Memoir

Gumption

Blonde ringlets, solid frame, pink cheeks & a look of determination so severe, the nickname Killer Baby was deemed a worthy appointment.
She’s arrived.
Sassy, sarcastic, bold.
A feisty force to be reckoned with.

A kid built on being last in the predominantly strong-willed female family line.
The easy target for a lazy schoolyard bully.
The odd one out.
She knew it. She stood her ground.

A kid who grew to have a lot of fight inside, who could take a punch – who did it often.
A little girl who craved a voice. A place in the world.
One who rubbed some people the wrong way, and sizzled charisma to others.
She never knew why.
She didn’t know which qualities made her admirable or contemptible.

A picture of Anne Shirley – the hallmark vibe she strived to give off.
Not all together a bad thing. In fact, at the time, a role model.
Stubbornness & all.

A girl who was smart, tough, funny, loyal, capable – at least that’s what she wanted to be. What she wanted people to see.
Not always successful.
Misinterpreted intentions or poor execution could get in the way.

Never the “inbetweener”, a common phrase expressed to her was, “You’re the kind of person people either love or hate”.
That’s a weird thing to say to a kid.
She believed them, too.

She evolved as a person never thinking she could “win ’em all”.
Never everyone’s “cup of tea”.
That’s good, in a way? Right?
At least she wasn’t cocky.

She had a “healthy sense of self”, they said. She knew her level of acceptance.
Though, not quite sure what she really considered it when left to ponder it alone.
In retrospect, it was clearly a lack of self-confidence, a long way to go to worthy, though she could convince herself otherwise when needed. A survival tactic.

She was never under the impression she was going to win a popularity contest, or be Belle of the Ball.
She knew hard work was ahead, no handouts or favours were coming her way.
She’d have to prove herself.
Perpetually ready to meet the challenge.
She wasn’t necessarily good at it, though.

The shout inside her was never from the lion. It was always more like a mouse with a megaphone.
But, she couldn’t show that. She had to seem tenacious to them. Strong. Sure.
I’m made of something great, just wait and see!
An adolescence steeped in misunderstanding.

But, somewhere along the way it changed.
No clear beginning, no specific turning point. Just a gradual development.

Eventually life would knock her about enough to chip away the resistant exterior facade. The one held together with fraudulent self-possession, concealing the not-so-sure-I’m-good-enough little girl trembling inside.
She was going to be something undeniable, unavoidable. Valid.
Once she stopped listening to what people told her she was, she could start discovering it for herself.
It slowly revealed the person she believed was in there all along. Legitimately.
She had built her, finally!

I see it now.
It was me.

I was in charge. Now qualified & ready at the helm.
It didn’t matter what they saw anymore. What did I see?
I had no desire to be weak, flimsy, unreliable.
No plans to be vicious. No need for slander.
No use for becoming a mockery of a human being.

The results of a lifetime of perseverance.
No more pretending to be the worthy warrior, now unequivocally living as her.
I know what I’m made of now. I am smart, tough, funny, loyal, capable.
I’m also a million other things that fill in the gaps & make me well-rounded.

I like me now.
Grateful to a little girl who stood her ground long enough to mould me.
Patient enough to know her time would come.

There will always be plenty who hold the same kinds of opinions as before.
The ones who don’t quite know what to do with me. What to make of me.
They can’t decide, is she entertaining or irritating, intelligent or tedious, endearing or repellant?
I bet I’m all of that. I don’t care.
I know who I am. I’ve put in the work.
I made the sacrifices and endured the battles.

What matters are my actions.
Love me or hate me, I’m going to be an undeniably good human being.
That’s the most important qualification.
I’ll fight for myself, for those like the old me. I’ll give them more time to make it out alive.

Working on that part helps all the other pieces fall in to place. The parts that build & fortify a person, capable of withstanding the remainder of life’s beatings.
Good quality stock that keeps the world moving in the right direction.
That’s what I’ll be.

This old gal still needs work, though. There are still coarse edges and gritty textures, many years left for re-evaluation, for fine-tuning.
She’ll never fully be considered finished until she’s dead. Even then, her memory will be contested by those on both sides of her personal sphere. 

But so far, so good. Everyone should get to feel like this.
Satisfied with their progress.
Capable of growth.
Eager for the challenges of life.
Regret free.

 

Home

I’m an Australian ex-pat. Not the most ocker girl you’ll ever meet – I lack the intense nasal quality so befitting this category of my countrymen, but I’m true Aussie stock none-the-less. I’ve been residing in the States for over a decade now and have growing fears I’m forgetting how to be Australian as I fanatically sip Starbucks coffee & complain about the antics of Trump. I’ve spent my entire adult life learning the ways of the Yanks. I’ve done all my adult “growing up” here. I know more about gun control issues & the US Customary System than I ever wanted to. I measure in inches, drive in miles, say “diaper” & “trunk”. I can sing the anthem, though I don’t, recite the pledge of allegiance, which I won’t, and have ticked off more American cities & National Monuments than I ever have in my homeland. I’m grateful for what America has given me. But America isn’t home.

Though my children are born and raised in this great nation, I long to take them back to a time in a country that is more familiar and nostalgic to me. It may have changed drastically, in fact, I’m sure it has. But in many ways it will never be too far off from the life I lived as a sweaty-faced, sunburned kid growing up in the suburbs of Perth. A childhood filled with days eating icy-poles & Bubble-O-Bill’s as they dripped down our sticky little hands, afternoons spent throwing boondies at each other & building yellow sand forts, trips to Inglewood swimming pool where I took lessons with my school class every year, evenings eating white snapper & a “couple dollars” worth of vinegar chips out of folded butchers paper by the beach, Sundays hiking Bell’s Rapids or playing footy at Whiteman Park, visiting the joeys at Caversham Wildlife Park.

As a kid, I remember epic school sports carnivals where you barracked for your faction. Your families were in attendance as you dashed around your events, working hard to win a ribbon in your personally screen-printed shirt with bright blue, red, green or yellow spray crusting up your proud carnival hairdo, while they cheered for your team, usually named an aboriginal word like Maloo or Waratah.

I remember the best BBQ’s consisted of sausages, grilled onions & tomato sauce enveloped in a piece of Wonderbread, potato salad, Burger Rings, Pasito soft drink (anything but orange Fanta!), all things Cadbury. We would have street parties at Christmas in the warm Summer air, Father Christmas in stubbies & a tank, wrestling 6 white boomers. There were neighbourhood cricket matches played against big green wheely bins that stank in the heat. There was Constable Care, Fat Cat, Blinky Bill (to name a few) who taught childhood lessons, and when it was time for mindless entertainment, there was always Neighbours.

Maybe things seem better than they were in retrospect. Most things do. But after all these years assimilating to my new country, I still find myself a stranger here. An outsider. Different. You’d think in a country comprised of such diversity I wouldn’t feel so out of place, but I do. The charm of my accent holds appeal to people for a short amount of time as I am regarded a novelty, asked to recite any and all cliche` Australianisms for their entertainment, until eventually it’s a tired gimmick & they move back to their own kind.

Perhaps my kids would feel that way in Australia? Only ever half fitting in. Being exciting for a second, then boring the next. I hope not. I hope my country does me proud when I bring my children home. Visions of quick-witted sarcasm & big smiles, warm welcomes, generous hospitality. That’s what I remember. The “don’t take yourself too seriously” attitude that buoys the Aussie life along in a constant state of jest. Qualities I find embedded in myself that aren’t always received as intended in foreign lands.

I have dreams of fulfilling my “Clancy of the Overflow” fantasy & taking up droving somewhere out west. Of watching kangaroos bound across red desert plains, blasting throatily-sang rock anthems appreciating the land we call our home. I miss sharing inside jokes about tv commercials from the 90’s that still get daily references & chuckles. Freely & understandably exclaiming things like, “Stone the flamin’ crows!” or “Strewth!” I even miss avoiding going past my ankles as I wade through the coastline of my Western beach shores, never being brave enough to conquer my “healthy fear of the ocean”. I can still recall the smell of wet, fresh eucalyptus after the rain – one of my all time favourite smells.

But for all the things I remember & miss, there are equal parts terror hanging on to each memory that I have somehow forfeited my claim to call myself true blue. Will I fall right back in to place when the time comes? Will I recall the right words at the right time to express myself? And when I don’t, will I still have the ability to laugh at myself without shame? When I go home, will it still feel like home?

I probably shouldn’t worry. Even writing about my feelings is so un-Australian. I should probably just grab a beer & a mate, eat a pie in my double-pluggers and watch the lightning crack over cane fields, laugh and say “I am Australian” …. (Ha! See what I did there? … Don’t worry, I’ll get better at it)

Omens & the Crows

I have a superstitious soul in me. A grand one. It takes up more space than I realise most days. I’d like to admit it unapologetically & with pride, but I tend to leave the untestable, illogical, voodoo-hippy, gut-feeling-with-no-basis side of myself buried to the masses unless pressed upon to be revealed.

I whole heartedly believe in something bigger, greater, and more magical than what I can see. I believe that I don’t know anything for certain, not even my own mind. Change is the only thing that is a provable & believable notion. Life in constant motion.

With this concept deeply planted in my soul from an early age, I have many different ways I let myself be influenced through life outside of my general conscience. To most, these indicators of good versus evil in the life of Laura seem like hokum. That’s ok. They might well be. I don’t care.

When I was 7 years old I went on a 2nd grade field trip to the Fremantle Prison. A prison that was essentially a fortified jail for early Australian convicts and settlers, which now stands solely as a memorial of those times. Our Alcatraz. Large limestone walls towering over my Primary school-sized self, crashing up against the white sandy coastline of a now popular beach. Windowless cells, dank hallways, echoes that had memories. It already spoke to me. I believed whatever it was going to tell me.

We were corralled through the clammy corridors out to “the yard” where the inmates were to attempt some sort of physical fitness on a tiny patch of grass encased by imposing walls topped with spikes & barbed wire, with no escape but for a single door used as entrance & exit for this one space alone. The only distinguishable markings of any kind my little brain retained were the numbers 1-20 painted on one of the four walls used for exercise games. I scan them back & forth, doing my best to remember my numbers correctly, and it strikes me each time that something is off. Of course! These fools have left out 2 numbers! I’m so clever! No one else has noticed! I’ll educate them!

I raise my hand & upon being called on, I ask the tour guide, “Why are the numbers 6 & 16 not on the wall?” The tour guide delights in my attention to detail & fills us in on the why of it. “When the prison was in use, back when criminals were hanged by their necks for their crimes, inmates were terribly superstitious & trusted in omens and signs to tell of what their fates would be. A 6 represents a hangman’s noose, a 16 was a man next to the noose. It was understood to symbolise whether you would live or hang depending on the date set for your trial … you were certainly going to die with 16! For this reason, no 6 or 16 is used throuhgout the jail.”

Needless to say, I was hooked. I believed! This was something that was going to mean everything to me. I didn’t know why, I don’t even remember choosing to sink in to its power. I just remember the overwhelming feeling that I too was meant to live life by the convicts code of 16. (It helped of course that my birthday was a 15, so 16 was obviously the worst because it was meant to signify the end of another birthday celebration of which I wouldn’t enjoy again for another year. It wasn’t that hard to give weight to its evil powers when you’re 7!)

I have experienced so many times in my life where this superstition has spoken to me. 15’s always led down a path that offered the fruits of safety & prosperity. I would see these forks in the road & the choice that I could connect to a 15 was sweet & safe. The new house number, the new job, the day to have a child, the model year of the car – its influence could be pointless, but limitless all the same. The 16’s always led down a darker path for all the same types of decisions, but which now felt unsafe & destined for failure and pain when a 16 was associated. Solid logic. 

Now, who’s to say how or why this particularly spoke to me & determined my fate? Is it divine intervention? A means for a greater being to communicate their desires for my life’s journey? A way to signify the right from wrong in a way I could clearly see & abide by? 15 hooray! 16 stay away! Or is it a self-fulfilling prophesy? You asked for it – so you got it! You wanted 15 to work, so it did because you worked hard for it. You wanted 16 to be bad luck, so when it was unavoidable, you self-sabotaged! I honestly don’t know. Perhaps a little of both makes sense, or neither at all.

A few years back all signs pointed to “yes” when a decision was to be made to relocate to Seattle, WA. It was time for a change. The well had been sucked dry for years in our current situation and it seemed like the right change to make. My (then) husband & I ventured out sans children for a house-hunting trip to Seattle in hopes to find a new place to call home. I remember one of the most distinct visions surrounding me upon my arrival in the late December grey of a Pacific Northwest winter, was the inexplicable amount of crows that littered the view. Everywhere I turned, there they were. There’s a reason they’re called a murder – one look at a gathering of crows & people seem to convert to “believers” in the omens these creatures foretold. I shrugged it off. They gave me a sinking feeling. I ignored them. There was too much to love about the new home I could make for my family here. The possibilities were too enticing. I wasn’t going to let some meaningless superstition dictate my life … (oh wait)

Eventually I would succumb to the crows.

We moved, we settled, we got in to a routine. I still saw the crows and I continued to ignore them. Whatever misfortune they were warning me of was obviously a concoction of my own fears mingling together to overshadow something that should be bringing me joy. No negative self-fulfilling prophesies allowed here, thanks! What could go wrong anyway? We had a good job, good money, health & wellness for our whole family. We lived in a nice neighbourhood, went to a good school, made wonderful new friends – we wanted for very little, and mostly trivial. Life was finally getting on a track toward a version I had always imagined it should. I had worked hard & sacrificed to get here, it was time to enjoy it.

As it turns out, the visions of perfection Norman Rockwell littered our dreams with to make us believe things were heading in the right direction were full of shit. We’re hand-fed ideal images of what all our lives should look like. Intricate oil paintings overflowing with beauty & nostalgia that invite us to partake. Believe. In reality, how many of them actually look like this? And if they do, for how long?

As the months rolled on and the seasons inevitably changed to mark the time passed in our new life of perfection, that old murder would flock about reminding me that something wasn’t right. I ignored countless signs around me (un-crow related). I explained them away … Enter the crows. Why did I only believe in the power of my childhood superstition, but this one was somehow too juvenile & broad to put stock in? 

Things started to slowly unravel, then seemed to gain unearthly speeds towards total annihilation. New adventures in friendship & family began to corrode before my eyes. In every corner of my world I would begin to fail. My friendships, my marriage, my religion. All my best efforts to keep them alive & well were in vain. The harder I fought to fix my ideal life, the quicker it disintegrated. In my mind, there was no excuse for unhappiness. What right did we have to complain, to fail? I felt weak in the chaos.

I attempted new levels of “mature conversations”, the kind I was under the impression could convince adolescent behaviours to be abandoned in our mutual favours. As my social world crumbled, I clung tightly to a precarious marriage as all I had left. I tried therapies, mindfulness, prayer, meditations, medications, activity, solitude, breathing. 

Major life events have naturally occurred on these 2 numbers, 15 & 16. Instinctively I flinch at the 16. What, you ask, was I possibly going to do to survive the entire year of 2016? I wondered the same thing. Then I would quickly dismiss the notion that an entire year could be tainted. What juvenile thinking. What unproductive thinking. I’m an adult, what place does this sort of frivolity have in my world now?

As my family prepared to leave Seattle for a Christmas packed with relatives, I remember seeing the crows. I laughed a little to myself at their expense. What did they know? During our snowy-white, Norman Rockwell-esque holiday I would be punctured with the final nail in the coffin of my white-picket-fence dreams.

A husband I had left family & country for, for whom I sacrificed 12 years of youth, an education, career, identity. A partner I would love & bear children for; would reveal to me the most challenging truth I think I’ll ever hear. No future news could conceivably shock me as much as this did in that moment. This was a turning point in the kind of life-changing news that would make all future “controversial declarations” seem commonplace & manageable in the aftermath of the first of its kind.

In an instant I knew that everything I imagined my life would be, it could never come close to now. There was no turning back from the news – the kind that shakes you to your core & calls in to question all that you are now & all the memories you’ve ever shared together. No amount of expert maneuvers, nor blinders or denial could keep it at bay. Life had been irrevocably branded now, whether I liked it or not. All the futures I could have possibly conceived would need to shift a dramatic course in to the abyss. A fog laying over the standard narrative for happiness that I still grow weary of ever navigating out of.  Searching for a new life of contentment & simple joy. The journey now overwhelming.

This announcement would come on the cusp of a new year. New Year’s Eve for 2016. Fuck.

Those damned crows. They knew. They’d tried to warn me all along.

 

Mirror

As I stand in front of the mirror staring at my reflection, I wonder how many others do the same – stand at the mirror to see themselves, not out of vanity, concern or preparation, but just staring. Hoping to catch a glimpse, to see if you can find yourself somewhere through your face.

I do.

Without warning I feel an impulse to check, as if with a sense of urgency.
I run to see.
Is something new? 
Who is this person?

I stare in to the glass, studying my face, absorbing as many of my details as I can. 

The colour of my hair. 
A colour that has been complimented my whole life, yet I rarely have appreciation for. In a family of brunettes, you might think I’d find uniqueness in my sunshine coloured hair, but it was just another way to be different.

I hated being different.

I look at the shape of my cheeks, my Jackson family nose, my “too fair” skin. To this day it brings up old school yard taunts in my memory & holds me hostage to a beauty standard forever out of my reach. I should probably “get over it”, but those kinds of things have a tendency to stick around.

The heavy blue bags hung under my eyes. Part of this is age – most of it is pain. 

Lack of sleep.

I just stare, sometimes it triggers tears.
I contemplate as I try to see past my face. What else is there?
What has led me here?
How did I even get here?
Am I supposed to accept all that is part of “my story”?

I don’t want to.

I worry if I’ll ever be the person I want to see looking back at me.
Thoughts continue to stampede through my mind.

I wonder what I could have done better, what was unavoidable, what was just the luck of the draw.

There’s only a finite amount of control we honestly have in this world. We kid ourselves constantly that we have or can achieve more. 
People often proclaim the answer is just to love. But guess what?
The trouble is love (too), especially when it comes to control.

Love means opening yourself up to vulnerability and giving permission to another to tend to it. There’s a lot of times it doesn’t end in your favour. More than we’re led to believe.
But what choice to we have. We’re human after all. Isn’t that the point of all of this?

These days I just see exhaustion & decay staring back.
The decay that is my spirit, my hope, my future, my life. This can’t be it?
The decay that is my face.
It’s only 31 you know.
It’s already seen deep heartache, more than most I know will experience. 
It’s been drenched in more tears too. 
Well, that’s dramatic. Perhaps I’m wrong – I know I am. 
We all carry our invisible scars. We all have a history.
In reality I suppose my face is also like many others. It’s not unique in its anguish and trials.

How many faces look like hers today? All hiding the deep cuts and scars that plague us, but ones we are too ashamed or broken to reveal?

Mine isn’t even the biggest heartache. I don’t have the biggest cross to bear, though it feels like it right now.
But my pain is unique to me. I own it. I live it. 

It’s unlike yours in any way because, though our pain may cross paths or have similarities, my pain has only ever had my past. It will only ever hold my future. It is the only pain running over my individual scars creating deeper valleys in the stories that led me to now. The ones that built me.

None of that knowledge, however, stops the pain. 
It rapidly & violently runs on. A torrential river. Maybe somewhere down the road it will trickle down to a stream and eventually just be some puddle that dries up in the warm sun. 

It’s hard to imagine that now. Almost impossible.

I look at my eyes though, I notice their physical traits. 
They’re light green and speckled. Once baby blues. I like my eyes. When I cry they are electric. It’s a funny thing to notice amidst streaming tears, but occasionally I’ll catch the brightness of them against their bloodshot backdrop. 

I wonder why I notice that? 

It makes me take a moment from my misery and note something else, something interesting and beautiful.
I love my eyes when they’ve cried. 
But then I look at them and wonder if there will ever be another who will look in to them and notice beauty. See their own future in me. Like there’s just two of us.

I had that once.

It was magic, and chaos, and future and hope in one electric gaze.
I was hooked.
It was my whole life ahead of me in all its happy potential, played out in perfect harmony.
All the dreams & plans I didn’t even know I wanted until they came erupting out with hopes of concealing the life before that moment.
But, love fades. Maybe it was never really there?

Real life is made up of charismatic moments, true, but most of the time they’re usually mundane, painful, stressful, sad. At least so far.

Like the first chapter of my youth, a close would inevitably come to this chapter. I didn’t expect it so soon, or in such a fashion. Possibly even at all.
How many chapters does one get?
I’m not interested in quantity. I crave quality. Stability. 
The introvert inside me longs for the missing piece. There should have been only one. I thought I found it already?
Perhaps that’s naive. I can see that now. But, is there at least one more?
Something better?
Is there a new chapter that doesn’t leave me like this? Broken?
I need the right face staring back at me. 

I just can’t tell yet if it will be someone else’s or my own.