little pieces

When I was small, my father went through a shameless country music phase, and as a result, so did I. Now an adult, I sometimes like to listen to those songs, permitting myself an occasional and clandestine appointment with my past. Somehow those melodies with which I was inadvertently raised can call to life the moments enjoyed by my younger self, and I’m warmed by how brightly my family burned before our fire went out.

Those songs muster images of my mother standing in a faded sundress beside an old brick barbeque in the back yard, separating a string of sausages with a blunt butter knife and tossing them onto the hot plate. My father moves between the kitchen and the picnic bench for utensils and margarine, setting the screen door banging. They laugh with one another. The air is filled with the smell of sizzling fat and flowering jasmine, and my siblings and I circle the crooked drive on dinkies, while John Williamson blasts through open windows, filtering through the fence and into the midsummer streets of suburbia.

It was within these moments that my smaller self learned what family looks like, what happiness sounds like, what togetherness feels like. But that music stopped playing when this accidental thing my parents made was broken. In the years that followed, now and again on balmy evenings my father would play his country tunes, and the older versions of our selves would cook a meal outside. But the mood was different; in our own ways we all knew where those songs belonged.

Once something breaks, it will eventually begin to crumble. Yesterday I learned that recently, my mother remarried. I stumbled upon the photographs on the internet, and saw her standing beside a man I’ve never met, voicing a new vow. It’s true she’s not the woman from my past, but her eyes, the first to ever lock with mine, remain the same. And with her in the pictures is my sister; one who used to be mistaken for my twin and who now believes these things are not for me to know. For a reason I cannot understand, she chooses to deny the inextricable link we all share and which like it or not, cannot be severed. All I can do is shrug my shoulders and refuse the sting of a mother who wanted something else and a sister who could not bear to be left behind.

Turning up the music I revisit the times before the cracks and the crumbling. Back when we were pieces that belonged together, and who were willing to share a route around warm concrete in the evenings of our childhood. Listen, sister. Remember.

 

 

failed intentions

The weekend after I turned sixteen, my mother showed up. Sure, she’d missed the big day, but then we never did dwell much on ceremony and anyhow, until then she’d overlooked every scarring ricochet in my skewed trajectory towards womanhood. Without her along to show me how, I’d been wearing my new found femininity as if it were two sizes too big; shuffling along in a flush of feigned flippancy.

So after twenty two months silent, I was surprised and secretly pleased to know that she’d remembered without prompting the day, sixteen years earlier, when I’d been cut from her stomach and lain, blue and bawling, on her naked breast; the first of three rude shocks to be placed there. This was our anniversary. And she had come.

After sharing our space for a few days, we understood that she’d soon be gone. Then on the third night, she pulled me aside. Following her into my bedroom, we sat beside one another on a sagging foam mattress while she rifled awkwardly through her bag, uncovering a book filled with poetry and proffering it to me.

For the briefest of moments, I caught my mother peering tentatively from behind a shield of false confidence to observe how her toughened daughter would respond. Bewildered, my guardedness fell away, making space for recognition at the sight of her poorly painted mask, as if catching a shaky reflection in a tainted pane of glass.

She stared at the empty palms lying in her lap. I looked at the book. Letting it fall open I found the words she’d inscribed on the inside cover.

Like mist in the morning you came to me, showering me with love.

And I took it all in; as does the grass.

Clearing her throat she took my hand, and held it like a resignation; light and loose and absent. A ticket for a ship that’d long since sailed. She said nothing. The following day she was gone.

For my sixteenth birthday my mother gave me poetry. But despite countless hours cradling that book of words, I’ve not had the heart to page past the naked lines she penned; an exposed underbelly of romantic sentiment.

A silent revelation of my mother’s best intentions.

 

how to be seen

On the occasional blue moon throughout my childhood, our mother would appear unannounced on the door step. Possessed by a sudden wave of bashfulness, we’d stand staring out at her from the hall, with no words to draw her across the threshold. Then, grinning like a Cheshire cat, she’d break the shocked silence with a gregarious gesture and in an instant a silly excitement would sweep through the house. Regardless of how long she’d been gone, we were always devastatingly pleased to see her. After all, she was our mother.

Never one for answering uncomfortable questions, she’d coat us with her sticky charm in order to avoid having to admit how long she planned to stay. So we’d hang on her every word, for fear it was her last, and furtively cancel our plans, knowing from experience that it would be while we were away that she’d surreptitiously take her leave. Of course we couldn’t avoid school, so after a few days we’d inevitably arrive home to learn that she was gone. Flattened with disappointment, we’d grieve our loss anew. She never stayed long, but knowing that did nothing to ease the sorrow.

As a result of her sporadic and unpredictable pattern of visitation, I developed an agonizing obsession of imagining every car turning into our street was hers, and I spent my early adolescence sneaking shameful glances down the road. It was all I could do to disguise this secret longing for someone I knew would never come. The painful truth was that as hard as I tried to will her to me, she and I were never connected.

For me, our mother’s visits were both glorious and wretched. While my siblings would willingly open their hearts like well worn books to the page on which she’d last written, I would covet mine in bitter defiance. I was angry that she could come and go as she pleased while I remained here, needing her. I’d learned the hard way that like a wild wind she’d no sooner arrive than she’d be gone again, and I couldn’t bear it. So during these rare and short lasting visits I kept her at arm’s length. I thought I was protecting myself from further hurt, but regardless of how detached I appeared the pain when she left was no less raw.

Since the earliest days of my childhood I’ve struggled with feeling vulnerable. What initially stemmed from a combination of pride and self preservation with regards to my mother is now an integral part of who I am. Perceiving emotional dependence as a brand of personal betrayal, I learnt to greedily guard my weakness. Now I’m wondering whether, had I been more like my siblings, who gladly offered theirs like a gift in open palms, I might possess more peace and contentment.

On Saturday I was at my weekly writing group in the city. A broad spectrum of individuals who write for both pleasure and profession, we meet weekly to discuss what we’ve been working on, offering suggestions and constructive criticism to one another. After having completed a five minute warm up writing activity, we’d commenced moving around the table and sharing what we’d written. Before long everyone’s eyes were on me. I didn’t want to share; what if they thought I was dumb? But I choked down the foul tasting fear and the words of decline that were dancing on my tongue and I began to read my work. Against my instincts, I permitted myself to connect. It felt good.

I’m realising that if I’m ever going to experience freedom in all its brilliance, I’m going to have to allow myself to be fragile. I know I can do it; I’m courageous. I just have to let go of the fear.

I think of how my mother looked as she stood on our front step, giddy with cheerfulness. I couldn’t understand how, after twenty five months of absence, she could show up and act so exuberant. But now I recognise that performance for what it was; a facade behind which she was sheltering her own vulnerability. While standing alone on the other side of the door, a part of her must have worried whether this time she’d be turned away. And she couldn’t bear to let us see how much that would sting. For all those years, I was incensed by her superficiality, but only now do I understand what was happening behind the veil. My mother, like me, was afraid to be truly seen.

I’ll close with an offering of wisdom spoken by Brene Brown, a lady who’s spent years researching the subject of vulnerability and whose uplifting and informative presentation I have included for your pleasure. It’s worth a watch; she’s quite the funny one.

There’s another way. We need to let ourselves be seen; deeply seen, vulnerably seen. We need to love with our whole heart, even though there’s no guarantee. We need to practice gratitude and joy in moments of complete terror and to just be grateful; feeling vulnerable means we’re alive. And we need to believe we’re enough. When we work from that place, we stop screaming and start listening. We are kinder and gentler to the people around us and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

 

 

come and see my well watered eyelids

I am not an attractive crier. Rather, I’m the swollen, snotty nosed variety, whose puffy eyes and blotchy cheeks continue to betray me for days afterward. For me, even the term is lacking, as the unobtrusive shedding of tears envisaged when we hear that someone’s been crying doesn’t come close to depicting the disturbing display I can muster. If I had to characterise it, I’d be inclined to compare it to the desperate outcry of carnal moans, bellowing from a distressed animal, rather than anything I’ve witnessed enacted by an actual person. When I cry my whole self gets involved. It’s a shoulder shuddering, chest heaving, exhausting episode, whose legacy lasts long after the moments it actively occupies. Suffice to say, the first time I saw The Notebook I wore it on my face (and my sleeve), for the remainder of the week. It’s a messy business.

While I’m happy to make this admission, what makes things slightly awkward is that I cry a lot. Naturally, over the years I’ve learnt to use restraint while in company, as what I’ve come to realise is that being in the presence of an inconsolable, slobbering wreck of a human makes people feel slightly uncomfortable. The more that I think about it, witnessing someone lay bare their ragged soul must be more than a little confronting.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I think it’s necessary to declare at this point that I rather enjoy crying. Truly, there are days when no prospect seems more refreshing than indulging in a glorious, gut wrenching weep; though in the past, openly disclosing this to people has been a source of genuine alarm. I suppose this is because crying is largely considered the result of weakness or helplessness or pain; traits which we typically view as undesirable. Therefore, if we see someone tearing up, we have an uncontainable urge to somehow, through comfort or otherwise, make them stop. But actually, crying can be a form of relief; a much needed release for pent up emotions and excess energy. Sometimes, crying can be therapy.

I’ve cried a lot this week. On Tuesday morning I opened the fridge to discover that I’d forgotten to refrigerate the Bonsoy. An inconvenience which could be considered mildly annoying at best, the absence of chilled soy on this occasion left me utterly ruined. I stared at my bowl of dry muesli sitting pathetically on the breakfast bar, smothered by a spill of sliced banana. A surge of sobs instantly broke forth, loud and uncontrollable. Lowering myself onto the tiles, I leant against the kitchen sink and wept inconsolably; an onslaught which refused to dissipate even as I scraped myself off the floor an hour later to fix myself some toast and vegemite.

Since then I’ve spent many hours sitting solely in my apartment; crumpled, like the mess of snot soaked tissues surrounding me. The barrage of emotions which commenced largely without warning has somehow avalanched into a gushing onslaught of grief for which I can’t easily account. My tendency for tears, a characteristic with which I’ve always felt comfortable, is for the first time leading me to question my mental stability. I can only imagine it has something to do with the solitude; a perplexing theory, as until now, I’d thought I was enjoying it.

I’ve never lived alone before; I’ve always been afraid of the silence and the things with which my mind fills it. But over the past two weeks I’ve found a certain peace with this lifestyle. I’ve lain on the floor beneath a ceiling of fairy lights, listening to the sounds of domesticity floating in through the open balcony. I’ve bathed with the bathroom door open. I’ve let my body clock govern my sleeping patterns. I’ve spoken frankly and openly to my plants and revelled in their silent responses. I’ve allowed myself to feel lost in loneliness. For the first time in my life, I’ve not been afraid when I switch off the lights. But curiously, perhaps nonsensically, I’ve done it all with well watered eyelids.

I’m no stranger to sadness. But what’s got me all worried is that in the past when I’m not feeling good, I’ve mainly had a handle on what it is that’s coloured me blue. Having to wander, bewildered, through the cluttered terrains of my mind, searching for the source of my upset has been altogether disturbing.

Then, in the midst of discomfort, I began to wonder if whether, similarly to the way one might procrastinate about vacuuming the lounge room or cleaning out the garage, I’ve previously used obligations and responsibilities as a way of putting off something far more daunting; organising my messy head space and sorting through my baggage. Now, with no commitments monopolising my days, it’s becoming apparent that it might be about time to pour it all out on the floor and have a good hard look, in order to attend to whatever it is that’s been clogging my mind.

I’m sensing it’s going to be quite the job; it’s got me rather anxious. I’ve never much liked cleaning. In the absence of knowing just what’s to be done, I’m finding myself shoving it all to the back, where it’s less of an obstruction. I just don’t feel ready to take it on. I think I’ll settle for a fresh box of tissues and wait out the spring.

 

a study of irrational rage

I find anger fascinating.

I’m not talking about the exasperation you feel when your partner insists on hanging the washing with mismatched pegs, or the irreconcilable irritation that comes from turning on the television to discover that the only programme you bother to watch has been thoughtlessly cancelled to enable the screening of some stupid sporting event. Nor am I referencing the mixed feelings of forlorn frustration when the nightly news reports the latest dumb decision made by politicians who insist on running our government fuelled solely by personal motives.

I’m referring to the raw and irrational anger that can be witnessed every day in the faces of people outside your front door; the blind rage that consumes the person in the car behind you when you forget to indicate at the traffic lights. Sitting, waiting anxiously for the lights to change, you observe them cussing violently and making rude and animated gestures in your direction through the rear view mirror. Or the fury that brews behind the blank faced expression of the woman in the cinema, driving her to turn and spew hatred in your direction when you accidently kick the back of her chair.

We’ve all observed this kind of unpredictable and unfounded anger. As for me, I’ve spent significant chunks of time reflecting on where it might come from. After all, it’s scary. In my mind these once normal, well balanced individuals have been possessed by some kind of mean demon who survives on equal portions of spite and malice and whose objective is to slowly consume otherwise reasonable people. Shackled within the confines of dead end lives which they can’t remember choosing, these poor souls can find no escape. Losing sight of what they were once striving for, or perhaps never having known in the first place, they’re filled with a sense of hopelessness, and in response they react in the only way they know how; primal, unashamed anger.

I think we’ve all made the rookie error of thinking it’s possible to reason with these people, and have attempted to talk them down by calmly pointing out their unnecessary or unjustifiable behaviour. When being accosted in the grocery store for sampling a grape for instance, I have endeavoured to explain to the dutiful citizen whose red face was all too close to mine that they need to relax. I wasn’t planning on pulling up a plinth and making like Midas; I was only going to try one, as a means of deciding if I wanted to purchase a bunch. But these acts of measured reason are time and again met by the inflated rage of the accuser, who is angered inconsolably by my slight misdemeanour against the rigid societal rules to which they have unwontedly or perhaps subconsciously kowtowed.

Truth be told, we owe these individuals big time. For myself, every time I see them blasting one another in the parking lot or dragging viciously at the arms of their bewildered children, I am reminded that I am lucky; I have a chance to get out before the resentment that’s eating them up starts taking chunks out of me. I smile at them with open eyes and am typically rewarded with a scowl, which I gladly accept; after all, that could have been me turned crazed hate monger. Or maybe they’re just good people having a bad day.

My quiet contemplation of these folk over the past week has helped me let go of the things I’m preparing to leave behind. After tomorrow I will be able to state with a measure of happiness and horror that my budding career as an educator is over. Despite my discontentment regarding my job, it’s been hard to let go; quitting has meant foregoing relationships that I’ve been developing for years and has required abandoning people who might need me. A sentimental person, this has been hard to accept. My emotional self has begun to confuse my rationality, and my pushover of a mindscape has led me to question the thoughts that have consumed me for the past few years; do I really dislike my job or have I simply been being self indulgent?

Nevertheless, being in a state of flux is oddly suiting me. I have given up my lovely house in Newcastle and am squatting back at my dad’s place until the big move. So much of me enjoys the disordered chaos of it all. There’s a certain liberation that comes from selling all your worldly possessions on eBay. Or more accurately, giving your things away; turns out no one really reckons my stuff’s worth much. But wonderfully, the less I have, the lighter I feel. In summation and paradoxically, in the midst of uncertainty, things have never felt so right.

So I suppose I should begin looking for a place to live, else I’ll be arriving in the city in the New Year the proverbial bohemian, with nothing but the clothes on my back and a mind full of romantic notions. Either way, Melbourne town, I’m on my way!