take the streets

I was free then.

For the first time.

The streets, roads, pavements,

they belonged to me,

And I to them.

I motioned the way

the earth would spin,

but I was not in complete control

and suffering was there, too.

It was my own.

And it belonged to me.

And from its firm grip,

I pry fear from its fingers.

And I reclaim the darkness.

It is my own.

power

‘Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me…Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.’

Cheryl Strayed

Our collective hearts are with Jill Meagher’s family and friends following this devastating tragedy.

We will stand strong together. We will not be afraid.

a recipe for dreaming

 

 

Before I could read I often tried to circumnavigate my mother towards toy stores. The moment I learnt how to read, books became my entire world. My mother had to change her route to try and avoid the local Dymocks store. It was here she spent so much money buying me books. I would hold up a book in my tiny hands and she would give me the ‘frown smile’ (where her eyes are frowning in disapproval at yet another book but she would be smiling to say she’ll give in anyway because my mum is the kindest, most generous person I’ve ever known).

She had always loved the author Bryce Courtenay so she would read The Power of One to me. If bile rises to my throat and tears well in my eyes when I hear of racism, it is all my mother’s doing. Her emotional character taught me so much about love.

***

One day I came home from school to find my mother excited, holding her car keys. Bryce Courtenay was at our local Dymocks signing copies of his new book. I was shocked. We didn’t have time to pick up a book for him to sign, so mum said I could pick any book I wanted and she would buy it for me. I picked up the one that spoke to me immediately.

A Recipe for Dreaming

And she let me buy two books. I waited in line. When my turn came, the lovely man was so thrilled to have an 8-year-old fan, exclaiming I had to be one of his youngest. He was jovial and excited by every person. He made me come around the table to sit next to him and he asked me what on earth a young thing like me was doing visiting an old thing like him. My mum said I wanted to be an author, just like him. That I would write stories in my notebooks. She told him how much I loved his book The Power of One with a big smile on her face, which meant that she had loved it too, but didn’t think she had any right to say so.

He declared with resolute determination, ‘Sheree, I will help you become a famous author one day. Bring your stories to me and I will help you publish them. You’re going to be famous one day, I can tell’.

And so he wrote in my book, The Potato Factory: ‘To Sheree, the Famous Author’.

And then in a recipe for dreaming, ‘To Sheree, the Dreamer.’

***

My older brother texted me just hours ago asking me if I had heard about Bryce dying of terminal cancer, with only months to live. I had not. (It was a big deal that I had met him at such a young age…my family saw it as a sign). My brother told me I had better finish that novel I had promised to Bryce.

The soul-crushing weight of my unfinished novel impacted me and my tears flooded the taxi I was in on the way home. The eight-year-old in me wants so desperately to finish writing it, chipping away at it every day, in order to show it to Bryce before he leaves us and fulfil a promise.

And I can’t help but think…if only I could fly.

‘We need to dream, as a soaring imagination is the glue that keeps our soul from shattering under the impact of a prosaic world’. – BC.

depression of the hand

Ah, Depression of the Hand. 

It came to me in the dead of night.

The past and the future came together to meet me right there in the middle. I remember how it elucidated all things, how certain I was of my own life and the calming yet calamitous realisation that everything would be different from now on.

Different now and then forever the same.

My depression manifested itself in a physical form. It started in my right hand; a spine tingling pain that shot up through my arm as though someone had injected it directly into my veins. I grabbed my hand but it was now in my wrist, evading my attempts to grasp it, contain it, and pinpoint its exact location. Instead it played hide and seek, dashing up and down my arm.

My heart knew exactly where it was at all times. 

The dull, aching pain in my right hand stayed with me for six months and on and off again the following year.

 

‘Maybe it’s RSI’ someone offered.

‘It’s probably just a muscle sprain’, said the doctor.

‘It could be arthritis’, came the melodramatic relative.


It was none of those things. It was my depression.
 

It’s an inexplicable thing really.

***

It reached its pinnacle one day when I was jet lagged and too ‘tired’ (ha, that’s what I told them!) to get up and get dressed to go visit my dearest friend and cousin Rachel in hospital. She was recovering from surgery. I wasn’t tired. I mean I was, I always was because I could not sleep. But it was more than that. I was tired of me, of the nothingness, of the trauma that reverberated around my head and in my world.

I temporarily forgot that my hand was in a vice controlled by my mind and simply assumed I had slept on it the wrong way. I was irritated by it but at least I could feel one thing that day. My irritation.

‘I’ll go tomorrow’, I said to myself and to my aunty who was waiting for me, and turned my back on the world.

‘Are you sure? It’s going to get harder and harder to visit her’

I didn’t know what that meant and blocked it from my mind.

When I finally went to the hospital I discovered Rachel only had a few days left to live.

I had not been briefed on this possibility. I was removed from the world that knew she was dying and instead was left in the dark place where she was getting better. Did they forget to tell me? Why didn’t you tell me, I cried to them. They shrugged helplessly.

My hand was on fire.

 ***

Today is Rachel’s birthday. She would have been 23 years old. She will always be 17.

I had just come back from getting my learners permit to drive a car, that day at the hospital when they casually relayed the news that my best friend would close her eyes soon and never open them again. Rachel’s brother smiled when he saw my brief excitement and relief. It was one of those rites of passage she wouldn’t get to do. 

My license has since expired and I refuse to drive a car.

I remember seeing her little slippers on the floor of the hospital. I was staring at them and nothing else, willing myself not to cry. And although I hadn’t been able to cry those last 6 months, I somehow caved in then. An onslaught of tears came from somewhere unexpected. I wiped them away with my right hand that ached so. My hand burnt my face. Someone handed me a paper towel and nudged me, as though to say.

We talked about this, no crying in front of her.

But the coarse paper towel scratched my face and I tried to focus on how it irritated me. Couldn’t they provide some soft tissues?! I remember thinking, a strange, normal person thought.

I awkwardly tried to conceal my face in my lap so Rachel wouldn’t see me. They said she didn’t know she was dying. She was the last to know. But I think she knew all her life that this was coming.

I could feel her eyes on me; the heaving lump of a thing in the corner, the one who couldn’t NOT cry for five minutes.

She was talking so much and laughing that day we visited her, I heard my aunty say, looking at me.

She had stopped speaking now.

Why couldn’t I just get out of bed that day?

But I couldn’t get out of bed, not even after that.

People ask you in a quiet voice ‘Isn’t it time for you to get up now?’

‘Don’t you want to get out of bed?’

But wanting has very little to do with anything.

*** 

Over time it disappears or you might be distracted enough to forget it was ever there. And then it comes back in small waves of nausea. Oh there it is. The signs are subtle. It quits waging war on your hand. Instead it’s in the space of hopelessness. The way no one can see it or understand it. It becomes invisible to everyone but your subconscious. The everyday mundaneness both helps and hinders you. It’s how you find the rhythm to keep going.

You get excited enough for the little things.

You tell yourself that today you’ll get out of bed because at 11.45am you will take the 150 seconds worth of steps to the café in order to buy yourself a coffee. What a novel idea, no one has ever thought to do this before! You’ll soon realise that the 15 minutes you’ve sliced out from this day have contributed to a brief, yet thrilling moment of happiness. You know it will pass, like all things, but for now you try to close your eyes and savour it. You think about tomorrow and how only 15 minutes of that day will matter. You are grateful.

You watch one episode of a show that makes you laugh and maybe believe momentarily that the characters are real. Then you remember the characters you tried to create, the ones that sit, half drawn on pages with broken words. And that thought leads to the one where you burn your novel draft to ashes but remember there’s no printed copy of it, and what happens if the hard drive erases all of it? Good, you think.

I’ll watch another episode.

Night approaches, darkness comes and I embrace this place that keeps my mind going faster, where the option to get out of bed has long passed and the possibilities are endless. I’ll drink one drink tonight; maybe two, and I’ll be okay. Or I’ll be numb enough by the fourth one that I can’t remember what not being okay feels like. 

A day might come when the thought of leaving the house terrifies me. And the thought of two weeks alone occupies a place in my mind I do not wish to explore. I’ll sit for an entire day at home, staring at the ceiling, wondering where my friends are and not caring either way.

You fall desperately in love with a person, whose voice on the other end of the line reassures you that they will come to you, they will bring you dinner and you will watch a movie together or read a book and exchange notes afterwards.

That person is your saviour, your becoming.

And like all things that person will disappear in the dead of night, leaving you to dwell in all the empty that surrounds you. They’ll come back many times carrying their own burning hand, asking you to cool it down, to hold it, to help them, and you will. But when they leave again, you’ll be alone with the burning hand and the words on your wall with their name on it.

And then tomorrow morning happens all over again but I am grateful that the pain in my hand has gone.

Every day I hope for healing.