In a movie the other day I watched a young girl kiss the envelope containing her first piece of writing before she shoved it into the slot of a red post box. Elsewhere, someone in another movie, talked about how you might put your wish into a bottle. Then ship it off to sea. 

Or turn your bottle into a type of genie. When you rub the sides or open its cork a genie pops out, and voila, you have three wishes. 

A wish in a bottle without a genie speaks to me of the blue/green of oceans and a glass container that has made its way over the water and past many lands to find itself on some remote coastline.

To be found by some unlikely person, usually a child, who will unravel your note, cherish your words, and bring your voice into the light of the day. 

That’s not my only wish these days. I have a far greater wish percolating away, though I’m not now free to say.

Early in 1993 when Paul Keating brought the Labour party back into office for a final term, I sensed my luck was in. I knew I was carrying the speck of an infant inside my belly but fearful it might slip away, just as its predecessor had done months before.

I had anticipated an early menopause at 42 and that I might never enjoy the pleasure of another baby in my arms. I kept this wish to myself, until I was certain this speck had every chance of coming to fruition. 

This little wish is now 28 years old.

Otherwise, my wish today takes the form of getting my book out into the world. I wish with the same fervent hope I wished as a child when I prayed to God to let something good happen, or else in the case of my father, to stop something bad from happening. 

To this end I slipped a tiny bubble of what I believed was Lourdes water from my Holy Communion rosary beads into my father’s tea one Sunday morning after Mass. As he sipped his tea, I watched him through the corner of my eye and imagined a man transformed. 

Typically, on Sunday mornings after he had run out of alcohol the night before and was by then beginning to sober up, my father tended to be a quiet and considered man. A chastened man. A man who gave no trouble to anyone, least of all, to my mother. He became a man who drank tea, laced on this day, not with alcohol, but with Lourdes water. 

Then, for several days, after my father did not bring home the brown paper covered bottle from work, and I began to hold out hope that my efforts at a miracle had worked. That the tiny drop of water taken from a stream near where Bernadette met her apparition of the Virgin Mary in a grotto in France, became a wish fulfilled.

For a while I had decided on Bernadette as my Confirmation name, but after ten days of sobriety, my father brought back his brandy in its usual paper bag and resumed his usual weekly late weekly drinking that culminated in blind rages on Saturday. So I changed my mind about Bernadette.

A few years later I chose another name, Veronica. After the woman who offered her veil to Jesus on his way up the hill. He had dragged his heavy wooden cross from the garden of Gethsemane, along the streets of Jerusalem and onto his crucifixion. The image of his blood-stained face was imprinted on the fabric forevermore. The shroud of Turin. The veil is still supposed to exist, but I no longer believe in such miracles. 

At the time, when I took on Veronica’s name to add to my already heavy first and ‘Christian’ names of Elisabeth, Margaretha and Maria, I had no real expectation of anything other than a life of sorrow.

It was not fair, I concluded. My mother had enjoyed a wonderful childhood, or so she told us often, with her virtuous parents who tended their many children well. 

Their huge house, nestled on the cobbled streets of Haarlem, with skiing in winter, and boating in summer. With fields of tulips against long flat fields filled with potatoes. My mother’s childhood had been one of uninterrupted joy. Or so she led us to believe. 

Impossible I now know but I bought the idea as a child and my mother enjoyed the telling of her stories, the idealisation of her past, just as her present became increasingly hideous, here in Australia, so far from her beloved parents and stuck with a man who accused her often of being one of those women who took money from men. 

As if she could, I reasoned. She did not look like such a woman, if such a look existed but I had seen images of the ‘whores’ of my father’s fantasy on the television and they were thin and wore thick black makeup around their eyes, with reddened lips, and they leaned against the walls of city buildings in wait. 

My mother never went into the city as far as I could tell, or certainly not alone. And she never waited. She had no time. Sure, she could slow down, but only to read the newspaper, or in later years, a book.  

My mother could not have been the things my father said she was. And her wishes were simple enough. Mostly she wanted a new house in which to live. A house they owned, not rented, like the one we inhabited in Wentworth Avenue. 

But even after her dream came true and the money from the sale of their first house in Greensborough came through, many years later and my father was able to buy a place in Cheltenham, a brand-new home, the fortunes of my mother’s life in adulthood did not improve. 

So, I reasoned, a happy childhood begets an unhappy adulthood. And by this simple childhood logic I deduced that an unhappy childhood, such as mine, should surely be met by a happy adulthood.

Now I know such simple divisions of happy and unhappy do not exist. Instead, wishes belong to the realms of luck.

They may, or may not, come true. 

A Row of Pickets

Shattered glass at the foot of the small outdoor lamp and my first thought, vandals have hit again. Our house located on a plateau at the top of the hill that runs up from a pub that’s open till late. Especially on Saturday nights when people who have drunk too much and stagger upwards towards their home or wherever they might travel, reach the long stretch of neat pickets in front of our house. 

They decide it’s time for mischief, or so I’ve thought in years gone by. They might rip off a fence picket or pull down the branch of the white cedar on our nature strip. But as I leaned down to pick up the newspaper, which was earlier flung carelessly over the front fence, it must have dislodged the lamp’s protective cover, still intact on the ground, and shattered the globe. Not vandals at all but an accident of aim.

I have been at work on an essay that deals with childhood sexual abuse, incest and eating disorders and it troubles me. The way I have structured this essay, loosely and with a clear storyline, the way I have cobbled together thoughts from random places and the organisation of this essay is as unruly as disordered eating, as unpredictable and troublesome, too much here, too little there. 

Two nights ago, I dreamed that a friend who earlier read an incarnation of this essay and sent back helpful comments on how I might improve it, mostly positive comments, told me that my essay was appalling. The details of the dream have faded, only the sense when I woke up in the morning that I had more work to do. And over the past several days, in between work and other obligations, I have tried to tweak, and tighten, to get to the heart of my story with not much confidence as to whether it works. 

Keep food at the centre, my friend said, so that the reader is clear of my analysis. 

What analysis? 

The way our relationship to food is impacted by our relationships to our bodies.  And our relationships to our bodies come because of how they are treated when we are small. Whether cherished and nurtured or objectified by adults who seek to use their children or other people’s children for their own gratification. Mostly the people who so abuse children have themselves had bodies that have been used carelessly. 

I link the sexual abuse, and more especially incest with these eating disorders because of the connection between what we take into our bodies in the form of food and what we take in otherwise, or what is forced upon us by others who objectify us as commodities at their disposal.

It’s rife, patriarchal culture that uses women as the second sex, that treats children as fodder for their own troubled and tucked away internal children. An imbalance of power. 

Travel back to adolescence to that time when most of us begin to forge identities that take us out of the co-called innocence of childhood. 

One day I walked with my brother to church. This brother was 17 months older than me, and taller. I was fifteen and my body budding with womanly attributes. While his voice had long ago dropped, and he walked surefootedly in a world he seemed to despise. 

This was my favourite brother in those days. Favoured because of the way he looked to me, his neat clear face, resemblance to my uncles on my mother’s side, a full head of brown wide waved hair and a magnificent intelligence. He knew so much. He read so much. He scooped all the prizes at the end of year at St Patricks College and I wanted so much to be like him. Feeble girl that I was. 

This brother told me stories from ancient Greece and Rome, the stories of the Gods of Zeus and Thor and to this day I mix up the Roman and Greek versions of the Odyssey and Homer, of Ulysses and the Iliad because my brother told me the stories randomly, based on whatever he was reading at that moment, and never bothered to put things into the order of nationality. Or it might have been my careless brain that could not order these stories into Greece or Rome. 

It matters now as I try to remember which Greek or Roman god, but the colours of the man who carried the sheep on his shoulders, who pieced the one-eyed Cyclops with a burning firebrand, the one who travelled in the ferry to Hades to rescue Demeter, the dogs with eyes as big as saucers who guarded the entrance to Hades, the River Styx, all these places a mess in my memory. 

Strange then how they meld in my mind with the memory of the day we walked to church. I was thrilled be walking alongside my bigger brother when the thought crossed my mind he might suddenly fall upon me and drag me into the bushes to rape me. 

Nothing he had said, no single gesture from him led me to this conclusion, only my troubled mind that could not make sense of the world I occupied at home with my father’s heavy emphasis on sexuality, the way he leered at my mother, my sister and in time I imagined me, though I steered clear. Here I was in my mind turning my brother into a rapist.

This brother, who as the years passed grew more and more silent. A brother I no longer know. For a time, he too wrote stories built around his childhood experience, but he did not keep it up.

Or did he?

Does he have a cupboard somewhere filled with his writing, or a computer chock a block with memories and thoughts? 

Oh, to be able to access his mind and thinking.

Some structure, some sense to the person he became, this once young man who walked alongside me on our way to Saturday evening Mass.