Inflated basketballs

I have a photograph of my childhood family sheltered in one of those plastic frames and held together with magnets. It sits like a transparent block on top of my work desk, there amongst the clutter of papers, pens and other stationary in the unholy mess I call my desk top.

I look over at the crowd, all nine of us photographed the last time we came together as a group in 2009.


When we were young we followed the usual trajectory, each child shorter than the preceding one according to age but over the years our heights have stabilised into an irregular jumble.

Second daughter, but I’m the tallest of the girls and my youngest brother is the tallest of all five boys.

At this point my husband sticks his head around my door to say goodbye. He’s off for a walk with his friend. They travel around the outskirts of Melbourne in search of walks of interest.

As I wave him goodbye I remember how two weeks ago just as I was settling into a burst of writing on a typical Sunday morning, my daughters’ boyfriend who’d just walked out to go to his work at a café in Albert Park, interrupted my flow to tell me that someone had smashed my front car window parked in the driveway and also his car window on the street. I checked further up the road and discovered another car a few doors up had also suffered the same fate.

We rang the police who offered to send a report. They would not come out to check the damage given there were no witnesses. What could they do after the culprits had run?

The vandals most likely used a fully inflated basketball, which they threw against the windscreen with full force to create the crater effect, almost identical on every car. Or so the man from Windscreens O’Brien said after he put the new glass in place. He told us that he had been called to repair the windscreens on a number of cars in our local side streets after that night.

Now I wonder, could lightning strike again? Would someone not satisfied with their first burst of damage come back for more or would they take their rage and destructive impulses elsewhere?

I have trouble understanding vandalism, the rush of satisfaction a person gets when they destroy or efface someone else’s property or perhaps even a person.

I know about the pleasures of imagining revenge but always in my fantasies, forces beyond me damage the person against whom I would have my revenge. Someone else does the deed.

In my imaginings, someone else, or something else gives them grief and I take pleasure from my opponent’s downfall.

‘Schadenfreude’ I think it’s called but it doesn’t happen much that a person whom I wish ill upon comes to grief and I’m glad of this.

Guilt would creep in fast, too fast for me. Given a lifetime of worrying as a child about doing damage even to strangers.

This preoccupation took over, whenever I saw a banana peel on the street or broken glass or something else that had the potential to attract a person’s foot as they walked by, something that could do damage if trod on unexpectedly.

I needed to remove the object and make the area safe.

It was enough to put the glass or peel into the gutter, but if I ignored it and walked past without removing the danger, the persistent image in my mind’s eye of someone coming to grief on that broken piece of glass, or someone sliding across the concrete after landing on the banana peel left me in spasms of guilt.

I put it down to infantile omnipotence, the idea that everything is my responsibility. If good things happen then I am good. If bad things happen then I must be bad.

This is the way little people operate. They believe they are the source of everything that happens to them, at least when they’re very small. But over time they get help, mostly from parents and teachers and siblings to realise that there are things outside their control; that they’re not responsible for everything.

Forces come into play to moderate our omnipotence. Of course it’s a problem if those forces come in too vigorously. If as a small person a parent or some other person in authority, or a bully at school – it doesn’t much matter who it is – but if that other person makes the little person who thinks they’re good at something, suddenly realise they’re not, the realisation can be devastating.

Small children need to be let down gently. It does not do to crush a small person’s confidence.

Back to my siblings, all eight of them, all of us lined up, the girls in front, the boys behind, even now gendered rather than placed chronologically.

Whose idea was this to put the girls in front?

Being one of this crowd has had a profound effect on me and the person I have become. For good and for bad.

I was in a group therapy session many years ago and one of the women who had been silent for weeks managed to talk about how hard it was for her as an only child to find the courage to speak up.

Me, I find it easy to speak up but even as I have my say, I feel a clutch at my throat and the thought travels through my mind, what will the others say?

What will the others think? Am I speaking out of turn? What gives me the right?

And so I transfer those sibling experiences onto other groups I join. Always the same willingness to get in there and have my say, accompanied by the fear, the shame, the horror that I will get it wrong. Offend. Do damage.

Even as I know there’s not necessarily a wrong, only a stream of voices. Some coincide and others clash.

Perhaps that’s where the vandalism comes from.

Someone who can’t find the words to speak. Someone who doesn’t get a say. Someone who can’t be heard, and who chooses instead to smash the front windows of other people’s cars with an inflated basketball.

7 thoughts on “Inflated basketballs”

  1. I don’t understand vandalism, Lis. Well, most of the time I don’t. I get the idea of defacing a work of art if it offends you or toilet papering a building if the householder refuses to answer the door to trick-or-treaters. I get frustration and the need to vent but since I’m neither violent nor destructive by nature the idea of letting off steam by damaging or destroying a total stranger’s property or belongings simply doesn’t compute. I feel the same about litter which is a problem here. I’m not saying I’ve never dropped a sweet wrapper on the ground but I’d be hard-pressed to say when. The last time I remember littering consciously and purposely was in secondary school. I can even pin down the year: 1975. The Coca-Cola Company had just brought out a new soft drink called Lilt which was promoted with the advertising slogan, “the totally tropical taste.” I used to buy a can every lunchtime and after drinking it rip it in half and leave it on a patch of grass behind the metalwork shed. Not sure why but I kept it going for ages until one day I noticed the janitor had been tasked with clearing the patch and I lost interest. I wasn’t much of a rebel at school—hard to be when you enjoy a thing as much as I did (although I did hate metalwork when I was forced to take it in First Year)—but I still felt the need for the token gesture or at least to show off in front of my mates.

    I’m not sure I ever recovered from infantile omnipotence though; I still think I’m the centre of the universe.

    1. Infantile omnipotence can get to us all in the end, Jim, that clash between our desires and reality but it seems to me you know enough about your own limitations and those of the world at large not to have to worry too much. As for littering, there’s the act and the fact that someone else needs to clean up the mess afterwards, that seems to be the order of the equation. Maybe you hoped your mess of broken coke cans might build up into a glorious act of defiance. Who knows? But it sounds like harmless enough fun and rebellion while it lasted.
      Thanks Jim.

  2. Me and my big mouth! If I have learnt anything about speaking out it is that few people want truth or honesty. You’re either a whinger or a trouble-maker and that then justifies people to dismiss you.
    Vandalism may well be the result of frustration and impotence but sadly it just comes across as selfish and wilfully destructive.

    1. It seems speaking out is more of an issue for women, in so far as we’re supposed to remain demure and non-assertive, Karen. As you’d know from your own experience.
      If only the vandalistic impulse could find a way of staying at the level of impulse or of being sublimated into something more constructive and/or creative. The world would be a happier place, not only for the victims of vandalism but for those who vandalise as well.
      Thanks, Karen It was lovely to meet you last weekend.

  3. What a horrible experience, Lis.
    I’ve often wondered what really is at the root of vandalism, and I suspect there might be a bit of, ‘I’m so unhappy, and I want you to have a taste of what it feels like.’ But that’s my amateur take on it—you’d know a lot more than me.

    1. I suspect the causes of vandalism are complex, Louise, and as variable as the individuals involved. Some might do it for the thrill and pseudo power destroying something can offer and others might be operating out of envy. Still others might be making a political statement. who knows. I only know it’s not much fun being on the receiving end. My first thought when I saw only our car window smashed: someone is angry with me. I personalised it. When I realised other cars had been attacked my paranoia calmed down, but it all makes me wonder whether vandalism is also a way of getting rid of unwanted and uncomfortable feelings of say, self loathing, and putting them into the other, the person on the receiving end. Whatever the complexity, it’s an interesting question this question of why. Vandalism seems so senseless. Thanks Louise.

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