Some of you may remember that my dear friend (and long-time member of this site) @suek has recently been attending a memoir writing course. A couple of weeks ago she emailed me the following piece of writing she did for this course. I was blown away by how powerful and moving it is. She has so brilliantly and movingly expressed the strategies she developed as a kid to cope with life’s difficulties. And she has also so cleverly expressed how hard she had to work shift those destructive techniques. It sends shivers down my spine every time I read it. Sue has very kindly agreed to let me share her special piece of writing here so we can all draw from her grit, strength, and honesty. Hopefully you will find this as moving and uplifting as I did.
The first time I vaporised I was wearing a new pink cotton dress, still crunchy from aggressive starching, a soft inside-out pink cardigan, very white socks and black patent leather button-up shoes. We must have been going somewhere. I was in the little hidden garden at the front of the house, sitting in the grass, and I was whistling. I had just learned, and I was practicing hard, absorbed in the miracle of pure angelic sound coming out of me.
Dad stuck his head out the bathroom window and bellowed “SHUT UP!”. It happened so fast. He yelled, and I disappeared, sucked out of my crisp new dress, up up through the spicy gum tree, up up into the giant sky.
My dress sat up on the grass on its own for ages afterwards, empty. Nobody else seemed to notice.
The second time it happened, the vaporising, not the whistling, involved a lollipop as big as my face. There had never been anything like it in our lives. Huge colourful swirls of solid toffee, so hard you couldn’t bite it. Someone, an aunt or an uncle, got it in Australia, and gave it to me. A wonder like this needed to be shown off, so after school (you most definitely could not take it to school) I took it out to the street to show the other kids. They swarmed. They reached and grabbed, snapped it off its hefty cardboard stick. And I shot up up, over our street, over the rows of three-bedroom one-bathroom one-garage houses on the outskirts of town, up up into the giant sky.
Nobody noticed again. They just took my lollipop and ran.
I vaporised once at school when they showed us a movie about the dangers of little girls walking in the woods and going into a dark shed with a man in a long dirty overcoat. The girls escaped, luckily, by running down a wharf, jumping into a boat, and rowing like mad to get away. But there was a rope tied to that boat. And when the rope got tight, and the boat wouldn’t go any further, the man started pulling them back to shore.
Gone. Straight up through the school hall roof, up up into the giant sky.
I like being up in the sky. The clouds are soft and fluffy. God and the saints and angels are nearby. It’s warm and nice and soft. So soft.
The first time I found myself alone with a boy in the back of a car, most of me vaporised, but not my lips. They stayed for the damp, aimless, forbidden kiss. I think my breasts stayed to, hopeful, but disappointed.
It gets to be a habit. There’s too much chasing and tickling, I vaporise. There’s a party, I vaporise. I get my period, I vaporise. I kiss more boys, I vaporise. I trade in my virginity, I vaporise.
I’ve pretty much completely moved out of my body by the time I’m 19. Nobody notices. I don’t even notice any more. Until I thunk down into myself, jolting awake in the middle of the night, or on the odd occasion I slow in front of the bathroom mirror and dare to look myself in the eye. “This is your home, this body. Actually, no, it’s your temple.” I have read this in one of my many self-help books: My body is my temple. Whatever that means. A temple. A holy place. A place of silence and reverence and worship. Cool, solid, ancient. Connected. The opposite of me. The exact opposite.
I hate the temple idea, but it won’t go away. Unless I’m drunk, and I often am. My temple is awash with booze. I’m educated, career-hopping, already married and divorced (no children). I drink my way up to the soft giant sky. Every day, floating away, get me anywhere but this goddamed cool still solid ancient temple. Anywhere.
At least a thousand self-help books, at least several thousand bottles of wine, and at least two decades later, I am sitting with my legs crossed on a scuffed purple yoga mat, in a circle with a dozen younger, lither, more temply people than me. I am trying not to vaporise. “Feel what’s going on in your body,” the teacher croons. “How does your body feel from the inside?” Scrawny. It feels scrawny. And brittle. And annoyed. I’m only here because I’m sick to death of myself, and worried about my body. I’m scared. Scared I’ve left it vacant for too long. Like an abandoned house, my body is empty, cold, starting to slump. I have to do something right now, before I get old and die miserable. I’m scrawny and brittle, but I’m 50 and I’m motivated. I’ve signed up for 40 consecutive days of morning yoga practice.
“Sit up tall. Lift the chest when you breathe deep down into your belly. Pull your shoulders down your back when you breathe out.” The words mean nothing. Tall is nothing. I haven’t breathed more than survival rations for years. My shoulders are permanently scrunched up around my scrawny neck, and sitting with crossed legs hurts like hell. The whole practice makes me squirm. So I vaporise.
Out of the temple and up into the clouds. Nobody notices. Or maybe they do. “Stay in your body,” the teacher says over and over and over. “Breath in now, as deep as you can. Stay with the breath, all the way, and all the way out.” Against every fly-away fibre in my body, every raging argument in my mind, I get up and go to that class for 40 days in a row. I feel like I’ve been run over, not by a truck, by a convoy. But I go, come hell, high water or hangover. I sign up for another 40 days. And another. I just keep going, as if my life depended on it, because deep down I know it does. Everything now depends on me getting back into my body, my temple, my home. Not just getting back into it, but getting comfortable there, getting anchored in it. Not shooting through on auto-get-way every time life I feel threated, scared, sad. Just stay here in the temple. Just stay.
It takes many many months before I begin to feel something other than scrawny and fugitive. “How does your body feel on the inside?” A bit tingly today. A bit perky. Or dog tired. My right shoulder is more flexible than my left. There’s a knot where my right leg bone fits into the hip socket. I’m starting to feel my body. “Push up into plank.” I hate plank. It’s basically the up part of a hard-core push-up. Plank is hell for the scrawny and scrunchy-shouldered. But I push up into it. “Hold it now. Press your hands into the floor and keep your arms long and strong. Broaden your shoulders onto your back. Now, look up up into the center of the room, feel some hope in plank!”
And for the very first time, I do.