Thoughts and Images
4 year old listens intently to words and sings along:
‘Take me down to the Paradise City where the grass is green and the girls are pretty,
Take me home, yeah, yeah’
4 year old stops singing and looks somewhat annoyed:
‘Mummy, he wanted to go to Paradise City so much, and then when he got there he wants to go home again. He should just give it chance.’
Not much in my world as a kid compared to the universe of possibility that opened up when I was staring through the glass cabinet at tubs of confectionery in a milk bar with a $1 coin in my hand. On the rare occasions that I had said coin all to myself, a small white paper bag of mixed lollies was almost always the endgame.
I knew the exact mix of lollies that I wanted- the ratio of chocolate versus jube, the ones that I did not want at all. I would watch the shopkeeper pull out each tub and I’d laser focus on their hands, attempting silent Jedi mind tricks to get them to put my favourites in (milk buds: caramel, white then chocolate, in that order) along with bullets and chocolate freckles, then followed by my preferred mid-range lollies (milk bottles, strawberry and creams, lolly teeth and raspberries and a snake or two for good measure), but most importantly, I’d will them with all my imagined telepathic power to STEP AWAY from those weird aniseed jube lollies covered in round hundreds and thousands or anything remotely like them.
The thing was, I was silent. I always left it to chance and although sometimes it all panned out in my favour (and I would strut home like I was the absolute Queen of the neighbourhood) more often than not my excited build up to the milk bar adventure ended in nearly breaking my teeth on lolly bananas and musk sticks that had been sitting there calcifying for the past 5 years. It never once occurred to me that I could just ask very politely for exactly what I would like and voila!…..actually receive what I wanted! I mean, it seems so simple right?! I suspect this lolly buying method (the malfunctioning mind tricks and lack of voicing my needs in any detail) has been at the forefront of a huge amount of pivotal decisions in throughout my life with regards to education, employment and relationships, happy to report that I finally figured it out, and I generally ask life for a generous serve of chocolate freckles… and a lot of the time I get them. Thank you!
Remember the river? One of those Melbourne summer days that hits 40 degrees and sweat trickles the full length of your leg. I would have pointed it out and laughed at myself but we were only a week in, to whatever it was we were getting into, the impossible flawless facade firmly in place. I was playing the confident one and you followed me in a diligent haze. You were terrified of me, I seemed way too certain. In a few weeks when the cracks become chasms I’ll remind you I was an actress before I was a musician. We cross the grass towards the bank, a toddler following the precocious bigger kid.
I strip off to a bandeau bikini, which seems so inappropriate on an outer suburban riverbank. The proceeding months had whittled my already thin body to alarmingly bony. I feel so alone. We meet each other’s gaze, careful not to really see. Just look at us spreading out a blanket for two, your mum’s already so keen for me to come to dinner.
I lay on the blanket, face to the sky and close my eyes.
I am howling inside. I half open one eye, say something cute then close my eyes and try to drown myself out by concentrating on the colours from the sun on my eyelids. I am burning.
I feel you watching me, my face. I need to be seen as much as you need to see. I sense you take a photo with your phone. I inch my hand across the grass and barely touch the side of your calf with my finger. I can feel my nose stinging from the sun. We stay still for what feels like the obligatory time to justify the car trip out.
You drive me home.
A couple of hours later I see you’ve posted a picture of me on Facebook. A magical day with my beautiful girl you’d written. I felt sick at how eloquently we were destroying each other. So many likes. So happy for you guys
I lay on my bed, face to the ceiling and close my eyes.
Me: Well despite a lot of things, I do still believe in magic.
Him: Me too.
I walked off the stage after one of the most confronting yet expansive performances I’d ever done. I hadn’t even made it off the stage yet and already I was in a shame spiral. That voice had instantly switched to the repetitious ranting of how badly I’d done, how out of tune I was, all the people who’d ever thought I was shit were well justified in thinking so and on, and on, and on.
A very dear and very wise friend caught me at the wings, in a bear hug. ‘Head up’ he said. That was it.
He was right.
I switched off BullshitAimee.fm and kept my head up.
I let every single difficult thought flood over me, it is awful and awe-inspiring. I haven’t put my head down since and I am always grateful for that moment.
I get angry
Back when I was 20 years old I think I might have somehow avoided being murdered. Walking alone, mid afternoon on a weekday between my boyfriend’s family home, through a kilometre or so of grassy slopes to his Aunty’s house in a newly developed estate. As I rounded a bend on the dirt path I saw a man standing about 10 metres away, looking directly at me, waiting for me to get to where he stood.
I knew that I was in danger, even though he hadn’t done or said anything, my body was in absolute fear. Internally my brain was making escape plans, I was still about 200 metres from the edge of the estate, I’m the world’s slowest runner so there was no running back and I didn’t want to trigger anything by trying to bolt past him. I decided perhaps I could calmly, but briskly, walk past him. I had a checklist- make eye contact, but not for long, polite acknowledgment and get the hell past him and then pick up the pace, pronto.
I’d reached him. Quick nod and the slightest of eye contact. He was thin, but so much taller than me. He immediately started walking right at my side, from a distance it would look like we knew each other, as if he’d simply reached the crest of the hill before me and had just been waiting for me to catch up. I berated myself for not taking better notice of my surroundings when I’d set off.
‘Where are you going?’ He said, in tightly bound voice.
‘Someone’s waiting for me at the end of the path here’ me trying sound like I wasn’t losing my mind to fear.
‘Do you ever get angry?’ He said, his hand closest to me came out of his pocket as he talked and he clenched and unclenched his fist.
‘Do you?’ He said, when I hadn’t immediately answered.
‘Yes…sometimes I do. Sometimes it helps to talk about it, I guess’
Stall him, my internal dialogue coached. Keep him talking, 50 metres to go.
‘Cause I get angry.’
I have no answer. Damn brain coach, please give me something here.
’I get real angry’ He had both hands out of his pockets now, voice still a disconcerting flat menace, a sharp knife still in it’s styrofoam packing.
‘That must be hard. Sometimes it helps to talk about it.’ lame, I think, but it’s all I’ve got.
He says nothing, We reach the concrete path at the start of the estate.
‘It was nice to meet you’ I say as I run away, messy sobbing whilst crying, listening for movement behind me, but not daring to look around.
I tell my boyfriend’s Aunty what happened she looks a bit annoyed that she was momentarily worried about me.
‘But he didn’t do anything though did he?’
She was right, he hadn’t done anything. Yet, I’d backpacked right through Europe on my own the year before and not once had I felt fear like I just had.
I didn’t tell anyone else about it after that.
I did check the local newspapers for months afterwards, for police reports.
The Intrinsic Siri
5 year old: Mummy songs never really end.
Mum: Really as in (singing) ‘This is a song that never ends…’
5yo: (looking at mum with mixture of pity and amusement)
No mummy, they never end because we carry them in our hearts.
Mum: (after picking jaw off the ground)
Wow, yes that is absolutely true, I really believe that. How did you come to know that, did you talk or read about that with one of the teachers at Kinder?
5yo: No. My brain is like an iPad inside me and I just reached inside and pressed the love button.
Mum: (jaw firmly back on the ground.)
5yo: (mic drop)
As we rounded the bend, the house adorning the top of the vivid green rolling hills dominated the view. I gasped and held my breath. I have always had such a visceral reaction to abandoned and decaying homes, it’s like simply seeing them tears the fabric of time somehow and I feel the lifetimes of the house through me. That probably sounds like crazy talk, but I really feel the force of joy, sorrow and every other emotion felt in the broken rooms that once housed who knows?
Why? Is all I could manage to get out whilst still holding my breath and pointing at the enormous house. ‘Ah yes. That’s the house that never got to be’ was the response from my enigmatic new friend and tour guide. ‘How so?’ I asked as he pulled over and we got out to stare up the hill at the grey skeleton of the house. ‘A young couple went to huge amounts of trouble to have that entire house trucked in pieces from another part of the island, but the relationship fell apart in the time it took to restore the house- they never actually moved in. The husband bought out the wife’s share of the house but he never lived in it at all, he moved right out of the area.’ He explained delighting in the storytelling, the astonished look on my face, or both.
‘But he didn’t sell it? Who owns it now?, How long has it been here to have fallen in to such disrepair?’ The questions scattered out of me and my heart was aching at the feeling of anger and loss jutting out of every splintered weatherboard. ‘I believe it’s still owned by his family, but they live down South, I don’t know that anyone’s ever even come up this way to see it.’ He replied.
I couldn’t ask any more questions. Here was such an enormous house that should have been teeming with stories, sounds, thoughts and images of what was and what still is. I should have been reeling with decades of a home, yet here I stood at the roadside overwhelmed by the loneliness and emptiness, a sadness for everything that could have been but was never given the chance. I wondered, had the couple ever stood here, decades after they first walked away and felt the same?
I breathed out slowly, we returned to the car and drove away.
The joy of pneumonia
I’d staggered out of the hospital after having been pumped with drugs to deal with what the tests would confirm was yet another severe bout of pneumonia. I’d only days earlier moved to this country town so was already feeling like a tourist, now as the world spun and fainting felt imminent I felt even more like an out of towner as I staggered to an unfamiliar park bench. I sat down just in time and was concentrating hard on not fainting etc, when a man, with whitish hair and trimmed beard half stood out of his car door nearby. I’d found myself in a similar situation whilst pregnant in a popular inner-city street and received no help and a lot of concerned ‘is she a junkie’ kind of stares and wide berths as I sat on the footpath, so I braced myself for a similar reaction The man said ‘Can I give you some water?’, I did my best to nod and he sort of gingerly walked over, not limping, but a careful walk, and sat next to me. I explained what was going on and he was so calm, ‘that’s fine you take your time, have some water I just got it from our filter.’
And so we sat there together on the bench while I slowly regained the ability to see straight, but feeling a bit stupid for making a public mess of myself I tried to thank him and get up so as not to further monopolise his time and embarrass myself (which was of course another stupid decision as I started the involuntary spinning all over again. So I accepted that I just needed to stay put with this kind man. ‘Please take your time, that sudden spinning is not fun is it? I’ve got a brain tumour and so that happens to me from time to time.’ I suddenly felt really selfish taking this care from someone who clearly needed their own ‘I am really sorry you are having to go through that’ I stammer. ‘Oh gosh no, no this is not about me’ he replied with such warmth ‘Tell me about you’ he continued. ‘You mean when I’m not dramatically passing out on the street?’ I asked as we both laughed.
I told him that I’d just moved to the area from the city with my young family and that I was a musician who produced events for a day job and his already serene face lit up. ‘I used to run music venues and festivals before my first stroke’ he said, ‘and a music shop- two record shops!’. The joy on his face was more an elixir to me than the water, I was feeling so much better. We talked like co-conspiritors about the music scene past and present for a few more minutes and I could have talked for so much longer, but his wife had come out of the library and stood waiting certainly not impatiently, but with an air of needing to take control of proceedings and this man whose name I didn’t know carefully stood up. ‘This is my wife- she steers the boat now my brain can’t quite be trusted.’ ‘Hello’ I said, ‘I’m sorry I’ve commandeered your wonderful husband’s time, but he just saved my life I think.’ She smiled with a tiredness and sadness that made me think that his illness had progressed further than his wonderful animated conversation betrayed. The man squeezed my hand ‘Are you sure you’re ok? Please keep the water.’ He said. ‘Yes, I’m so much better thanks to you., I’m so grateful you were here’ He walked about 4 steps towards his car and I watched him with equal measures heart-full and sadness and then he turned around. He looked me straight in the eyes and smiled fully, I can only describe it as paternal, like a dad might look at his daughter at a university graduation, I felt deeply and completely seen, it took me by complete surprise. ‘Look at you’ he said ‘you have such a spark- you are going to set this town alight.’ And then he got into the passenger seat and I waved as his wife drove him away.
I sat awestruck for quite few minutes before slowly getting to my feet too. The illness that had been well and truly threatening to consume me seemed to have significantly shifted, I felt strength in my body that had been absent for weeks. It could have been the medication that had been pumped into my veins starting to work, but when I walk past that bench in town, I’m still convinced that it was something so much more and I will forever be grateful for that brief, magical meeting.