Discharged into the arms of a stranger
Wearing a government badge
They sent him out into the world
All of three weeks old
Stamped in blue ink
Across the back of his borrowed jumpsuit
Not even a bag
To carry his mother’s milk
Let alone to pack some dignity and respect into
And they said it was okay…
“This is your new home”
They told him
Pointing to the bare grey concrete floors
And the musty, worn sheets on the bed
A frozen pie for dinner
$1.99..is what you are worth
While he watched them eat steak
It was a roof over his head
He should be grateful
And he was reminded so every day…
He dared not move
As they pinned down his arm
For “You have been a bad boy !”
Said the scalding hot water
As he looked the other way
But “..accidents happen”
The perpetrator said
Easier to turn a blind eye
He watched the officials slink away
After telling him he was “okay”
These are the stories of the little ones…
Who simply want a safe space to play
And ‘tell someone whom you trust in’
Is all we have to say
A couple of days ago I was contacted by Roger from Indood.com with a request to publish one of my childhood stories Take me too !
Take a look, you’ll also find a carefully chosen selection of prose, short stories and poetry.
My finger-tips came to rest upon the golden door handle supported by a steady hand, delicately placed with all the resolve of a surgeon preparing for the first incision. It was quite a feat actually considering the rest of my body was shaking and I could no longer feel the carpeted floor beneath me. Continued…
My finger-tips came to rest upon the golden door handle supported by a steady hand, delicately placed with all the resolve of a surgeon preparing for the first incision. It was quite a feat actually considering the rest of my body was shaking and I could no longer feel the carpeted floor beneath me. I was aware the slightest movement of the handle would create a squeak and I had not made my mind up yet if I wanted to make my presence known to those on the other side of the door. The internal struggle was creating havoc in every aspect of my being. My lips quivered, sweat ran from my pores and the beating of my heart could not catch up with the pace of my breathing. Thoughts swirled around my head as if my mind was set to a rapid spin cycle. Should I or shouldn’t I? The temptation pulled with magnetic force but the risks involved were also quite prominent in my mind. This could mean an escape…a way out, the voice of hope persisted in my head, Given what’s happening they may not need to much convincing. Yes, but would they really take me seriously?
I can’t entirely recall the events that had lead to my predicament that afternoon as most of the visual memories present as images of the interior of my bedroom. Possibly I had the music turned up in my room to drown out the sounds of physical scuffles and hysterical voices on the other side of the walls. Plus, there were many scenarios in my family experience that were similar to the one playing out before me. This time it related to the youngest of my four brothers Aaron, and the constant struggle he found himself engaged in as he grappled with his intensifying anger towards our parents and his growing acknowledgment of their contribution to the miserable persona that engulfed him.
It is interesting how each child’s personality and specific traits impact upon their experience of survival from an emotionally destructive childhood. Personality impacts upon one’s level of resilience that in turn, affects the inevitable choice to either confront or deny the behaviour. My brother was at last attempting in his own way to confront our parents for the years of soul-destroying torment he had endured at their hands. Tortured by a stutter that manifested as a consequence of the anxiety experienced due to living within an explosive and unpredictable home, ridiculed for his sensitivities and set up to be ostracised by his older brothers, he had a fractured sense of identity that left a gaping hole in his core. I don’t think at that stage he was able to identify the link between the years of their belittling of him and his current state of social isolation and unhappiness, but the anger had risen to the surface and was directed fairly and squarely in their direction. I was glad of it. I was hopeful that in lashing out at them and at the world, he might be steered in the direction of help…outside help that was bigger and braver than anything I at thirteen years of age, could offer.
It seemed that he had already sought that help. And this afternoon’s experience taught me that therapists can sometimes offer rather strange advice. Apparently my poor brother had sought the guidance of a highly respected psychologist who suggested he “have a couple of stiff drinks” before approaching my parents to challenge their behaviour towards him. It may have seemed reasonable to the therapist to offer this type of advice to a twenty year old male but the risk of him taking the recommendation just one step further was indisputable and, I suspect it may have resulted in consumption of more than a “couple” of drinks. During the confrontation that ensued in the living room that afternoon, my parents who were unaccustomed to their authority being challenged, would have looked intently for any signs of influence to my brother’s newly ignited courage and located it on his breath. Unfortunately, this was perfect fodder for their catch-cry claim as innocent victims at the hands of the bullying of their children. And so they dialled 000 and requested the police attend the home as soon as possible.
“Our son has turned on us, he is going crazy and I fear he will attack my husband”, I hear my mother say down the phone in feigned tones of fear and distress.
The presence of three marked police cars in one’s street is not a welcoming look in a quiet middle class neighbourhood. No wonder none of the housewives who regularly witnessed such commotion at number 24 through their lace curtains, ever came knocking at the door with offerings of home baked muffins. As a child my world-view was one based on fear. Every occurrence, every outsider, every belief system or custom that differed from my own, was ingrained within me as having corruptive influences. It took a while for me to understand for those on the outside looking in to my world, the view would have been as scary as hell itself. For almost all, it was in fact too scary, to really want to get involved. I soon learnt there was no hope of rescue by an outsider.
With my ear pressed up to the gap between the bedroom door and the wall, I heard a police officer guide Aaron from the front of the house away from the commotion and down towards the end of the hall way, just outside the door to my room.
“Ok, have you had a couple of drinks mate?” inquired the friendly sounding female constable.
“Well maybe…” responded my brother breathlessly as he tried to elaborate on his distress.
“I can see nothing is going to be resolved here”, the policewoman interjected.
“How about I walk you outside and you head off then?” she offered.
Take me, oh take me too!, a voice inside me screamed silently as my body stood frozen behind the door while my energy pulled violently towards the hallway.
The police had no idea I was there bearing witness from behind the scenes to all that was going on that afternoon. When I had glimpsed their vehicles arrive from behind the heavy curtains that framed the front living room windows, my parents had ordered me to my room. I was happy to comply.
Maybe I won’t need to come out voluntarily. Maybe they’ll come looking for me? Surely they’d want to know if there were any other children in the house?
I stood immobilised as I listened to their footsteps walk back up the hall in the direction of the front door.
Like a needle
Pierced straight through the heart
Patterns that bleed
Through each year
Of the tapestry
My Childhood Story
in my stomach
…Stitched so tight
Leave gaping holes
In my core
My sense of love
So intrinsically linked
Forgive me Oh Mother
For I am your child
I am heartily sorry for having offended you
By daring to ask
To be held in your arms
And in your heart
Bless me oh Goddess,
See me bow my head
As I revoke any longing for your approval
I detest all my childish neediness
For I dread the locked gates of heaven
and the pains of hell
Hear my confession, Oh mother
I have been impure of mind and body
For I have looked in my heart
And am no longer afraid
Release me Oh Mother
Watch my spirit soar !
Towards all who are good and deserving
of all my compassion
and all of my love
I firmly resolve
with the help of my inner grace
to honour my choices
to turn fear into love
and to cherish myself for who I am
One of my favourite Buddhist Proverbs, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come” materialized in my life with great clarity towards the end of 2009. Grappling still with a sense of bewilderment at the repetitive nature of the cyclical patterns of hurt and disappointment that were occuring in my life, I sought refuge one afternoon in the soothing hub of my local “Well-Being” Centre intending to seek relief from my anguish through a deep tissue massage. I walked out three hours later without the massage, but with a completely new, somewhat bewildering… but definitely invigorating outlook on the evolving journey that is my life.
During my initial consultation with Paul, the owner of the Centre, I poured out my desire to better understand the purpose behind my presence in this world in order to put an end to the patterns of grief and longing which consumed me. Paul unexpectedly yet gently proposed the idea of embarking upon regression therapy. Having previously explored other forms of transpersonal therapies I understood the concept that the subconscious, memories and ego are interconnected in a mutually influencing web of experience of the Self. I therefore felt comfortable with the objective of regression therapy. Paul’s offer was free of any financial cost but purely a gesture to help me on my course of healing. I accepted his offer with no request for further explanation regarding the process itself, as I did not want to taint my experience in any way. Yet, an element of wariness still waved its’ red flag in the corner of my mind. This is the story of how the session unfolded.
After a period of “settling in” as I lay on the massage table in a candle-lit therapy room, Paul reassuringly guided me towards the following memories:
Paul: I want you to take yourself to your earliest child hood memory
- I am standing in a cot. I am maybe 10 months of age. I am gripping the bars of the cot as I stand looking towards the closed bedroom door. It is painted a dull, eggshell shade of white. My feet are bare and I wear flannelette pants. I stare at the door. Why aren’t they coming ? I am not distressed. Just alone. (The voice of cynicism said as it watched from above “Yeah well, you’ve seem photos of yourself at this age so you have a rough idea what you looked like”.)
Paul: Now I want you to go back even further
- I am looking up into my mother’s face. I see dark brown waves of hair framing her face. I feel her arms supporting me. I am an infant…a newborn infant. I experience a sense of knowing that she is my mother. The surrounds feel clinical.(Again the skeptic piped up “How many images of a newborn child in it’s mother’s arms have you seen over the years ? You know, like in that kleenex commercial..?”)
Paul: From here I want you to return to the womb. Sense how it feels and what it looks like if you can
- I feel myself in a cramped, darkened cocoon. Dark red and blackened walls are throbbing around me. A steady pulsating drone echoes in my ears. (“Yeah, yeah…here you are imagining the inside of a womb as pictured in those pre-natal documentaries”..said Ms.You-Can’t-Fool-Me !)
Paul: Now I want you to move to the moment of conception…
- KA-ZING ! A surge I can only describe like an electrical charge pulsates through my consciousness. This is not a physical, bodily sensation and I continue to lay still in a state of complete relaxation. It is powerful. Awesome. Like nothing I have ever encountered. (The voice of doubt is silent on this one !)
Paul: And from this point, if you can, I want you to go back to before conception…if you can…
- With little effort I am there. I am floaty, formless….I possess no end and no beginning. I am pure energy. A bright shining light engulfs me. Oh the Bliss ! I am riding a wave of blissful Joy and Peace. A warm gentle breeze swirls around me. Suddenly a knowing washes over me that it is time to go forward…into Life. Why must I go ? Why would I want to leave here where all is pure and divine and harmonious ? I am not yet human, not yet a child, but I possess an adult-like knowledge that is warning me of a tumultuous journey ahead. I must have courage. I must accept my path. (By this time the sceptic within had left the building.)
Paul: Now I want you to return to your birth
- I feel myself struggle. Confined and constricted. I feel pain. Cramped and Twisted. A bright white light hits my eyes violently causing me to cringe and flinch and squint. This is not a pleasant arrival at all. No wonder, I didn’t want to be here. But here I was. Here I am. A heavy weight fell upon me.
When we were finished and I had some time to try and configure my now quite scattered thoughts, Paul asked me if there were any themes or messages that struck me from the experience. The first words that broke through the fuzziness still floating in my head, were Courage and Acceptance.
It took some time to come down off the thrill and wonderment of the experience itself but once my feet hit the ground, I began to ponder those two big words and their meanings. Courage….to create the life I do want to live…I choose to live , distinct from the shackles of my childhood. Yes, I can emphatically say I am on that path. And Acceptance…perhaps the acceptance that this is my journey of learning through this life time and there is no point rallying against it by asking Why Why Why ?
I also instantly made sense of an inner thought pattern that has plagued me ever since I was a very, very young child as I looked around at my parents and siblings….Who are these people ? What am I doing here ? Why was I born into this family ? I do not want to be here with them ! I do not belong here ! I do not want THIS life ! Oh yes, now it all makes so much sense !!!
Sitting next to Georgie on the orange painted timber bench, I squinted through the door way of the shelter shed into the piercingly bright summer sun. It lit up the asphalt of the school yard beyond, then hitting the tar like a yo-yo, bounced off again transforming into a thick steamy haze. I watched the pairs of black school shoes trimmed by white ankle length socks scuttling back and forth outside the door. In the shadows of the steamy haze, they soon morphed to a blur of black and white carried along by skinny limbs; and suddenly I found myself a spectator to a herd of zebras passing by. I chuckled inside at my cleverness as I eased my back into the gray concrete wall, allowing the cold hard surface to permeate through my cotton school dress. I was in no particular hurry to get outside and play, so the school rule that lunch must be eaten in the undercover area before going out into the scorching heat, was one I could be grateful for.
Peering into my plastic lunch box I poked dismissively at the cling-wrap that had already unfurled itself in disgust from two pieces of white bread slapped around bits of soggy lettuce and tomato. To merely look at the slathering of butter that oozed forth from the sandwich and slid insidiously onto the plastic, made me feel nauseous. I glanced into Georgie’s lunch box on the bench beside me and settled on a neat looking jam sandwich, lovingly cut into four equal triangles. I snatched it and ran. Before she even knew what was happening I’d stuffed it into my mouth until I was almost gagging. Jam never tasted so good. The thrill was infectious and I continued this pattern at lunch times sporadically throughout coming weeks until one day Georgie’s mother confronted me in the playground after school. Needless to say I was so mortified that I never did it again.
Over the years the recollection of this behaviour has confused and embarrassed me to the extent that it is not a memory I whip out to display on the mantle at Christmas. Some say ‘time heals all wounds’. It takes more than time to heal a broken spirit. The journey of healing and understanding is long and arduous, but mine has now enabled me to take that school girl by the hand, sit her down under the sparking lights of the pine tree and tell her it is ok and there is nothing to be forgiven for or embarrassed about. Caressing her with loving words that tickle like a string of tinsel placed around her neck, I am thrilled to see a giggle arise from within her at the silly side of it all. I am proud that my understanding can release her of the guilt and enable her understanding that it wasn’t the sandwich she really desired…she would have been content with the crumbs. Oh to have had a taste of just one or two of those emotional crumbs of warm and loving regard from a mother to her daughter, that spilled from Georgie’s lunch box ! Yet despite gobbling up a whole jam sandwich in seconds, there she sat on those hot summer days still feeling the emptiness inside, deprived of the love and affection that carefully prepared jam sandwich so intrinsically represented.
For such a brief episode from childhood to sink so deeply into my sense of self that it required a considerable process of peeling back the layers to absolve, simply highlights the divisive impact of emotional trauma on a child’s sense of self-worth. With all the might of an insidious tumour, the patterns of emotional neglect eat away at the cells of thoughts and feelings that make up the very core of the child’s wholeness. It leads to disintegration of the self involving intense terror and trauma that is often only subconsciously realised. In adulthood it is often replaced by confusion and utter desperation that requires a deep well of loving understanding to slowly be re-built into the centre of self. I emphasise that it needs to be re-built as this well of pure love and acceptance is gifted to us all on our entry to this life, but sadly for many it is cruelly raided by those who lack the fortitude to find more loving ways to replenish their own.
“Good night Baby Bear”.
“Night Papa Bear”, I respond as the closing door takes with it the last sprays of golden light that radiate from the hall-way beyond.
As a pre-schooler of three or four years of age, this was the comforting exchange that would end my day. On this note, I would be happy to snuggle into the added comfort and warmth of my soft toy as I drifted into slumber. It was as it should be…a father comforting his child as she relaxes into the knowing that all is safe and secure in her world, with him there to protect her. This was of course, how things were before I had learned to shut my door, turn the music up and suck in my breath.
For a very short period in those early years I looked to my father as a soft, rounded, reliable figure. I recall being perched on his shoulders at a circus, his thick hands gripping my ankles reassuringly as I strain my neck to peer above the crowd. I am Safe… in the knowing he will not let me fall. I feel the pride swell in my four-year old chest as I follow him faithfully up and down the white chalk lined boundary of a soccer field, whilst he yells directions to the boys chasing the round ball within. I am Secure… in the knowing he will not lose me in the crowd. It was as it should be. This was of course, before I learned to hunch my shoulders and shrug out which ever response was expected as he carried out my mother’s business.
Numbness connects these memories of my father. A blank white wall confronts me. I stare and stare but can’t seem to find the detail. I cannot distinguish the surface from plaster, timber or brick…I have no idea if its’ finish is gloss or matt. Impressions of my father have simply become a white-wash of nothingness. Over the years, each experience of betrayal I encountered caused the illusion of my father as an ally to dissipate into a languorous puff of indifference; his role as my mother’s accomplice in the game of manipulation gradually exposed.
On so many many occasions when I needed a voice of strength and authority to stand up for what was right and fair and normal, his silence ricocheted from ear to ear, echoing in my head with voluminous discord. At other times his outbursts of rage literally shook the floor boards beneath me, and saw me scream “Stop it…Just Stop It !”, only to be ordered to my bedroom by my mother. The fear and confusion incited by my view of the limbs of a father and his sons entangled in a violent scuffle on the rumpus room floor, soon transformed to disgust and eventually contempt. As the dynamics between my four brothers disnintegrated, cruelly orchestrated by my mother, I came to despise his placid allowance of her manipulating behaviour that had turned the males in my household into virtual putty.
Interestingly, acceptance of my father’s role as silent conspirator settled easily within me as a young child. I did not struggle against it. Generally, I did not question it, though at times I did ponder how he could adjust to the world beyond our front door …the real world…as an employee and colleague in a high profile company. That he did exit the house every morning to maintain a seemingly well functioning professional persona, made his betrayal of his children even more unforgivable. Yet his incongruous existence did not consume me. I simply grew to see him as a pathetic figure who had succumbed to a life riddled with false premises espoused by an emotionally corrupt woman, that even an eight year old could detect.
When I was around the age of ten or eleven, I witnessed a scenario that cemented my understanding of him as a conscious conspirator in the madness that was our family life. I recall a commotion one evening that lead me to quietly inch open my bedroom door, just enough to provide a view to the top of the hallway. I saw my father standing with his hand on the door knob, a brown leather suitcase at his feet. “I’ve had enough. I’m leaving”, I heard him say. Good I thought Go Go…She deserves it. My mother was on the floor, hysterically grabbing at his legs. Maybe if he leaves, the bars of control that trap us in this existence will melt away freeing us from the poisonous happenings within. Yet I see him pick up the suitcase and retreat back into the front room. Weak I thought, shaking my head in disgust. Yes that’s him…Weak.
He sits at the foot of my bed. I am thirteen years old, he is twenty. Tucked up under my covers I watch him fidget, shakily speaking in whispers as he sits precariously on the edge, one foot pointing in readiness for flight towards the exit of the room. We are whispering you see, so that we cannot be heard from my parent’s room on the other side of the bedroom wall. Plus we have grown accustomed to remaining ever conscious of the gap between the closed door and the timber that frames it, where words can be sucked into a vacuum, swallowed up greedily then distorted and twisted by the distended bowels of manipulation, to perhaps be spewed forth at an unexpected future moment.
“Wha…what’s wr…wr…wrong with me ?”, he pleads, “Why don’t I have any friends ?” For as long as I can remember, he had not been able to utter a sentence without stuttering. Well, that’s not counting the times he would torment me with his ugly, angry words, the likes of which frightened the younger me who had neither the capacity to understand nor forgive his behaviour. I was never sure what would provoke the outbursts; whether there were incidents that would occur immediately prior or if the pain simmering inside just happened to overflow when I was near. Suddenly I would find myself cornered whilst looking in a drawer for some glue or scissors to complete my homework after school, as under-toned whispers prickled in my ear “Evil…evil..Colleen is evil”, or “You know, Dad is the son of Hitler”. These were scary words to a small child, particularly one raised with the fire and brimstone indoctrination of the Catholic church. I didn’t know who Hitler was at first, but I soon found out and knowing my father was born in Germany, I was terrified…too terrified to clarify whether it was a possibility or not. Plus, it actually sounded kind of plausible. Typically, I’d attempt to dodge him before he managed to secure a firm grip on my arm and make a mad dash to my bedroom where I could lock the door behind me. Sometimes I would not quite make it and a chase around the house would ensue. There was lots of slamming doors and hiding in cupboards.
When I grew a little older and more confident, although I acknowledged that as the youngest child in the family I was simply the most accessible target for his rage, the temptation to seek revenge following years of torment became too great. I recall snooping around in his bedroom one afternoon when he was not home. I simply opened the first draw of his dresser to discover a packet of cigarettes, only one or two were missing from the pack. Gleefully I contained the discovery within, waiting for the thrill of extortion to descend when it was so required.
The following day, I arrived home from school and he was there waiting. Hands on hip I interrupted the launch of his tirade with “I know you have cigarettes in your drawer. If you don’t go away and leave me alone I will tell mum and you know what will happen then!”. The power was exhilarating and it charged through me triumphantly as he turned on his heel and disappeared to the back of the house towards his bedroom. “Huh”, I thought, “That’ll teach you”, and I closed my bedroom door to retreat to a space that had suddenly transformed into my sanctuary for the evening. Or so I thought.
Later that evening at dinner, I became slightly unnerved by the smug expression that confronted me across the table. Head down, I concentrated on scooping up forkfuls of soggy beans in between mouthfuls of burnt T-bone steak that required jaws of steel to shred into palatable portions. Accepting that I could not predict the behaviour of anyone in my household, I decided to ignore his eerily quiet demeanour. Determined to continue enjoying my newly found power, I chose to not return to my bedroom as usual and instead sit in the living area to watch some television. Though not a comfortable experience, I sat myself down determinedly on the floor in front of the television whilst my father shuffled a seemingly endless supply of newspapers in front of his nose, two short legs protruding out from underneath to rest upon a brown leather footstool. After a period of blissful escapism, bedtime descended and I offered a tentative “Goodnight” to the slippers still perched on the stool beside me. A grunt was offered absentmindedly from behind the paper wall.
Closing the sliding door behind me, I approached my bedroom door a few paces down the hall way and noticed it was slightly ajar. Directing it backwards with my forefinger, I entered with caution, wondering in what form “pay back” may arrive. My suspicions were confirmed as my attention was instantly attracted to something floating in the fish tank that sat on my desk just inside the door. The water seemed black, thick and sooty like a murky puddle I may have kicked through after a storm. Blinking with confusion, I took a step closer and focused on black letters that spoke out from the red and white thing floating in the tank. They read..M-a-r-l-b-o-r-o…Marlboro. The blackness in the water was ash. The whole packet of cigarettes had been lit and dropped into the tank. My two fish, Goldie and Frank lay motionless at the bottom.
And so the torment continued.
Perhaps I had forgotten this act of revenge executed upon me, when one afternoon a few years later I decided to lock my brother out of the house. Fed up with his senseless gibberish that followed me through every room, I darted out the front door and hid down the side of the house in the car-port. Inching my way along the wall and ducking stealthily under each window as I passed, I made my way to the side gate. With the poise of a ballerina I delicately lifted the metal latch with my pinkie and eased the wooden gate back in total silence, slipping through the gap as it slowly widened. Creeping carefully towards the back door, I turned the handle with similar cunning and tiptoed onto the linoleum. Slam ! I heard the front door shut violently. Spinning around in a pirouette like fashion I grabbed the key to the back door that lay on the window ledge and firmly locked it shut. Allowing the key to slip dismissively through my fingers to the floor below, I darted through the kitchen, flung open the door to the hallway and leapt up the hallway towards the front door. Reaching for the deadlock with all the gusto of an athlete urgently extending forth the baton to a team mate, I twisted the knob until I heard the familiar “click” which assured me that all was secure. Leaning with my back against the door I paused to allow myself to breathe, an unfamiliar ripple of satisfaction creeping excitedly under my skin. “Got ya !”, I thought to myself.
Keen to observe the effect upon my brother I sauntered back through the house, past the kitchen and around to the dining area where floor to ceiling windows exposed the back garden area. There he was pacing like a wild cat, his every move at the mercy of a keen spectator positioned safely behind the barrier. Red faced and fuming he stared back at me as I stood squarely rooted in my resolute stance.
Then he had her. Hands around her throat he lifted my Cocker Spaniel Sophie up off the timber picnic table where she liked to sit and watch the strange happenings in the world that lay beyond the glass windows. Only now she was a participant too. Hanging there in the air, her little legs dangling as the weight of her body drew down from his grasp around her neck, her dark eyes penetrated my soul. “Stop it !”, I cried, “let her down !”. Scrambling for the key that I had let drop moments earlier onto the mat, I managed to unlock the door whilst still on my knees. “Let her go” I screamed as I lunged towards him through the open door. Catching her in my arms I sat at the table with Sophie sobbing, my nose buried into her black coat. “I’m sorry….I’m so sorry”, was all I could offer her again and again whilst he sniggered cruely as he re-entered the house.
And there he sat on the verge of tears that night only a few years later, at the end of my bed. A sad, desperate figure moulded by a life time of crushing disdain from those with the power to create and manipulate. “It’s not you!”, I offered with all the enthusiasm I could convey through hushed tones, “It’s not you with the problem, it’s them. They are the crazy ones, not you !” Leaning forward, I let the bed covers drop from around me, “You have to get out of here Aaron. It’s the only way you will survive!”
Whoosh, a blast of chilly air rudely broke our connection as my bedroom door was flung open. “What are you doing in here?” my mother questioned through a furried brow. “Go to bed, you shouldn’t be in here”, she snapped at my brother ushering him out of the room.
“Mum, we are just talking” I retorted, wanting to hold on to the moment that was so rare and yet so vital, but my protestations fell on deaf ears.
I always wondered if she had an inkling of the revolt that was conspiring between the pair of us that night, that for whom at least one of us would one day soon be realised.
Have you ever experienced the sense of being watched from afar, a lurking shadow catching your eye only to vanish as soon as you bring your attention to it? Or have you felt that prying ears only metres away were hanging on every word you said, such that you could almost feel the salivation of expectation moisten the air around each word you uttered before it had even rolled off your tongue? I have.
Sitting at the kitchen table with Jayne we chatted frivolously about the endless possibilities that lay ahead of us upon our graduation from school. As fourteen year old school girls, the thought of freedom from the mundane environment of a classroom and from the desexualisation enforced upon us by thick, dowdy private girl’s school uniforms…was invigorating. Jayne was a friend from a new school I started in year nine. The daughter of a well-known football coaching identity, she was also a new student to the school as her family had relocated from country Victoria to the big smoke. She was a country girl through and through, more comfortable in a chequered shirt, jeans and a cowboy hat than woollen tights, ankle length skirts and collared white school shirts. Actually, if it weren’t for the broad Aussie strine that haplessly spilled forth from her mouth, the clone like impact of the uniform may have assisted her to blend right in to her new upper middle class suburban environment. However her family’s status in the football world did nothing to rehearse her for the dance that is required to initiate oneself into private school girl culture. It was quite fitting then for the foreign girl from the country and the girl who felt like a foreigner in her world, to become friends.
So there we sat, blissfully planning a post graduation adventure. True to the great Australian tradition, we proposed a trip around our vast and exciting county in a Kombi-van. Delighted I had found a friend to sit and romanticize with about my future, the conversation truly transported me into another realm…one of hope and thrilling expectation that life could and would be different. Then something shifted in my friend’s demeanour that brought me hurtling back to a place I would rather not have returned to. I noticed her stiffen in an instant, and as she leant ever so slightly towards me across the vinyl tablecloth, her head slightly tilted to motion over her left shoulder. She uttered through barred teeth, “Colleen, is that your mother?”
My eyes darted over her shoulder towards the rumpus room behind us. There was no-one there. I knew we were alone. My mother was the only other person in the family home that afternoon and she was somewhere in the front of the house, probably in her bedroom. I glanced back at Jayne again, the quizzical look upon my face prompting her to roll her eyes back in the same direction over her left shoulder. Once more my eyes flittered back to the room, suddenly catching the slightest movement from behind a glass sliding door that lead to my brothers’ bedrooms. My eyes adjusted to focus on the outline of my mother’s form pressed up against the wall, shoulder…and ear…to the glass.
It was moments like these that made it very difficult for me to sustain friendships. How do you explain such happenings, let alone justify the motivations behind them to a wide-eyed teenage friend? Typically, the pit of my stomach would just fall through the floor whilst a swirling “here-we-go-again” motion circled in my head.
Perhaps the most excruciating example of my mother’s penchant for spying occurred the following year. For reasons still unclear to me I had moved schools again in year ten, to an all girl Catholic college in my local area. Happily, I would ride my bike to school of a morning. I enjoyed the sense of independence and the opportunity for some quiet reflection. My legs took the controls allowing me to “zone out” whilst I scanned the tree-lined streets, my thoughts wafting away with the morning breeze to merge with the clouds above.
This particular morning, I happened to be ready for school earlier than usual. The house was quiet, my father had left for work already and my older siblings who were still living at home had their own routines, quite separate from my own. As usual, my mother had not emerged from her bedroom. So off I set on my path to school, happily meandering along my way. With plenty of time to spare, I followed the curve of the asphalt road before me, navigating through different streets for a change of scenery. Soon I found myself approaching the busy suburban centre made up of shops, cafes, a train station and bus stops. My school sat ostentatiously at the crossroads, the old bell tower of what used to be the school’s chapel that now housed class rooms, rearing up to the heavens above. At this time of the morning the streets were abuzz with throngs of teenage students making their way either by foot, bike, bus, car or train to one of the four schools in the area. The footpaths were literally a sea of green, brown and blue blazers, all rippling along in the one direction.
Then, like a tidal wave, the calmness was unexpectedly rocked by a vehicle that swamped me from out of no-where. Catching me completely off guard, it appeared from behind and swerved in front of me, forcing me to steer my bike into the nature-strip that lay between the road and the footpath. Quite ungraciously I landed, legs entangled in bike, in full view of what at the time felt like and could have literally been hundreds of school children. Within an instant, a couple of girls who recognised me from school stepped forward to ask if I was hurt and if there was anything they could do. Already on my feet and re-positioning my helmet, I had somehow found a millisecond to capture a glimpse of the yellow volvo out of the corner of my eye, thus leading me to identify the driver.
Sheepishly, I found the words “No, it’s ok thanks. It’s just my mother”.
My crime that morning it appeared was to leave the house twenty minutes earlier than usual. This provoked the surveillance that lead to my road-side obstruction and public interrogation. The lighter side of me…the survivor inside…use to ponder if she had antennae micro chipped in her head. But these thoughts came to soothe me usually of a night time as I would reflect upon the maddening ludicrousness of it all. It did not help soothe or shield a sensitive teenage self-esteem from the effects of the behaviour that would act as a repellent to a peer group for whom such bizarre displays were not acceptable, let alone comprehensible.
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.