Bullying Before Computers – My Story

Some call it ‘triggered’ but I’m going to call it ‘compelled’. In light of the tragic event involving the loss of yet another beautiful soul, with so much potential, to suicide as a result of cyberbullying, I feel as a survivor of relentless bullying over the course of my teen years, that it’s my duty to revisit events in my life that I had put to bed long ago, and share my story.

Bullying was so much a part of my life, growing up that I find it easier to pinpoint the moments when times were good, in a sea of moments I wish no one had to experience. I was teased for everything I did well and everything I did not so well, right from year one. I was teased for the odd occasions I  wearing the right uniform, and then teased for having the best shoes. I was teased for whoever I managed to to befriend because they were also targets for the bullies. It seemed whatever I did or wore, made me a target for bullies. I wish I could say that was the extent of the bullying I endured, but sadly it wasn’t. Exclusion was an everyday occurrence and it was in the form of being told to go away, or sit somewhere else if I tried to eat with a group of kids, never being invited to birthday parties, being made to sit out the game in most sports I tried to involve myself in, having the few friends I made be asked to join in whatever game was going on and then being told that only that friend could join in, not me. I gravitated from group to group of people to sit with in highschool and always I was asked to go find some ‘other friends’ to sit with. As a result I never knew who was my friend, who was pretending to be a friend or if I even had friends.

Then there was the hair pulling in primary school and regular occurrences of having to comb juice out of it after it was tipped over me, then the hair singeing on the bus in high school and food thrown at me nearly every lunchtime. This all made the name calling seem like nothing in comparison, yet still so relentless that I often resorted to excluding myself from the classroom rather than wait until the teacher sent me out for retaliation and the inevitable detention while the bullies got away with their actions with nothing more than a warning. I would either ask to be sat outside before the lesson even started, or ask to be sent to sickbay or the guidance officer to avoid these scenes. As a result, I missed a lot of class and at best barely passed the classes that I already didn’t have a natural aptitude for.

Many times I had my belongings stolen or destroyed. My Ventolin inhalers cost my mum a fortune during the early years of highschool, from always having to replace them after they were stolen.

In the afternoons, after being fed up with the hair singeing I caught a different bus, which meant I had to wait longer at school, walk a longer distance home and subsequently get home later in the afternoon. On my.walks home from the bus stop I was harassed on a regular basis by a couple of boys who caught the same bus. This included being swung around by my bag and thrown in the dirt, being hit and threatened with sticks and being chased by them on their bikes after they had been kicked off the bus. Those boys would ride to the golf course where all this took place and be there to meet me as I got off the bus. And they would chase me all the way to my street. I would often get home with tyre marks on the backs of my legs from when their threats to run me down came close to action. I decided this was the lesser of two evils as this was the better alternative to being set on fire by kids on the other bus.

I was kicked off that bus for two weeks at a time for behaviour that included retaliation, and my only option then was to walk home from school. This meant walking across town.

Needless to say the only break I had from the bullies was when I was at home.

As I reached the final years of highschool, the physical bullying and teasing died down a little but didn’t cease altogether, however I felt that it was at a level that finally I could cope with.

What didn’t die down and was the worst of the bullying by this stage was the exclusion, but by this time it was more subtle. It.consisted of me sitting with a group of people, in my final year of year 12, the year  i reluctantly repeated, who I thought finally accepted me and some of whom even talked to me. Yet in the final weeks of highschool, I was set up for the most heartbreaking form of exclusion ever when plans were made regarding the school formal. It was only when I showed up to school with the agreed upon monetary  contribution that I realised they were plans that were never intended to include me. They were disguised as plans that changed that didn’t have room for me. At least they didn’t take my money, but I showed up to the formal alone that year and sat the table with all the other students that were excluded from other friends tables. It was a night that should have been one to look forward to and that I should’ve been able to look back on with fond memories. Instead it was a night I’d rather forget. The bright-side of all of this was that it signified the hell that was my school years, made that way because of the bullying that filled nearly every day of those years.

Many times over those years I had contemplated suicide, not for a desire to die, but to escape and end the suffering. It was also a time where I felt the most alone and abandoned, through lack of action from some of  my teachers to discourage the bullying towards me. I developed a lack of confidence I my teachers to care enough to act and as a result, I shut down and continued to suffer in silence. It’s only now that I’m thankful that thought rarely became intent or action, that my ‘notes’ were seen soon enough as cries for help that were taken seriously enough that through counselling I got the help I needed to developed ways to cope with the bullying and the subsequent depression, and outward behaviour.

There were a few other bright sides to this story. Avoiding the bullies at lunchtime lead me to pursue singing, school concerts, musicals and the school choir. It was there I found my belonging, talent, passion and confidence to pursue that talent once school ended.

I also developed a sharp wit (which has made me the witty person I am today with a quip or an answer for everything) and slowly the confidence to stand up to the bullies, though unfortunately sometimes in ways I could be not be proud of, disclose nor encourage, and the strength to ignore that which was not important in the way I live my life, including online bullies.

These days I’ve made it my mission to raise awareness of the severity of bullying behaviour, including the effect it has on people who are targeted, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and in many tragic cases suicide. Because of this I have no problems calling keyboard warriors on their actions even at the risk of their malice being directed at me, and the thick skin and willpower needed to simply put the screen down on my laptop, shut off Facebook or whatever social media it occurs on and switch my focus to something else awhile.

The biggest brideside of all my experiences with bullying over the years is that we mostly grew up before computers and the internet were so readily available. Not contending with the heavy infusion in everyday life as a teen meant I could catch a break from bullying, in the safety of home. It’s this that I am most thankful for, but at the same time am most concerned about for this generation of teens especially. Being connected 24/7 in this way means these days there is no break from the bullies and no time to regroup before dealing with another day of it at school.

At the beginning of writing this, I mentioned that I had long since put to rest a lot of the pain and the memories associated with my school years. I’m in a good place now and have let go of a lot of insecurities that years of conditioning through bullying had resulted in. I finally like myself, something for many years I wasn’t able to honestly say. I finally allow myself to shine without the fear of being exposed and targeted for standing out. I know so many people who are still carrying their pain around them from years of torment, who allow themselves still to let others torment them over the internet. One thing I remind them is there’s a reason we survived. People like us who have lived through it, I believe have a responsibility to stand up, to be a pillar of strength to others, to give advice, to tell our stories no matter how painful, to be a voice for those who aren’t with us and able to share our own, and to raise awareness of bullying. It is the responsibility of others in a position to make a change to do so, to make it a priority to end bullying once and for all. This is by changing legislation to protect people especially those vulnerable and susceptible to bullying. This is also by setting the example for the younger generation by rethinking how we treat others, so that they have better role models to follow and learn how to treat others. This is also by not celebrating those who put others down, who succeed only by pulling others down to get ahead, who spread hateful messages about other humans or subgroups of human beings, or giving those people notoriety and publicity in the media because of the ways they bully others. While we sensationalize those people, we set the example that this behaviour will result in fame, and encourage more people to use this way to seek fame and or success, because they get the message that it’s okay to hurt and put others down.

It is through telling my story that I hope to inspire those going through it now, that there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, that they too can get through it and that it’s worth trying to, because life does get better. It is a hope also that telling my story raises awareness of the bullying that has occurred in the past and how it has evolved in the present, to a detriment of humanity. It’s now more than ever that we through our stories, experiences, positions of authority and power and awareness of the suffering and loss of those enduring it that we can create the wave of change needed that will stamp out the bullying behaviour. Zero tolerance needs to be something that we don’t just pay lip service to, that we put strategies in action that ensure that this is more than a buzzword thrown around when stories like Dolly’s reach the attention of mass media, then forgotten when the “hype” dies down, while the families continue to grieve in silence, as the world moves on. More needs to be done to end the cycle of bullying altogether. Awareness is just the start.

Advertisements

The Humiliation Of Raven

Every day is an adventure, when you’re a black cat, living in tis little corner of the globe. Springtime is magical, although in the bottom part of the country where I live, Spring doesn’t fully ‘spring’ until mid to late October. That’s when the flowers bloom, yellow and purple deep red, and the sound of new life rings music to a cat’s short, pointy, alert ears, of baby birds crying in anticipation of Mumma-bird’s next catch.22788781_673020029558156_7263506325864014572_n

I watch from my vantage point, in my now fully bloomed, green leafy climbing tree. I am concealed but for the shaking branch under my weight and falling leaves as I find my footing to climb higher to further envelopment in the foliage. There I will stay, paused, swishing my tail to keep my balance as I watch them flutter around the neighborhood, from tree to tree.  “I see you, birdies!” They chirp as they flutter about to mock me.

Oh the shame of being a ferocious panther, trapped in the body of a domesticated house pet. My ringing bell on my collar sounds at the most inconvenient times, when I am stalking prey., feeling like a winner in this game of cat and well… bird, in this case. Ting-ting! My bel betrays me yet again, giving away my presence, as the birds in a nearby bottle brush fly off, while I skulk in a cloak of embarrassment. 17499144_584493475077479_6008579583057854987_n22555249_673019842891508_4495865639538947310_n

Today is like any other spring day, but what are these things, hanging from the branches of my favourite branches? With my paws, I bat at the soft white tissues with purple bows. Their little faces remain in a horrified expression as they swing from the force of my smacks. “Take that!” MY efforts to chase these strange things out of my tree are futile as they hang there mocking me.

23031340_10155337842849032_1697429272601031393_n

“Raven! Leave those ghosts alone!” That’s Mummy calling to me. I’m in trouble again, damn! Though it’s nothing unusual for me.

“Humph!” I jump from the branch granting the little ghosts mercy, and I land with a THUD on the soft grass.

This is no ordinary day, however. Mum is playing spooky music and running around putting all sorts of scary things in the yard – MY yard. There is a pointed purple hat and gloves sticking up from a piece of black clothing, looking like whoever wore it has since melted and is long gone, and there are grey Styrofoam headstones, with even an arm sticking out of the ground, holding a spade. All, of these god-awful contraptions, lay blocking the way to my favourite cave, which is really a shady spot under a large bush with purple flowers. I guess I can’t get in there today to hide and pounce on the unsuspecting dog, there are just too many things in the way22894030_10155337837604032_851731254158762387_n

14639811_518320641694763_3926394229517559872_n

Speaking of the dog, what on earth is he wearing? His usually fluffy, though not so recently shorn white coat is covered in a red costume, which looks like a cute devil of some sort, and he seems so pleased with himself in this outfit. “Dobby, you look hideous!” I laugh, feeling lucky that this is one thing Mummy and I have ever reached an agreement on.

22852245_10155338291334032_5682093530246238420_n

I am a cat, a stealth stalker, a fierce hunter and a ‘man’ about town in my shiny black coat. In my urban jungle, I am King. I don’t play ‘dress-ups’!19598767_627274460799380_4990188599752028805_n

I must confess, I once wore a ‘Santa Paws’ suit under duress. I remember feeling restricted and downright ridiculous. Mum, however took pictures, cooing about how cute I was and giggling as she looked in my direction, snapping picture after picture with her camera. Crouching low, I slithered on the floor like a snake until I was out of that retched thing, and onto freedom. It was the most humiliating two minutes of my life, until today.

22687528_672238702969622_5440810654559628005_nMe

“Raven!” Mummy is calling me, in a tone that tells me I’m not going to enjoy what lies in store for me today. In her hand, she is holding a small black plastic cauldron and looking determined. I am equally determined that thing is coming nowhere near me. I freeze, knowing Mummy will catch me eventually if I try to run. I crouch low, considering a bolt into my house cave, a place I barely fit into anymore. That’s when I spot the wizard that is standing right near the entrance, wearing a top hat, sunglasses and robes. His wand is poised as he glares through dark lenses in my direction. Dare I brave this being and dive into my cave? Mummy is making her way across the yard and in a split decision I succumb to her, letting her scoop me into her arms. She kisses the top of my head and gives my chin a tickle with her fingers.22852070_10155337837614032_6726230069136890047_n

Now this, I decide isn’t so bad, is it? She carries me to my chair and as she sits, I allow her to nurse me on her lap. I’ve not forgotten what she is holding, but there’s no harm in milking this, is there? I thump the chair with my tail to remind her how unimpressed I am with what’s to come.

Alas! I am back on the ground again, free and wearing… Oh my god, she didn’t. That awful cauldron is attached to my collar and as I skulk away, and though it is lite, I’m tripping over the thing. “Mummy! I thought we had an agreement!” I meow! “No- absolutely NO COSTUMES!”22853044_675653512628141_1949670509474213252_n

“Oh you look so cute!” Mummy is giggling as I try and fail to climb the tree. This thing is too much to endure.

As Mummy continues decorating the yard, I curl up, back in my chair feeling defeated. As I close my eyes, hoping slumber will end my nightmare, I can hear the birds all chirping in their laughter, mocking me in my current vulnerability.  “You’ll keep, birdies,” I mutter and slip away into the land of nod.

When I open my eyes, the dog is perched on the arm of my chair, staring intently at my face through brown, button eyes. He is still proudly wearing that awful costume. Behind him a giant mouse is standing, almost motionless and for a moment I’m wondering if dinner has arrived or if I am still dreaming.22853301_10155338077869032_857971684676991046_n

22853192_10155338493514032_361168471859716679_n 23031624_10155337949184032_3943083663759063697_n

“Hey Raven!” It says in a familiar voice, as my eyes slowly adjust.

“Damn it, it’s Mummy, and she’s holding the camera, as my torture continues in the form of the black cauldron, still strapped to my collar and preventing me from my post slumber grooming ritual, and my refusal to take part in Mum’s plans.  Yet again my chin bumps on the cauldron as my attempt to clean my paws is thwarted. “Mummy please end the misery and take this off me,” I plead with my eyes boring into hers. Seizing the opportunity, she clicks the camera giggles. I’m she finds my struggles amusing, NOT.

After a yawn and a stretch to the end of my claws, I stand, arching my back to the sky, determined. Now expecting no help from Mummy, I must get this thing off my neck, any means possible. I try crouching low and slinking off my chair onto the ground, before slithering, snake-like, across the grass, to no avail.

I claw in frustration at the excited dog, jumping in my face, licking my ears and playfully nipping at my face. “This is no time to play, my brother,” I growl, “I mean business!” He just half leaps backwards and starts bouncing from side to side, his tongue hanging out of his useless mouth and floppy unruly ears bouncing on either side of his scruffy head. “You’re no use to me!”

22814094_10155321760474032_6979261576747835911_n

“Well you’re no fun!” he whimpers after me and cocks his leg in a pitiful display of spite on the trunk of my tree. I have bigger fish to hunt. Ignoring him, I brave the wizard and dive between its feet into the hole, to my subsequent predicament.

Sure that the next few minutes would be my untimely demise, I don’t see that my luck is about to change. The retched cauldron and my collar is suddenly snagged on a piece of rotting wood at the threshold of my cave, yanking me backwards. “This cannot be my end! I still have so much to explore!” I am pleading mercy to the wizard, who’s boots shield me from the view of the yard, the dog and the street, and Mummy.  The wizard just stands motionless and I am now astute in my knowledge that he will not help me either. I am on my own in this struggle. This, I am determined will not defeat me. I tug, and tug, and tug some more with all my might until I am just as suddenly released from the clutches of the rotting wood, and my collar, with it’s pretty bow that everyone admires, the annoying bell and cauldron, all laying dormant on the wood, mere casualties of my victory. I relish in my newfound freedom, speculating. Oh, the adventures I can now go on, the places I can explore and the prey I can stalk and catch unaware… “Who’s mocking at who now, tweeting birds?”23130488_675626725964153_7640054174834005318_n

I must think what to do first but I am overwhelmed by possibility. I make a dash, through the space between the wizard’s boots to my chair where I continue plotting my revenge on that wizard, those birds, the dog and Mummy, ALL of them.

The broken collar and my escape to freedom does not go un-noticed. Mummy is only too aware of what has just taken place. After a failed attempt to fix my collar, she disappears into the house. “Have I won this battle?” Moments later she re-emerges holding a new black polka dotted collar in hand, with my name tag attached already with that horrid bell. I must run in a desperate attempt to preserve what’s left of my freedom and dignity, and save myself from further torment. I slip between the arm of the chair and a small table beside it and behind the other chair where the dog is now resting, between the wizards boots back to where this latest horror began. Safe under the house in my cave, I watch as my confused human glances frantically around the yard, this way and that as she begins pacing the grassy strip, jingling the bell as she calls my name. She stops only to hand out treats to passing children in hideous costumes, as the sun sets.

Though I am nowhere near ready to surrender my freedom just yet, I realize it is inevitable. I slink out of my house-cave, and crouch on the nearby step, letting Mummy scoop me up. “Aw, Raven,” she coos, kissing my head, the bell jingling as she scratches my chin. There’s no denying she has the magic touch. My purr defies me, as she sits with me on her lap again, on my chair. All my visions of freedom and bird catching are ripped away as Mummy clips the collar on my neck.22894430_675626729297486_8951398817451827645_n

All in all, I must be thankful for one thing on this peculiar spring day, I no longer have a cauldron hanging from my neck, but to my horror I discover a second bell on my collar. As the last of the sun disappears, from view and the howling wind sets in, the night birds mockingly squawk. As I am carried inside for the night, I chalk it all up to a battle lost but not the war. The night birds and the morning ones, may all live to chirp another day. Tomorrow, Spring will continue its display of magic and beauty and I will climb my tree and enjoy my chair, plotting my revenge on everyone for what took place on this horrific day.

22852091_10155329115714032_1275559425832175859_n

So Unfair

Trying to wrap my head around this awful goodbye.
It’s so unfair!
I wanna fall in a heap in pieces and cry.
It’s so unfair!
Keep thinking about lost time and I wish I knew why.
It’s so unfair!
My dad, my mate, he’s gone away.
It’s so unfair!!
I’m numb from too much pain, I hate this!
It’s so unfair!
I wanna scream, I wanna cry,
I can’t believe its true.
It’s so unfair!
I feel so robbed, hurts to know you’re gone.
It’s so unfair!
My dad, my mate, where are you?
It’s just so unfair!!!

Washed Up

Salt water enveloped my bare feet as the foam cleared away. They glistened in the late morning sun as I studied the sand that lingered in the crevasses between my toes. I dug them deeper into the sand until I could no longer see the chipped jade polish, as I watched the water trickle away back down the beach from where it came, only to be swallowed by the next wave coming in.

I thought of the new girl now taking my place in my old band. How bright eyed and eager she had been, though a little naïve she was, and star struck.  Living the dream, she was, right? Give it time, I thought. That world would swallow her up too, just as it had swallowed me. Of course, she loved it, just as I had, and lived for the buzz of that stage and the lights loved her, as they had once loved me, but I knew only too well how unforgiving those lights could be. She of course showed promise, but I wondered how my girls truly received her. Would they accept her as a Mermaid? Those girls squabbled over the lead spot after I left, but I wondered if she would surpass and outshine them in the spotlight, better than all of them put together? Growing up, they were my best friends, as close to me as sisters, but that was so long ago now. I wondered if they thought of me still in that way. Were they angry, or perhaps even a little jealous? I missed them all but it was no secret I was outgrowing them fast. Everybody knew it, including Ursula, my singing coach and Sebastian Fish, Dad’s assistant who was like another father to me.

Everybody of course saw me growing in leaps and bounds away from The Mermaids, except Dad. He had poured so much money and effort into marketing the Mermaids and managed our rising success, as founder of Triton Records, though I felt in safeguarding me from the clutches of the solo career that was beckoning me, I felt he was holding me back, just a little too tight, and the harder he tried to reign me in, the stronger I dug my heels in, determined to break away from his Label, The Mermaids and everything that kept me from a chance to shine on my own.

I remembered the last words he’d said when I finally left The Mermaids for the promise of a solo career. “You’re not ready, but I have to let you go find your way. I’m disappointed in you, Aria.” Those words stung my heart and to this day would haunt me. We never spoke again.

I pushed on with Ursula as my new manager under her newly formed Label, Silverfish, and rose to the top with my first Number one hit. Sebastian stuck around for a while, but feeling that he was only there to report back to Dad of my success and every failure between, I pushed him away too, not realizing he was the only one who could see what Ursula was doing to my career. Never satisfied with what success trickled my way like the waves on that beach I was now sitting, Ursula pushed me harder than I’d ever worked in my life. Every song I sang required her seal of approval and I was oblivious to my voice slowly slipping away. In the studio, Ursula was relentless.

“Do it again!” She would scream at me after every take and I would sing the track again. “Again!” She would scream and I would lay track after track till I was hoarse.

“Don’t get complacent, girl!” She once told me after I won Best New Single and Female Vocalist of the Year in my first year, as a soloist. Fame was fleeting she told me, ripping away any remnant of joy from the moment. There was no after party for me, no downtime, only more studio time working on the follow up album.

“Hard work! That’s what will set you up in this business.” Longevity was the magic word she threw at me every time, I uttered a syllable of complaint. “In the music industry,” she told me, “That is how you measure success.” The harder I worked, the harder she pushed.

With Dad no longer speaking me and the Mermaids nothing more than a memory to me, and my voice all but gone I had nothing left to lose. Silverfish had everything to gain from my rapidly drying career, and my successes which soon grew fewer and farther between.

Ursula was like a mad woman steering what was left of my career in any direction she could sniff out the smallest fumes of a promise for more success, but really, she was driving my career into the ground fast. All but swallowed up by Ursula’s greed, I’d pushed myself so hard, for so long, for no reward, that even the music was losing its magic for me. In the nightmare of my life, I was losing sight of my dream.

While I pasted on a smile and shone on a different stage every night, sprinkling my song like star dust over an adoring crowd, the feeling was always the same dread. I had forgotten to save some of that magic for myself, no not forgotten, now I realized as I looked back on those times. I had forbidden myself from keeping enough to sustain myself, and as a result I was dead inside. By the time I finally collapsed from exhaustion on stage, I was no longer singing from my heart, just my throat, and it hurt like hell. “Go! I have no use for you now,” Ursula had told me as we severed the contract. As far as she was concerned I was done as a singer.

I sat on that beach in the warm sun that gently burned my flesh, I watched the sea as each new wave swallowed the one before and I shuddered. How caught I felt in rip of a now dead career. The Mermaids would never want me back, and even though I considered reuniting with the girls, I knew deep down I no longer belonged there anyway.

I picked up a small twig and with it I drew a large shell in the wet sand beside me, studying its perfect shape as I brushed away the excess mess of sand, leaving a crisp line. In the center I wrote my name, Aria, and I noted how most of the letters clung together as if they belonged that way, while the A stood alone at the start, as if daring to break away as I had from The Mermaids, in a desperate now failed attempt to shine on my own. Dad was right. I was not ready and now I was sitting there feeling alone on the beach in my grief for all I had lost in my climb to the top of a crumbling ladder, falling hard when I could no longer hang on.

I twisted a long strand of my hair, red as fire, into a thick ringlet, before raking my fingers through it breaking it apart into smaller masses of spring curls over my now glowing pink shoulder, the ends meeting the sand where the water washed over them and the shell till it and my name disappeared.

I extended that same hand I’d been using to comb my hair, and found the hand of the one man who managed to breathe life back into my heart, after Ursula had sucked out my soul and left me for dead. I laced my fingers through Erik’s as we watched the sea together. My turquoise eyes met his sparkling sapphire blues and he smiled. His love washed over me warm like the sunlight in a clear blue sky, and it was then I realized, he was the one person in my life who never made me question his love. With all the warmth he showered me with, he asked for nothing in return, yet until that moment I was always too afraid to open my heart to him, for fear he would eventually spit me out too when he was done. How could I love him? I hadn’t figured out how to even open my heart to myself.

“What’s going on in that head of yours?” he asked as I struggled to return his smile.

“Stuff,” I answered as I dropped my hand and my eyes to the spot where my name had been, scooping away the remaining water that had washed it away. A tear burned its way down my cheek before dropping to the sand where it dissolved. I felt in that moment that I could disappear too.

Erik retraced my name and then taking my hand in his again, he used my finger to draw a heart around my name, where the shell had been and I knew what he was trying to remind me.  “Love yourself, Aria.” He would tell me always. It was something I struggled a lot, to remind myself, but with each passing day I was getting better at it.

Impulsively thinking this was the perfect time to start honouring me, I rose to my feet. Taking Erik’s hand, I helped him to his feet too. Not yet ready to let his hand go again, I raced with him in tow to the sea. He matched my stride by stride as we jumped the waves till we were both thigh deep in the ocean. It was then I let go.

This was something only I could do for me. I dived under the sea and let the waves swallow me as I forged my way forward, clawing the sand beneath me, towards my future. In that moment, despite everything I’d lost, my Dad, The Mermaids, my career and my voice for a while, I realized what I found was more important. Erik was the first to love me for me and he was teaching me to love me also. I would learn to sing again, this time not with the Voice of Ursula, and her team of songwriters and producers, but with my own.

With beautiful Erik by my side, allowing me my own space, his love never faltering, I was finding my strength to stand in that space, and shine on my own for the first time ever. It was in finding me, for the first time in my life, I was no longer lost, but free.

 

Passing Time

“You. Asking me. Out on a date?”

Vicki’s usually porcelain perfect face instantly turned into a scowl of distain. Her smile seemed to fall off as a frown took its place and I wondered why I had even bothered. Of course, she’d be disgusted! I could just see her inwardly retching as her face twisted, turning green, and I felt vile. Yet like a dog latching onto a bone, determined, I proceeded. Oh well, it’s out there now, I thought. Nothing left to lose.

“Look, um, I know it’s a stupid idea, but hear me out!”

She looked more annoyed now than ill, “Sure…” she said. She glanced at her iPhone and blushed. I watched a small smile return to her ruby lips briefly. She let a giggle slip and for a moment she looked genuinely happy. Startled, her ocean blue eyes suddenly met mine. Like sand to the sea my muddy brown eyes locked on to hers as they crashed over me like waves of disapproval. “Oh… You’re still here.” Her words were like a swift boot to the chest.

I turned away, defeated and started towards the bus stop at the edge of the school yard, just beyond the wire gate.

“Is that it?” she called. I stopped, dead, waiting for the ensuing ridicule I was sure was next. A small glimmer of hope was forming, just to mock me. Stop it! As if! I told myself. Expectation only ends in disappointment, a voice said in my mind, though I questioned if those words were even mine.  “You wanna go out, or don’t you?” she asked.

“Sure!” Too eager I thought. “I guess…” I answered, trying to sound less desperate, if possible.

“Great! We can go to the movies,” She said. The handed me the phone for me to put my number in. “Pick me up at 8!”

With shaky hands, I took the phone and fumbled as I swiped the screen. Get your shit together, Ethan, I told myself as I entered my number into the phone as new contact.

I handed it back to her, noting the residual pink glitter on my fingers from the case. “Okay, see you then.”

She looked at her screen again, smiled as she swiped and began tapping expertly. Probably texting her friend, I thought, about the idiot who dared to look in her direction, much less poorly attempt to ask her on a date. Just call me the walking punchline, only not funny.

“I gotta go!” I said, scrambling for an escape, which luckily came in the form of the number 3 bus, which I was about to miss. I thanked God for impeccable timing as I made a dash for it, out the gate, not daring for a second to glance back at her as I skipped the steps onto the bus. I dug deep into the pocket of my shorts for my swipe card and tapped the machine. It buzzed at me, mockingly and the light glared an angry red. I plunged it back in my pocket and dug round for change that I knew was not there. In the other pocket, I found my phone instead, vibrating as it beeped. Instinctively I pulled it out as the driver waved me on impatiently. I almost fell into my seat as the bus took off. I opened my dodgy Motorola. What. The fuck! I thought. There was a new message waiting. I opened it and read the address, and the words that followed. “See you. Heart. Smiley face. Don’t be late.”

A plan was already forming by the time the bus reached my stop. As the bus pulled away from the roadside and disappeared around the bend, I trudged up my dirt driveway, through the long grass, not bothering to dodge the large bindi patch that divided the long track that led to the carport of a rundown wooden shack. To the right of the driveway, just below the steps, sat a rusty old Victor, accompanied by a tin – Dad’s not-so-subtle hint, I guessed. I wondered for a moment, what had he done with his day? Same thing he’d done every other day for a year, I guessed. I marched up to the mower, kicking my way through dandelions that stood as if to greet me.   There was no satisfaction found in watching them disintegrate before my eyes.

The bright side of this, I thought, was it would sweeten the deal with Dad. He’d have to let me borrow the ‘Commie’ after a job well done. I pictured the rusted old thing puttering up Vicki’s immaculate street, and parking barely idling in her pristine concrete driveway, lined with perfectly pruned hedges. I cringed as I saw myself peering over the worn out steering wheel through the cracked windscreen up that driveway to a two-story brick house that looked just like every other house on her street, cold, uninviting and completely off-limits to a scrubber’s son, like me, well I would be, I thought, if Dad actually had a job.

I dumped my bag on the termite riddled step and watched as a piece of the rotting wood fell away. Realizing I was still in my school uniform, I took off the holey faded blue sports shirt – the only one I owned, and threw it on top of my bag. Still in my shearer’s singlet and shorts, I grabbed hold of the mower’s choke and pulled, hoping the thing would roar to life. No such luck. It continued to sit lifeless, with red paint peeling off it. I tried again harder, and again and then a fourth time, before running out of steam. Thinking I needed to top it up, I picked up the tin, but it felt too light to hold any fuel.

“Piece of crap!” I booted the tire, threw tin on the ground and as it landed with a loud clang I marched up the steps into the house, picking up my bag and shirt on the way, and leaving the mower to continue doing what it did best, only to find Dad inside with a VB can in his hand, doing what he did best. There were six more stacked in a pyramid and several more sprawled on a small table next to his grubby bare feet and an open pack of Winnie blues. It must be pay day, I thought.

“How many have you had, Dad?” Not that I needed to ask. It wasn’t quite his record, I noticed, but he didn’t appear to be far off it.

“Don’t start, mate!” He slurred, barely looking at me. “It’s been a hard day.”

“Clearly,” I said, gesturing towards the ‘beeramid’ and then out the open window to where the mower sat, visible and dormant next to the tin. “S’pose I’ll have to get the fuel for it too?”

“There’s none in it?”

“Do you hear it idling, Dad?”

He started to lunge off the couch, his fist raised and I braced myself awaiting the backhand that never came. “Don’t get smart with me, boy, or it’ll be the last thing you say!” Losing balance, he collapsed back onto the chair. Clearing his throat, “I uh, hope you’re not expecting me to drive you to the servo!”

“All good, Dad.” Then seizing the perfect opportunity, I suggested, “I could go myself, if I can borrow the car?”

“Nah, Son, she’ll be right. I’ll go in the morning.” He went to take another swig from his can, only to notice was empty. He held it up, shaking it, before throwing it down on the table knocking the ‘beeramid’ as it landed. I watched a couple of cans roll onto the floor.  “Help your old man out, will ya?” I sighed and went to the kitchen to grab him another.

I spied the fresh box on the floor beside the fridge as I entered. A large hole had been torn out of the corner and as I reached in, I notice there was already a whole row missing. When I opened the fridge, I saw only two on the shelf. I took both out, pocketed the spare, closed the fridge and marched back into the lounge room, where Dad was already stacking zeds. His head was slumped forward, one arm draped over the arm of the couch and the other limp beside him clutching an almost full ciggie. The last ember burned a hole into the cushion, leaving an awful stench as the ash dropped off the end and died. He let out a loud snore as I slinked down the hall to my room still holding the can. He won’t miss these, I thought, closing the door behind me, before cracking it open. I surveyed my dump of a room, almost choking on the smell and saw comic books, magazines, a duffle bag and the few clothes I owned, scattered in piles on every inch of the floor. There was my T-shirt from the previous weekend, lying in a pile of holey socks and a questionable pair of boxes. It was on that pile that I dumped my school shirt and my bag. A pair of Dad’s jeans were draped over my computer chair, the belt still in them. I only remembered to pry the buckle out from under my butt when it dug in, almost piercing my skin as I sat.

I was surprised Dad hadn’t demanded I give them back yet, I had only ‘borrowed them the month before, but then I hadn’t needed any lashings from the belt lately. He’d been doing just fine with just his fists.

I sipped the fresh bubbling beer and shuddered as the first sour drops trickled down my throat. Yet I’d already numbed myself mentally to the taste. I took another swig and set it down next to an open Spiderman comic on my cluttered desk.

Over my rusted wooden bedhead, Kurt Cobain glared down at me from a large wrinkled poster, that clung to the wall with blu-tac. The top corner had come away from the wall and drooped down, threatening to take the rest of the poster with it. I reached over the bed and picked up Dad’s old acoustic guitar, that was leaning on the mattress. I sat it across my knees and, feeling the ridges on the lowest E string, I lazily plucked the string, with my thumb, not really hearing the notes or the squeaking of the string as I moved the other hand up the neck. I positioned my fingers, one by one on the fretboard, forming the D chord, the only chord Dad had bothered to teach me and strummed. Yet another promise he couldn’t be bothered to keep, I thought angrily as I threw the guitar across the room. All six strings seemed to scream in agony as it landed, though not hard enough for the strings or the neck to break, with a thud on the floor. Kurt’s face appeared to mock me as I cursed my ‘skills’.

Resorting to the one thing I remembered Dad ever teaching me, even if just through years of observation, I rose the can to my lips and skulled, until I was gasping for air.

“No wonder she left!” I muttered, thinking of my mother. I hadn’t seen her since I was five.

I slammed the half empty can on the desk, knocking it over. I ignored the foaming mess that now spilled onto Spiderman’s angry face, as the black lines disappeared into the red, leaving just a blob. I no longer cared.

I spied the time on my watch as Vicki’s porcelain perfect face flashed before me. 6:50. I pictured her sitting in her Ikea filled lounge room, an hour from that moment, on a flawless white couch, inspecting her freshly curled golden locks, looking all cute in what was likely something prissier than that ridiculous sparkly phone case of hers, and even more pink. I could see her staring at that stupid phone, watching the seconds tick over on the screen, waiting for the message from me, letting her know I was on my way. Did dudes even do that?

“Oh Victoria,” I could hear her just as perfect mother’s soothing voice comforting her. “Don’t worry, Hun, he’s not worth it.” I thought about saving her the trouble as I opened my phone and pressed the left top button repeatedly until the menu showed an option to reply.

“I guess I already knew that, Mum,” I could just hear her reply. Finally something we would both agree on.

I began tapping out a message, before hitting delete.  “Screw her!” I slammed the phone shut and stuffed it back into my pocket.

I grabbed my duffle off the floor and began shoving as much as I could fit into it, including the jeans and belt. I took the unopened can out of my pocket and stuffed it into the side of my bag before piling more clothes on top of it. I eyed the acoustic, as I zipped up the bag and slung the strap over my shoulder. No point, I grumbled and left the abandoned guitar where it lay face down, along with every memory, on the floor and closed the door, leaving it all behind me.

Dad was still snoring, although it appeared he had woken at some point, only to stretch his feet out on the couch, his head resting on the arm of the chair. The silhouette of a blowfly buzzed in front of the still open window against the last firy red signs of a dying day. The fly hovered, briefly over Dad’s open mouth before buzzing back out into the open air. Letting out another snore, I watched as the large man rolled towards the back of the couch. Thick wiry spirals of hair peaked out of the neck of his stained orange shirt, blending into the matted graying mass on his head. I eyed the Winnie blues still in the packet, with only enough space for his lighter. On the table amongst the cans was his wallet. I quickly pocketed the smokes and opened the wallet, taking out the only notes in there. I stuffed the two fifties into my pocket also and placed the wallet back on the table ensuring it was put in exactly the same place I had found it. It was only then I noticed the ring of keys sprawled on the table. I clasped my hand over them, knowing, Dad would only have to hear the jingle and instantly wake up, no matter how drunk he was. This was not the first time I had tried to swipe them, but this time I was determined to get away with it. I expertly closed my hand around the shiny metal and scooped them up.

I crept out the door, down the steps and past the mower, tripping over the petrol tin. Shit! I thought, but I refused to be taken down. I rounded the corner into the carport and unlocked the car. I threw the bag over the driver’s seat into the back before sliding in behind the wheel. After several false starts, the motor finally ticked over, barely clinging to life as I backed out of the driveway, narrowly missing the mower. It was only as I sped down the driveway, tires spinning that I saw Dad in the rearview through the dust, staggering down the steps, shaking his fist, before tripping over the mower as he tried to sink the boot in. I didn’t have to hear what he was yelling. His face said it all and I was not sticking around for another flogging.

I floored it out onto the road, only then noticing the little needle sitting under the E line on the fuel gage. I had no idea where I was going, only that it would have to be via the servo.

I pulled up next to the pump and turned the ignition off. As I stood between the pump and the car, with the nozzle in the tank, I watched the numbers creep up to 20:00. I figured that would at least get me out of that part of town.

As I walked in to pay, I passed a stand with bunches of flowers for ten bucks. I stopped. I guess I could pick Vicki up after all. I snatched up the only bunch of pink flowers and stormed into the shop, mentally adding the cost to the fuel I’d just put in and deciding I still had enough to take her to the flicks and leave town, if I got her a choc top instead of popcorn. Plus, I thought, it would buy me time to figure out what to do next. I paid for the fuel and the flowers and left the servo, smoking up Dad’s balding tires. My phone beeped as I took the next exit near her street. I pulled over to the curb to check and saw the new message waiting. “Are you still coming?” it read and I realized Vicki was not the sought who would sit, waiting too long. Of course, she would have a backup plan, I thought, and back up plans for that backup plan, and yet she was texting me. Noting it was already 8pm I floored it halfway up her street and pulled over again, leaving the car idling as I sat gathering my thoughts. The neighborhood looked exactly as I pictured it. I considered turning the car off and walking up the driveway to meet her, but I was in no mood for meeting mothers. Instead I honked the horn and waited. It was barely a minute before Vicki was letting herself out of what looked like the biggest house on the street, wearing, of course, pink. Her curls bounced as she jogged down the steps, and out the driveway, before stopping to scan the street. I flashed the one working headlight to high beam and she bounced towards the car, sticking her head through the passenger side window and immediately she scrunched up her face.

“Nice ride!”

“It goes,” I said as she opened the door and barely noticed the flowers before sitting down.

She held them up to see them better in the street light. “Are these for me?”

Ever brilliant as always, I thought. “Yeah,” I said.

“Thanks.” She closed the door. She inspected them for a moment, before putting them over onto the back seat. It was only then she noticed the duffle. “Going somewhere?” A shadow of regret rested on her face.

“Yeah,” I said. “The movies, remember?”

Her face brightened as she settled into the seat, buckling up the seatbelt. I pulled the old bomb back out onto the road, with the most caution I’d taken all night, and we puttered down the road.

“Is that your bag?” she asked.

“Uh yeah…” I was in no mood to open up about why it was there. “Long story.”

Neither one knew what to say after that so we both sat in silence the rest of the way. No doubt this would be the second thing we’d ever agree on, that this was a waste of time, yet, it bought me two hours I would spend, figuring out the rest of my life.

I Let Go

Little by little I let go.
Of those who were only in my life to cause harm I let go, then of those who simply were not conducive of where I was headed in life I let go, then of those who brought me unhappiness in life I let go, of those who tried to control me I let go, of those who took all I had offer in life without giving back I let go, of those who it was just too painful to keep loving I let go, of those who should’ve loved me but chose not to I let go, then of the people who promised the world and delivered nothing I let go, then of the people who either did not know how to respect me or knew and chose not to I let go, of the people who found it easy to drop me, walk away from me and forget about me I let go, of the people who kept me around to help build their dreams and but couldn’t find it in them to support me in mine I let go, of those who brought me anxiety and dread at the thought of them I let go, and then of those who filled my life perpetual drama and senseless noise I let go.
Little by little I let go of all who for whatever reason fractured, shattered, bruised, stomped on and scarred my heart.
I just let go.
I let go then of the part of me that allowed all that to happen.
I let go of the part of me who needed to please people who couldn’t or wouldn’t be pleased.
Little by little I let go of it all.
Now my life is simple, now I am putting me first always and now I am creating, thinking, even dreaming a little but finding contentment in my life right now in the present.
I let go but I don’t feel lonely, I finally feel complete.
Little by little I like let go of who and what didn’t serve me and now I am free.

Find more of my Poetry Here

Poems Added!!!

Close the Chapter

Close the chapter
But not the book.
To find yourself
You need to look.
A new beginning,
A chance to heal.
Defrost yourself
Relearn to feel.
Let go of the past,
But not to forget.
Out with the old
With no regrets.
Keep the lessons,
But cut the threads.
Reset yourself,
Put the past to bed.
Forgive old hurts,
You’re off the hook.
Close the chapter,
But not the book.