Monthly Archives: December 2014


I’ve never had a great time at Christmas. Probably because I’m not big on family gatherings, high-calorie meals or countless shitty children, it’s always seemed like something to drag myself through inch by inch, minute by minute. Just call me the Grinch and be done with it. My hair was green once, that counts. It’s become that time of year again – as it does, every year: time, am I right? – where it’s awfully close to Christmas Day and I have not purchased presents for any of the loved ones in my life. I figure that this year, I’m just gonna wrap myself in candy-cane wrapping paper and lie prostrate underneath the tree. For what it’s worth (possibly not very much), the fact that I’m still alive can be my present to people this year. Surprise! So heartfelt. It’s a Christmas miracle.


The year is 2007. It is Christmas Day. This year’s family gathering is held at my Uncle Gerard’s house and is a ridiculously Grand Affair, Gerard himself (and his then wife Adele) overpaying for their children’s “presents from the family” and thereby setting every mother in the family off as they imagined their own child’s reaction to their lesser present in the face of Gerard’s children Mia and Liam (who had received, for this year, a “Holly Hobby” style electrical house the size and price of a small car, featuring carpet, wood-vein and a child-sized couch – domestic bliss.) To give you an idea, Gerard and Adele owned a freezer that made its own ice and a white leather couch with individual seat warmers. The other Aunts and Uncles were livid. What would their own darling child do when they realized they’d only received a few measly DVDs and a Playstation 2 controller? What would they do when they realized their present wasn’t carpeted? It was all highly dramatic.

Early on in the piece, to combat boredom and my general disdain for St Nicholas-themed proceedings, I start on champagne with Katrina, now my brother’s wife. Katrina – unlike me – was sensible and only had a glass or two. In attempts to dull my pain, I swiftly made my way through most of my parents’ champagne and several ciders I’d gotten from somewhere or other (possibly I’d just taken them from a random esky – if I did and you’re reading this and hate me for stealing your now seven year old cider, I apologise. Let me know and I’ll buy you some more). All of this on a 40-something-degree-day: accordingly, I very quickly got drunk and became the victim of champagne heatstroke. Attempting to clear and rest my head, I stagger outside like an angry bear, children swarming around my feet, down the enormous hallway, giant knock-off paintings judging me like Van Gogh himself has returned from the grave, pissed off. My head feels like a saccharine volcano about to burst and I need some goddamn shade.

Darkness surrounds me. I’ve found a comfortable hovel, away from the 40-degree heat, and a place to rest my head. Then, a voice – one that I at first think is inside my head, but that soon stretches out, like the darkness, to surround my very consciousness.

“Who…. Who’s that?”. The speaker is young, high-pitched, and sounds like they have a snotty nose. “Who’s that? Who’s that? Who iiiiiiiiiiiiiis that?”

And another voice, higher still and female: “Chruh… Chruh… Chruh…

Oh, spit it out, I think, my head throbbing with the heated hellish onslaught of a day-drinking hangover.

The voice takes a breath, then: “Critterfah. Our cousin.

In a sudden rage, my eyes snap open. I can see Mia and Liam, their faces inquisitive and pressed hard against the plastic window. Mentally, I zoom out, and see myself crammed like Alice in Wonderland in the kids’ expensive Christmas toy, my leg stuffed out one of the windows and red-raw from sun exposure and my neck incredibly sore from falling asleep on the ‘kitchen’ table and basically remaining on a 90 degree angle for an hour or more.

I try to stand up and crack my head on a timber support beam. Fuck. Whoever designed this house had attention to detail.

Probably an actual architect, I think bitterly. Only the best for the children. 

“Merry Christmas, kids,” I mutter to Liam and Mia as I ungracefully attempt to inchworm my way out of the too-small doorframe (the house has a light-up microwave, but no front door, for whatever bizarre reason). At least Alice got a magic mushroom and a chimney-sweep lizard to show for her domestic adventures.


From 2012 to 2013 I worked at a high-class Toorak deli (grey bobs everywhere) where the prices were high and the customers were often higher (prescription pills).

Once, when I was still being trained, some customer left a little white baggie on the ground. Steph – a fellow worker, insanely gorgeous, imperious and made up to the gods – tutted as she bent down to pick up the offending baggie.

“Excuse me?!” she chastised it sarcastically. “It’s not Christmas yet!”

The plan, it seemed, was simple. Christmas-Eve-day was their biggest trading day and as such we were all assigned 8 hour shifts. To get through the insanity, we would all put money in a kitty. This money would then go towards purchasing a quantity of speed, which would allow each worker to get through the day. Our manager – Janice, a lovely woman with a kind yet stern and motherly attitude – was the only staff member, as far as I know, to refrain.

“Put it in her coffee,” Steph laughed, flicking at the small baggie of yellow crystals in my hand.

The stuff was magic, and the customers were insanity – there were maybe 20 customers for each worker on duty, and some items in the store we couldn’t sell because there was simply no room to get to the shelves at the back (and this being Toorak, you couldn’t, of course, suggest that a customer could get an item themselves).

Most customers were there to pick up turkeys and salad. The turkeys had, much to mine and Steph’s amusement, been placed on their backsides so they looked ungainly and childlike, and been cooked at a high temperature as quickly as possible. This had resulted in reams of stuffing flowing out of the top of them, making them look less like a child and more like a sidewalk drunk, handfuls of walnut and cranberry stuffing dribbling out of their crisped turkey neckholes like the most violent diarrhea known to anyone, anywhere. In reverse.

“Order number four hundred and fifty six,” a woman announced, pushing her ticket across the bench and towards me with a manicured hand.

“Sure thing!” I said cheerily, full of drugs and under the impression I could do anything, I could be the best damn deli assistant ever.

I found the woman’s order – a turkey and two large salads, all crammed into a pleasant, probably organic cardboard box – and read the receipt out to her.

“That comes to…” I faltered as I reached the price. A mistake, surely?

“Yes?” the woman asked.

“A thousand dollars,” I replied, fearing the woman’s outrage at my obvious mistake.

“Right,” the woman replied, rummaging through her handbag. “You do take AMEX? It’s so hard to find a black card in a black bag, even with all the light in here, a-hah-hah-hah.

Several hours later, I’ve been released from my duties, and I exit through the store’s front door, now that the customers are mostly gone. Our manager, Janice, stands in the corner on a step-ladder, facing the wall and sobbing uncontrollably, her body shaking dolefully. I’m almost out the door, and I stop and turn stiffly, awkward and unsure of what to do.

“…bye Janice!” I opt for, stupidly, instead of saying that I hoped she was okay.

“Wait!” she replies, turning on the spot.

“Yuh… yes?” I reply.

“Take a cake, if you want one,” she replies. “We’ve got heaps left over,” she gestures. “So… so you can just take one if you want. You all can.”

“Oh,” I reply, taking one of the cakes in hand. “That’s so kind of you.

Janice smiles through her tears.

“And… Merry Christmas.”


A few years previous, I worked at a video store – “Video Busters” – and eagerly stuck my hand up when they’d asked who’d like to work on Christmas day.

This’ll be so easy! I thought to myself as I stepped forward.

It wasn’t. “Video Busters” was in Elsternwick (for non-Melbournites, it’s a suburb predominantly lived-in by Jewish families). Smash cut to me, an hour into my shift, a pile of cast-off DVDs in front of me larger than my face, and an aggressive mother and child combination, the child crying and waving a DVD around that he’s plucked from the shelves – “I Love My Big Sister’s Tits 9”.

“Come on,” the woman coaxes. “Give Mummy the DVD, it’s not for children. Not for kid-kids. Come on. Come on.”

“FINE.” The child intones and smashes the offending DVD to the ground, where it bounces once and breaks open, the disc itself (adorned with a ‘sexy’ photograph of the “sister” in question – the film’s right, her tits are indeed pretty large) flying out, bouncing off the concrete floor and rolling down one of the aisles to hit somebody in the foot.

“What’re you going to do about it?” the woman hisses to me.

“Uh…” I’m genuinely unsure as how to reply. “Go and get the disc from the floor?”

And hope that your kid learns the meaning of the word ‘no’, I silently add.

“Now is not the time,” my manager snaps from her station and presses a few buttons at the computer. Above her, Madonna sings “Hung Up” from the store’s P.A. system, and I think how glad I am it’s that and not Christmas carols.

“It is Christmas,” the woman spits and shoves her chosen films towards me. As she does so, the Star of David around her neck glints bright in the store’s halogen lights.

“Oh. Sorry,” I intone as I appraise her chosen films. Apparently “My Big Sister’s Tits 1-8” don’t feature on their holiday viewing repertoire. “Merry Christmas,” I say.

“Don’t you dare be sarcastic,” the woman replies, and scoops her child up in one: “Hello. Hello. Boo-bub-bub-bub-bub? Bub bub bub?”


My best friend Ali’s father has a life-sized Santa Claus robot that has become synonymous with the holiday period. She’s in Canada, now, but every Christmas gathering she’d have was never complete ‘till someone got the bright idea to switch the gigantic Santa on. This thing is around six feet tall and looks to have swallowed (and consequently been unable to digest) a wooden barrel as well as a motion sensor, which sets its body off, rocking back and forth like a lunatic mental patient, its arms karate-chopping as it goes and something inside it sings in a mechanical baritone with canned Christmas cheer: “It’s the most, wonderful, tiiiiime, of the yeaaaar.”


An hour ago, as I wait for my physio to pick me up from reception, a hospital lunch-lady with metres of red and gold tinsel wrapped round her midriff comes rocketing along with a refrigerated trolley in front of her, wheels sliding madly back and forth.

The woman locks eyes with me in brief recognition as she recalibrates the mechanized lunch-carrying weapon in front of her and hikes up her tinself-belt over her painfully cheery outfit, the t-shirt underneath emblazoned with the less-cheery name: CAULFIELD ACQUIRED BRAIN INJURY UNIT!! And below this: SEASON’S GREETINGS!!

She smiles – more a grimace, really – and hikes up her tinsel again. Apparently it’s not doing what she wants. Then, in one movement, she slams the lunch-trolley into the gigantic wooden doors towards the hospital’s in-patient ward, and bellows as one would to a pack of hungry domestic dogs: “LUNCH’S UP EVERYBODY.”


I was officially adopted into my family some days before Christmas itself, 1988. In those days – of briefcase-sized mobile phones, “Beaches” and “Beetlejuice” – my parents still attended church twice a week. Word spread quickly around the parish that my parents had been successful in their bid to adopt a child, and one Sunday every churchgoer and official congratulated them on their adoptive success. Father Trick – who started his Christmas sermons by pointing to the plastic Jesus in the nearby nativity scene and saying “we are here today because of THAT THING. THAT THING THERE, IN THE HAY.” – came up to my parents after his sermon, taking their hands in his and saying:

“A new son! It’s like a baby-sized Christmas present. Congratulations!”

I was quickly taken in by my extended family and, in rare moments of tranquility – I was a screamer – I’d sit on salmon coloured carpet staring wondrously and glassy-eyed up at the rainbow-lit Christmas tree above me, drooling slightly, as babies are wont to do.

This habit stuck with me for years afterwards, ‘till I was six or seven and would sneak out of my bed late at night just to see the alien glow of those multicoloured festive lights; to take in their ethereal beauty and quiet dignity.

Now it seems, Christmas no longer has either of those things, but maybe that’s just because I know that Santa isn’t real and so, with the magic man gone, the magic itself is gone. (My private drama teacher, in year 4: “Because you all know Santa’s not real, right? Oh, come on Chris, surely you knew!” (I didn’t)).

But, accordingly, there’s a different kind of magic around Christmas time; not one of presents and material possessions, but of simply being with the people you love, of company as the real present, of being an adult, of getting to choose your family and who to spend it with. Because the old adage lied to you: you can choose your family. You’re not stuck with them. Maybe they’re related to you by blood, maybe they’re not, but they mean more than any Hallmark card or clichéd anecdote or advice ever could. Why?

Because you chose them.



Dear Sir and/or Madam:

Regarding: my recent Arts Funding Application, APP NO: 678910.

In the interest of fairness/your Information and Knowledge, I thought it best – not that I’m asking for pity, mind – that you all at the Australia Council for the Arts should know that I’m actually a recent survivor of a car crash (specifically, I was mowed down on a Berlin road – calling it a “car crash” in my mind indicates two cars and that hence I had a large metal frame weighing several tonnes surrounding me for protection, when in fact I didn’t) during which I was knocked violently unconscious and thereby found myself knocking on Heaven’s door (metaphorically, because I’m actually an atheist). I also acquired an Acquired Brain Injury, so, if I do say so myself, it’s basically a miracle I can even write this letter to y’all, or even apply for funding from your Funding Body.

Anywho, I just thought you should take that all into consideration before deciding whose application is the best overall and – I haven’t even mentioned that I go to NIDA, but, I do, or did before the car accident (getting hit by) and very much hope to return soon – who, given the circumstances, deserves the money.

My parents took some photos of me the week that I came out of my coma. My face in these photos is still a little bloodied and my eyebrow is stitched up, still, but I can send them along if they’ll help you all with your decision which I trust will be the Right One.

 Kindest Regards,

Christopher “Almost Died on a Berlin Road But Juuuuuust Survived” Bryant.


I am sitting in an upright black chair not unlike those featured in school classrooms, listening to my Psychiatrist speak and wondering why the hospital hasn’t prescribed to the American ideal that every Psychiatrist’s office should be fitted with a comfortable leather chaise lounge. Haven’t they seen US television? It’s Germany, so, probably not.

“And – let me tell you,” the Psychiatrist speaks, twirling her orange ponytail through the weave of her talon-like fingers as my brain cuts back to the topic at hand, “you are so lucky. So damn lucky. To be alive, yes. But also to still be able to walk and talk and think, even. Have you seen some of the other patients around? Committed to wheelchairs and walkers usually used by the elderly, not able to get around without someone to wheel them. Think of Mr. Henderson, ja? It’s amusing on one level, his speech, I know – ja, ja, ja, ja, genaut, ja!” she turns quickly to an imitation of Henderson’s speech, her voice morphing and adopting the sudden age and weight of a 67 year old brain injury patient with more than a passing resemblance to Santa Claus and without, evidently, the ability to speak a full set of varied words. “But imagine what it must be like for him? Stuck in there, trying so hard, unable to do anything else but “ja”!” She leans in conspiratorially now. “Some of the nurses walk into his room and ask him things because they know his answer will be “yes”. Like, “I’m the best nurse here, aren’t I?” and “everyone else is shit, aren’t they?” Isn’t that just horrible for poor Mr. Henderson?”

It is, I think. But aren’t we supposed to be talking about my psychological state instead?


We’re siting at a friend’s housewarming party, now, at a white plastic set of domestic table and chairs, the group giggling and laughing against the humdrum of other voices, crickets outside and a stereo system that seems to be playing a mix CD of Blink 182’s varied “hits”.

There’s a pause in the conversation – which has, like so damn many in life right now, been about my accident, my brain injury, how I’m doing, what exactly I’m doing to get my life ‘back together’, how I’m finding rehab.

Dylan – a friend of Jeremy’s, a nurse, someone on his netball team – has been sitting comfortably in a matching white plastic chair, his hands and fingers tented pensively under his head.

“Well, yeah,” he says. “I mean, you’re lucky, you’re fucken’ lucky, but don’t let that consume you. I mean, it is what is. You escaped it. A lot of people don’t. That’s not your fault.”

There’s a pause, and my brain jolts awake in some kind of strange revelry. In the silence, I realise: this is the first time in however many months that someone has told me I’m “so lucky” and not made it sound like an accusation.


My current physio, Cristie, is a stern taskmaster, rarely pleased unless we end each session with me covered in sweat and gasping for pure fresh air. That being said, she also carries with her an air of inspiration and excitement and is quick to compliment me and tell me when I’ve improved (something that, as I live this recovery, is getting harder and harder to notice on the daily). Also I’m pretty certain she has a bangin’ set of abdominal muscles (something I’ve never been able to boast of, sadly) even after giving birth to two children, so that, I think, is pretty astounding in and of itself.

A session, last week, half shared with another of her patients: me, sweating and puffing as I run across the physio gym and attempt, as I do, to do squats, and the other patient, sitting calmly on a chair with Cristie next to her, trying to talk her up.

“I know,” Cristie says. “I know, but how about we try – we just try – for today, hey? Nothing’ll go wrong, I promise. I’ll be here for help if ever you need.

No!” the patient says. “No. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t step up on that block,” she gestures to the plastic yoga ledge in front of her, about a quarter-foot above the hardwood floor. “It’s… it’s too scary.”

Fuelled in my determination, I reach the station in front of me, down the end of the hall leading out to the hospital at large, and I grab the weights and begin to do a set of squats.


One of my therapists:

“You can’t get lazy about things, as I think people have a tendency to do; or they rely on knowledge of the brain injury to get them by, when really they should keep pushing themselves to do new things and seek out their limits.”

A friend:

“You’re basically cleared to coast by on this brain injury shit for the next fifty years. Seriously. Every application from now, everything else – I reckon you’ve earned it, so just fucking milk it.”


My neuropsychologist’s office; Caulfield, Australia – smudged white walls and off-grey carpet engulfing the heels of my shoes which’re currently digging hard into the ground below me in a futile attempt to rid myself of my displeasure.

“Sometimes,” she says softly, pityingly. “Sometimes, people with brain injuries think – they… they think that things are very good when in actual fact…” here she pauses for dramatic effect. “…they aren’t” she finishes with the air of dropping a horrible and dramatic “truth bomb”, apparently ignoring the fact she’s dropped this particular bomb approximately five times before and each time I’ve remembered. This particular bomb-dropping has been spurred by me letting her know I’ve submitted an (admittedly very late, but I think that’s understandable, given the situation) assignment for my Masters course. She pats the table between us in a play at comfort-giving. “Can you send the marks along once you get them? So we can see how you go and maybe go from there, therapy-planning-wise.”

I grit my teeth so hard I fear they might snap in two.

“Sure thing.”

“Dear Christopher,

Your mark hasn’t been moderated yet, but it will either be a Distinction or High Distinction, and exhibited not only your usual intelligence, but considerable poise as well! It felt to me like you were very much back in the land of the living. If you’d like, give your Occupational Therapist my email address and I might be able to give her more detail if that’s not adequate, though I’m sure both you and she are much better judges of your current state than I am!

All the best,


“Hi Chris, 

Please find attached some factsheets you may find useful. 

Feel free to ask me any questions.

See you again soon. Have a good weekend! 

Kind regards,

2 attachments:



Both attachments are chocked full of “truth bombs”, warning me of the dangers of drinking and drug use after a brain injury (facts I already knew, but helpful) and that I might find study “hard to get used to”; including that work that I think is good might actually not be and that exams – thankfully not an issue I have to worry about – might be “stressful to deal with” (facts I already knew and less than helpful – perhaps a better factsheet would’ve been HOW TO CONVINCE YOUR NEURO-PSYCH YOU’RE OKAY TO GO BACK TO STUDY AND WRITING BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN DOING BOTH FOR THE PAST SIX WEEKS EVER SINCE YOU GOT BACK TO YOUR LAPTOP AND YOU HAVE HARD EVIDENCE THAT LECTURERS HAVE ASSESSED YOUR POST-BRAIN INJURY WORK POSTIVELY.DOC).

The fact that my “miraculously quick recovery” (doctor’s words, not mine) – indeed, my general aliveness – is all just a simple fluke haunts me. Similarly, the fact that my life hung in the balance of a metaphorical coin-toss where what determined the coin’s landing was not the technique of the thrower themselves or that somebody weighted down the coin, it was just, in fact, just pure chance itself, also haunts me.

Somehow I’m convinced that somewhere, out in the multitude and imaginary collection of alternate universes, there’s a version of me in a hospital somewhere, miles from recovery and unable to walk or talk or remember the faces of my loved ones, drooling and giggling at things nobody else can see, really testing the strength of my friendships.


A week before we leave Spandau, I’m standing naked post-shower in the patient bathroom, hands grabbing sections of my body and twisting cruelly. Given the hospital’s insistence at twice-daily abendbrot – bread and thick cheese with fatty meats; deeeeeeelicious – and the tendency of brain injury patients to crave sweet things (the body’s attempts to sugar itself up for recovery, apparently) I’ve put on some 8 kilograms since my hospital admission (and my coma, which my friends joked I’d be pleased by because of the enforced weight loss – they were right) and this is the moment I first come to accept it, traitor pockets of softness and weakness spreading ‘cross my body like someone might spread full-cream butter over thick dry bread. My eyes – or eye, as one is covered by an eye-patch – come to rest on the fact of my body in its current state. A thought like a helium balloon twists out of still-recovering brain and explodes in front of me:

You fat fuck.

I blanche.

An hour later I huff into bed and pull the covers over my head like a truly petulant child. I lie there, in the dark, hating the accident, hating Germany and German hospital food, hating all cars everywhere, hating my body for not being what I want it to be, hating my treacherous fat cells, and hating drunk me for not looking both fucking ways before crossing. As I lie there, the nightly sedatives slowly taking their desired effect, another thought-balloon twists out and pops, the thought coming out calm and quiet and dark in the night, both perverse, thankless and incredibly immature all at once:

If I can’t have a body that doesn’t disgust me, what’s the point? Why did I even survive then?


I am 9 years old, running through my childhood home and laughing hysterically as I dodge my older brother’s attempts at tickling me. The soundtrack to “The Lion King” blasts out of the CD player – “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” – the bass rocking through the floor and shaking my knees joyously. My parents aren’t home. I jet off again, seeing my brother come down the hallway after me, and come to stop on socked feet in front of a glass window.

“HAH!” he yells as he tickles me and I scream in faux-terror and pain and begin gnashing my arms around.

It takes only a second, but suddenly my arm is clear through the window, the veins and flesh of my arm pissing blood everywhere, and this time I’m screaming in real terror and pain.

I’m in the back of my next-door neighbour’s car, my brother holding a face-washer over my wounded arm soaked deep crimson and wet with blood. My next-door neighbour runs back and opens the car.

“It’s a palliative care hospital,” he says of the nearby hospice we’ve screamed into. “They don’t think they’ll have the resources to help; we’ll have to go to the GP instead.”

It takes two people to do it – both my parents kneeling on each arm – but they finally restrain me enough so that I have no choice but to let the doctor’s anaesthetic needle inside my vein. Once it is, though, she works quickly and efficiently, and I feel nothing.

Later – hours later – my parents are up still but it’s past my bedtime, and I’m padding to the bathroom, arm wrapped up in tight scratchy bandages.

“It was so close,” Mum says. “The doctor reckons if it’d been a millimetre more it would’ve cut through an artery and the… and then he wouldn’t have made it.”

Even at 9, with a full bladder and half-asleep, I know what “wouldn’t have made it” means. I guess I was close, then.

Close to what, though? part of me – the part that’s desperate to urinate – asks.

After ten seconds of pondering, I still don’t have an answer so I continue on toward the bathroom instead.

A fellow student, some days after I’d returned to school, patched up.

“What happened to your aaaarm? Did you try and cut yourself?

I don’t believe in superstition – except for my old determined belief that holding the “B” button down when attempting to catch a wild Pokémon and thinking manically “I’ll look after you so well and feed you all the best foods you want to be on my team I promise you’ll love it you’llLOVEit pleasepleasepleasepleasePLEASE-” will help up my in-the-wild catch rates, and my other old belief – that began around the same time as the Pokémon belief; 1997, the year “Red” and “Blue” were released – that if I left my blinds closed in the morning by accident then Mum’d bring home cooked chicken for dinner. After these two (admittedly rather spaced out) incidents, if I manage to make it to 41, I’m having a year of superstition and ultimate caution, just in case.

Juuuuuuust in case.


Six days, now, ‘till we’re due to leave Spandau – and I’ve woken, slowly reaching the surface of clear mindedness and clarity as the sleeping tablet wears off and I return to what has now become my regular life. My parents are already in my hospital room, mulling about as I wake.

“Hello,” Mum says.

“Hello,” I return, my mouth dry and claggy from a combination the after-effects of the tablet and some one and a half months of unclear, drugged, sleep.

In silence and stillness, we both watch as a tiny ladybug slips its spotted way through the open window and, wings spread wide, streams through the air and comes to rest in the palm of my outstretched hand.

I pause. The ladybug moves, slowly and determinedly trotting across the faint crevice of the lifeline running through the middle of my fleshy palm.

“I think you have a friend,” Mum smiles. “He’s been in this room for the past few days, actually. He’s like your guardian angel.”

Slowly and determinedly the ladybug turns on the spot and sits down in my palm, feelers waggling left and right, giving off the impression that it’s looking at me; studying my face.

“Yeah, right,” I reply, a smile breaking through despite my mood and creasing across my face, left and right; one side to the other, like the lifeline that runs across my palm.