Trauma bottlenecks in bloodlines until we break the cycle.
We marinated in master stock
developed over generations
into manageable bites
Even the toughest cut of meat
succumbs under steady heat.
THE TURTLE ALWAYS GETS THERE IN THE END
My twin sister and I are the youngest of seven. Mum’s first marriage gave us two older brothers and three older sisters. We arrived when they were mostly grown.
I was born breech – “bum first”, as Mum used to say.
This reluctance to show my face continued into childhood. I was painfully shy and stuttered, so preferred to let others speak for me. I usually hid behind my twin, occasionally peeking out from behind her back, curious but cautious about this strange, loud world.
I was born eight minutes late, they said. Perhaps I just needed more time.
I believe everything has happened exactly when it’s meant to.
I asked why it’s called a ribcage
to stop your heart flying away, they said
I want to let it see the world
you need to keep it safe
I wish I could open the side gate and show you
the blood-caked bandages keeping it whole
the shrapnel that shredded muscle and bone
lodged in the brain so the cogs get stuck
sending pain to foreign parts
of this tired faulty machine
They always said to shut the gate
you’re safe inside
they can’t come in
I want them to
I want them to see
the beautiful world inside of me.
BLOOD, SWEAT AND FEARS*
I know what it is to see the world through sadness that’s not your own.
When we were young
Mum would sweat trauma
if you got close enough
it’d get on your clothes
He used to beat me black and blue…
One time he held a gun to my head…
I never got to see my baby before they took him away…
The women in my family tend to sweat
maybe it’s genetic
He raped me most nights…
If it wasn’t for the kids I’d have done it long ago…
Maybe we just don’t get to be happy…
I shower a lot.
MY HIGHLAND HOME
My ancestors are Scottish
on both sides
we have our own tartan
and auburn hair
the whole kilt and caboodle
Dad played the bagpipes
my sisters and I danced
in Highland competitions
in Australian heat
it was never cool
neither was the weather
Everyone knows the Highland Fling
more disciplined than it sounds
my favourite was the Swords
it keeps you on your toes
you leap across star-crossed blades
starting slow and careful
speeding to a jig
if you knock the swords
Tiptoeing around hazards, hey?
I won awards for that dance
medallions for a metal dalliance
My twin liked the Sailor’s Hornpipe
in regulation white-and-blue suits
you had to jump like Gene Kelly
for approximately six minutes
and smile while you did it
Our sister liked the Irish Washerwoman
another folk dance of the working class
draped in hearty musical-for-the-masses
a proud tradition
lost in translation
lost on the average Australian
That’s the beauty of heritage
a sense of belonging
when you feel out of place
a home you may have never seen
but felt and traced.
IN THE CLOUDS
I always aimed high. Literally.
Every time my parents turned around I had scurried up one of our red-brick archways, then landed on my feet like a crouching cat when they yelled to get down!
I scaled trees. Sat for ages among the leaves.
Singing songs, staring wistfully into the distance.
Always a ballad. Always a dramatic expression of love.
The roof was another sanctuary from sound. I sat on the crunchy seventies-orange tiles or the hot flat tin, depending on the weather or how high I wanted to be.
Sometimes I read, sometimes I wrote. Sometimes I broke twigs and pondered things.
Who am I? What does it all mean? Where do I fit?
One day, I stretched my mind like an elastic band to look at myself from the outside in. I saw a bubbly girl living in a bubble. The veil was thin.
I snapped my consciousness back into the confines of my brain and scurried back down, on the panicked hunt for one of Mum’s consuming hugs.
Grandpa’s property ended where the jetty began; where his paw-paw and mango trees were replaced by coconut palms and made the sea smell of the tropics.
My sister and I liked to run through their cascading shadows at sunset as the peachy pink sky waved goodbye. Dad trailed behind in his usually calm way, as we popped like hot corn up ahead.
It’s hard to run with a bucket of bait. The handle snaps at your legs like the gums of baby turtles. Inside, the squid guts squished and squelched.
It always took forever to get those slimy guys on the hook – and when done, you’d smell like one. Maybe the lingering stench was payback for sacrificing their bodies for sport.
We each cast a line and waited, that delicious moment of potential bubbling underneath. We unravelled our kid-friendly reels a little more; staring intently at the sea as the line slackened.
Suddenly, a ripple. A gurgle. A tug. A puffed-out blowfish emerged through the surface like a freshly born baby.
It looked scared. I threw it back.
THE VISIT: PART I
We were young when Mum started telling us about our eldest brother.
He was delivered stillborn at full term when she was 17.
It was 1963, and the staff of the country hospital said it was “God’s will” before they took him away.
Mum never got to see or hold him.
As he never took a breath, the baby didn’t require a name, they said.
Mum often cried in the quiet, wondering how she could have prevented the loss. Wondering why nobody else seemed to acknowledge he’d existed.
Two years later, she moved into a new house with a healthy baby girl while her husband worked away. Mum spent most nights comforting my eldest sister in the dreaded silence.
Soon, she began to have the same vivid dream. Over and over.
Three small angels flew up through the kitchen table, then circled her for several minutes before disappearing the way they came.
After the fourth night, she told Grandad. He said it sounded like her son and guardian angels coming to reassure her she was safe.
After a week, she started talking to them like people. On the last night, their visit lasted only seconds. Comforted, she never saw them again.
In 1999, after 36 years, Mum was able to legally name her eldest son.
When I was little, I liked to read encyclopedias and atlases.
When I was eight, I learnt how to spell ‘Czechoslovakia’. I couldn’t wait to share.
Kids groaned. The teacher said no-one likes a know-it-all.
I didn’t understand.
Knowledge brings joy?
Sticks and stones may break my bones
but when will names not hurt me?
Wise up, kid
You took a daisy to a gunfight
You’re too sensitive
Fear smells like blood
You’ve got to toughen up.
HOW TO BELONG
it’s too much
this heaving heaviness
that shrouds my body
clouds my mind
squeezing awe through pores
like Vegemite worms
It’s not mine
the fractured souls
who think you need fissures
to fit in
who chip at foundations
and call it preparation.
At 20, I got what I’d always dreamed of: romantic love.
Turned out, it was neither.
I soon thought it was normal for a partner to:
call you fat
say his friends thought the same
punish you with silent treatment
ignore you for a week
lie to your face
yell in your face
turn up at your workplace
get friends to ‘test’ your fidelity
read your emails
twist your words
track your car
punch a hole in the wall
say you’d never find someone else
(who else would put up with you?)
follow you to another country
never say sorry
I began to believe all romance was a masked dance, perfected in closed rehearsals. A place where you learned to leap weightlessly on eggshells; spin your mind like a pirouette; swallow your voice like water.
Eventually, I found the nerve to leave. It took hours to get him to let me go.
Five missed calls from my sister. I drove home.
It was better to be alone and not lonely than lonely and not alone.
THERAPY IN THE AFTERNOON
“You walked into this room like you’re apologising for taking up space in the world.”
My therapist observed me until I sat down.
“I know,” I replied.
I’d seen her for a few months to try and unravel the sadness – and more recently, anger – to get back to Me. You see, I never had it before. I was always quietly bright. Somewhere along the way I’d become a sponge full of water that wasn’t mine.
We scoured through my life like archaeologists, gently brushing dirt off the bones of my past.
“You have remarkable insight, Louise. I see you have so much potential that’s desperate to come out but it’s like you have chains padlocked around you. Does that sound about right?”
I told her I knew one day I’d bust free of everything that’s holding me back. But I couldn’t just sit around and wait. I had to keep searching for a key. Any key.
She said the key was Me.