You

You are seventeen, maybe eighteen. You are growing your hair or have just had it cut. You remember a time when you were seven and your older sister cut her own fringe and you laughed at her so she hit your bare arm with the scissors and you still have the scar. Maybe you don’t have a sister. You worry about your brother because he’s just got his licence back after having lost it in a drink driving incident that could have been fatal but only cost him money and a lot of embarrassment and forced him to reduce his carbon footprint by using public transport. You wonder if he’s learnt his lesson. You even pray for him at night even though your faith in God has been wavering lately. Or maybe it’s been renewed because you’ve seen the way people have responded to recent disasters, how they dug into their pockets for strangers, how they’ve cried tears for the suffering of others. Maybe you cried too and crying recalled the time the dog your parents bought you when you were ten escaped from the front yard and ran with its ears flying out behind it across the road into the neighbour’s garden and your father laughed and you stormed away even though it was your birthday and your friends were there and watching you. You thought the dog would be gone forever and you’d not had the chance to name it. You remember the crying you’ve done in your life. Only last year you cried because the girl you thought you loved left you. It wasn’t the leaving so much as the feeling that you were foolish dressed up in your clothes, ready to go out, when she called. You wrote a poem about it that you will remember by heart one day and repeat to a group of teenagers you’re working with. They’ll laugh and allow you into their world for a moment and you’ll remember how you felt being seventeen. You are seventeen. Some days the sky presses down upon you so that you are small and beetle-like crawling on the skin of the earth and then some days it lifts and takes you with it up so high and you look down and everything is magnified in such a way as to make it simple and knowable and if you bet on a horse you’d win. You don’t bet on horses yet. You probably drink alcohol from time to time. Maybe you have a lover. You want to go to university and when you think about it you imagine yourself there on campus with your friends all of you smiling and arm in arm and you taking a photo looking through the lens at yourself. Life on campus! The word conjures images of guys with long hair and capes and bats flying blind at dusk against a bruised skyscape but you’ve got no idea why. Sometimes you say the word over and over – camp-us, camp-us, camp-us – until it loses its meaning. You’ve done this a lot in your life and you wonder in more serious moments if words have any intrinsic meaning and if they don’t where does the meaning go when words release it? In classes over the years you’ve sat with friends and had philosophical conversations instead of doing quadratic equations or contour maps. Is my blue your blue? If I eat a potato and you eat a potato do we experience the exact same taste? Maybe my potato is your lima bean? No my potato is your ice-cream! Or here’s a good one: if I wake up in some strange place with amnesia and start a new life with a new identity am I still the same person? Your mother says you talk in your sleep. One time you sleepwalked when you were staying at your cousin’s house in Watsonia and you made it out the door and were on you way to the corner milkbar when your aunty grabbed your arm and walked you like a lamb back to bed. She nearly had a pink fit, she said. You wonder what a pink fit is. A pink fit. A pink fit. Pink. Fit. Your friend Anastasia saw a ghost. You don’t believe in ghosts but you believe in Anastasia and know she saw a ghost and because you are seventeen the two can co-exist. You worry about global warming and the current economic crisis and whether there’ll be a job for you when you grow up. You say that for fun, “When I grow up!” You like live music. You like indie bands. You admire anyone who can sing. You once did karaoke and swore never to do it again. You’ve written poems that you don’t show anyone. One time you gave money to a beggar who confronted you in Fitzroy gardens. He grabbed your arm and looked into your eyes. His eyes were steel blue but they looked as if they were receding, shrinking maybe – that if you remained joined to this man and looking into his eyes they would grow smaller and smaller in the expanding caverns of his eye sockets. You felt dizzy as you gave over the two dollars but later you wrote a letter to the editor about the plight of homeless people in Melbourne. That night you saw a shooting star. Anastasia says there are aliens. You say we are all aliens. Anastasia doesn’t laugh. That’s what you love about her. She understands you, knows where you’re coming from. You reckon that if you hang around her enough, the cracks in the concrete footpaths will disappear and there’ll be less chance you’ll fall over.

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