A true short story, uncomfortably perched on the fence between autobiography and the biography of people who really touched my life in a series of stark and powerful encounters. – TR
I watched them all reach out to me
And I knew my separateness… my remote control,
What did they hear when I spoke?
I was roaring
in an absence of words
but their faces were fogged,
and they just kept struggling
I whispered into them
We are clouds drifting by,
Not even remotely in control
My life happened to any of us; it was the shaping, twisting, curve by brutality into the scripted monuments of typical stories; the short and the tall, casting us all into living sculptures of territorial meanings. I just scored and buffed a soundtrack of futility right there, finely ground on the camber of all my own rough roads.
People either desperately wanted to know what happened, or they completely and utterly didn’t. It didn’t touch me either way. Whatever happened to me was probably the same set of cuts that ever bled in anyone who stalked change. I just watched it all, fragmented by shafts of light and shades of human hues, in cracking heaps of agonies and vacant states, buoyed by tides of tiny thoughts, until my feelings drifted in and out of places I’ll never find again. Escaping myself, I moved through Boundary Street’s brief and uneventful strip of slovenly bundles, as early daylight speared into the café windows and shop fronts of its drab façade.
I knew the names of all the sleepers, whose sour scraps of fouled and vomited remains of blended beer and doner kebabs lay rotting now, deep in alleyways and doorways and breezeways of anti-depressed scuffles, dressed in heavy suppression and resting now, nestled darkly into the tracks of their fallen faces, struck down hard among throbbing queues of eager throngs, hell-bent on tasting the inner city lust of the lost and broken. Smashed glass glinted as I pounded my own head with the aching task of going somewhere, anywhere past the acid stench of their emptied stomachs, now caked and baking upon the footpath and dance-floors of late-night West End wanderers.
I could not draw today, in any single, flowing line or evenly spaced mark, a festival of gossamer wings upon the dread-locked fairies and pin-pierced poppets, posed in a common nod of awakened recognition from their organic brethren, swirling along in a haze of hyper-allergenic affectations, sermonising litanies of recipes for sexless, hapless, herbal highs and African beats. West End was hung-over.
Sliding home, I dreamed away the sunlit hours to re-emerge in the mildewed canopy of twilight, borne backwards into the long, dark shadows of my youth, remembering where I’d first learned to see and to paint.
Kathy was drinking again. Doors were hammering walls again, in floor-shuddering explosions that smashed deafeningly righteous signals to stay away or get burned. I was already crisp and hollow from the ferocious fire of my family’s feudal drinking wars. My solar plexus was rigid with ancient pain as I listened to the cycle of clinking and prowling whenever her next new boyfriend stayed out all night again.
I never knew if my mother’s lovers were just casual cuddling dollies, or if each and every one of the dumb bastards was somehow a big man acting out for her.
She cackled at them, a black demon of primitive hungers and destruction, and everything vulnerable about each one of their raw and primal struggles squirmed inside the trap she’d set, responding to her in fiercely violent, sexual play.
‘I’m gonna smash ya fuckin’ head off y’ bitch… where is it?’
Headlights juddered across the wall of my bunker, the single brick and concrete box, illegally poked under the house that my mother rented for us in O’Connell Street. Much of the mortar had broken and crumbled away, inviting winter’s crack and city spiders into my underground haven. Sometimes I slept in there, and waited out the rage, scuttling my fingers across precious sheets of any paper, in savage lines of desperation, scratching shards of charcoal in stiff and shaky lines that urgently sought a single stroke of inspired genius, a stroke of luck, the lightning stroke of different, better days.
‘You gonna die, you better run.. ’cause I’m gonna fucken’ kill ya’ this time.’
I lost all sensation of safety again. My terror was never a fear of physical dangers, not for me, it was an awful fear of her, for her, for the horror of our consequences, of having to move out and move on again, to play the real estate game, be pariahs again, be desperate and back in hell and back in gaol, to have to breathe in the stench of charity again.
That’s what frightened me most of all. Foster homes.
More stumbling, crashing noises
‘Yeah…look out, ya’ drunken bitch.’
She’s whimpering now.
‘Don’t do it like that, don’t do that again…’
Intimate with the mind-knife of the smashing bottle, I crept inside my languid, mounting panic, swallowing another assault, drifting on rivulets of ruin in short, shallow breaths and deep fear. I listened to another fight turned sweet, the kiss of remorse, the toss and tumble of hurts into a hungry heaving of pounding urgency.
Systematically I closed my self and floated away.
Awakening slowly, I’d notice me floating along Roma street, wandering, blank alongside park-lands, never reaching past nor remembering future, just me on a straight path leading down into the Valley. I watched me heading north towards the freeway.
All I really wanted was a free way.
My year seven teacher, Robyn Amos watched me with dread. It was an anxiety that smelled as if she half expected me to wait for her in some quiet, lonely place and leap out to slice her, nick her, touch her in a terrifying gesture of innocence that ate at her in that guilty flush of confusion about my eyes.
She dreamed about my eyes and she didn’t know where to hide from me. I told her “I’m not even alive in your world” but she never paid attention.
I told her in ways that only seemed to make her dream more and more about holding me on her lap, and then, when she’d woken, she’d discover that her own tears had flooded her in an unrelenting anguish over all lost and missing children.
I knew I wasn’t her child, but she couldn’t be totally sure that I wasn’t even her child, not really. She thought that she just wanted to stroke me gently, with a light and easy touch, but she was so afraid.
She was terrified of losing herself in the confusion. Was it really all mine? Mostly she was just so afraid of Kathy. I first met Kathy at my birth, she picked me up and stared at me for a moment and asked someone for a warm, damp cloth and a hand towel. It was in that exact moment I formed the core belief that giving birth was such very dirty work.
Afterwards, when she brought me home to live with her, I couldn’t ever speak, because I just didn’t know how to really tell her,
Kathy wore blue whenever we visited the hearing clinic on Wednesdays. It was some kind of ritual that she performed for Doctor Dave, but he was so uncertain of the complex rules of her ritual that he fumbled and revealed his masculine vulnerabilities, which was exactly what Kathy aimed for every time.
I knew he cared about me. He seemed so much more comfortable whenever I arrived there straight from school before she did. He smiled better, he relaxed in the opportunity to observe me, unobserved, but I was bored with the sameness of their ritual.
He wore the good doctor’s attitude; the one that broadcast that he had no time, and that it stumped him as to why I had not yet changed. He sincerely looked for anything that might sway Kathy’s grim acceptance of her troubling and disabled burden, perhaps his finest skill was his ability to describe nothing in simple frames of positive nonsense
My eyes were tired from watching the same scene, my heart kept pumping recycled blood around and around in me, and my brain monitored the effects of their program upon my frozen, outcast, inner freak.
All I really wanted was to run… away.
I’d become bone-dead from watching Kathy and Doctor Dave roll around my sky like little moons. Their identities sucked all light from some other source, there was nothing new, nothing clear and radiant there, I simply waited at the sameness of their handshake, their intrusive, pocketed phone calls and their stifled, nervous coughs, I recognised my hunger when it whined, and I saw so many well-trained tracks from toilet to bed.
I needed to run until I burst this heart and my blood ran fresh and vivid upon their inertia, in a screaming jolt of electric juice to show them I was also human.
Kathy was really agitated, more than her usual level of shrill control. I heard her talking to Robyn Amos about me again.
‘I understand your concerns Robyn, but the truth is I just can’t afford to make that kind of change right now. I realise that… but how exactly is his behaviour hindering the groups’ progress? Of course…, but the fact that he doesn’t speak, doesn’t mean he can’t. Robyn, there are very strong indications that… Yes, I know you care. You’ve been bloody marvellous… Oh, I’m sorry, yes I will. OK, Bye.’
Kathy worked in a real estate office and I knew that her boss, Uncle Terry Bartlett was dying. I figured that he was, because I heard Kathy explaining to her sister Didi, that the paramedics had told her to say goodbye right before he’d left the office on a stretcher.
I knew it for certain when I waited a very long time at the bus stop. It was dark by the time Aunty Didi came to find me. Didi told me that Kathy was still at the hospital because her boss, Uncle Terry Bartlett had just died.
There was a chasm of barbed wire and ancient, brittle Christmases yawning between Kathy and her sister Didi. I knew right then I was going back into care again. It didn’t matter anymore, because I couldn’t survive another stretch of the old patterns; Kathy being out of work, freaking out about money, drinking, fighting, spiralling back down into the abyss.
We drove along Hale Street in our grinding blue car. Kathy clearly instructed me on exactly how I needed to behave at Aunty Didi’s place while she went to Uncle Terry Bartlett’s funeral.
‘Just don’t touch any of her things, you know I don’t like it when you touch her things.’
I stared at the terrifying sameness of the houses rushing by.
Kathy delivered me to my Aunty Didi’s cottage on top of a lost mountain. Her wonderful house was a small, constructed madness crouching deep in the decaying forest.
Kathy rearranged my hair at the front door as she negotiated the terms of my special needs and philosophical requirements until I was formally delivered into the gloom of my aunt’s cave of abominations, a dark and untidy world where moss covered sticks and dangling grandfather’s beard and round rocks and piccabeen and deer skin scraps and hand-sewn bags with beads and feathers and hand-felted cloths lay strewn around, where musical instruments tripped over the stairs and unfinished canvases with eerie images peered across the room in stark gazes, screeching at the dishes and the bills piled up and the damp washing strewn around to dry on the backs of chairs.
Kathy loathed artist’s squalor, and she squirmed with obsessive, wringing distaste as she departed for Uncle Terry Bartlett’s funeral.
I wondered how the sculptures could dare to grin at the sweet sage that burned while her crystals hummed along with birds, warbling into the rain that was falling from the clouds that were gathering and drifting into her lounge room, depositing mist-drops of moisture to hang on every wall. I shivered at the overload.
‘Come on Tomi, it’s time to go, I’m taking you to my special tree.’
Frantic, mournful warnings rippled out from the currawongs protecting their young. They pierced my skin with their stinging, blistering cries as we scuffed along the crumbling concrete path, on and on and on, gaily severed from our unnatural safeties as we slipped into the wet blanket of the dank and ominous forest.
My ears rumbled with the scraping, droning ripples of the mud and ancient history, and the shifting light flickered in my mind, blinding me, stopping me from stepping along the path.
Everything rushed in to swallow my breath and I hated Didi, hated her from inside the hollow coldness of my imagined revenge. I wanted her to know this awkwardness, to be dangled in an etheric void of unreasonable pressures and to fall, just as I was falling.
I never knew that an entire city of dread was crammed down so deep inside my guts, not until I inched away from the fractured chain of Aunty D’s patchwork blanket of slipshod control. How could she ever understand Kathy’s expectations or methods of governance? Mother’s tungsten claw of menace loaded upon the pulsing, vulnerable arteries of my urgent desperation?
How could Didi apply that goose-boot of slaughter upon my soft-kid throat?
A turbulent, swirling metropolis unfurled from my secret self, right here in the big garden that Didi claimed as her own amazing forest, I watched it drift down in a raw and powerful silence, and the dominance of the trees couldn’t help but transform my grief into an open chasm of need. It was their magical right to do so, and I was filled with an urgent hunger for the very changes that the trees wrought in me.
Frogs and crickets and owls and small parrots were chirping, warbling, popping, hooting, cackling, laughing and crying as the calls for me faded into their own inexorable death.
I didn’t need to hear the stifled sorrow-songs of others, I was sufficiently filled with my own, but their sounds simply travelled into me, gliding eerily through the shimmering shapes of the forest landscape, carrying themselves high on swirling ground-vapours that lifted and relocated me into a vanishing green lake that spilled across all of our unfathomably complex lives, enveloping me in a cool and distant breeze that blew itself far out over the canopy, on and on into the shelter of wild and beautiful dangers, far from the urban wasteland that severed me anonymously and invisibly and totally.
I waited until her fully emptied mind was utterly preoccupied with the vanity of making pocket telephone calls to flimsy people, calling them from inside her amazing forest and I just walked away. I followed the scent.
The moment I saw the blue man, I recognised him straightaway. I saw his peace, and I could also see that it was only temporary… just a makeshift, tiny piece of peace.
He was painting with blue hands on a piece of cloth and there were pictures of animals and hands and… other things leaning up and all around the inside of his own wild world, safe in the roots of a hidden tree, a hiding tree, and it glittered with the fallen treasures he had gathered and painted and dreamed.
When Blue saw me, he easily saw that we had the very same problem. He was only a child inside a man’s body and I was old, old crow.
Neither of us knew how to take care of an inner child, so we just let all our children out to play inside the beautiful blue bower. I wanted to give him everything that he could never have, everything I could never share, not when everyone imagined so much ugliness when they looked at the outside of me.
Instead, Blue man gave me all space to reach and to touch the free and dirty things that grew in the aliveness of the ground, time to smell the colours and the silence in which he only smiled and drove me gently to the death of my own suffering, pushed me to the very end of my boyhood, killed me in the culling of heavy handprints that Kathy had marked on me, the shackles of my freedom and the free way of all things. Inside my fragile white-boy shell I was owl, well before I could dream.
Blue man took control of the wind and turned my mind into a light that hummed upon the deep, dark cavernous lines of all his shivering boys, such hungry boys and lost, black boys in the den of all deceptions, captives in the haunted well of horrors and whippings and whiteness, prisoners in the holding tanks for all brothers of the primal pain.
I freely went in there with him because he promised me safe passage in all the dark, he offered me company inside my silence and he gave me warmth from inside his scars. We shared the same hurts anyway, and we both knew. We made a new knowing and it had one colour. It was always Blue.
Blue man yearned to find a childhood for his dad. He drew it for me on the tree root walls of his bower, he wrote himself on all his trees. He painted all his lives in shapes and lines and I would have followed him into hell.
Blue was much too young to remember how they’d all lived when his family finally gave up their terrifying chasing games. Blue showed me that he hadn’t seen his Dad for a very long time. He’d heard he’d died a couple of years back, somewhere up in Rockie’, he heard they found him dead in a boarding house for drunks and crazy old fellers.
Blue knows, somewhere deep down inside, that his Dad’s still living out near Alpha. He said his Dad only needed to go back to Alpha to pick up all his pieces. He’d reckoned it was all he needed, that his life would really change when they gave him back his childhood… told it all back to him. The trouble is, they just didn’t have any childhoods to give to him out there.
That cut deep in his mob, the taking away times, but it’s what they knew. Blue’s Dad only ever wanted to find his real place. He just kept asking everyone he ever met.
‘How did we fall into this emptiness? When did we awaken so frail and weak?’
Startled by the reflection, I saw that we are all just tissue; skins dragging the dead weight of generations of weeping wounds. Each layer of heritage coats us in an army of greasy boots, until we are buried together, trapped under lost dentures and discarded scarves, wearing the stinking coat of all the unwashed pain, we suffocate in the horrific huddle of our own dead arms.
‘How are we so heavy, so feather-light?’
Blue’s dad was still screaming in the dark, and he would creep into his own arms and softly touch his face until he’d finally whimper a little softly, and fall into the blackness of sad dreams again. Blue sketched the faces of the stranger-men on the trees. There was no clean, white paper in our broken homes. White paper… white paper with new white names signing off a new stealing, a fresh taking, far away from all bad fathers, salvaged from their mad, wounded, bleeding, silent, battered, matted, scarred, hard-living and dead-drunk mothers.
When Blue first showed me the marks he used to describe his little brothers, Rags and Pau’, I saw two more broken toys. Big, chucked-away boys, smacked down by fisted hurts, categorically described in armed-length documents, freshly drawn upon clean white paper. They were all dispersed, just as if it were truly true, and always and only ever the fault of all small, bad and dirty children to be ripped away in frosted light, by steaming horse breath and tracking dogs, by rotting, empty white men with guns aimed to shoot into all of our running, shrieking, bad, drunk mothers.
White men stabbing into them with bites and bullets making crimson killing holes in the toughest of runners, and quick whip-cuts across the backs of the best looking, dragging the youngest, softest, submissive girls, collapsing into tethered sturdy herds, mustered up and bound for the mission.
Blue gave me so many pictures to repair my soul, so we could both come home, clean.
Together we just kept drawing, sketching, painting the hurts of all our disconnection, until I saw that we were, everyone of us, in so many layered pieces. We’d just got caught, wavering in the strokes and lines, like immaterial mists, unable to withstand the grinding down of all our collected sorrows.
We heard my women calling, my mother and her sister, but they were only calling out for the old me, the dead me, calling for the wind to stir up, and calling for our fortress to fall.
Not once did they call out for him. Blue man.
Newly scarred men, we stood, marked as blue mob, standing in the air and seeing into the future and the futile greyness of all our old, ripped dreams.
My ghostly white women shrieked and howled from the edges of the bower, never able to understand why they could not enter such broken men’s resonating space. We’d built our fortress with the fading, invisibly magic light of men. Our blue fortress was the final frontier for new greetings, for male initiation and for the passage of all lost time.
‘You’ll be right now, l’il bro’.’ he spoke.
Wrapping him in my first and only embrace, I printed my new, blue hands upon the back of him, and I walked away, dressed in the blazing blue splendour of my own freewill.
The short feature film Blue Colour that I wrote and directed in 2008