I now know

Nineteen days ago, at 6:18pm, my eyes lit upon a piece of my heart that I’d never known had been missing until we met.

She was tiny and perfect and couldn’t possibly be real. Couldn’t possibly be something my partner and I had created.

She couldn’t possibly be a soul that I would be priveleged enough to spend the rest of my days loving in a capacity that is so sacred, you don’t ever understand the infinity of its depth until you step into those same shoes yourself – the shoes of a Mother.

It’s all you hear during pregnancy – “It can’t be described”, “You’ll know it when you feel it”, “It’s different for everyone”.

Those vague responses are all used to describe everything from labour to breastfeeding to the concept of motherhood itself and I’d always found it to be a cop out… until now.

I think the simple truth is that words just aren’t enough. Words have power, but not here.

This place – motherhood – is enormous. It’s terrifying, confusing, depressing, filthy, humiliating, wounding, and wonderful. It heals, it fulfills dreams, it overwhelms and it brings you undone, both in sadness and in a happiness you never thought was possible.

With one wind-powered smile from my daughter, every single scar left open from my past no longer exists. It’s just gone. It doesn’t matter anymore.

And with one pained scream erupting from her sad little mouth, every single fear I’ve ever had in my life comes together in a great wave to crash over me and set my heart racing.

I spend hours staring at the monitor watching her breathe, or counting the wrinkles on her hands – those perfect little hands, so inconceivably small and delicate.

She overwhelms me.

There are so many things about her existence that I never expected…

I never expected pregnancy to be so empowering. I never expected the sight of my giant belly to bring me peace, to make me feel whole – I’d never realised there was a part of me that seemed to need that confirmation that I was, in fact, a woman capable of nurturing life – but it seems I did because pregnancy gave me a confidence I’ve never experienced before – a confidence where truly, nothing really mattered except my family and our security – outside influences, opinions, rumours all went by the wayside and suddenly, I felt capable of anything – if I can nurture life, I can do anything.

I never expected labour to be anything besides painful and undignified. I had no concept of what it would involve – no way to predict the pain – and sure, it certainly was painful. There were moments when the contractions were one after the other, on top of each other, two at once, almost… and in those moments I wanted to give up, to give in – oh god, take me for a c-section, anything to stop this!

… but in those moments I also realised that there was no longer room in my life to do that running away I’d become so good at. Here, now, I had no choice – there’s no going back when you’re in labour – you have to keep going through it, even though it hurts and you’re exhausted… because very soon (you hope), you are going to have to push through the things you don’t want to do on a regular basis. You’re going to have a tiny human who is entirely dependent on you for their survival – there’s no room whatsoever for “I’ll feed them later. I’ll just watch two more episodes of this and then feed them”.

And so the contractions kept coming, and I had to keep breathing. And pushing.

And then she was there, and her father was smiling and I was exhausted, confused, and in love.

Then everyone went home, and it was just Alia and I, alone in our hospital room. I stared at her, marveling at how much she looks like her father. Even her sleep-smile is his.

Then I remembered the needle thing in my arm, and how it was attached to a big walky-around thing which was plugged into the wall because the battery was flat, and it dawned on me…

she was staying in my room with me. Motherhood had begun.

I was exhausted from labour. I’d been unable to keep my eyes open to enjoy her when she was born and now I was only going to get a couple of hours sleep before I had to feed her? Change her?

Suddenly, I was terrified, and had to call the midwife to do it for me until that needle thing was able to be taken out in a few hours.

My first job as a mum and already, I had to get someone else to do it.

… this was the other stuff I never expected. That confidence I’d had as a pregnant woman was gone, and had been replaced with a feeling I’ve known far too intimately for far too long – fear and insecurity. I can’t do this. I have no idea what I’m doing. What if it’s wrong? They will judge me and I will get in trouble.

This feeling increased over the next few days and tears would just fall out of my eyes at random moments. My heart had never been so sad in my whole life. It felt that my entire body was built solely to house sadness, and it was full of it – it had no room left for it, so it just spilled over, onto my crisp hospital sheets, onto my failed boobs that my child couldn’t latch onto properly, and, if I’d been able to bring myself to physically touch my child – they would have fallen on her, too… but three days into her life, I didn’t want to hold her, change her, bathe her – I let my mother and my sister do that, and when everyone left at night, the walls would close in and I would fill up with that sad fear again.

Just you and me, kiddo.

I never stopped loving her. I never had mean or negative thoughts about her – she was still the most amazing little creature that has ever existed – it was me that was the problem.

But days passed, and with the incredible support of my family and my partner, sunshine crept back into the room and I was able to cope with the rollercoaster I was beginning to ride.

Now, nineteen days into her life, my little girl is feeding well, sleeping well and filling my entire family’s hearts with a light they haven’t known in many years. Our cats – the previous leaders of the house – have reacted in ways I never imagined – they run to check on her when she cries, and boycat even shared a cuddle with her and her dad yesterday.

Things are coming together…

Out of everything that I never expected, despite the constant warnings given, I never expected to find a love like this. It isn’t just love for my daughter, or a greater depth and passion that I hold for my partner, but an overwhelming awe for my own mother and every single thing she has done and continues to do for us – her children – that has astounded me the most.

I now know what she went through to bring us into this world, physically. I now understand the fear that would have flooded her each time our safety was in question, and I now know that it is impossible to measure the depth of her love for us, and just how overwhelming that is.

I now know that I will never be able to show her how grateful I am because she wouldn’t accept it – wouldn’t deem it necessary – our very existence gives her no choice – she does what she does because we are more important to her than she is.

I now know that that’s what parenthood is all about and that it lasts forever.

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The spiders you find in old buildings

It was a confident thought, the way it strode through my mind expecting no opposition.

“Well. At least that’s the day’s weirdo done and dusted” it said, as the former jailbird made his way out of the Art Exhibition, leaving me alone with the pipecleaner families and garden sculptures made of rusted farm machinery.

I was replaying the encounter, wondering what would prompt someone who hadn’t spoken a word the entire time he’d been in my presence, to suddenly, and seemingly urgently, reveal that he had been incarcerated.

When I couldn’t reach a conclusion, I began concocting my own.

One theory proposed that he was an imprisoned soldier, who, in an attempt to escape his confinement, accidentally time travelled to that week in May 2013 – approximately 87 years too late – where he had hoped to evade capture by hiding among the crowd who had congregated in the community hall for a night of dancing.

While I found that theory to be quite possible, there was an alternative explanation.

He wasn’t speaking to me. He was speaking to a ghost standing behind me. A ghost I couldn’t see. A ghost I couldn’t hear.
A ghost who had challenged him to a game of truth or dare, where the only option was truth.

My eyes were glazed as I chewed the little slit on the lid of my throwaway coffee cup, absentmindedly sipping the lukewarm caffeine I was not enjoying and only drinking to help pass the time.

I was wondering what the ghost would look like when I was interrupted by an old man standing at my side, grinning from beneath a cowboy hat and a crooked spine.

I jumped in fright. I hadn’t seen anybody come in.

“Off with the fairies, you were!”, he laughed. It was a rattling laugh, a wet phlegm laugh, the kind you hear in retirement homes filled with lung cancer and emphysema.

“I was”, I laughed through a saccharine smile that hid the disgusted thoughts vying for attention in my mind.

I knew this man. Most of the town knew this man, though not by the name inked onto his birth certificate. This man has an ugly name, a nickname, the origins of which are as cobwebbed and dusty as the stories he would spend hours telling if most people didn’t walk away from him the moment he opened his mouth.

He had been the bane of my very existence, from the moment this exhibition had been announced – weekly visits to find out when he could bring in his art works, phone calls to ask questions he’d been given answers to only the day before, and constant pestering – even after he’d been given a prize – about when his picture would be in the local paper.

He was grinning at me, eyes glazed with booze, his hands balled into fists and wedged on either side of his ribcage, just under his armpits – which also happens to be just above his pants.

His rank breath made my stomach churn as he wooed me with his wit.

We toured the exhibition together – for he wouldn’t do it alone – spending most of our time admiring his own entries – buildings made entirely out of cereal boxes and animals made of car tyres.

Half an hour passed, then an hour as other visitors trickled through the doors. Some asked me questions – questions I was unable to answer immediately because my VIP was in the middle of another joke. I would wander off to speak to them, only to find him standing at my elbow again, moments later, hot, filthy breath spilling out of his mouth.

I was taking surreptitious glances at my phone, desperate for the time to reach a point where I could extricate myself from his presence without causing offence. Just when I feared my teeth would be ground to powder by the force of holding my thoughts inside, he took a breath and announced that I really must let him go – he has things to do.

I took the opportunity to hurry him out the door, thanking him for coming to the exhibition.

“We will have to have some beers together, you and I”, he said through the shrinking gap I was making in the doorway.

“If I see you at the pub, I’ll say hello”, came my non-committal reply as the door closed and the lock latched.

Relief flooded my body as I leaned against the wall. Over. All over for another year. For twelve glorious months, I would have no reason to hear his voice, to smell his breath, to be polite to a creature that makes my skin crawl simply because he exists.

That too was a premature celebration.

The perils of hosting a community art exhibition

He wandered around the makeshift art gallery set up to display the children’s art works.

His gait was uneven, though any injury he had was hidden by his long overalls pooling over the top of his unblemished workboots. The sound of his footsteps bounced off the walls of the unpopulated community hall, a hollow sort of thud-THUD, thud-THUD that made the space seem even more cavernous than it was.

I felt awkward, standing off to the side, torn between walking with him to explain the processes the children had taken, and giving him the time and the space to inspect and appreciate the art in his own way.

Hands clasped behind my back, I rocked back and forth on the worn soles of my mary janes, wishing – not for the first time – that I was one of those people whose throat didn’t close up when they had to make smalltalk with strangers. Or people in general.

I checked the time on my phone. 11.04am. Three more hours of this. We had been open for 55 minutes and he was the first person through the door.

He had threaded his way around the desks, past the toilet roll sculptures and cereal box structures. He had appreciated the paper-plate faces with their crepe paper strands of hair and was making his way towards the more sophisticated “flowers” made out of paint-covered soda-bottle-bottoms when something made him stop in his tracks.

He looked up at me, sharply.

I smiled my most welcoming “how can I help you” smile, waiting for his question.

“I’ve been in jail”, he said before immediately resuming his walk.

Moments passed as my feeble mind attempted to process not his words – I heard those – but the purpose for which he uttered them.

He wasn’t looking at me. He wasn’t making any attempt to come near me, or engage me any further.

“I bet you’re glad to be out now”, I replied, what felt like hours later.

“Yeah” he mumbled, his back to me, his head nodding slowly on his thick neck.

He began shuffling past the last exhibition, no longer interested in the items on display. “Well, seeya”, he said in the dull monotone I had become accustomed to, throwing his hand up to give me a wave as he made his way out the door.

“Well. At least that’s the day’s weirdo done and dusted”, I thought to myself.

Oh so incorrectly.

The stories told by silence

Silence comes in many forms, and for many reasons.

There’s the teeth-picking silence between companions who have shared a large and delicious meal.
There’s the unnoticed silence of two souls blessed with the knowledge that their hearts are secure in each other’s hands.
There’s the mournful silence of a friendship being killed by a cold shoulder dressed in excuses.
And there’s the frustrated silence of a voice that no longer has anything to say.

I have experienced all of the above, but it has been the last on the list that has kept me from dropping words here.

The internet is making the world a smaller place and having spent nearly half my life documenting my non-adventures on one blogging platform or another, I am beginning to feel the walls closing in.

More than that, I don’t really feel that I have anything of great note to share anymore. I think there are plenty of voices out here, shouting opinions and feelings and memories into the ether, and now that particular kind of skin doesn’t feel as comfortable draped over my bones as it once did.

I no longer feel sentences tapping from the inside, begging to be rolled around my tongue before they are sighed across a page. I don’t feel the call of a story asking my fingers to dance, and I don’t hear the voices of fragmented people, aching to be pieced together and shown to the world.

I do, occasionally, feel their absence, but the frightening part, when I realise it, is that more often than not, I don’t.

I’m hoping that somewhere within this new silence, I will one day hear a voice which has historically been drowned out by all those others who clamoured for my attention. Perhaps we will be able to spend a lot of time alone together, cloistered in a room, spilling secrets onto pages as their history comes alive.

I’m not sure if there’s anyone in there anymore, or whether I lost them all when I went searching for the answers to myself. I’m really not certain as to whether the trade-off has been worth it. It’s lonely and boring inside me now, with nobody else to play with. I liked all those friends I had, whose names I didn’t yet know, whose personalities I grew to love or loathe.

I liked writing their stories and disappearing inside them for awhile, but, a little bit like those friends whose icy shoulders are all I have been privy to, the only thing I’m hearing from the voices is mournful silence or fancy-dressed excuses as to their absence.

Now life has placed me on a path that I have no past experience in treading.

There are pitfalls and panics I am about to encounter that leave no room for these, the sad sort of silences that fill up all the corners I have with their dark self-loathing, their constant unanswered questions – they consume far more energy than their happy counterparts do and energy is one thing I need to spend wisely now.

It’s time for me to try on another of the silences, one I am very unaccustomed to wearing – the resigned silence of one who knows when to stop chasing control and simply let whatever will be, be.

I’m sure my internal tantrums will very quickly put an end to that silence.

Nice things, and why we can’t have them.

Britard woke up wearing last night’s pants, and the sweat of last night’s booze. It had pooled in the folds of her skin while the sun sang her to sleep.

Mornings like that were not so common for her anymore and hers was a sad, angry shame-awakening, for the second weekend in a row.

This one was going to be fairly bad if her first flashback was anything to go by. It was the computer. YouTube. Two friends on the spare bed next to her, one trying to sleep, the other suggesting songs that Britard was going to ignore.
The music was at a terribly loud volume for Morning Suntime but it wasn’t as loud as her voice, concerting its way through the neighbourhood, creating what had to be the world’s worst Human-Rooster Duet.

Groaning at the memory, Britard reached onto the cluttered table beside her bed, her fingers blindly stalking its surface to avoid exposing her sandpaper eyes to the harsh, evil air of sunshiney reality.

The next flashback came courtesy of her fingers’ inability to locate her phone. With a heavier heart than the one she’d been carrying last night, she gritted her teeth, and prepared to face a day of disappointing treasure hunting – a game called “Oh Shit. I did that last night? I did. Shit.”

In an unprecedented turn of events, today’s game was multiplayer, and as a result, Britard took less of a health hit through Guilt Damage than she usually did in this game.

… until she realised that her phone was not the only missing person from her entourage – She had also lost her glasses – a week before attending the ballet with her family for an event called “Combined Birthdays in a City Eight Hours’ Drive Away!”

“This is why we can’t have nice things, Britard”, said Britard, squinting into the distance.

Seven days later, staring through a new pair of glasses, she sat perched in the middle back seat of her parents’ car, twenty minutes into the eight hour trip home.

Her fingertips traversed the floor of the car, in search of her phone.

“This is why we can’t have nice things, Britard”, said her partner, five minutes later, hanging up the call he’d made to her phone. “Your brother will post it back to you tomorrow. Along with your wallet. And your handbag”.

The new, shiny leaf on which I now sit

Hello everyone.
It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?
The three of you who read this have most likely stopped checking your reader for my posts, so… surprise! I’m not dead!

In fact, I’m more alive than I’ve been my entire life. A very, very lot has happened since I last wrote and it will be a real task to condense it, but here goes!

Almost a year ago, during The Giant Breakdown of 2012, my psychologist said she would be inclined to diagnose me with PTSD from childhood bullying.

I, of course, thought that was a load of horseshit because I’m not a soldier, wasn’t in an horrific accident, and I wasn’t bullied – I just went to school with a mega bitch.

Fast forward 12 months through the absolute mess I made of my life, and I found myself in deep contemplation over my past, my future and the stress that was my present. What I discovered was a small fire that was lit under that concept she had mentioned.

I began to believe her. And then I began to remember.

There is little point to rehashing the torment that bully put us all through. It serves no-one but the curious. Suffice it to say, she came to our school when we were 8 years old, and she turned our happy group of girls into one whose members spent every morning almost vomiting before leaving for school, stress and anxiety working its way through tiny little bodies and minds far too young to understand what was going on or how to deal with it.

What she did to us, if it was done to a spouse, would be considered domestic violence; mental and emotional torture.

She bullied the way only little girls are capable of.

I thought I had made it through unscathed, in fact I stood up to her a fair bit and could be quite the defiant little thing when I needed to be. What I didn’t realise was that the things I was experiencing were wiring my brain in such a way that as time progressed, those feelings would constantly reappear despite the present circumstances being completely different.

I’ve always known there was something wrong with me. Something wrong with my brain, something that made me confused, constantly, about my own feelings – something that alienated me from even my closest people. I thought it must have been mental illness of some description, but I was looking only at the symptoms, never even considering that the source could be something from those days in primary school.

Well, the good news is that I now know where my brain started going a little bit wrong, and it seems that that’s all I really need to know in order to take control of it.

My psychologist explained that PTSD doesn’t make you feel like something in the past did. It feels exactly the same now as it did back then, only it’s a totally different scenario and thus, my reaction can be entirely inappropriate – and confusing as hell for everyone involved.

That explains my entire life, from high school to today.

To today.

That’s the big thing here, guys. It seems that simply acknowledging her diagnosis was all I’ve needed to do to give myself back the power I relinquished to that little girl all those years ago.

I don’t hate her, I don’t even blame her. She must have been going through something terrible herself to need to force people to like her, to play with her, and to control their every move, even their thoughts. She was also 8 years old, and clearly too young to process her own troubles.

In a short two weeks, I’ve managed to acknowledge that diagnosis, and as uncomfortable and weak as it makes me feel to be almost 31 years old and still deeply affected by being picked on, I don’t just acknowledge it, I accept it.

I’ve begun to remember things, and not only remember them, but find the connection between that feeling from then, and the present day scenarios in which that feeling repeats itself. It’s like finding a skeleton key to all the locks in the city – all those secrets, they aren’t secret any more. I finally understand myself.

Already, with reactions that I’ve had for years, while they still rear up instinctively, I am able to put them in their place as a “then” feeling, not a “now” feeling, and in doing so, I am finally able to say what I want without the crippling fear of it being the wrong thing, and the reason I get left alone on the seat under the tree.

To me, it finally feels that I am allowed to have the future I’ve dreamed of, but not felt worthy or capable of attaining.

I was a beaten down 8 year old’s emotional mind, trying to navigate an adult world. A world in which I created even worse problems to overcome. PTSD tends to lead its people into abusive relationships.

I once had the opportunity to date a man who spent his time at art shows, surrounded by long-legged women in slinky dresses and heels. With people who didn’t have trouble talking, people who knew how to exist amongst others. People who were worth his time and his attention.

People who weren’t worthless like me.

I was conditioned to accept abuse and mistreatment, disrespect and violence from people who claimed to care about me. Strangers, even enemies have treated me better than the people I actively chose to bring into my life.

So whose fault is it? I was the one who chose them, and the one who stayed.

Well, thankfully I don’t think it’s my fault any more. I also don’t think I’m worthless.

Which is why I am now able to envisage a future in which I really am a mother, a driver, a wife, and maybe even one day, a writer.

Until recently, these were all things that I wanted, but felt that I didn’t deserve, or that I could never pull off. Now I know better, and I’m finally taking the physical steps required to make life happen.

It’s never going to be smooth sailing, and there will most definitely be obstacles for me to face, but for the first time in my life, I feel capable of doing just that. The fear of failure is gone. It’s actually okay if I make mistakes – it isn’t going to see me left alone under that tree.

I will never be left alone under that tree again.

And this time I didn’t run from a man who was promising me the world I’d glimpsed in my dreams. This time I am walking alongside him, not trailing behind, letting him do all the hard work for both of us in case I fuck it all up.

No. This time we’ll fuck it all up together and he can hang out with me under that tree playing Mario Kart.

Mother

 

The first time I felt like an adult was the day I got my key to my first sharehouse.

I grew up in a small town where doors weren’t locked or someone was always home, so kids never really needed a key to their own house. When I moved to Sydney and out of my parents’ house, I still didn’t feel like an adult. I felt very small and quiet and unsure – until I was given my own key.

When I slipped it onto my key ring, it was more than just a symbol of acceptance into a new family. It was more than just a symbol of my own independence, in that I could come and go as I pleased. In that moment, I realised I was now fully responsible for my life. I was an adult.

Of course, that filled me with a sense of horror and seemed to leave me standing on a large cliff with no safety rails or smiling assurances from the two people who had kept me safe for the past 18 years. The umbilical cord was severed and I had not, in any way, been prepared for it.

The way I left home wasn’t the way most of my peers did it. They went through their last year of high school mostly aware that when that year finished, they were heading off to university, or a job. I had no idea.

After six months of fruitless job-searching in that too-small, small town, I applied for a job in Sydney and was granted an interview. My parents drove me down, I went to the interview, and awhile later, was asked to come down for a job trial.

It was more like a holiday with all my friends coming together. I aced the job trial and was asked to start on Monday.

With no preparation – emotional, mental or physical – my parents packed my things into cardboard boxes and posted my life to me. A week or so later, they came down with the rest of my things, and we said goodbye to each other in a foreign driveway, in a numb sort of haze.

I was excited about my new life. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, when I envied my friends the ability to call into their parents’ house for coffee on a Tuesday, that I fully appreciated what I had lost in my abrupt and unexpected flight from the nest.

It had broken my mother’s heart. I had robbed her of the chance to guide me into the world, safely. I robbed us of the chance to say important words, words that mothers and daughters share when they know they have to let each other go.

Moving back to my home town has given me many wonderful gifts. I have beautiful friends that make my life that much richer. I have a wonderful job with fantastic people, who feel like family. Most of all, though, it’s given me my mother, and the chance to be a real, proper daughter; present in her life for the first time in almost a decade.

Getting to know my mother from the perspective of an adult has been a privelege. I already knew, as a child, that she was the kindest and most supportive person in my world. As an adult, she’s all that and more and if I could be half the wife, daughter, sister, aunt, mother and colleague that she is, then I would consider myself the world’s greatest success.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how much time I spend with her, I don’t pick up any of her OCD neat-freak tendencies.

… and I still don’t feel like much of an adult.