My daughter was booked into her first singing lesson after she pleaded with me. She was five years old, and desperate to get to it. I had just started driving again after surgery, and that along with being directionally-challenged, saw me arriving with mere moments to spare. I heard a warm voice holler to “come on in,” and reclining like a grand dame in the living room, was Nanna Lyn. She had warm eyes, and a kind face. I was invited to stay and chat whilst my girl had her lesson with Lyn’s granddaughter, Tiah. An eclectic array of cats and dogs sauntered in and out, their cunning a sight to behold. Within moments, Lyn and I were chatting about our lives.
I looked forward to our catch-ups. This no-nonsense lady would have me in hysterics. She didn’t suffer fools, so I tried not to be one. She gave tremendous advice, and was on hand through every trial. Raising her daughter as a single mum, her home had been a beacon for the neighbourhood kids. The school of hard knocks hadn’t made her hard. Rather, it had softened her, making her receptive to other people. Our Nanny Lyn had an acerbic wit, and we often had tears rolling down our faces from laughing so much. She taught me how to program the internet onto my tv, and was much more adapt at technology than I. A paid-up member of the Barry Manilow fan club, you had me in hysterics, as you relayed some of your early misadventures.
Lyn would order melts for my wax-warmer at home, after I became enchanted with the aroma of a confectionary shop, which streamed through her screen door. My daughter attended lessons with Lyn’s granddaughter for six years. Finally, the time came when Tiah graduated from her music degree, and was offered placement at a school. We were thrilled for her, but missed our weekly sessions. They had been both instructive and incredibly social. The three women, Nanna, mum and daughter, lived together, and worked in simpatico. Christmas festivities were a sight to behold; they went all-out. It must have taken them a solid week to decorate their house. Not only did the trio adore Tiah’s singing students, but they had enough love left over to foster kids as well.
Their home was the sort of place where you felt safe. The same was true of their hearts. We kept in touch via texts and messages. Recently, I discovered that Lyn was going to be having a biopsy, and she underplayed it when I queried her. I ended up in hospital, and who happened to be in the next room, but Nanna Lyn. We spent time together, touching on some very deep subjects. We talked of pain and despair, hope and spiritual matters. I told her that I wished with all my heart that I could take this burden from her and her girls. I was lectured about taking care of myself, eating right, etc. The usual Nanna lecture. I laughed as I promised that I would be good.
She was excited that my daughter and I were flying to South Australia for my friend’s wedding, and her last text message consisted of her wishing the couple a happy life, and ourselves a joyous time away. “See you when I get back,” I replied. Sleep came fitfully upon our return. I had a dream about Lyn. She looked radiant, as though lit from the inside. She was talking to me, but I can’t recall what she said. I woke with a start and looked at my phone. It was 4am. Later that morning, I received word that she had passed, at 4am.
If you had been granted another twenty years of life, it would still be too soon to say goodbye. You came into this world like a comet, and then quietly crept out in the wee hours. It was typical of you to be unassuming, preferring the spotlight be on others. The end was painless and peaceful; you deserved no less. We will love you all our days, with the same ferocity with which you loved musicals. I wish everybody could have met you, and basked in your attention. To have known you was to be gifted care and warmth and love. As you flew away from this place, I can envision you hearing Tiah singing ‘Songbird.‘ You had shown me a video of Tiah, performing it as her HSC piece, and your eyes pooled with tears at the viewing. Fly free, little bird, unencumbered by worldly nonsense.
We all do it, don’t we? Make snap judgements about situations and people. Assumptions… I guess a part of it comes from fear. Terror of being rejected, of not knowing or appreciating our worth to other people. A single mum, I had been undertaking three full-time courses (now only two), and have been flat-out between studying, managing my health and being present for my girl. I haven’t gone out to dinner or even had a coffee with friends, and have felt a little disconnected. To my amazement, when I bump into my tribe, I am greeted with hugs. They have missed me, as much as I have missed them! You have no idea what an invitation can mean to somebody; that sense of connection. Hell, even meeting to do a grocery shop together! People who value you will understand that mummy needs to bank coin. Food isn’t going to buy itself! They get that you are studying, working, surviving on little sleep or have medical appointments to manage. Don’t assume that because you haven’t been visible, that you aren’t missed or wanted. Don’t assume that somebody that has gone to ground is avoiding you. Life is cyclical. There are times when everything happens all at once, and times when the clock empties itself of commitments.
Somebody backs out of an invite to an event or meal out? Perhaps their finances are fragile, and the focus is on making rent and keeping the lights on. Somebody disappears from social media? Could it be that their world has shattered into a million pieces, and they have been buried deep? All shall be revealed come spring, when they emerge as a new being. When parts of a person wither, shrivel, hollow-out and die, it is an immensely private and deeply painful time. They can’t articulate what all this means, nor what it feels like to themselves, let alone their 900 Facebook friends. Time is a luxury that we aren’t afforded much of in this modern age.
In the olden days, a woman with a new baby would have a time of healing. A person in mourning would have a period of keening. We weren’t accessible 24/7, encouraged to show how positive we were being in the face of it all. We were able to just be, instead of do. I met a single mother I adore in the supermarket the other day, and we hugged and briefly caught up. It was a Saturday night, and she was on her way home from work. She has also gone back to University. “At the end of the year, when my studies are over, I can’t wait to catch up!” she enthused. Oh how I appreciated her words. She is in a contracting season, where her studies, her job and her girls are her entire world. It is a mere season, and she can appreciate that it’s end shall offer growth. I look forward to our catch-up, knowing that it will be worth the wait.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl with dimples and chutzpah in spades. Daring and unafraid. She equaled me with her absurdist humour, and we constantly laughed at the nonsense contained within life. Understated, humble and loyal, you turned down opportunities because it was a friend’s birthday, or because somebody needed you more. You have always been loyal to commitments, whenever possible. No interest in validation online, you are happy learning and plugging away in the background. You already know what you are going to do in life, and how you are going to get there.
I am meant to dread the teenage years. However, I don’t. Rather, I am enthralled by it’s swift appearance and amazed by its sweet and wise countenance. I celebrate the arrival of this new world. Keep flying, sweetheart, linking hands and arms with your contemporaries as you all learn new tricks and balance many plates. The answers aren’t found ‘out there’, nor within a phone, but rather, within yourselves. Have fun and make time for silliness. You will be an adult for a long time, and these years shall fly by.
I am learning and evolving at the same time as you. I need to lead the way, showing you how to care for yourself, learn new skills through education, and produce a future worthy of you and I. I look forward to long walks throughout Sydney, including our beloved Secret Garden. We shall keep up with our binge-watching of our favourite shows, whilst eating popcorn. I look forward to facials and pyjama days, camping and road trips, art galleries and our favourite and most hilarious activity, hamming it up as though we are ensconced in a soap opera. We actually are, and it’s best not to take it too seriously; an art you have mastered and in turn, have taught me.
You have told me what you want to do for your birthday. You want to hang out, have a supermarket chocolate cake, eat pizza then watch a movie at home. It’s so you. Whether you are holding a homeless person’s hand, demanding manners from a passenger on a train, encouraging a distressed friend or putting up with your directionally-challenged mother, you have style and grace, and a laser-like focus. It shall remain with you all your days, even after the next act in your life dissipates. Six short years, and then there will be another phase beginning. I shall remain right by your side throughout.
The psychologist observed that when her client wasn’t attempting to mentally escape the room or indeed, her own mind, there was a child seated in front of her. “That is all well and good, but I can’t work with her. She is your responsibility, now that you are a woman. You need to comfort her. She is not in charge anymore, and you need to be.” She grabbed the Babushka doll from her desk, and took it apart, revealing a young adult, an adolescent, then all the way down to an infant. “All these ages are contained in you, as well as the experiences, good and bad. They are waiting to be sorted and acknowledged. I need to talk to the Matryoshka doll, the one who contains all the others. Do you think that is possible?” The woman nodded, trying to coordinate her breathing (which she had been told was far too rapid), and look at things from an adult point of view, not as a frightened child. A child who didn’t have a choice in anything, from where she was to whom she was around.
“Let me talk to the Matryoshka doll, the strong matriarch; give her the job of guiding your life.” It seemed like a plan, a better plan than anything she had cooked up previously. Rather than the dolls being left in a line, disengaged from each other, they were put back together, contained in the elder doll. Back together, where they belonged. The angry adolescent, frightened child and vulnerable young woman weren’t left behind. United and celebrated. All the ages were back where they belonged, with Mama handling business from a grown-up’s perspective and experience. She seeks solutions, whereas the younger dolls seek only to run, to escape discomfort. It may have kept her alive once, but not now. No, not now. She is finding that it’s a comfort to be an adult; to take charge, and stop scaring herself to death.
The therapist wanted to see me weekly, and in the meantime I practiced breathing like a normal human would. Damn, it was hard! I saw the pain doctor for an initial consult, and he was knowledgeable and lovely. I told him about my studies; the training and travel it would involve. “I just need to be able to function,” I pleaded. I told him I required solutions that wouldn’t zone me out. After perusing scans and examining me, a deficit in the strength in my arms was noted. I had noted it too, for a long time, a hangover from the second time my spine was broken. A new medication and regime was implemented, and I left with some hope. As long as I can keep writing, I am okay with whatever comes.
My daughter was scheduled to dance with her senior troupe, but the event was cancelled at the last moment. The dance school had managed to enrol in a festival to be held somewhere else. It was a place and a town I had avoided for the past 25 years. The man that threw me from the building, his family lived there, and every family function was held in this club. In fact, he had been arrested on charges relating to me whilst having dinner there. Now my daughter was going to this place, accompanied by me. I was conscious of my breathing leading up to the event, and was also more aware of my coping mechanisms, thanks to my one session of therapy! However, once enclosed within the walls of the club, I thought to hell with being conscious of breathing. To hell with being present. It was a mausoleum to gambling and drinking, resplendent with its very own forest, lagoon and faux train station. There were hidden corners and booths everywhere, and I scanned each and every one, searching for him and his family, whose transgressions matched his. I finally found my people, and instantly offered to find a chemist for one of the young dancers. Down I marched, becoming lost in the cavernous space, until I was directed as to a pharmacy outside. I walked through an alley, my heart beating wildly as I turned to face the train station, where he once sold drugs. Was he there?!
I raced back from the chemist, and after giving the supplies over, I ate my body weight in sugar. Salad wasn’t going to suffice today, no way! Ice-cream was devoured, as was caffeine, followed by lollies and chocolates from the vending machines. The noise of this club and the lights offended my senses, which were already going into overdrive. Had he seen me? Had he followed me into the auditorium? Anyone could come and go from here. He had followed me before, after seeing me on the street, once trapping me in a laneway, another time, a public bathroom. It may seem silly, but my sapphire blue walking stick became a magical staff. I could use it to trip him up, if need be. I sat at the back of the room, hyped on sugar and adrenaline. I told nobody about what I was experiencing. Where to begin? Realising that I was isolating, I walked to where the other parents were sitting. I enjoyed their company and banter; it was rather like an elastic band snapping me back to the present.
We got a lift home with another mum, and in my tired state, I stopped paying attention to our whereabouts. Glancing up, I realised that the shops looked familiar. I had been here before. Oh no! We were on his street! A place where cruelty had occurred, or should I say, more cruelty. Every day was a battle of wits and a struggle to survive.
I threw up when I got home, then took out my box of comfort tools. They consist of pyjamas, bed socks, essential oils, music and my bed. I had done it, and it was over. I knew I would never go back. I saw my daughter dance with her friends. It was a triumph. I feel as if I live in two worlds, the inner life keeping me busy, even as I socialise. No wonder people experiencing this duality are often exhausted. Remembering what that kid went through… Nobody cared and nobody rescued her, amongst the many who knew what was happening. To experience it all again felt like a respectful thing to do. It is my way of telling her that I am sorry for what she endured; that it was wrong, so wrong. To have to feel it, and then move on, is hard. It feels as though I am leaving her behind. I had nightmares for a week (when I managed sleep), and tried to go easy on myself. I am doing the best that I can. I have learnt that once I re-enter a place or hear a piece of music, for instance, it loses it’s hold over me. I would have to actively avoid most of Sydney to not encounter a place of trauma.
In the time since this experience, I have met with friends, and we’ve laughed and shared stories over coffee. I have relished the warmth of the mug coursing through my hands. I have delighted in the visiting birds, and watching the leaves falling from my trees. There is no reason why I survived that time in my life. Other young girls hadn’t been so lucky after having met him. I have completed a module of my health admin course, and am confident I could save a life if I needed to. It wasn’t because I’d performed CPR on a model at the Health campus, it was because I’d already saved a life previously. It was my own.
Pieces of cloth are strewn over my bed. Here is broderie anglaise from my christening gown. There is my favourite blue shirt I wore at fourteen; a square from the white jumper I wore the night of my fall… Blood and mud-stained fabric, some pierced with bark chips. Strewn across my bed in no decipherable order. For twenty-five years, I’ve attempted to sort through them. I had been wanting to make a patchwork quilt, to offer warmth and comfort. Trouble is, I hadn’t been taught how to sew, so had no hope of constructing it by myself.
After years of stagnation, suddenly the lights turned green. I am studying for two degrees. A pain specialist with a fabulous reputation opened a practice in my town, and by a miracle, I was booked in to see a psychologist specialising in trauma. I turned up to her office with trepidation, afraid that by picking at the scab, I would bleed all over the place, and not heal. Perhaps, I would be left with a bigger scar. A Chilean lady came out to greet me, and my fears were cast aside. She admitted that she was puzzled at how I came to get an appointment, as her books had been closed for a while. She was taking no new patients on. I explained that a local support service had recommended her, and she laughed and said that gremlins must have gotten into her computer, opening up a space. I gave her a run-down on my life, checking off trauma as though I were reciting a shopping list.
She in turn asked about my digestion, if my mind raced, if I found it hard to concentrate on one thing at a time, if I was late to the party, having delayed emotional responses? Does my heart race? Do I breathe so quickly that I feel faint? I asked her how she knew? My digestion has always been a fragile flower. My mind is always racing. I told her that sitting in her office for fifteen minutes, I had planned meals for the next week, my daughter’s schedule, done my budget and planned the next three chapters of a book I am writing. In fact, I am writing four at the same time. My bed has a pile of books on the floor, and I read a chapter then discard the book, perusing the next book in the pile. I even find it difficult waiting at a red pedestrian crossing, sitting through a movie, sitting still at all. As for emotional responses… I am commended for my calm at times when others fall apart. I have lost many dear friends, and can endure my grief, then a year or so later, I will be inconsolable when I see a photo of them. I am late to the party when it comes to boundaries too. Others will see things before I do, and back away from a person. When I went for an assessment earlier this year, so as to obtain a report for NDIS funding for trauma counselling, these traits were commended and cited as proof that I was coping splendidly. This lady was incredulous when I stated that NDIS had knocked me back because of the report, stating that I was a high-achiever who was coping very well indeed! My new psychologist sent me the following article on the Vagus nerve. It is the tenth cranial nerve, and interfaces with the parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs and digestive tract. It controls several muscles of the throat and voice box, and carries sensory information from the internal organs back to the brain.
As you can see, it’s tendrils are long and reach deep. She noted that I squirm a lot and when talking or answering questions, my eyes dart upwards and side to side. It is a common response, when you have PTSD. She could see the little girl I was come out at times. I told her that now my daughter is reaching the age I had been when the most horrid of experiences started occurring, my mind is reminding me of what happened to me. I need to reach deep, as though unplugging a clogged sink, so that generational pain won’t besmirch her wondrous life. Eating disorders, alcohol misuse, utilising prescription medications to quell emotional pain, I had already dealt with it all. Now here I was, wanting to up my game plan. I want to do it for my daughter, so I can be the best mum I can be, for my friends so I can be present and healthy, for future employers and for myself. The battle had begun.
As she emailed me the article on the Vagus nerve, I caught a glimpse of the ring emblazoned by a ruby on her finger. My mind was suddenly back inside a bathroom when I was fourteen. A man of unparalleled evil had been introduced into my world, and a woman I had known for only a short while gifted me a ruby ring. She insisted that I wear it, assuring me that it would keep me strong. “You will need to be,” she said, glancing at the man hovering over my shoulder. Always hovering… I took the ring off to wash my hands, and forgot to put it back on. When I went to retrieve it later, it was gone. “What will keep me strong now?” I asked in dismay. This memory led to others, too numerous to mention to the therapist, though she noted that I had drifted away. “You disassociate often, don’t you?” she smiled. She told me that it was quite a clever ploy of my brain, in order to protect me from horror and terror as it happened. It has also meant that I have put up with intolerable situations as an adult, for longer than I should, without further damage being done.
I was instructed on how to breathe, so I could transcend the flight response I was caught in. “We need to start from the basics, and that for you is learning how to simply breathe.” It took forty minutes until I was able to breathe deeply and slowly. Of course, my mind dove deep into the past, to the moment I first heard anything about “the horrors,” as PTSD was formerly known. I was fourteen and had met a gentle soul called Dennis. He couldn’t sit still, and his arms shook, and he tapped his foot involuntarily. “I’m like this because I’m a vet,” he whispered. “Oh, I love animals!” I exclaimed in my naivety. Dennis smiled bemusedly. I didn’t know what he was talking about then. Now I know.
(To be continued)
The Saturday started off with a vibe of foreboding. We had errands to run at the local shops, and my back pain was a 20/10. It was so bad that I had to take one of my night-time medications whilst I was out, just to cope with the travel back home. I couldn’t have walked another step without it. Back home, I had a bath, and rubbed every liniment I owned onto my spine. I zapped my back, braced it, and would have chanted had it promised to help. I had no time for this nonsense! We were all packed to go see our dear friends on the Northern Beaches, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop us. My left kidney is twice as big as the right, and my spine is putting pressure on it, and other organs. My spinal canal is so narrow that they can’t loop wires up it to fit a spinal cord stimulator. Still, I press on. I have to ensure that my determination at the very least matches the force of the nerves being crushed. Yay! we made it onto the bus toward the station. I bit my lip every time we went over a bump, to the point that the inside of my mouth started bleeding. The train came on time, but then stopped abruptly at regular intervals. Apparently, the Vivid festival had caused public transport chaos. I started to feel anxious, knowing that I only had a finite amount of time before the pain ramped up again. I wanted to be safely encased in our friend’s home when it did.
The train stopped before Circular Quay and we were told that we couldn’t proceed for a while. Thirty minutes later, we rolled into Wynyard station. We needed to get the B-Line bus to the Northern Beaches, and there was nobody around to tell us where to go. We wandered the perimeter outside the station, and missed the first bus. My confusion grew, as the pain ramped up. Taking deep breaths hurt, as did trying to correct my posture. My right leg went from under me, leaving me with one functional leg, a walking stick and suitcase. Dismayed, I thought about returning home. I knew I would feel worse if I abandoned the visit we had all been looking forward to. I was halfway between home and our friend’s. Exhausted, we hopped on the next bus. I was climbing the walls in pain, and there were no seats. My daughter watched as commuters got off, and was on her way to secure a seat for me when a guy carrying a case of beer pushed past and sat down. She was having none of it, and demanded that he get up; that her mother needed the seat more than his beer!
An hour passed, and when we alighted, our friends were waiting. We were encased in hugs and love, and fed a curried vegetable pie. We listened to the Beatles and the next day, went to the beach. If we hadn’t gone, I would have felt sad at what the never-ending pain has taken from me. I would have felt awful for my daughter and our friends, who would have been understanding, but nonetheless…I would have missed the last hot day before winter curled it’s icy fingers around Sydney. I would have missed so much. Beauty, love and art… That is what makes life bearable. Particularly if you are going out of your mind with pain.
I thought I was a fairly optimistic person, considering all the trauma that has bounded into my life at one time or another. I thought I was pretty calm in the face of disaster. I never stopped to wonder why I had to start taking medication for anxiety, and why I had been waking up in the middle of the night with heart palpitations, unable to get back to sleep. I had come to expect catastrophe, and my body was vigilant for it’s approach. These last few weeks have been a lesson in trust. Doing all that I humanly can, and then letting go.
I was told that my home was up for sale a while back, and was frankly, devastated. I love my little home, and the street on which I reside. I respected the decision, and cleaned and prepared the house for Open Homes, hoping that an investor may purchase the property and let us stay. The anxiety was so bad, that I just had to release the outcome, or be consumed by the unknown. The amount of times I envisioned packing boxes, paying thousands toward another move… I could see myself spending hours changing my address online and unpacking somewhere new…Today I was told that we are able to sign a lease for another year! I can’t tell you what a relief it is, and the joy I felt when telling my daughter.
We can come to expect life to cheat us; to not be kind in it’s approach. I was grumpy the other day, when a bus I needed to catch arrived early, and I still had some way to walk to the bus stop. “Great!” I seethed. To my complete surprise, the driver noticed me and opened the doors, patiently waiting until I could get on board. “I didn’t want you to have to wait for another hour,” he smiled after I had thanked him. This kindness gave me a lightness of spirit, and I had further meaningful interactions with the teller at the bank, an elderly lady and a shop keeper.
It reinforced that the world isn’t in fact out to get me. I have been abused and seen the perpetrator walk after a ridiculous sojourn to jail. I have been robbed and taken advantage of. I have been discarded and ostracised. Haven’t we all? I used to say that there are more good people on this earth than bad, and I believed it. We seem to build up an irritation, as though we are preparing a pearl inside our shell. All that we end up doing is keeping the world out, and shutting ourselves in.
I was talking to a friend who had suffered abominable abuse as a boy, and recent events in his life have served to affect him negatively. I told him that a year ago, when I had to leave all that I was and the titles I had aligned my identity with, I thought that the bad guys may never come to justice. “You know what kept me sane?” I asked my friend. “Cardinal Pell being found guilty and put in jail.” Heck, watching all of the bad people coming to justice. It will happen to them all. They will be punished, one way or another. I have lived long enough to see it occur, and know that more shall follow.
I will open my heart once again, to both life and it’s people, trusting that a driver shall wait for me, the teller shall be pleasant and that good people do get rewarded for being a good tenant or a good person. I have to trust this life, as it is all I have. The bad guys will fall, given enough time. I have seen it happen. I once again believe that life isn’t trying to bring me to my knees; it is trying to help me up.
It’s time to get out my dusty Gratitude journal, and at day’s end, list all that I am thankful for. The list is massive.
I learned about Entitled via a friend who volunteers with Shining Stars. Apparently, the author was going to donate $5.00 from every book sold to this charity. As winter descends, Shining Stars is needed more than ever. They feed the hungry, provide essentials to the homeless, ensure people fleeing domestic violence have clothes and furniture, and new mothers have all they need for their babies. I could easily wax lyrical about all they do, wallpapering this blog, but you can read more about them on their website. I ordered a copy of Entitled, eager to help Shining Stars and also support the Author who was making such a generous pledge.
I could not put this book down once I started! How often have we been blasé to the homeless on our streets? How often have we pretended not to see them? If we avoid eye contact, we won’t have to engage with them. Children tug on their parent’s arm, to enquire as to why people have no home, and are shushed, then hurriedly moved on. The protagonist in this story is no different. If we create a chasm between them and us, it means that we don’t have to digest the unappetising reality that many of us are only a few pay slips, or a medical disaster away from the streets. We believe that they must have done something to create their situation, or didn’t try hard enough. It brings us peace of mind, that we are somehow masters of our destiny, and they are not.
I read Entitled in one sitting, thrilled that not only had the author nailed what it means to be destitute, but also what it means to be broken down then rebuilt. The people our heroine meets on the street are the truest friends she has ever had. They may well be the only friends she has ever had. I have seen homeless buddies run and fetch hot tea for another with the last of their money, or offer food and a blanket to a newbie. This is unadulterated love, something which Shining Stars has in abundance. Several societal ranks are featured in this book, with fate conspiring to have them meet, and learn from each other.
I give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
You can order Entitled from the following:
To make a donation to Shining Stars, or to find out more, click here.