I was inspired today to continue writing about my personal history by reading a great deal of my very first (proper) girlfriend’s incredibly-excellent life story. Her tale differs a lot from the way I have tackled my narrative, but hopefully it has influenced a bit of what I am about to say next. Cause what Els wrote was horribly good and the things she focussed on exposed truths about what I focus on in thinking about the story of my life. But I might come back to these thoughts later…
These last two pics are Kate’s
We pick up the story in 1992 in which I found myself living in Marrickville, in Sydney’s inner west. Having spent my entire Sydney years in the Eastern suburbs and calling anyone who lived on the wrong side of Central Station a stupid “westie” with that venom only kids can spit out and get away with, I suddenly found it quite acutely deflating to literally become a “westie”. My life was over. When Luke Skywalker describes his home on Tattoine as the point farthest from the centre of the universe I now understood exactly how he felt.
And we lived in the grimiest, most defeated part, right under the flight path. A smelly biscuit factory was directly next door. Massive planes roared overhead every 10 or 15 minutes and they were so close to the ground, so loud, you had to just imagine what was being said on the TV or be forced to attempt sign language for a full 30 seconds if you were trying to have a conversation with someone. At night you’d see big groups of teenagers just wandering around and you would literally cross the street to limit any confrontation.
In daylight, which was just a tiny bit more composed, I found myself now having to catch two buses to school. TWO. I ended up walking the leg from Central to school (morning and afternoon) just because only one bus-ride felt that much more dignified.
And this move was also marked by a line being drawn in the sand of romance in my life. Els had moved on to bigger and badder boys. I think I was too safe and ordinary. At that age a woman, a real woman needed adventure and someone, something outside a comfort zone. And only recently can I appreciate that impetus — having spent so much time so safely cuddled up in that womb of safe-living. Eventually that lifestyle got thoroughly boring and each time I ventured further I was smacked in the goolies with REWARDS that made my mind explode. But more on that later.
There was also other women in my life in that period. There was Els’ best friend Kate, and her other best friend, Esther — both who I found myself in some sort of romantic, but invariably “tragic” interlude. It seemed normal to everyone at the time but it seems quite surreal looking back at it.
Kate was a handful, and gleefully embraced that notion. When things ended, badly, she was blissfully unaware of what it meant to me, and presumably to her also. Esther was a far more serious equation. She had a lifestyle that could be only described as regimented. A doctrine that was only relaxed, quite painfully, when I took her to the year 10 formal. I tried to kiss her, but failed and felt so, so bad for doing so. It was horrible and ended up being such a hideously awful night.
Els and Esther
In my defence I wasn’t such a straighty-180. I was growing my hair long, I was wearing Doc Martins, I was listening to Nirvana (despite the fact I thought it would eventually fry my brain and turn me into a psychopath) and I was smoking a bit of weed, skipping school occasionally. But crucially, the biggest act of rebellion it seemed in that period was never tucking in my school shirt and steadfastly wearing the “junior tie” in my senior years. This was my tiny poke at the MAN.
And in this period, for the first time in my life, I found myself officially “bullied”. Previously I had experienced moments or maybe even events where kids had verbally or physically attacked me — pointing out some acutely obvious weakness — but it was usually fleeting or actually endearing (like how you would get however many punches on your arm that suited your birthday).
But this time it was different. Radically so. These people, my supposed friends, were suddenly pathetically deciding to randomly just include me in a game they just invented. And that was how they could justify it as “fun”. The game entailed everyone randomly grabbing me, and then carrying me up this hill and then forcing me through the tiny gap between the aluminium seat and the dirt underneath. Yeah. Not that interesting or even painful on my behalf, but the point was it damaged my dignity. I had no control. And the point for them was they acted like a unit. They bonded to someone else’s detriment. They even had a name for it which I have forgotten.
I thus spent a few weeks just avoiding my “friends”. At one point they tried to find me at a lunch period and burst into a room where I was “hiding” – using the time to read. And as they attempted to force me away they realised carrying me halfway across the school was a bit ambitious and gave up pretty quickly. Thankfully it ended then and there and I was able to hang out with them all again, but always with this horrible taste in my mouth when I looked at them.
When I now look at these people through the magic-play-school-window of facebook, I feel just a tiny bit… well…victorious.
Also through this period I had acquired a guitar. Indeed I had gone through 2 guitars already. The first I had hocked at a pawn shop to buy my second, which was promptly stolen from the living room in a daring home-robbing-invasion while myself and the whole household was asleep upstairs.
The guitar I bought with the insurance money was then signed by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits in quite dramatic circumstances.
On Jeremy’s insistence we camped out over night on the street to get tickets for the first concert. Then, the next night so struggling to stay awake, he had dragged me along to the bench in front of the Sebel Townhouse to wait for the second show to finish. When the tarago pulled up we dashed across the road and confronted him. He was in a dressing gown and looked like he had been hit by a truck. He managed to get us to come into the lobby and we plonked our guitars up on the counter. My guitar was black so I had cleverly stolen this pen from a friend in science class earlier that day. Though it looked suspiciously bent and dirty Mark grabbed it and attempted to sign away but then the pen seem to explod and leaked all over his hand. He stated panicking and barked orders to his roadies to find some metho and a rag. Meanwhile, I just died. I decided I no longer existed and this helped.
I got my guitar back and Mark told me to chuck the pen, but stupidly I said, “Nah, I’m gonna keep it for your fingerprints.” TRUE STORY. I didn’t mean it to be creepy, I just meant it like he was that important. He looked at me rather strangely. I guess, in all his years of being adored and chased by fans, he had never heard those words before.
So my last two years at school I spent in the wilderness. I had no friends, no chance at romance and I was literally living in the wilds of Sydney. And if that was not enough of a punch in the face it suddenly came time to sit for my “Higher School Certificate” (or HSC). This was what all my schooling was building up to. And because I had no other distractions except for TV, this fact just smashed me over the head. Over and over.
I found myself broken. It was like a year-long pain cave.
For very obvious and meaningful reasons to me at the time I came to believe that my whole future depended on these results. And I know this seems so silly to you and indeed it seems ludicrous to my current self writing this shit — but back then it was so freakishly real. It was like a tattoo on my forehead. I thought everyone else (like family or the bus driver or maybe even the guy at the corner store) would notice my malaise, but they didn’t bat an eyelid. I was even more alone.
And through this period I was still just a little kid even though for the actual exams my birth certificate said I was 18 and thus could vote and go to war and drink and smoke and maybe even hire a car if I tried hard enough. I am reminded thus of the day after my 18th birthday which I spent unceremoniously at school and when my roll-call-teacher asked me to take a form home for my parents to sign I swaggered up to his desk and looked him dead in the eye and casually said, “That won’t be necessary” and signed it there and then. I pointed out my sudden age but the teacher, obviously quite flummoxed, still refused to accept the form and a big argument ensued. I won by the way.
Year 10 prom. Esther was my date
So I got impossibly stressed about my HSC. It was like having a disease that no one cared about or understood. I did stupid things like developing a habit of cracking my neck thinking that might relieve some stress on my poor brain that refused to remember the facts or work under any sort of pressure. I remember looking at random people in the street as I walked home from school arrogantly deciding they had no troubles like mine.
Once there was an “oral” assessment for English we had to deliver in front of a panel of teachers, purposely NOT the teachers you knew. I distinctly remember my left leg shaking the whole time with sheer, uncontrollable, unbridled fear. All the while my mouth worked and I delivered my speech pretty well, and I just shifted my stance to put that shaking leg as much behind my body as possible.
I really think being 18 and still being at school is ridiculous. But while I was stoked at the fact I could suddenly do all these adult things – I steered as far clear of them as I could.
The day before that roll-call-room-incident I celebrated my 18th by going to a humble footy match at the Sydney Football Stadium. I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol. I didn’t enrol to vote. And I certainly didn’t present anyone with a “NOTICE OF CLAIM”.
But soon the ardour of the HSC was over and I finished some random exam and because it was only 2pm I walked out of the school gates for the final time, without any audience or company. Although the school was stuffed with about a 1000 kids, when a period was in effect, the school grounds were like a ghost-town.
I thought I should savour the experience – I actually knew this was going to be a big deal for me for the rest of my life – but six long years was enough and the shit that I had to deal with in there would only get glossed over by the beer-goggles of memory.
I strolled out without looking back – incredibly happy to be free of the place.