We can’t be all good or bad

When I was a child, I patterned the world into obvious contrasts, cold winters, hot summers, happy times like holidays and hard sad times like housework or a scraped knee.

There were good people and bad people, my favourite teacher Miss Anderson tall, elegant, her hair in a tight French bun, and bad people like my father. Good people like the saints and angels and bad people like the devil. 

Not that we ever met the devil. We only encountered him in bad deeds, our own and others. Hence the need to get as far away from the devil or our misdeeds by visiting the confessional at least monthly.

My mother fitted into the category of the good person, warm kind and predictable, silent and long suffering. I could rely on her to be there for me, or so I reasoned until one night when we had visitors and she promised to bring me a couple of tea before I fell asleep, but the tea never came. 

I waited and waited in my bed into the darkness. Heard the hub bub of voices from the lounge room where my aunts and uncles, mother and father talked together over cups pf coffee and sweetened liqueurs, but no tea for me. 

She had promised she’d bring one to me, the next time she popped into the kitchen to refresh the biscuits she served as savouries, smoked oysters from a tin on salty crackers, and Russian eggs, which she had prepared earlier in the day. She boiled the eggs hard then sliced in two, took out the yolks mashed them together with mayonnaise, a sprinkle of curry, salt and pepper then returned the yolks in a pile to fill white oval space. 

I had not asked for an egg or food, only a cup of tea but my mother became so engrossed with her guests, so intent on focussing on them, the hours slipped by and with it I slipped into sleep but the memory of this one too-long-wait for my mother marked her copy book.

I kept a copy book of sorts in my head. A place in which I listed the misdeeds of people who let me down.

I did not consider myself in those days a Scorpio, a person born in November under the eighth astrological sign therefore prone to vengeful fantasies, like the scorpion who stings when wounded or afraid. I thought everyone kept a record book of other people’s failings.

My father’s misdeeds were many, my mother’s few. Until the day I bounced my ball up and down the path that ran alongside our house to the side door which we used as our front entrance way. 

Up and down with my ball on the pavement. The trick to keep it in motion as long as possible without it derailing off course or having to catch it. Up and down until it slipped sideways and into a plate of glass someone had leaned against the fence. 

The glass was intended to replace the window in the kitchen that one of my brothers had smashed with another ball. He out of carelessness, me out of misadventure. My mother did not see it that way.

‘The glass broke,’ I told her after she came running at the sound of a crash.

‘How could you,’ she said. ‘Not again.’ Her eyes glowered and her cheeks were flushed. My mother had never been angry with me. My mother had always been kind. This was not my mother. This was someone else who had entered my world and did not understand the ways of a ten-year-old child who could not stop her ball from flipping at a right angle and into a plate of glass after it collided with a stone on the concrete.

My mother in the middle, surrounded by some of her children in a familiar pose.

This was not my mother. This was some other monster mother, and I fled from her down the road to the Canterbury park where I pushed the slide swing up and down to soothe my fury at her cruel misjudgement.

I was a good person. I had to be a good person along with the saints and the angels, along with the nuns. I was a good person. If I was not good, then I became bad and to be bad was the worst fate of all. It put me there among the fallen archangels, among the sinners in purgatory, the devils in hell. It put me there with the people whom no one liked, the people like Hitler who started wars, or like the barbarians and Huns the nuns taught us about in history. It put me into the place of the unmentionables.

This was a dilemma for me. An insoluble problem. We could not both be good anymore, my mother and me. Not after she had raged at me. Not after she had shown such hatred in her eyes. 

We could not both be good. One of us had to be bad. And I feared it might end up being me.

Brown paper parcels

One day out of the blue the chemist shop stopped housing its pads and tampon supplies in neat layers row after row wrapped in brown paper.

Rather like the way these days they sell cigarettes in what they call plain packaging, they did the same with products essential to women once some brainwave landed on a way to manufacture materials that soak up our period blood and leave us more able to function in the world during that trickly time of the month. 

Something of those ancient attitudes and disgust towards female bodily stays with us, with me. The yuk factor, again not unlike the yuk we experience when we talk of shit and defecation.

I suspect our response to faecal function comes out of childhood and toilet training, a necessary part of life, otherwise we’d none of us be able to manage our shit and where we put it. Hygiene would be a major problem. 

We need to learn to distance ourselves from our own toxic waste otherwise it makes us sick.

But period blood is not toxic waste in the sane sense. It’s blood, dry and stale and like any blood if left out to dry and curdle it will start to smell unpleasant but it’s not inherently unpleasant unless we think it so.

A few of my husband’s wowser friends from many years ago when he was still a school boy were communicating about their distress at what they see as ‘cancel’ culture. The way they imagine the so-called minorities are controlling the public discourse these days. 

All this emerged from their concerns about the renaming of Australia Day to invasion day From their privileged position as older white males. But also from their sense of lack. They believe indigenous people who to their minds have been well cared for want more than their share. 

They have no idea of what we as a nation have done to our indigenous people and the extent to which no amount of money thrown at them will undo the damage.

The damage will only be undone through a united effort at changing the story from one of our entitlement to a recognition of what our ancestors did and how we have profited ever since.

The final insult – to my sensibilities at least – came in the form of a message from one male friend to another.

He quoted an interview between major General Cosgrove on an ABC radio program. I do not know how true this is or whether its another example of fake news, so I try to hold it lightly.

It follows:

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The comparison of rifle use to prostitution alarms me. 

It’s not exactly wrapping pads in brown paper bags, but it has the effect of silencing. And sure, the interviewer might have been out of line likening teaching kids to use rifles with teaching kids to become violent killers, though if you follow it through, why else would anyone use a rifle other than to kill, whether people or animals. Or to practice hitting inanimate targets. 

But to suggest that women are equipped with an innate skill to be prostitutes using that old fashioned word as well, not sex worker. That women are born with a capacity to sell their bodies for sex for the pleasure of another, as of it’s a given, alarms me to the pit of my gut.

This is what I call misogyny.

An insult hurtled towards a female because she has dared to challenge, albeit in a clumsy manner, the man’s use of guns. 

Why did we ever hide pads and tampons behind brown paper other than to imply there’s something secret shameful about them? They must be hidden. This means that their function also needs also to be hidden. The secret nature of women’s bodies need to be hidden.

And then if we call out the secret nature of any desire to use a gun, to kill or maim or assert oneself, even in the pleasure of being able to hit a target, needs to come out of its plain paper wrapping to expose it for what it is, a dangerous activity, especially in the wrong hands. 

The function of periods: they’re part of the procreation cycle and of fertility, life giving stuff in women.

The purpose of guns: to kill. To end life.