Nostalgia

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.

 

Him

You say it’s time. You’re asking for freedom. A chance to start living.
Here I sit, frozen between worlds. Both unclear right now.

I don’t want to forget him. I don’t want to let him go. I know I have to, but please – not yet. 

I don’t want to pretend like he never existed. I don’t want to act like he didn’t mean something to me.
I travelled oceans and gave up time to share life with him.
I would give my world to see him again, talk to him, love him, have another try at this, working hard to do it better. I’d ask him to stay. 

Please stay.

… But it was never really true – what I was seeing, was it? Not like I thought.
It’s not fair of me to ask.
I won’t.

I look at our old photographs; his stormy eyes under commanding brows, perfectly maintained scruff on his face, firm shoulders. His hair always done just right in some trendy style.

A face that was always charming. Better looking than I ever imagined my own to be. He was a movie star to me. I felt lucky by his side.

The wedding photos of these 2 young strangers in love, excited for a partnership that could lead to adventures unknown. One perfect white dress, one sage green tie we carefully chose.

Flashes of life with carefree smiles, sombreros & party drinks, shaving cream moustaches, contorted faces, the time we dressed as Ricky & Lucy for Halloween.

Images of him proudly holding our newborn sons, of candid moments caught building Legos, on family hikes together. Loving glances and warm, safe hugs while we slept. Holidays by the tree, countless birthday celebrations and exciting vacations.

Family portraits that looked more perfect in print than the moments taking them ever were. But the shot always seemed worth it. A family image of what I was always working towards. Of our potential.

I see them now and wonder what I’m meant to think, what should I see?
The pictures look odd. I can’t figure out what is there. Something inside me feels crippled with confusion.
A feeling of inadequacy. How did we live so close & I not know?

I hadn’t known of his unhappiness. His pain.
The parallel life lived right under my nose. Under his.
I didn’t notice the person I saw then was never really him.
I thought it was all of him.
It was all of me. All I had.

I scramble quickly trying to control the visceral reactions inside me when I look back, when I remember.
My body takes over in a way I can’t govern. It pangs, aches, rattles.
It tries to tell me something my brain is incapable of processing yet, something it doesn’t want to know, to believe is real.
It screams for me to protest loudly. It wills me to acquiesce.
I keep trying to step outside the moment and see the reality. Attempt to absorb the truth.

But who are you now?
What will you mean to me if you’re not him?

I’ll no longer lay by his side. He won’t feel the same when we hug. I won’t inhale the cologne on his skin. We’ll never hold hands or kiss goodnight like we used to. These moments are gone forever. I don’t get one more chance – at least with him.

There’s no moving forward in the old direction. No husband & wife to build a life together.
A porch swing left empty.
We’ll never grow old sitting side by side while we recall our grand love story that stood the test of time. 

It couldn’t.

These plans will be replaced with new ones, composed of a partnership we never imagined. One we’ll need time to grow in to.
It will work, we’ll make it work, but it wasn’t how I wanted this to go.

We were one for a time. We didn’t make the most of it then.
Too broken to notice the partners we had in each other.
Too hurt and confused from lives before to know the worth of us.
Inexperienced at life in many ways that surprise us now. 

If only we’d been these people then – would it have mattered? Could it have changed any of this?
Probably not. 

I’ll wonder what to make of our story for a lifetime. One planned alongside him no longer an option.
You’ll still be here, of course. I’ll get to know you by the particles you’ve always been made of, just rearranged. 

With time, I’ll no longer see what I thought he should have been, but who you are. The person you longed to be.
It won’t be tomorrow, or maybe even years from now, but one day I’ll see you fully again.

It’s too hard now.
I haven’t properly grieved his memory. It’s not that simple.
I don’t know when I’ll get over him. I loved him.
I’ll love you too.
When the grief subsides and the memories turn back to rose-coloured. 

It’s not time for me to move on yet. I’m not ready.
I’m forcing myself to try.

I know I can’t wait around for him. I know he’s not coming back.
I know he won’t walk through my door anymore, won’t greet me at the end of each day. He won’t put on his best suit and take me to Christmas parties on his arm. No more deep, comforting voice to sooth me, no loving gaze from his eyes.

He’s gone. He wants to be gone. He needs to be. 

I can’t drag around his memory heavy in my heart forever.
I don’t know how long it will take to let go.
If I don’t, though – it’ll kill me too.

So, what now? How do I do this next part? I’m not prepared for this.
How am I supposed to give him up & let you in? I don’t know you!
I want to see you. Acknowledge you.
I know you must have always been around from the start, at least in whatever way you could be. But you’re new to me. A stranger I’m not familiar with. One I worry I don’t want to know. 

You’re the one who took him from me.
I know it wasn’t to hurt me. It was never about me.
It was because you couldn’t bear the pain he was bringing you.
You were drowning.
He had to die for you to live.

I’m still left without him, though.
I’m still here with his things left in my closet. His pictures on my walls.
Still here singing some dumb Third Eye Blind song that reminds me of him. When we met. When he filled up my senses & I drank him in.
I think I hate that song now. I wish I didn’t.

I don’t want to hate my memories. I don’t want to get a stomach ache when I see 12 years of my life in some form or another, reminding me of who I thought we all were. What we meant. Where we were headed.

I hope there’s a day I let go of the pain. I want to let it go now. I haven’t found a way yet.
I hope when I see you, when I recognise you again, I’ll love all our memories for what they are.
When they don’t feel like sinking boulders of what should have been. They won’t disappoint. They won’t hurt.

Someday they’ll remind me of a man I once loved in my youth. The father of my children, a great love of my life. The right person for the right time to build the right me. To build the right you?
Someday we’ll sit as old friends, natural in each other’s company. Strangers no more.

I’ll visit him from time to time in visions of past lives. I’ll love him for what he was to me. I shouldn’t let that part go. Parts that remind me of a love story I was proud of. It’s a great story.

I know it’s time to let you start living. Time for me to figure out how to do it without him. Who I am without him. I guess you’re in the same boat.

So, I’ll work on saying goodbye. I’ll work on getting to know you.
I know I’ll love you too.
Just give me a little more time to come out of the dream.

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)

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.