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Monthly Archives: December 2013

I lie prostrate in school-yard gravel, limbs akimbo, skinned and bloody and as painful as the bruises to my 7-year-old ego. A foot or two above me stands a girl my age, frilled & crisp white socks spilling out over matching patent black leather sandals, spindle legs shooting up beneath a chequered school dress. She stares, face cold, black hair braided to one side and perfectly accented with a hot pink scrunchie. She speaks, low and emotionless – “we’re not friends anymore” – and that is that.

A week or two earlier – or maybe a month, a year, more – at After School Care: we stand in Autumn sunlight (I remember this setting only for the leaves), munching peanut butter sandwiches and overcooked cheese toasties. In my right hand I hold a cheese toast – the fat and crisped skin squeaking against the holes in my baby teeth – and in my left a mottled yellow teddy bear.

“I dare you,” she slurs, her tongue stuck tight to the roof of her mouth by dry bread and salted peanut product, “I dare you to throw your bear.” She points, sharp, to the roof of a nearby shed: “Up there.”

I take a gargantuan bite, finishing the toast. My hand slinks tight around teddy’s, I am suddenly aware of the deep and obvious beating of my heart and I turn to face her.

“Dare you,” she repeats. “Double-triple-dare-you.”

I swallow. I blink. She laughs. And I throw my bear heavenwards.

“TEDDY ON THE ROOF,” she squeals. “TEDDY ON THE ROOF!”

Half an hour later, as an adult pulls the bear down, I lie and say that once my parents find out I threw the bear I’ll get smacked. Not just smacked, beaten, probably.

“My father’s a doctor,” she says, “and nobody ever died from being smacked. You’ll be okay.”

Some years later – Year Four, roundabouts – I sit at the back of the classroom during the annual Maths competition (in essence a depressing exercise in the dreaded Times Tables), with a veritable beast of a boy I have befriended. It’s down to the last two, and she’s up there: knocking down maths problems with abandon.

I turn to the boy; the boy turns to me. And I yell – “Nerd! Nerd!”.

The boy joins me – “NERD! NERD!” – and we yell through laughter. “NERD!”. She cries – “NEEEEERD!!” – and runs out of the room.

We’re not friends anymore, and she is a nerd.

Later that week, I make a dunce cap and put it in another boy’s bag – the perfect payback for the days of irritation he’s given me, poking me in the side every time I pass his personal space. As class finishes he pulls the cap out of his bag, but doesn’t know what the word “dunce” actually means, and throws the cap away. My teacher does not see the irony.

A year earlier, on the playground, I tell a boy I call my friend that I’ve spoken to God. I’m Catholic, you see, and I’ve spoken to God, and to Jesus Christ, and he’s told me, personally, that this boy will burn in the fires of Hell for all eternity.

They later find this boy crying in a cupboard.

He is an Atheist.

Years later, I am 20, 21, 22, and reading a good friend’s poetry piece. She writes of the girl from the teddy incident, who once told her she hated Rosella, hated White Crow, ’cause her Dad got nasty when he was “on the sauce”. After years of failing Maths grades, I retroactively envy her numerical talent.

A new girl has arrived at school, and I take part in a class-wide initiation process dubbed “The Spying Game”.

To call it an initiation process really gives it more officiousness than is honest. We’ve never played The Spying Game before, and we never will again. We creep – the whole class, all 20 of us – behind New Girl. She turns, whirls round, and we all do the same: suddenly engrossed in lunchtime friendships.

A beat. The mood is tense, and every eye lies sideways on this girl. She turns, slowly, sadly, and continues to walk.

In unison, we pad after her – the world’s quietest welcoming party, peering round corners, hiding behind trees – ensuring she can see that we don’t want to be seen. Before the day is out, of course, she cries – somehow both too close and too far away from the kids in our year level for any kind of comfort.

This girl is now a working model and mother.

I remember each of these incidents with an indirect sense of clarity. The above, of course, are dramatisations, though I know the bulk of each incident to be truth, the fact of each interaction’s occurrence, yet the details remain blurry in my mind. Who said what, to whom, and how, I could not tell you. I used to tell friends, with slight amusement, that I was a childhood bully, but the truth of it is that I don’t remember doing any of this with malice (no more than any other child my age, surely) or even really doing them – but the recollections of my school peers assure me that they occurred, and I am unsure whether or not I’ve whitewashed these stories in my mind, or made them worse.

In my later years – an obese, bookish, fey teenager – I myself was bullied. I won’t say that I deserved it, though I would occasionally provoke it in a fierce, misguided attempt at payback (weighing more than a hundred kilograms makes it mighty difficult to run, and fighting was certainly out of the question unless I could manoeuvre myself to sit on my opponent) – but it gave me a new and terrible insight into the things I had done as a child (along with a wonderful sense of social anxiety and awkwardness; though maybe that was always there).

Playing The Spying Game with my schoolmates I felt so together – part of a community, a closeness, a togetherness – more than I had ever felt. As a child I wanted more than anything to be a famous actor, and from this I do remember: sneaking along with my classmates, ten paces behind the New Girl as she sat all alone, eating her peanut butter dry white bread sandwiches.

I remember thinking that this must be what it’d be like to be famous; adored from afar, your every move watched by others.

I remember telling myself how lucky she must feel, and I remember not believing it, not one little bit.

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Like a lot of gay men, I have a bizarre, tumultuous relationship with my mother, one that often borders on hero-worship. The best way to understand this is to simply meet the woman. She’ll extend her hand – not for a hand-shake, but as if cupping an invisible drink – and smile: “Thérèse, as in” – and here she raises her invisible drink – “to-raise-a-glass”. Only then may you shake (though a hug is preferable).

Friends of mine will whisper in hushed tones of Thérèse, accents and graves included: of her stringent dinner party rules (a time will be set and must be met), her extensive planning capabilities (written on page after page of recycled notepaper, clipped and saved from her work office), her dogged determination and affection marred only by those around her. Of her dance skills (far superior to my own), and the time a lesbian friend of mine declared her to be “hot” (an occurrence she still boasts of). She has a definite Way in which things must be done, and that’s the Right Way. (I like to claim that none of this has rubbed off on me; but the older I grow, the farther away from drunken house parties I become, the more I realise there is a hostess of biblical Thérèse-ian proportions growing inside me, waiting to claw its way out of me like a chest-burster of good cheer and hors d’oeuvres).

Christmas, accordingly, is optimal Thérèse-time, and she’s in her prime: tinsel-earrings and party dress on, Santa soap in the guest bathroom (been used just enough to rub off part of his face – when urinating during the festive season one gets the uncanny feeling of being watched by an unfortunate plastic surgery victim), and festive music in the CD player. All the hits, of course: Marina Prior Sings (which really, we knew – it’s getting her to shut up that’s the true Miracle of Christmas), the Oxfam Christmas Cheer Album, and the CD that will live in infamy: the Jose Feliciano Collection, bought one sunny October day some five years ago for one track and one track alone: Feliz Navidad.

The build-up was palpable, and a surefire set-up for failure. Jose remained tucked away in the disc drawer throughout October, November and December, waiting for the solitary day when Christmas music (Spanish or otherwise) was deemed appropriate listening material. At the age of 20, I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the track (or Jose, or his sunglasses), and by that point Christmas itself was less about presents and more about an excuse to stuff my face with various meat-substitutes (my vegetarian phase was in full swing) and a vat of alcohol before nodding off to sleep while the sun was still up. Accordingly, I took December 25th as a day to sleep in. I was wrong.

I woke that morning to the closest I will (sadly) ever get to “Mommie, Dearest” no matter how hard I try: Thérèse in full swing, neck to wrist to ankle in pink, wool-imitation bathrobe, matching towel around her hair, silhouetted perfectly in my doorway.

Groggy with sleep and mildly disgruntled, I attempt to ask what’s going on, but manage only to grunt: “s-gorn-on?”. A beat.

Then Mum: “Where is it?”

I am unsure – both as to what “it” is, and where “it” is. I attempt to explain so, but am cut off as she makes her way into my bedroom. Clamouring through the mess – somehow still perfectly robed, not a hair out of place – she begins to rummage through the bomb-shelter of my room, my cries of outrage falling on deaf ears (though, really, by that point there wasn’t much to shock her – I’d already had my year-long totes rebellious smoking phase and she knew I liked boys so the collection of pseudo-porn gay “culture” magazines were par for the course). With the delicacy of a bulldozer on high speed, she made her way through my clothes, my desk, and then finally – my CD collection.

By this point, I’ve woken up enough to muster, once more: “What’s going on?”.
She turns – “It’s not here.” – and sweeps out of the room.

Downstairs my father and brother, slightly bemused, are sitting on the couch reading day-old newspapers in an attempt to look busy. Christmas breakfast remains half-made on the counter, and the silence is frank and terribly awkward. A few minutes pass – the sound of various rooms being deconstructed with increasing speed – and Mum appears once more, padding towards me.

“You. You like CDs.”

I can’t lie – I do. “Yes,” I reply.

“Well!”, Thérèse barks – then quietly, controlled: “I’ve been waiting to play Feliz Navidad and now – now! – it’s gone.”

“So?”, I reply, ever the little shit, confirming my apparent guilt.

“And you like CDs. You’ve taken it to rip it or burn it or whatever, you’ve taken it and lost it, where is it?”

“I haven’t,” I reply – dumbfounded to be on the verge of punishment for something I (for once in my life) hadn’t done. Justice in the Bryant household was swift and full-on (see, “tonne of bricks”) but rarely if ever unjust.

Thérèse: ”Don’t lie to me.”

“I’m – I’m not!”, I reply, but she’s swept out of the room once more.
Nobody dares say a word. Christmas is ruined. Over. Crumbling around our ears. There are twenty, thirty people on their way, but they can all just turn around and go back where they came from if they think they’re having a Christmas lunch without Jose. This year we are not having a Merry Christmas, we’re having a Feliz-goddamn-Navidad.

And then, I spot the CD cover. Jose – his face pressed up against his guitar and smug grin mocking our festivities – and below his name, emblazoned: ¡THREE CD COLLECTION!.

Trembling, I reach out to pick up the hallowed discs. Sure enough, I read: DISC 3, TRACK 17: Feliz Navidad. I open the first gate – DISC ONE and DISC TWO are there, sure enough, snug in their spools – and an empty space behind DISC TWO where the illustrated booklet sits. I open the second gate. There it is. DISC 3. Audio gold.
Mum sweeps back in and I waste no time, offering the CD up in sacrifice.

She stops dead in her tracks. Looks at the CD, at me, the half-finished breakfast, my father, my brother.

“I didn’t have it, it was there all along”, I say, then: “The packaging’s a bit deceptive.”

A beat. She pulls the CD out of its casing, places it in the player then turns to me: “Well, you’ve taken other things of mine in the past, so.”

The song plays.

The following Christmas began much the same way, only I had stayed at a boyfriend’s house the night before. Once more, I fished out the disc and explained to her the situation, this time before the croissants in the oven could burn from neglect.
The year after that, come Christmas Eve, I pulled out Jose after my parents had gone to bed – his smug face still staring, barely weathered from his one-day-a-year commitment – and left the case open, DISC 3 up, on the kitchen table, my own version of Santa Claus.

Something Thérèse will never quite understand is why I continue to bring these stories up. I do so actually out of a weird sense of pride, admiration and respect. If I had the perfect timing she had, or the ability to cook three things at once while looking party-ready and managing to micro-manage a small sweatshop of helpers, I’d be pretty damn pleased. In a sense, she’s like my own enraged, pink and fluffy Santa Claus; spreading Yuletide Cheer so long as you don’t touch her CD player.

So, like Santa Claus, let Thérèse live on in legend. As you all sit down to your Christmas lunches tomorrow, do me a solid and play some Jose.

Okay.

So I’m trying this blogging thing again; trying for a sense of semi-regularity. I figure, given I’m moving interstate in a month (!), regular attempts at communication beyond Facebook bullshit would be a plus. Currently all I’m doing is reading this back to myself in Sarah Jessica Parker’s voice, and I don’t even watch Sex and the City. Yep.

Now, it seems, is the time for wrap-ups and self reflection/reflexion and really all I want to do is drink another cup of tea and watch another episode of Veep. That being said, 2013 has been kind to me. Melodramatic at turns, but on the whole, pretty fucking swell. I learned –

– that wallpaper, no matter how golden and maroon and hilarious it may be, will turn on you. Particularly when you are: a) surrounded by stoned people (and perhaps a little stoned yourself), wearing a dress made of garbage bags and 4 wigs at your house-warming party, and b) particularly when you are suffering from some sort of intense bout of hang-over-cum-heat-stroke and can’t stand without the threat of vomiting everywhere. In these moments, I also learned to understand our crazy landlord (or at least, understand why he might nail plastic over the carpet).

– that money is not the be all and end all. Thanks, universe (might still be catching up with this one). From that, respect and mental health are more important than staying in a fucking horrible job.

– that perserverance pays. I’ve been bashing my head against this theatre thing for five years now, trying, with mild successes and mild indifferences, but this year I followed through on applications left right and centre and saw progress in leaps and bounds. I’ve achieved some pretty cool things this year, and for that I am proud of myself.

– to own my shit and be kind(er) to myself (again, still working on). Even if you are coy, or shy, or unsure of your own artistic worth or integrity, learn to accept when you’ve done something well, and own it. “is… is it okay?” isn’t cute. Similarly, accept your failures. You fail. You are human. You are trying to make art/work/what the fuck ever, and at least you’re trying and putting work out there. Learn from your failures. Learn from your mistakes.  Learning is key. Success comes in many measures.

– to not to hate my face in the mirror. I’ve gone over this stuff at large in some previous entry, I’m sure, but I am proud to say this has been the longest stretch in… years, that I get up in the morning, look at myself in the mirror and don’t have to force myself to like what i see. I might have days of low self esteem, but my face and my body are mine alone, and for that I should love them.

– that I can write an 8000 word essay in less than a day. Quality pending.

– that my body really, really hates me if I drink more than one cider at any time.

– that an angry Nicki Minaj song set to 11 can solve most things (or failing that, some time with the Golden Girls).

…and that now I should sleep.