At the moment of writing I don't really talk to my family. I can't. When I mention this to people I am encountered with bewilderment or pity. It's really neither of those things it's self protection. I do not dislike them at all, and if they ever truly needed me I would be there but I keep my distance. Sometimes I feel if I went as far away as is humanly possible on earth from where they live it would not be far enough because eventually you would start coming back around the other side of the globe.
I really want to make it clear though that it's not dislike, it's really about self preservation. Being with and amongst my family, even just via text message throws my body into complete fight or flight mode. While fight or flight was my default setting when I was living in a house that was marred with violence and built like an avalanche, now that the danger has passed my body seems to not have forgotten. I wish my central nervous system understood the difference between being attacked by a tyrannosaurus rex and post traumatic stress.
When my family message me via text or attempt to call me my chest constricts as if I have a very heavy animal trying to nest on it, my heart races, my palms get sweaty, my stomach ties itself in knots and I feel that I am under a life or death situation that needs to me to lash out and fight for my life or to run for it. It wasn't after my third extended stint of psychiatric therapy for post traumatic stress disorder that the doctor helped me to realise that the adaptation that most humans have to fight or to fly has become a default setting for me. I'm still trying to reset that switch.
In fact, my psychiatrist, a handsome man with a mean mop of hair and who is not that much older than me, called my constant desire to flee a 'very creative adjustment'. Something that when living in a house where domestic violence was not just common but customary, was beneficial because it allowed me to escape at a moment's notice; however at age 31 that instinct was making my body erupt in panic attacks and fits of anxiety when the danger had in fact long passed. At age 31 I can say that I have now spent more time living away from home on my own than at home. Actually, I should say that I have spent more time living away from my parent's house than in their house.
It was never a home.
Michael Jackson once told Oprah that when he used to see his father, Joseph Jackson he would 'regurgitate'. Not just vomit, but regurgitate. That's how I felt about my father, that's how my body feels about him today. Much like your body rejects poisons, my body rejects the notion, the very idea of my father. I had this conversation with my youngest sister the least offensive member of my family, or at least I tried to have it with her. We eventually reach a point where she chalks up my feelings to anger and rage and all I need is 'healing.' Which is not only a copout, I think it masks her deep fears of feeling the same way.
I don't wish my father a premature death but I often find myself thinking that I would like him to die just so I can finally bury the notion that I did not have a father figure in my life with his coffin. I'm not angry with my father, I'm largely apathetic about him. I'm angry at the fact that he did not see anything in me that was worth protecting. I always had a feeling that I was disappointing him, or if I wasn't disappointing him at a particular moment, that I would when he found out that I was gay.
My body is covered with the scars of my father's treatment. He would hit us with whatever was handy, often a belt, electrical cables, his hands. The most awful injuries were the psychological ones. He knew what he could say to make you feel disgusting, to make you feel inferior and at the same time make you feel like you were nothing without him. There were so many examples of abuse and trauma. Words that I find hard to use about myself but words that my psychiatrist uses to refer to my history. I'm still trying to own them, and not succeeding at it yet.
It's the psychological violence that gets you. That's the one that scars you in the places you can't see. The anxiety, the rushing heart rate, the need to flee, that's the manifestation of the scars that while hidden to the general public are still gaping and raw to me. I want to be clear that we all suffered at the hands of my father. My brother, my sisters, my mother, me.
A small part of me would like to think that he suffered by his own actions himself. This is not their story though, this is mine. Not only is their story not mine to tell, it's not the one I feel and live with every day.
The examples are so many but these awful attacks on all of us but these are the ones that hit me like a shot to the back.
On the 1st of June 1994, the eve of my 11th birthday my parents began fighting so much they tore ribbons from each other's faces. I sparked that fire but without wanting to. I often ironed my own school uniform myself, but since I had forgotten to wash it and since I didn't want to get our nanny into trouble (whose job it was to also do domestic chores around the house, labour in El Salvador is cheap) I hid my school pants.
For reasons that I don't understand my father demanded to see my school pants. Our nanny couldn't find them because of course she didn't know where they were since I hid them and I refused to say that I had hid them so my mother was to blame, at least according to my father. One thing led to another and they began arguing, then they began throwing punches. We lived in a two storey townhouse and I remember they brawled up and down the stairs wanting to be the first to throw the most painful, knockout blow.
During one point, my father went to thrown one of his bespoke leather soled shoes at my mother with the force of someone that didn't want to hurt but with the force of someone that wanted to kill. My mother, ever so agile ducked at the right time and the shoe hit me square in the chest. The pain reverberated through me, it made my teeth clench and chatter. My father looked horrified and then he blamed my mother for ducking and having the audacity to avoid assault and in so doing cause me injury.
My father left home that night. My aunty, his sister, came to collect him. The day after he came back to the door with the biggest birthday cake I had ever seen. We stood about five metres apart, him at the door and me in the living room. He gave the cake to our nanny to give to me. He didn't look at me.
Fast forward some five or six years later when we had moved back to Australia. A short time before my birthday, my father had a violent explosion whose cause I don't remember. With a baseball bat he smashed everything in my bedroom. He broke all the little tchotchkes I kept in my room, my stereo, even my bed. My bed was written off, my stereo was unusable, all my photos in frames were destroyed. I had to sleep on a mattress on the floor. Actually calling it a mattress was a bit rich, it was only the seat cushions of the sofa that I used overnight while no one had use for the sofa.
On the morning of my birthday, a couple of weeks later. I heard my dad come home while I was still asleep on a "mattress" on the floor. He slowly opened my bedroom door and slid a brand new stereo in a box onto the floor opposite me. I pretended I was asleep so I wouldn't have to look or speak to him. He left the stereo on the floor for me to find and he left as quickly as he entered. He didn't wish me a happy birthday.
To this day, I never celebrate my birthday.
The last straw came when one night I didn't come home. I met a guy on the internet and we went to a No Doubt concert at Festival Hall in Melbourne and I didn't come home that night. My parents were besides themselves, whereas I was sleeping in the bed of a guy I had only just met. While he was a stranger for me that night we ended up having a very complicated but in many, many ways a beautiful relationship afterwards. There are people that you never will forget, he is that to me. I think of him almost every day not in a romantic way, but in a way that just wishes him well. He's the only person I've ever met who could still look pretty to me, when he was putting the damage on. Even still.
When I managed to get myself home the next morning my father was furious. To teach me a lesson he destroyed everything in my room.
He broke my desk, the stereo he had given me, all my CD's. Being the morning I still had to go to school. When I came back home all of my possessions were in the rubbish. Not just the items that were damaged by my father's hand but my clothes too.
To this day I think my father wanted to see the humiliation of me having to retrieve all my clothes out of the main rubbish bin where they were mixed with the food scraps and empty milk bottles. I never gave him that satisfaction, I retrieved every single item of clothing proudly and returned it to what was left of my room. The next day I made an application at a housing service asking for me to be moved out of my home and placed in a residential care facility.
Two weeks later I was living in a safe house in Chelsea, managed by a caseworker who helped me find emergency food, income support, youth allowance payments and money to pay for my schoolbooks. I was only in year eleven. The most shameful experience of my life to this day is not digging up my worldly possessions from the trash but knocking on the Citizens Advice Bureau in Moorabbin and asking the clerk on duty for a food parcel because I had no money. No secure housing. No family I could rely on and that I was hungry and needed food.
My parents fought viciously and often. These incidents were not isolated, they are just the ones that I remember the most. I used to record all the fights my parents had. I think I still have some old cassettes with their brawls in a box somewhere. I didn't record them because they were enjoyable but because I had a genuine feeling that one day they would kill each other and we needed to have proof of it. In fact, I really feared that my father would kill my mother and if I didn't record it no one would believe me because I was too young. I started recording them when I was eight years old. I stopped when I was twelve or thirteen.
All of these experiences I think give me the anxiety and terror I feel when being anywhere near my family, or even when they message me. When I'm near them or when they approach me I go into instinctive flight mode.
When I was younger, I used to walk into a room and the first thing I did was to figure out an escape strategy. This was automatic, it wasn't something I wanted to do but it was something I did. Sometimes if I'm in a meeting, or if my mind is wandering I will scan wherever I am and devise an escape plan if I need it. It's what's kept me alive. This isn't the only quirk I carry that I can attribute to their ill treatment. My mother in particular like to berate me for being selfish. I never, ever felt selfish but it was her favourite adjective for me.
To this day, if I'm eating something as benign as a packet of crisps or a chocolate bar I don't eat all of it and I throw it on the floor for the birds to feast on, just to prove to myself that I'm not as selfish as they think I am. I just wanted that recognition, and I still do. I strive for it. I don't see myself as an overachiever, although some have said that of me. I think deep down I'm just incredibly insecure and I'm still wanting the affection I wanted from my parents.
I felt that no matter the many academic awards I won at school, the myriad of things I was involved with, the consistently great marks I achieved it was never good enough. Because had it been then I would have felt more loved than I was. I was so alone that I would go to the Dandenong Municipal Library to use a new and still developing technology called the Internet. You had to book a day in advance to secure a one hour spot on a library computer where you could log on to whatever chatroom your heart desired and talk to strangers from all across the world. It was safer for me to talk to strangers all over the world than to be at home.
Getting out to use the Internet at my local library not only allowed me to chat to strangers in other parts of the world it allowed me to get out of the house. I would catch the 848 bus to Dandenong CBD after school and not return until the last bus back at about 7pm. I would eat and then hide in my room until the next day. It was safer that way. My parents never really questioned where I was going and why. It could have been because they trusted me or because they didn't really care. In truth, it was probably a combination of the two.
The return bus would leave from a bus stop that was located in front of a car park. At the street level of the multi storey car park was a toilet. Dandenong in the late 90s was known for heroin addicts and the local Market, both of which were, and still are, institutions. I avoided the toilet at all costs not because the heroin addicts that shot up in there were scary or dangerous but because I thought they were.
Once out of necessity one day I just needed to go. inside I found all sorts of writing on the wall suggesting meeting times for guys to get together at the public toilet and fuck. I had never, ever heard of a beat. I didn't even really know that gay people existed. I knew they existed but I didn't know they existed here. Every night I would go into the toilet just to read the graffiti, sometimes too jerk off, all of this so I could feel a part of a community that while only interested in sex, made me feel like I was not alone.
Since I had a phone extension in my room, I thought I would put my phone number there for someone else to call me. I wanted to talk to someone that was gay. I wanted to reach out to someone and I wanted someone to reach out to me. This sounded like a brilliant idea while horny and elated at the thought of being the only gay in the village but in reality wasn't the best of ideas when we were sitting down watching Wheel of Fortune.
The phone rang, my sister answered and was met with a request for gay phone sex. She hung up and told them they had the wrong number. My brother wrote it off as someone playing a prank because our phone number was very easy to remember (which it was) and that was the end of it. The very next day I walked in to that toilet block intent on making sure my home phone number no longer appeared under the many 'ring a root' notices. Thankfully the City of Greater Dandenong had painted over the wall and also over my phone and my phone number had disappeared from view.
I was very lonely growing up. There were so many times that my life could have taken another turn. I tried to commit suicide when I was teenager more times than I can remember. Whether it was consuming copious amounts of pills, slashing my body to ribbons and once almost jumping from a building, almost. I backed off the ledge because the building that I was about to jump from probably wasn't enough to kill me immediately, it would have certainly broken my legs.
Once, while quite drunk or stoned I had to convince myself that I probably should not jump in front of a train. It was so close. Had I spent a little while more thinking about it I would not be here today. I felt so lonely, so afraid and so alone. I didn't have a lot of friends growing up, I still don't but the ones that I do carry a piece of my heart with them, and they probably don't even know that. Growing up I felt that if my parents did not love me enough to value what I had to offer, then who could?
Once after my father saw me eat a whole box of Panadol and then go and lie on my bed and wait for the fate that I was hoping would find me, laughed and told me to 'fucking die already, you faggot. If you were going to kill yourself you'd do it properly, like a man'. I only passed out to wake up feeling violently ill, and still alive. I wasn't sure which was worse.
What you see today is the product of the many thousand small acts of kindness that many people have given me or shown to me. If you've done as little as given me a smile when unbeknownst to you I needed it, I thank you.
I owe my life to the people that I love.
I've felt so much shame for so long about my body, about my feelings, about my desires, about fears, my insecurities and my weaknesses.
"But I can see that star, when she twinkles, and she twinkles. And I sure can, and that means I sure can.