My parents tried to kill me, not once but three times. Not metaphorically, but in a hands on kind of way. Not at the same time, and not both of them together but rather at separate times and on separate occasions.
My father kept a machete for reasons only known to him. I'm sure it was purely meant as a decorative ornament, a reminder of a country left behind; it's scabbard proudly said EL SALVADOR. Ornamental it might have been but functional it still was. Unlike the muggy coffee plantations of El Salvador, Melbourne has a lot less shrubbery that required machete manipulation so the machete was only used once for its intended purpose; to cut down a rather aggressive shrub in our front garden.
It was also used on my back.
My dad constantly threatened to use it on us, on any of us for reasons that to this day seem random. We were either being ungrateful, or impolite, or stubborn, or rude, or too gay (in my case) or maybe because it was a Wednesday. No reasons were given, but the threat felt clear and unambiguously meant to intimidate us. The message was: "Do as I say, because I have a weapon of mass destruction and I would hate to use it on you, but I won't hesitate to do so."
I don't know what triggered him off on that particular day. It could have been anything, anything at all. He threatened to get the machete after first hitting me with a belt. I assumed his bark wouldn't lead to a bite but that time, for reasons that are only known to him, he came good on his word.
Part of me wanted to see him strike up the courage to strike me with a weapon. I think it was part goading, part dare and part belief that no parent could ever, or would ever actually want to harm their child to the point of severe injury.
When I think about what I did to protect myself at the time it all seems rather foolish. He threatened to grab the machete from the depths of his closet where it permanently lived, then in a split second he turned to retrieve it. Much like a hostage victim who sympathises with their captor, and still not believing he would do it, I ran to find my brothers biggest puffy bomber jacket. My thought was at the time: "Well, if I'm about to be slashed I want to have as many layers between me and a blade as I can muster." I then ran to my room which was a dead end and I waited.
I wonder if our lives had turned out differently had we remained in El Salvador. I realise the stupidity of that sentence, of course it would have been different, but rather would my parents have hated each other so much, and hated us to the point of attempting to, if not kill us, then inflict grievous bodily harm? Would being closer to their family and their friends have cured my father's anger and resentment and my mother's loneliness, depression and mania? I'll never know. I do wonder, and often if my parents regret the journey that on a cold May saw us arrive in Melbourne looking for a better life, knowing nothing, knowing no one?
It's no exaggeration to say that we were alone, six islands: my dad, my mum, my two sisters, my brother and, me floating on the southern mainland of this huge island that was now our home. If we were a family, then it certainly didn't feel like that. My older sister Lupe, while known to me had never actually lived with us. Being my paternal half sister she was either out of choice, duty or circumstance living with my dad's mother. Even though she's technically our grandmother, Lupe did and still does call her "mum".
My maternal half brother Giovanni, two years younger than Lupe but a whole ten years older than me, was seen as less of a step son for my dad and more of a burden he had to endure. He never wasted an opportunity to remind him, and all of us for that matter, that it was his money and fortitude that were the reasons why we were now in Australia.
Our family resembled a group of people that had been chartered to go on an expedition. We probably wouldn't have chosen each other as travel companions but we just had to make it work. On the whole, the first couple of months in Australia worked well. They did for me anyway.
The Migrant Enterprise Hostel was this really vibrant place full of people from all corners of the world very poorly attired for a Melbournian winter. There were Latinos from all corners of the Americas, Vietnamese, all manner of Africans and Eastern Europeans sharing a facility which was akin to a very large residential school camp. There were playgrounds, common areas for recreation, laundromats, classrooms for learning English and a large common dinning room.
In fact, I don't even know if the facility was in fact large, I was five years old so every single new space I found was large, exciting and a place for adventure.
A lot happened at the hostel, it was a kind of boot camp for new migrants to this country. It was designed to give you the most basic skills to join Australian society as productive members. Many of the people who once lived there went off to become small business owners, entrepreneurs, cleaners, manufacturers, doctors, and in my case, lawyers. That's what a high quality migrant integration program can do. We used to do humanitarian migration right.
There we were, six fellow travelers in this expedition to the most desolate place any of us could think of. I can't say if our problems started there, or if they were already built into our unit. An abusive and violent father, four kids two of whom were old enough to protest and two of whom were too young to understand, and a mother that struggled with the forced separation of her and her family.
All of these factors were compounded as time went on, the older siblings protested more and more, first with each other and then with everyone. The father became more abusive and the mother of the unit became more detached.
Children, if in the right environment I guess, don't ever have to wonder if their parents like them. They just take it as a given. Children, most of them, just know that their parents like them, that their parents love them in fact.
I don't have that, to this day I am not convinced that my parents liked me or that they loved me as they have said that they do. If they did why would they then try to kill me? In many ways, there is nothing that they can do or say or not do and not say that could change my mind. The damage has been done.
They've put the damage on.
after I put on the thickest coat I could I cowered into a corner of my room and waited defiant. If I was going to walk a plank I wouldn't bow my head as I fell. The rest is a blur. I remember my father raising the machete to hit me. He hit me, it didn't break any skin, or any clothes in fact but I did fall backwards on my bed. He struck me again as I fell.
Perhaps with the realisation of the magnitude of what he had just done he dropped the machete and stared at me then went outside. I called the police. The police asked me if he had fled, if he had a weapon, if I knew the licence plate number of his car.
When the police came they found my father outside, standing in a corner, staring at the fence with his back to the world. The police told us that they couldn't do anything at all and they left.
I filed charges against him, but I'm sure my mother convinced me to drop them and I did in the hope that he had learnt his lesson. Two months later he repeated the attack again, maybe dissatisfied the first one hadn't worked.
I don't know what my family did while this was happening. Or what they could do, but like a hostage captivated by their captor or maybe like a good student my mother also tried to kill me.
Not that long after the machete incident my father walked out on my mother for the umpteenth time. My mother had confiscated the power cords of the computer so I could not go on the Internet. She never gave me a reason but I was convinced it had something to do with her suspicion that I was talking to gay men online and somehow becoming recruited by them.
She wasn't wrong. In a house dominated by violence and homophobia speaking to other young people around the country and the world made me feel safer in questioning my sexuality and gave me comfort that I wasn't the only queer in this village. My internet friends were the only people who understood me, and I felt safer talking to strangers online than reading a book in my bedroom. Sure, many of those people online were clearly praying on me as a young child asking for all sorts of sexual favours but it was still safer to be in the company of predators online than be prey in the real world.
Due to sheer cunning or my mother's poor ability to hide anything at all I found the computer power cables and I refused to give them back. My mother was on her way out anyway so what was it to her if I was on the computer or not?
She became so enraged at my resistance she called my older brother to get him to come over to our place immediately as I was being, according to her, petulant. Like a good pupil or a worn down hostage my brother relented so that both of them together could wrestle the cables from behind my hand where they were being kept safe by me.
First my brother grabbed me and pinned me on the couch. Once I was down he used the cables to tie my hands together. My mother then jumped on me and with her bare hands tried to choke me. It was a bona fide attempt too. It was a type of stranglehold that wasn't meant to be a warning but rather an affirmation of hate.
I couldn't breathe.
This went on for a little while until they let me go. At that moment I felt the most worthless I had ever felt. How else do you feel when the person that was supposed to love you the most just tried to kill you?
I ran to the bathroom. Locked the door and tore my wrists to ribbons. I was bleeding this scarlet, deep, ruby red blood on to the carpet. On to the floor. On to my bed.
My brother called an ambulance and while he did that. I just sat down on the bed and waited. I would have loved to have waited to die, I remember that, but wounds as wounds do had already started to clot and stop bleeding. It may be your brain that wants you dead but it's your body's natural reaction for survival that just hangs on.
The song that was playing at the time was Peace by the Eurythmics. I'm sure that was a deliberate act by me. I remember feeling so at ease and completely comforted by the idea that I had hurt myself so badly that I just remember feeling calm. I remember feeling in control.
"Stop the world, just shut it down... There's no point in it turning around. Peace, is just a word, just a word."
I don't know what anyone else was doing nor did I care. I was focused on watching my blood dry on my hands and on my clothes.
I was still wearing my school uniform. I wore my school uniform as my heart slowly tore into pieces.
The rest is either forgotten or repressed. The ambulance came. They tended my wounds and loaded me into their van. As I lay there on the stretcher I remember the ambulance driver said to me:
"You have a wonderful smile. We see a lot of people in your situation, but just remember you have a lovely smile."
The kindness of a stranger at that moment gave me so much life which was ironic really because the loathing of my family was what drove me to be in that stretcher in the first place.
I was taken to the Dandenong hospital, the ambulance driver murmured something that sounded severely clinical to his partner about me and they in turn notified the nurse in charge of my condition. I never got to thank those drivers because I never saw them after they handed me over. I wish I could thank them for saving my life in a very real way. Partly for the little act of kindness but also for the fact that one of them stayed with me while I was sitting in the back of the ambulance for the short ride to the hospital. My family didn't come with me to the hospital for reasons that are theirs alone. No angel came for me that night.
I sat on those hard plastic hospital chairs waiting for a psychiatric consultation and for a tetanus shot. As I was sitting there covered in dry blood and with a rudimentary bandage made out of a hospital towel and bed sheet I remember thinking that at that point in my short life I had never, ever, felt so low and so discarded.
I belonged to no one and it felt that I was not just alone at the hospital, I was alone in the world. For that very reason I wished at that moment that no one who knew me would see me like this. Bloodied, alone and devastated.
Quite literally moments later Anne-Marie a fellow year 9 student at Carwatha College walked in to the emergency department with her mother and saw me there in my school uniform, covered in blood, waiting for a psychiatrist to deem me healthy enough to return to a home that wasn't healthy.
While being seen by Anne Marie added insult to my injury, being mercilessly teased at school about the attempt I made on my life after my mother had failed was worse.
When the hospital realised no one was coming to pick me up they paid for a taxi to take me home. Pretty much everyone was asleep when I got back there. I can't remember who opened the door for me to let me in but someone did, they may have wanted me dead but surely not homeless. That was true, at least on that night. The homeless part would come some months later.
I was still in my school uniform.
All of this happened just over ten years after we arrived in Australia. If only I could have known that a decade after fleeing a war I would just be a refugee all over again. This time from the war that raged at home.
Children shouldn't wonder if their parents like them, I've had to wonder ever since. I will wonder until the day I die and no amount of them saying and doing otherwise will remove that doubt in my mind. Not after such an insurmountable breach of my trust.
I was only 16.