The first time he hit her, he did not leave bruises that could be touched.
The second time, he did not leave a mark, but tore her clothes. There are many life-long advantages to a youth dedicated to Rugby.
He had the strength to rip her library book clear in half. Cracked horizontally across the spine. Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling went spinning across the bedroom floor. She returned it a month late, with a weak excuse.
“I just don’t know how this could possibly have happened,” she had said, quietly. Because every body knows; you cannot tear a book!
You could tell a lot about her by her library card at the time.
Kierkegaard says, “Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so anyone who has not made this movement does not have faith, for only in infinite resignation does an individual become conscious of his eternal validity, and only then can one speak of grasping existence by virtue of faith.”
In other words, one must give up everything but faith, and in so doing, realise that this too, is proof of a loving God. That’s Kierkegaard.
Her boyfriend told her, in the painful, long hours of his assaults, that she should be more careful than to push him like this.
During his night-time attacks she would go to bed, with books.
She read Nietche, Joseph Campbell, recipees, looked at garden design, how not to age badly, how to handle difficut teenagers, and interpretations of The Lords Prayer, some pop thrillers which she couldn’t get into.
He would maintain a routine of working out, blasting music, or stock market news, then bursting in to switch off the lights, singing wildly or whistling happily, clicking his fingers to the beat. Telling her to get out. Telling her she looked like shit. Throwing books.
The Trickery and Deception of Women.
Women as the Real Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse.
How Women Disguise Themselves as Victims to Cops, to Courts and to the World.
The Secret of Life – Harden the F@ck Up!
People are All, At the End of The Day; C@nts.
You Cant Beat Luck.
and one of his favourires; “A Man’s Gotta Eat”.
“Once this boat has sailed, there is no stopping it!” he would promise.
And he was the captain of that sick vessel. And he was the storm he loved to thrash her through as well.
The third time he roughed her up, he made a mistake.
She struggled after the first hour or so of pushing, of screaming, of tearing at the sheets and marching her through the rooms. He had to manage her with a little more force.
That time, he left a patchwork of vivid indigo across her body. Across her neck. Down her side. And a scatter of fingerprints that left a trail of blue frangipanis around her arm.
That time, he pinned her to the chaotic bed, and pressed his lips with an erotic ferocity right up to hers. He looked at her, with a passionate beauty in his golden eyes, and breathed the hot breath of intimacy, heavy in her face. He pinned her, breast to chest, and whispered, like a lover; I will murder you.
And she believed him. When he got up, he stood a while to bask in the view of her wreckage.. He stood over her, pulled her up to sit square to his chest, straddling him. She wriggled free, pushed him back, stood up, and smacked his face so hard his skull span sharp right.
He liked that.
Today she finds herself at a ‘recruitment office’ in her girlhood neighbourhood, wearing a dress that has been washed to transparency, in tatty $7 sneakers, being offered $400 for clothes.
She had given up her job on her tiny island home as a yoga teacher, and all her private coaching work, and actually, an entire plot line to be here. She had told her friends; I am going to be the soul of the love story, and he is going to make the whole world safe for us. They had looked at her sideways and picked at their gluten free muffins with tiny forks in manicured fingers, and said… well, we’re really happy for you, honey.
She had moved to a world where a hair cut cost the equivalent of 3 weeks rent, and where she did not have even a fingerhold on the culture anymore, let alone the corporate world, which had become more Survivor than she remembered.
So, she had come to fulfil her monthly appointment, an hour late, because she had lost the first three hours of the day staring at the wall of their bedroom in a quiet, aimless kind of prayer.
This prayer went something like…. God – or that non-anthropomorphic mystery behind the various God-like masks out there: help me!
It was not really an emergency sort of prayer.
There was nothing really clingy about it.
It was the sort of prayer you might make if you had accidentally run into a glass wall – in that moment before you passed out, or shook yourself. Where there is no real pain, just a sort of elongated Oooowww…. And a huh?! It was more of a swoon, really.
The cup of tea beside her was stone cold. It has tasted sour, as usual. She wondered if this was because of how they treat the cows, to get the milk. Or because of how she has become lately: much like those cows, she was imagining.
I have another boil today.
That makes four.
She has a boil on her butt, one on her right side, one on the chin, and one on the inside of her nose – making its return after two months and two courses of antibiotics. Boils, as she has discovered, are not fun. They hurt. They seethe. They are stubborn, squat little bloating volcanoes of molten puss and lava that never give the satisfaction of erupting. They just keep widening their haunches, topping up the ammunition that only seeps from their oozy craters. The worst of them lies deep under their seeping cones. They swell. They get hot. They beg to be squeezed but do not know how to succumb to that disastrous pleasure.
Whatever gruesome force of nature that produces boils as its flowers frog marches invisibly through the rest of her body, curdling her tongue, thickening her lymph, wrapping tentacles around her heart, which feels limp and ugly, like a strange thing, netted out of the deep, and left to die slowly, flapping on the desolate shore of her geography. She is an infected continent, wretched with poisonous subterranean rivers of secrets and infection, causing her to be coming ever closer to the condition you might well see in a battery farmed dairy cow… misery.
There is a misery that cracks open, causing spectacles of hopeless wailing and catharsis. But this is not the variety she is being apprenticed to.
This misery is a far more bright, and even bouncy variety.
This misery does not cause all day in bed, or nights on the floor with Tori Amos and cigarettes.
It causes, frenzies of house cleaning, baking of cakes, making of little wild flower posies, washing of floors and putting on of lipstick. And it causes, boils.
Boils, which, according to Louise Hay, are the manifestation of unexpressed rage.
In Hay’s writing, which is itself, part of the foundation of the possible boil that is the whole New Age Idea, which she has been flirting with for over a decade of great hope and rising irritation, Louise diagnoses the psycho-emotional root of physical illness to help us read the language of the body. So our dis-eases can help point to our personal growth, instead of directly to the pharmacy.
BOILS: Anger, Boiling over. Seething.
Louise’s cure is affirmations.
This is the one she gives her:
I express love & joy. I am at peace.
So, you can see just how deep this trouble is going to get, right? But she, because of a combination of disbelief, psychological disordering and chemical deluges which would later be explained to her by a doctor, and a writer and a lawyer, had absolutely no idea how to help herself.
She cleaned windows. She polished doors, walls, fridge shelves, teapots, and dog collars. She made muffins. Squeezed juices. Became obedient. Pleasing. Tubby. Depressed. Despairing, and jubilant on those days when The Words didn’t hurt her, when she was not dragged out of bed to sleep with the dogs – on those days she felt so delirious with hope and happiness, she could be radiant with joy. There were so many happy days.
On those days, the boils itched with the seething part of their business, she supposed. There is the seething, and then the raging – they go together, one drip-feeding the other. Louise says the problem is what is not said.
But that’s not quite right, she would tell her, because the anger that fuels her furious volcanoes has been extremely well expressed.
Fucking no-hope, religious, loser fucking c@nt!
Dirty user, fat, wrinkled miserable old boiler c@nt!
I’m not going to put up with any more of your shit!
I deserve better.
I am a good man.
I am a great man.
And this! After every thing I’ve done for you!
You sexless old bitch.
I want a girlfriend better than this shit.
I want passionate loving!
I want to fuck.
And you… you’re just a dried up battle axe user!
He shoots a final c@nt! Before he closes the front door neatly and steps out into the glorious early summer morning in Sydney to head off for his office job in the city.
He had been ironing his Friday clothes – casual-wear Friday – through the hours-long barrage this morning. He had showered, applied a heavy dose of his newly replenished favourite cologne, Egoist, ironed a fresh white T-shirt and light blue chinos. He had made espresso from a pod, patted the dogs, checked the stock market, said goodbye to his son, and taken his meds.
Between all of which, he had made diligent return visits to her, propped up in bed, to fire a succession of point-blank rounds of The Words that did not, really, any more, even hurt her.
She was passed being hurt.
He had shot to kill so many times in the last 3 months, there was nothing left to bleed.
Besides, he would come home at 6, perhaps with flowers, or a little white bag with three tiny pairs of Calvin Klein knickers, or a pot of expensive cream, or perfume, a dinner invitation, and they would have fun together again. Or, perhaps he would sustain this raging menace through text and email all day, and walk in at 6, with his heels hard against the wood floor in leather soles, to unleash a cyclone for the entire night. It was uncertain: there was always hope. They might cook together, and dance in the kitchen, and sip champagne. If She was very good.
But she did boil.
She boiled up.
It was his rage that filled her harvest of summer boils. Not hers. She wasn’t even angry any more.
And she wasn’t even frightened.
He had already told her, in a wild cascade of scorching blunt word weaponry and wrestling a few weeks ago that there were easy ways out of the tempest. She could fuck him. The ways he wanted her to. Every time. And she could just be gentle – like she promised everybody that she was, like she ‘sold herself’: then everything would be perfect.
He had laid out the rules to help to make things perfect. And then he would make her his wife. And they would get a puppy and go on holidays to New Zealand.
Pyjamas were forbidden.
Well, not exactly forbidden. If she wanted to wear them, and if he was tired, or gorged, or drunk enough, then they had better be ‘lifters’; then he might let it slide.
But if she wore them and he wanted to cuddle, or sex, and had the energy – or woke up with it – then there would be hell to pay. Wrestling matches with all 90+ kilos of him. Torn clothing. Screaming. Sheets ripped off and commands to Get Out!, or to sleep with the dogs, or texts to her brother, or friends, accusing her of domestic violence, or calls to the police, “to humiliate you, like you have done to me!”
“I promise you, I will do these things. You have to be taught. You have to be taught theconsequences!” Or, “Ok, bitch,we’re staying up all night doing this. I’ll take a day off work tomorrow, just so I can have the pleasure of doing this…
Or there would be The Words.
Bitch. Sl@t. Boiler. Loser. Liar. Evil human.
Passage ways blocked.
A dark house.
Me clutching a shambles of bags I could run away with.
Feeling along the dark walls, looking for a window or a door I could get out through.
Him, in all the shadows.
Him, wrestling my laptop out of my hands and dangling it over the pool.
Him easily grabbing my wrist and tackling me into the corner of the couch. There are so many benefits to a youth invested in rugby.
Him demanding; Look at me! Keep looking at me. I never want you to stop looking at me while I do this.
Lecturing, shouting, slowly pinning me down, sucking me down, demanding my answers to his salad of bizarre demands and accusations.
The police at the door.
Yes, I am safe.
A weeping man.
“I’ll murder you.” He said it like a kink.
“I’ll fucking murder you!” Softly.
But she didn’t panic then.
In a sense, in the main sense of it, he already had.
And she had Louise Hay: “I express love and joy: I am at peace.”
She had unconsciously made small paper animals out of torn tissue she was clutching. One of them looks like a stingray. She is utterly amazed! There, on the tear and adrenaline-soaked couch at 4am, swollen and completely punch-drunk, she is holding a tiny, perfectly made little origami stingray.
The next day, she looks up Stingray in an online totem guide to see whether her fragile little friend is part of some over-arching meaning system that will help her understand this experience. To put it in a context other than horror.
PRIMAL ZODIAC SIGN OF STINGRAY
A seeming contradiction in terms, those born under the sign of the Stingray are adventurous, humanitarian, generous, sincere, rebellious, and emotionally fragile all at the same time. To some this energy may come across as chaotic and wild, which it certainly can be from time to time, but Stingrays are also deep thinkers, dreamers, and idealists. Though they can be sullen and elusive from time to time, members of this sign always stand up for what they believe in.
Like their animal namesake, those born under the sign of the Stingray are mostly harmless. They spend most of their time sitting back and observing, planning, and considering their options. Also like the stingray, members of this sign don’t strike out unless pushed. While they may spend a great deal of time quietly lingering in the background, they are not afraid to stand up for themselves, and can be a very formidable opponent to those who assail their deepest beliefs and personal freedom…
Stingrays are often attracted to mysterious people, places, and things as well. They relish the unusual and the unexplained, and believe there is far more to life than what our five senses can reveal. Stingrays are also very emotionally unstable. They can vacillate between moods at any given time, and are not very good with moderation. This is a sign that is prone to addiction and escapism if left to their own devices. Though they seem to be very stoic in their beliefs, members of this sign are always second-guessing themselves and others. They are much more emotionally fragile than they seem and get their feelings hurt very easily.
Does not strike out unless pushed.
She is at the job finding agency she has been sent to by Centrelink. They are ‘doing the paperwork’.
She is sitting next to her ‘case worker’ in her ‘back to work’ cubicle. She is a tiny Asian woman in a spectacle of glitter synthetics and new heeled dancing shoes. She doesn’t even look at her. She hasn’t spoken one word to her in the 10 minutes she’s been sitting here. She doesn’t know her name.
She is probably repulsed by the boils, she thinks.
Maybe she thinks I am ugly.
Or a failure.
Or a spoilt old white woman who should have got her shit together years ago.
Maybe she thinks I’m fine?
Maybe I look fine?
It’s hard to believe.
The boils prod her with their stumpy elbows, move in deeper to her jaw, nestle in and take up more space, secrete their sick streams of secrets through all her flesh and rivers. She feels hot. And weak. And hideous.
Maybe she thinks I am an HIV case?
Maybe she thinks I am a loser c@nt no hoper spiritual bullshit boiler as well.
She is, afterall, here on Centrelink.
They do the necessities.
She is upset.
Or maybe she is angry.
Can anybody see me?
I mean… helllloooo! Here it is: the whole sorry, dripping, swelling face of At Risk…
She has heard a vivacious ‘case worker’ in the next cubicle offering another ‘client’ education, courses – “we can do incredible things for people, really! There’s just so much on offer; training courses, introductions.. most people have no idea!” she had been brightly promising.
She wants to put her hand out, in a sort of Please, sir… way, but she is afraid to. Ashamed to. And then she blurts out anyway, to the dancing shoes lady; “is there maybe any more you can do to help me?”
Like what? The synthetic lady snaps.
“Oh, courses, training, introductions.. things like that, perhaps?”
You want to do a Cert in Scaffolding?
What do you want? She demands.
What do you want!
She met this boyfriend of her almost exactly six months ago, to the day, at a reunion. She had flown in to Sydney from Asia where she had been living for 8 years, on and off, between work and research and travel around southeast Asia, South America and the States, studying health and mythology, reporting for magazines, looking for a better place, teaching and watching how quickly the old things are falling apart. Being pulled apart, really, everywhere.
She had flown in to the adopted city of her youth after 15 years of never looking back.
But she wanted to go back. To see this group of people she had a history with. The first ones to befriend her, betray her, admire her, smoke with her, bully her, make her one of their counselors, a captain, a subject of disturbing, inexplicable tensions and desires that swarmed and swelled in this Australian culture in which she was not raised… all of that.
She wanted to bless it all, the whole fiasco, by showing up, at this stage of the game, and seeing us all now as equals, made vulnerable by the decades, and the few that remain – and to pay respects to all their roles as friends, foe, lovers and villains. It seemed like a sacred thing, of sorts.
And it was a wonderful night!
She kicked on.
Because she could.
No kids. No spouse. No 9-5. No cat. Nowhere to be tomorrow.
She kicked on with a little fray that got smaller, got more honest, more drunk, a little mean, a little ugly. Some were nasty drunk . One spat at her, “don’t you dare tell me you know what it is to struggle!” and plunged, scowling into her vodka, supported by two men of their party, wearing anguish deep in their skin, and sitting like fierce guardian bookends to the two women between them. It was messy, but there was loyalty there. She saw evidence of something deep and terrible that she did not have the grammar for.
There were two guys she had mostly stuck to; a self-confessed bully-turned gentle giant, and the other one who she never knew before, but seemed clean-cut now, seemed sober, reserved, quiet. And who invited her home at 3am, under the glittery stars, in the clean velvet sea-kissed beauty of the witching hour of the world’s most exquisite new city.
Are you safe? she’d asked him, tipsy, but not in the habit of going to anybody’s home, ever, really – overnight. Even now.
Are you safe? I mean, I’m not…. You know; I’m not coming home to go to bed with you! she laughed. She had been laughing and dancing and listening and wide open to the incredible stories of 100 people’s lives all night. She was wearing a white dress she had picked out with her brother. She had glittery shoes on.
Yes. I am totally, honestly, truly safe, he said. Come. It’s not far, and I can drop you back to where you stay in the morning tomorrow. Let’s talk more. I’ll make you some tea. It’s fine. Really. Come.
She looked him dead in the face. “Yes, but what do you really want” she’d asked him.
And the world stood still.
And they both knew it.
In a taxi.
To his place.
And she moved in two months later.
He had flown into his first rage on the first night she had come with her boxes.
It was about sex.
It went on for hours.
She can feel her breath: it’s a yoga thing.
She can feel her breath as if it were dry, processed air traveling though weathered old tubes, heaving through the plumbing of some old factory.
She can feel the whole cosmos – the world seems compleltely open to her – too open – the air dangerously thin, like the ozone has been burnt out of it, the sun dangerously close, all moist things in cinders. She feels like a very small thing, traveled way too far. And drifting, without that gentle clutch of the earth, beyond the fingertips of gravity that pull us all back to a world the right size for a woman.
She notices the sky outside the window.
It is a thin blue-grey. Like fine tissue – like a sheath of fine skin, fascia, bloodless and stretched to a discomforting sheen. The big gums bounce and sway. Their delicate leaves caress the breeze prettily. Birds. Australian birds make pre-historic squeaks and screeches as they wheel between the roof tops and wheelie bins and power lines and empty parks and gardens.
Inside the room she is under linen printed with lovely flowers, leaves and little birds. This is her unquiet nest. She is allowed about one quarter of this space. The side close to the window. All of her possessions are in three piles beside her – a few dresses hang ridiculously in the mirrored robe. There is the tumble of books, a wash bag, clothes that, day by day, seem to be the shed skin of somebody who was once here, somebody who died, and left a scruffy mess behind.
She has this one little bit of territory. It is only invaded periodically. She is allowed to perch here, sometimes alone, quietly, and sometimes as subject and spectator to assualts of The Words, of hands, explosions of muscle, tackles and lectures… there are so many advantages to a youth dedicated to rugby… to those eloquent streams of abuse – each word almost lovingly polished, arranged for a beauty of tempo and impact, that it’s as if this has all…..
Back at the recruitment office she can feel something coming. She is going to fall apart. There is panic. A thick, mucousy fluid is rising from her heart to her eyes, slowly, like syrupy in a syringe. It is pushing up to where there would once have been sweetwater; tears.
The misery is going to do it. It is going to seep over the leathery old edges of the Leviathan inside her. It is going to betray her.
She does something like crying. She seeps a strange, gluey resin from her eyes. If they are tears, they are amber. They don’t run. They coagulate.
Her mouth dries out to the point where she feels it might crack, like eroded soil, and she will need to spit out dried up husks of her own tongue, petrified teeth, demolished gums and scant streams of a rancid scum that is squeezing up off her sick waters.
The case workers open their eyes extra wide.
They make ‘oh dear’ sorts of noises.
They tutt. They keep going with the job. They say that maybe she should come back when she’s calmer?
The bright one invites her to move to her cublicle. There is so much we can do for you. “We saw a lawyer, only yesterday. A high-powered criminal lawyer. He was on $300 thou plus, but he quit because of the stress. He was just over it. So he was here with me. Like you. Looking for a Survival Job. Thats what we call it. It’s ok. It’s normal. Don’t worry. Sometimes that’s all you can do.”
She doesn’t pass her a tissue. She takes two anyway. No totem animals appear in either of them. Somebody brings a polystyrene cup of frightened-looking water. She feels herself gasping through the dry old tubes attached to her body, she is losing contact with the shape of it, floating too close to strange planets, sucking like a coma victim on mechanical air, while somebody close by talks about studying English Teaching, Counselling, about how she could get some new clothes, maybe a phone, and …
They strongly encouraged her to see a doctor about the boils. They look very painful. Go and get them seen to.
At the Mall she stumbles about in the glamorous corridors to find a pharmacist to ask if there is anything for boils. He takes a look at her face, and flinches. He says, I really think you need a doctor for those.
She stumbles on and finds a Medical Clinic. It’s first come, first serve. She is first. He is Indian Australian. With a nice clean shirt, ironed pants and a wife.
He takes a swab.
He writes a script for three courses of antibiotics.
“There’s one for you, and one for your boyfriend, and a spare,” he says. “He is probably infecting you. He will need to be treated.
And, maybe you should get a different boyfriend?” he quips, inexplicably.
Well, he laughs. She does whatever her uninhabited body manages to do. And then there is a sudden, split second nuclear event in which her soul, estranged astronaut, lands heavily back on her continent in time unmeasurable by linear tools, and she knows she is going to do it. She is going to tell somebody. Somebody with power.
Yes. I should. she says.
He’s not a good man. The doctor chuckles, reaching for the script off his printer.
He is hurting me…. and a scum of hot, gluey tears fogs the room and tangles up her eyelashes before spilling, like tree sap, onto her face, which feels like it has been peeled.
The doctor, miraculously, snaps to, takes time into his clean hands, and shapes it into a large body of clear water. He pushes his chair back, sits deeper in it. He puts down his pen. He moves to face her, body to body, and says… “Tell me. What’s happening?”
.. Ω ..
And Kierkegaard had had a dream: “I have thought of adapting [the legend of] Agnes and the Merman from an angle that has not occurred to any poet. The Merman is a seducer, but when he has won Agnes’ love he is so moved by it that he wants to belong to her entirely.
But this, you see, he cannot do, since he must initiate her into his whole tragic existence, that he is a monster at certain times, etc., that the Church cannot give its blessing to them.
He despairs and in his despair plunges to the bottom of the sea and remains there, but Agnes imagines that he only wanted to deceive her. ..if only the Merman could believe, his faith perhaps could transform him into a human being.”