Learning To Love You More




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




That's a Whole Lot of Coconut Rough!
So today I was in an ice cream store with my friend Alana and she had money and I didn't. I think Ella was there too, and John, but I can't really remember. The lady behind the counter was filling up all the tubs with ice-cream, packing the stuff in with a plastic spatula and Alana made a funny little snorting sound and said: 'That's a whole lot of coconut rough!'
'That sounds like the title of a novel,' I said to Alana, and smiled. Because it did. The title of a long, sprawling memoir; an autobiography, my life up till now.
Coconut Rough has very little to do with my life. I've never really liked the stuff. Bounty bars, do you remember them? I do. Coconut covered chocolate? I hated the damn things; so much so I remember hiding them in a little crack under the fence in the backyard of my house in England, a house I haven't visited in years.
Coconut milk. I have foreign students stay at my house, one at a time, only because my family isn't really rich enough to pay the rent, so we let the place out to these twenty-somethings from Tokyo and Berlin and all over. I don't mention the money to arouse any sympathy. It's not half as melodramatic as it sounds. My school fees are just such an economic drain that my family have to find some extra way to make money. So we take students from ST. MARK'S INTERNATIONAL COLLEGE. They always seem so polite; always smiling, always asking us how our days have been. I remember a little Japanese girl we had who picked rice up off the floor with her bare hands when she dropped it, and I remember us all being embarrassed by the politeness of the gesture, as if we'd forgotten what it was like to be well-mannered.
But, I have been distracted.
Coconut milk. We had a German student named Sascha who made us a pumpkin and coconut curry while we sat outside and my mum laughed when he put the plate down in front of her and said 'well it's just like eating at a restaurant!' Later on that night my dad said mother must have offended Sascha: he was a cook, after all, but I don't think she really did. That was just my dad being melodramatic.
What did offend Sascha was when I watched a documentary about Hitler on the television. Of all the most embarrassing moments in my life, all the face burning, awkward, painful experiences, this must be the worst: the moment when he strolled in and saw the black and white documentary footage; the moment his face fell, and the moment I knew, even though I was only 12, I had made a horrible mistake.
Sascha visited us twice. The second time, he wasn't half as nice.
I know this story is supposed to be about my childhood, about my birth, but there's not much to say really. I was born on the 22nd of November, 1990 (it was my birthday last Thursday.) I was premature, I think, and in any case, my mother had to have a caesarean. Her name is Penelope, and only recently have I begun to realise how exotic this name is. My dad's name is Richard, and every day I look more like him, and every day he looks more like me. I know I'm not supposed to find this scary, but I do.
I was born in England. I live in Australia. The morning we left home to move here, my sister turned to my parents and asked: 'so are we driving to Australia?'
Toby Singleton was my best friend in England. He had long hair and at the time I thought it was odd. Whenever I think of him I always imagine a metal grille in front of a radiator and a Buzz Lightyear toy, and I'm not sure why this is.
My other friend in England was Annie Jenkins. When we were younger, we used to kiss behind the shed in her backyard, and squish old berries against the window panes of her house. One day Annie and I read a book all about sex, and my mother came bustling up to me afterwards in her very worried, very English way and said: 'you didn't try any of that sex thing, did you?' We were seven.
Annie was the first person to explain rape to me, I guess when we were about six(ish.) I had to select a major news story from the headlines for a report at school. Annie and I went up to the corner store and bought these big gobstoppers, the size of apples, and a few newspapers. While strolling back to her house, I found an article about someone being raped on a train, and told Annie that was the one I was going to do for the report. She looked horrified, and wouldn't explain the word to me till we were up in her room and the door was closed.
I am a writer. This is not important, but it is.
Earlier this week my girlfriend bought me a wallet and a bag. I am grateful for both. Her name is Becky Guilhaus, and her father's father is German. It's where her last name comes from. Her parents are divorced, and she once told me about the time her dad threw a tomato against the window and the window shattered, but the first time she revealed the story I thought she meant the tomato had shattered, not the window, and the whole thing seemed strangely humorous.
Becky has two cats called Misty and Jasper. Whenever she leaves the window open in her kitchen, the cats jump up to the window ledge and stare down onto the street. Every time this happens I say 'don't jump! You have so much to live for!' to the cats. Every single time.
I probably have an HSC assessment tomorrow. The HSC is the final exam of high school; I'm in year 12. I say probably because it doesn't really matter whether I do or I don't. I won't study for it, in any case.
When I was young I fell down the steps of a Scottish castle. I still have the scar. I was born with a hole in my head, and so I have a scar there too; a scar on top of which no hair grows. People call it my bald spot, and laugh.
A few weeks ago I popped over to my friend Lloyd's house. He was choosing birthday cards; for who, I don't know. He sat on the ground in his orange sweater, the end touching the tips of his toes, flicking through pictures of cats, dogs, smiling, wishing us HAPPY 13 BIRTHDAYS. After we had spent a while staring at the blank, cheery animal faces Lloyd told me about the time two years ago when he drank half a bottle of vodka and threw up for two hours. How much of this I'm supposed to believe, I'm not sure. There is a pause. I suggest we might arrange the cards in order, from left to right, perhaps colour code them?
It's so hard to choose the right words. And anyway, more often than not the right words are the wrong words; you can chose a word that says exactly what you want it to say, but it sounds ugly, it ruins the sentence, it tips the whole thing the wrong way, and you have to scrap it and chose something else. And when that starts to happen, you realise you're not telling the truth anymore. You're writing fiction; perhaps all the right sounding words, but lies. Pretty little lies you place across the paper in pretty little patterns so people might clap their hands and call you an author.
When I was thirteen, I was touched. This isn't a fiction. This is an ugly sentence; hard on the ear, harder on the mind. But it is the truth. The beginning of it, anyway.
Two years ago, I was staying over at a friend's house. That night, my friend's dad came upstairs and walked over to where I lay on the floor. He was drunk. I think he may have been talking to himself, although I can't really remember.
And he squeezed me, just once.
I can think of no other way to describe what happened to me. There was no build up, it didn't hurt; it just made me feel odd, as my face ran red and my arms prickled. But I wasn't damaged. Or scared. I sat down at the dinner table with my friend's dad the next morning and looked at him straight in the eye and laughed at his jokes. I could still do this today.
This is part of my life, of course, this moment. But as much part of my life as anything else.
It is as important to me as Alana turning her head slightly, and uttering out of the corner of her lips: 'that's a whole lot of coconut rough.'
I want this story to make sense. It might not.
Sleep well, tonight.