Life’s full of surprises. How you start out isn’t always how you end up. Growing up, I wasn’t a bad girl. I know that’s kind of shocking. Because I certainly turned into one later in life. It doesn’t even make sense to me and I’m me. Imagine how my mother feels.
I’ve tried to hide this for years; it’s embarrassing to admit, but available evidence would support the fact that I was a nerd.
Fact one: I loved to study. I made excuses to not go places on the weekend so I could stay home and read.
I remember going to the Wondai library (I was probably 13) and asking if they had any actual novels. They didn’t. Just Mills and Boon and dog-eared copies of Jackie Collins’s The World is Full of Married Men. It was no wonder most of the girls were pregnant by 16. Even our literary heroes were sluts. I’d read everything at the school library, which was only slightly better stocked. Every night I put the alarm on for 4am so I could get up and do extra work.
Fact two: I actually looked forward to homework. I told my eldest daughter that and she said, ‘I would have bullied you’. She would have. She does now. I became anxious and bored if I felt we didn’t have enough homework. I had mastered the art of turning an hour-long project into something that took a week. I would do two to three hours most mornings, on top of the three hours I did in the evening when I got home from school.
I wrote long stories. I painted. And I wrote terrible poetry. Of course I thought I was quite the talent. I had books and books of the stuff. Free verse. If you were my friend I would make you listen to my sucky sonnets. Thinking back, I didn’t have that many friends. Now I know why.
I would like to apologise to anyone whom I may have harmed by subjecting them to these rambling diatribes of love and social change and sunsets. And seagulls. I wrote about seagulls and I lived 400 kilometres from the nearest beach. Growing up in country Queensland I had a real shortage of metaphors to symbolise the soaring heart. Crows just ate dead shit on the road. It didn’t feel magical. I’d read Jonathan Livingston – I thought seagulls were noble birds. I had no idea they were scumbags who beg for chips.
Fact three: I never got into trouble. Teachers loved me. One nun even wrote me a letter to say I was her favourite student ever. I was compliant. Well behaved. Even kind. Basically I was a really nice kid. Weird, I’ll give you that, but nice. Except for when I was having a sociopathic patch and tipped hot water down fat Sonia’s back when she said her hair was longer than mine. Bitch. But I was four so I think that’s okay. And she was wrong. Mine was longer.
Fact four: I actually enjoyed the company of old people. At seven years old I struck up a friendship with 80-year-old Agnes, the crazy lady down the street who scared children and fed birds. I would sit with her and her hubby Jack and have a cup of tea and cake most afternoons while she fed the hundred or so birds that landed in her kitchen or on her clothesline. Crows, kookaburras, butcher birds and magpies squawking for meat.
I often wonder what my mother thought of my hanging out with old ladies. When she died I was devastated. That’s the downside of hooking up with ageing playmates; like the birds she fed, Agnes also dropped off the perch.
Fact five: When it came to being innovative, there were no limits to what I’d do. I gave a talk on cats dressed as a cat. And no, I wasn’t eight. I was 13. I really should have been bullied for that. But I wasn’t. I think the other kids genuinely felt sorry for me. I mean, what else can you do to a person in a leotard, ears and whiskers? Give them a saucer of milk.
A year later I went to the school disco in an outfit I’d constructed out of garbage bags after reading one of Mum’s Women’s Weeklys and spying a feature on Jeannie Little’s plastic-inspired innovations. We were poor, but we had garbage bags. My Cinderella moment of ‘what will I wear to the school disco’ was solved. By Jeannie Little. Although I almost passed out from the heat.
I adapted the same principle and cut holes in a satin pillowcase and presto! – I had an asymmetrical top. Pretty soon I had re-fashioned our entire linen closet into couture. Sure we had no sheets but on the upside I was always ready for bed. Fact six: I used to look forward to going to church. Of course all that’s changed now. I still love reading but I hate poetry. And seagulls. And church. But every now and then, when no-one is home, I slip into the kitchen, pull out the bottom drawer and fashion myself a garbage bag g-string. Shit, I’m wearing one now. Girl’s gotta keep an edge.