When I was young, my skinny boy-like body felt light and easy, and although it took me a few tries to get onto and balance a bike, once I’d mastered those handlebars and the brakes, I could fly.

In the playground I sat on the thick plank of a swing and spun higher and higher above the tree line stretching out my toes to gather momentum.

At the swimming pool I taught myself to swim and although I could never quite master the technique, in my imagination, I saw myself as one of those Olympians streaking through the water.

It did not last.

By the time I was fourteen, I was more uncomfortable in my body than I had ever been before. Not only did hair appear in secret places and my breasts swelled, the rest of my body began to swell too.

I now sat on the swing and for the first time in my life felt a type of nausea that was to dog me thereafter whenever I tried any of the playground equipment.

One September school holiday, when my sister and I were locked behind our uniforms at boarding school, my oldest brother invited us over to Canberra to visit him, to stay with him in his small house at the foot of Mount Ainslie.

We could stay a week and help by cooking his evening meal and during the day we could do our homework or go for walks.

My brother was in love with a young woman who had so enthralled him at the university that he decided to leave his plans for the life of a priest behind and they were preparing to get married in some months time.

One evening during our stay my brother took us out to dinner. I sat in the back seat alongside my sister while my brother took the wheel beside his wife to be.

We travelled to her mother’s house for a special dinner in honour of my sister and I and our brief stay in Canberra.

It was still cold. The lag of the seasons hid the fact of spring. Rain pattered down onto the roof of the car. The wipers swished and I looked through the beads of water at my window onto the blur of lights and the outside dark of Canberra streets.

A pang of sadness hit me in a way I did not expect. Stuck in the back seat with my sister, behind those two grown ups in love.

It was as if I had swallowed a poison tablet that dissolved into a sense of hopelessness so great I could not imagine that my life was worth anything anymore.

I had no sense of the future, only this sodden sense of emptiness, as if everything of value had been spoiled by the rain.

The tears behind my eyes refused to flow because I could not pinpoint any reason for those tears other than a pervasive sense that I was a failure.

A person who had lost sight of herself.

A person who would turn into more of a nobody than she already felt on this day when others around me seemed filled with the richness of their lives, and the promise of bright futures.

My future looked as empty as the block of land at the corner of the street near my brother’s house where they had long ago pulled down the petrol station and left in its place some  rusting metal poles alongside a deep hole in the ground.

2 thoughts on “Nobody”

  1. Fourteen. I would’ve turned fourteen in 1973. It’s a year I probably associate more with music than anything else. And there was some great music that year. It was the year I discovered pop music. Prior to that I hadn’t had much interest and then I heard ‘I’m The Leader of the Gang (I Am)’ by Gary Glitter and despite all we’ve learned about him since I refuse to let that tarnish my memories. I absolutely loved it. I’ve just had a look at the Top 100 singles from 1973 and simply scanning the list makes me feel good: The Sweet, Wizzard, Slade, Suzi Quatro, David Bowie at his peak, Mungo Jerry, Mud, Status Quo, Elton John, Roxy Music, Free, Nazareth… A part of me wants to dive into YouTube and right now and wallow. When Carrie and I were getting to know each other one of us suggested doing various Top Ten lists but most of mine ended up Top Fifties because I could never decide. I couldn’t even pick a Top Ten from 1973.

    If I had to pick a year to relive it would probably be 1973. Okay there were things that weren’t perfect about my life but on the whole I was pretty happy with it. I enjoyed school, I had good friends, I was in love and all of that made waiting until I was old enough to escape all the rest bearable. Physically I was the biggest—although not the tallest—in my year. I was broad and already covered in hair. Everyone else in the class looked like a boy but not me. What was particularly good about that year was I got to choose the subjects I would later sit O-Levels in and so no more science and foreign languages. I was in the top classes for English, Maths and Arithmetic but since I also took Engineering Drawing and Applied Mechanics I also became friends with some of the rougher kids in our year.

    Probably the best thing about 1973 was managing somehow to take over the front room. It became my office and I was very protective of it. I used it wisely I have to say. I don’t think I’ve ever been as creative: I wrote, I painted, I composed. I always had multiple projects on the go and even if my dad didn’t get what I was doing he could see that it was having a positive effect on me and so I was indulged. Good on ya, Dad. Of course while I was being indulged my brother was being neglected and that came to a head in time but by the time it did I’d made my escape.

    1. It’s great to read about your good years as a young adolescent, Jim. You’d be a rare person enjoying that phase of your life, but maybe that’s more in retrospect, now that you have many other events and experiences with which to compare. I remember my fourteenth year as one of mixed feelings, the good and the bad, but more than anything the angst of it all. despite all your misgivings about memoir, I reckon yours would be a terrific one. Thanks, Jim.

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