The night we all got parking fines (told on The Longest Night)- Alison Sampson

I could tell you about a thirty-six-hour labour, or the first night home with a screaming newborn when it was 35 degrees at 3am and my milk hadn’t come in. Or I could tell you about a night flight heading home after a year away from my family, wedged between two lovely large women who each had to raise an armrest in order to sit down, leaving me with precisely enough space for one buttock and tightly crossed legs all fourteen hours to LA. But I won’t. Instead I’ll tell you about the night we all got parking fines.

It began with an ordinary morning. I was pottering around in my pyjamas thinking vaguely about a tute paper I had to give later that day when the phone rang. I answered. It was the hospital, and they told me to hurry on over so I hung up and called my sister and while I waited for her to pick me up I couldn’t decide what to wear so I put on awful clothes that felt all scratchy and wrong and called my lecturer and left a sobbing message on his voicemail; then my sister and I drove to the ends of the earth, which was what my father always called Bell Street, and we plunged down that old familiar hill to the Austin Hospital and parked the car and went inside. We met our father and my fiancé, and together we sat with my mother until she died.

And I did so much wrong that day. 

I was so exhausted by her years of multiple sclerosis that I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I wished the end would hurry, even that it had come months earlier before quadriplegia, blindness, hearing loss and everything else had set in. And I wondered what sort of daughter I was, that I was impatient for my mother to die.

I felt puffed up and important, as I knew something Big was happening, and I hated myself for feeling like that, for not being able to rid myself of self-conscious awareness. I was impatient, even bored, as we sat for hours listening to every ragged breath, to the dreadful prolonged silence that followed each one and wondering if this, or this, or this, would be her last. 

As the day and then the evening wore on, nurses she knew well came in to say goodbye and I found myself resenting that even now she made time for them just as she had always made time for everybody so often at the expense of her children; and I felt so petty. As usual, she stage-managed us; as usual, it pissed me off and I rolled my eyes at my sister. 

She asked me to remove the oxygen mask. I unhitched her; but I was scared not to have any back up. So I left the hose dangling loose and the sound of oxygen hissed through the open valve for hours. All I needed to do to stop the hissing was to turn the tap off at the wall; but I was too scared. Near the end her drip ran out. She didn’t want any more intervention so we left her hooked up and ignored the machine which beeped every few seconds to tell us it was empty.

And so there we sat, in a cold ugly hissing beeping room, feeling awkward and anxious and afraid; and we waited. 

We waited and we waited and we waited and we wait. Finally, finally, deep in the night, she died. We sat for a while longer. Then I touched her cooling face and said goodbye. I wanted to stay longer but I didn’t know why or what for. Then the doctor came in to certify her death, and asked us to leave. My family wanted to leave and we are compliant types, so I left too.

I still feel guilty for leaving her body at the hospital, for not being able to take her home and care for her in death, for not having good cultural practices around it. The next time I saw her she was faked up for the funeral. Then the coffin was closed; we held the funeral; the coffin was wheeled away; and I never saw it, or her, again. We had been told that attending the cremation would be unnecessary and unhelpful, and so we didn’t.

I didn’t know where the body went. Years later I found out that the ashes had been kept by the funeral parlour, then placed in a memorial wall. We held no ceremony then; I don’t even know when it happened, and it took ten years for me to visit the wall. In her death as in her life, we did so much wrong.

But what did I expect? We are ordinary people, a normal and slightly dysfunctional family. And the other thing I remember is that we might have been in a sterile room at a hospital that I hated; we might have been clumsy with exhaustion and tongue-tied by grief; we might have failed to turn off the oxygen properly or talk about the meaning of life or stroke her arm to the end, but for all our frailty, the room was overflowing, exploding with love; it was radiant in there. Love filled the room like a pulsing sun that pushed at the walls and shot flames under the door into the corridor; we spent that long last day in a fierce and fiery circle of care. And we did say goodbye, and laugh at the last joke, and talk about important things. She died messy and farewelled, with laughter and tears; and, really, that is enough.

At three in the morning we left the hospital, took the parking fines off the windscreens, and drove in procession through the night back to what was now my father’s house. He unlocked the door, then strode around gathering up the dried flower arrangements which he had always hated, and threw them in the bin. Then he put the kettle on to boil. While it was heating, he tossed her pretty little sugar bowl into the back of a cupboard, pulled out his big bachelor’s bowl from some dark place where it had been hidden for two decades, filled it and said, “Well, she won’t complain. She’s dead.”

We started laughing at the dried flowers and the sugar bowl, and how ridiculous and awful it all was. We laughed and laughed until our sides were sore; then one by one laughter turned to tears and we sobbed as if our hearts would break. And in the days that followed, they did.

Which was really, really bad timing. Because this all happened three weeks before my wedding.

(Alison can be found at www.theideaofhome.blogspot.com!)

Fancy- Carlynne Nunn

There once was a girl who was born into a modest house, a preacher’s house, the daughter of a preacher’s wife.

When she was young she likely adored pretty women, possibly heroines on tv or in Disney films- though the only princess she ever really wanted to be was Ariel and that was because Ariel lived underwater and that was the girl’s A1, absolute top dream ever.

The girl learnt early on that she wasn’t particularly fancy. She knew what they looked like, or sensed it in others. For instance, she knew what a nice house looked like as opposed to hers, though the difference didn’t bother her overly, or the delineation of rich as a way of understanding a certain sort of fancy person or home. She learnt the sorts of things women were supposed to look like, in order to be Pretty, Fancy, or Feminine Women, from her friends, from movies and sometimes, unfortunately, from her Dad. She knew, putting it all together, from about age 15 or so, that she was not one of those girls, who grew into those women. She knew her deficiencies, and was largely comfortable with them, because they were familiar. She knew that fancy was as much a feeling to be given as a way of looking or being. 

She grew into a woman who stepped louder and bolder than her girl version had; who knew her strengths and weaknesses, but was still pretty comfortable wearing her unfancyness like a jacket or a blanket. She liked nice things, but she also liked eating pizza in bed. She enjoyed a range of music, much of it involving rap or swear words. She loved toast passionately and fiction of any kind was her drug of choice. As well as beer. She had fancy feta cheese in the fridge but often went days without cooking meals for herself. She had a lot of books but loved to watch tv shows. She sometimes liked her hair, but got pimples on her neck. She didn’t have much money, or some of the nice stuff she envied in catalogues or on instagram. She was up to her eyeballs in ordinary, day to day, non-fancy shit.

She had had a couple of dalliances with boys at times, but never anything lasting, and was pretty confident she knew (the young girl had taught her after all) that she was not the type of woman people noticed. You see, fancy has a shine, it’s what makes you stop and look, it’s the thing that people want that maybe they don’t have, it’s a bit of something else. She had long been aware that this thing wasn’t a part of her ensemble. She was happy though, and had good friends, and good songs, and good toast, and saw flowers everywhere she went. Though she kept noticing things about herself she didn’t like, she was happy. Ish.

She met a girl one day, who seemed to like her. In fact, they seemed to like one another. They talked, and the room went purple and pink and warm with the energy they created. They texted (a lot) and created reams of words that the woman thought should be collected and preserved for following generations in an exhibit called “how to text someone you really like and hope to make your lover”. They laughed and got one another and held hands and kissed in the street. They both passionately loved toast. The woman was a bit stunned to be honest, to be fancied. She felt the effects of a shine possessed and noticed, of someone wanting to stop and look and talk and stay and sit. She felt like, when this other woman looked at her, she was seeing a bit of… something else.

Eventually though the other woman ran out of time or space or whatever in her life, and this woman, our woman was alone again, which truthfully is where she had always expected to end up. Alone and blending in, or alone and decidedly unfancy or something. She was sad but knew as their dalliance was only short that she couldn’t be too sad (at least out loud), so she kept on going though a small thing inside her felt this confirmation of her status and whirled it around with all the other little ways the woman saw herself as unremarkable, or worse and she began to hear a voice say she was unlovely, unfancy, empty. The woman listened for a while but kept on going and saw her friends and laughed too loud (she does that) and spotted beautiful flowers and saw the sun shining in that particular way and loved toast and when she felt that something black inside her say she wasn’t worth the noticing, she tried to remember that her being noticed didn’t have to be the point.

She never really wanted to be fancy, you see, and that probably won’t change. Though she missed being fancied she’s learning to keep going. And what she does fancy is the light of the sun through a cloud, or the taste of her toast in the morning, or the magnolia trees spewing blooms into streets, or the movement and joy of her friends’ dancing, the gesture of another’s hand as she speaks. If fancy is a feeling, a little something extra to try and be possessed, the thing that stops you and makes you take a second look, then she is up to her eyeballs. 

 

Siblings - Ann Byrne

My father and his older brother were like chalk and cheese.  They say blood is thicker than water – except when it isn’t - or is it? Well, they also say a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Except when it doesn’t.

Or does it?

My dad, Paul, who died last year aged 93, and his brother Howard, who died about 10 years ago aged 85 or so – were the youngest 2 of a family of 6, and the only boys. My grandfather was a Presbyterian minister,  my grandmother an ex-opera singer.  My uncle was Howard Jr so he was known to us all as Bud.

In early family photos, the 6 siblings always lined up in age order – in fact, at every get-together where they were all present, even up to and including  when they were in their 70s, a photo would always be taken of the 6 of them – and they would  always line up in age order:  Gladys, Ruth, Helen, Alice, Bud, Paul. 

One difference in the photos taken once they all became adults, was that my dad always stood a bit apart at the end of the line of 6 – not angled in and touching shoulders, as the others all were, but just a step away and facing front.

I used to think that this was because they were all Republicans and my Dad was a liberal Democrat.

When uncle Bud was young, he liked baseball and football, the all-American team sports. My dad, on the other hand, never cared for those sports. He was in the Boy Scouts and liked exploring, swimming, reading, science,  and other  well, non-team hobbies.

Uncle Bud graduated with a business major and then when World War 2 broke out, he immediately enlisted in the Army and quickly became an officer.  My father, a having just graduated with a degree in physics, was about to start the PhD program at Columbia. He applied for Conscientious Objector status; in letters I only saw last year after he died,  he argued that since all men are brothers under God, he could not in good conscience go to try to kill his brother who only happened to be German, or Italian, or Japanese.   His father wrote a supporting recommendation for him attesting to my dad’s sincere beliefs in this matter.

Ironically, Dad ended up with a wartime deferment working as a civilian employee on the Manhattan Project – the famous project on which a group of scientists including Oppenheimer, Fermi, and Teller developed the atomic bomb.

Other letters I found after Dad died included many between him and my mom, who he’d started dating when they were both in college. (Dad’s school was several hours away from hers.)  There are occasional references in the letters to my Uncle Bud -- and they are always negative.   Mom mentions in one letter that she’d asked Bud to subscribe to the church youth group’s newsletter, which she managed, and that he declined. My dad replies quite scathingly that Bud is a cheapskate and only interested in himself, so not to bother. 

While I’d known they were very dissimilar - and not particularly chummy, to say the least -  I hadn’t realised before that the antagonism went way back.

My Dad eventually became a nuclear physicist – in fact I once met Edward Teller, of the H-bomb fame – and a college professor. Uncle Bud worked with CalTex (originally Texaco and Standard Oil, later Chevron) all over the world, eventually becoming Chairman and CEO.   College professors do not make that much money, at least in the US, whereas CEOs of oil companies do – so Uncle Bud was our rich uncle.  I still remember the excitement of getting to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV IN COLOUR when we went to his house for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving was the annual reunion of the siblings and their families, since they all lived in different areas, sometimes different states, and most a 3-hour drive or more apart.

This holiday get-together was held at Uncle Bud’s family’s house every 2 or 3 years.  The oldest  5 siblings, as I mentioned, were conservative Republicans, whereas Dad was a progressive Democrat.  One year, before I was born, and everyone gathered at Uncle Bud’s for Thanksgiving,  Uncle Bud refused to let my Dad even come in the house until he removed the “Adlai Stevenson for President” button from his jacket.  (Stevenson was the progressive democratic candidate who ran against Dwight Eisenhower.)

I remember quite a few very heated political debates between the two of them at Thanksgiving dinners over the years.  My Dad and Uncle Bud would usually be found at some point sitting facing each other on a sofa, arguing at what approached yelling level. They never resorted to personal insults – they always actually debated - if vehemently  - until one aunt or another would intervene and demand they cease and desist.

On a side siblings note, by the way, my two oldest aunts, Gladys and Ruth, never spoke to each other. Never.  Ever.  Amazingly it was something I had actually not noticed until dad pointed it out to me one day. They were able to be in the same room together – and both smiled while standing together in all those photos - but they did not acknowledge, or ever speak to each other. Dad said “something” had happened when both were in their late teens – he didn’t know what himself – he thought maybe Gladys had stolen a boyfriend  of Ruth’s, or that it had been over some other matter of the heart – and indeed, Ruth never married.  and they truly never reconciled.

After my Dad retired and he and my mom both moved to Arizona, it was my mother who kept in touch with my dad’s siblings – and she was always in touch with Bud’s wife, my aunt Martha. One by one they began to die of old age –  very old age, all at least 80 – and in fact they very nearly left this world in the same order they came in, except that Bud died before Helen and Alice. Anyway, after Uncle Bud died, my mom told me my Dad had not even been informed directly of his death, neither by his widow Martha nor by their surviving sisters – but rather, they had told my Mom instead. 

On a subsequent visit to the US, I asked Dad how he felt about Bud’s death. Although of course I knew they were – and perhaps had always been – estranged, if that is the right word – I thought he might nevertheless have some particular feelings, or thoughts, about the passing of the sibling who had, after all, been closest in age to himself, and was certainly part of his family,  his blood if you will.

No.

He sort of shrugged. He said he perhaps felt a bit sad for his dying, but that they had never been close, had never been friends. 

So perhaps blood is not --- ?

But then.

My Dad died last August. He had gotten on to FaceBook a few years earlier, when he was 90, and had added a number of Friends, including several of my cousins, most of whom I had lost touch with over the many years and moves.  After Dad died, I noticed that one of these cousins on Dad’s facebook page was my Uncle Bud’s older son Bill. We had of course known each other growing up, but he is probably 5 years or so older than me, so we hadn’t been at all close.

I sent him a friend request and he accepted. He’s now a retired dentist living in Ohio and playing drums in a rock band – he’d been a rock drummer in his teens, too.  To my surprise, he is not a Republican.

 I also noted his strong resemblance, now that he was older himself, to his Dad, my Uncle Bud – and  also to my Dad.  Although you’d never have said my Dad and his brother looked alike in the past – perhaps partly since Uncle Bud looked very corporate and my Dad was more the hippie college prof,  Uncle Bud and Dad had both grown to more strongly resemble their own father as they aged, and now Cousin Bill also resembles my grandfather - and therefore both of them.

Just this past May, Bill posted his band’s latest music video.  In it there’s a scene where Bill is sitting in the driver’s side of a Chevy. As the camera closes in and lingers on him, he says something, cocks his head, grins, and then shakes his head ever so slightly as he gives a gesture with his hand like ‘okay, that’s enough for now, choof off’. 

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqoobz15nMQ  starts at 0.31)

When I saw it,  I blinked --  and had to replay it and replay it.  That could have been my dad, in those 10 seconds -  from his appearance right through to the expressions and especially the gesture, which was so characteristic of my Dad. Obviously Bill didn’t pick that up from my dad, but probably did from his own dad, and perhaps both men got it from my grandfather. 

So – blood IS something. My father and his brother are united in my cousin Bill – and he has kids – and grandkids…….. 

And so this story,  which really didn’t have an ending,  has a sort of never-ending ending.

 


 

It’s my party - Saide Cameron

When I was teenager I read Dolly magazine, just like most of my friends.  The ideal man to marry, according to the writer of one of the articles, was tall, dark haired and at least two years older than you because the conventional wisdom then was that girls matured faster than boys.  So that was my goal – a tall, dark haired man who was two years older than me. 

But where was I to find such a boy/man?  I was not one of the cool girls – in fact quite the opposite.  I was studious, wore glasses, went to church, didn’t drink, smoke or party.  At the tender age of 15 I experienced my first kiss with a boy that I knew from Sunday School and I had to go all the way to QLD to experience that.  (We stayed at his parents’ caravan park on a family holiday.)  My second kiss was with one of the most desirable boys at school but as it turns out I was just another notch on his belt.  It was sort of a win-win but only in the moment.  I got to kiss him behind my parents’ garage and he got to have a feel.  I did feel pretty crap the next day but didn’t let it get to me.  Anyway both of these boys were the same age as me, not particularly tall but they did have dark hair, so that was one out of three.

So what about third time lucky?  Around this time my family started going to the local church down the road.  My sisters and I started going to the youth group. One of the first youth group meetings we went to was a table tennis night.  So there we all were crammed into the table tennis room taking our turn at playing.  And without even realising at the time, on this very ordinary night, I met boy number three.  He was clowning around making people laugh, just having a good time.  I laughed along with everyone else, or maybe I laughed more.  In any case he must have noticed me because a few days later he turned up at the front door of Paradise, the variety store that I worked in, dressed in his Venturer uniform, with the biggest smile on his face.  I think it was safe to say that I experienced that moment when your heart stops beating and then starts all over again with a whole new purpose.  The checklist was thrown out the window (where it belonged) although it is worth noting that he was taller than me and two years older than me, he was just missing the dark hair. 

So winding the clock forward a few years to eighteen years old and many kisses later I was talking to my mother about how much I wanted to sleep with him.  Remember I was a church going girl and very obedient to the vast majority of the social mores of the time – the biggest one being no sleeping together before marriage.  My mother’s very welcome advice was ‘well why don’t you get married’.  I suggested this idea to Ray, or rather I told him that we were getting married when he had finished his degree and that he should go and ask Dad if it was okay.  Not that there was any doubt but it was the right thing to do.

And so Mum & I started planning for the biggest party of my life so far – the much longed for and highly anticipated wedding.  First the dress – I had always wanted to wear my mother’s beautiful dress, narrow waisted, lots of lace, full-hooped skirt and so I did.  Bridal party – my youngest sister as my flower girl and sisters number 2&3 as bridesmaids; sisters number 4&5 were ushers because I wanted them to feel important too; all wearing dresses lovingly made by our mother.  Next the reception – catered for by the Ladies Guild of course, held in a church hall, cold meat & salad followed by Pavlova & fruit salad, all very simple.  Guest list – grandparents, uncles, aunties, lots of cousins, family friends, school friends and friends from Janet Clarke Hall where I had lived for the first two years of my degree and friends from Uni as well.  Wedding cake – made by me and decorated by my mother in law.  Invitations designed and sent.  Flowers ordered from the florist that sister number 3 worked with.  Wedding car – driven by my much loved great uncle.  Make up & hair dos all organized.  Photographer booked, meetings with the minister done.  Just as an aside our minister at the time refused to marry us because I think he thought we were too young so we just asked another minister well known to both our families and he was more than happy to officiate.   The original minister regretted his decision and did participate in the ceremony but I can’t remember the details.  What about the honeymoon I hear you ask?  More on that a bit later in this story.

So finally after all the planning, anticipating, organizing seating arrangements the big day, my party was about to happen.  My friends from Melbourne arrived the day before the wedding to stay the night because we were getting married at the unseemly hour of 11am.  I was very much looking forward to a girls’ night on this most auspicious wedding eve.  An opportunity to just relax, talk, have fun, I really don’t know what I thought we were going to be doing.  I just knew that it was going to be good.  And then strangely and mysteriously, in the blink of an eye so it seemed, they vanished. I’d gone to the toilet, brushed my teeth or something, come back to in my bedroom and they were gone.  Now our family home is big, but not that big, my parents didn’t build the family room on until after I left home.  So where were they?  It turned out that sister number 2 had taken it upon herself, as chief bridesmaid, to ensure that I had a good night’s rest.  She had ushered all my friends from our room (we were still sharing a room when I wasn’t away at uni) to sleep in the loungeroom and/or spare room.  When I worked out where they were, they were all very insistent that I go back to my room and sleep in preparation for the big day.  So there I was banished from the circle of friendship on the eve of my big party.  Were the cracks beginning to show?  Hmm let’s see.

On the 8th January 1983 the day dawnee bright and sunny with high temperatures expected and the threat of a dust storm later in the day.  The house was buzzing with 6 girls getting dressed and half a dozen more from the city doing likewise.  I honestly don’t know how we managed but we did.  Hair and make up all done, ribbons on the cars, flowers in our hands, photos taken, into the cars and off we go, a five minute drive down the road to the church.  More photos were taken.  The anticipation was building.  My party and I was the centre of attention.

Our church was a very humble building not like the big churches in the centre of town. In fact it was more like a hall complete with an old fashioned stage that we used for concerts.  But that didn’t matter to me a scrap.  It wasn’t the surroundings that mattered – it was all about the event and what was to happen later.  So what could possibly go wrong?  We assembled outside ready to walk in through the very ordinary doorway.  My sisters preceded me and then I followed on the arm of my wonderful father, heart beating fast as I paused at the doorway.  I looked around at everyone and then at Ray and discovered to my complete dismay that he done his hair specially for the day.  Now to this day I can’t figure out how he managed it but he had washed his hair and combed it in such a way as to cover his somewhat large ears so that it looked like he was wearing ear muffs fashioned from his own hair.  I experienced a moment of ‘Oh my goodness, what have I done’.  Anyway I refocussed on the long game not the moment and proceeded gracefully down the aisle to say my vows and make my promises and to have them offered in return.

Everything happens in threes does it not?  What was number three then in ‘my party’?  I hear you wondering.  The ceremony, photos, reception, speeches all went off without a hitch.  The dust storm held off until after we left, brides who married at the more trendy time of 4pm were not so fortunate.  We drove off amidst much cheering, laughter and good wishes with the traditional tin cans tied to our brown Toyota Corona.  But where did we drive off too?  And herein lies number three.  Somehow or another, planning for the honeymoon fell off my radar.  Being the daughter of a dairy farmer we had never been able to go on holidays in January so in my mind I was going to the beach for my honeymoon.  I must not have communicated this clearly enough.  When I finally remembered to ask what Ray had organized for our honeymoon I was told that his very helpful father had booked (and presumably paid for) a caravan at Freeburgh Caravan Park somewhere between Bright and Mt. Hotham – very very far away from the beach!!  To say that I was dismayed is an understatement but I took it in my stride.  We got to the caravan park in good time, time enough for Ray to fit in a spot of fishing (why was that even a thing?), before we went to bed.  The caravan was not luxurious at all.  We had to provide our own food.  The bed was barely a double and the sheets did not fit particularly well.  Still I was okay, the big event was yet to happen, and all would be well.  So we settled in and got started.  And to make a long story short with both of us being virgins it’s fair to say that it didn’t quite work as anticipated.  In the small hours of the morning I asked Ray to accompany me to the toilet because you know it was dark outside and there might have been wombats out there ready to attack me.  He very generously told me that I’d be fine.  I didn't believe him and so stayed in bed and suffered until it was daylight. 

And so that was my much anticipated party – mostly wonderful with just enough colour to provide me with stories to tell.  Whenever we go to Mt Hotham I take great delight in retelling most of the Freeburgh caravan park story to our sons and their partners.  I enjoy telling people about Ray’s ultra daggy wedding hairdo and I still ponder the mysteriousness of my sister’s way of caring for my on my wedding eve.  Sometimes I think she did care and sometimes I think she was driven in part by jealousy.  Who would know, she probably doesn’t even remember.

When I said to Ray that I wanted to tell this story he asked me what was the point of the story?  Why tell it?  It was a good question and made me realise although my party back then didn't quite work out exactly as I’d planned it was the beginning of a life long party of laughing with Ray, loving deeply and being deeply loved in return. 

 


 

Courage - Carlynne Nunn

My story is about a meeting.

I spent the last five days in a giant, white walled room in the box hill town hall.

I was there for the gathering of the Uniting Church of Victoria and Tasmania, and because obviously, I know how to get down.

While there, we were treated to an evening of stories. One of them was told by my friend, I’ll call her A, and she talked about her place of safety in the church, her love of it, and her experience of hearing horrible words from another person in what should have been a safe place, as a bisexual woman. She talked about her fear, and her panic, and her hurt, and I cried as I heard her because she was so beautiful and sure of who she was as she spoke.

My story is about an idea in a small room.

I used to live in Parkville, in a small and wonderful apartment named Yoko. She was my nest for a year and a half a little while ago, the scene of parties and conversations and so much eating and friends planning their future lives and watching Harry Potter and one weekend, the setting for two slothful days watching Netflix- I had a lot less on my plate then? I remember I was in bed watching Orange is the New Black, which will seem clichéd in a moment, because as I watched I started thinking. I was thinking about ladies who like ladies and how that seems ok to me now, after growing up a fairly boring Christian stereotype. And how I love all my gay friends. While I thought things in a fairly straightforward way a small voice asked me if I would be ok with the gay thing if it was my gay thing.

My story is about labels.

I‘ve never liked those tests that tell you what you are. When people who dig such things say “well I’m an IFPJ” or “ha! Classic QXKH”  or whatever the fuck, something within me rolls its eyes eternally and I feel a distaste that comes from years of trying so hard at ages 13 through 17 to cope with rising feelings of inadequacy by being ‘an individual’. That stuff is less important to me now but I still feel a strong reaction in my gut when someone thinks they know something about me.

Maybe it’s harder to hide when you’re labelled, because you and others know something about what set you belong to.

My story is about a word I don’t like

Sexuality doesn’t suit me. I don’t like the sound of the word, I don’t like how clinical it seems and I don’t like it that even though it doesn’t contain other words like penis, or vagina it does hold a certain idea within it, that the possessor of the sexuality in question has certain designs on other persons, and the ability to sort of use this design or action it, in some way? There is to me a dance implicit in it, or at least an ownership, and a sexiness, however small and hidden, that feels removed from me.

My story is about it not being a big deal

Scene: my bedroom, circa 2014. Yoko.

A conversation between two Carlynnes

So, Carlynne, what if you wanted to date girls?

Huh. Well. What would that change?

Probably not much.

Yeah you’re right.

Wait- we still dig guys though yeah

Yes.

Cool, more people to check out on the tram.

My story is about fear

A part of the Synod meeting was a chance to reflect on the story telling evening which had been a new initiative. I told my table partners that I was very moved by my friend’s story, and her bravery.

I did not say: It touched me, because I too am bisexual.

Another person spoke and we all agreed it had been a wonderful night and a man asked what had challenged us about the night

I did not say: Well, I was challenged because though a lot of my friends know, I am bisexual and I’m not really out.

My story is about watching

I see you, my lovely, glowing friends.

You are derided, and picked apart, and divided and demoralised because of that word I don’t particularly like, because you love.

I see you named, and because of this signal they come for you. I see them think they know a thing about you because of a word.

I see you.

My story is about what matters

I don’t date much, so it feels like it doesn’t matter. I pass for heterosexual (whatever that means) and often feel as I’ve always felt, so honestly it feels like it doesn’t matter. In Christian circles often assumptions are made that you’re straight, and that doesn’t really matter I guess, though if you’ve got short hair, never talk about having a partner and are vocal in your support of LGBTIQ concerns, other assumptions can be made, I don’t ever know which of that matters… The current shit-fest of a debate about marriage feels like it’s not my fight, I’m still the same Carlynne, I’ve not paid my dues, I don’t want to assume my point of view matters. It’s only a wee part of me, why would it matter? And if it doesn’t matter I don’t have to talk to a dear friend who asked me if my theology could line up with my life if I dated girls (side note, I’ve had time to consider and yeah, it could), that doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter that I don’t really know what my classmates would think.

My story is about a meeting.

Some guy who people hadn’t seen in the room much said bitterly to me over morning tea ‘they’d notice me in the room if I was gay’. I told him blankly I didn’t know how to respond to that and he said we spend too much time talking about “that stuff”. I wondered how he knew I wasn’t “that stuff”. When I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I wondered if there was something else I should be thinking about.

My story is about my friend in a white room

A in the white room in Box Hill with wings and a Valkyrie shield saying who she is and what she is and staring us all down with a laugh and soft, brutal honesty. A causing me to wonder if I could claim things for myself the same way, if I could step into a word that way, if I could wear it like a cape.  

My story is about labels

Because I’ve wanted to avoid what people will think they know about me, being looked at, being told I’m not the thing I think I am.

 I still refuse to believe everyone is either an extrovert or an introvert, I do not want to do a myers-briggs test, and no, knowing that I could cheerfully date a boy or a girl doesn’t mean you know anything about who I actually am. But labels help you know what set you belong to, and honestly I think my 13 through 17 year old selves would approve.

My story is about the fear I didn’t know I was responding to until that table conversation, and how I’m quietly, in small steps, telling it to leave.

This story is about my sexuality (it took a lot to leave that there).

This is a story that might not be a bit deal,  

This is a story about my not wanting to just watch any more.  

This might be a story about what matters.