What's Not to Dispise?
Our lives, at their simplest, are an ongoing series of incidents which shape our personailties. How we react to a situation determines how we feel about it, and our reactions are governed by our capabilities and oportunities. As we progress through life, accumulating memories, forming our belifes and attitudes, influenced by what we feel, we change at our most fundamental level, the level of our conciousness and our individulaity.
We are each unique. No two people can possibly experience the same set of situations and circumstances, so it follows we must each travel unique paths of change and arrive at unique destinations. What we've been through, good and bad, shapes us into who we are, and we all go through different experiences collecting memories which in time define us.
I remember who I was. I remember the boy who'd ride his bike all weekend through the forests near my home, all the little tracks and trails I explored, the gully with the clean, crystal clear creek which you could swim in and drink from where I'd spend afternoons playing with my brother and our friends. The wild strawberry and blueberry patches you could find if you followed the creek up the gully a way. I remember laying on the rug with my dog, rubbing his belly, neither of us having a care in the world, me sharing my fried chicken with him. I remember thinking I'd be a marine biologist one day, studying whales and dolphins. I remember christmas mornings, a bike one year, my first guitar the next. I remember, and I laugh as I do, getting money from my mum for guitar lessons, then going to the park and teaching myself from my guitar book, using the lesson money to buy lollies. I remember the day my mum drove past that park and saw me there, and stopping to ask me why I wasn't at guitar lessons. Found out, I confessed I'd never had a lesson and had taught myself. I remember my mum laughing, shaking her head and telling me what an incredible talent I must have to have progressed so far so quickly without lessons, and the next week, her giving me the lesson money and saying "I don't mind if you don't spend it on lessons, just as long as you keep learning, that's what counts."
I remember participating in class, running and laughing and playing with freinds at school, I remember one teacher who was so impressed with my intelligence and personaility that she named her first child after me, and told me so, and to feel proud of who I am, to always let the light inside me shine as brightly as I could and to never, ever let the world get me down. I remember having no idea what she was going on about, but liking how it felt.
I remember the nightmares I used to have about a strange man who would come and tell me that he was my father, that my dad was not my dad. I remember those nightmares, and I remember the look on my mothers face when I told her. She went and got my dad, sat us down and they told me that the nightmares were really based on a truth they'd kept from me. I was 8 when I found out my dad was actually my step dad, that my real father was a heroin addict, that my mum had left him when my older brother was 3 and I was 1. She tried to make it work, believed he wanted to get clean after their first child, but her finding out that he was still using and hiding it from her and how she packed up her kids, left her husband and went home to her mother with her two kids. I still admire her for that, in spite of everything.
I remember my relationship with my stepdad going to pieces. The names he started to call me, white trash, junky baby, the cripple, how he'd sit at the table for dinner and tell me to "get out of his sight, because he couldn't look at me and keep down food at the same time." I was 9. I remember the first time I told him I hated him. I remember always being sent to my room, being told, "you're not part of this family," and my Mum's dispairing "Mark, don't," and the look she'd give me as I left the room, how the way he had begun to treat me broke her heart. I understand now, with one broken marriage behind her, she was willing to put up with a lot from a man who put food on the table, lived clean and took care of the three kids she had with him. I can't imagine the sacrifices she made to stay, or what was said between them when we were out of earshot. I don't remember the first time he beat me, but I'll never forget the last.
I remember how being sent to my room for no reason, sometimes for days with food brought in by mum began to effect my interactions with the people around me. How I began to believe that I was a disgrace, a mistake, how I made people sick just looking at me. In my formative years, just in my pre-teens, having the message hammered home day in and day out that I was sub-human. I became withdrawn, quiet, disapointed with myself for not being good enough to be loved by my stepdad, began the downward spiral to become who I am today. It was around that time, 9 or 10, when my legs started to get worse.
I read a lot. Books were my escape from my room, my imaginary respite from isolation. I felt like I didn't deserve friends, that people shouldn't have to be made to feel sick by being forced to spend time around me. My hand went up less often in class, I stopped playing with other kids, would go to the creek alone not to play but to be alone, to get away. I remember hiding in the ferns when other kids came through the gully, waiting, sometimes for hours, for them to leave before I'd come back out.
I remember the first girl I loved. Christine M. Puppy love. Affection, the way my heart lept when I saw her, how I couldn't even tell her how I felt because I was afraid she'd dispise me too. I remember mustering the courage to give her a rose and a card one valentines day, and how she thanked me politely and gave the card and the rose back and told me we could only be friends, that she was another guy's valentine. I remember the first time I cried from a broken heart. I also remember feeling left out for not having anyone ask me to be their valentine, and how, while quietly sulking about it by myself, a group of girls came up and started to tease me for being rejected by Christine. I remember, not too proudly, taking a swing with my school bag and knocking one of the girls flat on her butt. It was the one who said, "spastics don't get girlfriends, stupid."
I remember the worst of the string of similar rejections as I went through highschool, and how, by my 10th school year, I had given up on anyone wanting me for a boyfriend. I remember each time a girl became a close enough friend or was sufficently kind to me for me to believe that maybe this one was different, and the bitter, bitter disapointment of every time finding out the hard way they were all just the same. I remember how each of those rejections carved another slice out of me.
I remember running away from home after fighting back against my stepdad the last time he hit me. I remember him being 25 years older than me and with about 45kilos over me how he laughed at me when he took my punch to his head and threw one back that knocked me across the room. His taunt "you think you're a big enough man to hit me? Come on, try it again, *punch* come on, big man, *punch*" I was 15. I went to a park and cried myself to sleep there and went to school the next day, and mum coming to pick me up from school and taking me to my grandmother's house.
I remember when I stopped going to school and started hanging around in the city with a gang of young criminals, learning how to steal cars, robbing stores, popping tills, snatching bank bags from merchants as they took their takings to the bank's late night deposit boxes, breaking into peoples homes, shoplifting. The trouble with the police, the halfway houses, the juvenile detention center. I remember just not going home to my grandmothers one night, staying in a motel we paid for with stolen money. Yeah, I remember, and I'm ashamed of what I did. I remember the crime that made me give up crime. I stole a wallet from an old man, right out of his lap. I remember how black my heart felt, how for the first time in my life I was disgusted with myself. I will never forget the look on that man's face as I snatched his wallet, the disapointment and sadness, the instant resignation to the fact he'd been robbed and he was too old and slow to chase me. I am proud at least to say that I have never stolen anything since then, and have tried, through volunteer work, to make up for the hurt I've caused as I went through that rebellious and self-centered stage of my life. I remember how through most of that time, I was too stoned or drunk to think about how I was feeling. I remember the girls who ran with our crew, and how none of them would have sex with me, even though they slept with any of the other guys. I remember being bitter about that, feeling so low for being rejected by, well, gang moles. I had drugs, money and the choice of any car I wanted. You think a guy could get laid with that going for him, even by some scrubber. Not me though. That I remember.
I remember the first time I took a guitar out on the street to play for money. Busking, it's called here. I remember counting up the change after a few hours and feeling proud to have earned money honestly and independently. Realising I had a talent I could use to support myself changed me. I also noticed that for the first time in my life, I was getting female attention. I was about 19. Girls would hang out with me while I played and sang, there'd be flirting, maybe even some kissing. But always, when the performance ended, I'd have to stand up and start walking, and the question "what's wrong with your legs," would come out. I remember the eleven times in my life when girls who were all set to get more intimate with me literally ran away down the street to get away from me, and me feeling like that old man watching his wallet go off up the road while he sat there unable to do a damn thing about it, only it wasn't my wallet, it was my sense of self worth being stolen a piece at a time. Can I blame them? Not really. They didn't know I was disabled while I was sitting down being the cool and talented musician. You could call what I was doing misrepresentation, if you wanted to.
I remember moving in with my older brother and his girlfriend, living with them, Good times. The closest thing to a happy homelife I'd had for about 4 years. I remember the day in 1989 when Cathy walked in the front door and up the hallway, sensing something was different, and knowing what I was about to hear before I was told. "you're going to be an uncle, Cath and I are having a baby!" I believe I sensed Dylan's young soul, I believe we were bonded long before he was born. I remember meeting him, his pale, beautiful blue eyes looking up at me, his tiny mouth opening and something, I like to think it was a smile, but it was probably gas, making his gorgeous little face distort into what just looked to my overly clucky eyes exactly like a smile. I remember asking "can I hold him?" and the first touch, our first hug. It felt to me, the reformed juvenile deliquent, like something amazing had happened, that now I had family, that it wasn't just me and my brother against the world, now we were three. I remember Cathy saying "that's your uncle, he's going to teach you to play guitar."
I remember the day my brother's girlfriend left him, I remember going from full time, live in uncle to weekend visitation. I remember my brother's rapid spiral into clinical depression, I remember the first time my nephew was dropped off and seeing bruises on him and thinking "what the hell?" I remember hearing Cathy had gone into a new ralationship, that my nephew now, like me, would grow up with a stepdad. I remember praying for the first time in my life, praying that Dylan would have a better stepfather than I did. I remember reporting our concerns to child welfare, and being brushed off because to be with their mother is what's best for the child.
I remember the day in August 1992 when my brother and his freind Jason came into the house I was living in, both in tears. I remember knowing something was really wrong. I remember the few seconds between realising something was wrong and the words "come with us, Dylan's dead," coming out of my brother's best friend's mouth. I remember collapsing to the floor instantly, grief so monsterous, so strong, that I just fell to the ground. I don't remember the drive to my brother's house, I remember arriving there to find most of my family there. I remember deciding then there is no God, and if there is, he's an evil, cruel bastard who deserves a knife in the ribs, not my devotion.
I remember the morning of the funeral. I don't remember much between then and finding out he'd died, I don't even remember how many days from recieving the news it was until the funeral. I remember Natalie, a old friend from school, now Jason's girlfreind, coming out of a room in the hotel we'd stayed at onto the shared balconey to where I stood watching the sun rising, her hand on my shoulder, then an arm around me, then both arms, and the hug she gave me that lasted for nearly ten minutes. I remember that because it's the first time anyone hugged me and I felt like there was nobody there the whole time I was being held. Most of you know how it feels to feel alone in a crowd, but alone in a hug? That's just all 36 flavors of messed up.
I remember the casket being closed for the service and not knowing why, I remember standing by Dylan's open grave, taking a guitar pick from my pocket and dropping it down onto his coffin, mute recognition of the fact that any plans I had to play a part in his life were now gone. I remember how small the coffin was. He was only 3 years old when he died. I remember turning away from his grave and starting to walk from the cemetary, only to meet Cathy and her parents on the way out. I remember saying the words "no, don't talk to me, you took him away from us once already, now we lose him again, this time, forever. I don't care if you're sorry. You find your own way to live with that, Cath." I remember her father saying "wait, no, just wait a minute," and me turning my back on them and walking away forever.
I remember the court case, and the year before it happened, how little shocking, appaling facts would come to light. I remember it was not long after the funeral when I found out how he'd died. He'd been beaten by his stepfather. One punch killed him, a punch to the back of his three year old head, delievered by a 26 year old man. The stepfather, realising what he'd done, then broke both of Dylan's arms post mortem and laid him face down in a bath, then called the police to report he'd fallen in the bath and drowned while he was unsupervised. I remember the nightmares; vivid, horrific dreams of the screams of a dying child, and not knowing to this day if he cried out for his uncle or his dad in his last moments. I remember not being there when he needed me. I remember six months of not leaving my house, of going back to my room, shutting myself in, drinking to try to numb the pain, but just ending up drunk and in pain. Nightmares every night, with a screaming, dieing child haunting me. I remember a dream, a reprive, where I dreamed Dylan came to me as I'd seen him last, crawled up in my lap, hugged me and told me don't be sad anymore. I remember the coroner's report as it was read in the trial almost word for word, especially the part about the small amount of water in his lungs which was evidence he had not been dead before his arms were broken. I remember continuing to be sad, I even recall telling someone, I don't recall who, that the only good and happy thing in my life had been murdered, beaten to death.
I remember the long, long road to recovery. I remember the day I realised I would have to go away from my family and friends, that feeling a million miles away from anyone you're sitting next to hurt too much to bare. I remember thinking " I feel alone, I should be alone," and packing one backpack and leaving my whole life behind me for a new start on the other side of the country. I moved to a good place, a tropical paradise, and spent time on the reefs skin diving. I remember vividly the presence of Dylan at my shoulder as I swam one day, and smiling for the first time in a thousand lifetimes. I remember thinking, "I will live the rest of my life with my nephew as both my guardian angel and my constant companion. All the things he never had a chance to do, he will see through my eyes." I am haunted by the memory of the most beautiful child, and it's a bittersweet thing.
I remember healing slowly, makikng new friends, but always feeling distant from them. I remember, five years after he died, falling for someone new for the first time. Sharing all my hurt, finding someone who listened, who, when they put their arms around me, felt like they were right there. I remember telling her that she was the only good thing that had come into my life for 8 years, that I loved her and needed to know if she loved me too. I remember how that rejection stung more than any of the ones before it, I remember why. I remember it was because I had opened up to someone, showed them who I really was, good and bad, and allowed myself to hope they saw past the physical disabilty and into my soul and loved me, that they would see it was time something good happened to me, that she cared about me enough to not want me to be so alone. I guess I was wrong. Again.
I remember withdrawing inside myself again, keeping up social activities but as a shell of a man, a hollow thing devoid of good emotions. I remember going out, getting dunk and time and again ending up in fights I'd either lose badly or win and go too far, humiliating and hurting my oponent after the fight was won, allowing some of the two and a half decades of hurt to be focused onto another person. I put a few people in hospital, and ended up there myself twice. I never actually proved anything or felt any better, win or lose. Fighting like that was just an outlet for brutality, a way of lashing out at the world for having always thrown the worst it could at me, a stupid, weak and pitiful attempt to deal with the self loathing that had been building up since the first valentines day rejection. I've never had a valentine - now I don't want one, so don't bother being nice and asking, I may just lash out at you for caring far too late in that game. But like my criminal career, I'm proud to have put that stage of my life behind me too, violence is beneath me and against everything I want to belive is good in me.
I remember how, over the years, Ive been shown the same lesson again and again. I'm not worthy of being loved. I've been too hurt, become too messed up, lost touch with the good in me, add to that I'm disabled and poor and you can see how I've come to believe I'm a repulsive person who deserves to be and to feel alone. I remember giving up on ever being loved.
I remember six more years of lonliness, of growing depression, of resigning myself to the fact I would always be alone. I remember feeling like any part of me that could hold anything good had been cut away or starved to death inside me. I read about the effects of clinical dissociation and the effects of protracted emotional isolation, and it reading like a case study of exactly how I felt. I remember realising I'd become an empty vessel with a big hole in the bottom, anything good that was poured in just flowed straight out the hole in the bottom of me. I became callous and mean, took pleasure in writing some of the most harsh critical articles in my work as a music critic, delighted in hurting the people who I called friends, letting them see from time to time the blackness inside me and letting them know quite clearly that they simply didn't have the strength to deal with what I had to deal with, that they were weak because they hadn't suffered enough, that what I could do to hurt them wouldn't even register as slightly unpleasent with me, I'd been through much, much worse.
Instead of forming friendships with a surrogate girlfriend until they rejected me, I would form the freindship and then reject them, with as much cruelty and spite as possible. I did this because I believed that if I had to suffer, if I had a crap life that did nothing but hurt and disapoint me, that I should revel in pouring that ugliness out into the arms of people who did nothing to deserve it. I eventually got over that too, after a swift kick in the pants from one girl's dad and a good talking too with him sitting on my chest and pinning me down as he explained in no uncertain terms that nobody treats his daughter that way, and if I didn't wake up to myself he'd make it his mission in life destroy me. I actually am closer to him now than the daughter.
I remember the last person I fell for. I remember thinking "now this lady, she's completely so unlike everyone else who's been in my life up to now, there is no way on earth she would ever do anything to hurt me." I remember our freindship, four years of the closest thing to love I've ever felt, even though we never even kissed. I remember hearing she had broken up with a guy who had been treating her poorly, and helping her get through it. I remember making the mistake of telling her, for her own sake, to cheer her up, that I loved her. I meant it platonically, of course, but quickly began to realise it didn't matter how I meant it, if I told someone I loved them the next step was, without a shadow of a doubt, rejection. The thought of that poisoned me, made everything feel like it was going to pieces. I grasped and fought to hold on to her, convinced I was losing her but also aware that having just broken up with another guy that how she was feeling was more important than how I felt, and that I should for once in my life try to be the good guy, deal with my doubts without making them another thing for her to worry about.
I remember fighting the self loathing and the idea I was repulsive and that telling someone I loved them would mean I'd lose them. I remember refusing to accept those thoughts were true this time. It came to a point where I couldn't help it, I said "look, I'm giving you all the best of me, and I have been for months now, I can't keep doing it with nothing coming back, I'm sorry." I instantly regretted it. I tried to explain what you've just read, I've had a tough life, been through some horrific experiences on the road to who I am now, and that could she just try to understand that I'd slipped up while trying to deal with the self doubt alone? But she wouldn't answer my calls. Eventually I sent an email explinaing myself and saying ' I understand you don't feel like you need this now, I know it must seem like I'm being selfish, but for the last two months I've been more selfless than I knew I could be, cut me some slack please, I'm sorry." Her response? " you know, you're right, I can't deal with this right now. I know you told me you're afraid of losing me, that you feel like that fear is irrational and based on your history, not on ours, but the truth is, I just can't deal with you being like this, not now. I'm sorry too." I've lost her too now.
I remember a few weeks ago, crying for the first time since the time after Dylan's death. Crying because I realise now that I've gone too far past the point of no return to ever come back to where you normal, happy people live. Crying because after adjusting to the idea of being alone forever, I believed I might not have to be, then had that beliefe crushed by the one person I thought never would. And after I told her that's what I was most afraid of, and that I believed my fear was irrational and that she'd prove me wrong. Crying because I realise now that I am a man who's unique path is one littered with suffering, lonliness, unjust affliction, rejection and pain. A man who's destination is not where he wanted to end up. A broken, empty thing nobody wants, who can't even say "I love you," to a friend without falling apart. And so, I dispise what I have become.