We are in danger of being swamped by Asians, is the gist of what I remember from Hansonism’s maiden voyage into the Australian consciousness. This was the ‘90s, when my focus was more on adolescent existentialism. But now we’re nearing the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, and history, as it does, is repeating itself. Now it’s a Muslim swamp we need worry about, apparently, which is not the least of the, nor the sole, irony, considering Islam sprung from the desert. What is a swamp, really? I see it as a stagnant body of water in which exist somewhat base creatures such as bacteria and fungi and frogs and birdlife. So was she saying Asians were bringing the swamp with them, way back when, or that our home was a swamp and they were going to en masse join us in the fetid pool? And surely she’s not saying Muslims are bringing the swamp, unless from certain parts of Indonesia or perhaps Malaysia outside of urban centres. So in this case ours must be the swamp? Or our home becomes a swamp upon letting them through the door? Or Asian and more recently Muslim culture is swamplike? Is she even capable of effective analogies?
Let’s leave the waste of consideration right there – is something I’d not normally say about anything. Because there is absolutely zero point in giving serious consideration to anything this crazy bitch and her political movement has to say about Australia or the outside world. Hanson is to a true reflection on this country what shaving is to using a broken, mouldy, rusted mirror: ineffective, distorted, and bloody. Now, forgive me for using the B word, but I’ve long been of the mind that if a man is a bastard or a woman is a bitch – especially those with baffling relevance and influence – they should be labelled as such. I guess a unisex term for the two could be: arseholes. But I’ll leave that up to you. There’s a reason why Hansonism, at least and almost exclusively (Cory Bernardi aside), deserves only some attention and zero consideration. It’s quite clear what her movement really is. Even clearer, now, than it used to be – as her policies and their appeals have not just expanded but also strengthened. Sometimes, this has occurred very recently, and on the run, such as in regard to vaccination. And obviously others are longstanding, and quite crystalised policies of hers.
Hanson is exploiting bigots and dullards’ ignorance and prejudices through her own intelligence and bigotry, which are just strong and restrained, respectively, enough to at all effectively do so. This is Hansonism II, and hopefully it goes the way of the first. I prefer not to believe that after this pimple of hatred whiteheads, pops, and heals, this country can’t learn from its two former mistakes and keep its damn face clean. I refuse to believe that Hansonism turns normally intelligent, tolerant people into stupid bigots, and that she simply empowers those who incurably are already. And I am absolutely convinced that the particular brand of hatred and ignorance she represents and propagates will be increasingly, if not ever totally, rejected by Australians in the future. It could get worse before it gets better. But if it were ever to become so strong it were considered mainstream, the tragic irony for me would be too much to bear. And if I at the time had children, I would fear for their future; and if I did not yet have children, I would never have children, to spare them the crushing dystopia their potential country had become.
The human race is at or approaching many of its to date most consequential crossroads – Hansonism and Trumpism and Putinism and Kimism and the like, being not the least of them. We must reject hatred and bigotry and exploitation and oppression and inequality wherever we can. Because if we don’t, or not enough of us do, or not enough of us do often enough, we may all be fucked.
There were concerned, freaked out even, people gathered above me. All recollection of a vivid, pleasant dream, immediately gone. I’d felt dizzy. Stood up to try and shake it. Couldn’t. Sat back down. Gone. Bruised skull and ego, but glad I’d been sitting down. The bar staff gave me a lemonade, then I went outside to be picked up by my used to the madness but not this particular type girlfriend. We fell asleep at my place to my mutterings about too many cigarettes and weird conversations and how much I enjoyed running into my grandparents earlier in the Friday I had off due to Deb the Bogan Cyclone.
My brother and I are making a habit of frequenting this particular southern Gold Coast tavern on Friday afternoons after work. It’s an enjoyable weekend beginning ritual, from which he departs my company after one mid- strength and two-light beers – on account of him working Saturdays. I tend to hang around afterward, if not seeing my girlfriend or someone else or having something else more constructive to do other than drink and smoke and talk with local characters and play the pokies – the latter of which I’d quit due to inadequate returns on my many, but modest investments.
It was the smoking and talking, together, that did it, I reckon. I’m normally a smoker, for hopefully not too much longer. And especially while boozing. I’m not normally a conversationalist, but can become so while drinking and smoking and being in the right state-of-mind. Which I was last night. Plus there was a band playing, with saxophone and errthang, so I guess I can blame over-stimulation, too. Not that I didn’t enjoy it at the time. So my brother had left. And I’d wolfed down a kebab from the shop next door. And returned to the bar. Then to the smoking area, where I was to later embarrass myself.
There was a brunette girl, covered in tattoos and cheap gold jewellery, of 27 there the entire night. Up until I passed out, when she was the only other person present and the most freaked by my loss of consciousness. More on her later. The first person I began talking to was a portly teacher with a unique laugh; a regular feature of the pub, with a penchant for Long Island iced-teas who I’d become acquainted with in my semi-regularity. Conversation was struck with him when I joined in poking fun at him for the shorts he was wearing, which I referred to as “yachting boardshorts” due to their horizontal white stripes over navy blue. But he has fascist-tending opinions – he’s a Trump supporter, which puts him massively in the minority in Australia, if possibly not the Gold Coast, for one – so we grew weary of each other’s irreconcilable yet eloquent differences soon enough, upon which time I began speaking with the second of this episode’s characters: a 27-year-old from Tamworth named, of course, Dustin.
Dustin was a jittery bastard. Like something was busting to get out of him. Or he just didn’t feel entirely relaxed or comfortable. Before we even started talking I overheard him saying he’d had his last beer. Then, a few hours and four or five or six pints later, he finally had his last beer and we parted ways with a fist bump. Ended up liking him. He didn’t like country music. Or once had, but had heard it to death growing up in Tamworth. His mum used to rent out his room during annual Country Music Festivals, but he didn’t mind because he spent most days of most weeks surfing mates’ couches, anyway. He’d moved around a lot since leaving north-central NSW probably about 10 years ago. Even done jail, possibly juvie, time, for reasons I couldn’t get out of him. Now he was camped out at one of the Mould Coast’s many corporate-owned bar/pokie/bistro wallet emptiers, with the likes of me. And this girl. Whose name escapes me. Think it started with a D, too.
At first she was just sitting in the corner for the first hour or two, on the phone, engaged in some vague drama with what seemed to be various family members. As is the way with taverns, she got talking to us – mainly me and Dustin. Turned out her mother had brain cancer and her brother was a junkie (So badly a junkie, it seemed, his life was as or not much less than imminently over as his mother’s.) Her dad had been kept from her for most of her life so far, under the false pretence, perpetuated by her mother, that her father didn’t want to see her. And that she didn’t want to see him. One of the last things I can remember is her crying. I asked her if she was ok and she responded, “Yes”, in such a way that I knew it was a polite lie to a sympathetic stranger. We talked for a few minutes more, until I started to feel dizzy.
It might have been too many cigarettes. Was less likely many, but no more than often for me on a Friday night, drinks. I think I was overwhelmed by the sheer, not entirely humorless but certainly tragic humanity of the experience.
I quite enjoy not immediately beeping someone when they delay moving at a green light. On the one hand, I’ve resisted being a dick. And on the other, they know what they’ve done. I can tell by their sheepish glance in their mirror that they’ve either learned a lesson, or regret that they never will.
Just A Second – http://wp.me/p1pIBL-2aI
The poor bastard. I get it now. He’s in over his head. He realised not all that long ago he was nothing but a brand. Otherwise useless to anyone but himself. So he ran with it. He put his name on everything he could. And in the superficial morass the late-capitalistic USA has become, it served him well. Money fell out of people’s pockets and, seemingly, the sky. Of course whenever he tried to do something entirely unfeasible, his brand failed. Brand power can only twist reality, not outright destroy it. But he held true to the brand because he knew he was on to a long-term winner that would serve him well until his death. Not that it would do his reputation, among from his closest friends and family to the most distant cave-dweller remotely aware of him, much good. But it was never about reputation. It was about money. And power. And both. And he was and is and always will be insatiable.
Now, he’s the President of the United States of America. This was not intended. He figured he’d run in the primaries. It would improve his brand. He won the primaries. It was unexpected. Hell, he thought, I guess I might as well go up against Hillary. It would improve his brand. He won. Totally unexpected. Somewhere in his tiny, simian brain he had earlier thought “Surely they won’t actually be stupid enough to vote in a man who has no political experience and heads a business empire that would be a spectacular failure if it weren’t propped up by little but his gargantuan ego and baffling celebrity and the couple of actually competent people who’d managed to slip into his staff”. But they did. And here we all are watching one man basically tell the rest of the fucking world “You’re fired!” (Or more crudely: “Fuck off!”) Except they’re not accepting his dismissal. And the frustration this causes him is hilariously agonising, or agonisingly hilarious, to watch.
So I guess I can sympathise if not empathise with him. I have my own weaknesses and character flaws, as do we all. The difference is I and many others who are not paranoid, delusional, megalomaniac narcissists, are discrete with our weaknesses and character flaws. We admit them where necessary. Deal with them. Manage them. Play instead to our strengths. Whereas he plays to his weaknesses so relentlessly – and only in America could relentless indulgence of weakness prove so fruitful – that if the man has strengths, I have no goddamned idea what they are. He might not know either, because in the upside down and inside out reality of the existence he’s crafted for and around himself, he actually seems to see his flaws and weaknesses as strengths. I mean, it’s fucking sad – to use a word he enjoys abusing in his unappreciated, ironically Orwellian Tweeting.
So where to from here? It’s hard to see for Trump. (Plus to be honest, I don’t really care.) If he’s not assassinated or impeached – the former being unlikely because all the assassinatey types are his supporters, and the latter because if he was under threat of being impeached he’d probably find a way to change the law so impeachment is impossible – I guess he’ll just get back to cashing in his dignity for more money and power. Only he might not have any dignity left that he doesn’t manufacture in his own damaged mind after what will surely continue to be an entertainingly sad – there’s that word again – up to but hopefully not including four years (eight!?) in power. And to repeat, to be honest, I don’t really care. For the world? Well hopefully we’ll all take a collective sigh of relief as Marine One takes him from the White House for the last time (or as he’s dragged through the streets and pelted with rotten tomatoes, then tarred and feathered and placed in a stockade for more tomato target practise for a while).
And ensure that an IGNORANT, EGOMANIACAL, NARCISSISTIC, HATEFUL, LYING, BIGOTED PSYCHOPATH IS NEVER AGAIN GIVEN THE POWER, THROUGH SUPPOSED DEMOCRACY, TO LITERALLY DESTROY THE HUMAN RACE! Ahem. I guess I’m reassured by the fact that his rise to power has emboldened his like-minded (magnanimous of me to refer to them as “minded” at all, no?). Why? Because if the world or at least the US, for starters, decides to vote into power men or women who actually wish to lead the human race to a better place – instead of divide us into easily controllable and perhaps crushable groups based on superficial barely recognisable differences – I know that their like-minded becoming emboldened will revolutionise the universe. If Trump doesn’t get us all nuked in the meantime. . . .
We were slumped deep in the Circus Circus’ bar, when the drugs began to wear off. 1pm – early morning by Vegas time. My amigo Samo was taking the effects of the previous night hard. He looked angry, bestial, yet defeated, like a coyote road-killed while mating. We’d just returned to base after recovering his wallet from the southern strip’s Luxor Casino; his ID and credit card from downtown’s Girls of Glitter Gulch gentleman’s club. His watch and one shoe were still missing.
‘Oh my God!’ he suddenly yelled, red-eyes directed hatefully toward the omnipresence of casino ceiling security cameras. And then, head in his chewed-fingernail hands, muttered something like: ‘I lost enough money to put a deposit down on a high class brothel.’ Then he started sobbing like a recently divorced, impotent insurance salesman. ‘And where’s my watch!?’ His missing shoe apparently gone unnoticed thus far.
‘He ok hon?’ asked the ex-call girl weary barmaid serving our breakfast bloody marys.
‘He’s fine,’ I replied, levelling my own night white light bloodshot eyes at hers. ‘My friend has suffered a death in the family. A murder.’ I looked at him and sighed. ‘Gang violence, you understand. He’s a foreigner. Probably Columbian.’ I threw what paper money I had left on the table and the floor, in front of her. ‘Are you prejudiced?’ I questioningly accused through clenched teeth.
‘No, I, er, I’m not. . . .’
I interrupted by waving her away and she scuttled off with a fistful of assorted cash. ‘Get it together, you miserable bastard,’ I muttered.
Hiccupping sobs were his only reply.
I lit a cigarette, drew, exhaled and said, defiantly: ‘We’re not done yet.’ It was about this time an enormous man of Pacific islander appearance emerged, stumbling, bellowing like a castrated bull, from behind a row of poker machines; wearing a two-man-tent-sized pink bowling shirt unbuttoned to his bulging stomach revealing a thick rug of jet black chest hair. He was followed by a shorter, slighter, balding man wearing aviator sunglasses, a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and sneakers, smoking swiftly from and chomping feverishly at an ivory cigarette holder that slid between grinning teeth; beneath wild, lighthouse eyes. The pair sat at the bar.
‘We can stop here,’ I began, shaking Samo’s shoulder. Who looked up in the direction I was. ‘This is freak country,’ I finished.
The big man at the bar suddenly stood erect, waving oak branch arms around, screaming: ‘AAAAAAAAAAUERRRRRRRRRGAH! Why are female sports journalists’ voices so deep!?’
‘You fool!’ the little man yelled while jumping up, his stool hitting the floor behind him. ‘Most of their colleagues and bosses are men. They mostly cover men. They’re infected by the natural testosterone and brutishness of the proverbial Big Game. They’re fellow beasts at the atavistic competitive feast. How else do you think they avoid being treated like the dessert bar at a police convention? Now sit! Down!’
The big man complied. His partner left his original chair lying fallow. Took another. Samo put something in his mouth. I made my wary move to yet another stool close by.
‘If only old Dick Nixon was here,’ the little man continued, leaning over his partner who’d resorted to short, muted screams and, with his head in his folded arms on the table, looking around in fear at the air above him. ‘He’d put you right. He’d march a couple of his goons right up to you, and they’d stomp the bile from your stomach lining before dragging you off to some medieval-esque torture dungeon for democrats, hippies and foreigners.’
‘What about Trump?’ I ventured.
‘TRUMP!?’ he yelled, so much as he could with the cigarette holder between his lips. Then he grinned at me, the holder clenched in the corner of his fiendish mouth and its ember whipping into the air. ‘If Nixon is a whore beast, Trump is his and the devil’s mentally enfeebled hate child. If Nixon rolled back the tide of the American Dream, and Reagan funnelled it into the hands of a privileged, bloated few – Trump will drink the dregs and then piss it into the mouths of his insanely moronic followers.’
Then suddenly, his knees drew up into his hands. ‘The muck!’ he yelled, looking at the floor. ‘The steaming, stinking liquid refuse of this unholy election year of our dark lord satan two-thousand and 16! It’s everywhere!’ He jumped on to the bar stool.
‘Hey!’ the barman yelled, his attention pulled from merely shaking his head while cleaning a glass with a filthy rag. ‘Get down from there!’
‘Impossible to walk!’ ignored the little man, who started jumping from stool to stool along the bar. The barman came around to give chase.
‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!’ the big man groaned, standing up and knocking over his stool – which the barman fell over at speed, knocking himself unconscious.
‘You wretched sonofabitch!’ the little man yelled a few stools down, perched on it like a cat. ‘The floor is contaminated by the rotting carcass of western democracy!’
The big man scrambled on to the bar, stood and smashed his head into hanging wine glasses. He screamed once more, ran along the bar collecting and destroying more glasses with his large head and kept running off the bar and out of the room. The little man followed, gingerly coming down from his perch and walking away as if in thick mud, holding his nose from the imagined stench.
Samo came and sat next to me about when I heard screeching tyres and a woman’s scream from the street. ‘The fuck was that?’ he asked. He was chewing his bottom lip and looking around the now empty bar, except for us and the motionless barman, as if surrounded. Sirens blared from outside.
‘That?’ I started, reaching over the bar for a bottle of Johnnie Walker and two glasses. ‘I’ll have two glasses of whiskey, neat,’ I said, looking at the barman’s unconscious figure. ‘That was nothing.’ I poured the drinks. ‘Just your imagination.’ I took a sip.
‘Didn’t look like nothing.’ He took a sip.
‘It was literally nothing. The fuck’s wrong with you? You took too much man. Too much too much.’
‘One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small,’ I said, turning to look at him, my head starting to swell up. Samo stepped back off his stool.
‘And the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all.’ My head doubled in size, turned orange. Samo started screaming.
‘Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall.’ Quadrupled now, topped by a golden retriever sized, combed forward wig. Samo raked his face and continued screaming.
‘And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall.’ My eyes caught fire, dripped lava, and a forked, purple tongue emerged from between my eggplant-sized and coloured lips. Samo backed against the wall, howling in agony.
‘Remember what the doormouse said: feed your head.’ Samo’s screams reached fever pitch as my orange head exploded and horse manure flew in all directions.
‘Feed your head.’
Visiting foreigners and returning expats apparently see Australia as a bit of a mythical place. Our larrikinism and disdain for authority is much vaunted, while in fact we’re a pretty conformist bunch. Pete, our protagonist, has noticed he might be standing with a few others at a pedestrian crossing, no cars in sight, yet most will still wait patiently for the little fluorescent green man to light the way. With that in mind, and leading by the hand a girl he’s on a first date with, Pete crosses – on a red man. ‘Wait,’ she protests, pulling him back. ‘You can’t cross now.’
‘That’s jaywalking,’ she lectures, literally pointedly at the luminous red-coated crossing guard.
He scoffs, releases her hand, says goodbye and crosses the street – leaving her obediently bewildered on the other side. She was probably pro-life, too, anyway, he reassures himself. None yet had passed the red man test.
‘Ews ya team?’ asks the thrice divorced looking, well-worn Jack Daniels jumper wearing bloke at the pub. Normally Pete would respond with a white lie, and quote the football club from the city he was born – at least for the purposes of believable predictability.
Instead, this time, he takes a generous gulp of his schooner, and replies: ‘Don’t have one,’ then places the glass back on the bar, eager for JD’s response.
‘Well,’ he readily starts to explain, while avoiding a self-righteous tone he worries might get him glassed, ‘I believe commercial sport is a shiny but meaningless distraction for the masses, not unlike religion, which keeps us focused on trivial matters so our not so subtly malevolent overlords are left free to openly – if you’re paying attention, which you’re probably not – exploit us.’
‘I don’t follow ya,’ comes the surprisingly eloquent yet still baffled response.
‘Didn’t expect you to.’
‘Plus,’ Pete ignores, ‘watching a bunch of well-muscled men in short shorts and tight tops chasing a ball around, to quote Bart Simpson: “Seems kinda gay.” ‘
‘You’re gay,’ he derives.
‘Yeah, didn’t mean it literally,’ he mutters just loud enough before finishing his beer while rolling his eyes at the ceiling.
‘Look!’ Pete furiously points. ‘The bikini waitress is bending over!’ Then he sneaks out while JD’s perving at nothing over his shoulder.
Pete leaves the house smoking a cigarette, wearing a clean Big W t-shirt but unwashed ever Trade Secret jeans and knockoff wayfarers minus those obnoxious little diamante-looking metal or plastic things usually found on the upper outer edge of the frame. He gets into his never cleaned, rarely vacuumed and weathered paint 15-year old Korean hatchback. He almost lights another cigarette, because a Bob Seger song starts playing, but instead resists. He winds down the window, because the air-con hasn’t worked in five years, and starts driving. There are no cars in sight from the other direction, but the right-turn arrow remains red. So he just goes, after checking the vicinity for the cops. Someone beeps him. He sticks his middle finger out the window.
It’s hot as hades down the closest community centre, on local government voting day. Which seems appropriate. Pete foolishly makes eye contact with a political pamphlet packer, then politely declines her advance. He tries looking around a little more, while avoiding shirts with faces on them, but spots a couple of Southern Cross tattoos. So he spends the rest of the line to the democratic sheeple shearing staring into the clear blue sky. He does actually vote for someone, while wondering why he bothers. But on the referendum as to whether state government ministers should have massaging parliament house chairs, he ticks yes (‘cause shit, who wouldn’t want them too) and also writes on it: ‘The more you let income inequality grow, the sooner the revolution will come.’ That’ll have them shaking in their not yet massaging chairs, he not at all seriously thinks as he leaves the building past the line looking at the ground so as to not realise who or what he shared his community with. Then he follows an eight, no kidding, eight-children my family stickered beat up Tarago on the way home. And instantly thinks of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now: ‘The horror. The horror. The horror.’
He claims he knows the earth is flat because he’s a construction worker and somehow he can tell by using a spirit level. Pete’s already horrified, because he just wants some time alone in the Brunswick Street bar’s smoking area. But seriously!? The earth is flat and you can tell by using a spirit level? Surely he jests. He bites anyway, and throws a couple of arguments back at him, mostly about how there are photos of the earth from space and what would anyone have to gain by conspiring to lie to us about something so big yet at the same time inconsequential to everyday, individual life. But it’s no good. He believes the lie too truthfully, or hopefully enjoys the joke too much. Pete walks away, then drags his wine drunk (and pro-choice and jaywalking fan) girlfriend up Fitzroy St to the flat of the mate he was staying with. He does leave the spare key in the door that night, but in the morning consoles himself with the fact that he at least respected the many years of research and experiment that people smarter than him put into discovering facts that he could barely even comprehend. His mate says a spirit level would have to be kilometres long to prove the earth was flat. That’s true.
The customs officers are belligerently baffled. Just because Tiger Airways don’t have a smartphone boarding pass system doesn’t mean Pete can just take a screenshot of his boarding pass, then walk past the boarding stewards and on to the runway when they refuse his documentation. Just because it isn’t stated that it’s illegal to smoke on the tarmac, merely that it isn’t allowed, doesn’t mean he can light up for a pre-flight smoke beside the plane. And just because they haven’t taken off yet, doesn’t mean he can join the, well, about 20 metres high club with his girlfriend in the on-board bathroom. ‘But why?’ he asks.
They look at each other. Then reply in unison: ‘Because you can’t.’
He meets their exasperated stares with a blank one.
‘But wh. . .’
‘Get out!’ they interrupt, again in unison, pointing toward the door.
So he gladly obeys, takes his girlfriend’s hand, walks out of the airport, and after waiting five minutes gets in an Uber. It’s a brand new Mazda 3. The driver’s a chainsaw sculpting, beret sporting former radical from a country that doesn’t exist yet, he says. Bullshit, Pete thinks, while smiling broadly.
She can only hear wind rushing past her ears. Her mind couldn’t avoid what it tripped over until it was too late. It was a very small rock, fixed firm in the ground. It took the form of a child’s giggle over what she perceived to be her weight. Even though her size is, now, what most would consider healthy. Regardless, she fell. Spiralled downward like a dead leaf. When she fell, she plunged over a cliff. A high cliff built of all her life’s woe. She plunged through all her hoarded hurt.
She’s falling now. ‘I’m sorry Julie,’ her boss said, at the end of yet another week in which her anxiety and depression had swung like a wrecking ball through her productivity. ‘It’s just not working out. We need to let you go.’ It was her dream job. She studied years for it. Struggled. Sweated. Suffered. Built what she thought were strong, unassailable foundations. Yet, she fell. She’s falling still.
Falling further. ‘I need time to myself,’ Bill said. Her boyfriend of three years. Now, fiancé. Now, what? ‘I love you, I want you, but I need some time to think about whether this is what I need. Whether this is what we need. I can’t believe I’m going to use such a cliché, but it’s not you. It’s me.’ She yearned to change his mind. But let him go, thinking another cliché: that if you love someone, let them go. If they come back, they’re yours. He still hasn’t. So she’s still falling.
Falling fast. Julie went in to the psychology sessions thinking they would achieve nothing. She just wanted medication. But in the end she believed the meds were a waste of money. And the sessions: lifesaving. Her pain washed over the initially seemingly cold, distant psychologist. She feared the shrink would use her pain against her, or be brought as low as she by it. Instead, he held up a mirror. Its reflection said one simple thing about her suffering: that it was normal, rational, human, and she need no longer be afraid. Still, free falling.
No parachute. She screamed for the first time, thinking of growing up the fat girl as a child. Then, as a teenager, anorexic. The mirror was always against her then, because she held it up against herself. In it she would always perceive ugliness, because that’s what she thought others saw. Regardless of her actual physical beauty, the mirror would appear cracked, covered in spots, discoloured, warped; hideous. More relaxed now.
Yet, still falling. Julie had always escaped into other worlds. Books. Films. Magazine articles – at least those she knew wouldn’t stimulate her inadequacies. The pain of existence wouldn’t stop. It would only be pushed aside momentarily in favour of pleasant fantasy. She’d wander giddily through the worlds of Huckleberry Finn, Atticus Finch, Winston Smith, Oliver Twist, Bilbo Baggins, and the like. She’d draw comfort from those worlds, even if her own was torturous. No longer relaxed.
Falling through razor blades. No more screaming. Now, howling in agony. She sat atop the courtroom’s mahogany witness chair, reliving all the horror her step-father had put her through. Adding tear stains to those probably countless other victims of sexual abuse had, on the glazed wood. Red eyes pleading with the judge, the prosecution, her mother, to end the further pain his defence’s cross-examination was putting her through. But knowing it was no use, it was all part of the process. The system of victimisation of the weak and vulnerable. She goes limp.
All resistance to the fall, such that it would have achieved, gone. On her back, through golden hair fluttering Heavenward, Julie sees her father. He died when she was five. Only one memory remains. Of him reading to her. She can’t remember the book. Just his face. Unshaven but warm, crow’s feet smiling behind blue eyes twinkling as he gives her alternate reality gifts from his gentle, loving lips. She’d sought him in those other places ever since. But hadn’t found him. Had instead fallen. Wanted nothing but to fall. Continues falling.
Turned over mid-fall. Now facing the ground. Close enough, ever closer, quickly closer, to see it for what it is: hard. It takes the form of her mother’s face: no less hard. Her saviour upon throwing her stepfather out, to be jailed, besides. But she couldn’t bear the shame. Or, more tragically, denied it. Cast out Julie, too. Felt her daughter had somehow encouraged her own abuse. Retreated into never properly dealt with mourning of her dead husband. Father dead. Mother lost. Julie became orphaned. So she fell. Is still falling. Is, blessedly, almost finished falling.
Falling through faces. Her own, in an ugly mirror. Her father’s, smiling crow’s feet, azure sea and sky sparkling eyes, loving lips. Her mother’s, turned away, eyes downcast. Her school friends’, taunting. Her boss’s, confused and cold. God’s, quickly vanished, but a fictional phantom. Faces seemingly within reach flash across the ground beneath her. Full of unasked for hatred and prejudice. Unjustified revulsion. Then, finally, Bill’s. He catches her. But too late. Too late to save her. Instead holds his lost love Julie’s lifeless, finally at peace body in the bath as a crimson river snakes down the plug hole.
(If this has raised any issues for you that you feel the need to discuss, please talk to a loved one or call such counselling services as Lifeline on 13 11 14. Or by all means comment below. You’ll not be judged here.)
(For background to this blog post: https://wordjourneyer.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/every-disease-is-a-heart-disease/)
On my way to visit Dad I heard over the radio the axiom: if you can’t find the bright side of life, polish the dull side. I resolved to share with him this newly learned wisdom, as soon as I had arrived at the aged care facility he had moved into not long after his 65th birthday. His reaction: “Bullshit.” For better or worse, a dry, stubborn sense of humour had been one of Dad’s genetic gifts to me. Fortunately, for my older half-brother and sister, younger brother, and me, his Parkinson’s disease had (at time of writing) not been and I hope won’t be. When I visited him a few weeks or months earlier, on a hot day, one of the nurses had given him a glass of water. When she went to take it back from him, he played with her; withdrawing the empty glass repeatedly from her outstretched hand until finally releasing it to her. He can tell me he’s sick or dying (neither which is exactly true in any conventional sense) until he’s blue in the face, but if he tried to suggest he didn’t still have a sense-of-humour I’d laugh, then quickly stop laughing, then reply, simply: “No.”
I don’t remember when he was diagnosed. All I remember is that he surely had it a few years before it was finally discovered. And the years since – despite DBS (deep brain stimulation) and endless juggling of different medications – have proven little better and often much worse. Within the context of his disease only, of course it’s the negatives that stand out. Like the time he’d tried a new form of medication and started hallucinating; at one point in the early morning yelling out: “Hey Colin! How do you piss out of a plane!?” while himself using the bathroom. Or the time I’d heard a loud THUMP downstairs, ran down them, screamed “DAD!” upon seeing him lying motionless on the floor, then felt relief when he groaned and was ok despite the fall. And when, after we’d moved to a single story house, he’d be suffering insomnia – the major symptom of his Parkinson’s (but not necessarily everyone’s) – and wandering into my room on a semi-regular basis.
Moving Dad into a nursing home had not been any easier, emotionally, than enduring his troubles more closely with him. But, as his up until then primary carer, it was certainly easier on Mum – in practical but of course not emotional terms. A principled as she is loving and caring (yet sometimes stern) woman, she early on determined to stick with him for better or worse, for richer or poorer. But during early 2015 he had surgery in Brisbane to relieve stomach and chest pains. As a consequence of the (otherwise successful) operation, he began suffering delirium, languished in hospital for a couple more months, and on discharge was admitted straight into a pleasant, modern yet naturally solemn Gold Coast nursing home. He now spends his time surrounded by generally much older and more infirm people, which does nothing to improve his state-of-mind.
Fortunately, all of Dad’s family, besides his sister in Victoria, and daughter about an hour north-west of Brisbane, live close enough to visit him at least once a week. He smiles sometimes, usually if one takes the opportunity to stir pleasing memories from his past. Or make light of them in a not disrespectful manner. I discovered, or had forgotten, on a recent visit with Mum that Dad during his professional footballing days had been nicknamed Magic. I cracked: “Was that what the ladies called you, Dad?” He grinned, and Mum playfully reprimanded him. We all had lunch with him on his 66th birthday in the BBQ gazebo outside his new and we still hope not permanent home. And again had an early Christmas lunch there two weeks before my older sister and brother had to leave for engagements with their partners’ families on the 25th.
Dad didn’t make it home for Christmas Day, 2015. Probably for the first time, now I think of it. My brother and his girlfriend drove me to visit him in the morning. I went in first. Dad has trouble handling too many visitors at once. Mum had spent an hour or so with him earlier in the morning. He complained of being sick. Then he said something that, suffice to say, was depressing to hear from one’s father. He also told me to tell my brother not to come in (which I did, but added that he should go in anyway). I wished him a Merry Christmas (it’s unlikely dad had any enduring idea what day it was), and left. This is it now, when it comes to Dad. I tell him I love him a lot more these days. Not because I’m worried he’ll be dead soon, but because I’m sure he’ll be gone soon, besides. A man who appeared godlike when I was a child, a stern bore when I was a teenager, a fountain of wisdom during my 20s; now, a memorial combination of all three encased in a body controlled by a brain that is swiftly failing him.
Dad was a professional Australian Rules footballer back in his heyday. The past, in a wonderful way, is catching up with him. Mum’s been receiving video testimonials by players from the Geelong West (Roosters) Football Club’s arguable, as far as I know, peak during the late-‘70s/early-‘80s. It’s not important what exactly what they say in the videos, about their playing days or the club or dad. What’s important, humbly, is what I observed after watching them with my mum, her parents, my younger brother, his girlfriend, older brother, his wife and two children (during Good Friday 2016): “Dad, what we’ve just finished watching is people we don’t even really know telling us things about you that we already know.” To which he responded to the effect that that was a wonderful thing to say. I responded: “Well it’s just the truth, isn’t it?” And it was. I said nothing special, but I said it (because someone had to) plainly truthfully about a man who is special to more people than he still probably realises.
We’re planning on videoing Dad, mainly for his own benefit if he’s up to it but also for the blokes down south who’ve without exception spoken so highly of their memories of him. And also for us, too. For posterity. Dad is still Dad. He’s not well. But he’s also not a vegetable, and nor is he dead. If we can capture him recalling what was one of the (if not the) highlights of his life, we can pass those memories along the outgoing branches of our family tree, forever. Dad’s father was an abusive alcoholic, and died when I was very young. (In fact one of my earliest memories was of dad’s dad lying in a hospital bed, dying of (from memory) prostate cancer, and dad standing nearby – both ashen faced – and then the door closing.) Mum’s father died after being kicked by a horse, when she was seven. I’ve never known a blood-related grandfather. And nor might my children. So my hope is that if we can take dad back to a happy past, however momentarily, and capture it, it might help my children, and their children have happy futures. I hope they’ll learn that the past, though sometimes sad, was also joyous, rich, bright; happy – and so too can be their futures.