Do you ever, or have you ever watched the news and let the disasters of the world just flood in to your lounge room while you're having dinner?Wars, disasters, murders, rape, abductions, redemptions, scandals; all wrapped in succinct packages that aim to give you a sense of being informed about the disasters happening elsewhere.
When you see a report of a human being doing something dangerous or criminal or illogical or just downright foolish do you ever think to put yourself in their place? Do you ever wonder what series of events would lead you to do the same? We're no different, when you really think about it we're all capable of doing something foolish or criminal or dangerous. We just need the right conditions.
We're no different.
We just need the right thing to happen at just the right time in just the right way for our worst moment ending up being reported on by women whose hair is older than their faces; beamed into a lounge room while someone, somewhere has dinner.
You and me, we're no different at all.
I wanted to burn my family home to the ground; I was, maybe 15 or 16 years old. I didn't want to hurt anyone, least of all my family, I just wanted the incredible amount of pain that I was in to stop. At the time igniting the problem seemed like its only solution.
I didn't just think of burning the house down, I almost succeeded.
I went to the shed determined, I got the can where the petrol for the lawn mower was kept, I took a book of matches and I came so close- I was so close to setting fire to the home that never was, at least for me.
Instead of watching the brown, pockmarked walls ignite, an old rubbish bin acted as the scapegoat. It's black, thick plastic sending acrid plumes of smoke into the atmosphere. My mother was inside making a phone call, my sister was in her room, my dad was not home, or hadn't yet arrived. I was ready.
They say that fire is cleansing or healing or at least renewing, well I was going to put it to the test.
It sounds, at least on the face of it, criminal at best and downright fucked at worst to think that a 15 year old was happy to burn the house he lived in, rendering him and his family homeless or worse. Yes, that much is true. The news reports would recount in their beige and banal manner the tragedy that has unfolded to people you will never meet of hear of again.
"A house was deliberately lit in Dandenong North this evening, police and the Metropolitan Fire Service are at the scene, a fifteen year old boy is helping police with their investigations..."
That's true, well it would have been true and taken out of context it sounds criminal and dangerous and devastating. Have you ever tried, really tried to understand or at the very least acknowledge that you too have the capacity to this sort of thing, this potentially lethal act?
We're no different you know, you and me.
I put it to you, that you would have wanted to ignite that house, to watch its thin walls turn to ashes. For its frame, supporting walls and roof tiles to just crumble to the ground. In fact, I put it to you, it's a small wonder that I hadn't tried to do it earlier.
If those walls could speak, maybe they would have asked to be ignited earlier or at least demolished. Let someone else try and make those bricks and mortar a home because my family had failed, in fact failed without even trying.
It was in that home where I endured beatings, more than once with weapons. It was from that home that I was asked to leave, it was that very place that saw my parents turn on me, twice with a machete strike across my back and once with their bare hands wrapped around my throat.
It was to that home that the police were called time and time again to get my father off of me, or to make yet another report of family violence.
Family violence- it makes it sound like it's a cottage industry, something you can make to have with jam or cream. It's really probably better called home terrorism, because that's what it is.
It was that home where the people who pushed me to the point where I felt like making an attempt on my own life was all that was available to me. It was to that place that I was dropped off to by a taxi that was in fact paid for by the hospital because no family member was willing or able to collect me from Emergency. Not even after the staff there carefully and dutifully stitched my wrists back to their normal 'closed' position.
Can you blame me? Can you really?
Can you blame the fact that my immature and infantile brain had been conditioned to violence and terror and the only solution I saw was incendiary? Can you judge me for wanting to see the end to suffering, trauma and the repeated beatings by taking a match to a building and starting again, clean?
I'm not proud of this, I'm not even proud of thinking to wanting to do this. However, I remember that back then I was a child with severe mental illness and PTSD- that doing something like that would be inexcusable but in a way, understandable.
I'm glad that whatever part of my brain that is responsible for forethought stepped in and the only victim was an ugly, disused rubbish bin.
I watch the news religiously, partly because it's my job to be up to date with what is happening but also in the manner that an anthropologist might watch a tribe of people. I watch with curiosity, not a curiosity to find out how depraved we are as a species. It's more a curiosity about what series of circumstances would drive a person to commit an unspeakable act.
I also try and watch with kindness, to myself for being so desperate in the face of an unchanging situation so as to do something drastic but also kindness to the stranger I'll never meet or hear from again.
We've all got it in us to do something unspeakable and certainly thinking things that we are not proud of. I've been there, at the time it felt like the only solution to an inescapable problem. Now- now it feels like a bullet dodged, a pain never realised and a shame never felt.
I never, ever let myself believe that for a moment, in the middle of winter some decades ago I almost marched straight into your dinner time news. Not for something that I wanted to do desperately but for something that was a direct result of all the things that happened to me.
The physical manifestation of a million wounds both physical and emotional that at the time had no prospect of healing.
You and me, we're no different you know.
We're no different.