Being popular. Something we all yearn for in school. Something some people have, and others do not. I started my early school experience in the country, then we moved to Sydney where I attended two more primary schools, two high schools and two TAFE colleges. We moved around a lot due to my father being a park ranger. Growing up in national parks was a wonderful experience where, as a family, we were tight, and my brothers and I were our own little gang. We were each others company because we lived in remote locations some of the time, places where other kids came and went, in and out of the surrounding rangers cottages. As a family, we were different! We didn’t really belong to the country, and we only sort of belonged to the city. We were a force unto ourselves. This brought with it some mixed blessings.
I was asked the same questions many times regarding disclosing my address. “Is that Skippy’s address?” “Don’t you live on a real street?” “How do people find you?” I grew tired of explaining the exact location of where I lived, so I followed my brothers lead, and told people I lived in the park. That was it. End of.
We spent the largest chunk of our growing up in a tiny cottage perched on a high cliff in Nielsen Park, suburb – Vaucluse. City – Sydney. We lived beside the most beautiful harbour in the world. This attracted many visitors to our house. It also attracted judgement and resentment. We were not rich, like our neighbors. We did not live in a mansion, and we certainly did not vote Liberal. At school, I got called a Communist because my parents were politically active. I laughed about it and told outrageous stories to my classmates. But inside, I was lonely, and ate lunch with the pigeons. I went through periods where I was really popular and had several friends. Then, all of a sudden, I was not. This left me wondering “What did I do wrong?” The word ‘Loser’ kept flashing through my nine year old brain.
My first high school experience was horrible. I got teased for being friends with a boy who had a disability. I was miserable, and wanted to run away. I started planning my getaway. My parents must have recognized this, because they did the right thing and pulled me out of this miserable place. I then went to an alternative school called Wawina, a sort of hippy place, which I loved. I was popular. But I didn’t realize it. There was an empty place inside myself that yearned for special friendships. I was well liked, loved even. But I had nobody I could invite home to see the trees, swim in the harbor with, share the ‘biggest backyard in the world’ with. Everyone just lived too far away.
Then I met a girl at Sydney TAFE who I had a really wonderful friendship with. It lasted 22 years. We lived the eighties together, her in her outrageous Madonna outfits, and me in my hippy finery. Then onto blokes, Art School, Uni, Teachers College. I had morphed from the hippy phase to the ’60’s obsessed mod phase. I looked fine on the outside, but the years between 1988 and 1992 were drowned in a haze of substance abuse, addiction, abuse and mental health issues. There were fun times, parties, endless invites. But the fun turned on me, and the empty hole inside myself grew into a yawning chasm, threatening to swallow me up whole and claim my life. And I was hanging around some really horrible people. Use. Abuse. Steal. Get abused. That’s how this phase ended up.
But that was all 22 years ago, and I have long since clawed my way out of it. But I cannot help but marvel at the lengths I went to to fill that hole inside myself that felt awkward and craved both popularity and uniqueness at the same time. I just wanted to be loved for being me. My family loved me, but I didn’t love me.
Overcoming terribly negative self talk has taken years, and is a work in progress. I am not the girl with 120 likes on Facebook. I probably never will be. (Well, who can say?) But, after years of rotten relationships with alcoholics, neurotics and shirtless-sleeveless types, I have found the most beautiful man, and the most beautiful dog in the world. (This followed on from my solemn declaration that I was through with dating shirtless, sleeveless types with shirtless, sleeveless type hang-ups. I would get a dog.)
My phone only rings with calls from telemarketers, and I mostly ignore it. I am not the girl with the gazillion friends. But I have family, my man, my dog, his family, an assortment of people on and offline who I like and who like me. And, in spite of a disability, I am a healthy specimen who’s mind and body are into life, not death.
What more can a woman wish for?