Naivity

At six,
I still believed
in Santa, in monsters
and (despite the odds) in happy
endings.


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"Accident-prone"?

We were "accident-prone",
my brother and I.

I was always "falling over",
always "running into things".
It was only understandable,
given my disability.

     (How did I get that brain-scar?
     Was it an "accident", too?)

I've seen photos of myself,
bruises on every chubby limb.
Fresh black-purple
over fading green-yellow,
in layers.
I must have "bruised easily"--
I always had a lot of bruises.

     (The shape of a hand-slap,
     the shape of a belt-whip,
     the shape of a boot-kick...)

I had a few broken bones, too--
I'm not really sure how many.
I know I broke my ribs--
I remember the way they hurt
when I coughed,
and they still ache before it rains.
I broke my jaw once, too.
And my left wrist, twice.

A lot of "accidents".

Jason wasn't much better.

He burnt himself when he was little--
you can still see the scars.
The family says
he pulled hot milo onto himself,
but I don't remember that.

     (I remember boiling water
     thrown on tender flesh...)

He has other scars, too.
One, on his side,
looks like a bullet wound--
he says it's not, though.

     (Can a pack, however heavy,
     really make a scar like that?)

And, of course, the bruises.
Jason was "clumsy",
and he "bruised easily".
Like me, he had a lot of bruises.

     (The shape of a hand-slap,
     the shape of a belt-whip,
     the shape of a boot-kick...)

We were "accident-prone",

     (That's what our family says, anyway...)

my brother and I.

     (We certainly had a lot of injuries...)

We were "accident-prone",
my brother and I--
or were we?


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The Best Birthday Present in the World

She was Mrs Bell when she taught me. She's remarried now, and uses a different name. But she was Mrs Bell when she taught me. I used to call her Mrs Ding-a-ling. Silly, I know-- but I still can't say her name without thinking of that ringing bell.

She wasn't at all memorable to look at. Medium height, medium plump, medium blonde hair, permed medium curly-- no distinguishing features at all, really. These days, I can't even visualise her clearly. My memories of her have blurred into other memories of equally nondescript-looking people. Her voice was always more memorable than her face-- it had a soothing sort of quality. My memories of that too, though, have blurred over the years.

Now, I can remember very little about her. At the time, though, she had an enormous impact on my life.

I first met her when I was in Grade 3. She took me into the gym, and made me do a series of tests. Walking along a line, that was one of them. Jumping. Standing on one foot. There were other things, too-- lots of them. I couldn't do most of them, I know that. And I hated Mrs Bell for making me try.

I didn't think much about her after that. Not until months later, when Mr Backwell sent four of us to her for special lessons. I didn't want to go. Mr Backwell tried to reassure me-- he said the lessons wouldn't be anything like the tests I'd done-- but I still didn't want to go. I went anyway, though. I don't really remember going, but I know I must have.

I had lessons with her in Grade 4, I remember that. I was supposed to have a lesson with her on my 9th birthday. That day was the real turning-point:

She kissed me. She really kissed me.

I was making hedgehog in the cooking room and then I went to my reading lesson but Mrs Bell wasn't there because she had to see the man in the Teaching Aids van and I was nearly crying because I really wanted to see her so I went up to the van and said it's my birthday, Mrs Bell, its my birthday and you're not there. You're not there and it's my birthday.

Come here, she said, come here and I'm sorry, I'm busy right now but I hope you have a good day. She said Happy Birthday to me and then she held me close and she hugged me and she kissed me and she hugged me and she kissed me and she hugged me and she kissed me. She... Mrs Bell... she kissed me.

She kissed me. Mrs Bell kissed me.

It was my birthday and she wasn't there but I went to the van and I saw her there and then... then she kissed me.

She said Happy Birthday to me and... and she kissed me. Nobody kissed me, but Mrs Bell... she kissed me.

She kissed me and it was like I was floating. She kissed me and it was like I was flying. She kissed me and it was... she kissed me.

It was my birthday and I was 9 years old and she kissed me and she kissed me and she kissed me... and it was the best birthday present in the world.

After that day, I spent most of my spare time hanging around her classroom. It was three little rooms, really, joined in an L shape around a stairwell.

While Mrs Bell was teaching in one of her rooms, I would sneak into a different one. I snuck in at recess and lunchtime, too. And after school, before the cleaner came. Sometimes I read the books on her shelves, or played with her teaching aids. Mostly, though, I just sat. Mrs Bell's rooms felt safe, somehow.

I was quiet. I tried not to disturb her. She didn't want me there, but I couldn't understand that. I just kept going back.

Eventually, she started locking her doors. There was a break-in at the school, I know that. And Mrs Bell lost some expensive equipment. Then, she started locking her doors.

I still hung around her classroom sometimes. Not as often, but sometimes. Occasionally, she forgot her locks and I went in. Mostly, though, I just sat outside. I can still picture myself now, sitting alone at the top of the stairwell, my legs dangling down between the metal struts of the banister.

I saw Mrs Bell a few years ago, while I was training to be a teacher myself. She joked about "difficult children"-- one day, she said, I'd have to teach a child as difficult as me.

She didn't understand. She never really understood.

Nobody kissed me, but Mrs Bell... she kissed me.

She kissed me and it was like I was floating. She kissed me and it was like I was flying. She kissed me and it was... she kissed me.

It was my birthday and I was 9 years old and she kissed me and she kissed me and she kissed me... and it was the best birthday present in the world.

Mrs Bell never really understood, but she still gave me the best present ever. She showed me she cared.


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Five Dollars Closer to Freedom

In Fitzroy Street each evening
painted girls in skin-tight clothes
stood waiting in the doorways
for men to walk by.
     ("Thirty bucks a quickie and no full strip")

In Lupton Street, day in, day out,
a half-grown child with ancient eyes
looked hopefully for chances
to sell all she had.
     (Five dollars bought whatever was wanted.)

They climbed into the battered Ford
their silent subtexts understood,
transaction made and sealed
with eight years of blood.
     (A round of golf, then back to business.)

Her practiced hands moved robot-like
while doing what he asked her to,
then as he came between her legs
she lay there numbly.
     (The fear never left her; she just stuffed it down.)

In the wardrobe, huddled tight,
pick rabbit clutched within her arms,
the girl hid from the raging,
crumpled notes in hand.


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Loss

Write.

Write the grief. Write the pain. Write the anger. Write the tears. Write the doubts. Write the loss.

Write the loss.

Loss. What have I lost? I've lost the person I used to be. I could, and now I can't. I was, and now I'm not.

Write the loss.

I was on a camp, three-and-a-half years ago. I started fitting, and I didn't stop. Not until two or three days latter, when I was finally taken to hospital. I haven't been the same since.

I shouldn't have happened that way, but it did.

They should have acted sooner. Taken me to hospital sooner. Stopped my seizures sooner. They didn't. For some reason-- God knows why-- they didn't. They just left me fitting. And I haven't been the same since.

Write the loss.

I got my neuropsych report last week. "Ria" demonstrates a range of mild to moderately severe cognitive deficits that appear against a background of above average ability. The present results strongly suggest that Ria has indeed suffered deterioration since going into status epilepticus."

Those seizures f*cked up my brain. Permanently.

I didn't need a neuropsych report to tell me that. I worked it out for myself a long time ago.

Write the loss.

There was a time when I could think clearly. There was a time when I could learn quickly. There was a time when I could remember properly.

I had a GOOD memory, dammit!

Write the loss.

I was an A student, once. I wagged classes and I almost never did my homework (I had more important things on my mind). I still got As, though. Lots of them.

I won the maths competition in Year 7. And the science competion, several times. I got 95% in VCE Biology. I topped my first year Psychology class at University.

That was all Before.

I tried to study, After.

Second year Psychology-- I expected it to be easy. It SHOULD have been easy-- but I just fell further and further behind. I didn't even notice until late in the semester. When I saw the sample exam questions. And realised that I couldn't answer any of them.

Write the loss.

I was going to be a teacher-- I'd known that since I was 5.

I was going to work with 'special needs' children. Abused children. Deprived children. Children with disabilities. I was going to change their lives.

I never doubted it, Before. There was no reason to-- I'd been tutoring and working in recreation programs for years.

Then I went into status, and everything changed.

After, I went on to disability benefits.

For months I spent my time at the local drop-in centre. Drinking endless cups of bad coffee. Inhaling other people's cigarette smoke. And talking about trivialities.

I didn't know what else I could do. I wasn't sure if I could do anything at all.

Write the loss.

I was a singer, Before. I joined a choir when I was 8, and started singing solos soon after. Music came naturally to me-- as naturally as breathing. I really couldn't imagine life without it.

A couple of months After, I was involved in a big choral festival. A fortnight of rehearsals-and-performances. It was a disaster. I repeatedly got lost reading the scores-- I just couldn't follow my part. When the final concert came, I still didn't know most of the pieces.

I went home crying that day. And I haven't sung much since.

Write the loss.

I used to think I could overcome anything. That I could Triumph Over Adversity, and succeed despite it.

I don't any more.

I go through the motions of rebuilding my life (again). But I can't believe the way I used to.

And sometimes I get tired of struggling.

Write the loss.

Write the loss.

Write the grief. Write the pain. Write the anger. Write the tears. Write the doubts. Write the loss.

Write...


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When My Mother Cries

My mother cries,
and rivulets of abandonment
trickle down her cheeks
into streams of loneliness.
     (Her tears are bitter)

She cries,
and tributaries of anger
flow into rivers of pain.
     (They sting my wounds)

My mother cries,
and I struggle to keep swimming
through her oceans of despair.


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At the Drop-In Centre...

"How are you?" you ask me.

How am I?
     I think I'm cracking up again.
Do you really want to know?
     I don't trust myself in the art room.
     Craft knives can cut flesh, too.
Or are you just being polite,
     I won't sit outside with you today.
     When I see the cigarette butts,
     still-smouldering in the ashtray,
     I want to pick one up
     and burn myself with it.
making conversation?
     You look forward to holidays;
     I look forward to death.
     I lie in bed at night,
     dreaming about it.

"How are you?" you ask me.
"Okay," I answer.


[Ria's poems - index]   [About Ria]   [StreetWrites Sampler]

Swimming

Cutting
through the water,
up and down the lap lane
I swim; my friends paddle in the
shallows.

On land,
my left leg drags
and my hand curls, awkward;
in the water, my spastic limbs
are strong.


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Rebuilding

Seizures
stole my old life,
left me slow, more damaged
than before. Slowly, I build a
new self.

I still
sometimes miss her,
the woman I once was--
but I'm proud of the woman
I become.