frame the collection of family photos above the fireplace. Crossing the road for another viewing, I thought I saw movements deeper in the home as children were prepared for baths before dinner. I imagined their mother lovingly combing back their hair and wrapping them in their dressing gowns to protect them from the cold night air.
I must have made a strange sight, pacing up and down like a burglar’s apprentice casing the premises in preparation for a midnight break-in. On reflection, I’m surprised no-one approached me to inquire what I was doing, considering I was a young girl alone in the street with only a confused dog by her side, whilst every other child was safely ensconced in the pre-dinner rituals of suburban family life.
Suddenly from across the street I heard the clanging of a rubbish bin being dragged up a gravel drive-way and I recognised the form of my sister’s brother in-law approaching the nature-strip. I felt an urgent longing to bolt across the road and throw myself at him, pleading him to allow me to come inside. I imagined pouring out my story of desperation to escape the bizarre and lonely world I inhabited to his beautiful wife. I envisaged her wrap her warm Country-Road clad arms around me, assuring me she would provide the maternal care and protection I craved.
I put my head down and walked on.
Wow Colleen. It’s wild. That’s very vivid. I love that you spoke SO much without speaking it. It’s funny, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but perhaps we all do it…anyway, I stayed with a friend for three months at the end of last year, and walking her dog each evening, I’d do the same thing you did as a child. Actually both my friend and I would. Some evenings we’d laugh at ourselves. Other evenings we’d be chatting so joyfully we wouldn’t notice other people or homes at all. And on others a longing would permeate our walk as we passed houses we loved and peeked over walls at husbands and wives. I’m talking two forty five year old women doing this! I called these people with their amazing yards and houses and marraiges “The Tucked Ins”. I’m mostly happy and very grateful and love my life and it’s SOOO easy to romantacize other people’s journey….but your writing brought back that heavy…standing outside the candy shop feeling. Well done. Argggg. 🙂
July 28, 2009 at 6:02 pm
Thanks for your comments Forrester. Yes I admit I still enjoy the voyeuristic thrill of peeping into other people’s worlds, but at least now as an adult I understand that external appearances can be just a facade for a life that is not so “pretty” in reality.
I love your term “The Tucked Ins” ! That’s cool ! I’ll be thinking of it when I go for my evening walk tonight as I peer into the world’s of ..”two parent, two car, two kids and a pet dog”.. families !
July 29, 2009 at 1:26 am
this is very beautifully described!
July 29, 2009 at 7:39 pm
Thank you !
July 29, 2009 at 10:19 pm
I just got home from a long neighborhood walk myself. I’ve always made up stories and wondered about the homes I pass every day. I love peering into the lives of others, so this is probably why I also love reading blogs.
July 30, 2009 at 2:59 am
Thank you for your kind words regarding my blog. I just read A Glimpse Into Another World and was almost brought to tears. Your writing is so beautiful that your ‘little girl’ heart reaches across time and grabs ours now! My, girl, what a gift you have! I wonder sometimes if writers really aren’t healers, that we take our painful experiences and turn them into something beautiful, as you have done here. I, too, will be back and I’m marking your blog in my Favorites. Take care.
August 2, 2009 at 2:07 am
Pam, you have no idea how your words and those of other visitors to my blog uplift my soul ! It is so rewarding, if not completely surprising to me that this little excercise in self-appreciation I have only recently commenced, can be shared so intimately with lovely people on the other side of the world !
Thank you for your touching feedback and for taking the time to read my words.
August 2, 2009 at 11:47 am
To have had a little girl like you, to have wrapped her up in a big huge towel and hugged her dry. And I’m weeping on my keyboard. I so identify with your writing. The hardest thing on earth is having to try so hard for a Mother’s love and approval which should be a given. A hug from afar.
August 2, 2009 at 2:03 pm
Thank you Sara for your warm response and your hug ! Becoming a mother myself to two delightful girls has provided the best therapy life could give and for that I am so grateful.
August 3, 2009 at 7:06 am
I used to spend a lot of time looking into windows like that while walking my dog. Just curious. I always felt a little shy or embarrassed at doing that, however. I felt as if I needed to stop wanting things I don’t have and start looking at what I fo have. Then my dog died and I don’t go on walks at those times of day… and then I got other things to do. I just noticed recently that I no longer look through windows much any more… not sure what it means, but your post brought me back there.
November 27, 2009 at 8:04 pm
Another touching, vivid ‘come along and see what I see’ memoir — like I’d expect anything less. Thanks for the walk!
November 28, 2009 at 12:07 am
i loved this so then
and i still love it as much
SOOOO beautiful in that WAY!!! ARGH!!! Thank You for once again offering Your wonderous heart!!!
Cheers and Namaste. 🙂
November 29, 2009 at 6:53 am
I love the way you write very vivid I could almost see what you described! I will be back!:-)
November 30, 2009 at 2:02 am
Nice to see you here Terri ! Thanks for your feedback.
December 5, 2009 at 5:08 am
It seems you were sub-consciously crying out for a ‘foster’ family to take you in. The fact that as a young girl, you deliberately took a long time on your walks (and knackered Sophie out) suggests the unhappiness at home was untenable.
I can’t relate to this side of your experiences, only the curiousness of richer folks houses and cars. Very materialistic were the 80s. Thatcher had her influence down under too!
Funny how we perceive rich to mean happy and content, one and the same. I don’t come from a rich family, but one with a work ethic, my father has always valued committment. My two best friends at primary school were a lot better off than we were but I never really thought about it.
I didn’t ‘choose’ them as friends but now I see how it alienated me from other more regular school pupils as we were always in a ‘gang of 3’.
Even at that age, lines are drawn. What was it like for you having schoolfriends round your house?
December 1, 2009 at 4:11 pm
Yes I certainly grew to understand with age that the outer facade of family life I observed did not necessarily reflect the happenings within, and in fact there were many children similarly suffering.
Thank you for sharing your own experiences. Childhood can be a challening time and I am learning there are many benefits in revisiting these types of memories to reflect upon how they shape us into the adults we become.
Have you read my post Whispers ? This touches on the dilema of inviting friends around. It simply became too “weird”, but possibly my friends reactions to my home life were actually really helpful as they instilled in me an understanding that my perceptions of the”weirdness” were real…not imagined…as I often questioned myself about back then.
December 5, 2009 at 5:17 am
Hi Colleen – enjoying your writing. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
December 2, 2009 at 3:46 am
Thank you Heather. Nice to hear from you.
December 5, 2009 at 5:17 am
looks like all I need is the dog! ; )
When Jamie and I were first married, we were in debt up to our ears, and would take walks in ‘rich’ neighborhoods. Eventually as our jobs became more lucrative we were able to buy a very modest, too small of a house… that we love.
We were trying to teach a room full of ‘rich’ kids they were rich… and shared that only 8% of the world’s population owns a car.
These kids are so broken, in so much denial, trained to think so critically, they were insistant that number was false, and then asked about the upcoming ski trip.
The more stuff we surround ourselves with, the lonlier we become. You capture a glimpse of that… a child doesn’t need to be rich or poor to be ignored, they just need a selfish parent.
are you going to combine these stories into a memoir??? I would buy this book!
December 4, 2009 at 3:27 pm
I love how sharing my stories helps others to reflect upon their own, and similalry share. And thank you for you amazing compliment…the greatest a “writer” can receive. I would love to create a memoir…I think this blog may be part of that journey.
December 5, 2009 at 5:21 am
I’m waiting for my copy right now!
December 4, 2009 at 7:33 pm
Pam, you’re a darling. oxox
December 5, 2009 at 5:21 am