Just over 3 years ago I lost myself in sobs.
I had forgotten what sadness felt like, deep wrenching heartbroken grief.
I sobbed aloud, hysterically, madly for hours and hours and hours.
It was the start of winter and the house was cold.
A dark night in suburban Melbourne. A triple fronted brick bungalow racked with my sobs.
It was the final night I spent there. The end of my marriage: she ended it; I fled south to a friend’s fortunately vacant house, and spent 3 months on their north facing balcony catching glimpses of the setting sun over the bay.
Every day seemed sunny. I remember baking myself through that first St Kilda winter, warming my bones on the phone to Mum, as she told me of her sister (the writer) falling down the steps and later dying in hospital, as she reported her own admission to the local hospital, and our long telephone conversations restored away from the shadow of my motherless ex in whose house I always felt uncomfortable talking to others. In that house I felt uncomfortable talking, but that’s another story.
Towards the end of that winter I decided to reinvent myself. By early spring I was in a sunny north facing double brick art deco apartment in St Kilda, working as a design lecturer. I joined the local gym (ok the pool), swapped yoga for pilates… and these words are creating a story that isn’t quite true. Painting me as a stereotype of something that I never aspired to, certainly never conformed to in a stereotypical sense. That same spring, Mum got sick, really sick and nearly died. Thanks to a credit card, and a great effort of will on both our parts, she navigated a 1700km journey from the tiny town hospital to a respite centre in Melbourne, and eventually the Alfred hospital for 3 months, and then finally a nursing home nearby.
For the past three years I was a fashion lecturer living in St Kilda. I joked about it with my hairdresser on a gym date. I had gym dates with my hairdresser! These words make no sense at all, but they are true. It was one of the most intensely liminal spaces I have ever known: imported sand on a volleyball beach, adjacent to the indigenous bush regeneration patch over the old gay beat, where Milongas from the weekly tango classes in the west beach baths would waft over the native indigo…. the bay, the sunsets, the water, the flat, my home, my neighbours, the op shop, the local dogs, the local supermarket punctuated the larger life work of moving Mum into a nursing home, of packing up her home and my childhood; of sifting, sorting, sorting and selling, and letting go of so much it seemed, but meanwhile finding myself entangled in new connections and threads and circuits.
It’s very very strange to sever connections from a place I always wanted to escape.
My old school friends still refer to the town as “home”, although they no longer ask me “going home for chrissy?” As much as I turned up my nose at this question, thinking “what? I left there decades ago, the city is my home,” I still recognised the feeling of that word in their question, I still accepted the sense of belonging to a place, to a community, to being not “from here”, but “from there”.
I have been in Melbourne for nearly ten years. Is this my home?
This year my flotsam existence intensified with other storms, as in the space of 3 months I was evicted from my flat (the owner wanted to sell), and sacked from my permanent job. It was the longest job I’d ever had, and the final 9 months were a horrible war of attrition. This is not the space where I can write of the immensely stressful, deeply flawed and unproductive process that unfolds if an employee makes a claim of stress, overwork or bullying, but it was the space that I inhabited from September 2017 to June 2018. Forms, emails, letters, emails bouncing between the union rep and my boss, visits to my GP, visits to a psychologist, and my first visit to a psychiatrist. The latter was particularly Hellerian (as in Joseph): where I, as a pink haired freak who generally wears my trauma on my sleeve was caught between trying to prove that A) I had no preexisting mental health issues (WTAF: life is a mental health issue), and B) that my work had caused unprecedented mental illness. Given my state of frailty I was caught between proving myself as either a lunatic or a liar. I chose the latter, temporarily hid my former blog, and gave a poker faced narration of my slightly traumatic childhood (for which I had four years of weekly therapy), as a nice regular rural upbringing. (not mentioning either that it was in the town with the highest DV rates in the state for 10 years). Things seemed to settle down, and I returned to work at the start of this year, hoping I would be resilient enough to put up and shut up, do my job, pay the rent, and, you know, get on with life. But then I was accused of being a terrible teacher (after one class), and then of being a bully to students who was brutally insensitive and flippant about cancer. This from someone the same age as the kids of my classmates, who has never sat beside the beds of rotting friends, emptying their vomit dish, wiping their mouths, topping up their morphine driver, watching them eaten alive by cancer. He said I was insensitive and flippant. And a bully.
I grew up with lies. Mad lies, ranted by a mad man, a constant unending murmur of slander against everyone who was secure in my world. I grew up with the lies of silence, with a carer who couldn’t find any words to wrap around the pain caused by the mad man.
I spent my childhood praying to Jesus to tell me the truth and who was true and what was real. At the age of 15 the mad man showed me some mad writing. There is a horror story that I cannot share here, but in the written word, I found truth. The written words were all lies; a coerced testimony of torture. I looked at the mad man and called him mad and told him I never wanted to see him ever again.
then I became an atheist.
Ten years ago, I was called a bully by two flatmates who ganged up and bullied me out of my home. I hadn’t heard the term “gaslighting” but I knew the feeling of mental torture and I fled. I left my rent controlled room in my artists community, where I had lived for 10 years. I lost my home, my city, my community of queers, performers, artists, and my community of postgraduates. I moved to Melbourne to be with my now ex wife, because I mistook her buxomness, biceps and soft honeyed murmurs for safety.
I am picking at my psychic scabs, I know. I am rubbing at the welts that emerged from the latest round of slings and arrows. I am embedding my writing with far too many cheesy cliches. It has been a while since I wrote. There was even a while when I didn’t read. during the last round of marking, I reached for a book of short stories, as respite from the stilted screen of undergradlish. And now, I am
I am no longer a bayside dwelling fashion lecturer.
I am living in suburbia, in the northern suburbs that I jokingly refer to as “the kale belt”. I am living quite close to the suburban university where I have taught sessionally since 2012. In my peripetatic appointments at this uni I have watched the PhD students in the corridors transition to lecturers, and watched the undergrads I taught in first year transition to PhD students. I have watched colleagues transition physically and psychically, sexually as well as professionally. I have watched the institution itself shift and change and intensify the vicegrip of corporatist higher education on the micropolitics of the corridors, the classrooms and the hotdesks that I share with other sessional academics and postgrads. I watch and wonder about place, connection, community. I wonder what home means when so much of the world is about movement.
As I slowly unpack my boxes, find things, lose things, find other things, and recover from the hell of moving home. As I clad myself in slippers and jacket to make my coffee in a cold house one a freezing morning, as I find a new vet and a new GP, and make my circuits of food foraging and public transport, I wonder about home and place and community. This is suburbia. I am between 2 train stations, on train lines that run every 20 minutes or half an hour or worse. I don’t drive and I lost the key to my bike lock during the move. The train is a 10 minute walk away, but I have 4 friends who are 4 minutes by foot. Artists, queers, renters, we are at the forefront of the gentrification that will drive us out. The older residents smile politely, knowing that we are increasing their property values. I say rosaries of gratitude for the asbestos that has kept my new home unrenovated, undemolished and affordable for the moment.
I thought this post would be about hope. About the immense relief at knowing I have work and income until November. About the exquisite joy of sitting at the kitchen table of a friend whose subject I will be teaching next semester. About the delirious absurdity of hysterical cackles with another dear friend over cups of tea in his freezing house, as we did the 21st century equivalent of recording satire on a cassette tape (I think it’s called podcasting?). About coming home to a warm house with 3 curries made by the Sheherezade who I live with. About waking in the middle of the night and sobbing with relief at the words in a textbook that I will get to teach from. Because finally, in these words that awaken gaps of imagination and memory, I feel like I am at home. It’s precarious and cold and fleeting, but here there is connection, honesty, exploration. One day I may even stop writing in cheesy triplets of adjectives.