Death Rattle

Last year, I caught a very bad cough that caused me endless amounts of pain and misery. I couldn’t breathe properly, my chest muscles were in agony and I sounded like I was losing parts of my lung with each cough.

When I got to see the doctor, the nurse checked me over in case it was whooping cough. It wasn’t. It was just an horrendous chesty cough that was exacerbated by my asthma.

“Yeah, your asthma”
“But I don’t have asthma?”
“You do now”

Until that point, I’d always thought you were either born with asthma, or you weren’t. Some kids just had it.

Nope! Wrong again!
Apparently you can give yourself asthma by smoking for seventeen years.

The doctor explained to me that my complaint about “when I breathe out, it feels as if I’m breathing through spiderwebs” was the asthma, which means I’d been living with it untreated for around 2 years or so. Clearly, it had only really been “annoying” and not life threatening.

I’ve spent the time between then and now with an inhaler generally at my fingertips. I haven’t needed it constantly, but I’ve always had one somewhere in the house or in my bag for the moments when the spiderwebs were around.

Which is why I was very scared, sad and angry on Saturday morning, when my body clock woke me at boycat’s usual “let me in the blankets” time.
I was actually out camping with my family, and boycat was miles away at home, curled up on the electric blanket, but it seems my bladder didn’t care about that – all it knows is at that time each day, boycat wakes me and I end up needing to pee within a few seconds of my eyes being open.

When I got back into the tent, it started – that spiderweb rattle of flapping lung-holes that wouldn’t push the air out.

I rummaged desperately through my handbag, knowing my inhaler wouldn’t be there. I’d seen it that morning and told myself not to forget it. I know myself well, so I knew that there’s no way I went back for it.

I laid down next to Sid, shivering and burrowing into his back while my breath whistled on the way in and rattled on the way out. I alternated between gulping air or slowly sucking it. I tried sitting up, which gave a few moments relief before that rattle came back and my eyes grew heavy.

All I wanted was to sleep. It was dark, and cold and I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I knew my mum would have some ventolin, but I couldn’t hear her coughing in her tent, which meant, for the first time in a long time, she’d been able to sleep most of the night through – I wasn’t going to go in there and wake her up.

Instead, I lay there for another two hours, keeping Sid from his sleep, while my breathing noises threatened to wake the entire camp.

Somewhere into that second hour, I began to cry. Genuine sadness and fear tears. The fundamental function that all human beings require – the ability to breathe – was now something that I could no longer count on as something that I could do at all times.

Through my own actions, I have stolen my life from myself. What a dick!

By this point, I no longer had the luxury of alternating between mouth and nose breathing. My crying had generated enough snot to make the latter impossible. My constant coughing, the only way I could clear my chest enough to breathe at all, was grating on me. I felt guilty for waking others up, for keeping Sid from sleep, and I was so tired and sad and scared that all I wanted was for the sun to come up so I could find mum’s ventolin.

… and this is all absolutely ridiculous. Unnecessary. Stupid.

So, when the shops open up again on Tuesday, I’ll pay them a visit.
And also pay them for the quitting patches I intend to walk out with.

You, too, could share in my dream of infinity dollars!

This is one of those mornings where I wake up all motivated and decide I’m going to reinvent my life. I have one of these days every couple of months, but all I do is write a few dot point lists, and then feel accomplished enough to dust my hands and say “ok, that’s enough for now”.

I am not promising that this time will be different.

Still, after this weekend’s food-fest, which consisted largely of meats and or fried things, I am physically craving the heck out of some salad. My emphysema is making me crave the heck out of being a non-smoker, too, but we all know that I will just ignore that and continue to live on ventolin.

Today, my new life-idea is a little more ambitious than healthy eating. Today, my new life-idea is to:

Get rich.

Now, I know that this is a dream that I don’t really share with many others, and nobody has ever really tried to get rich, I’m quite the trend-setter you see, but I do believe that it’s possible. All it will take is a little bit of identity theft, a great disguise and … well, probably MUCH better financial management skills than I currently possess. Also, a healthy knowledge of math would come in handy.

For the excellent price of “some of the money when I get it”, you too could be sharing my dream! All you have to do, is get the money for me and lie about it when we eventually get caught.

Things I can promise about this process:

  • We will drive to the edge of a cliff in a convertible and skid the wheels dramatically, just before the edge;
  • We will hide out in dodgy motels, with flickering neon signs and vibrator beds;
  • You can pick any disguise and alias you like, as long as it looks and sounds a lot like Brad Pitt out of Kalifornia, as this fits the best with my chosen disguise; and
  • We will break down in a creepy little town, where the Sherriff seems nice, but instead leads us to a farm owned by crazy, murdering rednecks. We will survive the night (or I will, because boobs), but will need a new car.

Considering this is my actual dream honeymoon, I should probably ask Sid to join me on this adventure, but I’m fairly certain he’d prefer to sit it out and still be alive when the PS4 is released.

Applications can be made to: novirginmary at gmail dot com

Current drivers license essential.

What did you just say?

In the past few days, I’ve been hit with some genuine racism and it’s had me thinking a lot about the way I react to it.

I’ve had everything from a phone call at work, asking if someone is allowed to do some work in their driveway “because it looks like a blackfellas camp”, to “boat people” references and the usual “send em home” stuff.

None of the comments that I heard over the past few days were part of a joke, which is really the only time I’m ever exposed to racism, and a lot of the time, it’s just a humorous observation about the differences in cultures and not a nasty attack.

My personal philosophy on race and culture is this:
Each to their own. Respect each other and each others’ differences, and find joy in our similarities. We’re all human and we’re all struggling to eke out the best life we possibly can in our circumstances, so cut each other some slack, recognise that we may not ever fully understand each other… but we don’t have to, either!

People who migrate to this country should not have to turn their back on their culture or their religion simply because Aussies get freaked out by a burka or a chador.

People who migrate to this country should not have to spend months and years in a detention centre with no idea as to the progress of their application for refugee status, and while I agree that we can’t just open up our borders and let any old person in here without real threats to our way of life and our future, I do certainly think that with a lot of careful and HUMAN RIGHTS-CENTRED planning, then we could help to end the misery in a lot of peoples’ lives. To give them the tools to heal their lives and etch out a safer existence for themselves and their loved ones.

People who are only in this position because they weren’t lucky enough to be born in this blessed country.

We call the British “Whinging Poms”, but as far as I’m concerned, Australia is nothing more than a pack of spoilt, whinging children whose parents denied them a block of chocolate before indulging them in their Maccas dinner. 

These Australians, this “talkback radio nation” of whingers who have a conniption about the over-regulated Nanny State that we live in, but feel that the citizens of war-torn countries should only be accepted as refugees if they’ve done it through the right channels.

We can help them as long as they come here legally. Because, you know, in the middle of genocide as you’re running for your life and losing family members left, right and centre, you totally have time to apply for refugee status. I remember the last time I had to do it. And then they didn’t get page 17 of the fax so i had to send it again… and that’s when the bullet came through the wall and killed my 2 year old. But at least I got that fax off, right?

So what about all the english-speaking backpackers who overstay their visas? No? They’re ok? It’s just them damn boat people?

What I’ve discovered, is that when someone says something racist, I often feel that it’s rude of me to correct them. After all, this is just my opinion, right?

Wrong. They’ve shared their opinion with absolutely no regard for any offence that they might cause to their audience. Why am I concerned of the offence I might cause to them by offering a different opinion?

If I could do it all over again, I would have told Friday’s caller that her comment regarding a “blackfellas camp” was entirely unnecessary and disgustingly offensive. I would still have found the answer for her, but I would have called her on her behaviour, too.

What I can thankfully say about these recent experiences, is that they’ve all come from people who are at least 50 or older.

We always hear about how we should be respecting the knowledge and lessons our elders try to teach us. I think it’s about time our elders realised that there are things they need to learn from younger generations, too.

Competitive Chaperoning

Boycat walks me home every afternoon.

He sits at the house on the corner, sunning himself in their yard, waiting to hear me walk past, where he’ll launch himself through their fence, run to my feet and promptly curl himself onto the ground for a belly rub.

Only, he doesn’t allow you to give him the belly rub. He gets up and runs ahead of you for a few steps, then repeats the process, all the way to the big tree at our next door neighbour’s yard.

Then, he races me.

I decided one day to stop racing him, and he walked out onto the road, ghosting between the cars parked there. We reached the driveway at the same time. He walked ahead of me, picked up the pace whilst watching me out the corner of his eye. I lifted my leg to run, but the movement must have alerted him, and he was off.

In a few seconds, he’d beaten me to the front door again, and gave himself his victory bath on the front step while he waited for me to catch up.

He’s not able to run right now, having been bitten in a fight last week, so I’m doing some secret training while he’s lounging around in bed all day.

Little shit’s not gonna know what hit him.

Autumn in Sydney

When the wind changes and brings a new season, it also brings me my memories.

When it goes from hot to cold like this, it reminds me of nights out clubbing at 19, short skirts, stompy boots and knee-length dread falls that I used as a scarf. Daytime cold reminds me of early mornings, walking from Wynyard Station to Chifley Tower in that same year, my too-small work shoes digging into my feet, feeling very awkward and naked in normal people work clothes, rather than my goth uniform.

I would order a coffee from the cafe outside Chifley Tower, and savour its warmth in my hands. Leaning back into the chair and my woollen coat, buttoned up to the neck, I would read Harry Potter and chain smoke until I had to walk in the doors, to the bank of elevators on the left, and acknowledge but not disturb the rest of the passengers making their way into their 9-5 hells.

My footsteps would echo on the marble floor as I made my way behind the reception desk, to the employee room where all our bags, coats and souls were kept.

My first job every morning was to go to the bathroom and fix any windswept hair or travel-ruined makeup before taking a comb and brushing the tassels of the waiting room rug.

I would restock the communal fridge, by removing all the cold items first, to put the hot ones at the back. Then I would deliver the mail to all the offices on our floor. The IOC offices, boutique law firms, Marketing companies, Stock brokers. The type of people who used our company were either:

  • rich and worked for themselves/with a small team; or
  • rich and needed a Chifley Tower presence

They were all very nice, very important people.

Some days I would be charged out to provide catering for their meetings in the long boardroom, featuring floor to ceiling windows that looked onto the Botanical Gardens. Some days, it was my job to clean those windows, and this was actually my favourite job of all. I could look at that view all day.

When I wasn’t setting up teleconferencing, combing rug tassels, stocking fridges or delivering mail, I was setting up offices for new clients. This included their internet, and every item that came standard with the type of office space they were paying for.

I always found it strange that the lowliest office employee was provided with a key that opened every single office on the floor. This was so I could deliver the clients’ mail when they were out of the office. Surely a mail slot could have been put in each door, negating the requirement for anyone besides the client, Manager and cleaning staff to have access to what would most likely be very valuable, confidential information?

It’s not that I was untrustworthy, I just felt very uncomfortable about entering their offices when they weren’t there.

Occasionally, clients would need secretarial support, and we would be charged out in ten minute increments. We would be asked to do their photocopying, again, charged out at ten minute increments, and the client’s printer ID entered into the copier for every bundle of pages you copied.

We’d do their typing or format presentations, spreadsheets, whatever they required, we could provide. This was definitely preferable to refilling the fridge.

Each afternoon, around 3pm, I would do the banking, dropping in cheques for clients, with more zeroes on the end than I’ve ever seen in my life. When I got back, it would be time to start sorting and franking the outgoing mail, before trudging across the road to the post office with giant, tied bundles of mail. Who knew paper could be so damn heavy?

As 5pm arrived, I would slip back into my heavy coat, throw my bag over my shoulder and walk back down the hill to Wynyard Station. I would stand around with the rest of Sydney, waiting for a train, then I would stand on the train until it began to thin out at Strathfield, and I could finally take the weight off my squeezed up feet.

It was a relief to get my next job, where most of my day was spent behind a computer. As it has been for the ten years that have followed since.

I admit it. I really enjoy sitting down.

The wounded flies

“I didn’t know how to buy underwear”, Jack smiled, from the bar stool beside me.

His hands were grease-blackened from decades spent beneath the body of a jacked up car. The grease had pooled in the wrinkles that deepened over the years, and with Mabel gone the way she went, well, sometimes he might forget to take a shower for a few days. Or sleep in a bed. Or cook a meal.

We were sharing war wounds, this lonely old drunk and me. At 32, I already had my own contribution to the Things Only Widowers Can Understand list.

“I didn’t know how to work the TV”, I replied, the ghost of a smile whispering through the pained grimace that had become my constant expression when something made me think of Janie. Which was every three to seven minutes, on average.

“With Janie working from home, and me never really watching TV, I never had to actually touch it myself. I discovered this the night I got drunk and decided I wanted to watch our wedding video”.

“That’s one thing I can say is I’m glad that sort of technology wasn’t around in my day. Photos and memories are hard enough”, Jack slurred over the top of his beer.

I nodded, and drained my whiskey. It burnt my gums and my throat on the way down, before settling like a small volcano in my sloshing stomach.

“Voicemail’s the hardest”, I replied, pushing myself up off my bar stool and nodding to the bar tender to pour us another round. “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve called her phone. I don’t know if I’ll ever ring up to have it turned off. I just keep paying the bill each month”.

Now it was his turn to nod with understanding as I unfolded a twenty and dropped it on the bar. “I’m going to take a piss. There’s his cash when he comes back”.

I wormed my hands into my pocket and made my way through the back of the bar. The carpet had ceased to be fabric many years ago, and was now just a brownish-grey paste of cigarette ash and stale beer. It stuck to your shoes and made your flesh crawl, but it was home.

At 4pm on a Tuesday, the bar was only populated with the handful of dedicated regulars who knew each other by name, but spoke to each other only in short nods of acknowledgement. One of them, a heavy bloke named Bob, in a cheap, polyester suit and runners, sat in a booth near the bar, beneath a greasy lamp covered in dust, doing crosswords and drinking vodka.

In another booth a few rows back sat Karen, an overly-friendly, prone-to-crying, used-to-be-blonde woman with a penchant for whiskey and wine. She was exhausting, but thankfully her attention was occupied today by an unfortunate stranger who came in here looking for an easy woman. Well, he’d found one, but nothing is ever really easy.

I did my best to avoid making eye contact, the unwritten law of the seedy dive. When you’re at the bar, it’s acceptable to mutter an exchange about the weather or current Prime Minister’s latest arsehole policy, but when everyone was safe in their own personal drinking hole, you avoided any circumstance that would force you to intrude on their solitude.

People who wanted to be talked to sat at the bar.

I reached the bathroom door and steeled myself against the wall of stench I was about to encounter. It wasn’t the smell of piss, that smell I can tolerate, even on a grand scale. This was the smell of cheap urinal cakes. A lot of cheap urinal cakes.

I held my breath and did my best to avoid touching any surfaces with my hands. I pissed as quickly as I could, thanked God above that Management had at least forked out on taps that sense your hand beneath them, and fled from that filthy room like the hounds of hell were chasing me.

“Why don’t you just wait until he’s got his back turned and go into the women’s?” Jack asked me when I got back to my chair.

“Well, for three very good reasons”, I replied, hauling myself onto the bar stool.
“1. It’s the women’s bathroom;
2. Karen might follow me in there and;
3. I never thought of it”.

Jack laughed, finished his drink and slowly slipped out of his chair.

“See ya tomorrow, kid” he said, giving me a gentle slap on the back on his way past.

“See ya, Dad” I replied, watching my old man make his way toward an empty home. A man who hadn’t gotten used to it, he’d just had more practice at facing what I was still unable to face, myself.

I caught the bar tender’s eye and ordered another whiskey.

I took it to a booth and sat down, dragging my crumpled crossword from my back pocket.

Yes! Another successful social interaction!

In response to the question: “Would you like 2 bags for these items?“:

  • I thought: “No, it’s okay, I can fit them in my handbag. I can fit lots of things in there. Once, I fit an entire dog! I mean, it was cut into small pieces and those pieces put into various sized jars of formaldehyde, but it all fit. Every last little jar”.

  • I said: “No, it’s okay, I can fit them in my handbag”.

Today, medication took a swipe at social anxiety and beat the shit out of it with its sanityfists!