I spent some time reflecting this week, predominately around World Aids and how far we have come as a community in fighting not only this disease, but also in our fight for equality.
In particular I remember when I came out in the early nineties and what that was like for me back then: the different struggles we all faced. At the time I wrote a short story which I entered into the LOTL short story competition and came 2nd!
I share this with you today.
STAINED BROWN KITCHEN CUPBOARDS
I was sitting on the kitchen bench, legs swinging against the brown cupboards that my father had stained before he died. I can remember Mum yelling at me as a kid for doing this. Now, she’s just standing there smoking a cigarette, telling me how much she was going to miss me. I say that I can’t stay in this town, because I have no career opportunity. I hesitate in telling her the real reason.
After years of procrastination I light up a cigarette in front of her. She doesn’t even blink. Years of washing my clothes. Take a deep breath, and ask what I should take to Sydney with me. She just says to be careful. I jump down off the bench and keep packing. Failed again! I had decided the time was right. It wasn’t, I can’t see the outcome yet.
The weeks fly by and I’m due to leave. I know I have to tell her. Well, I don’t really. I think she already knows. We cook dinner together before I leave. I don’t tell her, and drive away with my hatchback full to the roof.
The city was a hybrid of colour, of faces without names and streets with no right turns. I found I missed my mother in the arms of my new lover. I call her every second day and tell the same lies.
Sometimes I hate the fact that she is my best friend. I look down into the murky black puddle in King street. I can’t see my reflection. I feel bad that the most important thing in my life is hidden. I’m waiting outside a book shop for my love to return. She likes her books and sometimes we just lie on the bed, her reading and me dreaming. I wish we could lie on my bed, at home, with my mother. All three of us, laughing.
She comes out with an armful and suggests coffee. I know I will stare out the window of the cafe while she thumbs through her already thumbed second hand finds.
It’s the smell that gets me. Almost rotting, but not quite. The scent of many hands and homes before, of secrets and forgotten lives. I prefer the smell of new pages, of clean slates, of new rides. I pay the waitress and we catch the bus. Sameness in warehouse drift past as we weave our way through Alexandria. She tells me about a dance party where she was speeding. My eyes become dinner plates. I am naive to the ways of the world. I will not tell Mum about this. I will not tell Mum about the difference in my life. I will remain unhappy and alone. I decide to leave my lover. She cries, and I now have no home. The city fades to black.
I rest at my cousins. They have worked it out, but they are of the city breed, and do not care.
I cry salt, and hope it will wear away to the bone. It doesn’t work.
We split for 12 hours and then we get back together.
I drive for an hour to be with her.
I want to go home the next weekend. I will tell her.
I start to panic. How do I tell her? I have two mouths. One that tells her what she wants to hear. The other that says nothing. It is still acidic from my lover’s bed. I ache for her touch. It’s only been four hours. I want to share my elation with my friend, but feel as if I can’t. I ache for her happiness. I defer my trip home. Mum calls and asks why. She still believes my lover is my flatmate. If only she knew my lover passed the phone over her bed.
The guilt of denying family overwhelms me. I decide to forfeit my happiness and leave her again. My lover is growing weary. She rolls over and waits for my return. She knows me by now. I wander down Oxford street and talk to a drag queen. My life is changing.
The Queen tells me all I need to hear. I buy him a beer at the Albury. We watch a pretty boy do a floor show. He whistles and curses his legs that go to the sky. I laugh and can only dream.I see someone being wheeled in. Two men gather around him, kneel at his chair and smile. He tries to smile back, but he has pain written on his face. His blanket slips to the ground, onto the sludge of many spilt drinks. Men hurry to help him. I look at him with sadness in my eyes. He catches my gaze. He offers a small wave in the face of his disaster and motions me over to him. I go cautiously. The others see me approaching and form a wall of guard, but he pushes me through. I recognise him as I get closer. He is not the same. Once strong and popular, a country boy, he played rugby. Now, he would find it hard to hold the ball. We were in the same class at school.
He reaches out to me, and I take his hand. Not sure what to do or say, the lights get hot and sweaty, the music louder. I lean in to hear what he is saying and he smells like a hospital. Memories of my yellow father, in white sheets, dying, flood back. It’s the antiseptic. I want to throw up. The room starts to spin and I go white.
He asks if I can take him into the piano room. I oblige and there it is quieter and cool. The piano man starts singing Country Roads and I start to get depressed. I miss her. He asks about home and his family. I gather they still do not know. He says he will call soon. He wants to see them before he….. I talk about something else. He asks after my family. We used to be close, but it’s hard to talk to him now. His friends come to find him and take him home. He asks me to visit him in hospital. I say sure but never make it. I see his photo in the Star, a couple of weeks later. I wonder if he called home.
I drove home that weekend after seeing my lover. She wanted to come, but I said next time. I drive along the familiar country roads. My Hatch empty, with just an overnight bag beside me.
My mother is overjoyed to see me. The dog jumps up and rests his paws on my shoulders. My brother just says hello. I can’t understand his despondency. I go into my room and see nothing has changed. Out the back mum shows me the new paving she has laid around the pool, and offers me a cold drink. I said I would get it myself. I already feel like a guest. I’ve only been away…..Has it been six months already?
Mum asks me about my career, and I tell her it’s going OK. I work two jobs now, and money is tighter than before. She asks after my lover, thinking she is my flatmate. I try to be indifferent when I tell her she is fine. She smiles. I think she knows.
I feel as if I’m in a Nescafe ad, still sitting on the Kitchen Bench, swinging my legs against the brown cupboards. She is drinking coffee, I have found a diet coke. I take a deep breath.
“Mum, I’ve met Someone Special”
“That’s nice dear”
“And it’s Her!”
Long pause. She lights a cigarette. I feel the vein in my head about to explode. Those seconds seemed to stop, I watched her cigarette smoke curl up and around the expensive light fitting. I noticed it was becoming discoloured with age, just as I am.
She exhaled, and suddenly a smile crept across her face.
“And I’m Presbyterian, So What?” Was her reply.
I turned 24 that year.