The longer away I am from home, the less I think chaotically. This is why.
Put your hand on your shoulder. Keep it there. A little longer… okay. Now slide that hand along your nape, drag it along the curve of your torso, caress your way down towards your naval. Work your way down there like a lover. Don’t you wish it was your partner’s hand instead of yours? Oh god it turns me on. So gentle the person is. Bliss, right?
Now imagine this. It’s your father’s hand.
If you felt what I’ve felt before when doing that exercise – a small change in your stomach, exertion of sweat, the sensory receptors in your skin going into overdrive and everything you feel being less than electric – then know I used to feel this on a weekly basis.
I’ve partied in Greece, volunteered in Thailand and wandered around Edinburgh and during the whole trip I can only recount one time that I felt scared. Back home in Australia though, I walk with a gaze over my shoulder, which leads to the way I carry myself when I’m walking around my current home: Melbourne. The most liveable city.
It suits me, Melbourne’s vibe of freedom. Paradoxically, however, it can make me feel sick at times, because it’s close to someone I want to be erased from my head.
Fun fact. I carry two faces in Melbourne. First face: Assessing crowds during night time constantly. Second face (which isn’t regular): A true smile spread across my face as I converse with a friend.
I think you can tell where this is going, and if you can’t, then you’re very lucky.
Settled? Okay. Take a deep breath. We’re going into darker territory.
Once upon a time. My grandparents’ house in Frankston. I am on the couch in the second dining room out the back. A snake is being shoved into my mouth. I register it only when I look at it over my nose and I go cross-eyed, like when you see a bee as it lands on your nose. The rate at which the snake is disappearing indicates that its head is already past my gag reflex. It is not cold upon my tongue. My eyes dart up and little meteors are flying in all directions.
I think I would have been six to seven. I think.
During high school, some memories cropped up. In particular, a frightening montage of a grotesque man with crossed horse legs and curly horns on its head, fucking a small boy. That small boy is me. Sometimes it’s just a plain man. What’s that cliché? When life gives you lemons… Am I right? Bad joke, sorry.
Were you uncomfortable? Don’t worry, I could use a pint of rum while writing this.
If I was 18 mentally back when I was six or seven, I wish my vocabulary was big enough to say something like, “Fuck off or I will kill you, I promise.” My not-funny-but-actually-dry side would have said: “I’m gonna gather some hard hittin’, pasty, unattractive white boys, with some tools and pliers, and we’re going to go medieval on your ass… YOU HEAR ME?!” (I love you Quentin Tarantino). Extreme, but true. When shit happens to you, adrenaline kicks in and you simply act. No apologies.
How do you first deal with vivid images of your dad sexually assaulting you when it may or may not be true?
I like to grab a beer and dance until sunrise. That’s my technique. It’s why I have brilliant moves. It’s my way to forget.
My family want to forget as well, they impressed upon me.
“I don’t think… that’s real.”
My mother looks unsettled, as if she doesn’t want to look at me out of fear that I’ll see right through her words.
I don’t think that’s real?
Is your empathy fucking real?
It’s funny; she is very good at multi-tasking when she drives. Now she is staring straight ahead. That hard gaze. I told her about the snake (sometimes penis). I couldn’t open up about the nightmares of the bull man, thing.
Look at me mum.
Oh … Mum … c’mon man.
She can see me staring at her from the corner of my eye. I know it.
….Mum, okay, I get it, I’m not a counsellor but it’s hard. He abused you too for so long and you deserve a home ornately built with rubies hanging from tropical vines and not family drama and it’s really hard to hear this from your son after a financially and emotionally crippling divorce but I’m begging you, listen to what I just said… C’mon Mum. Fucking please Mum. Please, just, oh please…
FUCKING LOOK AT ME YOU COWARD!
I thought it; of course I didn’t say those things. I was too timid to plead for her attention.
Not a word is spoken for the next seven minutes and we arrive at our rustic cottage home. I don’t speak to her until dinner and I never bring up the subject with her again.
“Thanks Mum. I’ll wash the dishes tonight.”
Don’t get me wrong. I love my mother. Today she is my rock, but what she did then damaged me.
“So that’s why you’re bi.”
My brother sounded so malicious that his tone horrified me more than the words. For a second, I didn’t love him. I put a plug on the tears, but I could feel them pushing against my ducts. I nearly strangled him right then and there on the street. But I didn’t.
I’m not strong or agile, but I’m angry, and I think I was ready to unleash it. I don’t know why I didn’t. Somehow I willed myself to love him immediately after.
Later, I told the memories in the vaguest way to my counsellor. My hands shook like I had just sat down in an electric chair. The counsellor looked at me with his hands clasped against his mouth. He suggested we play tug of war. He produced a cloth from his pocket and I held one end and he held the other. “Now,” he said. “Pull, pull.” He was the memory and I was the skinny, feeble kid with an invisible name badge: Mr Fucking Passive. I still don’t understand the benefit of it.
Before moving to Melbourne, there was a girl who I numbed the pain with by succumbing to a drug called naked flesh.
“Why do you shake so much before we start doing it?”
“I just do.”
Her gaze spoke of suspicion. “Your heart beat is so fast.”
Partly because of you, babe.
For me today, sex is when your lover is an extension of your emotion. It’s as spiritual as walking through a botanical garden, and the body is a garden for those who care for its skin. If you don’t speak this language with me, I’m going to politely ask you to stop.
Now I sound like a philosophical bullshit artist, but hey, having that mindset made sex less daunting for me. And it wasn’t just her who helped me.
Last year, I slept with three men, and I wasn’t 18 yet. It was all to help me get used to being intimate with men and let go of my initial anxiety around them.
I think this needs a pseudonym.
Cover by Tim Marshall