I was born 40 years ago in a hospital in the Melbourne suburb of Kew. My mother Shirley was 20. My father Ian was 28. Dad was at work when Mum went into labour. He worked a full day and arrived at the hospital just in time for my arrival into the world.
I was their first child, and I often thought of myself as the bastard child, because I was conceived before my parents were married. Often times I have joked that I was at the wedding, as my mother was four months pregnant on their wedding day.
We lived in a small flat in Kew, close to my grandmothers boarding house. I dont remember living in Kew but I have memories of visiting my grandmothers house. In my mind it was a two-storey, many-roomed behemoth, and I remember playing on the stairs, the silky feel of the dark wooden balustrade and the big sunny front room with floral carpet. I have photos of that room.
When I was still a baby we moved to a house in Reservoir, across the road from the local swimming pool. My uncle Graham and aunt Nilma owned this house, and my parents rented it from them. We lived there until I was 7. In that time we took in a boarder, my cousin Gary stayed with us, my cousins Karon and Rodney visited us, and two of my three younger brothers were born.
I started primary school, and even though we lived across the road from the swimming pool we did not visit the pool very often. I remember standing at my front door, looking longingly at the pool, listening to the delighted squeals of the other children, and trying not to feel too bad about missing out.
I loved playing in our backyard. I could hide behind the garage, out of sight of my parents. I talked over the fence to the girls next door. And one day I was retrieved from behind the garage, screaming, covered in hundreds of ants. My mother was out, and my father stripped off my clothes and put me in a bath. I was covered in ant bites, and can still recall the feeling of them crawling up my legs.
In that backyard I played with my younger brother Mark, with imaginary friends, and with my cousin Robbie. In that backyard I explored the garage that smelled of paint, and petrol, and dust. I tried to look down the gully trap and took seals off so I could look into pipes. There was a metal frame that collected sandy soil in the top of metal pole. I used to love wetting my finger, sticking it in the open top of the pole and eating the sandy soil that stuck to my wet finger. If I close my eyes I can still taste it, and feel the grit in my mouth.
In that backyard I experienced the beginning of sexual awakening. I found girly magazines in the garage, and sat in a tree looking at them. I examined a male cousins genitals while he examined mine. While alone, I took my clothes off and posed in the back yard like the girls in my fathers magazines.
My dog got out of the backyard one day and never came back. We returned from an outing and found the gate open. We never saw that dog again. I cant remember his name, but remember that he was big and black. A Labrador I believe. We had a cat named Josephine - a fat grey cat. We got another dog, a little dog named Pippin, from my uncle Puds farm.
We lived next door to Nanette and Sid, and their two daughters Lorraine and Brenda. The girls were older than me but let me come over and play with their toys. I saw Nanette and Sid recently. They look exactly the same as they did when I was a kid.
I remember going to bed one night with a severe tummy ache, and being shocked and fascinated when hot, loud farts started escaping from my body, easing my tummy ache. It felt like little plastic bags filled with hot goo were shooting out of my bottom, sailing over the end of the bed and hitting the wall.
I remember having a dream about spiders, and waking up to find a spider crawling up the bedclothes toward me. I screamed loudly, and Mum came in to comfort me. She squashed the spider with a Little Golden Book. Every time I read that book I looked at the back cover to see the mark left by spider guts.
My father watched World of Sport every Sunday. One day they interviewed a wrestler and he sent a threatening message to an opponent. I know where you live, and Im going to come and get you. I thought he was talking to me and I became hysterical. I went to my room to pack all my stuff, and screamed to Mum and Dad that we had to get out of there. It took some time to calm me down.
The next time I packed my stuff was for real. My Dad was arguing with his brother in the lounge room. My uncles wife had a sister, who needed a place to live. They wanted us to move out, so she could move in. I calmly walked into my room and started filling boxes. Where did those boxes come from I wonder? My mother found me, and told me not to worry, we had a month to find another place.
My parents found another house to rent in Reservoir. It belonged to a Greek family, and the backyard was filled with fruit and nut trees and strange vegetables were growing in the vegie patch. There were 3 sheds we used as cubby houses, and a concrete path that we used alternatively for playing cricket and roller skating and skateboarding. A third brother had arrived, and our family was complete.
We lived in this house for 10 or 11 years, all throughout my school years. My father drank heavily in the early years, and one day, a neighbour collected me and my brothers from school. My dad had suffered a heart attack and my mother was with him at the hospital. We kids were very scared.
Dad recovered and was released from hospital. He was ordered to quit smoking, and he immediately gave up his 60-a-day habit. He was also ordered to stop drinking beer. He did. But he took up drinking whiskey instead. He was a very angry man for a long time. Sometimes, when hungover, he would scream at us kids, or even hit us, to make us be quiet. Sometimes, when drunk, he hurt my mother.
I used to beg her to leave him. I hated him for hurting her, and for hurting us. She threatened to leave him, but she never did.
Once, my mum took us kids away for a weeks holiday at a relatives farm. When we got home, my fathers car was in the driveway, but we couldnt raise him to come open the door. Mum didnt have a key.
My brother Mark squeezed through a window and opened the door for us. We found Dad, either asleep or unconscious, and after a while we were able to rouse him. The night before hed got drunk, sat on a fence and had fallen backwards, smashing his head into a garden tap. He didnt remember anything after that, but obviously hed found his way home before crashing out.
My mother never went away again without him until we kids were much older.
There were other kids in our street, but they were older than me and didnt really want to play with younger kids. I used to sit in our front yard, waiting for people to walk past so I could say hello to them. The family next door had grown up sons. I used to watch the youngest, Ricky, sunbathe in his back yard. One of the elder sons assaulted in me one night as I left our local milk bar. He was drunk and he grabbed me, trying to kiss me and feel me up. I kicked him and wriggled out of his grasp. I ran away screaming at him, that I was going to call the cops. We didnt have a telephone, so I ran to the phone box. I picked up the phone, but then felt I couldnt ring. What was I going to say? How could I prove it? No one saw anything. I didnt ring the police, but went home, shaken. I didnt tell my parents, because they were friends of his mother. She was a nice lady, I didnt want to hurt her by telling her that her son was a creep.
Some time later, months probably, I was woken up by a ruckus outside. The boy next door was outside my window yelling how sorry he was, and then he started throwing beer bottles on my roof. I can remember the sound of glass smashing above me. I was scared, but fascinated too. I watched through the window as my father went out to yell at him, and his mother came in to our yard to drag him away. My father never spoke to me about this, but my mother did. I never told her what it was about. I told my dad when I was in my thirties.
At school I made friends, but wasnt academically successful. I was more interested in the social side of school, and living in my own head, than being clever or educated. I was only interested in learning things that would be useful in life.
I loved music, but never had the chance to learn an instrument other than the recorder. I hated the sound of it, so never pursued it, but I liked learning how to read music. Ive forgotten most of it now. I had a strong singing voice, but when I auditioned for the school musical in Year 7 I was so shy I could hardly make a sound. The grumpy music teacher told me very dismissively that I was wasting her time, so I never auditioned again, and still cant sing aloud publicly.
I wanted to be involved with the productions, so one year I signed on to help out with costuming (even though I couldnt sew) and another year I volunteered to help the band (even though I couldnt play). My job in the band was to follow the music and turn the pages for the drummer. It was very loud! But I really wanted to belong.
My brothers joined the local football team and I spent every Sunday at the ground watching them play. One season I was the timekeeper. I had to sit in a box with someone from the opposing team and keep an eye on the time, making sure we blew the siren at the end of each quarter. I received a pennant on presentation night.
I kissed a boy for the first time at high school, in Year 7. His name was Brad, and he asked me to go with him. I said yes, and we arranged to meet at the school disco for a kiss. I was a nervous 12 year old at the time, but I agreed and let him kiss me. I didnt like it, so I dropped him. We never really spoke again throughout high school, but a few months ago, he contacted me via an internet school reunion website, and now we email each other most days and meet up for coffee occasionally.
I fell in love for the first time, with a boy named Peter. He played for my brothers football club, so I got to see him every Sunday at the match, as well as at school during the week. He was very nice and everyone liked him. No one could believe that he liked me, and that I was his girlfriend. One day at school he had an horrific accident. He was horsing around with friends and was pushed through a glass door. The glass broke into big shards, and one of them severed an artery in his leg. He almost bled to death, but thanks to a teacher, and the ambulance service, the bleeding was controlled until he got to hospital. He recovered, but it really affected me. I wrote about it, and got top marks for the essay. That was when I realised how much I enjoyed writing.
When Peter broke up with me, he was so nice about it. He sat with me all day, holding my hand while I cried. Then he walked me home. He wanted to stay friends, but that was too hard. I didnt really talk to him for the rest of our time at school. I should have.
Hes now married with three kids, and we email each other regularly. Hes grown into a very nice man.
In the last few years at high school, I developed a huge crush on a teacher. I dont have a poker face, so Im pretty sure he knew about it. I remember he invited a small group of us to his house one day, to read Shakespeare, and once, he wrote me a letter, thanking me for helping out on one of the musical productions. I still have the letter.
I saw him at the schools 50th anniversary celebrations. We looked at each other, but we didnt speak. Im sorry now that I didnt say hello to him.
I worked really hard in Year 11 and got very good marks, but when it came to Year 12 I put the brakes on, and did as little as I could get away with. I didnt want to try and fail. If I was going to fail, as I was convinced I would, I wanted it to be because I hadnt put in the effort.
As it turned out, I put in very little effort and just passed. Stupid really. Because I had passed there was an expectation I would go on to University, but because I hadnt tried very hard, and had poor marks, I couldnt get accepted into University. The only course I got into was Secretarial Studies at Footscray College. I declined the offer, and applied directly to hospitals to study nursing as a residential student. I sat exams and was accepted at two hospitals.
While I was waiting to start my nursing studies I got a job in the public service. The job Id been hired for was data entry, but there was a mistake made and the job had already been given to someone else. Instead, I was put in the mail registry, opening and delivering mail, and posting the outbound correspondence. This wasnt enough to keep me occupied, so I did some work in the file registry, creating and closing files on industrial relations cases. To ward off boredom, I started reading the files, and became interested in industrial relations.
By the time I was due to start nursing training I was happily ensconced in the public service and after having learned all the relevant legislation and rules myself, was progressing up the ladder, scoring a job in a telephone advice line for workers and employers. I deferred nursing for as long as I could, and when it was time to make a final decision, I declined.
I spent ten years in the public service, working my way up through the ranks. I was the youngest industrial inspector ever appointed in the state of Victoria, and I had an enviable record of resolving disputes and recovering money for workers who had been ripped off. By the time I was 27 I was a Senior Advisor, with a team of inspectors reporting to me. We looked after the City of Melbourne, and ran prosecutions in the Courts. I loved my work. I loved knowing I was able to help others.
In my personal life, I had a string of boyfriends, and relationships that didnt amount to much. I went out nearly every night, and drank a lot of alcohol. I loved marijuana, and had long periods of being completely stoned. My parents turned a blind eye, as did my brothers, except in times when I desperately needed help.
In my twenties life started spiralling out of control. In that year I was sleeping around, contracted an STD, and was consistently drunk or stoned or both. One day, struggling under the weight of my job, and juggling three sexual relationships, and not liking my self a whole lot, I woke up in the morning with tears streaming down my face. I cried non stop for two days, and I didnt understand why.
My mother was concerned and took me to a doctor Id never met before, rather than our family doctor. This doctor, who didnt know me at all, diagnosed depression and prescribed anti-depressants. The pills made me feel much worse, and much more depressed. I stuck with them for about 2 months, before ditching them. I immediately felt better once they were gone, and Ive never considered taking anti-depressants since.
I felt like I needed something to change in my life. My mother offered to buy me a bus ticket to anywhere I wanted to go. I got out a map of Australia, closed my eyes, and pointed. My finger landed on Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory. Id never been there, never been to the desert. It was far enough away from my life to feel safe. I booked the ticket, and travelled there on my own.
I only had a weeks annual leave. It took me two days to get there by bus, and two days to get back, so I had three days in Alice Springs. I wasnt scared or worried about travelling on my own, it felt like an adventure.
In Alice Springs, I met a man named Steve, who was homeless, and on the run from police in Victoria. We spent two days together, and decided we wanted to spend more time together. We promised to stay in touch.
On the bus home, I met some German tourists who were travelling to Melbourne. We became friendly, and while they were in Melbourne I took them out in the evenings.
I stayed in touch with Steve by letter and phone. One day, he told me hed booked a bus ticket to Adelaide and a train ticket to Melbourne. He was going to come and live with me. I was happy, and told him he could, but that he would need to turn himself into the police and deal with the outstanding criminal matters in order for us to have a relationship. He agreed.
He moved into my parents house with me, and one night, we went to the police station together. We waited many hours while they found all of the charges, and very late that night called in a bail justice. Because of the seriousness of the charges, the bail justice wouldnt give him bail, so he had to spend the night in the police cells. I came back the next morning to meet with his Legal Aid lawyer, and I stayed until he was called into court. The Magistrate agreed to bail him, and referred the cases to more senior courts. We had months of waiting, during which time he didnt find any work, and was pretty stressed about his impending court cases.
Eventually, he had his days in court. In the Magistrates Court in Melbourne Steve was given a good behaviour bond. Later, in the County Court, he was sentenced to two years prison, with a minimum term of six months. He was taken first to Pentridge Prison, then transferred to a country jail, in Ararat.
I visited him at every opportunity. We talked about how we would really start our life together once he had a clean slate.
My father had an aunt who lived in Ararat, and as visiting was only permitted on the weekends, he arranged for me to stay with her every weekend. My Aunty Vi was the spitting image of my late grandmother, and when I walked through her gate, she held me close and hugged me for a long time. Aunty Vi and I became very close, and stayed in touch once I was no longer travelling to Ararat every weekend. She died last year, and I travelled to Ararat once again, this time for her funeral. She was a good woman, and I miss her.
The weekend visits to the prison were hard. We had no contact at all during the week, except occasional phone calls, and I didnt feel like socialising, so I became a bit of a hermit. Every Saturday morning I would rise early to either catch the train or drive to Ararat (over 200 kms away), to visit with him for two hours on Saturday and two hours on Sunday. After the Sunday visit I would either get on the train, or back in my car, and head back to Melbourne.
On one of those visits, Steve proposed to me. I accepted.
Upon his release my parents told me they thought it was time we found our own place, so we moved into a unit in Reservoir. Steve was on parole, and had to keep reporting to police, so he felt a little like he was still in prison. He tried to get work, but he had no qualifications and only limited skills. So he stayed home, getting bored, and I went to work every day, earning money to pay our rent, bills and buy food. There was very little money left over.
We talked about marriage, and started the process of obtaining his birth certificate from France, where he had been born. During that process we discovered that his identity was fake. His name wasnt Steve, it was Christophe, and he had been taken from France by his mother and step-father, who changed his name so his real father could never find him. His mother and step-father were very abusive and he kept running away and getting into trouble with the law. Hed spent most of his childhood in boys homes and foster homes, and was very unhappy.
When he discovered his true identity he asked the French consulate in Australia to help him find his real father. His father welcomed news of his son and Chris (as he was now known) travelled to France to meet his father, step-mother, and step-siblings.
At the same time, I was becoming dissatisfied with life and needed a new adventure. I had reconnected with an old friend, Jenna, and we decided to travel to Nepal and India. We didnt invite our partners. My relationship with Chris was disintegrating, and his heart was in France.
I went to Nepal and met a Nepalese man named Prem. We made love, I met his family, stayed at his house, and when I returned to Australia, we stayed in touch. Chris knew something was different when I got back, but he had no where else to go. During this emotionally intense time, I met another man, a work colleague named Jason.
He and I fell hard for one another, and began an affair. We wanted to be together, so I ended my relationship with Chris. Chris left Australia to live with his father in France. About a year later I received a letter from him, letting me know his father had died. I dont know where he is now, or what he did next. I never wrote back.
I moved in with Jason and five of his male friends. They lived in huge house in St Kilda, and this is one the happiest times in my memory. I lived there for three years and became close friends with the guys living there. They are all beautiful, creative men, who have all gone on to some measure of success and happiness. We have all remained in touch, and I have formed close friendships with their partners as well.
I went back to Nepal twice more, as I felt it was my spiritual home. I have never felt as in touch with myself as I did when I was there, and meeting the challenges of Himalayan trekking have proved to be a handy reminder when facing challenges in my everyday life.
On my second trip there I met up with Prem again. He was still the same beautiful man, but we no longer had an intense emotional connection.
On my third trip there, I took Jason with me, so he could experience Nepal for himself and understand my connection with the country. I have never returned.
While living in the big house in St Kilda my public service career fell apart, and I became politically active. I left my job after ten years, spent a month unemployed, lying on the couch reading Armistead Maupin and smoking copious bongs, before being offered a job in Jasons fathers office. Peter (Jasons father) was a Member of the Australian Parliament, and I worked in his electorate office for a year up until the 1996 federal election, when he lost his seat, and Labor lost government.
I learned an incredible amount in that year, and developed close relationships with Peter and his second wife Jan, who also worked in the electorate office.
I didnt have a close relationship with Jasons mother (also named Jan) as we irritated one another, and resented one another. I used to become so stressed about seeing her that I would not be able to sleep the night before we were due to go over there. She wanted to insinuate herself in our lives, and I was very resistant to this. She was also very cutting, saying things to me that I found quite upsetting, but of course no one else ever heard her say them, or if they did, didnt interpret what shed said in the same way that I did.
Our household in St Kilda was less and less fun, and we realised it was time to get out and live apart from one another. We all moved out, but bizarrely, still lived within a 1 km radius of each other, as though we couldnt really bear to be too far apart. Jason and I moved into a funky apartment on Chapel Street, and Casey, who had also lived in the St Kilda house, moved in with us.
After the federal election defeat, I was out of a job. I worked for a while with a candidate for the state election, and although he won his seat, his party did not win government. He didnt have any ongoing work for me after the election, so I was unemployed again.
My relationship with Jason was becoming strained. I was not enjoying sex with him, and I suspect he wasnt enjoying it either. I tried to spice it up a bit, and on his birthday in 1997 he came home to find me lying naked on our bed with the words Happy Birthday sprayed on my body with whipped cream. We laughed together and had unsatisfying sex. Our bedroom smelled of sour milk, for weeks after. I didnt know it at the time, but our son was conceived on this night.
I was trying to decide what to do, and was on the verge of ending our relationship when I discovered I was pregnant.
The doctor who diagnosed me told me I didnt have to go through with it, and she would support me no matter what I decided. I wasnt planning on having children and was shocked by the diagnosis, but I was more shocked to be offered a termination. I was pro-choice, but in a split second realised that there was no way I would be terminating this pregnancy. I went home and prepared myself to tell Jason.
He was pleased, but also a little angry. He felt as though I had tricked him somehow. After an evening of discussion, we decided that we would stay together and raise our child. We told our families, who were very excited. We talked about marriage, but Jason had a very strong view that to marry now would convince many people that we were marrying for the wrong reason - to legitimise the pregnancy, rather than because we loved one another. He felt it was very important that no one doubt our motivations when we eventually married. I didnt really care if we were married or not.
I resigned myself to becoming a mother and tried not to get too freaked out about this turn of events. I had no luck finding paid work, but volunteered a couple of days a week at Amnesty International, and we started our own business, setting up and maintaining websites for our clients, mainly government agencies and members of parliament.
We wanted our child to have a back yard to play in, so we looked around for somewhere else to live. We couldnt afford a bigger place in St Kilda, so we rented a house in Preston, closer to our families. Our St Kilda friends all moved over to our side of town, so the gang was still close together.
Mum was absolutely delighted by my pregnancy, as she had been declaring herself ready to be a grandma for some time now. My dad was happy too.
My weight ballooned, and my blood pressure went up. I was working again for a state member of parliament, but I had to find a replacement when it became clear I was on the verge of pre-eclampsia. In the last month or two I was instructed to keep my feet up, rest and a couple of days a week head to the hospital for a day of monitoring. Jason was feeling the burden of being the sole bread winner, and became resentful that I couldnt work and contribute to our budget.
I was overdue, and the hospital was concerned about my blood pressure. They scheduled an induced birth, and on the 13th November, 1997 I went in early to have my amniotic sac ruptured and get injected with hormones that would induce labour.
The induction hormones caused extremely intense contractions that were coupled, so I would have 3 contractions in a row. When the amniotic sac was ruptured some hair was yanked out of the babys head. I believe he moved his head at that time, and this caused him to become stuck. After a full day of contractions, both the baby and I were becoming distressed, and he was stuck. I was rushed into theatre for an emergency caesarean birth, and our son Lachlan Alexander was born that evening. I was awake for the operation, and I can still remember the feeling of having my abdomen opened.
2 days after his birth, Lachlan developed jaundice and had to spend time in the intensive care unit. He was bottle fed during that time, and when he came out it was very difficult to attach him to the breast. I had my baby, but I couldnt feed him properly. After wed been home for a few weeks, it became clear he wasnt getting enough sustenance. He was needing to be fed every 2 hours, and no matter how hard he laboured at the breast he wasnt satisfied. I had no energy, and felt like a failure. One day, I fell asleep on the couch with Lachie lying on top of me. I woke up to find him on the floor, screaming. I had dropped my baby. Luckily he was fine, but I felt guilty about this for a long time.
After one sleepless night I visited the Maternal and Child Health nurse, who thankfully, gave me some sachets of baby formula, taught me how to make up the bottles, and Lachlan had the first good feed of his life. He was 5 weeks old, and losing weight.
We travelled to Sydney by car when he was six weeks old, to celebrate Christmas with Jasons grandmother, and to attend Jasons sisters wedding. This time remains in my memory as extremely difficult and unpleasant. Notably, I feel I was deliberately made to feel like a failure as a mother, and I felt as though my partner was not backing me up. It was incredibly hot. And I still had no energy.
A few months later, on a visit to my GP, she discovered that a 20 cm nylon stitch had been left in my caesarean scar. My body had been devoting all its energy to ridding itself of this foreign object, rather than recovering from birth and producing milk. I immediately felt better after the stitch was removed (I still have it in a jar) but felt Id been robbed of the joys of early motherhood, and that my son had been robbed of a fully functioning mother, and life-giving milk. It took me a long time to get over this resentment.
Politically, things were getting ugly in Australia. A conservative government, led by an ultra conservative politician, had been elected and they had an anti-union agenda. The government trained strike breakers to work on the wharves and replace the union workforce who were on strike over their conditions. The entire union movement was up in arms, about what was to become known as the Waterfront Dispute.
Jason and I were outraged, and wanted to protest in some way. One night, I left my baby for the very first time, and we spent a night on East Swanson Dock. About 5,000 people were there, and our exit was blocked by a line of police who were ready to arrest us as soon as they were given the order. We were all given pieces of paper with a lawyers name and phone number, and told what to say if we were arrested. I was scared, but it felt good to be taking direct political action.
We stayed all night, standing the whole time. Jasons father Peter was with us. He was weary and tried to leave so he could go home. The police wouldnt let him out, so he stayed there all night with us. The police helicopter kept flying overhead shining bright lights on us, to intimidate us. As dawn broke, and we were all feeling a bit desperate with the stand off, we could hear a loud crowd heading our way.
Construction workers that were due to start work that morning had all walked off the job and were coming to the dock to support us. Suddenly the line of police was sandwiched between two groups of angry protesters. The police chief started negotiating with union leaders to get the police out safely, and to permit the protesters to come and go without fear of arrest.
It was an exhilarating thing to be part of, and cemented my desire to be an activist.
When Lachlan was 8 months old, on a sunny winter day in June 1998, the telephone rang. It was my father. He was at the hospital. My mother had collapsed on her way to work and had been taken to the hospital by ambulance. I put Lachlan in the car and headed straight there.
My mother had suffered an aneurysm, and blood had flooded her brain. She was unconscious, and the doctors werent confident she would ever regain consciousness. This was a huge shock to us all. Mum had always been well, and there was no indication that anything like this would happen. For the next three days, hundreds of relatives from all over Victoria made their way to the hospital to spend 5 minutes at her bedside in intensive care. On the fourth day, we were called to the hospital and told that her brain activity was non-existent, and she had been declared brain dead.
We were asked if she was an organ donor. None of us knew. She had recently got her drivers licence, and at that time, if you had signed up to be an organ donor you were given a sticker to put on your licence. I offered to go to my fathers home to check Mums licence. I found it, but there was no sticker. I also found a partially completed application form to become an organ donor. I headed back to the hospital with this information.
My father decided he did not want to Mum to be cut up and because her wishes werent entirely clear, we decided against donation. Maybe she didnt complete the form because shed had second thoughts herself, I reasoned to myself.
We surrounded her bed, all of us touching some part of her. Me, Jason, Lachie, Dad, my brothers Mark, Shane and Brian, and Shanes fiancee Caz. We reached out, we told Mum we loved her, and the doctor turned off the life support equipment. We stood there, holding onto our dear Mum until the machines were silent. She was dead. And we were bereft.
We kept ourselves busy organising the funeral, talking to relatives, sorting through Mums belongings. The night before her funeral I stayed up all night writing her eulogy. To this day I believe it is the best thing I have written. I still miss her, every single day. And I am weeping as I write about this.
In the meantime, my relationship with Jason was not going so well.
I was at home all day with a young child, and I smoked marijuana all day long. By the time Jason got home of an evening I was pretty fried, but oddly, he didnt notice. In fact he didnt notice much about me at all. We talked very little, as though we had no interest in one another.
Our sex life was non-existent, and Jason was becoming more and more resentful of having to support me. He started to make noises about me finding a job, but I wanted to stay with my young son and care for him. Eventually, Jason made it clear that this was not going to happen. He came home one day and told me hed set up a job interview for me at his workplace.
I didnt want to leave my son in care with strangers, but I couldnt stand up to my husband. I felt that he had all the power, particularly as he had been supporting me financially all this time.
I went for the interview, and told Jasons boss that I didnt want the job. When I left, I went out to where my car had been parked only to find an empty space. I had illegally parked it, (in my confusion I hadnt noticed the signage) and it had been towed away. It would cost over $200 to recover the car, money that I didnt have. When I asked Jason what I was going to do, he told me if I took the job, he would pay for the car to be recovered. If I didnt take the job, I was going to have to find the money myself.
I took the job.
There were no child care vacancies in our local area, so I had to go to a neighbouring council and enrol Lachlan there. He wasnt particularly happy there, but he wasnt unhappy either. I started to get back into the swing of work, but I wasnt really happy in the role, and I missed my son.
Jason thought we should do something about our marital status, and we decided to get married. Neither of us was particularly enthusiastic about this, but rather, thought it was the next logical step.
We held a wedding ceremony in our back yard, attended by our family and friends. My Dad hired a musician to play the bag pipes, and I found a fabulous dress in a goth shop in the city. On the morning of the wedding, while in the shower, my mother spoke to me. She told me not to make a speech as I had planned, as I would only make everyone cry. It was supposed to be a happy day, she said.
That night, after everyone left, we went to bed but did not make love.
We continued like this for a while. Going to work together, dropping Lachie at child care, picking him up of an evening, not really communicating, not making love. I wasnt really enjoying my job, he thought it was his job to convince me how good the job was, and to teach me about unions and politics. I began to feel great resentment toward him. I was capable of learning this on my own.
A group of friends gave us a voucher for a night in bed and breakfast, as a wedding gift. We spent an evening in the Shakespeare Room of a place in the Dandenongs, and knowingly had unprotected sex, figuring we would just deal with consequences.
The delightful consequence was our daughter, Darcy Ellen.
I hadnt been in my job with the union for a full year, so I had no entitlement to maternity leave. My boss kindly offered me unpaid leave for a year.
Darcys pregnancy was very different to Lachlans. I felt fit and healthy, and I actually lost weight while pregnant. I craved fruit, and healthy food, and I was very active. In April 2000 I gave birth naturally and very quickly.
Life with two little ones was very busy. I was no longer smoking marijuana so I had the energy to keep up with my life. I was able to breastfeed Darcy, and she grew into a lovely little girl. Life was good.
One day, I was looking through my photos from Nepal, and decided I would write a childrens book about Nepals Living Goddess, Kumari. I wrote the outline of the story and wanted to illustrate it myself. There was only one problem, I didnt know if I could draw.
I bought a sketch pad, found some pencils, and did some drawings of Darcy. They were good. I did some drawings of Lachie. Also good. I drew the whole family and started drawing other things. I really enjoyed it, and enrolled in an evening art class to improve my skills.
I never did finish the childrens book, but developed my art over four years at art classes. In the end, I was the only student who signed up, and that wasnt enough to justify running the classes. I have continued to paint and draw in my own time, in my own way, and can now confidently refer to myself as an artist.
When it was time to go back to work there were no child care vacancies, and there was no room at the union for me, as they had grown in my absence but hadnt secured more floor space. I got to spend another 8 months at home with my gorgeous babies before I going back to work.
Before I went back, my boss took me out for dinner. While at home with the kids I had become politically active in a number of local campaigns. Karen, my boss, wanted to create a new role for me at the union, to utilise my campaigning skills. I was very excited by this prospect, and the job fitted me like a glove.
It was tough, and there was some resentment from colleagues about what they perceived as special treatment, but I managed to make a good fist of it despite these challenges. I increased my hours and was working four days a week.
We had some savings, and the government announced they would provide money to help first home buyers, so we began the search for a home we could buy.
When I spotted the photo in our local paper, I knew I was looking at our house. It was very plain looking on the outside, but it had a rear deck that overlooked wetlands. When we walked in for the first time, we both knew it was ours. It was spacious, and had interesting features, and it just felt like home. We knew we were the only ones interested and made an offer to purchase it. This was knocked back, as the owner wanted to go to auction.
We went to the auction and refused to bid, knowing the dummy bidder in the crowd was going to push us higher than we wanted to go. We let the house get passed in, and left, feeling grim.
Weeks passed, and on my way home from Jasons sisters baby shower, I heard a voice in my head, telling me how much to offer for the house. I discussed it with Jason when we got home and he agreed. We confirmed we could borrow the amount we needed and made the offer. Within hours, we were signing a contract to buy our house, and a few months later we moved in.
All of our friends came to help us move and the day ended with a big party. We all stood on the rear deck, and beautiful rainbow appeared. We decided this was a good omen that would bring us luck in our life.
We found a school for our children, and I ran for school council. I was working, virtually full time, I was on the council, I was running the local Labor party branch, and at that stage I was still going to evening art classes.
Jason and I were drifting further apart. He spent all of his time on the computer, developing software and chatting online to other developers. We only saw our friends when I arranged it, and we had many gatherings at our new home. They felt false somehow. Whenever a gathering was to be had, Jason would raise himself from his online activities and go into a cleaning frenzy. Hed be the perfect host, and then as soon as the guests left he would leave me in silence while he headed back to his online world.
I felt frustrated at our lack of emotional and physical intimacy. I tried to talk to him about it a number of times, but he grew resentful, as though I was blaming him for all of our failings. I begged him to go to relationship counselling with me, but he refused.
I began to have strong feelings for a colleague, and although I felt guilty, developed a close friendship with this person. Nothing ever happened between us, but it was clear to me my marriage was in trouble.
I started seeing a psychologist for regular counselling, initially to get a handle on the grief I was still feeling over my mothers death, then to work through the problems I was having in my marriage, and frustrations that were growing at work. I found the counselling very helpful and still attend now, five years on. I started journal writing, which I still do sporadically, another incredibly helpful thing to do.
In December 2004 Jason and I were invited to attend a conference in Brisbane with work colleagues. The conference coincided with a local art exhibition, which I had entered for the first time. I had to choose between a conference that would determine the unions direction for the next few years or my first art exhibition. I chose the conference and arranged for the children to be cared for by Jasons mother. The children, Jasons mother and my father, would attend the art exhibition in my absence.
On our way to the airport, the car we were travelling in was involved in a car accident. It was serious enough to write off the car, but not serious enough for any of us to be hurt. In the immediate aftermath, I realised that while I was concerned with Jasons welfare, I had no more concern for him than I had for the other occupants of the vehicle. My love for him had apparently evaporated. This was a shocking revelation for me.
We made it to the airport, got on the plane, and headed to Brisbane.
At the conference I encountered a man who lived and worked in a different state, that I had met with previously. We had had a lovely time when wed met before, and enjoyed each others company. That night, the conference participants went out drinking and carousing. Jason left at around 11pm to head back to our hotel. I chose to stay out.
That night, I strolled the streets of Brisbane hand in hand with a man who wasnt my husband. I kissed Craig, and held him. And as dawn broke, he walked me back to my hotel. It was very difficult to concentrate the next day, and Jason was furious I had stayed out all night. I was feeling very guilty, but also very happy. I felt desirable and beautiful. A powerful combination.
Upon our return to our respective lives, Craig and I exchanged emails, text messages and phone calls with increasing frequency. We sent each other gifts, and thought about each other obsessively. I was married, and he was in a long-term relationship. We both felt guilty, but terribly excited by our tryst. I felt like I was walking on air, and no longer cared that my husband didnt want to talk to me, or touch me. I felt unstoppable.
One day, while I was shopping with the kids, I received a text message from Jason. As the IT manager, he had access to the email accounts at work. Hed gone through my messages, and read the exchanges between Craig and I. He was angry and incredibly hurt. I was furious he had breached my privacy. But our marriage limped on.
I set up a Yahoo email account, and stayed in touch with Craig that way. He came to Melbourne with his girlfriend, and sneaked out to meet me one night. We met up and walked through Chinatown. We ducked into a darkened doorway, kissing passionately and fumbling our way through our clothing to touch each other in the most intimate ways. He suddenly realised what he was doing and pulled away. We went for a drink, but he was stricken, and hurried back to his girlfriend. I went home to face my furious, silent husband.
The contact between Craig and I dropped off. He said I was obsessive and asked me to stop emailing him. I was devastated. Jason went away by himself for a week, and when he came back he told me he was moving out.
I was alone, but it felt right. A relief. The hardest part was telling our beautiful children. I will never forget the look on their faces for as long as I live. I will never stop feeling guilty for breaking up their family.
Jason moved into a house around the corner, and wanted the children to live with him half the time. I didnt want this to happen, but I didnt have the funds to fight him legally. I also doubted that unless I could prove he was an unfit father, that I would win a case to keep the kids with me all the time.
I lost my marriage, and I lost my family.
Id been with Jason 12 years by this stage, and over that time wed spent a great deal of our time with his family. All of that was lost to me now. I have regained contact with some members of the family, but others are lost to me forever.
I was now a part time mother, and I was having difficulty coping with this. I still have difficulty coping with this. My misery when the children were away was only matched by theirs. My children were miserable when away from me, and they tell me this even now, I feel as though there is no other choice but to bend to Jasons wishes. I also dont want to be the person who removes their father from their lives.
After Jason moved out he finally agreed to go to relationship counselling with me. I wasnt sure our marriage was over for good, and appreciated the space and time to think things through, and thought the help of a professional would be beneficial to us.
While we were attending counselling I started to feel hopeful about our relationship. We were communicating better, and more honestly than ever before. Just as I started to feel there was a chance to reconcile our family and go on with our lives, Jason told me he had been seeing someone else. And that essentially, it was my fault because I hadnt moved quickly enough to a position of wanting to reconcile.
This was 3 years ago.
Since then he has married his someone else, and this someone else is now part time mother to my children. We met up once, before they were married. Just she and I, in a bar. It was a horrible meeting, and I left feeling incredibly hurt and offended by her.
I have spent the last 3 years dealing with each new blow by self-medicating with increasing amounts of alcohol and marijuana. In that time I have had a relationship with a fine man, but I managed to ruin that as well.
I loved Steve, deeply, and felt lucky to have met him. He bought a lot of joy into my life and into my childrens lives. But he had his own issues, suffering a mental illness, and we managed to hurt each other terribly on occasion. In fact we hurt each other so much that it became impossible to continue on. But I miss him. A lot.
On September 11 last year Id just finished watching that movie United 93, and Steve rang me. We had a pretty awful discussion, and after I hung up I decided I wouldnt ring him again until I felt like talking to him. I guess he felt the same way, because months passed without either of us calling the other. In October, I realised with shock, that I was pregnant. I arranged for a termination. I thought about ringing Steve, but decided against it. I still havent told him.
Not long after Id made the arrangement, Jasons father, my childrens grandfather Peter, died suddenly from complications due to Motor Neurone Disease. I rescheduled the termination so I could attend Peters funeral. The last time Id seen him, he had served Jasons divorce papers on me. Wed sat and had a cup of tea, and I cried. He told me he was sad too, but that we could still be mates. Later, when he was diagnosed with MND I rang him. I told him it was just shit! He said Yes, Lea. It is shit. There was nothing else to say. I never saw him, or spoke to him again. I missed him then, and I miss him now. He was a good man.
All of Jasons family were at the funeral. Some spoke to me, some didnt. It was a hard day for everyone.
The next week I went to hospital for the scheduled termination. While I was under, the surgeon found a growth on my cervix. She removed it and sent it off for a biopsy. I had to wait two weeks for the result. Thankfully, it was a benign polyp.
Early this year, Steve got back in touch with me. He explained that in early 2007 hed stopped taking medication for depression, and that this had affected his behaviour. He was back on his meds, was resigned to taking them for the rest of his life, and was much clearer about a lot of things, including his love for me. I was shocked, as emotionally, I felt I had moved on and was doing well. After some weeks, and Steves persistence, we agreed to give it one more go. We didnt last more than a couple of months, and it was devastating for the kids to have him go from their lives again. I felt unable to talk to him about the pregnancy and termination, and I wonder how much that affected the way I related to him. We havent spoken in many months, and I dont expect we will speak again. Ever.
I have people in my life that I feel close to, but at the same time I am incredibly lonely. I used to cry myself to sleep on the nights the children werent here. To ease some of the pain I got myself a dog, and then a little while after that I got another dog. Theyre good company, and help stave off the loneliness I feel.
I wouldnt say I have a best friend. Instead I have a circle of people I can depend on from time to time, but no one person to care for and support me. No one I can care for deeply.
Ive made gains in my career, having to move on once my marriage broke up (way too hard to work with your ex) and I feel as though I have earned the respect of my new colleagues, and I have had the chance to work on some terrific projects.
I love the job Im in now. Despite that, I applied for another job recently. I wasnt dealing well with the frustrations created by our organisational structure and certain individuals, and Im enormously attracted to my married boss. It all felt too hard. When I went for the interview though, it became clear how great my job is. I walked back to the office with a renewed appreciation for my position, and thankfully, didnt get offered the other job. My married boss and I are becoming friends, which is much safer ground to be on. Although Im still attracted to him, those feelings arent dominating and were able to focus on the work, letting our regard for one another manifest as friendship.
My finances arent great, but they are under control. I bought this house in my own right, and Im now preparing to start some major construction work so it doesnt fall down around me. Its scary to be in so much debt.
Im still painting and drawing, and from time to time I think about exhibiting my work, but its too personal. The work I produce reflects how I feel about certain people and events, and Im not ready to share this with the wider world, or to sell them to people who dont understand what they mean to me. It sounds like Im being precious, and maybe I am. It takes bravery and strength to open yourself up in that way, and although I feel I have become brave and strong over the years, Im not quite ready to put it all out there, so to speak.
I dont believe Im completely over the loss of my marriage and family life, or Jasons re-marriage. Im not sure Im completely over Steve either. Ive started behaving oddly of late, and the psychologist who counsels me suggests I am acting out because Im missing emotional intimacy in my life. I have no significant other. No partner. No one I connect to on a deep level. And its all my own fault.
I am behaving in ways that arent honest, and will ultimately damage me and others. This cant continue.
Ive stopped smoking dope, again. Ive cut back on the alcohol. And Im dealing with health issues Ive ignored for a while.
On the weekends, when the kids arent here, I lock myself in and dont talk to anyone. Its a relief not to have to put on a brave face for the world every second weekend, but deep down, I know its not healthy and shouldnt continue.
I love the time I have with my children, and theyre growing into beautiful people. But how can I fill my time, and my arms, when theyre not here? I paint, I write, I read, I watch films and TV, I listen to music, play with the dogs. But I do all of this alone. Perhaps that is as it should be. Why then, does it feel so empty? Why arent I enough for me?
Im 40. I dont want to feel like this any more.
The Olympics are on in the background. I have spent today writing this. It has been hard, and emotionally draining, but it was also time well spent.