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Monthly Archives: January 2015

1.

“Well done – six seconds!” my physio, Cristie, smiles of my running descent down a flight of lemon-yellow and black rubber emergency stairs. “Less than half the time it took you the in October, d’you remember?” I do, all too well, and an immediate visage of myself, ungainly and uncoordinated, limping down the stairs at the end of October and trying not to vomit as my whole word magically became an emergency stairs-sized rocking horse intent on getting me off its back.

“So, that’s…” she trails off as she writes my score on her sheet, ticking boxes down the line as she goes. “…it! That’s it, then, you’ve done all the tests!” she smiles happily at me, tucking the sheet away. “Aaaaand so, that’s it.”

I pause, confused. “It?”

It,” she confirms, nodding her head and ponytail around. “You’re discharged. You don’t need to come to Physio anymore; but I’ll check up on you in a couple of months but I reckon you should be fine.”

“I’m discharged.” I flat-line, disbelieving.

“You’re discharged,” she repeats back to me. “It’s been an absolute pleasure.”

My heart bursts with waves of simultaneous terror and excitement, my mind unsure of how to feel. Slowly but surely – or, in this case, less slowly and more incredibly abruptly – one of my major supports has been ripped out from under me. I look out of the door to the physio-gym and see Cristie, smile and high ponytail whirling around with the force of her movement as she greets another patient and moves on her way.

“I’m discharged,” I repeat idly to myself. Well, then.

2.

“What d’you want to achieve?”

It is the end of October and I’m sitting on a large, Sapphire-blue Swiss ball, digging my feet into the faux-wooden ground to try and combat the waves of nausea and terror that seem to overcome me each time the bloated ball turns on its side. I’m sitting opposite my new physio, a young woman named Cristie with taut black hair pulled into a side ponytail and a kind face, but one that looks as if it could turn mean in an instant.

“Go to gym again.” My reply is instant and strangely confident, belying the manner in which my guts are twisted into unfamiliar knots at my first time in a hospital since Berlin and the countless unfortunates propped up in wheelchairs as they pass me in the hall; neck braces giving off alien vibes of attempted wellness as they do.

“Sure,” Cristie replies, quickly scribbling something on her pad. I’m internally strangely jealous at her ability to write so quickly and somehow still so neatly. I remember when I could still do that.

“And just run,” I add, quietly amused that I’d ever get to the point where I’d miss running. “Each time I do at the moment it’s like the ground’s rising up to attack me.”

“Right,” Cristie intones, continuing her scribble. “That’s not good.”

“No,” I smile in agreeance. “And I haven’t even told you about the time I tried to do push-ups, yet.”

3.

I am sitting, now, in my neuro-psychologist’s office, digging my feet into the thin and hateful carpet below me in what has become a worrying pattern of self-regulation – attacking my feet in an attempt to try and quell the pre-emptive anger that consistently undulates from the centre of my being whenever Jane speaks to me.

“Now, I’m not going to discharge you just yet,” she giggles to herself and wags her finger at me, smile growing ever wider. My own smile splits my face in two as my feet push down and teeth begin to grind in to each other.

My brain cracks. Quell the anger, I think desperately. Quell the anger, quell the anger. Quell, quell, quell. I’m fighting a losing battle.

“We need to get you together,” she continues, the finger still wagging incessantly in my direction. “When you go for a job interview,” she says. “To be a director, you’ll need a notebook to keep organized in – maybe Kikki K, or something like that? It’s a bit girly, I know, but they work well, keeping everything together.” I’ve told her, fortnightly now, that although I have directed in the past, given my time at NIDA and connections therewithal, my intention since about six months ago was (always to) focus solely on the playwriting thing.

Jobsdon’tworklikethat,” I spit out uncontrollably, the words zooming out of me like the bodily functions of an uncontrolled meth addict, before I can swallow them back and choke on them. The room is tense, the mood dark and thick like molasses and covering the both of us, my chest thumping away in dull protest. I inhale, then exhale. Quell, quell, quell. My mouth is drier than my Grandmother’s roast. “Um…” I pause. “…in… in the theatre world,” I continue unconvincingly, my brain racing. “You know, haha. It’s… it’s a hard world, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she murmurs, seemingly satisfied with my answer, or else choosing to ignore it.

“Mm,” I reply, confused as to why I’m suddenly fucking desperate to be let go when yesterday the concept filled me with sheer and blinding terror. “Okay.” I inhale, then exhale, as the two of us stare each other off from our black stuffed leather office chairs, both doing a passable imitation of gangsters in a Clint Eastwood film. “What do I need to do to get discharged, then?”

Her reply is slow to come, punctuated by the sound of her leather shoes skimming across the carpet. She smiles at me, large and in charge. Dangerous, I inhale, then exhale.

4. 

I am twelve years of age and it is the year 2000, some time in that month-long period where school has already begun for the year but the weather has refused to take notice, beating down in stinking hot rays of light throughout the country and occasionally (and blessedly) causing my school to cancel that whole learning thing for the day – weather over 40 degrees obviously being too hot for poor, darling, sweaty little children.

In this instance, however, school’s done for the day. It is 4.00 PM and I am standing in a nearby car park with Rob, a friend of my brother’s who has been paid by my near-desperate parents to teach me how to ride a bike (a skill I haven’t, at this stage, acquired, it being hard to balance when you’re as fat as a young hippopotamus and with as much grace as one, too).

Within fifteen minutes I’m pedalling away, Rob running behind me, hands and comforting grip on the bike, a sense of security washing over me as he follows.

“You’re doing it!” he bellows after me as I continue to pedal, my human safety blanket now standing behind and watching me pedal. “You’re riding a bike!”

White hot fear and sheer uncoordination course through my brain, worming in in every way they can, and I freak, hands jolting uncontrollably on the brakes and stopping the car in veritable midair, sending me arse over freaked-out, helmeted, head. I hit the pavement, soft flesh colliding with hot Summer asphalt and tearing, picking up smears of hot ashen black as it does so. This, apparently, is what happens when I realize I’m all alone. Now, of course, it just seems ridiculous – hadn’t Rob ever seen a family midday movie before? You never tell the kid they’re doing it by themselves!

6.

2015 again. I’m sitting, now, in my speech-therapist Amanda’s office. She is holding my mother’s iPad in front of me and smiling. “Talk for a minute now, on…” she pauses as she thinks. “The latest play you’ve written. Whatever you feel like saying. Recording… now!”

I do so, and she’s pleased with the results. “So much better!” she says, scrolling through countless weekly videos of me talking about random crap. “Here!” she presses firmly on the first one and it bursts to life – me in a polka-dotted shirt, body much more twisted than it was, smaller and less built, my left side (the weak one) hanging limp and unattentive and voice much less intelligible. “See how much better you are?”.

I smile despite the hatred towards the sound of my recorded voice that course through my brain..

“I still think,” Amanda says. “There’s a little more work to do if you want to act again, but not much. Very nearly there!” Then: “Shall we say we meet every fortnight from now on? There’s not really much point having weekly sessions, is there?”

7.

There’s a mechanical screech as the tram pulls up in front of me and I step onto it, pressing my myki into the reader and sitting down next to an old lady who smells of dried, pressed flowers and old cats.

“You can do what you want,” Danielle, my Occupational Therapist had confirmed earlier. “But if you’re not feeling confident, I can work on it with you. Would you like a session on public transport?”

“Yes,” I’d said, sudden and heady fear of the recent unknown outweighing the sensibility in my head, brain suddenly overflowing with grainy images of my body trapped underneath a train or tram, twitching ice-cold and bloody and lifeless.

“Sure,” Danielle replied. “Let’s do some sessions over the Christmas break – just email me what type of transport you’d like to do most of all and we’ll work on it together.”

With this I’d been discharged from nearly four months of house arrest. I was able to go places by myself, like a regular and free human being, except for the fear like black tar coursing through my veins and knotting up my stomach.

“Excuse me,” the lady next to me smiles, grabbing my elbow with a bony hand. “But do you know when the Glen Huntly road shops are?”

 “Sure,” I reply on automatic. “Two stops away, we’re nearly there. I can pull the chain for you if you want.” 

“If you could, that’d be lovely,” she replies, releasing my arm. “And, thank you.”

You’ve done this all your life, I think, so stop being a fucking scaredy-cat.

Two weeks later I’ve  spent the holidays getting myself around – like a real life independent human being – and feel as confident as ever. Before I even suggest it, Danielle herself cancels the session.

8.

It is the first week of my fateful overseas trip, long enough to have ended my jetlag but not long enough to yet have given me my proper bearings. I’m wandering around with my friend, Laura, stopping in every shop for a Scottish gander and the occasional midday pint of beer. We’re searching for a Kodak shop, the both of us looking to purchase a disposable camera for which to properly document our trip. In that strange way that you can only feel in a new city, we are together but on our own, without outside friends, jobs or hobbies or anything beyond the booming and theatrical fringe festival.

We link arms, walking down the steep cobbled steps from a nearby cemetery and down the street, tourists and Scotspeople streaming past in every direction; in a display that, since getting hit by a car, would confuse and terrify me. There is an oddness to the air brought whipping cold and raining around our faces, a feeling of aloneness, that there might be thousands or a million other people nearby but that we were out, out in the world, out on a ledge, on a foreign wire, achieving things by our own means and devices and trust in ourselves.

“THERE IT IS.” I bellow as we make our way down the street some four leisurely hours into our Kodak journey, pointing forcibly towards the yellow and red sign hanging and dully lit up in the sheer bleakness of Scotland’s grey air. Excitement coursing through our bodies and legs and refrigerated by the glacial temperatures of the day, we make our way into the store. A reprieve: we’re alone, here, surrounded by DSLR cameras way out of our price range and photo printing booths and no customers, just the man behind the counter, and blessed silence. The shop assistant stares at us, a look of expectation across his face, and we gingerly approach, our shoes making quiet squelching sounds against the fabric of the carpet.

“Hi,” I say, my heart suddenly alive and beating haphazard in my chest, body unnecessarily on edge, somehow wary of the situation I’ve just walked into, and irrationally afraid to ask the shopkeeper where he keeps the disposable cameras. Laura sidles up next to me, and I force myself to break out of this pointless terror and speak: “We’re looking for cameras,” I say. “Disposable ones. Where do you keep them?”

And this is how it’s always been, and how it is now, in a bitter sense. Time and time again, in the past, it has come down to body versus brain, and I’ve beaten the body, quite succinctly. I beat it when I weighed some fifty kilograms more than I do now. I’ve beaten it when my teeth were broken and askew, my eye pulled up and out, my legs unable to run and my torso fighting the weight of German hospital.

But neither time – indeed, really at any time in my 26 years of life so far – have I managed to beat my brain into shape. It still conjures up imagined vicious answers from shopkeepers, still paints my body with an imagined extra ten, fifteen or twenty kilograms, still tells me I’ll fall and fail without the support of people to tell me what to do, how to fix myself, how to better myself. Part of this can be explained away by the undeserved catcalls and vicious jeers of my schoolyard peers – the ones I can now see for what they were; completely fucking idiotic – but a bigger part comes down to me, the way my brain is wired and my own incredibly high expectations of my self. Perhaps, then, it’s time for round two of “body versus brain”; to train up that half of my self – heck, give it steroids if it needs – where it needs training and to rip the metaphorical carpet out from under it where else it needs it, to stand in its corner and rub its little squishy pink brain-shoulders and say “hey, motherfucker, I’m here for you.”

Say what you will, but this time I’m putting all my money on the brain. It’s about time I did.

1.

It is Christmas: this year, exactly, or a few days before. The day outside has slinked into night, a pleasant blackness enveloping my childhood home and allowing our plastic Christmas tree – adored currently with some fifty-something tacky ornaments – to light up in exquisitely bright reds, yellows, blues, greens and pinks.

“We’ll have to put it up on the kiddy table so that Eleanor won’t get at it,” Mum had puffed with me as we’d assembled the beast of a tree some hours early, referring to my youngest niece, a surprisingly sassy and curious young girl just shy of one year old who neither of us want to be crushed by a fake Christmas adornment as big (and heavy) as an adult male.

“Okay,” I reply, lifting up my side as much as I can.

The big night. We pause with baited breath as the children enter the room, curious as to the rainbow-bright lights, and hope that Eleanor doesn’t fancy swinging on a low-reaching branch.

“Look!” Mum says, obvious merriment in her voice. She’s pointing to a nearby pot-plant. There, on the ground, sits Eleanor, her back to the tree and its outrageously cheery display as she reaches into the plant’s pot and pulls out a polished and dull grey rock, turning it to and fro in her tiny hands. Abruptly, she raises the rock above her head, tiny hands and tinier fingers shaking as she suspends the rock in mid-air, as if to crush an invisible tiny assailant beneath her. The moment is oddly tense, suspended in slow motion and expectation.

And then Eleanor, a tiny smile adorning her tiny face, lowers the polished rock down to the linoleum ground and leaves it there, patting it carefully as she does.

1.

It is Christmas: this year, exactly, or a few days before. The day outside has slinked into night, a pleasant blackness enveloping the apartment block I live in and cutting out the natural light that dapples itself over the man-made grassy knolls of our communal back-yard, spilling onto our downstairs neighbours as they finish the day by supping on cheese and wine. As the sun sets, metres of Christmas lights – the cheap kind that I’ve bought from the nearby Coles supermarket; my attempt at a Christmas without the tree – spring to life, spilling their rainbow colours out onto the paved white and wooden surfaces of the apartment as they do so.

“You need anything from the shops, mate?” my housemate Oliver asks from the doorway.

“No thanks!” I reply. A click of a lock, the unseen twist of the door, and he’s gone, and I am alone. The big night. Merry Christmas to me. I flick the television onto some shitty Christmas special, pouring a glass of wine as I do, and sit down on the couch.

And then: an alarm for god knows what, shooting through the atmosphere of the lounge room with an alien insistence so persistent that I nearly throw it across the room in my violent attempts to retrieve it from my pocket. The room is oddly tense as my right hand holds it above my head, caught in desperation and hoping it won’t slip, clutching with madness and insistence.

And as Jim Carrey as the Grinch does something typically stupid on the television in front of me, I lower it to the couch, a tiny smile adorning my face.

2.

And I am electric as the sun sets on the rooftop bar section of Kensington’s Doncaster pub – crappy all round but cheap alcohol, cheap food and terribly close to school – pumped up by my unquenchable exuberance, pleased as punch to be making my first trip overseas in a day and a half and pleased as punch to have my friends around me; to see their faces one last time before my adventure begins.

You’ll be okay, part of me whispers to the smaller part of me that’s already mourning the distance yet to happen; you’ll see them all again in a month.

And too soon the night itself is over, and I think how lucky I am to have found a group of people who I can genuinely feel at ease with; and how rare that is for me.

After we hug goodbye, my friend Jonathan smiles at me: “Take heaps of photos. Post it all over Facebook. Make us all jealous.”

His addendum, some four months later, after we’ve hugged and it’s established I’m definitely still alive: “I didn’t mean in THAT WAY.”

2.

And I am electric as the sun sets around us, my good friend Anastasia and I, heading back from our late night lecture at Melbourne University.

“Oh, Amanda,” Ana sighs, and I clutch my hand to my heart in faux pain.

“She’s so good,” I gesticulate, still clutching my chest with one hand and shaking my hand to the heavens as if praising God for delivering the best lecturer he possibly could to us. “I want to be her friend!”

“Me too oh my god,” Ana replies, the two of us making our way down Swanston St towards a tiny lit-up joint with the words “RICE PAPER” emblazoned in gold on the front window. Not surprisingly, the store sells rice paper rolls and cheap, delicious Singha beer. “Shall we?”

“Of course,” I reply, holding the door open for her like a gentleman. “I can’t believe our Masters is all almost over,” I murmur almost not of my own accord, the upcoming juncture into the real Adult world something that’s been playing on my mind for weeks. Now I’ll have to actually make something of myself.

“One last semester!” Ana confirms, choosing a table to sit at.

“Another two years if I manage to make it into NIDA,” I reply, sounding far too old and, plainly, too grouchy for my age.

Ana pauses for a second, locking eyes with a nearby waitress and attempting to retrieve something from her bag. Then she smiles at me, wide and broad and encouraging. “But wouldn’t that just be amazing?”

3.

And these are some of my wholly imagined Sliding Doors moments; stemming from the belief that, hey, if there’s a reality where I achieved something that I’d wanted for the last decade then almost died, shouldn’t there be one where stayed in Melbourne, unfulfilled, and stayed alive? Where’s the reality where I dye and change my hair in that pointedly fashion-centric and idiotic way Ms Gwyneth Paltrow did in the 1998 film? And will I still meet, in this alternate reality, all the beautiful people I’ve met this year, as the haircut-free Gwyneth still met John Hannah’s character at the end of the film?

4.

I sit in my psychologist’s office, avoiding her eyes as I shuffle around in the uncomfortable black plastic chair pressed hard beneath me. As I shuffle, I absentmindedly attempt to tap my left foot on the ground; a unique form of homework that my physio has given me in order to strengthen and quicken my left leg’s reaction times. No matter how much I do it, my reaction times seem the goddamn same. It’s fucking frustrating. There’s a wealth of information and feeling bubbling quietly and insistently within me, preparing to burst out at any moment, and I know that when it comes – unlike in times or years previous – I’ll let it. When did this woman become my confidant; the keeper of my confused and pained mental state?

“You can say whatever you like,” she prods politely and gently for the umpteenth time. “Nothing will leave this room.”

A pause. I feel on the verge of something complex and unknowable. I stop my foot in mid-air.

“I’m angry,” I say, conversely calm but with an undercurrent of vitriol. “I did it to myself, I know, but I’m fucking angry that I was so close to something I’ve dreamt my whole life of doing and that I didn’t get to finish.”

“You will, though,” she smiles. Anna – her name is Anna. Anna and I haven’t talked about me returning to study, and apparently we haven’t needed to – unlike mine, there’s no doubt in her mind that I’ll get to return. “This is just a detour, remember?”

And yet the car can’t for the life of it get back on track. There’s nothing to do, and I am alone in this, no matter how much people understand and support and are generally lovely.

“When I left Melbourne,” I say, slowly, trying as much to figure it out for myself. “There was a lead-up. Y’know, I got to spend time with the people I loved, I got to say goodbye to each and every one, all on my own terms. But this…” I pause, the inside of my mouth suddenly dry and ugly. My lips twist into a grimace. “I didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone. I was ripped from my whole world; a sick, displaced, recovery patient. Scotland, then Germany for two months, and then straight back to Melbourne. Learning how to run, how to type and dental sessions to fix the teeth that hit the road when I did. This is your life now, like or lump it.”

“And you lumped it,” Anna says gently. “Quite admirably. But it’s okay to be angry. You don’t have to lump it all the time. People who’re constantly positive are their own kind of ill,” she smiles. “You’re here, and you want to get back, and you’re realistic. That’s more than I can say for most people.”

As I walk home, earphones stuffed in my ears, I think of how a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere by myself, and how, despite myself, progression is obvious and freeing. I suppose, I think to myself, although there’s really nothing to like, lumping it isn’t that bad. Lumping it is how you get through; how you move forwards, how you get there, in the end.

With that, I cross the road, checking – twice, to be safe – as the strings of Aqua’s “Turn Back Time” start up in the confines of my mind.