Most people are surprised to hear that I am a hermit at heart. A solitary creature, who is used to keeping her own counsel. I made the distinction between needing “a fix” of people, to electing to enjoy their company. There is a difference. Usually when I enter a room, I feel awkward, and either stumble over my feet and walking stick, or blurt out something random, and unconnected to the conversation. On this occasion, I instantly felt at home. My friend Lisa is a nurse, and one of the gentlest and ethereal women I have had the privilege of knowing. Her beloved mother-in-law passed from breast cancer, and every year she organizes a high tea in her honour.
Colourful people arrive and donate goods, and money is raised to crush this disease. This year, the very talented Hannah Erika Crichton kindly donated her talents and time to sing for us. We were in a hall with women who had been through dark night’s of the soul, mind and body. I loathed the colour pink before having my daughter. I preferred black. I preferred anonymity. I now view pink as a colour of strength, of dreams and power. A colour you underestimate, until it knocks you to the ground with its force of will.
The women in the hall were strong, gutsy, plucky. I stood for a moment, and looked around. The ladies smiled amongst the easy banter at the tables. Bliss was produced with my friend Nicci’s cupcakes and Lisa’s divine soy candles. Pink, I loathed you for what you seemed to expect of me. I apologise in full. It was not you, but my culture that insisted I be demure, pandering and agreeable (at all times). Rather, you have always viewed women as strong, filled with vigour, a powerful voice, a buoyant heart and creative hands. I have had you all wrong. These women, cloaked in pink, have proven that to me.
Photos by Sharon’s Photography.
In the last two days, I have heard three stories of runaways. Two of these people are now adults, and happily survived their tumultuous history. The other story I heard of, is about a little girl. We don’t know the full details as yet, only that she has been found. We hope she is happy, my friends and I. I was filled with dismay at how quick commentators on social media were to judge her. They said she needs a belting, to be screamed at, demeaned, reduced… Twenty years after my time, it seems as though empathy is not forthcoming from all. A man I greatly respect told me that he slept on the streets of Sydney for four years as a youngster. He chose homelessness over staying in a house with a violent father. Another friend left at sixteen. “It was either run or die.” Some choice. I ran away for the first time at four years of age. I wanted to make it to my friend’s house. It was calm there. Instead, I was pursued, then beaten, and told that I would never get away. It didn’t stop me trying. I wanted the pain to stop, to see who I could be and what I could do in this world. It was a positive gesture, assuring those on the periphery that I valued my life and wanted to live. I wanted to try.
Bad men came forth with generous offers of places to stay from twelve to fourteen. “How kind,” my mind whispered, before a cacophony burst forth from my intuition. “They will destroy you!” I declined numerous offers, and watched in despair as two of my young friends died whilst being sheltered by these characters. I rang a host of numbers on a payphone at fourteen, begging someone, anyone, to help me. The criterion was very specific, and you had to fit into the parameters. I was told I was too young, too old, and on and on it went. At fifteen, I was found after running away from a clinic. I was taken to the local police station. When I was told I would have to sleep in the cell in the corner, and I gratefully thanked them, they knew things were bad. They found me a bed in a refuge, the only bed free in the whole of Sydney. I was taken there at 11pm, and a bleary-eyed social worker opened the door. I fell on top of the mattress in the share room, and lay awake, wondering what was going to become of me.
In the morning, the boy’s came from their room, and we from ours. There were eleven of us. We sat at the battered dining table, and a young man wondered aloud what would happen to him when he turned sixteen, in a week’s time. He was trying to go to school, and would soon be without a bed. I was shown a binder filled with resources for kids like myself. You could have a shower here, then lunch here. By a miracle, a bed might show up over there… Nothing was coordinated. “You have to do a lot of travelling when you’re on the streets,” the social worker said. I came to the refuge with nothing, and the toothbrush, washer and soap I was given meant the world to me. I felt as though my identity had been reduced… Over the years, I have known many runaways, both teens and adult survivors of abuse. Their leaving had nothing to do with tiffs over freedom. Rather, they were fighting for their lives.
A friend of mine runs Street Pax, a wonderful incentive she started alone. She sources donations of useful foodstuff and toiletries, and prepares packs. She then delivers them to those on the street. They are always gratefully accepted. I will never forget my toothbrush, washer and soap. For further information, or to donate, please go to Street Pax on Facebook.
I have the privilege of having two Dawn’s in my life. Both are in their sixties, with artistic leanings and a feisty spirit. They haven’t had it easy. The first Dawn is featured above. We didn’t know that my phone was turned to video! I love her smile, and the spectacular way she dresses. I first met Dawn at the local bus stop when my daughter was a baby. Every time I go down the street, I bump into this magnificent lady. I sometimes loan her money, and a few days later, find it in my letterbox, along with a little gift. My little girl is often the recipient of chocolate or some other sweet treat, and wraps her arms tight around her Aunty Dawn. We gave her a lift home from the supermarket the other night, and she asked us to hold on for a moment when we reached her house.
She came out with this dear little notepad, on which she had written an invitation to her birthday celebrations. Lizzie was thrilled, as was I.
Our other friend is Dawn De Ramirez. She ran away and joined the circus as an adolescent, becoming their trapeze artist, travelling through Europe. Her future husband, Raffael, was the cook, and they married during this time. I met her when she judged the first poetry competition I entered. She rang me and we talked from the heart, something we continue to this day. She is a born entertainer, and an advocate for Aboriginal youth at risk of suicide. Dawn travelled to England a few years back, and was able to fund her adventures by passing around a hat at every pub she stopped at. It is such a blessing for my daughter to have the two Dawn’s in her life, providing colour, whimsy, poetry, art and kindness. The characters of this world shake us up with their authenticity. It is brave to be yourself in all your glory, to like who are and how you go about life.
My little girl’s friend needed to go to the Children’s Hospital for some tests, and my daughter knew she would be a bit scared. I agreed to let her go too, for moral support. It is such a confronting place. Essential items like toothbrushes are sold in vending machines, for parents who had no idea their mad dash to emergency would end up stretching out to a long-term stay. We saw a princess in a wheelchair, her sparkly hair accessories setting off the glint in her eyes. She was escorted by her mum and grandmother, and they smiled and made small-talk because the other options weren’t appealing. They had probably cried themselves dry. Our little friend endured her tests with bravery, and we planned to take the girls for a treat. My daughter held a hand to head, complaining that it hurt. By the time we got to the café, she looked pale and uncomfortable. My friend drove us home, and my daughter went downhill. Scooping her up, we took her to our nearest hospital. By then she couldn’t tolerate light, and vomited violently. We were put in the children’s room to await the doctor. When kid’s get sick, it often comes on swiftly, catching you by surprise.
My friend Vicki, who works in food services, came by and chatted for a while, making the wait less lonely. Another friend, Lisa, who works as a nurse at the hospital, heard that Lizzie was there, and stopped in too. Their wishes of healing and the soothing words they spoke, helped my little girl. The doctor thought it may be a migraine. We were allowed home after a few hours, and as my daughter rested, I answered messages from friends enquiring about her, and those who wanted to know if they could sit with us at the hospital.
My washing machine stopped working, and the next day I had friends at my door asking if they could do a load for me. I had many enquiries online too, and accepted an offer of a second-hand machine. My friend Gabby, came by with a parcel of goods for Lizzie. She sat up in bed and looked through the bag with great joy. “Aren’t people kind, mummy?” “Yes, they are,” I smiled. She has severe tonsillitis, so is still at home with me. I am humbled at the love my community shows one another. If someone is ill, they are there. It’s a circle of kindness that goes around, without end. It is a risk to let love in, after disappointment and pain. If you do let love in, and accept offers of kindness, it can heal the gaping wound, sealing it without need for sutures. I am so grateful to our beautiful community, sitting on the edge of Sydney, where pastoral scenes resplendent with horses, vineyards and a river still exist.
Anastasia Amour (pseudonym Stardust), sent me a little package of affirmative stickers. My daughter was very excited when I said Stardust had sent us a gift. Her little face fell when she searched the empty envelope. “Where is the stardust?” she pouted. I told her it was invisible, imbued on the stickers.
Words have such power. You know, these days its cool to be disaffected and sarcastic, caustic and negative. Its easy to cut the groove in the rotating vinyl record inside your head. Doing Anastasia’s ProjectPositive changed my world. I felt connected to a vibrant group of people doing life, endeavouring to work out the snags. I learnt that I am worthy of love just as I am. I examined what beauty and self-love actually is, and what it isn’t. I was humbled and my self-talk was certainly transformed. Not only are her sticker’s embedded with Stardust, but Anastasia is as well. www.anastasiaamour.com
I believe words unsaid, are feelings "unshared."
by Evelina Di Lauro
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