We Are What We Give

 

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Paul Cezanne, Sugar Bowl, Pears, and Tablecloth

She leaves the olives in a plastic bag by themselves at the end of the register. It’s a quiet day, I am teaching one of my coworkers how to make tiny origami stars from strips of paper. It’s the first day of autumn and you can feel it, the summer plums turning over to the pears, the pace already beginning to slow. So she leaves the olives in a plastic bag by themselves at the end of the register and by the time I notice them there she is long gone. She doesn’t come back for them by the time my shift ends five hours later.But I make the arrangements, so that if she does, we will be ready with her olives. I write on my hand about them to copy into the book. Split green olives, 0.352kg, $8.80. I have carried her olives with me, taken them out of work, kept them with me all the way back home, I carry a part of her life until my next bath. I don’t remember her face, or her voice, or how her day had been. But I remember telling her that I was just going to put these ones in a separate bag because the containers tend to leak. So I’ve got to wonder what she wanted with them. I wonder whether she was going to serve them with cheese, put them on pizza, or bake them into bread. Maybe she was buying them for someone in particular, a gift for someone living at home or away.

I hope that she comes back for them.

Split green olives, 0.352kg, $8.80.

When I was a kid there was this blue painting in the hallway outside mum’s office. I thought it as so beautiful, and I remembered it for years even after she moved office. It’s huge, or at least it was huge to me then, blue circles overlapping each other like fish scales or umbrellas in a Broadway show. I always thought of them as umbrellas, but not of Broadway. I used it to find a little geography in the building she was in, because I knew that the hallway the painting was in was adjacent to the hallway that mum’s office was in. So, I would have to walk past it to get where I was going.

I didn’t know the word adjacent then. Or geography.

But when she moved back to the building years later, I looked for it, not as if I was looking for nostalgia, but as guidance, as though she might have moved back into her old office, regardless of who was there now. And I can still find it, it with it’s new name on the door, different posters and new artworks. I located the offices of her neighbors and friends, could remember the layout of their offices, their bookcases, desks and lamps. I remember the smell of the building, of the carpet and walls. I still smell it sometimes, from beneath the smell of costly renovations, painted walls and a different carpet cleaner. It smells musty, like an old armchair that the dust has settled on, and faintly of the eucalyptus trees that are everywhere on campus.

There was no reason to go to the library as a child, so I never did. It almost feels new now that I’m grown, sitting at the desks, trying to study. But in the old part there are still staircases where the brick has not been painted over, and the stairs are still polished concrete. Kind of dark, kind of musty, and not nearly as glamorous as the rest of the university tries to be. But they’ve started putting up artworks to ease the darkness, and there it is. Not quite itself, but there.

It takes me a moment to accept that its not the exact one. This one is longer, goes further up, but its the same thing. Blue umbrellas going all the way up to the ceiling, and it stops me in my tracks, because suddenly I feel as though I could recreate the office onto paper, the whole building. And not just in a moment, but in all the moments. That time that we tried to watch Star Wars on the corner tv, that time that mud wasps made nests in the gaps of the bookshelf, when I wrote a self-affirming note for mum on the back of her wrist support. I could reproduce it on top off itself, all of the memories stacking up like a manuscript of this one room, smell, and sounds, and touch, all at once, thousands of moments condensed.

And then it’s gone again.

And I’m standing in the stairwell, staring at this painting, trying to keep the memories all pinned down, certain and concrete like the stairwell itself.

I wonder about all the things I’ve told customers, I wonder about all the things they’ve told me, because I’m glad that they did. It’s a type of flattery, a kind of gift. But I don’t know why it is. I don’t know enough about humans to say why telling people things about your life feels nice, or why its nice to be given the things in return, but it is. And when they do I keep them with me, carry them around the way you wear a present the next time you go to coffee.

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Cecilio Pla Y Gallardo, Escondidas

And suddenly I’m looking at this girl like we’re both foot soldiers in allied armies, struggling with the same things, offering and receiving sympathy and praise equally. Leaning over the register, talking all low and joking. She’s working at the pizza place next door, sometimes our customers double up, it’s too hot where I am too, we’re both trying to find a little balance between dead quiet and an overloaded server that’s beginning to smoke.

And it’s like camaraderie, but quieter, like a conversation you’re not allowed to be having.

I wonder about you, whoever you are. About whether you will carry this with you, whether it is okay to ask this of you. Whether you’ll tell people about this when they ask you how your day has been. I wonder how your day has been, whether that’s a question that I need to be asking. Because if you do carry this with you, even for a short time, then that it’ll at least be some kind of service, some sort of gift to me as well.

And it comforts be that I will always carry with me some stories that belong to people that I will never meet again, that I gave those stories to the people I live with, who may give them to the people they work with, stories told five times over written on bathroom stall walls. And we are all carrying other people’s stories, billions of circles all overlapping with all others, recreating ourselves as paintings on university walls.

We are the gifts we give each other.

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Gifts

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Bar at the Folies Bergère, Èdouard Manet

He puts down two cans of coconut milk and a carton of strawberries on the counter and gives me a stern look. Michael Bublé laughs at me personally over the loud speaker and the heat is making the back of my polyester blend shirt stick to the back of my neck. He tells me something, something about keeping the cans upright, but it’s like someone yelling at you from behind the rail at a theme park and I can only help him to leave the store as fast as I can. I assume it is in both of our best interests.

His bag is full, his credit card is out, and I am desperately trying to tell the girl next to me that they’ve changed the code for mangos two days before Christmas because they hate us and she needs to swap the two last numbers around. When I look back, his look of mild irritation has transformed into utter contempt; his upper lip is curled, his nose is crinkled. The line behind him grows.

“I told you to keep the cans upright, Christ.” I stare at him, and look down at the bag. They are upright. I look back up at him where he is in the middle of demonstrating my fumbling like a lost juggler. “Jesus Christ,” he says again, shaking his head, taking his bag, slamming down his credit card. Indifference sets into me like an arm being slung over my shoulders, realizing suddenly that his lack of patience and empathy is not my problem and never was. So I apologize, put the receipt in his bag, and tell him to have a nice Christmas and move on to the next customer. Because whatever his issues were, they’re none of my business.

I am but an obstacle to him.

But I go on thinking about him, him and his coconut cans. I remember telling my dad a few days ago about another customer who had behaved like a child to one of my youngest coworkers. I told him about my fury that she was being treated in this way and just had to grin and bare it. He had shaken his head sadly like a veteran being informed of another war, and said:

“Something real bad must have happened in that lady’s day.”

I guess so.

The car shudders up the slope in very much the wrong gear, other cars changing lanes, speeding up to move around us. We are a rock in a river, but I imagine us like a boulder on the top of a hill, the front wheels lifting off the tarmac, and the moment when the center of gravity shifts to the backseat, followed by the crunch of the metal, and the shattering of the windows. But it doesn’t roll back because that’s not how literally anything works, and I know that. Traffic streams indifferently around us, and with my hands gripped to the wheel, dad’s hand gripped to the door handle, we push on. I fumble for the right gear and there are only so many and somehow none of them work.

He tells me that I should move over to the left-hand lane when I can. The terror of the situation is like a heartbeat, firm and steady, and in that way it is conquerable, but in the moment all I think is “well fuck, I’ve got no more evidence for anything else, so at least this is a clear instruction.” So I do what he tells me like catching a ball thrown at you with no warning or reaching out for the ground when you fall. But I was so worried about a physical impossibility that I didn’t even have time to worry about all the other possibilities.

I nearly take out the rear bumper of a neighboring car, but as it speeds away, away from me, a hand is extended from the driver’s side window and I swear it’s the most serene gesture I’ve ever seen. A kind of “no worries”, a kind of “it’s okay, welcome to the world.” It kind of looks like a wave.

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The Riverbanks of Belbeuf, Robert Antione Pinchon

The terror subsides, because it always does, because there’s only so long that terror can exist without going anywhere before it dissipates, leaves you with nowhere else to go but up. And the right gear is found, the mirrors are checked, and the corners are taken not yet with grace but with diligence. And I go on thinking about that gesture, I go on wondering how he could have known.

It’s late and no one’s in the store.

It’s hard to comprehend, like even when it’s quiet it’s not this silent, even when it’s six thirty in the morning it’s not this silent. But there is nothing and no one, just the empty aisles. The town has retired, a retreating tide and left us be, us ambling staff members, down to single digits, an archipelago that used to be a continent. Even though the lights don’t change and the windows are all painted over, it feels darker than it did during the day. The music of the loud speaker has become a toneless drone to me and on my break I went through my bag and found a list of goals I had ripped from a schoolbook, written at the beginning of the year.

I went to kindergarten with one of my coworkers. Her face hasn’t changed but she likes me now. And the afternoon is pleasant with her there and when she sends me back to finish doing the books, she gives me a big smile. The floor manager comes with, and it’s nice. He’s kind to me, he’s always been kind to me, but now it’s a confident sort of kindness, comfortable. He runs the grocery floor like a band manager or a navel vessel manned by toddlers, content with other people’s fuck ups.

Our shifts are too long and we hang out like old men on a porch, the bug zapper buzzing quietly. Together we unplug the iPod belonging to the shop and plug in his phone; play the requests over the loud speaker, louder than usual because there is no one here but us. But it’s not loud, more meandering. We discuss our favorite bands, his girlfriend, the weekend, and we sing along.

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La Côte Sainte-Catherine, Rouen , Robert Antoine Pinchon

And I think that this is how I want 2018 to look.

As I’m walking out, not worried, pretty calm, I’m thinking that this time last year. When I thought those goals were worth the paper I wrote them on. But looking back, they are alien to me, written by someone else, someone younger; someone as consigned to oblivion as I myself will soon be. And I’m less crushed by my failures than I thought I would. Perhaps because I know what this year has been like. Things have been accomplished, not the things I had planned, not the things I thought I wanted. But not nothing.

I wonder if I would understand if I didn’t know that all of these things had worked out, if I only had this piece of paper and the knowledge that I hadn’t done any of these things.

I wonder if I could look back on myself and think ‘it’s okay,’ considering all that there is, ‘it’s okay, you don’t have to be so worried all the time.’ I hope that I would be able to, because with nothing planned achieved I still found myself listening to this music with a good friend and the quiet air. And that’s something, that’s worth something. If it would have taken a year to get here, it’s worth it.

And I will give myself this allowance; I will give all the allowances I can.

 

Blokes in the Break Room

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Vincent Van Gogh,Interior of a Restaurant in Arles

I’m trying to breathe through the last five minutes of my break, fiddling with the earphone jack, staring at the photos of Christmas parties decades old, trying to understand but not wanting to listen. This is every fact I have never wanted to know about my coworkers, every question I have not asked for fear of the answer. From my table, I try not to judge. We’re all different in the break room; we’re all different around our friends. And it’s a mostly female workforce, single mums, and teenage girls. It’s understandable that they would gravitate, friends from the beginning. I guess when you’re standing in a crowd; you tend to stand next to the person that looks the most like you.

But they aren’t kids anymore, the dopiness has grown out of their faces, their haircuts are respectable and they’re laughing and chatting. And there is a part of me that wants to laugh and chat too, regardless of the topic. But the topic matters. And it is so apart from me I can hardly grasp it, and suddenly I am standing at the edge of an ocean, staring across water I thought was a creek. That I had decided to believe was a creek.

“I’m so fucking sick of all of these sexual harassment posts on Facebook,” one says.

Its like a snap to attention, the morning coming all at once, watching a tsunami roll in from the shore; surprise and confusion and every bad feeling wrapped up like an angry email no one ever meant to send. But this is the boy who greets me every morning when I get in to work, this is the boy that learned my name and remembered it. So I wait. Because I have been taught my whole life that you can’t judge someone before actually know what they’re talking about.

And I wait.

“I mean, I believed them all in the beginning, but the more there are the less possible I think it is.”

Goddammit.

The other grunts and for a moment I just stare at the back of his head, like this conversation cannot be happening, blossoming right in front of me like some paralyzing flower. Just like the grainy footage of a collapsing building, the slow impact of a train crash, I never wanted this, I didn’t ask for this, but I’m stuck watching, in awe of this shift.

“A few of them probably just slept with him, and wanted some money when one came forward.”

Jesus Christ.

And I know, I know that I cannot heal this. I can’t just slam my hand down on the table and scream, “what the actual fuck is wrong with you?”. And neither can I offer any salvation, there is no, “why do you think this? And here’s why you’re wrong.” There can be no confrontation; I have learnt that there can be no confrontation. You can’t yell the prejudice out of a person. When someone doubts sexual assault victims simply because of their number, there is no break room conversation that can fix it.

I can’t help you.

I can’t help you out of this hole. I don’t know how we got here, I don’t know how to leave, I don’t know what it’s going to take to move you. I don’t actually know what the fuck is going on. I can’t help you. There is nothing I can do.

This is too big for the break room. This is too much to face running only on half a muesli bar and a mug of water. So for the next fifteen minutes I stew in my own distress, confined, held back, I can’t help you.

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Margaret Preston, Western Australia Gum Blossom

But my barista is a painter. She’s light, and sweet, and she’s a painter. Went to the national art school and everything. And, fuck, what are people still doing being painters? It’s like a breath of fresh air, a pastry in the morning, sitting in the sun, arriving gently like the spring. The personification of what I want to believe in handing me a coffee with a big smile. I could hug her because I needed that.

Instead I thank her with everything I’ve got.

I imagine next Friday like oncoming traffic. He’ll open the door for me because he always opens the door for me, and how am I goingto be able not to take him by the shoulders and ask, “what the fuck is wrong with you? Who told you to think like this? Don’t you understand how important this bit is?” How am I going to keep ahold of my coffee, keep ahold of my composure?

Every nerve is on fire with the compulsion to assert every position, to change his mind with how compelling my words can be, pull out my slide projector, play out the testimonies, dedicate as much time as it takes to make this better. Because I want to help. I want justice. I want to go back to where we were before this. To go back to where we were when I thought that we were the same even though we’re not. But that’s not the good in me.

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Winslow Homer, Summer Squall

That is the bit of me that wants to hide behind the ocean rocks when I see the waves rolling in. But I’ve got to bear it, stand on the shore and watch them come in, because this is the reality we’re in. This is where we’re at, and my time will come. And I can wait.

And I’ve got to believe there are more painters than break rooms, more generosity than baseless doubt, more mornings than there are conversations. There is nothing I can do today, but I will standby for tomorrow and the day after that.

Scrapbook

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Claude Monet – Haystacks Series

The floor is old linoleum and the mats I don’t think have ever been cleaned. But here we are, kneeling down on them anyway, rubbing our palms on our pants and mopping up a puddle of glass cleaner. The shift is coming to a quiet end, the steady stream of customers is no more, and I ask her what she did at university. I pull it out of my mouth like I’ve only just thought to ask, hoping that interest can pass for sincerity. She hands me another parcel of paper towel, and tells me like she could see the question boiling in me the whole time, and had been preparing an answer.

We are actors, reciting lines to each other.

I want to ask her questions that she doesn’t have prepared answers for. I want to sit with her on this floor and ask her what she’s scared of, I want to ask her where she went to high school, how she flies in dreams, what she wanted to be when she was four, where she grew up.

But I don’t.

Instead I wonder if she thinks about me when she’s at home. Because I think about her. I think about all of them. I imagine their lives. I wonder who’s living with their parents, I wonder who’s in love, I wonder who is terrified of the future, I wonder who’s cleaning their kitchen like I am right now. My coworkers are like inherited, unfinished scrapbooks. I try to finish the run-on sentences, scribble updates in appearance onto the photos in permanent marker, but I can never seem to find anything isn’t skin deep.

I attend to customers and she balances the books beside me. And she’s not even two feet away from me, but it feels like an ocean. I feel like if I just reach out I could feel the cold pane of glass that keeps us separate. I feel like all we can do is sit beside it. All I can do is gesture and mouth comfortable words in hope of a response.

But I want to take the chair and smash it. I want to tell her things like “lets go get a coffee” and “lets be friends like when we were kids” and “text me sometime, tell me about yourself.” But I don’t and she doesn’t. And instead we pretend to be the interviewers and interviewees of a job that doesn’t exist. And then we go home.

I’m sitting in the backseat of a car in Virginia. We’ve just gotten off a flight from Heathrow, it’s dark outside, and I don’t recognize the trees. These are not my trees. This is not my highway; this is not my land. So I rest my head against the windowpane, and listen to mum unravel the driver. She receives her scrapbook like a detective receives a case file, she studies it’s contents and finds a comfortable space to begin.

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Gas – Edward Hopper

He’s young, he’s got kids, he wants to go to war, he probably won’t vote in the coming election, he’s making ends meet, and he loves his wife. They lead each other like a curator leading an interested attendee through an art gallery. Questions are being asked and answered, and they go in directions he might not have thought to venture. But venture they do. And it’s an education in humanity.

I ask a woman what she did this morning. I fiddle with her bags, and negotiate with her mandarins. She smiles. She tells me that she’s been cleaning. Her hair is short, and her earrings are artisanal, and she tells me a story. It worms out of her mouth and she offers it to me like an inadequate, but heartfelt gift. She tells me how when she was a child her mother worked full time like she’s following a trail she left for herself so that she wouldn’t forget.

She smiles as though she sees though me and into her past. She tells me how every Friday her mother would clean their house for the weekend. Every Friday, without fail. She describes how her mother would scrub the floors by hand; she describes coming home from school to find her mother weeping into the floorboards. And we laugh sadly together at how far she has come.

I tell her about my parents, about my sisters. It spills out of me like an overflowing glass and I let it. So I tell her about how when I was little mum would go on business trips and dad would feed us hotdogs, and pies and chips, and spaghetti. I tell her about how the day before she came home he would always clean the house so that she came home to a fresh start. It’s like walking together for a time, wandering though uncertain streets.

And it’s almost like friendship, this exchange.

She invites me to lean over the wall of her register in the last hour of my shift. And I do. She tucks her hair behind her ear, and we chat. Someone is looking for the director of floor staff over the loudspeaker and we offer each other simple words. We pass them back and forth, collecting them, hoping one day we’ll have enough to make a meal.

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Auguste Renoir – Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette

We talk about who’s coming in tomorrow, who swapped their shift with whom, and who can’t come in. She tidies her register and I rock on my heels. And it’s nice. We don’t tell each other stories, don’t know any childhood nostalgia or family heirlooms, but there’s poetry here. In this supermarket on a quiet Thursday night there is poetry, between the lines.

Those Words

She’s in year nine. This is her first job. She’s wearing a second hand uniform and an ill-advised lipstick shade. And she knows me. But she knows me like you know a car you buy off the Internet from ten years before you were born. She packs the groceries like I’ll do tomorrow, asks about school and I can’t find a form of words that says want I want to say. I’m searching for phrases, I’m looking for a language with a saying that makes sense, but I’ve got nothing. I start a sentence, but can’t finish, so I try again, until I settle like an exhausted horse lying down. The phrase is inadequate and it makes me feel sick, but I need to stop talking.

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Edward Potthast – Rough Seas

It feels so wrong to say “I dropped out”. It feels like I’m lying, or worse that what she thinks when she hears those words is exactly what I think when I hear those words. Maybe when she hears those words she thinks about that one guy two years above her that just straight up stopped going to school, or that other guy that went off to become a bricklayer, maybe she hears the work “dropkick” when she hears those words.

Because I do.

In the beginning, my sister used the word “dropkick” like little kids use swear words; with no context for their effect on people, but the feeling that these words are different to all the others. You could hear the meaning in the way she said it, like her words were laced. A “dropkick” is an idiot. A “dropkick” is someone who was dropkicked as a baby and that’s what why they’re so stupid. She insisted that a “dropkick” was not specifically a dropout, but she never described someone who had dropped out of high school without relying on that word.

I hear that word when I tell people what I did. It rings in my ears while I imagine it ringing in hers.

We’re sitting in camping chairs in year eight, wrapped up in each other’s jackets and picking around through half-cold fish and chips. The garage has no heating and we feel it. There are boys in the tent beside the garage, the brother of my friend, it’s her garage, and a friend of his. The evening wasn’t well planned and we sit like old people. Talking, but not talking. I find myself in the middle of conversations, or I find myself staring at the wall, shivering.

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In the Cafe (The Absinthe Drinker) – Edgar Degas

I don’t remember my friend’s dad coming in, but he walks by my chair, so I look up at him as he goes by. He’s been calling the boys homophobic slurs all evening. But jovially. I don’t remember if I had a response, I don’t think I minded. I imagine him as a teenage boy from school, once he decided those words were appropriate he denounced his adulthood. But I’m still in his home. I don’t remember why he came in, but as he leaves he yells at the boys. He uses those words again.

I don’t respond, but my friend does.

She stops him in his tracks, she points at me.

“You can’t say that. She’s gay!”

I wasn’t ready; I was caught off guard so I stare at her as though I’ve got nothing to say. She’s got a look of righteousness on her face and I realize instantly that she has no idea what she’s done. Her effect on me blows right past her like the breeze. He leaves in a hurry and I want to call my mum. I want to call home and ask that they come and get me because I was feeling a bit uncomfortable before, but now I feel unsafe. I feel like she has stripped off my skin, that she has broken open my ribs and scrawled the word “gay” on my heart in permanent marker.

But I don’t call home, and instead I am sharp with her. I narrow my eyes like I am strengthened by her declaration and my duty to serve justice. I cover my weakness with my firmness. I tell her never to out me again to anyone, I tell her that if I want it said I’ll say it. I watch cognizance blossom around the corners of her eyes and she apologizes and I try and forgive.

We never mention it again.

I want to tell all of my friends to quit school. Every time I see them after school, every time I hear about some test or some teacher I want to grab them by the shoulders and preach. I want to tell them that they don’t have to feel this way; that they don’t have to feel so stressed and so scared all the time. Or at least you can be stressed and scared in your own home. I want to arrange to have coffee with them, or knock on their doors to tell them about how beautiful and huge the world is.

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Happy Days – Edward Potthast

I suspect this is how cultists feel right before they start a cult.

But I don’t do any of this. Because I’m not here to fuck with people’s motivations.

This town on weekday mornings operates like a well-oiled symphony. All the pieces fit together perfectly, without a word, intertwined with delicate intricacies. It’s organic composition, and I play my part. Each piece relies on the others, and together we make music.

 

Do Not Speak In Clichés to Me

You’d think it would be more beautiful.

You’d think it would be more beautiful considering it’s full of trades people. But it’s not. It is not art. It’s a love letter to 70s bureaucracy. Most of the buildings look like outdated banks or government buildings. Others look like Amazon packing stations about to be abandoned due to inefficiency. It’s all brick and concrete and sad vinyl seating.

But in this forgotten space between two buildings just short enough to have a little sun in the morning, the trees have matured beautifully. Their placement seems sporadic and varied in species and I enjoy it. I sit at a little picnic table, and eat breakfast, drink a coffee, and get things done. It feels settled here. Sitting at my picnic table, among the sporadic trees. Watching the birds, and typing away, chipping into my thoughts. I’m trying to think new things, ask questions while I have the time.

This little escapee course is a time of great thought. There is little else to do, because this course wasn’t designed for me. I was at high school less than two months ago, and the course is designed for people rekindling their education twenty, thirty years down the track. And time, suddenly, is not of the essence.

….

We’re standing at the kitchen bench, and I am telling someone who loves me that I don’t think that I’m going to be finishing school. She tells me what she thinks. And I start off well in the explanation that I believe the situation requires, but I descend into half remembered sayings and convoluted metaphors. Somewhere I begin a phrase, and she narrows her eyes at me, and suddenly I can hardly see above the counter for how young I am.

“Do not speak in clichés to me.”

And I recede like the tide going out, because I am easily hurt. I have started to hear her in my ears when I write. Do not speak in clichés to me. Do not speak in clichés to me. It’s a small bit of the map.

….

Cringila Train Station is like a non-place, and I read magazine articles aloud to myself. There are the reeds and the traffic and after a while a deafening silence. There is nothing kind here. There is no vending machine, none of the electronic timetables, not even a station guard. There is just the highway and the steelworks and a train station for workers that are no longer there. I want to be somewhere that is somewhere. There’s bus stop is less than ten feet away but none of the buses are going anywhere. So I sit with the mandarin I had stuffed in my pocket, and wait for any train going north.

The wind bites through my jacket, I read about stoicism and octopuses, and I try to untether the past from the future. I’m stuck in this bubble of cause and effect, mismatching catalysts to results, and trying to realize that the past is all tucked away. I’ve started to view my life as a series of cardboard boxes. The ones in front of me are empty, the ones behind are full of the debris that I have loved and discarded from my person.

But I still haven’t found a place for my schoolbooks. I don’t know what to do with them, because I spent so much of my own money on them and now they are useless in their red folder that I bought to inspire me. And I love that person that started out this school year full of determination about a borrowed dream. Not because she was delusional, but because she was determined, and willing. So my schoolbooks sit on my table and I look at them every night.

And I’m horrified by their presence in my bedroom, but too loyal to throw them out.

….

The safest image I can imagine is a Saturday morning and my dad making a list. We used to do our shopping for the week on Saturdays and he would make a list with his coffee. I remember how he would wear his sunglasses in bed because the sun was coming for him.tumblr_oejr0bE9gm1sq7vr5o1_540.jpeg I remember the smell of coffee even though I didn’t know it was the coffee then, and I can see him making his list. I can envision the lists within the list for the vegetables and dairy, the yellow paper and his work pen; the white sheets, the morning sun, coming in during the ad breaks in the cartoons.

They’ve since changed the position of the bed, so he doesn’t have to wear his sunglasses. And we don’t do our shopping on Saturdays and he doesn’t make a list and I don’t watch cartoons. And suddenly I feel like an old woman, horrified by society in the checkout line. It’s not that there’s no safety now and coffee and Saturday mornings still exist and they charm me. But it’s hard to hold two thoughts in your head and even harder to feel safe in two places at once.

….

There were activists in Newtown today and they spoke to us like a military operation. They split us up, and asked us huge questions we couldn’t possibly have answers to. What are your thoughts on the Russian Revolution? Are you a liberal? Have you ever read anything on Marx? We are scruffy teenagers on a day out. It’s nearly raining. We’re trying to find somewhere to eat that won’t cost us three hours of work at our dingy minimum wage jobs. And the activists are asking for our thoughts are on modern day capitalism in the current political climate.

12898399_1732264537045776_1693495949249366845_o-700x530They’ve got their shoulders squared like they’re ready for a fight, and they’re ready and willing to pry our email addresses from our cold dead fingers. The man who talks to me talks to me like he’s trying to sell me something. There is nothing that I can give him. There is no moral response I can give him that would make him feel satisfied parting from this conversation. He can’t sell me something I’ve already got. But we converse anyway, and each not knowing anything more than what we did already. There can be no debate.

We part ways like debris briefly getting caught in a branch along the river before getting pulled away by the current. We leave like children. We eat cheap Mexican food and drift in and out of op shops and factory outlets and I think about that young man. I wonder where he’s from, I wonder if he’s getting paid, I wonder who taught him this, I wonder who it was that gave him those talking points. And I think I will chase him up on his offer to talk more about it at their conferences and events. Because I don’t know enough to debate, and maybe I would like to.

Other People

I envy people with awards. With trophy cabinets and framed bits of paper.

I imagine them being acclaimed scientists or sports people. I imagine them opening up their trophy cabinets or standing in front of their mantels when even a morsel of self-doubt enters their minds, and reaffirming that they are brilliant. So brilliant that people gave them bits of paper and statues of people stuck on miniature platforms to congratulate them on it.

But I know that this is not how it works. Self-doubt negotiates with anyone. There is no one who is immune.

The awards turn against the people who have won them, convincing someone that they were never brilliant or that they have fallen from the brilliance they once had. Or that they could have done so much more if only they had worked harder, or sacrificed more, or been a more adequate human being.

Awards can be a representation of our limits just as much as our achievements.

And I get that. It’s just that maybe it would be easier to doubt my achievements than the fundamentals of my personhood.

But then again, I don’t have a mantel.

….

I imagine myself without a mantel in my adult years. I see myself at thirty-five waking up and regretting all of my tattoos, and my decisions, and not spending money while I had it, or not saving money while I had it. I imagine her staring at her empty walls, and cabinets full of things that aren’t trophies. This future version of myself has forgotten what it felt like to be me now, has forgotten why she did all these things.

She no longer likes the bus, and is stuck in a job she can’t leave because she’s forgotten how to move. She failed to travel like she said she would. She lives inland in a place she doesn’t like, and she’s stopped cooking. She’s forgotten how to speak, how to change, or think. She lives with her shoulders hooped from spending twenty years carrying around her regret and frustration.

She is stagnant water, but she doesn’t miss the ocean like she used to do.

….

Do you think that a lion likes to run? That a bird enjoys flying? You’d think that they would.

….

In England, it’s hard to look out of windows when you’re in the back seat of a car. In Australia you can see in all directions. In the English countryside there are hedges. I rode in the back seat in England, and was vexed by this.

We stayed in Braishfield, and I missed home. Homesickness wrapped itself around my heart, and nearly equaled my fascination with the world. I missed the cliffs and my little town, and the headlands, and the coast. I’d spent so much time before we left wearing long sleeves in the summer, and talking about how I loved the cold. And the moment inland hit me, I wanted expanse. When we came back it was like reuniting with an old friend. We came down the coastal road, over the bridge and back to the Pacific Ocean, blue and white and endless and it felt like home.

It was just getting to be late spring when we got back and I watched the summer roll in like a sandstorm and embraced it when it came.

….

We read this poem in English class at one of those critical moments, and I read it over and over again because I thought it was beautiful and I listened to my peers read it over and over again because it said something I needed to hear. “Go for it,” this poem whispered like it was speaking directly to me, “Go and see what’s out there, go for it.” I sat there in English class listening to this voice, and imagined myself going for it.

Later I started to imagine the woman who regrets, but in the beginning all I had to dream of was a person that I loved, the person I had cultivated and cared for over the previous months. The part of me that had missed the ocean, that had loved the summer when it came; the part of me that had noticed when the buds began to bloom and missed California and was fueled by hope and determination. Sitting in English class I imagined her flourishing.

And she was happy; she was the person brewing in me.

All I am looking for is a space where she can grow; where she can learn how to be a real person, and I can learn how to let her. The woman who regrets and the woman who hopes are nothing alike, and I’ve got to start making investments in the woman who hopes.