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.
We’re all on our own journeys in terms of spirituality and I, like most others have vacillated between a variety of beliefs (and most recently, more towards non belief). But for me, at least, it’s far more interesting to go back to when I was a child and to remember what it was like to not know, or at least, to wonder. As an adult I hate not knowing and much prefer concrete evidence, common sense, reason and intellectual understanding. I can look at a sunset, knowing that it’s a collection of vapors and chemicals and can still be exhilarated by the beauty of it all without having to attribute it to a deity. (I don’t mean to offend the religious, each to his/her own etc – this is just my opinion, at this stage in my life.)
However I do remember the ‘magic’ of otherworldliness. I do remember being mystified by the idea of fairies and the idea of an all powerful, all knowing Godhead who watched over us and had all the answers. I remember believing that my teddy bears and dolls had feelings and souls. One early memory I have is being a toddler in my crib and setting fire to it, with a box of matches I had found. I lit the matches one by one, throwing them to the edges of the crib, watching the flames in rapture, feeling like I was in the center of a birthday cake.
My mother remembers the screaming, calling the fire brigade and crashing into the room to save my baby brother and I. My nightdress had gone up in smoke and all that was left were the arms and the back of it. I didn’t have any burns whatsoever! Everyone thought it was a miracle. My teddy had a burnt leg and I was completely grief stricken. Every time I looked at him I was wracked with guilt for having hurt him so much.
Even as a young adult I felt a twinge of shame and it took a long time for me to realize that he was just an inanimate object! (It was even worse when I had taken him for show and tell at school years after the fire, when a nasty little shit had ripped out his eyes, the bastard! I thought – now he’s blind too! I couldn’t bear to let my mother sew new eyes on him for fear of putting him through more pain. More guilt for me!)
When I was about ten years old I walked into our kitchen and straight out asked my mother if she believed in fairies. I did – but I needed an adult to tell me so I could feel secure in the ‘knowledge’ that fairies were real. I knew the instant she responded with that ‘Oh god, I better humor her’ look, that fairies were not real. I was angry, hurt and deeply depressed. Even though she tried to convince me “Yes darling, of course I believe in fairies!” with that patronizing smile, it was too late. I had my answer.
Mind you, I didn’t stop reading fairy tales, and books by Enid Blyton, mythology, Catweazel, The Children of Green Knowe etc. I was 50% willing it to be true and pretending it was true and 50% knowing it wasn’t and ignoring that fact. For me, the bottom line was that it was entertaining and afforded me the kind of escapism I dearly needed.
When I was little I remember going to stay at my aunt’s farm in the country. She and her boyfriend were hippies. They had chickens and a ginger cat called Peter, who went on adventures with me. They had a statue of David for a doorbell. There was a sign over his penile unit that said “Pull”. You flipped the sign up & pulled on the penis that was attached to a wire that sounded the doorbell. Hilarious! They had a big shed full of these statues. I was mystified by these statues. (Not sure if it was the start of Agalmatophilia, which is sexual attraction to a statue or figure – but I don’t feel like that now, even though I appreciate them!)
I would spend ages hiding in the shed, just staring at them, transported to another dimension. I can’t remember what I was thinking, but it was magical. A few years earlier, when I was around five years of age, I had started having hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations – which is basically dreaming while awake. I’ll write about those experiences in more depth later as there’s quite a lot of ground to cover. But at that time I had also started to get up in the middle of the night and would talk to myself in the mirror. Needless to say, it freaked my elders out! They would put sheets and towels on the mirrors but I would just go to another room and do it again!
I was always attracted to the idea of alternate worlds, portals, other dimensions. Maybe it was a subconscious need for escape, as my parents were divorced then and I was living at my grandparents with my father and my cousin and brothers. I kept having a recurring dream of a mountain which still haunts me to this day. I’ve always wanted to find ‘my mountain’. In the dream, I would wake up at my Nanna’s house and go out into her garden, around the side of the house and I would see this majestic, snow capped mountain behind the shed.
I could never get to it because there was always something in the way, like a gate I couldn’t get through, a clump of weeds or bushes, etc. I can see now that it probably represented the integrated self calling to me – for a chance to escape all the crap our families were going through and to ‘find myself’. Every time I see a perfect, snow capped mountain I get a chill of excitement, like I’m still waiting for it. It’s almost a spiritual pull. But it’s a very particular type of mountain and for some reason, ever since I can remember, it’s somewhere in Sweden!
(Not Sweden – but looks just like my mountain!)
When I was living at Nanna and Pa’s, around five years of age, I had an experience that could be explained as either my synapses misfiring, or a narcoleptic experience (although they say that hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations are not technically under the umbrella of narcolepsy). It could have been a dream. The funny thing is – my Pa had the same experience when he was a boy and so did my father and his twin, in the same room! (Pa had his experience in a different house.)
In my event I was asleep in my room at Nanna and Pa’s, when a bright light suddenly filled the room and woke me up. It was so white that it was tinged with blue and was almost too bright to look at. I was under the covers, afraid and wondering what was happening when an astronaut came into the room. (When it happened to my father and his twin brother they called him the white milkman and my Pa had said he thought it was a ghost.) As soon as I saw the astronaut I passed out. Then I felt waves over me, as though two people were on either side of the bed wafting the blanket up and down on me. I was so scared but couldn’t move.
I’ll talk about my ‘narcoleptic’ experiences in another post, as they would take up a whole chapter. The sensations were always the same, tingling up and down my spine, feeling frozen and not being able to move, not being able to scream for help. My father and uncle had said that the white milkman came to them when they were in the crib and the room also went a vivid white color. Apparently he just stood there staring at them for a while and then he disappeared. My Pa had a similar experience with his ghost.
I’ve also had OBE’s (out of the body experiences – also known as astral traveling). I’ve seen fantastic planets with colors that I’ve never seen before and had experiences that aren’t easily explained. One time, I slammed back into my body so hard that my boyfriend at the time freaked out and leapt out of bed, thinking that I had deliberately jumped onto the bed from the ceiling! He was angry, scared and confused. When I explained to him what happened he still didn’t believe me and thought I was nuts.
The idea of these magical experiences being real is quite delicious, as they hint at otherworldliness, which would mean that there is something else out there, the ‘unknowable’, that would allay my fears of death and ceasing to be. In my twenties, when I was going through a phase of fearing death, I had an OBE where I was floating in a strange place amongst a lot of crazy mathematical equations. I kept hearing a voice telling me that death was not the end. Of course, when I woke up, my fear of death had vanished.
A religious person would say that it was God coming to help me. A scientist would say that it was my subconscious will trying to calm myself down so I could keep operating. My attitude is – whatever works.
I enjoy fantasy as it juices up the imagination and enriches my creativity. I also enjoy reason as I am most comforted by the truth, facts and figures. I like my feet firmly rooted in the earth so my head can safely wander through the universe and back again.