The Kindness of Strangers

There’s something to be said for the kindness of strangers.

Earlier in the year I found myself dealing with the consequences of a 10 week encounter with a narcissist. I cannot claim faith to accuracy and call it a relationship but the aftermath can be likened to wading through a quagmire of tepid feces. It was that good. On top of this, my dog fell suddenly ill with auto immune disease. The process of tests, financial draining, her fast deterioration into an ongoing illness, watching the light in her eyes dim, the energy in her limbs fail, pushed me beyond the brink of any sadness I had experienced up to this point. This is surely my year to learn some lessons, as two days before my birthday, I found out I was pregnant. To the narcissist. Bleh. Just when I thought my basket was full.

I spent my 35th birthday at work. Thankfully a place that has a few precious stars who blink at me through the darkness, let me share their radiant light, and hold my shoulders to help me get me off the floor, look me in the eyes and tell me that I’m strong when I had forgotten this was ever a word that I could apply to myself. One of these wonderful girlfriend’s of mine introduced me to her regular customer and he took a shining to me. He’s a tricky one to be booked with for an extended period of time. In general conversation he begins on a subject but doesn’t wait for a reply, barrels over the top of you, completing 32 segways and 33 subject changes by the time he takes a breath for air. He is a sweet soul but somewhat disconnected. Literal. Confused by the patchwork of social mores, the tones and rhythms of conversation. My girlfriend left the room to go and do her 20 minutes on the stage and I was alone with him. He made the observation that I looked sad and asked me why. I told him about my dog who is the closest person I have to me. I told him that nobody in the whole wide world, loves me the way she does. That she is the only person I have who would put me first. Take a bullet for me. Lay starving next to me, rather than eat my arm to save herself. That I don’t know how I would face a day, in the current climate of my world, if she were to die. That this is what I truly believed. That is how I truly felt. I’ve never been so terrified of the possibilities of my own action unto myself, should her heart stop beating.

In this moment, for just a few minutes, the customer changed. He suddenly became a friend. He engaged with me in a way many of my close friends hadn’t been able to. They once made jokes as I sat with tears running down my face, squawking about how big my tits were now. How amazing! What a coup! What a silver lining! I couldn’t even keep company with most of my own girlfriends during this time. They meant well, but I could not laugh at the situation I was in. I did not know what choice to make. I felt like an anchor of sorrow attached to a decrepit dingy, that had already been dredging the bottom of a stupid shitty pond for 7 weeks since I found out my dog was sick. How could people not be tired of my tears? I avoided dinners and celebrations. It was all too loud and overwhelming, enhancing my already hormonally enhanced anxiety. I was alone no matter where I was.

In a small room, at my place of work, this stranger looked at me, and spoke to me with such genuine love and kindness. With the innocence and well wishes of a child who understands the feeling of sadness, but doesn’t understand why it has to be a part of life. He did not seize the opportunity to overstep the mark and touch me. He did not try to take what he could get, while the getting was good. Nor did he condescend to me, or raise himself above me to give sage, unsolicited advice. His human heart spoke to mine with such compassion and truth. The likes of which I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered from a stranger before. We are pen pals now. He never fails to surprise me with the words he wraps me up in. The most comforting embrace. The most gentle tendrils of kindness permeating my every cell, to make me feel the ‘ok’ is in there somewhere. This man has been a gift to me. He is special. If someone had suggested that the kindness of a stranger whom I met at work, while I was pregnant and naked and feeling so very alone in my heart, would be the thing that would resonate with me, I would have broken at the suggestion. But he appeared. And thankfully my heart was still open enough to accept his love.

He writes to me,

‘Hang with the ones that are positive and positively reinforce you and your ideas, the ones that make you feel free… Be amazed and bedazzled by all the cool aspects of life, interact with truth and the beauty of all your skills and entirety of your shining being will beam out.

Billie the Legend can do anything and everything by looking after herself and her pals and embracing intelligence, empathy, and day after day braveness

And as I said in an earlier screed:

“take care,

sleep well…

remember to think of those that love and care for you when you lie in bed,

feel comforted in their embrace…

and you will sleep….

plus talk when you need to,

to the ones that will really listen (and not judge),

the ones that really do support you 100%”

All the best and thanks for your email esteemed buddy.”’

It’s these encounters that make me wonder “How lucky am I?” and to know that I would rather reveal myself in both sorrow and joy, than to stay hidden and let these people pass me by.

There are not enough words to give thanks to the strangers and friends, work mates and  birds flying overhead, fleeting moments of beauty, acts of kindness, that have supported me through this year. Coming out at the other end with a smile on my face is a testament to all of those people and little things that were there for me the whole time. Even when I wasn’t ready to open my eyes and see them.

  

 
* Thanks for the tattoo D.Ferguson, another kind stranger. Two words that always help me from an old friend from across the sea C.Lambert

* Image of “Big Bird Alone Under Lamplight in Central Park” by another angel of mine A.Rovedo

FAITH. A BLAST FROM THE PAST.

Faith. A blast from the pastI found a piece of paper scrawled over with the brain zap of my 19 year old self falling in love for the first time. The first part was romantic as all hell. The usual treacle drenched musings of a teen in love. The last part made me realise that I’ve lost something important.

The first time I read it, the words sounded like someone else’s. Reading over it again I recalled those feeling from over 16 years ago. Sharp and hazy at the same time. I became aware that I held my breath as I read. I’ve always found the process of falling in love terrifying. But that very first time… I can feel that memory. Eyes open. Cheeks flushed by the cold, fast air against my face as we fell into the abyss together. Reckless. With a faith that I don’t think I ever had before or since. And today I am doing my own head in because I realize that I haven’t let go of all that pain, still harboring sadness from the actions of a boy who didn’t know what he was doing any more than I did.

It’s times like this I wonder how much damage I’m doing to myself walking into the doors at work? How many encounters can this little heart take? One after the other, with men who just by being who they are, no intent or malice, provide countless exhibits in the case against faith.

We almost got married. I was 19. I still have my wedding ring somewhere. We eloped to Rome, but I bailed 3 days before the wedding. I didn’t want to have that day without my family there. It didn’t feel right. I remember when I told him, we were sitting in the hot sun together, sweat running down the back of my calves as our legs dangled in unison over the stone blocks of ancient ruins in a park near the Colosseum. All he said was, “I feel like someone just cancelled Christmas.” His face was upturned and he squinted into the sun, before lowering his gaze to stare at the ground and take my clammy little hand in his. He was adorable. He loved me so very much.

Turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

My first love chose liquor and lies in the end. Let me travel 32 hours back to Australia alone, to have the jelly bean we made on the bottom bunk of a hostel bed in Dublin, vacuumed out of my uterus. Abortion was illegal in Ireland in January 2001. I had no option but to come home. He stayed over there to drink himself into oblivion, and didn’t come back until one year later when I said I knew he’d been banging someone else and that it was over between he and I. That slap in the face. It’s the slap in the face that reminds someone that they have something to lose. Sometimes too late.

Wasn’t too late for him. No way. I was still brimming with faith. I took him back, as you do. It didn’t work out, as it doesn’t. Took another 2 years to drown. I never long for, or mourn  the 14 year old child I could have had. I never long for, or mourn the relationship I had with him. But I long for, and mourn that faith. I don’t know how to get it back. I don’t know who is deserving of it or if I’ll ever find them. I still love that guy who saw it last. We are friends to this day, and I will always, always love him because he did the best he could, he never laid a hand on me, and he is a good person worth forgiving. We were young. We didn’t know any better. But somehow I knew this…

“I am terrified that we will sooner or later turn from each other and I will never be able to have back, or to give again, exactly what he has of me now.”

Faith….

It Aint Over Til…

It still doesn’t feel quite over yet somehow. I’ve been surprised and disappointed at how long it’s taking for the palm of that event to open, for the fingers to unfurl. They just seem to keep unraveling, appearing at moments from nowhere. Most of the time I feel fine but it doesn’t take much for me to way more stressed out than any reason will warrant. I’m trying to be positive and appreciate all the things at home that I missed so terribly and to find the comfort I imagined would be here, waiting to help all the awful bits go away. Every now and then I feel the weight and speed of panic smothering my face, a condensed ball in my chest that wants to lose it’s shit and blow it’s way out of there. I’ve come home, and seen my friends, cuddled my animals, surrounded myself with flowers, started going for big walks again. But my room feels cavernous, not the cocoon I was expecting. It doesn’t hold me close. Home is strange. Maybe I just need to buy more flowers.

It’s been interesting to observe myself interacting with people who have read that post. It’s good to acknowledge it and to say thank you to the ones who reached their arms out to me from across the sea. Strong arms, direct ones, the ones that show you they’re there and they’re ready to try and feel what you need from them, and give you whatever they can. I try to be natural about it. Like it’s just another topic of conversation. Which it pretty much is with people who aren’t too close. It’s done and dusted in a couple of sentences. Strangely enough it’s with them that it feels the easiest. But it’s hard to see some people flinch, some of the people I really care about. It’s hard to notice those changes in posture, manner, the flicker of something across the face, and not see in those things a reflection of the residual disgust and avoidance I still hold in myself. The thing that is hardest to shake off since it happened, is the flickering film in my head that’s been playing out. Old scraps of video events from my lifetime of times when I should have asserted myself but I didn’t, and now I think maybe I’m not the strong person I thought I was.

Maybe it is hard for people to talk about this stuff. Maybe I’m just so used to sitting around in the club, the unlicensed but professional confessional, having people spill the beans on their darkest secrets. Being told tales saturated with the most fucked up betrayals, perversions, weaknesses, and crimes against law and life. I don’t think twice to be open about my life in conversation and I don’t flinch at much. Us girls don’t really have censored topics around the dinner table, we are who we are and it is what it is. Is it possible that for a normal person, rolling in the normal world, it’s as hard to bear the burden of the victim as the burden of the perpetrator? Because you’re not really meant to talk too much about it?

It’s not as easy as I thought it would be. Even a few days after it all went down, I’d expected I’d already be over it. This stuff happens all the time. I already knew that. I’ve got a lifetime worth of witnessing and hearing tales of fucked up bad behaviour underneath the broad umbrella of the sexual violation genre. I got off lightly while he got off nicely on a minor offence. It’s been hit after hit for the women I’ve known throughout my life. A couple of days after it happened, I spoke to my sister and we literally did an inventory of our parent’s friends from when we were kids, “Who was the neighbour? Was it Owen? Oh….Peter! Really? I thought it must be Owen cause he did that hand up the t-shirt thing to me a couple of times.” We cackled at how morbidly  ridiculous it was that all these years later, these small time rookie violations came out of the woodwork of our childhood. I feel like I’ve always known about things like this. Why did it feel so bad at my age? Surely I should be stronger than that? Was I being dramatic? Indulging a victim mentality? Because really, a lot of the things I just wrote feel so cliche, they apply more to victims of rape and ongoing abuse. I should be over it by now after that little dalliance.

Such a dirty word these days, ‘victim.’ Flung as an insult like wet shit in a rodeo pen, or resisted and battled off like an intruder trying to wedge their way in the door. Nobody wants to be one, and when they are, no one wants to admit it. Such a defeat. Such an admission of powerlessness. Take the power back girl! Reach for the stars! You are your own worst enemy! That action, those words, have no meaning unless YOU give them  meaning! Nobody can bring you down unless YOU let them! Smiley face, smiley face, heart.

Go fuck yourself inspirational slogan.

Not everyone’s life is as good as their instagram or facebook timeline would indicate. Not everyone’s day was like a walk down a pastel path into a pastel pine forest with white fake real handwriting scrawled across the vista saying something whimsical and easy with some hashtags underneath #blessed #lovethelifeyoulive #smugcunt (credit for that last hashtag to my adopted parents in NYC, circa October 2014, Spotted Pig and shoestring fries). Sometimes people hurt you and it isn’t a defeat to let yourself feel it. To ride the waves until they subside. Low self confidence, self doubt, stress, feeling unattractive and gross, heavy head, heavy heart. But whatever the case, I do really have to get over it. And stop thinking so much. Do little things that make me super happy – filling my room with flowers, seeing my friends and walking my dog. Should probably hold back on the excessive eating though. Maybe lingering on this whole thing has just been the fat little piggy inside me taking advantage of the perfect excuse to eat more derishuss sugary treats…. The fat lady singing the signal to end it all, could actually end up being me.

I had so many people write to me after that post. So many people at different stages of dealing with their own version of the same story. Some are years upon years later, so when I read over these things, I don’t feel alone. And I don’t feel so much of a victim with shit on my face from the rodeo pen. So thank you to everyone who did. It meant a lot to have you tell me that what I wrote meant a lot.

Your post quickly brought back a memory of

The whole time, I thought it was me.  That I was creating this idea in my mind…”

In that split second… He sped over the curb and drove to the car park entrance right where I was standing.

I know the feelings you’re feeling well.”

I kept asking myself if it had been a legit interview, because I couldn’t make sense of what had just happened. I didn’t know whether to be upset with it or not.

To be honest, I couldn’t even defend myself if people decided to say that I asked for it to happen to me – even though I know it was wrong.”

…a long time ago now, but the same emotions i thought I had locked down were brought on by reading your post.

I reacted in much the same way. I even gave the guy a kiss on the cheek.”

I haven’t read your blog as I fear it’ll be hard for be as I have overcome so many sexually abusive and other sorts of abuse and I worry that reading it will revert me back to it. I just want to say…”

” The women I know who haven’t been sexually assaulted or taken advantage of in some way are such a small, small minority.”

I didn’t exercise any of that power, and then it was like I never had it.

You described so many of my thoughts to a tee. I am taking steps to deal my shit better in preparation for the arrival of our baby girl…”

I am sending you love and strength and positive vibes from afar…in a way that the sisterhood should stand beside one another.”

Love you. That is all x”

Take as long as you want to feel what you want to feel.                                                    As long as it takes before you’re standing tall, beating your chest                                      as you howl & prance                                                                                                      until even the monsters under your bed                                                                            will bow down to you before they begin to dance

Shell Shocked

shell-shocked or shell·shocked (shlshkt)

adj.

1. Suffering from shell shock.
2. Stunned, distressed, or exhausted from a prolonged trauma or an unexpected difficulty.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Overall, the break for Christmas and the New Year was wonderful. I got to see my niece walking at 9.5 months, spend heaps of time with my sister, reacquaint myself with my brother-in-law and enjoy the sight of the dogs going mental on the beach. With the sad exception of my brother and his girls, I got to see everyone in the family. This is a feat in itself due to the fact that my sister lives in North Carolina, my dad in Laos, mum at the South Coast of NSW, and my stepmum in Sydney.

Last Christmas was a disaster. It was one of those Christmas’ I’d always heard about but never experienced. Suffice to say, my mother didn’t speak to me for almost three months following. I was nervous leading up to this Christmas. The trajectory of my thoughts always led me to sing the first phrases of Wham’s “Last Christmas” 

Mum and I did have a pretty big blowout. Ever since last Christmas (insert George Michael here) when I jogged her memory, leading her to tragically and dramatically rediscover that I am in fact NOT a burlesque dancer, our relations have been strained. Despite all that, my anxiety was more focused on seeing dad this year. My dad is a great person. He is kind, gentle, bi-polar, manic depressive, fragile, sensitive, academic, volatile and was once the most materialistic buddhist I’d ever met. He is a classic philosopher. One of those that will always mourn the state of the human race, and anguish over the rise of capitalism and greed. He sees little hope for us humans, but his face brightens and he becomes jovial when he talks about his dog back home in Vientienne – King KiKi.

While dad was there, mum took off to Sydney. My boyfriend drove 10 hours to come hang out with my family and meet dad. Eeeek! One night we went to the Bateman’s Bay Boathouse for the best fish and chips I’ve had in memory. My sister and I left the table and went outside to keep the baby occupied and left our partners to fend for themselves with dad. He has mellowed out over the years. There were no interrogations or lectures reported. My boyfriend did tell me that someone in the kitchen just behind our table dropped something that made a loud, metallic bang. Dad almost hit the floor. Literally.

I have seen this once before. When I was about 15 and my sister 18 at the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney. We were pleading with dad to take us closer to the action. He kept saying no and trying to divert us, but we were persistent. Reluctantly he led us closer to the noise and light. The streets of Sydney were vibrant. The fireworks were beautiful, raining glitter on the cityscape. One extra loud BANG and my dad went down. Forehead to the pavement, hands shielding his head. He remained there for a few seconds as people walking by turned their heads to look at him. It was heartbreaking. I held my breath. My heart expanded in my chest. Time froze. All the peculiarities, flaws and eccentricities of my father were explained in that moment. The feelings we had as kids when he picked us up every second weekend, not knowing whether he would be up, or down, manically happy or manically depressed, were, in that moment, compounded and magnified til I had a roaring deafness in my ears. How could we have been so stupid and selfish? I felt my sister and I had spent the years rolling our eyes at him, instead of responding with compassion. We couldn’t cope with his suffering, so we made light of it to each other.

When my boyfriend told me what had happened I was driving. I kept my voice steady and as we had a conversation about it, the tears welled up. Once again I felt the guilt of having dismissed the horrors of my father’s life. He was 19 when he was drafted to the Vietnam war. He hasn’t told us much. He wrote me a letter once when I was 17, I read it once then put it in a box and tried to forget it. Because of my father, I will never regard the armed forces with anything other than abhorrence and anxiety. When friends join the army or navy, I feel saddened that they might one day be a part of activity akin to that which fucked my dad up for life.

I once danced for a guy who was a sniper. I can’t remember which war it was for. Pre 2009 is all I can be sure of. I am not up to speed with the when and who of war. This guy was strange. At first he didn’t tell me what it was he did over there in that mystery war. We debated about the legitimacy and value of the army. Of war. I was starting to get upset so I stopped talking and just listened. That is when he told me he was a sniper. As he spoke his eyes glazed over and he acquired the vacant, soulless look of a serial killer. I guess he was actually a serial killer, so it makes sense. He explained to me how it was that he felt justified in killing these people. He had never met them. They had never done anything to him or his loved ones. None of the reasons I could imagine being incited to such violence applied here. He killed them in cold blood because he was told to do so. That’s that. We left on good terms. I gave up arguing. He got to tell his story and be a hero in his own telling. The music of the club receded as a familiar roaring silence filled my ears and I crossed the floor, went out the backstage door, walked downstairs to the dancer’s toilet, entered a cubicle and cried silently with my hands over my face. Shell shocked.