Bad News, Strength, Kindness and Saying Yes


Two years ago, I met a lovely lady from England. Her voice redolent with a gentle lilt, her energy soft and assuring. We talked briefly, and then I didn’t see her again. Last school holidays, she organized a picnic, sending out an open invitation. I took my daughter, and we had the best time! We determined to not leave it two years until the next meet-up.

I became ill last week, and couldn’t lift my head from my pillow. My persistent cough caused excruciating back pain. In the middle of the sickness, I found out an old friend had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. This lady had cheered me on through IVF, held my newborn in her arms, and had been by my side throughout the last fifteen years. She and her husband squeezed the marrow out of life; out every day, travelling around Australia and the world. Taking an interest in everything and everyone they encountered. Still reeling from the shock of the news, there was a knock on the front door. There stood the English lady, a meal in hand. She had found out my address, and made me a vegetarian meal to boost my system. Her kindness and timing were perfect. As I ate a bowl of her stew and dumplings infused with sprigs of thyme and spices, I could feel nutrition flooding every cell in my body. I could feel the kindness behind her gift. I have a mild case of pneumonia, an occupational hazard with my spinal injuries, and the way my spine curves. I need to get better so I can go see my old friend; so I can also prepare wholesome meals  for those that need them.

Today is the anniversary of my fall. There is no guide-book as to how one is meant to feel, nor commemorate the occasion. Anger, sorrow, lamentation, joy and utter gratitude feature heavily. Every year is different. I have gone back to the building, I have gone on long walks or to the movies. Last year, my daughter and I attended the Helpmann Awards. This year, I am weakened by my lungs, coughing and feeling a little woozy. I feel better than yesterday though. In the months I spent in hospital, I assured myself that each day would be an improvement on what came before, and it was. Today is an improvement on yesterday. I got dressed, and am taking my daughter to an appointment in the city. I shall probably get us dinner, and order a cheeky Cab Sav. The night of my fall, I hadn’t eaten for days, and craved fluid. I was frozen, laying on the ground, my blood splayed around me. I craved food, fluid, and warmth. Today, I had all three. Tonight, as I slip into my bed, I will give thanks that I am here. I will give thanks for old friends that extract the marrow out of life and English friends who make me the vegetarian equivalent of chicken soup for my soul. Life is a strange and precious gift.

 

The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever!


My daughter and I and some dear friends went to Sydney Park last Saturday to pay homage to Kate Bush, whilst at the same time, denouncing domestic violence. I used to listen to Wuthering Heights as a young girl, living under the oppressive understanding that a violent and possessive man would be deciding when my life would end in the near future. I didn’t have to imagine him telling me that I was ‘going to lose the fight,’ nor have ‘bad dreams in the night.’ He told me routinely, and I indeed had bad dreams. I imagined coming back dressed in red, banging on the window, trying to get somebody (anybody), to hear me and welcome me in. Never in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned joining so many others, dressed in red, dancing to this song so many years later! It was a powerful remembrance of how far I have come, watching my little girl twirl by my side. St Peters has a special place in my heart. I was a young poet/artist when I lived there, selling my wares to the little shops up King St. I would take my little dog, Mitzi Winstopple to Sydney Park each evening, and dream of the future.

In preparation, I raided our fancy dress box and my daughter found a 50 cent gown that fitted her beautifully.

It was cathartic, and I felt cleansed. We wandered up King St to the Union Pub, where scores of other Cathy’s gathered. We bought felt hats for $10 at a bargain store, and I told my friend of my life in St Peters, and the sadness I felt at leaving. I came back not only to pay homage to Kate Bush, but to retrieve something I had left behind; myself.

The next day, I paid for my dance. I wept with the pain, but it was worth it. If there is a price to be paid, always make sure it’s worth it. Two days later, my spine is coming good. I can’t wait until next year!

 

The Handmaid’s Tale


The Handmaid’s Tale, a series based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, has just been released in Australia. Last night I streamed it, determined to watch only the first episode and have an early night. Of course, that didn’t happen. What ended up occurring was I watched all ten episodes. It was confronting and terrifying,  yet it somehow made my resolve stronger. As a survivor of sexual assault, physical violence and fundamentalist religion disguised as faith and obedience, I am acutely aware that the depiction isn’t a grim warning about what may happen. For survivors it is a remembrance of what has already been, and what we must guard against.

The order decreed in Gilead is the ultimate submission by women. Not having access to money and property nor control of their bodies. It is a world I don’t want to live in. It is a world I have lived in. Having scriptures spouted to suit whatever situation befalls, and to claim it as evidence that the perpetrator is in the right. Women and girls being told that they are here to be pleasing and pleasant, first and foremost. The exquisite rebellion encapsulated by reading, driving a car or etching words of encouragement for those who come after you in your cell.

I vowed that if I survived, I would fight for my daughter to not have to endure a speck of what myself and my contemporaries endured. I was fourteen when I uncovered that grown men were placing bets on who would obtain this child, far away from home. My mental fortitude kept me alive, even as they sought to destroy me, discarded as collateral damage in a war I knew nothing of. I hadn’t been taught the rules, so how could I be expected to play? We must arm our daughters with knowledge, fill their hearts with empathy and love, and make damned sure that no part of The HandMaid’s Tale is a part of their future. I know of too many incidents of women who are infertile sitting in far-right churches, and left crushed after it is announced that yes, it is indeed a fertile church, and one of its members is pregnant with her fifth child. Everybody applauding, amid laughter that God has rewarded this place with ripe fruit. The women who can’t have children or who are undergoing IVF feel as though a sword has pierced their soul upon such occasions. Worth is down to how fertile you are, and home-making lessons are offered and encouraged. The women are kept ‘accountable’ to each other. How exhausting and depressing. Freedom is found when you can be whomever you want in this world. It is not found in your dress, your submission, nor your fertility.

I went back…


A friend had just moved to a place which holds many memories for me. I hadn’t been back to this town for many, many years. I had lived close by at one time, and produced art, selling to shops on the main strip. I would be up all night, painting and writing poetry to take in my trolley the next day. After I had visited my lovely people, I would go to a little florist shop, who would sell me the last bunches of flowers at the end of the day. The florist insisted on only taking a few dollars. My home would be filled with the aroma of roses and lilies for the next week, then the ritual would be repeated. Listening to the buskers in the outside mall, sipping coffee and eating organic fruit… Such lovely memories.

The memories which overshadowed the above were dark indeed. I was raped in this town at fourteen years of age, on a blistering summer’s day, by the river. I had to board a bus back to the clinic with the creature responsible… Years went by-years of difficult recovery-and there I was, selling my art in this town. I was having my coffee, listening to the buskers in the mall, when I saw him. He had already seen me, gazing at me through his sunglasses. I could feel his eyes, as reflective as oil-slicked puddles, reaching out to me. My chair tipped over as I instinctively ran. I was fourteen all over again. I locked myself in the ladies toilet, crouching down as he banged on the door. He wanted to talk. I sure as hell didn’t. I remained there until I heard my name called by the friend I had been with. The coward slunk away. I never went to this town again, after uncovering he was living nearby. It wasn’t the last I heard from him, though it was the most traumatic occasion.

I ended up having to leave Sydney for a time, a decision the police supported. My life went on a different trajectory; you could call it being rail-roaded. It felt peculiar to be back in the same mall the other day. Nothing had changed! The gum trees were still present, as were the buskers. The little florist shop was open, as was the book shop I used to frequent. I took deep breaths, the memories (of which I hadn’t told my friend), flooding my brain. I felt the pressure building. We stopped and had lunch, and as I sat outside with my friend, her husband and our kids, I had an epiphany. If I saw him today, I wouldn’t run. I would face him, challenge him, and he would be the one to bolt. I am not locking myself away anymore. With that, I once again became the young artist who sold her paintings to shops, and filled her house with flowers each Saturday. I came back for her. All the things he had commanded I couldn’t have-an adult  life, a child, my legs, my sanity- were on proud display. I walked back to the car, holding my daughter’s hand.

Manchester


My daughter has been my companion to many concerts. Some operatic, some classical, some pop and some rock. The squeals of joy echo through my home when I inform her that we have tickets to a visiting performer. She carefully selects what she is going to wear, and we make plans to have dinner somewhere nice beforehand. Watching her dance and gaze at the performer in awe is all the reward I need. We went to Sport for Jove’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, shortly after I heard the dreadful, unfathomable news about the terrorist attack at Manchester Stadium. I looked around at all the young people laughing and delighting in the performance, and was struck cold by the thought that it could have been us. It could have been us at any performance we had attended. Afterward, my daughter chatted excitedly about the play, and how much she had enjoyed it, and we stopped at a shopping centre in the heart of Sydney for lunch. A policeman with an Irish brogue came up to us, and started chatting. It felt as though three humans were connecting, trying to make sense of the evil which had just occurred. He smiled at my daughter, and I knew that he was thanking his stars that it hadn’t been a Sydney concert. It could have been.

A friend posted a warning last night that a van had been spotted next to our local park, with a fellow lingering long enough to cause suspicion. I almost despaired. Should we now add concerts to the long list of things we need to be wary of? Are backpacks set to become suspicious, not just when left alone on public transport, but also when securely strapped to someone’s back? Parents could be rendered nervous wrecks, incapable of venturing out with their offspring, let alone allowing them to venture out by themselves. I must admit, my immediate desire was to bustle my daughter home, where she is safe. However, this is no way to live. Once upon a time, I was a hermit, a bad man stalking me. I barely left my room in three years as a teen. I remember feeling angry that my life had been reduced to an isolation cell, whilst he was roaming free.

I eventually stepped out by myself, and what a revelation it was! I determined never to close the door and put myself into solitary confinement again. I won’t do that to my daughter either. Did you know that amongst all the horror, several homeless men (who were sleeping rough near the arena), ran to help? They comforted children, stemmed blood loss and helped get people to safety. What I will say to my child, is always look for the helpers… There is always helpers. We will still attend concerts, but sadly our innocence has gone.

International Women’s Day


It was the eve of International Women’s Day, and I was ploughing through a long list of chores. I caught the headline news, and dropped the pen I was holding. The healthcare centre I had been visiting with my foot was featured in a story about a doctor arrested for sexual abuse and assault. He was subsequently charged. Nausea overtook me, horrified that I had taken my child to this practice, a place where evil had quietly resided. We always went into the room together, and I was quietly relieved that it wasn’t our doctor; it couldn’t be. His manner had been a little strange… He had looked at us intently and for too long. There was an air of arrogance about him, but nothing that screamed danger. I had it confirmed that it was indeed the doctor we had been seeing, and I ran to the bathroom to throw up. All the horror of the past came hurtling back. I bid my daughter goodnight, and bundled myself into my room, armed with gin and a bottle of tonic. It took  four glasses until I was adequately settled.

I didn’t know what to do with the anger, confusion and terror I was feeling. I had felt less afraid in the past few years, more confident and assured that both my daughter and I were safe. I had tried so hard to keep her safe, always aware of where she was and with whom; scanning her social media daily. Now I found that she had been in the room of a predator, when accompanying me to appointments.

I had a few women contact me, sharing that they had been abused by this creature. In all cases, they froze when he insisted on thorough examinations; it had felt wrong, and yet they didn’t quite know why. Surely a doctor insisting on you undressing can’t be amiss? I knew exactly what they had gone through; where their minds had wandered to. They had disassociated , a device of the brain to protect us from threat. It were as though they weren’t there, and this couldn’t be happening. Numbness had been conscripted, and it was only later that the full horror of the betrayal hit them. They talked of the pain they felt, by having taken their children to this particular doctor. They had trusted him. The world felt a bit less safe as a result.

I am going to escort one lady to the police station to give a statement. It has now been 24 hours since the news hit, and I still can’t eat. I keep replaying the consults I had with this man over the last month, replaying everything he said and how he had looked. There was nothing to give him away; nothing you could put your finger on. My instincts felt he was rather peculiar, but nothing overt. Thank God I had seen him about my foot, and only my foot.

I am furious that he was able to go from practice to practice. Who knows how long it had been going on, and if the authorities knew? More victims have come forward since his arrest, and I applaud all these brave patients. On International Women’s Day, my heart is with all those whom he hurt. My thoughts are with all those whom he deceived and re-traumatized. My thoughts are with all the parents who thought their children were safe in his care. It isn’t the celebration of International Women’s Day that I had hoped for, but as I reflect on the women I know and love, and the girls I have had the privilege of seeing grow throughout the years, I am humbled. The old guard is dying, and an egalitarian spirit is not only being summoned, but demanding to come forth. The sexism, abuse and horror of the past shall not be tolerated. It never should have been.

 

 

 

A Time to Stay Silent and a Time to Use Your Walking Stick!


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A week or so ago, I boarded a bus with my daughter. We sat at the front of the crowded people-mover. My daughter was listening to music on her headphones, and I caught the eye of the lady across the aisle. She was in her sixties with cinnamon-brown eyes and blonde hair, cut into a bob. She appeared to be on her way to work, judging by her green uniform. A male voice up the back of the bus cut through our greetings, and seemed to become louder and more agitated as the moments passed. The bus stopped, and the driver alighted, a new driver coming on shift. After the bus started again, the man’s voice became louder, his speech laced with profanities and threats to all around him. The driver was busy negotiating his way around road works on the highway, and the lady and I exchanged worried looks. We both knew that we were prepared if he started anything. My daughter was oblivious, in her own world, listening to pop songs. If she had heard, she may well have told him to pull his head in. I was glad she hadn’t heard, as she knows no fear. In her world, if someone is being a bully, a nuisance or menacing, you simply demand that they stop. I had a feeling that the woman opposite had seen this man’s behaviour before, as had I. We knew the unspoken rules, of making no eye contact with the offender, remaining silent so as not to provoke him. If and when he did go on his threatened rampage, I was ready with my walking stick! No way was he going to get near the lady opposite, nor my daughter. Twenty pained minutes passed before he alighted-still ranting- and we breathed a sigh of relief. I escorted the lady to the train station, and she said that he had abused the elderly women waiting for another bus, before we came aboard.

This lady was shaking, and I helped her up the steps. Yes, she had seen it before, and it had indeed brought back memories. I sat with her, comforting her as she debriefed from the stressful situation. She had been ready to tackle him, as had I. Anything can happen in our modern world. You can be attacked for doing nothing, and staying mute. As long as there are ladies with walking sticks and people with righteous indignantion burning in their bellies, we will all stay safe. When I left her, she was past the disorientated stage; past the fear. She was angered, and rightly so. She was just trying to get to work, and I was just trying to get my daughter to her classes. Nobody had the right to interfere with our day in that manner. He was ticked off with life, dumping the toxic waste all over strangers on a bus. He probably felt a sight better afterward, whilst we were left shaken. It has taught me that I must teach my daughter when to stay silent, and when to fight. I pray she never needs to put it into practice.

 

Broken or Whole?


 

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This is a great picture, taken many years ago at The Grounds at Alexandria. Rich in symbols, such as the door handles and the bucket waiting to be filled. The mirror is beautiful; it is whole. Not a scratch nor crack. I thought it was perfect, until I realized how beautiful broken could be. Shards of mirror and glass shatter to the ground, and as you try to scoop them up, you are pierced and you bleed. It hurts to clean up what was broken. Even with a dustpan and broom, you are likely to step on minuscule fragments underfoot.

It seems to be a waste of something that started whole, and yet if repaired with gold leaf, and lovingly reassembled, it can become not just beautiful, but astounding.

It is the same for us. I have friends who are refugees; who have been through wars and endured the unimaginable. I have friends who have been broken and abandoned. There is always enough remaining on the ground to work with. There is always a little left of which to rebuild. Rather than a perfect round mirror, the broken human has the potential to become a sparkling temple. You will be pierced and there may be blood. It will bring you to your knees, but the spectacular reassembling is worth the time and toil. I once lay on the ground, a discarded girl, ground into the earth. My bones were broken and I was bleeding. A dyslexic, I took on board what my teachers had said, and wondered if I was in fact, stupid.

Over the years, the shattered parts were rebuilt and strengthened. I had a child. I uncovered the reservoir of wisdom that had been filled with muck inside my soul. I learnt I could write, and I learnt I was smart. If not for the fall I would never have been shattered. If not for the fall, I would never have had the chance to rebuild.

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Anniversaries and the Helpmann Awards


It was as much my daughter’s day as it was mine. A day of remembrance. To contemplate what was taken and what has in turn been bestowed. She has had her life altered as a result of that July 25th long ago. This term, I can’t commit to taking her to drama classes in the city, as I have to attend to this chronic pain once and for all, and have viable pain management strategies in place. She doesn’t complain when I can’t take her out, nor does she wonder why I fall silent on the way home after a long day. She comforts me when she sees the mask fall and views the agony in my face. I haven’t been able to do all that I want with my daughter as money has gone on maintaining my health. I can’t run like other mothers, nor skate or ride horses with her. Her life has been shaped in so many ways by what happened to me. I didn’t tell her the date’s relevance, yet she knew it was a big, important date.

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Being a ham, she had to strut into a bank through its turning doors, pretending to be a banker. To the mirth of the employees, she shouted, “this isn’t my jam!” and ran out. She then discovered this chess set, and was annoyed that a King was overtaking the others. She sought to rectify things.

We took pictures at Wildlife World. You can tell I wasn’t ready!

We spent the afternoon hanging out, having fun. I have learnt that it does no good to not acknowledge the memories, nor try to have an ordinary day on the anniversary. What I needed was to see beauty; to be pulled out of my own mind. It helped!

As we left home at noon, I was flooded by intense gratitude. All those years ago, I would have given anything for what I was able to do this particular morning. Wake in a comfy bed in a secure home, then shower and dress. Have a nutritious breakfast and a pitcher of water. To look forward to the day. All the things you take for granted… As dusk fell over the city, winter began to bite, and I felt the cells in my body grow anxious. Dusk was when the final torment began. We walked to the Lyric Theatre, and stood enjoying the celebrities walk the red carpet, my daughter eating a croissant. I lovingly brushed the pastry flakes from her hair, and tried to avoid embarrassing her by crying out of sheer and giddy joy.

The award show surpassed all expectation. It was thrilling to see Matilda receive thirteen awards. The Australian Theatre for Young People won an award for the sublime Sugarland. Supporting the Arts is incredibly important. It takes us out of the everyday, into a world of unequal splendor. It is no coincidence that musicals hit the height of their popularity during the Great Depression and wartime. We need to transcend the drudgery once in a while. We need the Arts to give us different perspectives and to provide commentary on the times  we live in. Griffin Theatre’s The Bleeding Tree won Best Play, and when accepting the award, it was hoped that the piece about domestic violence would be viewed in the future with a shaking of the head, and the utterance of “this is how it was back then.”

When Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director, Stephen Page was honoured the  JC Williamson Award, his speech left us spellbound. There were magical performances from musicians, musicals and dance companies. Water escaped my eyes and I gave thanks that I got to see this night of celebration, and as I slumbered that evening, July 26th rolled around without fan fair.  I also got to see the dawn. The evening reinforced that we must tell our stories, not only for our own sake, but for everyone’s. I look forward to somebody in the future stumbling across my work and saying ‘things were different back then! Thank goodness we live in better times.’  Times when perfect storms in a young person’s life are abated, before they are consumed by a wave. We are on our way. No more secrets, nor hiding of abuse.

If you have a painful anniversary coming up, I would advise you to acknowledge it. Write about it, or create art around it. Plan a special day with loved ones who get it. If that’s not possible, then go out by yourself. Eat and drink delicious things. View beautiful things. Talk to strangers. Whatever you do, don’t curl up alone with the memories. In my view, such a day has to be tempered by art; it’s potency diluted by loveliness.

Seeds and Growth


They certainly did not know that we were seeds! Seeds containing the most fragrant, vibrant flowers. This life, it can get so ugly. I have had my body smashed up, bloodied and ground into the dirt. I have been saved by garden mulch. When I am out, and find it has stuck to my shoes and clothes, I am not in the least irritated. Rather, I am grateful for being reminded of the time it saved my life. If I had landed on concrete, I would be gone. The mulch softened my fall, allowing me the opportunity to live.

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The battle was far from over. There I’d be- lovingly attending my budding garden- when a slug would come along and eat the shoots. Pesticide was poured over the dirt, and it seemed that everything had died. Over and over again. Little did they know that there were slumbering seeds buried way underneath the mulch. They couldn’t destroy what would flourish underground! As a grown woman, I have tools to keep the pests at bay. I have a little fence (not white picket in nature), and those seeds are about to rupture. No matter what they do, they can’t access those seeds. I think it’s time for us all to bloom. I will scoop up a handful of mulch, and give thanks.