How far can I walk?

Overnight police found the body of Jill Meagher. There is extensive news coverage of the developments and in the interest of respecting the necessary legal protocol that exists now that a suspect has been charged, I don’t think it’s necessary, or my place, to discuss details of what happened.

Instead, I wanted to link to a powerful blog piece I read this morning, written by Aleksia Barron about the blame that was so quick to be levelled while this tragedy unfolded.

So tell me. How far can I walk on my own at night? How many metres, exactly, can I walk unaccompanied without having to fear for my life?

Russians

I wrote this a few weeks ago and didn’t post it because it felt like I was being hypersensitive about something I hadn’t thought about in a long time. I don’t think so anymore.

***

I was going to write this as a funny post. It was going to be about being kidnapped by Russians and how silly ol’ me always gets into situations like this, and then I saw this First Dog on the Moon cartoon and this terrifying post by my good friend, Michelle, I realised what happened wasn’t something I should joke about. This is how insidious and practiced the pressure to force people into doing things they’re not comfortable with can sometimes be.

When I was about 19 or 20 I was at a pub in Orange one night. Orange has a mine close by, and as it developed there was an influx of people who worked at the mines. The city has gone from being one where you could show up at any pub on a Friday night and run into friends, to one where I visit now for a few days and recognise no-one.

I’d had a few drinks and was playing pool with friends. On my way to the bar I overheard two older men talking about me and although I couldn’t make out what they were saying, I recognised the accent as Russian. I stopped and introduced myself, more enthusiastic than I would have been had I been completely sober. I sat with them and we talked about the mine where they were engineers and Orange and Australian life and then one of them said, ‘I like your lips. I want to kiss them.’.

I started to feel uneasy, nursing a drink his friend has bought me. His friend rolled his eyes at me to indicate something like, ‘This old fool, don’t worry about him.’.

I should have left the table, but I stayed for another round which was where things started to get confusing. Suddenly the more dominant of the pair was talking about Russia’s need for English teachers, less to me than to his friend. Trying to keep up, I volunteered that I was studying English literature. This excited him and they began to speak in Russian before he finally turned to me and said, ‘You can come over, we know people. You can teach English, but the contract is for 12 months, you have to stay for 12 months. I need to see your passport, where is it?’

At around this point I realised my drink tasted strange, much stronger than normal and I asked about it. The quieter of the two admitted we were drinking doubles. In the space of about half an hour sitting with them, I’d unwittingly drunk about four standard drinks. I realised I needed to go.

I haven’t yet been able to find a way to explain what happened next. I was mere metres away from my friends and in a crowded pub. I should have told them to fuck off and walked away, but when they asked for my phone number I froze while trying to think of an excuse not to give it to him. Muddled with drinks, until the next afternoon I thought I’d given him 10 random numbers, a fake mobile phone number.

Instead, I’d blurted out my own before literally running from the pub.  He called the next day and left a message, with sleazy undertones, asking me on a picnic. I deleted the message and forgot about it.

A few months later I was filling in at a local business who were short-staffed one weekend and I looked up and saw him waiting at my register with a woman and a girl of about seven who I assumed were his wife and daughter. What had seemed like a really unpleasant, but ultimately harmless experience suddenly took a grosser turn. That night he’d had a wife and a young daughter at home. A man with a dubious at best attitude towards women was going to be the male role model for this sweet little girl. How would he ever respond if she came to him and told him that some men at a pub had plied her with alcohol for some unspecified reason?

I served them as fast as I could, ignoring him.

He let them walk out first and then turned to me and whispered, ‘I know you remember me, I remember you and your lips.’.

I’d like to say I got better at telling people to fuck off when they made me feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t for a long time. If anything, I felt guilty for being tipsy in the first place, accepting the second drink and not standing up for myself and this experience was a set back.

The worst part is that this isn’t even the worst story I have.

Normalising manipulative aggressive behaviour, whether verbal or physical is a really dangerous idea. Question anything that makes you feel guilty about your instinct for danger. I’m not saying it’s lurking around every corner, but it’s comforting to give yourself the tools to deal with it if it is.

3 – 4

3. Losing someone you love is painful.

When I was 3 – 4, my best friend was Big Bird, or Biggy as I liked to call him. He was my constant companion, stuffed under my arm wherever I went. I loved that little guy with all of my toddler heart. One day I went to pick up Mary from school with my grandad, Pete, who was visiting from Tamworth. We waited at the netball courts and in my excitement about Pete’s visit (he was one of the sweetest, most gorgeous men I’ve ever known) I left Biggy there.

When I realised, we rushed back, but alas, Biggy was gone. I was heartbroken, no amount of hugs and kisses from parents or grandparents made it better and I mourned the loss of that little guy all the way from Orange to Kempsey where we later moved and I made a new best friend, Joshua the teddy bear.

4. You will always be melodramatic about death.

The first time I consciously remember thinking about death was during these years. I was in my front yard, climbing a tree and my bright blue gumboot got stuck in the fork of some branches and it was snowing and I thought to myself, ‘I am going to freeze to death. No-one will ever find me here. Farewell cruel world.’.

I was probably a foot of the ground and after a few seconds of tugging, my boot came loose and so came to an end my first brush with death.

Today’s question about turning 30 comes from @sirtessa: ‘Are you relieved to not be ‘young’ and subject to all the pressures of the media now that your age begins not with 2?’:

This is a tough one. I spent a lot of my early twenties not feeling young at all, I felt like all I did was pay bills and rent and make sure there was food in the house and sheets were cleaned and washing was put away.

In a way, I hope my thirties are a lot more carefree and I’m sensible in other ways, rather than just practical ones.

I’m glad that with age perspective does seem to come. I don’t care how I look compared to other people so much anymore, I’m not as hard on myself.

Having said that, I’ve had far too many conversations with people about what’s expected of women by the time they turn 30. I don’t have kids, a mortgage or a marriage and I’m tired of talking about all three already, whether it be people reassuring me that it’s fine not to (I know) or telling me to make sure I celebrate my thirties because I’m entering a new decade with none of the above.

I think each age has its trials, but I think maybe you care less and less about the socially-constructed expectations the older you get.

0 – 2

1. Animals are as much part of the family as people.

My first pet was a kelpie called Hector. Why the old-fashioned name, you ask? My dad is a stock and station agent and bought Hector for work. Hector was a sheep director.

‘Hector’ was the first word I ever said. I have said many other words since, talking before my older sister did and rarely shutting up since (including one very ungracious incident in year 3 when I called my younger sister the c-bomb without realising what it meant. There’s nothing quite like having your mother quietly tell you at the Orange ANZAC Day parade that that word is a not very nice expression that technically means vagina.).

Hector went to live with another family when Dad realised he didn’t have the workload to occupy the mind of a very smart and athletic dog. Many, many years later we ran into the farmer who we’d given Hector to and he brushed away a tear when he told us Hector was a much-loved member of their family and had passed away at a very old age.

2. It’s possible to toilet train yourself.

I know because I did it. Legend has it that my parents were toilet training my older sister, who was born 17 months before me when they one day discovered that their child genius (me) had obviously been watching and had decided that none of this bribery and in-depth discussion about bowel movements was necessary. I needed to get shit moving, so to speak and was fairly confident it wasn’t all that hard to drop trou’ and throne up.

I like to think they found me perched on the potty one day, elbows on knees, deeply engrossed in a Little Golden Book.

So there we have it. Between birth and two, learning was fairly rudimentary in Julia Land, but I think these two lessons really set me in good stead for the coming years, and certainly made me more pleasant to be around.

On losing my underpants.

Earlier this year I was having a personal crisis one afternoon. My older sister was driving me to her house while I was in a very emotional state and she was concerned about both the larger issues and the shade of green I was quickly turning. Between sobs I told her I wasn’t feeling great, and as she pulled to a stop outside her house, I opened the door, lent out and threw up in the gutter. The only thing I’d ingested in the previous 12 hours was Red Bull, and I looked down at the yellow fizzing mess in on the road and a strange sense of calm came over me. Things could not get any worse than this. I had reached the bottom, the only way was up.

I was wrong.

My dad called, ‘You’ll make it through this, kiddo. Just roll with the punches for a little bit longer. We’re here for you. Now, I hear you have some kind of hip-hop gig to go to, I think you should still go. Go out, dance, have fun.’.

Although I’d spent most of the afternoon prone on a huge beanbag, I sat up with a jolt. ‘I am going to go to the gig, Dad. It’s Atmosphere. They’re the last band on my ‘Must see before I die’ list. I love them.’.

I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to eat, or dress myself, or wash, or go outside, or smile, or watch blooper reels, or look at puppies romping with kittens in fields of clover, but I would go and see Atmosphere if it was the last thing I did.

My younger sister also had a ticket and so to the HiFi Bar we went and lined up for our pat down. I’d decided to stay at her house that night, so I had a pretty big bag with me and as security approached, I lifted my pyjamas out so I could show them that I wasn’t carrying any weapons, or tagging gear, or alcohol, just a stockpile of tissues and comfort food.

‘That’s a huge bag!’ the security guard snorted.

‘Yeah, I’m staying at my sister’s place tonight’ I replied, wishing I had some Red Bull left to vomit at him.

‘Yeah … I can tell. Um. You’ve … dropped something.’.

He and Steph started snickering.

I pride myself on owning very ugly underwear. I’m not ashamed of doing so, but on the very odd occasion when I feel like maybe my lady bits would like to dress up a bit, I have one lacy pair and there they were, lying at the feet of the security guard.

‘ … THOSE ARE MY UNDERPANTS!’ I announced unnecessarily to the rest of the line of eager Atmosphere fans. Instead of being the whitest girl at a hip-hop gig, I was fast becoming the reddest.

In my confusion I tried to show my ID to the ticket woman, another security guard and about four people who I think were probably just fellow Atmosphere fans. Steph practically had to taser me just to get me through the door.

Once inside I thought to myself, ‘Right. You never thought you would laugh again and you just did. And you just dropped underpants in front of a million strangers, so you’re getting your mojo back. You’re going to make it, kid.’.

Just then I spied a familiar tall, pony-tailed figure looming at the back of the room and in my state of new found appreciation for life and a urge to grab it by the balls and squeeze the life out of it, I flung myself into the arms of the familiar tall, pony-tailed figure and yelled, ‘I AM SO EXCITED! I LOVE YOU, I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M HERE!’ to which he replied, ‘Oh thank you so much!’ and graciously tried to extract himself from my vice-like grasp.

Steph stood by smiling and as I bounced back over, she said, ‘That was a nice greeting, who was that? A friend?’.

‘No, that’s Ant. From Atmosphere … oh shit. I just attacked Ant from Atmosphere.’.

Turns out Ant is super lovely and was kind enough to talk to me again when I bailed him up outside the toilets later that night when I had such scintillating things so say like, ‘I really like your music,’ ‘When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold really helped me through a hard time’ and, ‘I dropped my underpants outside!’.

Had I not been so flustered I think I would have let the man be, but instead he tolerated me and I felt about a million times better about a day that had contained crashing lows and now soaring highs. I decided that, fuck it, I needed to go back to being me and doing whatever I wanted to make my days seem brighter.

So when life gave me lemons, I painted that shit purple:

Things have been up and down since then, but mostly up and now every time I wear that particular pair of underpants, I remember the Atmosphere gig and smile fondly and wonder if Ant has hired a personal security guard now.

Gettin’ My Relax On

I thought my best friend was coming to Sydney this weekend to introduce me to her boyfriend, who we shall call Vlad, because that’s almost his name, but not really.

Kelly and I have known each other for 10 years and in that time, we have only had two fights. One was about who had to go into Domino’s to pick up the pizza she ordered (I was half asleep and in no state to go out in public and I stand by that) and the second was in a cafe in a casino in Vegas where she (correctly) pointed out that it’s incredibly rude to check one’s Twitter feed during a meal. Later that night we cried at a very low-brow tiki bar and ate McDonald’s at every outlet we passed on the way home.

Turns out she’s in town next weekend.

This has left me with a distinct lack of things to do this weekend, a void that was kindly filled by my neighbour this morning when he set fire to out shared fence with his mountain of cigarette butts. I could confront said neighbour but being that I regularly overhear him talking to his penis (and doing the voice of his penis talking back to him), I think I might just leave it and clean up the butts myself.

Later I am going to have my roots re-purpled. Yes, I was not born with naturally purple hair.

On Saturday night I am going to dinner with my friend Matt to a restaurant called Hartsyard.  The menu includes broad beans, which I really love because they look like tiny little vegetable pillows and taste like giant peas. I am a giant fan of the humble pea.

The rest of the weekend I am dedicating to brunch and reading. I am going to read the shit out of a stack of Vanity Fairs and finish up a really readable history of Obama’s on-the-job economics education called Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President.

That’s all I got, punks.

On Turning 30

I turn 30 in a few weeks and it’s made me reflective. I don’t think I ever gave much thought to what life would be like by 30. When I was 15, most of the people I was friends with were 23 and 23 seemed adult. 23 was when you owned a car, rented a house that was properly furnished, had tattooed girlfriends who rolled their own cigarettes and dyed their hair with hemp, when weekends were barbecues that when from dusk ’til dawn. People still thought their band would make it big, no-one had kids, none of the long-term relationships had ended yet, hardly anyone had moved away and those who did usually came back.

When I was 23 I was living in my first share house, I read the paper every morning from cover to cover, I dozed on the library lawn at lunch, wrote essays about what shaped my political beliefs and analysed re-tellings of fairytales and immigration as an influence on the themes in Dracula. I struggled to stay awake during marketing lectures and still occasionally wrote for the uni paper. My most listened to band was Le Tigre and I had just started to learn what kind of feminist I’d be. 23 was the last relatively easy year of my life. 23 was where I last peaked at being me.  

The rest of my 20s have been hard. I’ve rarely had much money, I’ve struggled in finding job satisfaction and in learning to love Sydney. My first big relationship ended and I lived alone for two years to get over the shell-shock. I tried to go back to uni twice, worked most weekends to pay the rent, bought a cat and lost several friends and three precious grandparents.

People around me bought houses, got married and had children. I became an aunt to the most wonderful nephew ever and taught him to say, ‘Oh no! It’s a catastrophe!’, and held a friend’s tiny, sick baby until she fell asleep and sat in silence with her mother, both wishing we could do more. I cheered when she got better and grieved the loss of another child dearly wanted by both her parents. 

I’ve been so depressed I couldn’t walk and so happy that I cried.

I read hundreds of books and collected about seven years worth of issues of Vanity Fair. I went to Thailand and drove across the United States with old friends and new. I drank a beer as the sun set on the Grand Canyon, learnt to play shit head in Utah and met one of the bloggers I most love in Seattle. I watched Shellac play in Las Vegas and shot Swans from the photo pit at The Metro in Sydney. I almost knocked Ant from Atmosphere over with a hug so familiar that my sister though he was an old friend.

I met Christopher Hitchens and drank cocktails in his honour at Sydney Airport when I heard he had passed away.

I’ve made an amazing set of friends, who impress me daily and I fell in love.

I sat in a water drain and cried because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, while a steer licked my head. I still haven’t made up my mind. I gained a lot of weight and lost a lot of weight. I still hate cooking. 

I don’t know what my 30s will look like, but here are some things I would like:

I would like to be more fiscally responsible, more present in the moment and more giving to friends. I’d like to treat myself the way I really think I deserve and not be afraid to let my freak flag fly. I want to write more, to use my camera more and to re-learn how to relax. I want to visit Perth and Melbourne and New York. I never want to have to divide the amount of pay I have left with the number of days until I’m paid again.

I want to be more spontaneous, take road trips and get a massage every now and then. I want to take one of the many things I feel passionate about and find a way to contribute to that. I want to read all the thick books whose page numbers currently scare me. I want to learn to play my uke and drink cider in parks more.

I want to stop wasting my time.