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The Life Of Sue

If you enjoy reading interesting and sometimes funny Australian stories then you’ve come to the right place. Welcome!

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I am… Nature & Nurture   The influence of my maternal and paternal grandparents and extended families on who I am today.

What the heck happened?   A reflection on three generations of social change.

Grief Train.  My personal journey of miscarriage, recovery and the lingering feelings of loss.

Neurology.   My children’s lives were snatched away, changed and given back to them in a package none of us recognised.  Identity isn’t always as fixed as we’d like it to be.

A True War Story.  This story is a peek into a Vietnam Veteran’s personal story.

Torture, arranged marriage and recovery.  Tortured in a prison cell for years, and then free – but never quite free.

Love: A Beautiful Magnet.    This is how love felt for me. I wonder if it’s how love feels for everyone?

Seeking Love: My First Date.  At 48 yrs old I went on the second “first date” of my life.

Finding Love: How To Handle First Dates  First dates – what to expect, what to do.

** Seeking Love: Ten months into dating.  The good looking people I dated were cold hearted so began my search for a not-very-good-looking person who might have a heart of gold.

Seeking Love: Success And Humour.   Some of my great dating experiences and copies of some hilarious dating profiles I’ve seen.

Dating: Stay Exclusive or Spread It Around?  The men who secretly date lots of women at once so they can pick the best of the bunch… if they can give the others up.

Online chat rooms – smoke and mirrors. Ever wondered what happens in online chat rooms?

**The Day I Was On The News!  A totally unpredictable outcome on the day my town was flooded and I tried to help.  I was scarred for years!

**The Dead Guy.     An ungrateful and nasty dead guy who we revived.

The Power of Men.  The invisible cultural messages about the power of men over women.

A Jewish Funeral.  Attending a Jewish funeral that chilled me to the bone.

My Just Desserts.  Childhood story:  The street bully had me cornered and Mum took the bullet for me.

This Is What Rain Does To Me.  Childhood Story:  Memories of a rainstorm during my childhood and the impact it has on me now, when I hear rain.

I am… Nature & Nurture   Childhood story: The variety of role models I was exposed to during my childhood shaped me into the person I am today.

Looking For My Inner Child.   Being childish is okay.

Death and dying.  Saying goodbye to our beautiful Newfoundland dogs.

My Final Letter to My Grandma.    Read at my grandmother’s funeral.

Aunty Joy’s Australian Stories.    Older people have fascinating histories.

Identity: Am I good enough?   Practical tips for getting through life with the confidence to feel as if you belong just as the person you are.

DAS: A Bank Robber, Drug Addict, Ex-Con, Survivor.  The story of survival from neglected and abused child to drug addict, bank robber, prisoner and now survivor.

I lost my best friend of 42 years.  I lost my best friend of 42 years to her mistaken belief that I’d betrayed her. I thought we knew one another as we’d grown up together and had gone through every joy and pitfall of our lives together – I found out we didn’t know one another very well at all.

Cancer   … and the doctor whispered into the phone, “I don’t want to leave the mamogram until Monday, this lump looks more urgent than that – please squeeze her in tomorrow!”

When Bad Things Happen.   Why do shitty things happen to good people?

Violence: A Little Bit Is Not Okay.   Our behaviours and attitudes are passed down to our kids.

Children… excuses, excuses, excuses.  The life of a teacher amongst the inventive excuses of children who just don’t feel like doing their school work.

Word of the day: ‘Purpose’    A challenge to write about the word: ‘Purpose’.

Word Of The Day: “Childhood”  A challenge to write about the word: ‘Childhood’

Daily Prompt: Shiver  A challenge to write about the word:  ‘Shiver’.

What the heck happened?

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Speaking to older and younger people, you’ll notice that each generation says they were born in the best times.  An older person might say the days of their childhood were the luckiest because they had no TV or computers and they grew up as if life was an adventure.  Children of today believe they’re growing up in the best times because of the technology.  A tree can be found anywhere but not everyone has xBox.

The truth is that none of us knows anything besides what we, ourselves, experience and as a 52 year old I look back to quite a different childhood to my parents and to my children.  I grew up in the same house in Melbourne that my father grew up in.  He and I climbed the same trees as children, though the trees were younger and smaller when he climbed them.  We both rode our bikes around the same neighbourhood, though it was mostly paddocks in his time and we attended the same primary school at the end of our street.  Most of our neighbours were even the same.  Mum was a country girl and had a different life again.

Dad was born during the Great Depression, between WW1 and WW2.   Like everyone else, his parents struggled to put food on the table and life was a huge gamble that didn’t always pay off.  Dad’s father often brought transients into the house for a meal, a shower and a packed sandwich before they went on their way.   I knew all about my parents’ childhoods and how lucky I was to be growing up in the 1970s.  The truth was, though, I didn’t know anything about life outside my street or my family.  My childhood was obviously better than Mum and Dad’s. It’s as if the human world had finally figured out how to live properly and I thought mine was the first generation that was able to enjoy  life.  I mean, who would change the perfection of playing outside, building cubbies, Sunday roasts with extended family and knowing everyone in the neighbourhood by name?

My daughters were born in the early to mid 1990s and they have grown through the transition from an active, outdoors childhood to computerised play and the information highway.  Their generation had a lovely blend of inside and outside, old and new; and it was intriguing, exciting and also a little scary for me to watch the changes.

My youngest was aware of homosexuality in primary school and decided to be a Human Rights Lawyer so that she could defend people’s right to live their life as they wanted – and to ensure child slavery and other injustices were abolished.  This may seem a strange thing for me to admit, but I was in my early twenties before I became aware that homosexuality was a thing (and that there was hateful discrimination against these people).  I didn’t know about child slavery or many of the other injustices that my girls discussed when I was their age, either.

My daughters are now in their early twenties and they each love the ways technology enhances their lives, though I still don’t really know what they use technology for or how they even know these apps and widgets exist.  The last amazing thing my girls helped me to discover was Spotify, an app which I can program to play the type of music I like.

The Internet seems to have created a social life that we can participate in whilst alone and I think it’s important not to forget to catch up with friends and family on real life  outings; real life laughter; reminiscing of old times and making plans for the future; taking photos of togetherness; assessing the climb-ability of a nearby tree; the discussion of social change and openness to the possibility of new social norms.

The internet has opened my daughters’ eyes to prejudice, hate, the dangers of smoking, the chemicals in diet soda and that the degradation of our environment by big corporations and households is taking our planet to the brink.  They are informed.

My parents’ childhoods were the best because they saw families and communities pull together to survive tough times.

My childhood was the best because it was carefree and it was mine.

My children’s childhoods have been the best because the Information Highway arrived just in time to make them fully informed and in touch with reality beyond the microcosm of our little family and our little street.  They are armed with facts and solutions for the raw and harsh realities of this life we’re living right now in the fragile planet we’re living on.

The future is in good hands.

Grief Train.

My first miscarriage was a bit of a surprise because I didn’t actually know I was pregnant.  I sat in the bath trying to ease the pain of what I thought were incredibly painful menstrual cramps when I suddenly realised I wasn’t alone in that bath. My eyes closed for a very long time while my mind raced with blank thoughts… my eyes opened and I looked into the water with more blank thoughts. My mind was truly empty as it was impossible to comprehend or process what I saw.  Describing what I found in my bathwater isn’t appropriate here.  The decision to pull the plug and watch it all drain away became a silent tug of war between the trauma of what was real and obvious and the fantasy that this was a mistake – miscarriages only happen in hospital. Once the reality of my situation hit I didn’t want to reveal what had happened to anyone because I didn’t know how to answer the questions they would surely have.  One positive my doctor offered was that it’s a relief to know I’m able to get pregnant; which meant that, one day, I will be a mother.

My next pregnancy progressed further than 7 weeks and I was very excited to read up on the size of my baby and how he or she would look from week to week. The trans vaginal ultrasound at 6 weeks showed a normal pregnancy, a lovely heartbeat and I felt safe enough to buy a beautiful pram, some blankets and little newborn outfits.  Pastel lemons and greens were my favourite colours.

At the my 12 week visit my gynaecologist asked how I was feeling and his disappointment was obvious when I said I felt great.

“No sign of morning sickness?” he asked with caution in his voice.

“Not even a bit!” I bragged, naively.

The look on his face told me everything I needed to know.  This wasn’t as good as I had imagined.  He saw my face drop and went into damage control; explaining that some women don’t get morning sickness and I might be one of the lucky ones.

“Yes,” I said hopefully, “I do feel lucky.”

A few days later I walked out of the hospital ultrasound room reeling in shock.  The nursing staff watched me emerge from the little room in tears, sobbing uncontrollably. One nurse came over and sat beside me and, without knowing what exactly was wrong, she asked if there was something she could do.   “A tissue?”  I sobbed.

She sprang from her seat and came back with a whole box, placed her hand onto my back and the warmth of her palm flowed through my crisply ironed work shirt, giving me a sense of warm, energetic kindness.  The next few days were a blur as there were ‘arrangements’ to be made.

It was quite late on the Friday afternoon of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend when I was admitted to hospital for a curette.  The nursing staff spoke gently and with care as they inserted the cannula into the back of my left hand.  They rubbed my forearm and squeezed my wrist gently in the most reassuring way as they spoke about what they planned to do over this long weekend. The conversation was distracting and strangely comforting.  As they wheeled my bed from the pre-op room and into the operating theatre I began to speak to the nurse.

The pre-med warped my sense of time  and I could hear that my voice sounded urgent and panicked. The nurse wiped tears from the sides of my face as I went through my spiel, “This was going to be my first baby and it’s my second miscarriage.  I haven’t had any babies yet please don’t rush through my procedure so you can get away to the long weekend.  Please take care of my womb.”

Before hearing their response – or without remembering their response – I was asleep.

Afterwards, I was confronted with ‘those’ questions:

“How’s the pregnancy going?”

“Any morning sickness yet?”

“Hey Mumma Sue, how’s bubs?”

And my response, “My baby didn’t make it.  I miscarried over the Queens Birthday weekend.”

And then I was confronted with the other questions:

“Oh, I’m sorry…. how far along were you?”
“I’m very sorry to hear…. was it a baby boy or a baby girl?”
“What did you name the baby?”
“Is there going to be a funeral?”
“Did they let you bring it home to bury under a rose bush in your garden?”

I don’t even know how I responded to those questions. That time is just a blur.  A blubbering blur of dismantling the pram and hiding all the baby stuff in a big cardboard box in the wardrobe of spare bedroom.

My false smile meant that life got back to normal pretty quickly.  The most awkward conversational moments had passed and I entered the phase of quietness; no conversation, no thoughts, no plans – just moving forward one day at a time. In my mind I had began to believe the obvious.  Perhaps I was not born to have babies. Maybe pregnancies weren’t natural for me. Growing a human was too difficult for my body and there was no point in asking why because nobody knew the answer.

My third pregnancy was my blessing.  I wouldn’t tell people until I’d kept my growing baby alive for 12 whole weeks.  The morning sickness was very strong and I threw up through my huge smile every morning for 6 months.  I couldn’t bring myself to unpack the pale yellow and pastel green baby clothes or re-assemble the pram until the 8th month had passed.  I was excited and terrified.

My gruelling 26 hour labour ended with my darling baby girl born at 2.30am on Friday 2 April 1993.  I needed to sleep but lay there in my bed staring through the plastic sides of the crib at the miracle I had finally created.

Some nurses came into my room and asked to “have a look at the wee babe”.  They said they remembered me sobbing in the corridor last year after my ultrasound, and one was there in surgery when I’d asked them to take care of my womb.  They congratulated me on finally winning the jackpot. These ladies had been following my motherhood story from the sidelines all along.

Every year the Queens Birthday weekend comes along and I’ve thought of the little lives that I had lost.  At first the thoughts were very painful and I found myself crying at no notice.  After a few years I was unaware of any thoughts but I was moody – and then, once I realised the significance of the date, I realised why I was so uptight.

Twenty five years have now passed since that Queens Birthday weekend and I have two wonderful daughters (aged 24 and 20).  I can talk about all of my pregnancies without tears; although I always feel a heaviness in my heart and a strange quietness sweeps over me.  Maybe my grief is like a slow moving train which has taken me further away from the need to cry, further away from the disappointment and anger.  Maybe the grief train is now at a new Station where I remember what happened because it’s the only thing I can do in my role as the mother of my lost babies.

Neurology

When you create a life for yourself and it’s stolen by your DNA you realise identity isn’t as fixed as you thought it was.

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When I was in my twenties my workplace had a drive to recruit bone marrow donors for the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Register.  I suppose people in their twenties are at a very helpful age and I wanted to help the sick children to survive bone marrow cancer.  First step was a blood test to determine which of the few categories of HLA Types I came under.  This is a quick chromosomal categorisation, but my blood test had been contaminated, so I was called back to give another sample.  The second sample was also a bad batch and Dad joked with me about probably having Alien parents on our way in to be re-tested – my third blood test and Dad’s first.

Three doctors emerged from their little laboratory beaming proudly, like the cat that had caught a mouse.  Dad stood up and I followed him in his manners.  Dad shook the doctors’ hands as they introduced themselves to him and I held my hand out to do the same.  Taking my hand, the male doctor looked at me directly and paused in silence for a second, before blurting out, “I’m very excited to tell you that your HLA type is a completely new one, never before discovered.  You are the only person with this HLA on earth… at this stage. We can write a journal article about your unique HLA!”

I had questions, “Does this mean my bone marrow isn’t any good to anyone?”  They nodded.  “And does it mean that if I get bone marrow cancer that I can’t get a transplant?”  They nodded again, adding awkwardly that this could change any day if they discover someone in the world like me.  The scientific excitement began to fall from their proud faces as they faced having to deal with the human side of their exciting HLA discovery.

I was a 26 year old genetic mutant and didn’t know whether I should feel special or embarrassed.  We figured it was probably caused by the X-Rays mum had when she was pregnant with me.

Fast forward about a quarter of a century to my mid-forties and I have been married and divorced, and am living with my two teenage daughters, Maree and Rose, and their two dogs. Our lives seemed pretty straight forward just a few years ago.  I was at university finishing my studies in psychology, social science and primary school teaching.  My eldest wanted to be a vet and her little sister wanted to be a surgeon.  Each of us was capable of achieving our dream.  My eldest enjoyed her daily swim training and my youngest’s passion was gymnastics.  We were all fit, driven, happy and well.

A week after I’d asked my husband to leave, our eldest daughter Maree developed Type 1 Diabetes.  It was a shock because her symptoms were thirst and almost sudden blindness… naturally I figured it was a brain tumour.  Type 1 Diabetes is life long because there is no cure.  Each time she eats food she has to inject insulin into her stomach. Hearing this was like a horror story for us both and I took silent, frozen fright; while Maree took screaming flight… running from the nurse and the insulin needle.

She struggled with all the awful side effects of fluctuating blood sugar levels in her final years of school and I allowed her to leave before finishing her final year IF she had a plan.  Oh boy – did she have a plan! At just 17 years old, Maree moved to the city, to live with my sister, while doing a course, which she finished on a Friday. Her new, highly paid job started the following Monday and soon after she moved into a small apartment in the city.  Maree was doing great and I couldn’t have felt more proud of her drive and determination.  Her only problem is that she gets very tired at work. After hours she’s too tired to cook a meal and on weekends she is too tired to go out socialising. We figure it’s just the way of Type 1 Diabetes.

There was no time to celebrate the achievements of our Maree because, suddenly, a mystery illness had stolen her little sister’s strength, stamina and planned career.

Young Rose struggled through her final years of high school, downgrading her career goals from surgeon… to doctor… to nurse… to receptionist… to typist as she realised she was getting weaker and weaker.  Finally, she was devastated at having to quit gymnastics.

Rose’s strange symptoms took us on a four year odyssey visiting respiratory and sleep specialists, an endocronologist, two neurologists and a cardiologist.  Over these years I learnt what was needed of me as her human rights campaigner in high school, her advocate for university, her medical records co-ordinator and the voice in her head as everything dropped away after she’d given it her all.  She now takes a colourful fist full of medication every day to keep her body ticking over properly.  My child who I wouldn’t allow to drink Coca Cola because of the chemicals now takes chemicals just to survive. It feels ironic.  We went through two years of neurological testing; some were frightening tests looking for tumors in her brain and spine, a test for motor neurone disease, heart tests and all sorts of painful poking and prodding.  Her heart now beats at 130 beats per minute while she sleeps – and it actually stopped beating during a heart test!

Over these two years I had many silent screams in my head while my face smiled encouragingly at Rose. Upon leaving specialist appointments and tests we sat in the car quite stunned at the results or at our next step. We felt lost and frightened in a frustrating maze of emotions that needed no discussion, we each knew how the other felt.  Sleepless nights haunted me as I hardly coped keeping up with work, specialist appointments 70 kilometres away, medical procedures and normal life. People offered to help but I couldn’t figure out what useful thing anyone could do – besides plucking Rose and I out of this nightmare and letting us get back to our normal lives.

On one visit to the neurologist a distressed lady came bursting out of the doctor’s room and paced the hallway, sobbing, before falling to the floor nearby.  Everyone ignored her as if she needed her privacy but I couldn’t stand it and went over to sit on the floor beside her.  My hand moved up to touch her shoulder and she continued to cry as she spoke.  Her husband is still in the room with the doctor and he has a degenerative muscle disease – he wasn’t expected to survive the six months to Christmas.  She went on and on talking about how they met late in life, married and had two baby daughters at home, “How can I lose him now?  How can I raise the girls without a father?”

I took a tone of voice that was a mix between my mother’s stern, authoritative voice and my own gentle, soothing voice and said, “Stand up.”  Helping her to her feet I told her things I needed somebody to say to me and I stood listening to myself while I spoke.

“Your husband needs you to help him leave this place with dignity.  He needs this time to know his daughters and for them to know him. Now is not the time to mourn. You will go home and figure out where to go for support, help and strength… and you have a window of time right now to find those supports. Friends, family and professionals can all help you to plan, cope and do this the best you can.  Don’t you dare fall apart now.”

These were awfully harsh words and I don’t really know where they came from. She smiled through her tears and hugged me, thanking me for helping her see what needs to be done. She paused as she realised that I’m also at a neurologist’s office, and she asked if I was also experiencing the death of a loved one.  This question was a bit unnerving because I had been wondering whether Rose was dying and I suddenly wondered whether I actually was living the same nightmare as this lady.  But this very moment was not about me and I replied: “No, I have no experience in this stuff at all.”  Twelve months have now passed since I hugged that stranger in the hallway and I often think of her and wonder how she coped with her husband’s death.

Naturally, Rose has had her dark times, but she continues to hold her head high through every single disappointment. We haven’t had screaming moments like the lady in the neurologist’s hallway, we’ve just gone from one step to the next.  At each set back Rose simply renegotiates her physical boundaries and gets used to the adjustment. Hers isn’t a story of death – just of a different life.  She has a disability parking sticker for the car but refuses to use it unless absolutely necessary.  She is yet to find her niche in the working world but she forges forward, trying everything possible – just to see how she goes.

Like her sister, this girl is my little miracle.

Last year I took more control of Rose’s specialist visits.  I decided to become the patient, giving Rose a rest from being poked, prodded and tested. My plan was have my own muscle disorder diagnosed, which had actually been diagnosed when I was 7 years old – though Mum never remembered the name of my condition (and my records had been destroyed).  Mum just said, “You just got tired before the other kids.”  My childhood was a time where disability was taken in your stride, which wasn’t a bad thing.  Without normal muscles I couldn’t suckle as a baby and didn’t walk until I was three years old. My body wasn’t normal but it was normal for me. I wasn’t expected to climb mountains but I could walk up a hill.  I didn’t feel disabled – my body just got tired faster than other people.  My life and my body felt quite normal, considering my Alien HLA type.

First my blood tests were all clear.  Then nerve conduction tests, where 3 inch electric needles were poked into my skin and zapped repeatedly into a muscle, was all clear. My nerves and muscles worked well together.

My muscle biopsy was the one that showed a result and now I know I have muscular dystrophy.  The neurologist confirmed that my feeling weaker over the past few years wasn’t my imagination and it certainly wasn’t me going out in some psychologically-induced, sympathetic weakness with Rose.  This is how muscular dystrophy works. Older age brings hormonal changes that trigger more muscle weakness.  My full time working capacity had been reduced to part time.  All that education and I can only work part time!

But this isn’t about me, it’s about Rose, and I felt we were on to something big here.  An explanation didn’t necessarily mean a cure but it would help her to plan a future, knowing her physical limits.  She had a biopsy but it came back clear of muscular dystrophy!  How the heck can that be?  If it’s not muscular dystrophy then what would it be?  Why would she have my symptoms but not my disease?

Next I went for a genetic test to map the pattern of my chromosomes within my DNA. I had this done because I wanted to know the type of Muscular Dystrophy that I had, and understand the implications this has on my grandchildren. The DNA test showed up a glitch right next to Chromosome 6 where HLA types are determined.  The glitch meant that I have a particular type of Muscular Dystrophy, which I won’t elaborate on here because this isn’t about me – it’s about my Rose.

The neurologist and I now wonder whether Rose’s muscle biopsy was a dud – she may actually have what I have.  She has my symptoms (although more severe) and a couple of extra symptoms in her heart, and she has blood pressure issues – but the logic of genetic inheritance says she’s likely to have muscular dystrophy and my Neurologist agrees.

It would seem that my Alien DNA has caused my unique HLA type, which prevents me from ever being a useful organ donor; and it’s also the cause of my weak muscles, which I appear to have handed down to both of my children.

Now we wait to have blood tests for Maree and Rose; looking for the same dud chromosomal pattern in their DNA that says “Muscular Dystrophy”.  But this is a game of patience and I can’t get orders for the test until I next see my neurologist – which is months away.

I lost my best friend of 42 years.

Best friends for 42 years; I lost Anne to her mistaken belief that I’d betrayed her. When I thought I knew my best friend because we’d grown up together and had gone through every joy and pitfall of our lives together – I found out we didn’t know one another very well at all. It’s like grieving a death.

When I was in second grade I met a girl named Anne. We met at school during one lunchtime in 1972, when neither of us had anyone to play with.  We quickly became best friends and that’s how it stayed for the next 42 years.

Anne’s parents had migrated from Yugoslavia as newlyweds in the late 1950s and although her father was university educated in the field of mathematics, he wore overalls to work every day at VicRail; our State train system. He was a quiet and pensive man who enjoyed collecting things, laughing quietly and delighted Anne with his practical jokes. She was his favourite daughter and, looking back, that’s probably because Ann was also a quiet and pensive person who enjoyed little practical jokes.  Her mother was usually focussed on Margaret, who was about 11 months younger than Anne.  Mother and Muggsy were usually snuggled up in Mother’s bed watching TV together, often whispering little in-jokes to one another. Anne’s other sister, Lydia, was six years older than us and had no time for pre-teens, TV or silly parents. Lydia was either out with friends or in her bedroom.  Anne’s family of five lived in a long and narrow terrace house on a busy road; sharing a wall with the terrace house next door. The very small back yard was paved with bricks and the small front yard full of potted plants so there was nowhere for us to play outside. We found our fun up on her roof, where the base of her pitched roof joined with the base of her neighbour’s pitched roof.  There was absolutely  no way to fall down and that’s where she taught me Yugoslavian swear words and we talked about boys and the lives we imagined we’d have as adults. Neighbours in Anne’s Street nodded and waved to one another from their front porch and children played inside. Anne’s spare time at home was spent in cultural pursuits like ballet and piano lessons, reading and writing.  My spare time a home was spent outside playing.

Normally, when we spent time together, Anne came to my house which was a few kilometres away in the next suburb. My street was a No Through Road (in those day it was called a Dead End) so the only people who drove down our street were the people who lived there, or their visitors.  The entire street was our playground and we climbed trees, made cubby houses, rode bikes, kicked balls and delighted in the abundance of time and space we had to be ourselves – away from the judgmental gaze of adults and siblings.  We knocked on my elderly neighbour’s doors and had little chats with them or we just sat on their front fences and talked for a while. Although I had an older brother and two younger sisters (plus five other kids who lived in the street) it was big enough for us all to play our own games without getting into one another’s way.And we often played together as a big gang.  Caterpillars and grubs freaked Anne out and I was always on the lookout for them, to alert and protect her from ever looking at one.  We took care of each other like that.  Anne came along with my family to visit my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins and enjoyed these relationships as she had no such family (they were in Yugoslavia).

Anne and I always knew one another’s secrets. In grade five she had a crush on  a blonde haired boy and I had a crush on a dark haired boy.  We had a secret language of special words and specific facial expressions that alerted one another that a crush is nearby.  Naturally we wanted to be alert to this so we always looked good… or cool… or both.

My earliest memory of Anne was as a six year old, sitting on the floor at school, listening to our teacher tell a story.  I was sitting, cross legged, behind Anne and to her left.  She was in the front row sitting next to Darren T.  The teacher’s voice carried a gentle, lovely, soft tone and I have no idea what the story was about – listening to the gentleness of her voice was my enjoyment.

Anne’s back suddenly stiffened and she leaned forward a little, as if trying to get a closer look at something. Curious, I edged across to see what she was looking at and just as I had repositioned myself she let out a loud gasp, then a scream as she scrambled backwards over top of me to get away.  She was screaming and pointing at Darren T’s leg, “A grub! A grub!…”

Darren T lifted his bare knee and bounced himself aside a little, looking for the grub but there wasn’t one.  Mrs McDonald quickly went to comfort Anne who was crying at the fact there was a grub up the leg of Darren T’s shorts.  Poor Darren T never wore underwear  and poor Anne had never seen a penis.

Anne was very innocent in every way and she learnt the facts of life straight after I learnt them.  When we were twelve I took Anne to talk to my mum because Anne’s explanation for where babies came from went like this, “Storks bring babies to the hospital and families go to a big, glass window to select the baby they want to take home.”

Our first day of high school came and I felt so nervous I wanted to be sick.  The relief of seeing Anne there was enormous and we supported one another through every trial and tribulation that ever came along.  Nothing was horrible because we had each other.

The years went by and we finished high school and moved in to a little flat together.  She worked taking care of disabled children and I worked as a typist for the public service. This was an extraordinarily happy year as we both had boyfriends, a social life and our own place to live.  However, we were still young and naive in the adult world – which was seen in the day Detectives and Police came knocking on our door at 6am one Thursday. Pulling the curtain back I could clearly see there were about a dozen men with guns drawn and a ramming device ready to bash the door down – it was a scary sight to two 18 year old girls.  We stood in their clear view, wearing pink dressing gowns and looking at them though our very wide eyes. Anne went to the kitchen, at the back of the flat and said there were more of them out the back window! The man at the door asked if he could come in as he held his identification badge up to the glass.  Still, I was wary and told them I wouldn’t know what a real identification badge looks like – how do I know it’s real?   With the patience of a saint the detective said he would like me to open the door so just he could  come in and check that nobody else was in the flat. Anne and I stood aside as that one person came in and did a quick check.  They apologised and left, going straight on to raid one of the upstairs flats across the courtyard.

At the end of the lease my boyfriend and I decided to marry and Anne went back to live at home with her parents and little sister.  Our twenties and thirties went by and I had moved interstate; but we kept in regular contact over the phone.  Every year we caught up in person and marvelled at each other’s lives, then each other’s babies, then each other’s homes, then each other’s divorce.  Both divorced in our forties, we saw one another more often and admired the women we had each grown into being.  Her recollections of her life weren’t very happy and she felt betrayed by every person she’d ever been in a relationship with – including her parents, estranged sisters, ex husband and her children.  It appeared that I had been the only constant in her life over all these years.

Last year Anne needed to buy a car.  I told her my father had a 17 year old car he was about to sell and she gladly bought it.  I’d been driving Dad’s car around for a few years so I could tell her about all its little idiosyncracies.  A few weeks passed by and my phone rang where I had the most devastating conversation I’d ever had with Anne.

I answered, “Hello?”

Her voice was bitter, “Sue?!”

“Yes,” I replied, “Hey how are you?”

Bitterness changed to restrained fury, “You would already know how I am.  I’m very upset! I’m calling to tell you to never speak to me again! Don’t ring, don’t write, don’t email, don’t knock on my door!”

Of course I was confused and asked her what had happened but she wouldn’t answer; she was convinced I would already know – but I didn’t know.  She hung up without as much as a goodbye and I sat crying.  My daughter asked what happened and I told her, although it just didn’t make sense at all and we puzzled over it together.

I tried to ring Anne back but she wouldn’t answer.  I wrote her an email asking her to explain what had happened because I truly had no idea but she didn’t reply.

My daughter contacted her son and he suggested his mother might be upset because the car broke down the week before and she sold it to the tow truck driver.  I wrote asking why she hadn’t just spoken to me so we could have arranged a refund, this wasn’t worth losing a lifetime of friendship.  She responded angrily telling me that if I apologised for scamming her into buying a lemon and if she sensed my apology was sincere – we might be friends again.

You know, there are so many people who say their “jaw dropped with surprise” and this is exactly what happened to me when I read her words.  I was shocked and devastated that she thought I had schemed and scammed her into buying a lemon.  Didn’t she know me at all?  We’d spent the past 42 years together and travelled through thick and thin like sisters yet she didn’t know that I couldn’t possibly do such a thing?

A few months later I saw The Lemon parked on the side of the road and I approached the driver, an older man who had bought the car for his wife.  He said he bought it from a tow truck driver a few months ago.  I asked whether it had a new engine or any extensive work done to it.

“No,” he replied.  “The tow truck driver bought it off a woman who had cross-threaded the radiator cap, letting the water leak out… and it overheated.  It only needed a new radiator cap and it was good to go.  It’s a great little car!”

A year has now passed and I’ve cried many tears for many hours over losing Anne.  She was my very best friend until the day I found out she wasn’t a very good friend at all.

I lost my life long best friend over a $14 radiator cap.

**Links to my other stories can be found here

DAS: A Bank Robber, Drug Addict, Ex-Con, Survivor.

My observations of an interesting man who grew up in an abusive home, turned to drugs, crime and, after 10 years in prison, he came out deciding to be a man that he, his wife and daughter can all be proud of. These are my observations of his story.

Through writing this blog I’ve come across other blogs, which have introduced me to different lifestyles, writing styes, sexual orientations and cultures. The person I’m writing about today is a stranger to me – I know him only through his blog where he describes himself as an abused child, a drug addict and a bank robber. He also describes himself as a survivor of that life.  He has plans for a better future.

This guy isn’t just a creative writer with a big imagination; his story is real.  Nobody could write like he writes without having experienced the awful things he has described.  His words have been honest, shocking the reader at each of his awful life experiences. He has been a repulsive, selfish, greedy human being in the past and anyone reading his blog would hope he manages to suceed in his quest to be a good husband and an exceptional role model to his daugher.  In fact, I think some of his past actions were so bad he may have deleted the worst from his blog because I can’t find them to re-check the facts.

For this story, I’ll protect his privacy and call him DAS. His social and emotional journey is the focus of my writing today.

The very first words I read on DAS’s blog is that his past haunts him and that, because he can’t rid himself of what he’s done, he is making an effort to come to terms with it. Plunging a needle into his arm used to be his four hour escape from reality and he spent a total of 10 years in a prison cell for his crimes. His blog has photos of him performing a bank robbery and his mug shot. He writes that, when a prisoner is released there is a 78% success rate when he has a loved one give a loving hug and say say he is forgiven. DAS had a daughter and his wife waiting to hug him.

DAS struggles with depression (maybe he always has) and describes this depression as a lazy mental state that has him automatically agreeing to poor choices.  He struggles through a haze of mental laziness which he hopes he can wean himself out of and gather enough strength to recognize that impulsive, automatic agreement to poor choices is his constant undoing. His blog features a gorgeous family photo of DAS on his first Father’s Day out of prison; posing with his daughter and partner – his pride is unmistakable as this was the first Father’s Day they weren’t separated by a piece of thick prison glass.  His blog also features a security camera photo of DAS holding up a bank (not the photo featured in this story) and a mug shot of him, dated about a week after the robbery.  DAS hopes his future self will one day read his blog and see how far he has come.  This is an optimistic person with a future.

One of DAS’ earliest memories was of his father calling him names for not being able to throw, catch or hit a ball.  He has been an abused child, a homeless teenager (actually I think he was 11 yrs old), a drug addict, theif, bank robber, I think he stabbed a man (or witnessed a stabbing), spent a decade in prison.

Out of prison he writes about himself as a proud man who has no intention of ever returning to the life he left behind. Instead of grabbing a needle he now grabs a pen and writes. He works out.  He is now a hands on father, a loving partner, a responsible person, clean of drugs, clear in his thinking, able to reflect on bad times to inform him of better times ahead.  He and his partner have started to plan having a baby. Instead of robbing the bank he recently opened a cheque account with money he earned through an honest living – which was a proud moment and evidence he is successful at turning things around. He says he walks through ife with his head held high and I sense the fog of his depression had lifted. He wrote about standing at a bus stop thanking God for giving him another chance.  This year has been pretty good for DAS.

DAS writes from somewhere deeper than his heart. His words are dictated from the wouds on his soul. Here’s an example:

“All of my yesterdays were bags brimming with lies and deceit that I hauled around…  All of my tomorrows passed with me begging for them not to return. …”   (D.A.S.) 

I can’t imagine the huge accomplishment of turning yourself around like he has – he described his turnaround as ‘hit the ground running’. But by mid-year he could see his life racing back to a place he has worked so hard to escape from. He said that, with his own hands, he destroyed everything he had built and that the man he saw in the mirror wasn’t the guy he believed he was. This was him and he didn’t like it one bit.

He struggled along and had a radio interview about his life and how he had managed to turn himself around; it was a really interesting, honest and inspiring interview.  But shortly afterwards, he blogged that he had an argument with his wife and she asked him to move out of their house.  He’s been back on the streets for three weeks, during which time his lazy mental state automatically agreed to bad choices, bringing him back to the drugs.  He said he sees only two scenarios to drugs…. prison and death.

His blog called for help, but I can’t see how anyone can help him.  He came to a bump in the road and he fell, then he rolled around down there and now he’s dirty.  Getting up again will take strength and resolve.   I responded with a passionate plea for him to be a man and help himself up out of the slum of his past for the sake of his child!  I said he is at a crossroad and he’s taken a wrong turn.  Go back!  Actually, I carried on a little passionately, as I do.  It as devastating to see a good person with purpose and goals wasted like this. Who would be his daughter’s father?  What priority does his wife feel she has in his life when he chooses drugs to apologising and fixing the mess he made at home?

Two days ago I checked his blog to see how he was doing and saw that he’d had a do not miss appointment with his probation officer for a urinary analysis.  Apparently he had missed 4 of these appointments before because he was getting high.  He doesn’t write anything fancy about this and doesn’t create elaborate excuses. He says it how it is and it’s blunt and ugly.

He wrote:

I had a do not miss appointment with my probation officer yesterday. Not my call. Hers. I guess somewhere along the line while getting high or doing whatever it was that I do, I missed 4 UA’s. For those who may not know what that is, well to put it simply, you pee in a cup and they test it for drugs… As of my last writing, things are…I dont know. I suppose better would be a fair description…  Last thought: Sue…thank you for the kick in the butt!!

His partner made a comment to this blog:

Reading these post(s) makes me sad… Things are going to get better, we need to have patience and faith and let the past be behind us. … it’s like we live in two different worlds, the life at home and what is on your mind that you express on here. I love you more than words can ever describe and we will get through all of this pain.

DAS may have grown up abused and alone  He has struggled through life without adequate role models and parental assistance and he has made poor choices.  But the best thing that ever happened to him seems to be his wife.  I really hope things work out for them.

 

Side note:  the image used in this story was found on Google and is not DAS.  
( http://www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat/tag/bank-robbery/ )

This Is What Rain Does To Me.

Childhood memories can be beautiful – or terrifying.

As I begin to write this blog it’s 7.45pm on a rainy Monday evening in September, 2016.   I’m writing about the rain because of the particularly automatic feelings that the sound of rain brings up inside me.

I love the sound of rain as it hits my tin roof, like a white noise that manages to lull me into a dream like state; it’s a soundclip from my childhood. However, if you were to add somebody rushing about the house sounding anxious, the sound of the beautiful rain would evoke a fearful panic from deep within my psyche.

In the happy summertimes of my childhood all the kids in my street loved a warm shower of rain because it created a mist as it evaporated off the hot road and footpath. For us, the mystical fog was the realm of magic and fairies.  I used to lay on the damp lawn with my chin resting on my hands and the raindrops massaging my back; peering into the mist, hoping to catch a glimpse of something mystical. A fairy rushing home, an elf looking for mischief or just some magical dust that I might accidentallay breathe in and get mystical powers from.  My brother’s joy with summer rain was different to mine.  Looking like a wizard, he rode through the mist on his bike and the steam swirled on either side of his bicycle like a magical stage effect. After really heavy rain the uneven concrete footpath outside our house filled with water and we sat along the higher edge, splashing our bare feet in the shallow pool of water.  Forty-five years later I measured the pool and found that it’s only 2.5 centimetres deep (about an inch).

During January in the summer of 1973, when I was seven years old, an especially heavy downpour of rain, gale force winds and thunder interrupted our hot, still afternoon.  Mum had the house wide open and the storm hit so suddenly that it sent her into a panic.  She’d worked all day to get the floors clean, the laundry done and other chores. She had all the windows wide open but instead of sunshine streaming in to freshen up the house there was now rain soaking the carpet.

The baby was crying in the pram outside under the tree and the dogs were barking at the intrusion of the thunder into their yard.  The commotion of the dogs, Bubba, loud rain, screaming wind and ear-piercing thunder cracks were all so intense that we could hardly hear each other speak. Mum shouted for me to get the clothes off the line while she ran around closing all the windows. I stood under the clothesline in the thunderstorm; which felt like a hurricaine. My hair whipped my face relentlessly and the clothes on the line hit against my head and upper body as I wrestled the pegs off. Angry thunder cracks came leaping out of the screaming wind, piercing my ears and frightening me with constant lightning strikes.  The fact that just five minutes earlier I was outside playing on a hot, still afternoon made the dark, angry skies more frightening.

Burdened by half of the washing in my arms I turned and ran into the house to unload but couldn’t bring myself to go back out there.  I called out to Mum, but she couldn’t hear me over the storm.  Pushing past the pram (which was now in the hallway) I found Mum sitting on my sopping wet bedroom floor, crying into her hands.  This was the last window for her to close and she hadn’t remembered that this room had a bed right under the window. My sister’s bed was okay, the baby’s cot was fine, my brother’s room only had wet curtains and my Mum was a wreck.  My heart broke for Mum because she looked defeated – and I’d never seen an adult cry before.

My hand went to her shoulder in a reassuring way and I asked why she was crying. Although the reason was probably obvious enough, I wondered whether she was scared of the noise like me.  When she looked I could see that she wasn’t scared… she was angry, annoyed, frustrated, disappointed, defeated… yes, defeated. She asked if I got the washing in and I told her I got some but couldn’t get it all.  Unable to understand the logic in my response, she pushed me away and cried some more.

Nowadays rain brings happy memories of splashing in that little puddle and watching mist rise up from hot surfaces. But rain accompanied by someone rushing around in a flustered state makes me want to cry.

Isn’t it strange how litle things stick with children?

For links to my other stories, click here

rain-washing-in

Image of lady running past clothesline is from Google: http://theophilus.org/rebecca/images2/clothesline72.jpg
Military image:  “When a mother sees rain: get that washing safely inside now!” @mum_probs

 

I am… Nature & Nurture

This short story outlines the variety of role models I was exposed to during my childhood. They shaped me into the person I am today.

If the person we’ve become has been shaped by both inborn personality traits and life experience, then the relevance of good role models and a full life are clearly important to every child’s social and emotional development.

When I was a child my grandmother lived with our family of six and every Saturday she got up very early to bake cakes for a lavish morning tea. I often helped by whipping the cream with a strange looking metal beater.  Turning the handle made the two beaters spin around and, after a lot of winding, the cream became thick.  The large coffee table was covered with a lacy, white table cloth, the crystal sugar bowl placed into the centre, a small plate with a shiny stainless steel tea strainer sat beside the sugar bowl and two plates of cakes were assembled for easy reach. At the centre of the table was a large, shallow, salmon pink, glass vase that my grandfather ‘acquired’ from an expensive department store he worked at as a delivery driver during the Great Depression. This vase had a statuette of a fish on a wave, which rose up from the centre, and usually contained a display of bright red flowers from the camellia bush in our driveway. It was a stunning display.  My grandmother used her good, white tea set with gold rims on Saturday mornings. The table always looked fit for royalty and made us all feel welcome and important.

My father’s brother and two sisters arrived mid-morning and we all sat together eating cakes, sipping tea and talking about life, family, politics and world affairs.

We children sat on the carpet at the edges of the coffee table for the initial thirty minutes. When we turned thirteen we were allowed to have a cup of tea, otherwise we were glad for some cake and to be privy to the conversation of grown ups.  The other children drifted away and I sat quietly as the adults continued to talk about their week.

One of my aunties had lost her son and four year-old grandson to a drunk driver, which was a very grim time. I saw the reassuring hand of her sister move to her knee as she sobbed, watched her mother pour another cup of tea and heard the calm, intelligent voices of her brothers as they reassured her that her son and grandson wouldn’t be forgotten. And it’s true, they were never forgotten.

I watched the elders of my family laugh together, cry, ache with concern and strengthen in support of one another.  They were open with one another and showed courage, insight, empathy, understanding, honesty, compassion, kindness, independence and resilience. They were like this because of Saturday mornings together.  They were always up to date and in touch.

Sundays were spent at my other grandparents’ house, which was a very different environment to my Saturday morning home, but with the same results.

At Granny and Pa’s little, three bedroom home lived my mum’s three younger brothers (in their twenties) and her teenage sister. They teased one another, bickered, argued and jostled for power and attention. Granny always made a roast lunch for the dozen of us and, after church, we sat talking, laughing and eating together.

After lunch Pa always watched the wrestling or the football on TV.  In this house no emotion was held in and words weren’t carefully formulated. When disagreements peaked and insults stung, they shook their heads, called the offender an idiot and pretended not to care – despite the fact they obviously did care. Anyway, the offence was forgotten within a few minutes.

One Sunday the usual dozen of us we were squashed in around the kitchen table, which was usually laid with a bright green tablecloth; a plastic supermarket salt shaker and Skipping Girl mint sauce bottle; an odd mix of crockery; an ancient-looking cutlery set with forks that had bent prongs and knives with blades worn down to a smooth edge; and the roast. To my horror, Mum mentioned my need for a training bra and Granny said she had one of my aunty’s old training bras she could give me.  Embarrassed, I wanted the floor to open up and take me away from the laughter of my uncles but I was better off pretending I didn’t hear anything. Pa scoffed, announced that he was going to watch the wrestling and the conversation naturally moved on.

My weekends were spent watching and learning how the adult world worked as I was surrounded by the actions and interactions of my elders. I was spellbound by their stories of bygone days, how different and tough their childhoods were, the way they spoke, their raw emotions, their bravery, strength and support of one another. My Sunday family was so different to my Saturday family – and I loved them both just the same and for different reasons.

In both the quiet, supportive, nurturing environment of Saturday morning tea and in the rowdy laughter and teasing of Sunday lunch I was immersed into polar opposites of how loving families lived. This pattern of my childhood offered me a range of role models who each interpreted and responded to the world around them in their own way and I selected what suited my quiet and sensitive nature and integrated those qualities into the person I grew into.

Not everybody has this type of family, though. Many of our childhood friends were migrant families who had no uncles, aunts, cousins or grandparents in this country.  Our friends often came along to our family get togethers and they benefited the same way that I did… but with the additional delight of eating Australian food, something they never had at home. Our friends often commented that spending time with my family was where they learnt about the same things I’ve been writing about here. This makes me realize how important it is to expose children in foster homes and orphanages to extended family with older generations.  It wouldn’t have to be family – but it would  need to be regular, consistent and safe.

Quality family time is about exposing children to a nurturing environment, good role modelling, predictable consequences for their actions, a sense of belonging, unconditional love and care.

In experiencing this, I’ve had the opportunity to adopt the best qualities of my parents as well as my Saturday and Sunday families. So… when being myself I am also being parts of them.