I’ve been spreading myself thin lately – the usual juggling act that is particularly annoying for writers, what with the day job, daily ministrations, working on other writing projects and so on. A novel I’m currently toying with (a surreal, Young adult story) is growing arms and legs, so it’s taking center stage at the moment, however – last night I had one of my flashes as I tossed and turned, in regards to my memoir.
I wondered how it would be to write about some of my stories along the theme of water – or any other theme. I assume we all have these themes in our lives. For example, we all have tree stories, beach stories, holiday stories, school stories etc. The flash I had included all the memories that involved water, for some reason, and I decided that when I got up this morning, I would write them out and see how they panned out. So here they are, in random order, for me to organize at a later date, when I decide to actually put all this into a book!
The two most profound water memories I have involve saving both my brothers from drowning, at two separate incidents. The first one was when I was twelve years old and my brother Lucas was ten. We were at Seaspray which is known as the Ninety mile beach in Victoria, Australia. My Aunty Doris (who was the lady who kind of adopted my mum for holidays when she was a child, being brought up in the home) owned the holiday house there and had rented it to my mother for two weeks. I discovered later that mum had taken my brothers and I there after a fight with my stepfather.
There was no television but there was a radio and a ping pong table as well as the beautiful beach across the road. Mum thought that we were going to drive her nuts without a t.v. (I was twelve, Lucas was ten and Peter was eight) – but we spent most of our time exploring the beach, playing ping pong and catching blue tongue lizards. When you came out the front door you could see the hummocks (or hills) that were at least fifteen feet high and covered with long grasses. Every now and then there are tracks leading to the beach and once you get to the top you hear the roar of the ocean.
I spent a lot of time on my own writing and this particular day, I was sitting on the beach writing as Lucas went out into the water on an inner tube from a truck. He was sitting in the middle of it, slowly drifting further out. After a while I stood up and yelled at him “Lucas, you’re too far out!” He yelled back “Far out, far out!” doing peace signs in the air with his hands. I yelled again to come back, more urgent now as he was fast becoming a dot on the horizon. “You’re too far out, come back!” I strained my eyes to see him and realized that I could only see the inner tube floating to the right, without him on it. All of a sudden I saw him burst up from the water in the distance and I heard a blood curdling scream.
I froze for a split second but then it was like my primal brain took over. I dove into the water and started making my way towards him. The waves were at least four feet so I had to stop every now and then to see where he was. He was still struggling and dipping below the surface, his arms flailing wildly and then disappearing every now and then. After what seemed like an eternity I reached him and of course he latched onto me, grabbing at me frantically. I remembered something I had seen on t.v. about drowning people who ended up drowning the people who were trying to save them and that was definitely what nearly happened to me. He kept grabbing me around my neck and climbing over me, pushing me under the water.
Eventually I slapped his face and screamed at him to stop it and to turn on his back and go limp so I could take us both back to the shore. Luckily he did as he was told and I was able to wrap my arm around his face and under his arm. Using my other arm I swam us both back, carefully, telling him to help by kicking his legs. When we got back, a final wave dumped him thunderously onto the sand, as though to punish him for being an idiot. It made his tank top come up over his head and he just sat there for a while, crying. I was so mad I wanted to kick him, but all he could think about was the missing tire tube and how our Uncle would be pissed!
The other time was a few years later when I was fifteen and my younger brother Peter was eleven. We were visiting my mother’s boyfriend at Wonga Park and decided to go for a swim at the Yarra River. Being older, I was a stronger swimmer so I got to the other side first and waited for him, sitting on a rock. As soon as he made it he said “Let’s go again!” and I said “No, wait, you need to catch your breath!” He just laughed and said ‘No I don’t. I’ll beat ya!” With that he jumped back in and started swimming, so I followed. When I got to the other side I turned around and realized that I couldn’t see him. I looked up and down the banks and at the water but couldn’t see him anywhere.
Just like Lucas at the beach, all of a sudden I saw the water break, in the middle of the river and heard an awful scream, with Peter’s arms thrashing about, trying to grab onto something – anything! My guts jumped! Here we go again! So I swam out to him and realized that I had to tell him to calm down so I could get him back to the edge of the river, but he was so panicked that he climbed onto me as soon as I got to him. He got onto my shoulders and pinned me down under the water. Both of his feet were on both of my shoulders! The water was at least ten feet deep and when I tried to buckle my knees to get out from under him, he kept balancing himself and pinning me to the spot.
Every time I got out from under him, and tried to swim back to the surface, he found me and stood back on my shoulders. By this time I was out of air so all I could do was punch and dig my fingers into his ankles with all the strength I had left. This worked and he jumped off. When I got to the surface and caught my breath I had to grab and throw him, swimming up to him and continuing the process until we made it to the banks. I was so mad as he was laughing hysterically and I didn’t know about hysterical laughter so I started slapping and punching him. A couple who had stood by and watched the whole scene pulled me off him and explained that he couldn’t help it but I turned on them, yelling “Why didn’t you help us!?” They just stood there dumbstruck, then walked away quickly.
One more time where I saved someone was my beautiful son Zack, when he was two years old. We were living in the Buddhist commune and one of my duties was cleaning the swimming pool. I had him situated in a section away from the water, playing with his toys. As I walked around the pool, scooping leaves, I turned around to keep an eye on him. Every time I looked at him he was in his little section, playing with his toys. The one time I wasn’t looking, he slipped into the shallow end, without even a ‘plop’. I turned around and didn’t see him. I called his name and he didn’t answer.
I ran back to the section and he wasn’t there. By this time I was hysterical, screaming his name when my eyes were drawn to the water. He was under the surface, his arms and legs outstretched, not moving. I jumped in, my heart frozen, and snatched him up. He laughed and said “I was swimming!” I couldn’t help yelling at him, even though it was my fault. “I told you to stay away from the water!” Then he started crying and I felt like a bag of dog shit. I cried too as I realized what could have happened if I’d been daydreaming or distracted. Needless to say that I watched him like a hawk after that.
One time, at seaspray, when I was around six years old, I nearly drowned in the dip, or what they called ‘the washing machine’. It was a dip about six feet into the water where you could easily get caught if you didn’t know how to swim through it. The waves would tumble in a circle and you could get caught and not know which side was up or down. When it happened to me I thought I was going to die. I remember trying to use my brain and every time my hands felt the sand I’d push upwards but the waves pushed me back down. My equilibrium was in chaos and I was churning around and around.
The adults were oblivious to my plight and by the time I got myself out of it and back onto the shore, vomiting up wet sand and sea water, they laughed and said “You’ll know better next time!” I remember being furious for a long time, feeling uncared for and abandoned, as though I had no-one to rely on when things got dangerous. How ironic, as there were times later on, where I would have to be the one who would save the day!
When I was fifteen, we had a swimming pool in our backyard and had many pool parties over the years. I learned how all of a sudden people would be your friend when summer came and magically they disappeared when it was over, at least until the next summer. One of my mother’s boyfriend’s friends, Lucien, who was an older man, tried to pay me $5 to get in the pool with him and give him a kiss under water. Of course I declined. He was always after me, giving me strange gifts of chocolate or 4711 perfume. Whenever I climbed out of the pool I could feel his eyes on me and it made me uncomfortable, but the other adults respected him as he had lived a charmed life and used to be a strong man in the circus many years before and had met Laurel and Hardy.
It’s funny how, when you’re young and going through puberty, you don’t mind certain people noticing, but others make you self conscious or even worse, they sicken you! Again, at Seaspray – during the time I had saved Lucas from drowning, I was swimming, wearing my red one piece bathing suit, that happened to be see through when wet! A dune buggy came tearing along the beach with three guys in it and they stopped, yelling for me to come out of the water to talk to them. I was scared as I was only twelve years old and had a faint idea what they might’ve wanted. My brothers were being rambunctious, yelling at them to “Fuck off!” but they ignored them and continued asking me to come over and talk to them.
I was polite and said no thanks, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. Secretly – I was excited, but fear got the better of me, and I continued to shy away and stayed in the water. In the meantime my brothers had ran back to the house and told my Aunty Doris, who was probably in her sixties at the time. She came over the hummocks, waving her walking stick and yelling angrily, telling them “Leave her alone, she’s only a child!” I was humiliated, but also relieved. As they drove off, yelling obscenities over their shoulders, I stared after them ruefully, thinking to myself that if I’d been older, I might’ve had to guts to talk to them.
One of my favorite pastimes as a child (like most children, I expect) was to play in creeks, causeways, drains etc. There was a lot of exploring to be done and adventures to be had. As my mother and her friends were drinking, we were able to slink away and pretty much do what we wanted, as long as we were back before dark. I especially loved the ones where willow trees hung over them. I would take my notebooks and sit, writing dreamily for hours, as the boys played pirates and so on.
One time, Lucas climbed to the top of one of the willow trees at my stepfather’s place, in Ivanhoe, and jumped onto one of the branches, swinging like an idiot. He yelled out “Look at me! I’m Tarzan!” He did the Tarzan “victory cry of the bull ape” when suddenly there was a “CRACK” and the branch broke, bringing him slamming into the creek! We all laughed so hard. We didn’t dare take him home, drenched and muddy. He just took off his outer clothes and draped them across the grass to dry and continued to play.
Sometimes we would follow the creeks for hours, walking barefoot through the water, pretending we were on a mission to find something elusive. If it got too deep we’d find an old piece of corrugated iron or fiberglass and use it as a raft, or walk along the sides. I’d find pretty rocks, feathers, leaves and flowers and take them home. I remember some days mum would pack us a picnic for the whole day and we’d have a wonderful time, exploring, getting filthy, climbing trees, making friends with random dogs and goats here and there.
I could go on and on but I think I’ll save it for another time.
In, but not of.
It’s hard to describe yourself as a fringe dweller without coming across as an attention seeker, or as someone desperate to be perceived as different and standing out from the crowd. On the one hand, here I am writing a blog in order to flesh out my stories for my memoir – according to advice I have received, which states that modern writers have to blog and market themselves in order to ‘drum up business’. Blogging seems so extroverted and not really something dwelling on the fringe, as everyone is doing it.
On the other hand, blogging is very foreign to me, as I usually write everything in long hand before typing a second draft on my computer, which is then re-jigged as a third, forth and fifth draft (sometimes more), before I send the query letter, synopsis etc to a variety of publishers and so on, without anything ever having been exposed to the public. I usually prefer this operating behind the veil, although it is a new and exciting experience putting my work out there for all to see, before it is accepted or rejected by publishers.
I have always felt like I am ‘In, but not of the world’ – not so much an outsider, but definitely a fringe dweller. Even when amongst people I feel close to, I don’t usually feel that people truly understand what I am saying or trying to convey. Maybe it’s the same for everyone – as we all experience things differently. And maybe that’s why we tell our stories, so that we can at least try to make a connection. Maybe if there’s someone out there who understands or who has been through the same or similar things, we won’t feel so strange or alone.
Like most introverted people, I live a lot inside my own head. However I do enjoy getting that stuff out because it does get cluttered and noisy! When I was very young I used to draw question marks with faces inside them. Apparently I drew them on my stuffed humpty dumpty doll. A friend of my fathers’ wanted to get me analyzed. That was the time when I set my crib on fire. It was also around that time when I would get up in the middle of the night and assemble my dolls and stuffed toys and hold meetings. I had a lot to discuss and it was all so very important, until my mother came in and angrily told me to get back to bed and go to sleep.
I remember having afternoon naps and staring out the window at the bright blue sky, in a daze. It was a kind of meditative state, staring at the sky and the clouds, hearing a plane faintly in the distance, or a lawnmower. I don’t think it was particularly spiritual, but I remember wondering about life, who I was and how nice it was just to be still and wondering about life! Sometimes I would get up and look out the window onto the rooftops below, at the air vents and dirty alley ways. I don’t remember thinking anything specifically. I was just full of wonder and maybe making plans of what I would do when I had the freedom to get out amongst it all.
Jeremy Keith from Brighton & Hove, United Kingdom
My mother often told me that I always seemed far away and that sometimes, when I looked at her, I seemed to be looking straight through her. It’s probably because I’ve always been such a daydreamer. Teachers have always told me off for staring out the window and to pay attention. Reality can be such a bore. When around others, and being forced to be a part of the group and to join in, I find it annoying and distracting, unless I’m actually interested in what’s going on. I hate being told that something is going to be fun, when the other party has no idea about what I might find enjoyable.
Growing up, others mistook it for contrariness or stubbornness. It was never deliberate. I tried (and continue to try) very hard to be a part of society or any particular group and even pretend where necessary, in order to appease and maintain the status quo. But every now and then I step on the brakes, as I remember that I am not 10 anymore. I remember that I have developed my discriminative senses over the years and that there are times where I can say no or put in my two cents worth.
When I was five and in my first year of primary school, it was after lunch and the bell had rung but I hadn’t heard it. Everyone else had gone back to class but I was oblivious and kept playing in the tall grass, talking to myself in a world of my own. Eventually the teacher came stomping down the dirt track calling my name and my stomach jumped. I snapped back to reality and followed hot on her heels. She snarled over her shoulder “Didn’t you hear the bell?!” Cow.
It’s funny thinking of myself as a child – as the only thing that has changed is that I’m older. Essentially I’m still the same person, just with more memories, ideals, tastes, problems and circumstances, etc. I still stare out the window. I still find it hard to join in. I still find it annoying to have to go through a daily routine (instead of going to school – going to work and having to pay bills etc, like everyone else!). I still wish I could be taken care of, even though I’m a grown woman and a feminist. I still wish things could be simple, although I love intellectual pursuits. I still love being silly although I abhor childishness. I still crave adventure although I relish the comfort of my home.
I so desire a successful writing career but I’m also very afraid of it. Is that what’s holding me back?