Love is Love

Okay so even if you’re not from Australia you’ve possibly heard about how much of an extreme piss-ant our current PM, Malcolm Turnbull is. A gutless, whiny turd with absolutely no backbone to speak of. And before you say ‘but you voted for him’, no, I didn’t. The ludicrously named Liberal Party paid their way back into power as soon as they realised they were about to be overrun by the people’s party, Labor. But that’s another story of corruption and greed, altogether.

Today is about love, and how the government has gone out of its way to stall a decision on marriage equality.  You see, the people who run Australia (and I use the term ‘people’ very loosely, when I describe this bunch) have decided, in their limited wisdom, to run a postal plebiscite since the ‘real’ one was voted down in the Senate. So now, even though they didn’t have the opportunity to get on their conservative Christian soapbox and tell us how marriage equality was going to promote bestiality and paedophilia, they’re still going to be able to launch an assault on the LGBT community with the use of brochures (I believe the US calls them fliers) and ads bemoaning the evils of gay marriage. At least until sometime in November, when we’ve all got to send in our votes.

The problem with this is, nobody wanted this plebiscite, postal or electoral, except the bigots who believe everyone deserves a say on whether gay people can have the same legal rights as other human beings. Personally, straight female or not, I find it offensive that one group of humans wants EVERYONE to be able to decide if another group is equal in the eyes of the law. The government should have had a free vote in parliament and this would have been done and dusted. The way all – or most – laws are created. But no – the dishonorable Johnny Howard snuck into the rule book and changed the definition of the Marriage Act while he was our esteemed leader. Now it says ‘man and woman’. Before, it simply stated ‘two consenting adults.’  Why the current mob can’t go and just change it back is beyond me, but I digress.

So now we’ve got this postal vote to contend with. Doesn’t bother me, my vote is an overwhelming YES either way. I don’t even think I have the right to vote on such an issue, but as that argument is now moot, I’ll move on. The thing that alarms me is, there are so many people getting on social media saying that they’re either not going to vote at all or they’re going to vote no simply because they don’t like the idea of the plebiscite. Or, a third option, they’re going to put glitter in their envelope. Don’t they realise that this kind of thing is playing right into the hands of our not-so-liberal Liberal government?!  Even if the vote counters do open the envelope, they’re likely to count it as a donkey vote which means it’s completely wasted.  So I say this to whoever is planning on any such tactics: please don’t. If you believe in true equality across the board; if you believe that EVERYONE has the right to marry their soulmate and enjoy the same protections under the law that marriage gives the next of kin, vote YES.  Who gives a fuck whether you think we should be having a postal vote or not?  Like it or not, it’s happening. It’s a phenomenal waste of 122 million dollars, but hey, apparently we’ve got it to splash around, despite the high unemployment, high homeless rate, high power bills, and low average income. To say nothing of the fact that welfare benefits haven’t increased since 1994, but that’s another story, again …

So just before I go, I’ll say it again: for marriage equality in Australia, or to at least show the LNP that the majority of Australia wants marriage equality (not that the pricks have to do anything about it, as it’s essentially a non-binding opinion poll), vote YES.

Without glitter.

R.I.P Chester

I may anger some with my opinion here, but I’ve read a lot of comments about the passing of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, accusing him of being a coward for killing himself and leaving his family (including six children from two wives) behind. And one thing that occurred to me was, why is it selfish or cowardly to want the pain to end when you’ve suffered from depression your entire life?!  Who says he never sought help or tried his hardest to conquer feelings of hopelessness or self-loathing?!  The first reaction people invariably have when someone kills themselves is anger. But if you’ve ever suffered depression yourself or know someone who has; or known someone who has committed suicide (or attempted it) you know that they’re not in their right minds. They’re in such a state of pain and hopelessness that they just want it to end. They’re not thinking of their families or friends. That’s not selfishness, that’s legitimate mental illness. And how is it selfish to want to die? Isn’t it selfish of a sufferer’s family to want them to continue on in that state? To know that they’ve felt like this for long time, perhaps years or decades, and despite help, they haven’t managed to keep their head above water?  Personally I think it’s more selfish to expect that person to keep going in a world they can’t understand or take, just because you’d be in pain if they left. Just my opinion, sue me.

I was a Linkin Park fan during the ’90’s and still occasionally listen to their two best albums, Hybrid Theory and Meteora.  I think many of their songs speak to what may have been going on in Chester’s head. It’s all so much more poignant now when you listen to their songs because so many are about pain, despair, mental illness, relationship breakdown, paranoia etc.  I’ve heard that he was friends with Chris Cornell and that the Soundgarden vocalist’s death affected him deeply – so much so that Chester ended his life on what would have been Chris’s 53rd birthday.  Two deeply scarred souls; two incredible talents lost to this shit-stain of a world. All I can say is, at times, I can’t really blame them.

Procrastination… and a little objectification.

Hi y’all,

Haven’t written in a while, just thought I’d drop in and let my few followers know what’s going on re my writing etc. A couple of weeks ago I was informed that one of the stories on this site was accepted to be published by a literary journal and today I got the structural edit back. Imagine my surprise when there were very few changes to be made.  In fact there was only one real suggestion for improvement, involving adding a sentence to strengthen an action. Surely I’m not that good at formatting a story?!  Apparently I am. Woo-hoo, go me. Looking forward to seeing Behind Closed Doors in print. Hopefully won’t be too long now. Pretty sure the next issue of Verandah is out in September.

In other news, I’ve joined the rest of the waking world in getting Netflix and I have to say, I can’t believe it took me so long. Not only can I binge-watch Orange is the New Black and How to get away with Murder but I can also watch some of the true crime stuff I missed when downgrading my Foxtel package.  Thinking about ditching it altogether if you want to know the truth. I mean, fuck Rupert Murdoch, right?! (not literally, obviously. I’ll happily leave that nasty business to Jerry Hall). But that won’t be until after the current season of Game of Thrones is finished. I know where my priorities lie …

Speaking of priorities, I was looking at a few Youtube vids the other day – mostly Top 10 countdowns of this or that by watchmojo.com – you know, the kind of thing you do when you’re totally putting off doing something you should be doing. Like studying, or writing. Anyway, I came across a countdown of top ten sexiest actors of all time, and I completely disagreed with almost the entire list. It got me thinking: is my taste in my arse or should everyone else have gone to Specsavers?!   I mean, I must be the only woman alive who DOESN’T think Channing Tatum is hot.  The guy looks like a spud. Good body, sure, if you’re into the uber-buff look. He just doesn’t do it for me. Neither does Chris Hemsworth, as I’m not into blondes. Especially blondes with abundant facial hair. Although his voice alone could almost put him on my personal list. I’m not big on Brad Pitt, although Fight Club and Twelve Monkeys, among others, show he can definitely act. But I had to completely disagree with the site’s inclusion of Tom Cruise, Ryan Gosling and Leo DiCaprio. Don’t get me wrong – I like Leo, I really do – I just don’t want to sleep with him. I’m sure that if he met me, the feeling would be mutual.

Now, I know I’m only one person, but I have to ask: who did they poll to come up with these countdowns?

So here are mine. First, the top 10 hottest actors since 2000, then of all time. Some you may not know of, but that’s just because I don’t necessarily go for the most obvious choice in a TV show or movie.

SINCE 2000:

10. Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, The X-Men Franchise, UK Skins)

9. Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood, Big Little Lies, the latest installment of Tarzan)

8. Kit Harington (Game of Thrones)

7. James McAvoy (X-Men franchise, Split, Atonement)

6. Raul Esparza (Law and Order SVU, Hannibal, Pushing up Daisies)

5. Tom Hardy (The Revenant, Lawless, Mad Max: Fury Road)

4. Ricky Whittle (The 100, American Gods)

3. Bob Morley (The 100, Home and Away)

2. Matt McGorry (Orange is the New Black, How to get away with Murder)

  1. Richard Armitage (The Hobbit, North & South, BBC’s Robin Hood)

 

OF ALL TIME: Most of these need no introduction, but just in case, I’ve included roles I most associate them with).

10. River Phoenix (My Own Private Idaho, Sneakers, I Love you to Death)

9. Jared Padalecki (Supernatural, Gilmore Girls)

8. Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes)

7. Richard Armitage (The Hobbit, Robin Hood)

6. Johnny Depp (if he needs an intro, you’ve been living under a rock)

5. Harrison Ford (same as above, but I adore Han Solo)

4. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine)

3. Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road)

2. Carey Elwes (Westley from The Princess Bride)

  1. Keanu Reeves (Who else but Neo?! And if you’ve seen him lately, he’s barely aged a day since the early 2000’s. How DOES he do it?!).

Time for Change

Australian sport lovers: what superlatives come to mind when you think of Nathan Buckley? Champion captain of one of the most famous sporting clubs, not only in Australia, but the world? Six-time Copeland Trophy winner and only the third player in history to win a Norm Smith medal in a losing Grand Final?!  Brownlow medal winner? Or untried coach who was so loved by his club that they sacrificed a premiership-winning coach on the altar of nepotism?

Let me just say that I’m not a fan of Mick Malthouse.  Never have been, never will be. It used to bug the absolute shit out of me when he’d persevere with an on-field match-up that just was not working, either to teach the player a lesson in humility, or … well, I honestly can’t think of another reason why a coach would allow one of his own players to suffer like that. It’s beyond me. Another one of MM’s idiosyncrasies was his boundary-riding game plan. I was happier than a pig in shit when Bucks took over and declared that my beloved Pies would be using the corridor more often. Mick was fond of saying that we just didn’t have the cattle for such a bold move, but if that were true, why did both his former clubs – West Coast Eagles and Western Bulldogs – both hug the boundary like Mick’s daughter Christi when she worked for Channel 10?!   All jokes aside, when Mick Malthouse took the reins in 2000 it was after favorite son Tony Shaw coached the club to a wooden spoon in 1999. Two years later – TWO YEARS later – Collingwood played off in a Grand Final against the might of the Brisbane Lions, and came within 9 points of glory. I could go on about how we were robbed in that particular game, about how there were three specific incidents that lost us that game in unpaid free kicks, but I won’t. That’s another story.

After that painful day, it took MM another four years to get the Pies back into the finals. That first year, 2006, we were coming off the back of a couple of injury-ridden seasons that saw Mick have to play our B-team, and sometimes even our C-team, just to put players on the field. Those were lean years. But 2006 signaled something: a change in fortune. Scott Pendlebury and Dale Thomas joined the club. Heath Shaw began to make a name for himself. The Pies would play finals every season from 2006-2011 under Malthouse, of course winning that well-deserved flag in 2010.

During this successful period, Nathan Buckley’s accomplished playing career came to an abrupt end. Hampered by hamstring injuries, he called it a day after the narrow, heartbreaking 2007 Preliminary Final loss to Geelong.  First working as a commentator for Channel 7, he had his eye on bigger things. While travelling to the US to study coaching, and then working as an assistant coach at Collingwood under Malthouse from 2009-2011, Maguire and the board appeared panicked that their beloved champion would wind up coaching against us, and conceived the now infamous succession plan, in 2009.  Malthouse would step down as senior coach and take on the as-yet undefined role of ‘adviser’ while Buckley would coach his former team-mates: a feat rarely pulled off by players of their own clubs. Voss, Hird and of course Tony Shaw are all examples of champion players who failed as coaches of their own clubs. Why would Maguire et.al. think Buckley would be any different?!

Meanwhile, Mick Malthouse went from a much-loved coach in 2010 to a pariah, after announcing his departure from the club toward the end of the 2011 season, breaking his contract and the terms of the succession plan, which stated that he relinquish his role to Buckley in 2012. He’d just coached the Pies to a flag that was 11 years in the making and was on his way to a second successive Grand Final. ‘His boys’ were on track to a potential dynasty.  The news broke Pie hearts all over the land. It also destabilized the team going into the 2011 finals series.  To add insult to injury, he remarked later that he’d never coach against “his boys” and then promptly signed on as the coach of Collingwood’s most hated rival, Carlton.

And that’s where Mick Malthouse leaves this story.  Six years later, Nathan Buckley’s coaching career is, if not in immediate peril, then definitely at a crossroads. He’s taken a club that was at the top of it’s game in 2011 to a near cellar-dweller in 2017. Beset by a long injury list only a couple of years into his term, you could hardly blame him for early losses, but when star players returned and the Pies continued their slide down the ladder, the media microscope was turned on Nathan Buckley and his confusing game plan. People questioned whether he had the full backing and faith of his players. They also questioned some of his off-field decisions. Despite a bevy of expected retirements of veterans such as Simon Prestigiacomo, Chris Tarrant, Tarkyn Lockyer, Leon Davis and Shane O’Bree, there were rumblings that other senior players weren’t happy with the new coach and the feeling was most definitely mutual. In a move that I’m sure still has many fans baffled, Alan Didak was forced into retirement when he was de-listed, and another fan-favorite, Heath Shaw, was off-loaded to the newest team in the league, the GWS Giants. On-field spats with his captain Nick Maxwell, as well as an attitude problem, were blamed. I still call it the worst decision Buckley ever made, and I, as a longtime fan of Heath Shaw, will never forgive him for it.

But as they say, there’s no use crying over spilled milk. Over the intervening years we also lost premiership players to forced retirement through injury. I and many others like me shed a tear when the players gave Luke Ball a guard of honor during his last game, as he and Darren Jolly were a huge part of the reason why we won the flag in 2010. Then we lost Alan Toovey (and the much-loved chant of TOOOOOVES), Brent Macaffer, premiership captain Nick Maxwell, Ben Johnson, Leigh Brown and worst of all, Brownlow medal winner and all-round character, Dane Swan, due to a career-ending injury in 2016.

The new culture was blamed for moves to other clubs by premiership players like Dale Thomas, who was seduced by his former coach Mick Malthouse into playing for Carlton; Chris Dawes and Heritier LaMumba  to Melbourne and arguably, Sharrod Wellingham to the West Coast Eagles, although I think he just wanted to go home. More recently, Dayne Beams defected to the Brisbane Lions to play alongside his twin brother and be close to his father, who was sick with cancer. That I understand and don’t blame him for, although others undoubtedly do, for reasons I won’t go into here.  The last two premiership players to leave the nest were Travis Cloke (Bulldogs) and Nathan Brown (St Kilda).  The jury is still out on whether those decisions were made with the club’s best interests at heart.

So of the 2010 premiership team, a mere seven years later, we have: Captain Scott Pendlebury, hard-nut and swing-man Tyson Goldsack, courageous but physically fragile defender Ben Reid, perhaps the shortest man in the league in Jarryd Blair, and future captain Steele Sidebottom.  We have recruited a group of older players from other clubs to address our lack of experience on field and while some of these decisions have proven fruitful and even inspired – Travis Varcoe, for example – there are some who would say we’ve been wasteful, even short-sighted, at the recruitment table.  Jesse White has been patchy, Levi Greenwood serviceable in his role left by Brent Macaffer but not much more, and the Chris Mayne experiment has been an utter failure.  Of course not all of this can be laid at Buckley’s feet. It’s down to the entire board and recruitment staff.  But there are other questions being asked by supporters on bulletin boards and social media; questions about why certain players keep getting games ahead of youngsters like Matthew Scharenberg and Rupert Wills, despite consistent good form in the VFL.  Why the game plan seems to be an utter mystery not only to those watching it but those trying to implement it. Why the quality of our goal-kicking has never really improved despite numerous attempts to address the problem, and why, oh why, the constant ball movement backward and sideways under pressure?!  We are now into July and the finals are just under two months away. Collingwood now have no chance whatsoever of playing finals for the third or fourth year in a row, having only won FIVE GAMES, and Buckley’s contract is up at the end of the year.

Would I be universally hated for suggesting that maybe, just maybe, the succession plan was a bad idea?!

 

 

An update

Sorry about the earlier rant about my depression, folks. Was having a particularly bad week, so if I offended anyone I apologize.  Just to update the situation, I’ve had my first two appointments with my psychologist and she has given me homework to kick off my cognitive behavior therapy, which will hopefully help my self-esteem issues and improve my negative self-talk, something which I’ve done for most of my life. Let me give you a little (very recent) example. I’ve just found out that I will have a short story published in my university’s journal. Called Verandah, it’s been around for roughly 31 issues and is edited by current and former writing students.  There is a print and e-book version.  Anyway, I got the email today congratulating me on my inclusion. The story chosen is available on this blog but most likely won’t be in exactly the same form once published. It’s called Behind Closed Doors and its theme is domestic violence. The first thing I thought? Besides, ‘yay’ and all the associated internal woo-hoos, do you know what I thought?  Can you guess? Well, it was something along the lines of “well, they must not have had too many better offerings”.  Why do I do that? Only give myself a couple of seconds of praise and then turn it around on myself?!  I guess that is something I will have to work on in therapy.

 

School’s Out

This piece of fiction was in response to an assessment in my first year for Writing Craft: Place as an Encounter.  I received one of the highest marks I’ve had so far for it: 86% – a high distinction.  It’s inspired by the recent demolition of my former high school. 

‘Four Eyes’

‘Loser’

‘Nerd’

Insults rained like spitballs, aimed with precision to sting and humiliate. I don’t even know why I cared about their opinions, but that’s easy to say in retrospect, I suppose. Each hurtful word echoed in my head, matching the clatter of my footsteps as I roamed the not-so-hallowed halls, wishing I’d worn my old tennis shoes.

The grey speckled linoleum under my feet was cracked and peeling at the edges, the walls marked with sticky tape residue and the talentless tagging of teenage vandals. Here and there a window was broken, the stray slivers of glass still scattered across the floor. Just getting from one end of the hall to the other was like traversing a minefield.

The green door to the right was familiar.  Glancing through the window pane I recognized Mr. Coffee’s old science lab, looking lonely and forlorn without its cabinets full of Earlemeyer flasks and test tubes. They may have been packed and removed, but I was willing to bet at least some had been stolen by kids looking to start their own meth lab, like on Breaking Bad.  One of the glass sliding doors on the equipment cabinet across the room had been smashed.  I shook my head, chuckled to myself and moved on. Kids!

My next stop was the art and science storage room, the scene of many a game of Seven Minutes in Heaven or a sneaky cigarette break. Someone – usually me, because I could never draw back properly without launching into a coughing fit – would stand guard outside the door, ready to give the signal if a teacher approached.  Smokes would hastily be butted out and disposed of in old margarine containers or paint-stained glass jars.

Impulse would be sprayed around hastily to hide the smell, and the offenders would emerge, looking like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.

But I remembered that room mostly because it was the scene of my very first kiss, at the age of fourteen. It was supposed to have been a good memory, or so I was led to believe, but like so many others in this God-forsaken place, it was tainted.

Pushed through the door by my so-called friends, their laughter at my back, I was face-to-face with the boy version of me – a sickly looking kid whose thin frame even I could have snapped in half, if I had a mind to.

‘We don’t have to kiss, do we?’ he had asked, and I remember feeling more than mildly offended, which was odd, since I could barely remember his name.  Sean? Simon? It was something along those lines. I went immediately on the defensive.

‘What makes you think I want to kiss you, either?’ I’d snapped.

His face fell. ‘I didn’t mean it like that.’

‘Well how else could you mean it?’

‘I just meant… I’ve never kissed a girl before. I’m kind of freaking out, if you must know.’

‘Well, me too,’ I admitted. ‘So, do you want to just get this over with, or what?’

Sean – it was Sean, after all – shrugged, feigning nonchalance even as his teeth chattered. ‘Yeah. Okay. Whatever.’

Not-so-long story short, the kiss was wet and awkward, Sean was claustrophobic, and when he realized we’d been locked in, he raised merry hell, banging on the door until it burst open and he fell at the feet of none other than Lisa, the most popular girl in our year level, and the bane of my existence. Naturally.

‘Wow, you must have been a lousy kisser,’ Lisa chortled. ‘Lover Boy here can’t wait to get away from you.’

Sighing, I shook the scene from my memory bank and forged on.

A quick wander through B-block – which housed the principal’s office, reception, sick bay and library – evoked a fresh set of memories, both good and bad. Mostly I just felt a tinge of sadness that the bookshelves I used to hide between were gone, along with the stories that helped me escape real life.  It was the only part of the school in which I ever truly felt I belonged.

Moving on, I found myself pushing aside feelings of dread and inadequacy along with the heavy double doors of the cavernous gymnasium.  A basketball court stood between me and the stage at the far end.

…and on that court stood Lisa, again, flanked by her two best friends. Just like old times.

‘Catch,’ she said.

I threw up my hands to protect my glasses, and then flinched.  I don’t even wear glasses anymore!  Was I finally losing it?

Lisa and her minions laughed. She leaned forward and picked up the basketball, which had rolled back to her like an obedient dog.

I seethed. I might have been a pushover back then, but these days, I was damned if I was going to be humiliated by a mere memory!

‘I don’t know why you’re looking so proud of yourself,’ I hit back. ‘You didn’t exactly cover yourself in glory after high school did you?’

The smirk turned upside down.

‘Yeah, I heard the rumors. You slept with your boss. Got busted for drugs. And now you’re doing community service, picking up rubbish in the park.’

The strangest thing happened. As I watched, wrinkles appeared around her eyes. Her hair was suddenly shorter, shot with grey; her figure wider and frumpier, and the yellow t-shirt and netball skirt were replaced by a green jumpsuit. The basketball, like Cinderella’s pumpkin, had turned into a large garbage bag. She wore oversized rubber gloves on her hands.

I smiled, serenely. ‘Ain’t karma a bitch?’

‘Who are you talking to?’

I whirled around, to find my assistant staring at me as if I was an exhibit at the zoo. ‘What?’

He held out a clipboard. ‘Everything’s ready to go, Boss. You just have to sign off.’

I risked a glance over my shoulder. Lisa’s ghost was gone. So were her minions.  With any luck, so was their legacy. It was twenty years too late, but at last I’d stood up to them…after a fashion.

Wincing from the embarrassment of being caught talking to myself, I took the clipboard and added my signature to the consent form.  ‘It’s all empty,’ I told him. ‘We’re good to go.’

‘We’d better get out of here, then,’ he said, and I followed him outside, to a safe distance beyond the bulldozers and bobcats.  Tipping my hard hat forward on my head, I lifted my whistle, and watched as the high school I hated so fiercely for so many years was reduced to rubble.

 

 

Forever 23

Most people can pinpoint an event, or simply a moment in their lives that changed everything, for better or worse. My moment came in May 1993 when I was nineteen years old. It was a morning like any other; or so I thought.  Sunlight peeped around the edges of the Venetian blind at roughly 8am. I remember I was due to work in my father’s shop later that day, so I got to sleep in, but the sun clearly had other plans.

As did whoever was on the phone at this early hour. Who calls someone at their house before nine o’clock, I wondered. Telemarketers? If so, they were being cheekier than usual.

My bedroom was mere metres from the phone in the hallway, so I caught snippets of the conversation through my door. Mum was talking to one of her six brothers, and not grasping what he was trying to tell her.

Then she screamed, and it was the single worst sound I’d ever heard, up to that point.  I’m not even sure I could describe it to someone if they asked.  Maybe I repressed the sound somehow, but not the memory of hearing it; if that makes any sense.  She kept saying ‘No, no, you’re lying, it’s not true.’  When I finally dredged up the courage to find out what was wrong, she said, in a strange, flat tone: ‘Craig’s been killed.’ I’ve never seen my mother like that before and I hope I never do again.

Craig was my uncle – is my uncle.  He was four years older than me so was more like a cousin, really.  He was the youngest of a family of twelve children; my mother was third eldest.  The baby of the bunch, he learned to talk late because his siblings would speak for him. But that’s not to say that he was spoiled, or self-centred. He was one of the most giving people I’ve ever met.  He and his closest brother in age, Bob, taught us nieces and nephews the essentials in life: how to make a Hills Hoist into a flying fox, how to keep your feet while sliding along a soaped-up tarp in summer, and the delights of Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin at an ear-splitting volume. When he’d crank up the metal, the window panes would vibrate. He also introduced us to the irreverent humour of Ben Elton and The Young Ones. His favourite character was Vyvyan, and he could rattle off whole passages of dialogue in character.

I’ve always found it easy to express my emotions but initially at least, I was much too stunned to cry at the time, especially when I found out how it happened.  My mind could not grasp the concept. Who would want to shoot my uncle?!  He had a loving fiancée and two beautiful little girls.  And as far as we all knew, not an enemy in the world.  Until now.

We all gathered at my grandparents’ place in North Geelong that day as the news filtered through about how and where it had happened. To say the mood was sombre was an understatement.  Most of us sat or stood in the lounge and dining area, looking pale and stunned, with tears streaming down our faces. Some were more vocal than others, but the general feeling was of shock, at that stage. There was a lot of hugging going on, and talk of who might have done the awful deed. At that stage, the police had some persons of interest but had made no arrests. It wasn’t until the following morning we learned they had someone in custody. Someone who was saying it had been a case of mistaken identity. He was a complete stranger to Craig; but as time went on we’d learn more and more about the drug-addict who took the life of a beloved member of our family for no good reason. Among the things we learned was that he was out on bail when he killed Craig.  The charge was assault with a deadly weapon – a knife.  This fact would be one that would prompt one of my uncles to write a letter to the ombudsman outlining the case and asking why my uncle’s killer was allowed to walk the streets after committing such a violent assault.  It was because of a trivial argument that he’d wound up outside the address my uncle had visited that night, waiting with a friend – and a shotgun – for someone else, also called Craig.  It was something none of us could understand – how someone with a violent and drug-riddled history could be given the benefit of a doubt by a judge, who’d probably seen countless cases like this before. One thing that seemed to compound our collective grief and anger was the fact that the evening news confused Craig’s name with the name of my mother’s eldest brother. People were calling the house, thinking Gary was the one who’d been killed. I remember thinking just what shoddy journalism that was, although I can’t recall which station made the blunder.

Craig’s funeral was packed out. Such was the down-to-earth, caring nature of this man that so many people attended they were spilling out the door and into the foyer.  Songs were played on that day in June that I still have trouble listening to without getting a lump in my throat.  Stories were told about him by family and friends, mostly alluding to his off-beat sense of humour and generosity of spirit. But it was the image of his fiancée at his gravesite, and the heart-rending expression on her face, that will stay with me for life.

Whether you’re a member of the immediate family or a cousin or niece, as I was, murder changes you. You can’t escape it. Geelong is a small town and because of the size of my mother’s family, it seemed like everyone knew what had happened. The death notices in the newspaper ran for over a week. Friends didn’t know what to say, and my boyfriend at the time thought I’d be better off not talking about it.  But I did want to talk about it. I had so much to say.  I still have so much to say, almost a quarter of a century later.  So when, in 1995, a chance arose to speak at a forum about sentencing that was held upstairs at the Wool Museum, I jumped at it. I heard about it through VOCAL, the local chapter of the Victims of Crime Assistance League that I’d been in contact with since Craig’s murder.  They told me it was being held to compile data about crime and punishment in Victoria for a book on the subject, but that I might find it cathartic to speak my piece and there was bound to be important people in attendance who might have a say in getting laws changed.  I felt I couldn’t pass the opportunity up. I’m not a big public speaker and as I’ve mentioned, I’m quick to get choked up, but it was surprisingly easy to stand up, introduce myself to the room and tell my story.  I made sure the room knew Craig’s killer had been out on bail for a serious assault with a weapon when he chose to commit murder and that he’d also physically assaulted a corrections officer while on remand for Craig’s murder.  I asked why there is bail at all for violent offences. I also stressed the importance of victims having their say in court, via Victim Impact Statements, which were a relatively new concept at the time.  I wasn’t the only family member of a murder victim to speak, but we were all applauded and thanked for our time. Months later, when the book came out, I was mailed a copy. It was not the first time I’d seen my name in print – I wrote a newspaper article that was published in the Geelong Advertiser when I was in Year 12 – but I hope that I never have to see it attached to something like this ever again.

It may sound strange, but you join a special, unofficial club when someone you love is murdered. It’s not a club you ever want to be a member of, obviously. But to know that there are people in the world who have felt exactly the same as you (and undoubtedly worse) and can empathise, is oddly comforting.  VOCAL helped me out a lot in those first few weeks. Just calling to speak with Jenny, one of the ladies who counselled people back then, I learned that I most certainly wasn’t alone and that the anger I was feeling was totally normal. I’m not big on the idea of counselling, even now, but I didn’t want to burden my friends with this stuff. Not that I thought my friends would mind, or would be the type to phase me out of their lives because I’d become a downer to have around.  I just didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable, or think that they had to come up with the right words to console me.

I was also dealing with a number of other major life changes at the time – my parents’ marriage broke down quite spectacularly in the aftermath of her brother’s murder and my own relationship ended a few months later.  Then in November of that year, on Remembrance Day, of all things, my maternal grandfather died of natural causes. He’d suffered from heart problems and complications from diabetes for a long time but it was losing his youngest son that did him in. What made it even harder to take was he was actually starting to recover his strength and vitality. After Craig died he lost all will to fight.

They say time heals all wounds. I don’t believe that. I think you learn to live with the pain and find a place for the memories of the person you lost; somewhere removed from the front of your mind but still within reach at a moment’s notice.  As I said, some songs from the funeral are still incredibly difficult to listen to, but watching The Young Ones has special meaning now. It’s something that will always remind me of him, no matter how much time has passed.

Something that will also, unfortunately, always remind me of my uncle is the ongoing struggle of victims of crime to have the laws in this country surrounding bail changed.  Every year it seems there’s another terrible story of pain and loss that could have been avoided had the person who caused it been remanded in custody for previous violent acts instead of being let out on bail. The roll call is full of familiar names of victims: Jill Meagher, Sarah Cafferkey, Luke Batty, Masa Vukotic … and some not so familiar. Teresa Bradford was killed by her husband, David, who was on bail for attacking her on a previous occasion. The 2015 Sydney Lindt café siege was committed by a man on bail, as was the Bourke Street mall tragedy in January, where six people were run down and killed by Dmitri “Jimmy” Gargasoulas, who’d been released on bail the weekend before his killing spree – for stabbing his brother.

Caitlyn Bishop, in her article published on 2nd Feb 2017 on the Mamamia website, states that: “In the UK, 2011 research out of the Ministry of Justice found that every ten days, a murder is committed by a criminal out on bail. In Australia, the numbers aren’t that high but they’re high enough.”

This is disgraceful. It simply should not be happening. What does it take for a judge or magistrate to listen to warnings from the police – who deal with these offenders every day and know what they’re capable of – and simply not grant bail for violent offences? If they are indeed innocent then they have the opportunity to prove that at trial. The risk of allowing a violent offender back on the street, due to the presumption of innocence, has been shown time and time again to be an unacceptable one.

Glen Andrew (Jamie) Whelan was sentenced to fourteen years in prison for my uncle’s murder.  In the end, he served only four, having died of a drug overdose in 1998. This year, in November, Craig would have been forty-eight years of age. But to us he will remain forever frozen at 23.

My battle with depression

Okay so I’ve suffered on and off from depression for most of my life. I’ve always had insight into why I feel bad, and why I have low self esteem. I believe my particular problem is not due to a chemical imbalance. It’s often situational; triggered by events in my life or the circumstances that I find myself in. I’ve only just found out it’s called reactive depression. For the past six years I’ve lived at my mother’s, paying board and for internet and Foxtel. I contribute to bills when I can, but that is very rarely, as I am an unemployed student, attempting to complete an arts degree.  I live in Australia, so anyone who knows our welfare system will know that I and others like me subsist on a payment that has been 40% below the poverty line and hasn’t seen an increase since the early ’90’s, despite inflation.

But enough about that. As I’ve mentioned, my depression is due to circumstances, often beyond my control. So I haven’t sought professional help until recently, because I didn’t think it would make a difference.  After a particularly traumatic past few months, when my mother threw my daughter out of the house, forcing her to live with her schizophrenic father and his mother, I’ve come to the realization that if I don’t get serious and talk to someone, I might end up doing something stupid and irreversible.

My therapist is a lovely lady named Kate who instantly took me seriously when I told her I had a plan for how I was going to do it; and that I didn’t want my family finding me (my body). She conducted a couple of questionnaires to see where I fit on the DAT scale for level of depression and my result was a high/extreme level. I’m not threatening to slit my wrists tomorrow, mind, but give me a reason … anyway, she asked if maybe hospital might be an option, and I said no, not at this stage.  She also helped me work out a safety plan, what I would do if I was on the verge of suicide.

My point in posting this blog is that if you are like me and you are on the brink, please go and get help. It’s a relief to hear that someone actually takes you seriously and will listen – even if they’re paid to do so – without judgement. One of my problems has been that while certain members of my family and circle of friends claim to be supportive, when I try to talk to them about how I’m feeling they ALWAYS make it about them. Every. Single. Time.  My mother’s attitude is that she has had such a shit life, and her husband was a bastard, and her brother was murdered, and her niece killed herself, so by rights she should be the one bound for the nuthouse, learning how to retie her shoelaces and speaking in tongues, but she’s not. Way to go, Mum, I feel like saying. Want a medal? Because I can organize one for you that says ‘World’s strongest woman’.  Depression isn’t about how much shit you’ve had to endure. No one’s applauding you for not going bat-shit crazy.  Weird thing is, she seems to think I should be happy. Um, I’m 43 years old, with no job, no money, no car, no prospects for getting said job or car, and I live with my mother.  Also, my brother has had anxiety, depression and a death phobia that he has been seeking help for and takes medication for, and for some reason, she doesn’t give him the same “oh why are you depressed, you’ve got everything to live for” crap.  She recognizes his problems as real whereas mine are … I don’t know, a symptom of me being a drama queen, perhaps?  The reason I don’t discuss my depression is because I know I’ll get shut down and told that I should just “do something about it”. Like, go and get a job.

Because it’s just THAT easy.  In an environment where there are 700,000 people unemployed in this country and 150,000 jobs, what are the odds?!

Rant over.

 

Playing God

Playing God was a piece I submitted for my Fiction writing: Short stories and starting out unit in second year. It was work-shopped in class and got a great response, as the subject of hypnotism was unusual as a plot device … for our class, at least. 

 

A notoriously light sleeper, Rose’s eyes would normally have flickered open at the slightest creak of the floorboards in the hallway. But this particular night she was so tired not even the incessant barking of the next door neighbor’s dog could keep her awake.

That is, until two powerful hands closed around her throat.

Rose’s eyes bulged with shock and pain. Her hands reached up to try and prise the thick fingers from her neck. When that didn’t work, she flung an arm out and connected with a smooth metal circle – her alarm clock.

Grabbing it, she hefted it at the vague dark shape above her.

He hissed in pain, muttered ‘Fuck’; but those hands held fast.  Rose felt her strength ebbing.

Then she remembered it – her “insurance policy”. The one she hoped she’d never have to call on.

Sliding her hand down beside the bed, she felt around between the mattress and base, silently praying to be able to use it before she ran out of oxygen. Luckily she’d done enough damage with the clock to make him loosen his chokehold a little. But he was still throttling her.  Light began to flash behind her eyelids and she heard small whimpering sounds, as though a small animal was trapped somewhere in the wall behind the bed-head.

That’s you, you dumb-bunny.

Finally her fingertips found cold steel. Grasping the handle, she threw her arm in an arc toward her attacker.

Hot wetness smacked her chin, throat and chest. The hands around her throat went slack and a horrible, guttural gurgling sound filled the room.

Rose pushed at the stranger straddling her, weakly at first but as her strength returned, harder. He fell beside her on the bed. Rose rolled in the opposite direction and fumbled for the lamp switch.

She blinked and squinted, shielding her eyes from the sudden light source. Her alarm clock lay on the floor by her foot. Must have bounced off the bed when I hit him, she thought.

Him …

His blood saturated the front of her pyjamas. The warm, coppery stench of it made Rose feel sick.  Fighting back the urge to vomit, she turned to face the man on her bed.

Her eyes widened in shock, but somehow, she didn’t scream.

Henry? What the hell?!

****

Her husband’s eyes were already glassy; his usually ruddy complexion grey.  His fingers were slipping from the gash in his neck, and the gurgling quickly became a death rattle. Not knowing very much about human anatomy, she was amazed – and repulsed – by how much blood there was.  It seemed to be everywhere. All over Henry, as well as herself, but still more on the bed and as she glanced around she noted splatter on the curtains and in the daggy shagpile carpet she’d always meant to pull up.

Must have hit an artery, she thought. Jesus Christ!

The full weight of what she’d done began to hit her. Her chest tightened. Suddenly, the air in the room seemed dreadfully thin (not to mention rank with the odour of blood). Gasping, Rose heard a voice in her head that was not her own.

Slow down. Take it easy. Long, slow breaths. Good girl.

She felt – or imagined she felt – the gentle pressure of a hand on her shoulder. Not her husband’s. No, Henry’s were very rarely gentle.

Paul’s.

It was as if he was right there, in the room with her. She felt comforted by that. She felt sure he’d know what to do in a situation like this.

Bloody hell, what are you thinking? You can’t call him!

But that seemed to be exactly what she was doing. Rising from the edge of the bed, she moved zombie-like around the tableau of death that had once been her queen-sized, pillow-top mattress, and headed for the cordless phone on Henry’s side of the bed.

‘Paul? I’ve done something … bad. Really, really bad.’

‘Rose? Is that you? Where are you?’ His voice sounded muffled. Probably because you just woke him up, you damn fool. This time the no-nonsense voice in her head was her own.

‘I’m at home,’ she told him. ‘I’m in my bedroom. With Henry.’

‘Uh Rose? A little too much information there, if you know what I mean.’

Rose felt her cheeks grow hot. ‘What? Uh … I just … well, he was …’

‘I’m kidding, Rose. It was a joke.’

A joke? Rose thought. He’s joking at a time like this?

‘Rose, are you still there?’

‘Yes.’  Rose sank to the blood-mottled carpet, clutching the phone like it was a flotation device.

‘You sound funny. You’re not going to faint, are you?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Are you sitting down?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Now, what happened?’

‘H-he … he tried to kill me. I woke up … and he had his hands around my neck. But I didn’t know it was him at the time. He’s supposed to be at work. I thought it was an intruder.’

‘What did you do, Rose?’ He didn’t sound shocked. Rather, it seemed as if he almost expected the news. But that’s crazy, Rose thought. Or is it? He never liked Henry. He always said that one day Henry might go too far … And look. He was right.

‘I stabbed him,’ Rose told him, her voice croaking, and coughed to clear it. ‘I killed him.’

‘Rose, why are you calling me? You have to call the police. If he was trying to strangle you, that’s self-defence. But if they check your phone records – and they will, because it’s routine – They’ll know you called me first. That’ll look suspicious. Hang up, and call the police, Rose.’

‘Okay, I will.’

‘Good girl. Oh … and Rose?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Are you okay?’

She could almost see him, just as he’d looked earlier that day, after a matinee performance that didn’t go quite the way he’d hoped. His dark hair had been slightly mussed – probably from running his hands through it – and his wire-rim glasses crooked. Not that he’d have them on in the middle of the night, but Rose liked to imagine him wearing them. It was oddly comforting.

‘Yeah… yeah, I’m okay.’

‘Great, that’s really good to hear. Now call the police.’

Rose did as she was told. Her voice sounded hollow as she explained to the dispatcher what had happened. They promised to send a car around ASAP. Hanging up, Rose headed for the bathroom, and leaning over the basin, brought up what was left of dinner.

Coughing and spluttering, she splashed her face with cold water. Blood and vomit mixed as they circled the drain. Her pyjama top stuck to her skin and she pulled it away, grimacing.  The thick, viscous blood was already drying and had a cloying smell that was causing her stomach to convulse again.  She’d have torn it off and burned the damn thing if it wasn’t considered destroying evidence. The tips of her auburn hair were streaked with gore.

That she could at least do something about, couldn’t she?

Rose leaned over the basin again and rinsed the ends of her hair until the water ran clear; then wrung them dry. That done, she reached up and tucked a strand behind her ear – and was automatically thrown back to earlier in the day, when Paul had done the same thing.

****

Not normally one to chastise someone for bad behaviour – especially not her boss – Rose nevertheless had to know why he’d played God with the contestants on his show. One poor guy, when instructed to kiss someone he fancied, had walked into the audience and locked lips – not with his girl, but with the girlfriend of his best friend. Fisticuffs ensued and security had to pull the former friends apart. A friendship was probably ruined, and all because Paul thought it would be fun to mess with his hypnotic subjects in a way he never had, previously.

‘I mean, it’s not as if the show was losing steam,’ she’d pointed out. ‘Just the opposite – we’re getting bigger crowds every time. So why play with people? I mean, obviously that’s what the show is about … but you crossed a line, Paul.  You were never mean, before.’

‘You’re right. It was wrong of me,’ Paul eventually admitted. ‘I don’t know what I was doing…’ He shrugged and bit his lip. ‘Maybe you can chalk it up to over-confidence. I got cocky, that’s all.’

She’d managed a weak smile. ‘You’re good at what you do. You don’t have to show off.’

Paul had noticed something then, and had taken a step closer. Reaching out, he pushed her hair behind her ear. ‘And you’re getting better at covering up for him… but I can still see it. When did he do this?’ Paul’s fingertips grazed the bruise on her cheekbone, carefully camouflaged with copious layers of foundation. Or so she’d thought. Rose flinched.

‘I don’t know… Yesterday?’

‘You can’t remember when? It’s getting that common?’

Rose felt a flash of irritation. ‘It’s none of your business.’

Paul frowned. ‘Probably not, but … I care about you, Rose.’

‘I know. I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t apologise. You have nothing to be sorry about. He’ll be sorry, when I catch up with him.’

‘Oh, please, Paul… Don’t do anything. You’ll just make matters worse,’ she pleaded. ‘I can handle him.’

He rolled his eyes. ‘Clearly.’

‘Please?’

He sighed. ‘All right. For now. But if he hits you again, I’m not making any promises.’

‘I can live with that.’

‘I hope so.’  He reached out again, this time lifting her chin so she’d have to meet his eyes. ‘You’re too good for him. You know that, don’t you?’

She opened her mouth to say something (she wasn’t sure exactly what; probably something self-deprecating, under the circumstances) but was interrupted by none other than the object of their mutual contempt.

‘Rosie! Oh, there you are. What the hell’s taking so long?’ Henry spotted Paul, and his top lip curled, baring his teeth like a dog when it’s threatened.

‘Oh… It’s you.’

Paul’s arm dropped.  He took a step back. ‘Yeah, I’m sorry to keep your wife late. We just had some stuff to discuss.’ Paul faced Henry down directly. ‘Strictly shop-talk, I assure you.’

Henry regarded Paul with suspicion, but said nothing. Instead he draped a possessive arm over his wife’s slim shoulders. ‘Let’s go, Rosie.’

The moment they were out in the carpark – and conveniently out of earshot – Henry stopped just short of his car and turned Rose toward him, gripping her upper arms so tightly Rose knew she’d have bruises the next day.

His eyes were narrowed, making them even smaller than usual, and his jaw clenched. ‘I don’t like you working for him, Rosie. I don’t trust him.’

Why? Rose had wondered silently. Is it possibly because he’s younger, fitter and better-looking? Or because he’s smarter than you could ever hope to be? He’s already got you figured out.

Rose shrugged. ‘Well, there’s the mortgage, so … I don’t have much choice. Anyway, he’s harmless.’

‘Harmless, my arse! Henry scoffed. ‘He’s a hypnotist. He manipulates people for a living. You could get a job as a stage manager anywhere you wanted. What about the theatre?’

Yeah, what about the theatre, Rose thought. Plenty of guys there who won’t try to hit on me!

But of course she never availed him of her private thoughts. To do that would be inviting more trouble than they were worth. Or maybe I’m just as much of a coward as he is, she conceded. Yeah, that’s probably it.

‘Well?’ His grip on her arms got tighter.

‘Well what?’

Henry sighed and rolled his eyes. ‘What about getting another job?’

Rose had stared at her husband with a mixture of disbelief … and something akin to hatred. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask, well, why don’t you get another job? But again, that would earn his wrath.

‘I’ll start looking,’ she said, to shut him up. Not that she had any intention of actually sticking to her word.

‘Good’ he’d said, and that had been the end of that.

Now, as it turned out, it really was the end of that. The end of coming home and wondering what mood Henry would be in; the end of those humiliating visits to the emergency department where she could practically read the minds of the triage staff who attended her broken body and spirit. Yes, there would be no more of that.

Rose found herself standing just a little bit taller at the thought.

Is that cold? She wondered.  To be relieved – no, glad that he’s dead? He’s my husband. I ought to at least be in shock.

Right?

****

The doorbell rang.  The homicide detectives standing on her front porch were in their late thirties or early forties, and looked about as world-weary as Rose felt right at that moment. They introduced themselves, but she knew she’d never remember their names.

Rose led the plain-clothed officers upstairs calmly; as if she were merely reporting a burglary instead of a homicide. As the female detective entered the bedroom, her eyes were drawn downward by a flashing screen.

‘Is this your phone?’ she asked, bending down to pick it up. She held it out so Rose could see it.

Rose shook her head. ‘No, it’s my husband’s. He must have dropped it on the way in…’

On the way in to kill me.

‘So, explain to me how this went down?’ the male detective asked, hands on hips as he surveyed the scene of the crime.

‘I woke up to his hands around my neck. It was dark, so I didn’t realise it was him. He was supposed to be at work. I thought it was an intruder. So I stabbed him.’

‘And do you usually keep a knife in your bedroom?’

Rose shrugged. How can I tell them I keep it there in case of Henry?

‘I guess.’ She watched as he pulled a small notebook out of his blazer pocket and started to scribble some notes.  ‘I mean, I’m home alone a lot, so…’ She let her voice trail off.

‘How would you categorize your marriage, Mrs Walker?’ This was from the female detective, still busy with Henry’s phone.

Rose felt a growing sense of unease.

‘Huh?’

‘Did you have a good marriage?’

‘No. Not really. I mean … Henry could be … difficult at times.’

‘Meaning he had a temper?’

‘Why do you say that?’ Rose asked, defensively.

‘The bruise on your cheek speaks volumes.’

Rose’s hand went to her face as an almost reflexive action. She opened her mouth to trot out one of the customary responses, but nothing came out. No more, said that voice in her head. No more making excuses for him.

The female detective keyed a command into the phone. ‘There’s a message on his voicemail from an unlisted number.  Let’s see who it is, shall we?’

‘Hi, this is Henry Walker. Leave a message.’

Paul’s voice filled the room. ‘Henry. Get to work.’

Get to work. It was one of Paul’s hypnotic trigger-phrases.

There you go, Paul, playing God again, Rose thought; her legs giving way under her.

You bastard! How could you do that to me?!

‘Mrs. Walker, are you okay?  Who’s Paul?’

THE END

Water Baby

This story was written as a creative piece of work to be added to a slush pile for my third year anthology class. It was chosen by a group from Deakin University to publish in their anthology entitled “Flow: Where the water flows, the story goes” as obviously, the overarching theme for the assessment was “Water”.   It received a 77.5% final mark as an individual piece (a distinction). 

Content warning: suicide

You were our only child. Mild and bright-eyed, you stared at us from your humidi-crib, six weeks premature but as alert as if you were full-term.  They warned us about learning disabilities, cognitive problems, and possible stunted growth. We never saw any of that in you. You shot up like a proverbial beanstalk, and no one could put food away like you. Your father and I used to wonder where it went – you were always so tall and skinny.

As a child you’d rescue birds that had fallen out of their nests, and if we’d let you, you’d have brought every stray animal home. Always dressed in baggy, shapeless clothing, no one could have guessed the truth – that you weren’t a tomboy at all.

I walk over to the wardrobe and stand in front of it, wracked with indecision. Finally, I pull out your favourite black, long-sleeved shirt.  The pants I choose are charcoal grey. I lay the clothes on the bed and turn towards the window. It’s stuffy in here, but then the window hasn’t been open for a while. I force myself to cross the room and change something about it for the first time in over a week. A slight breeze blows in, but not strong enough to disturb the papers on your desk or the dreamcatcher hanging from the bedpost. Still, I shiver.

The corkboard over the desk catches my eye. There you are, in a photo with friends at a school camp. Year 8, I think. You look distant; distracted. Your dark hair is much shorter in this photo than in some of the others, and of course you’re not smiling. We could never get you to smile for the cameras. If we’d known then what we know now… well, you can’t go back and change things, no matter how much you wish you could.

Another photo shows you in your element; swinging on a rope over the waterhole down the road from our house. You were always such a daredevil. We were forever warning you to be careful and to not just drop into the water – you never know what’s on the bottom. Growing up, you would launch yourself off the boulder and swing into the middle of the pond before letting go; creating an almighty splash that would spray your friends, who were sunbathing on the rocks. But you never joined them. Traditional girls’ bathers, along with getting a tan, were never really your thing.

***

You officially ‘came out’ to us when you were fourteen, in Year 9. You sat both of us down and laughed, nervously.

‘Now, don’t freak out,’ you said, ‘but I’ve got something to tell you.’

‘You’re gay?’ Your dad guessed.

‘Nope.’

‘You’re a Young Liberal?’

I sighed, and tried not to chuckle at your father’s irreverent, and often ill-timed sense of humour.

‘Ben, let her finish.’

You chewed your bottom lip, before deciding to just spit it out. ‘I … I think I was born in the wrong body.  I’m transgender. I should have been a boy.’

Your dad didn’t miss a beat.

‘Well, d’uh.’

I smiled, weakly. It wasn’t the huge bombshell you thought it would be, but it still hurt. It sounds ridiculous and irrational to me now, but back then it felt like a rejection of the shared genes we’d given you. I think I kept my pain fairly well-hidden, even after you told us that you intended to live as a male from that point on.

I hugged you, saying ‘you know that we support you one-hundred-percent in anything you decide to do.’

‘I know, Mum. Thank you,’ you’d said. I could hear the relief in your voice. ‘I love you, both of you.’

‘We love you, too, Ste …’ I stopped short. ‘Have you thought about what you want us to call you? It obviously can’t be Stella anymore.’

‘Steven,’ you decided. ‘That way, it’s not so different, is it?’

No, I thought. Not so different at all.

***

Back at the wardrobe, I run my hand across the row of jeans and shirts. Black, black, purple, red, black, grey and wow – a stray white shirt!  I remember this shirt. You wore it to your very first job interview, and you were so beset with nerves that you couldn’t do up the buttons. I had to help you. You didn’t get that job, but you did get the one at the local vintage music shop, For the Record, a couple of months later. They were a very progressive employer. They even allowed you to put your preferred name on your nametag. You loved that job.  I wish you could have stayed there, but life had other plans …

You came home from work one evening in a state, trembling, jaw-clenched and ashen-faced. When I asked you to help get ready for dinner, you dumped the cutlery in the middle of the table and made a show of slamming kitchen doors until I asked what was wrong.

‘It’s that douche Carl again,’ you replied. ‘He’s always so condescending. He never uses the proper pronouns, and refuses to call me Steve, or Steven!’

‘Stevie,’ I said, ‘talk to your bosses about it. That’s bullying, and it’s against the law. He needs to realise it’s not acceptable.’

‘I don’t want to dob…’ you started to say.

‘It’s not dobbing. If you want his behaviour to change, either tell him that what he’s doing is wrong, or go to your supervisor. You said they are really supportive, right?’

‘Yeah,’ you sighed. ‘I don’t know… I’m just so sick of the stares! I always feel like people are talking behind my back!  Not at work so much, except for Carl – but everywhere else. I wish I could get the hormone treatment without having to go to court!  It’s bullshit! I hate the laws in this country!’ You kicked the bottom of the kitchen cabinet in frustration. The scuff mark is still visible. I won’t paint over it.

The situation at work came to a head when Carl deliberately mis-gendered you in front of a customer. Bristling with anger, you followed him back to the storeroom and confronted him. When he made a remark about not wanting to hit a girl, you lost it, and gave him your best left hook, breaking his nose. You were fired on the spot.

You didn’t want to hang around the house that day. You grabbed your rash shirt and board shorts and headed for the waterhole. It was one of the only places you felt you could let off steam. On that day, it had been raining; bucketing down. Not really waterhole weather.  I started to call out for you to be careful, but you’d already disappeared down the sodden gravel driveway.

I remember making your favorite that night – lasagna. It always takes a long time to prepare and cook, but I didn’t mind.  It felt like the only thing I could do.  I can’t make the laws change faster.  Truthfully, I was still getting over the fact that I gave birth to a little girl, and wound up with a teenage son. Personality-wise, you were the same: quiet, kind-hearted and generous. That much never changed.  But trying to explain the situation to family members who didn’t understand why you were Steven instead of Stella was… an experience.

Your Great-Aunt Rachel was the worst. She just could not get it through her head that you were a boy born in a girl’s body. She had the nerve to refer to it as a ‘lifestyle choice’, like you’d woken up one day and decided to switch genders for shits and giggles.

The lasagne was done before you were finished at the waterhole. I checked the time – it was almost seven, and had started to get dark. I switched off the oven and slammed the metal tray on the counter, tossing the oven mitts aside as my irritation grew.

Where are you? I thought. You know it’s a rule in this house that you get home before dark!

 I called to your father and asked him to walk down the road to let you know dinner was ready. He rose, begrudgingly, from his armchair and tugged on his work boots at the front door.

I went back to serving up the lasagne, fully expecting both my boys back home for dinner. But when half an hour passed without word, I forgot dinner and began frantically texting your father.

No answer.

When I finally heard the front door squeal on its hinges, I raced for the foyer.

He was alone.

‘So, where is he?’

He brushed past me heading for the lounge room, trailing mud through the house.

‘Bron, I … I think you’d better sit down.’ His expression was unreadable.

‘What? Why? Ben, you’re scaring me.’

‘Just sit down.’

At that moment, I think I knew. Don’t ask me how. A mother knows.

I barely heard his next few words. There was something about a rope; and then ‘too late’ and ‘gone.’ All I remember was a pain so visceral that I’d rather go through childbirth than suffer that again. I think I screamed. I know I passed out.

***

My brain still refuses to accept it, a week later, as I fold your shirt and pants and put them into a bag for the undertaker.  Stopping at the supermarket on the way back from the funeral home, I run into a group of kids you hung out with at school. They spot me and say hello, but their voices are subdued and they can’t make eye-contact.  I know they feel awkward around me and I wish I knew how to tell them they don’t have to be. Instead, I wrack my brain for an ice-breaker.

‘The funeral’s tomorrow, you know,’ I remind them. ‘I really hope you can make it.’

They nod and assure me that they will, but I don’t know. I have been in a daze since, and get home from shopping to find that I’ve bought four tubs of margarine and a packet of peppercorns, even though our grinder is broken.

I’ve been doing that a lot, spacing out. Most of the time I feel like I’m on autopilot, and then other times I know I’m in denial. I keep setting the table for three; keep calling for you to get up in the morning… and then I stop myself. Last night your dad didn’t come to bed. I think he was up all night, in his study.  He’s not a public crier. That’s why he’s the perfect person to do the eulogy tomorrow. I know you probably wanted me to say something but I can’t.  I just can’t. I’m sure you’d understand.  Of course you’d understand. You were the one person who understood me. And I like to believe that I understood you, too.

On TV and in the movies, it’s always raining when you bury someone you love. It’s become such a cliché that it’s considered a trope. But the morning of your funeral dawns bright and sunny. The sun is practically beating down on our heads as we leave the funeral parlor for the cemetery.  The sad, plodding melody of one of your favorite songs plays as the pallbearers load your casket into the back of the hearse.  I know I’m never going to be able to listen to that song again, but the words are so poignant, and so you.  When I finally ventured into your room after you died, I found a verse from the song tacked to your cork-board. Two lines stood out to me:

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad

The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had

 Was it a suicide note? I guess we will never know.  You were always trying to make sense of a world that couldn’t accept you for who you were.

Rest in peace now, my darling; my Water Baby.