Learning To Love You More




Assignment #14
Write your life story in less than a day.

Kate Be Late



This is my life story on 23rd June 2008. It will be different next month, and not just the last thirty days of it. That's the fun bit-retelling yourself your own stories, and telling them differently every time.
I was born in B------, Tasmania. The labour was pretty long, but Mum was okay. The obstetrician was playing golf at the time, secure in the belief that she'd still be in labour for another five or six hours at least. I was put in a cot by the window in the neonatal creche. There was a big BIG decal of a giraffe on the window. I mean, it nearly filled the whole window. It was orange and black, with a smiling cartoon face and those little giraffe antlers of course. I don't know how long I stayed in that cot, but it felt like a long time. And I couldn't move my head, because I had just been born, so I spent a lot of that time looking up at that massive, foreshortened giraffe. I remember feeling bored, notwithstanding it was a very cheerful sight, that I had to look at it for so long. My mother has confirmed that there were big cartoon animal decals on the windows of the creche, but she doesn't believe that I remember one.
My next memory is from a couple of years later. My sister was a newborn. It was night, and we were in the lounge room of our house in S------, New South Wales. It was a beautiful house, big and white, with a huge garden that my mother took care of with a few friends of hers. My dad built a fish pond. A few years later my sister and I went fishing in it with bent paperclips attached to string. We didn't catch any fish but my parents say we scared them to death. The pet dog of our first friends, two brothers, dug up one of the fish we murdered and rolled around in it. She smelled bad. But back to my second memory. I guess my sister wasn't settling, so Dad picked her up and danced her around. My mum picked me up too, and we all danced in the lounge room, with Mum and Dad singing. I remember it felt like we were whirling really fast, and I was hugged close to Mum's chest, and I felt safe.
My Dad had a private practice as an architect then, and he worked long hours. One day I saw him mowing the lawn and I said, 'That's Mummy's job.' He sold his practice and we moved to a bigger town where he entered the public service. I was about eight. When Dad told Mum we were leaving that house she broke down in tears. She cried for a very long time. It was the first time I'd seen grief. I didn't know what to do. I drew her a picture.
I hated school. I mean, there was pretty much nothing I didn't like learning, but I never really got along with kids until I wasn't one anymore. I wrote my first story when I was seven, so that was in Singleton. It was a blatant plagiarism of Alice in Wonderland. In the first dialogue, a bird asked the protagonist, 'Who are you?' But I wrote 'How are you?' I didn't discover my mistake until parents' night, when my Mum read the story aloud off the wall. I was distressed about it, but I saw she liked the story, so that was okay.
I was the kid who always finished things first. Now that I'm a teacher I still unconsciously favour the students who finish first, who need extra stimulation, and I have to remember that the other students need just as much care and attention. Usually what happens is, a student will be kind of neutral to me (I teach adults English, and the classes tend to change pretty frequently-I don't have long to get to know people before they leave) and then I'll see this strength in them I hadn't expected to see-like they never speak in class but they write an amazing story, or their grammar is a bit of a mess on the page, but then they do a fantastic dialogue skit that has everyone laughing-and then I have an angle to work with them, and I feel bad that they hadn't been special to me before. But I'm all out of chronology.
So I don't even know how much I want to talk about school. My Mum was kind of intense all through those years. She was pretty unhappy a lot of the time, desperate even. She didn't hit us and she tried really hard to make me and my sister feel capable and unique, but it's hard seeing someone you love and look up to in so much pain. And when I hit my teen years she used to yell at me a lot. A lot more than I deserved. She was worried that she was going to die and I wouldn't be self-sufficient enough, because her mum had died when she was young. And things got worse for her after that. But that's her story. And now things for her are much better.
As a kid I just read a lot. I mean I did after-school activities and I played with friends-we used to put sofa cushions on the stairs to make slippery dips, or pretend we were a paranormal phenomena investigation task force finding entrances to the fairy world in our backyard. But reading was the thing that I lived for. I read as I walked. I read a book hidden under the desk in school. I read in the shower. And I wrote, but very occasionally. I'd get up in the middle of the night with something in my head that I had to record straight away, and I'd stand in the kitchen in my pyjamas, opening and closing drawers and saying 'Pen pen pen pen pen' until I found one, or my Mum found one for me. I'd write down whatever I had to write and go back to sleep. Mum said later it was weird to watch me do this, like I was sleep walking but awake. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.
I knew this amazing guy in primary school. He finished everything first too, but he was also naughty. He used to do things just to see what would happen, like throw permanent markers into the ceiling fans and singe his eyebrows on the bunsen burners. I tried never to do anything that didn't have a predictable result. Life was easier that way. For some reason he liked me, and tried to convince me to be his girlfriend. I was about eleven, and I had a crush on somebody else, which turned out to be mutual but we were both too shy to do anything about it ever. I played with this other guy, this non-crush guy, quite a lot, but I never agreed to be his girlfriend. He went to America once with his dad, and when he came back he had a selection of mesh basketball singlets and a whole new idiom. He used to play basketball in his mesh singlets, calling out to the other kids, 'Hustle! Hustle! Oh come on, don't hustle or anything!' We hadn't heard the word before. In high school he got disgusted with my timidity and gave up on me. I always wished I'd met him a few years later.
We studied some really interesting things in high school, like English literature and art history, I even studied some Japanese though I don't remember much now. I went to Japan for two months on exchange, and met a whole system of rules and authority figures that didn't match Australian ones. I had never encountered the idea of the relativity of authority before, and when I came back I started smoking a little pot and lying to my parents about where I was going at night. This increased the yelling around the house for a while, but then my lying skills sharpened up and everything was harmonious again. I listened to Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana. I thought music would always do to me what it did then. I wrote bad poetry. At the time I always swore that I would never betray my teenage self by retrospectively declaring my poetry bad. Nevertheless, it was. It also did its job, whatever that was, and it was a blessing.
My friends have always been pretty bright. Some of my friends from high school had troubles I didn't understand at the time, people I've lost touch with, and sometimes I wish I could see them again. Though you can't really apologise for not getting someone. I came close with one person, when we met up in Venice a couple of years ago. I apologised for being grumpy all through high school, actually, and he gracefully accepted. He's a beautiful guy, genius, fluent in Japanese now. He's come out since high school, as quite a few of my friends have. I met my best friend in high school. I went to a planning meeting for the the first fringe festival-it's pretty big now-and she was there in stripey socks and a red coat. Her room was painted deep blue and had a piano in it, and paintings she'd done. We used to sit on the floor and ate Turkish pide out of the cardboard box. She's living in London now, but we talk fairly often. She's got stronger and more resilient but she's never lost her passionate, unique vision of the world.
At university I took advantage of the anonymity of Sydney to have lots of sex with people I liked the look of but didn't know very well, which mostly worked out great. It occurred to me tonight (so this is fresh off the press) that casual sex has only just, in the last couple of months, become a 'nothing' for me. That thing where you can see the person the next day and it's like it didn't happen. Many people are against casual sex for that reason, but I never had that experience until just recently. I dig people, straight off, for whatever they're about, which helps. And I think my mind always supplied whatever that immanent, ineffable thing is that makes sex special, even when it was with a near stranger. A near stranger. I like that.
I also had some relationships (during which I never slept with anyone else). I was in love with a guy who wouldn't drop any of his other six women for me. I think I took it with more fortitude than most of them. One wrote a song about the situation, I heard it on the radio a couple of years back. We all thought we were the special one, and in a funny way, we all were, while he was with us. I stayed with another guy for eighteen months because he had a mental illness that nobody was really monitoring and he was frequently suicidal, and said he needed me. He valued writing, as I did, so he gave me that gift. The gift of priorities. People close to me have always supplied that-if they care about something, that makes it okay for me to care about it too. A couple of years ago in Charles de Gaulle, when the plane flying me to my new job in Italy was delayed, I was listening to Guero on my headphones and I saw all the tired people in the departure lounge get up and start dancing to it. I drew a picture of them all dancing, and a voice in my head said, You have to make your own world. I didn't know what it meant but I knew it was a message, and I'm still decoding it every day.
At university I lived in a big zoo of a share house. I started out as proverbial coffee girl and ended up CEO, because it had a high turnover of people but I stuck around. Two of my friends moved in at one point, a couple. It was pretty turbulent between them sometimes, but they're married now. Beautiful people. E teaches photography courses for homeless people and A researches nuclear fusion. While they were there a girl came to stay for a while, and it became clear she had nowhere else to go so she moved in with us. She was mesmerisingly charismatic, but very sleepy in her movements. One day I found a methadone bottle in the kitchen, but it was after a party so I didn't think much of it. Soon after, a fortnight's rent money that I'd collected from everyone to take to the bank disappeared. I didn't accuse her, but I was pretty sure it was her. Soon afterwards she went into rehab. I wonder what happened to her in the end.
I called the ambulance which took my boyfriend of eighteen months to the psych ward. I can't remember why, maybe it was something that happened at that particularly horrible party we had at the house soon after I tried to break up with him. He stayed there quite a while, they wouldn't tell me anything about him because I wasn't family. After that I moved into a share house with an arguing couple and three cats, that didn't work so I moved into my first solo apartment. I turned 21 and had a great party. I hired out a restaurant and I turned up with a little ghetto blaster and one CD. This friend of a friend saw the setup, disappeared, and came back with turntables and crates of records.
All this time I was working in call centres and book shops and digging uni like the deliciousness it was. At least, once I ditched Law in favour of Arts. Well, for a little while I stopped appreciating it, so I dropped out and worked in a bank for a year so that when I came back I'd love it for what it was. It worked.
I guess I was 22 when I met my last boyfriend. I had just got over the previous guy, wow that was a long eighteen months (it took exactly as long to get over as the relationship had taken to happen-I hope that's not a rule). I was enjoying dating a few different people at the time so it took a while for him to talk me 'round. Within a month I was in love. Baddabing baddaboom big love. It happened the day he showed me the script for a short film he was about to shoot. I dread being shown people's writing, because I don't usually like it. I liked this a lot.
I can't tell any stories from this relationship yet, though he surely deserves a good account. I can't even praise him in any specifics, because then to be even-handed I'd have to criticise him, and I can't do that right now. I kind of imagine him finding and reading this, actually, since he read all my emails while we were in the throes of the break-up. I suppose that's a criticism. He was very upset at the time. In brief, then a list of things he taught me: the world is immensely richer and deeper and more fascinating than you might imagine; you have to do what is in you to do, or die trying; everyone has different priorities and yours are just fine; love is worth the effort.
While I was with him I finished my first degree, did a writing degree (largely a waste of time, but at least it gave me regular deadlines) and got my teaching qualification. I also moved into a really beautiful apartment with bare floorboards and white walls and high ceilings. He moved in with me, and we got lots of interesting things done but the best bit of every day was sitting around stoned on the pure dopamine of love.
I left for Europe in 2005. I was serious when I told him that he had taught me how to leave him. He agreed, and said it was right that I should go. He had already done the living in Europe thing, he didn't want to do it then, so I went alone. We stayed in contact. My memory of my first months in Europe, when I was travelling around, is walking around agape, and feeling my eye to be a window with the world rushing in. I loved the way people talked about things in London (I never expected to like England, but I did). I liked the shruggy 'bring it' attitude of the Parisians, and I stopped there for two months, living with a friend in the eleventh. But I liked Italy better than France, so I moved there for two years. I learnt another language-I became a total linguaphile, and still am. Not a language geek, I suppose. It's not like I speak five. But I loved what thinking in two languages did to my brain, and the possibilities about other people's experiences and modes of perception that it opened up. I wrote a blog that I am very, very proud of. I got to love mozzarella and parmesan and all those things you are supposed to get into in Italy. I got a lot tougher. I met two wonderful guys and didn't promise either of them anything, but each stuck around for a while and they taught me new things too. I found love and care where I never expected it. I was poorer than I've ever been in my life and vulnerable and humbled. People fed me when I couldn't buy groceries. People loaned me money. That was a new thing. I'd always been the lender up til then. It changes you.
I got back to Sydney and tried to make a go of it with the guy I had left behind. It was a harrowing six months. I ended it, and we both think we should have ended it sooner. He's left town now, and I am back in the beautiful apartment. I've returned to university and am feeling more challenged by it and more exhilerated than ever before. I'm doing Honours now, so people are testing themselves out for academia, they expect to be judged by professional standards and they put in the corresponding effort. I'm not sure where I'm going after this. Probably to Europe again to live, but that only sorts out the geography.