On this day…


Trigger warning

I looked set to die on this date, a lifetime ago. I was abducted, held overnight, strangled, then thrown off a building. I was fifteen years of age. Before this event, I’d been a typical teenager. I jogged around my neighbourhood, roller-skated, hung out at the shops with friends, and thought anyone over 25 was ancient. Then, my life changed. No more high school; I began learning by correspondence. A life that was expansive, contracted in. I lost touch with all my friends. My world started and ended in my room. My daughter is soon to be 14, the age that I was when it all began. The thought of anyone hurting her; my little girl…I will keep her from harm, that is the solemn oath I’d whispered when I first held her as a newborn.  I still have sharp pieces of bone lodged in my spinal canal. It feels like I’m being perpetually knifed in the back. It alternatively enrages, saddens and fuels me to keep going. Today is a time for reflection and grieving. By the same token, it’s a time of celebration. I sat in my living room last night, and was overcome. Here I am, cosy inside my sanctuary. I cradled a hot cup of tea, my daughter and safety. That winter’s night, as I lay smattered in my own blood, this was what I was dreaming of. Now, it is mine. Everything I only dreamed of, pined for and craved, I now have.

Numerous surgeries, court cases, pain and healing have ensued. Here is what I’ve been left with, rather than what was taken.

  • I know what it’s like to survive an event that looked set to kill me; that in itself is a gift.
  • What is there to fear anymore, within this life?
  • I am in agony every second of every day, and yet still I rise. It’s not always easy, and nor is it pretty, but it is worth it.
  • I strive and I achieve. I would rather feel it; the ecstasy and the bleakness, than feel nothing at all.
  • I don’t obsess over the minutae of life. What does any of it matter, in the big picture?
  • The months I spent on a Stryker bed in a barren hospital room, made me crave colour. A fruit bowl brimming with citrus, or viewing the lavender and geraniums in my garden, fills my soul.
  • There is no time for small talk. All interactions are met with a sense of urgency and a need to delve deeper.
  • Nothing is taken for granted. I remember well, the months spent in body casts and the years in body braces. The glorious sensation of washing my hair and having that first shower, remains with me, and each morning I rejoice as I undertake this ritual. As for running a bath; it’s as decadent as it’d been after six months in a cast.
  • Bird song remains as sweet as when I heard a solitary bellbird from my hospital bed.
  • In this hour, I was being wheeled to the CT machine in the hospital. I recall tears streaming down my face, experiencing a sunrise I didn’t think I’d see. I still love dawn; the dappled light and promise of a new day.
  • My daughter greeting me with a hug. ‘Good morning, Mama,’ she says. Once, she’d been a beautiful dream; an apparition I saw regularly in my slumber. I still can’t quite get over the fact she is earth-side now. I have the Petrie dish she grew in as an embryo. Miracles and other wonders are intertwined within even the darkest of times.

With nothing left to fear (the worst has been done, after all), and provided with the warmth, food, security, family, colour and        freedom I’d craved on that lonely, bitter-cold night, I am content. I dared to dream within the 24 hours I was hostage. All that I dreamed of as a hungry, cold, isolated kid, has come to pass. Anything else that I’m gifted is a bonus.

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,’ Janis Joplin sang, and she was right.

Happy Birthday, Raphie!


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The anniversary of my fall happened recently. I consider the date to be my actual birthday. It could have been the end date between the dash, stating when I was born and when I died. If he had his way, it would have been. I have done everything I could think of to get through this particular day. I recall one year, I visited a dentist, and wept uncontrollably in the middle of Bondi Junction afterward. It was only when I looked at a newspaper, that I realized it was the anniversary of the fall. It convinced me that we have a powerful subconscious reaction to anniversaries, even if we don’t consciously dwell on them. This year, I took my daughter to lessons by a beach. On the bus, a brilliant stream of sunshine pierced through the windows, bathing me with soothing honey and saffron light. I closed my eyes and smiled, just as I had done the morning after the fall. Sunlight had broken through the clouds, and reached its honeyed fingers through the hospital window. Tears poured down my face at the sensation.

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I sat on the beach whilst waiting for my daughter and watched the waves crash in and then be pulled back. I was asked to hold close the following in the aftermath of my fall; ‘It came to pass…not to stay.’ For years I had imagined the waves crashing in, and then receding, taking with them all the challenges and pain. It was a marvellous saying, and an inspired piece of imagery.

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There were many ways I could have died that particular night, and he spoke aloud all the possibilities. I was strangled into unconsciousness at one point, before being pushed after I regained consciousness. I was then dragged across the ground, my survival having been an affront to him. The people on the waterfront looked at me curiously as I grinned maniacally from sheer joy, incredulous that I am still here. I talked to strangers, and patted little dogs wearing winter coats. I pulled out my key chain; I had found the perfect reminder for this date.

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I spent the rest of the evening looking through old scans, deciding what to take to my appointment at a pain clinic. I was of course, asked what had happened, and my throat grew dry as I revisited the trauma, trying to provide a recap in an hour. It is a saga that goes on, year after year. It demands time spent in surgeries and in surgery. Doctor’s surgeries tend to have the same inane and dated sporting, golfing, automobile and real estate literature, though if one is lucky, you may come across an old Reader’s Digest. I find it all laborious and tiring, and frankly can think of a million better uses of my time. However, I have an eleven year old daughter to whom I am the epicentre of her busy world, and I need to be on my game. I have to think of the future, and all I want to do with this kid. Spending time and money to maintain the wonder that is this vessel; well, it has to be a priority.  On a positive note, I have reached the Medicare Safety Net for the year! Go me! My daughter and I were having a girl’s night recently, and she tried to teach me some of her dance moves. She did so slowly, and we were in fits of laughter at my uncoordinated efforts, until I fell to the floor in pain. She kept apologizing and my heart broke. It is always there, demanding to be acknowledged. Each time I require my girl to do things I can’t do without extreme pain. Each time I have to explain how I was injured.

After my daughter bid me goodnight, I did what I do most years on the anniversary. I poured a glass of red wine, lit a candle and wished myself a happy birthday. It is always a birthday party for one. That bitterly cold evening, I imagined I was covered in a blanket, a pillow underneath my head. I imagined I was safe. I sipped my wine, then blew out the candle. I tucked myself in, and fell asleep. Another year passed.

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25th July- The Magic and Mystery of Numbers


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I thought I was going to die on July 25th. It was not a destined date, rather a number shooting forth like a musical note from a crazed fiddle player. I was held against my will in a number seven apartment, on a number seven street. I fell at seven pm on the seventh day of the seventh hour on a date adding up to seven. I was in a new cycle of seven, according to numerology. I wasn’t at sixes and sevens’ only sevens! Out of curiosity, I investigated and believe that it must have meaning.

The other day, I visited a friend’s cafe and opened a delightful magazine, called Happinez. Can you believe, they had a story on July 25th? It is termed an Out of Time day. The old year ends the day before and the new year begins the day afterward. The Sun and Sirius are aligned on July 25th, which is why the date has relevance. Google it!

As much as I find all this research into the significance of numbers fascinating, July 25th also brings up memories. It is winter in Australia, and the nights can be bitterly cold. I recall I was dressed in white trousers and jumper. I never dress in white, and wonder why I had on this particular evening. Everything seemed to happen so quickly. Being jostled up the stairwell, trying to talk him down. Being choked into unconsciousness. The fall. The fall seemed to defy time as I understood it. Waking on the ground and having him attempt to finish me off.

Every year a feeling of discontent rises in me, particularly since I have become a parent. You see everything differently, including your own trauma. Memories re-emerge as winter chills my bones. The hand-woven blanket I had shaken to refresh, has now been pulled close to my body, cocooning me. Normally, I would retreat on July 25th. I have always felt the need to mark it in some manner. I have been back to the site, and left flowers. I have written that young girl poetry. I light candles and give thanks that I am here. I have been to dinners with my daughter and danced in celebration of having survived.

He brought me to that dark building with the intention of killing me. He had decided that I would not see July 26th. A cacophony of emotions rattle inside my soul. I need to hold the numinous creature I birthed close, and give thanks. I am so grateful that I got to grow up. I feel despair, rage and everything in between. So many surgeries. Hundreds of hours of physical therapy, body braces and casts, wheelchairs and Intensive Care Units. A lifetime of physical pain. Weakened lungs and renal system. A small fortune in medical bills. This is the legacy.

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It is also a day of defiance. It may have been marked as the day I would die, at all of fifteen  years of age, but I still got to decide the lightness of my being. I look back and am amazed at how brave I was. I was cheeky, with a serving of bravado on the side. He couldn’t take the ‘Raphiness’ out of me.

I was online recently, and saw tickets for the Helpmann Awards, Australia’s night to honor standouts in theatre. I promptly got tickets for my daughter and I. Tonight, as the clock strikes seven pm, I will remember the girl who fell. I will be celebrating theatre of another kind, the little girl from my dreams by my side.

  

Alone Behind a Panel of Glass


So it began… I didn’t know what to feel. There isn’t a guide-book for this stuff. I am inherently joyous, with a permanent grin on my face, and a naughty sense of humour. That is who I am. It is decidedly at odds with some of my life’s experiences. I haven’t been on social media this week, only to wish people a Happy Birthday. I feel alone, terribly alone. I have averted my eyes from the happy snaps at gatherings I didn’t attend. I feel like I am behind a pane of glass, able to see life occurring, but unable to participate.

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It wasn’t a ten second fall from a building… It was also the events leading up to it, and the way my life changed afterward.  The sense of loneliness never leaves me. I spent my last week before the fall in a room lit by a bare light globe. There was barely enough light to read by. It was freezing cold and I shivered underneath my threadbare blanket. I was so lonely. I worried about what would become of me. I was fifteen years old.

Last night, I didn’t sleep. I had memories of the 36 hours I was held in a flat, the grills on the windows, the deadlock on the door. 36 hours is an interminably long while to wait to see how your story will play out. I was alone with a monster. Music, smells, sounds, conversations, all replaying over and over again in my mind. The world outside carrying on just as it did in the street outside that flat.

Today, the sun shot through the window of my living room. It speared the sun-catcher, and it shot rainbows throughout my home. My daughter made snow flakes from paper, and delighted in telling me that each was different and special, much like people.

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We went for a walk to the park, and I sat in the sun. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, so busied myself on the phone. A few dear friends messaged and asked how I was doing. I appreciated their kindness. Time doesn’t make anniversaries such as this any better. Being a mother myself has actually made it worse. I can’t imagine my child enduring this, any of it. I met these ladies, and we went for a late lunch. It was wonderful to be brought back to the present, to talk about our lives and to show each other funny images of cute bunnies and guinea pigs. To forget for a while.

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I am so used to the loneliness stemming from that time in my life, and so afraid of rejection, that I don’t tend to initiate a get-together. I don’t think I could bear being hurt again. These ladies cut through the glass pane. I don’t know what I want at times. I want company, though desire to be alone. It is confusing and tiring. I keep people at bay, fearing abandonment. I love with all my heart, but keep my own counsel. I have developed a whimsical, light-hearted character, but it is merely a part I play. There is  a child locked inside my soul, who is facing it all alone. When I look back on that time, it is the loneliness that has had the most impact. Being a child dealing with adults who are playing games you haven’t been taught. Trying to save your life all by yourself. Trying to keep other people from being hurt. Trying to stay sane in the process.

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This past weekend, I was attempting to conceal what these days meant. “What is the date Mummy?” my daughter asked as she filled out her workbook. “The 24th of July,” I whispered. I watched her squeal with joy as she rode her bike, ringing her bell along the bike track. Smiling and tearing up, and greeting passers-by and dissociating. It is hard letting it all unravel as it demands to. There’s not a thing I can do to make the pain stop. I have to sit with it, walk it out, play with my daughter and cry in the shower. I am so grateful to the ladies who met with me, and provided balm to my wounds. We didn’t talk about the anniversary and didn’t need to. They knew and I knew they knew. That was enough. I wasn’t alone. That was more than enough. On the 26th July, I will open my eyes and smile, just as I did on that date many years ago. I was battered and  battle-scarred, but I was here.

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I Lit a Candle.


ImageAnniversaries are tough. We feel the despondency all over again. We feel incredulous that another year has passed, and we long to stop time. To stop the world. Time is propelling us forward, and it won’t slow down. We try to etch out a new way of being, without the ones who shaped us, loved us, and inspired us. How many times do we reach for them, play their messages back, expect to greet them at our door? How many times do we reach for our phone to call, to celebrate our joys and commiserate on losses? It all reaches a crescendo once a year on the anniversary. A dear friend lost her mum-a brilliant artist- a year ago this week. There are no words which can soothe this heart wound. Platitudes don’t cut it. Rather, I promised to light candle’s, and think of her mother. I didn’t meet this lady, yet I know so much about her. How she carried herself through life. I know she bore a beautiful daughter and was instrumental in her granddaughter’s life. I regret that I never got to know her personally, and yet I feel I do. My little family lit the candles, and we stopped. The chatter of everyday life was silenced and we were still. Our pets were still. The breeze was still. The flames carried a silent prayer through the ethers. They carried profound gratitude that through this woman, we have had our lives sweetened by her offspring. The world has custody of her art for all time. Sorrow became thankfulness that she walked among us, and we breathed the same air as this lady. The flames danced as my daughter bowed her head. They danced as we remained still. Unlike our candle’s her flame is inexhaustible, and shall never be extinguished. You lived, and you lived well. xxx