I was 23 and not given to telling people the truth about my life. My son was a few weeks old and he felt like a stranger. Motherhood was desperate, lonely and empty. My husband was a heroin addict. I’d spent years lying to my family and my diminishing circle of friends about my situation. I was still lying. I told everyone that everything was all right. All of the time. Always.
Things were terrible. Awful. Shocking.
In my teens, I dreamed about becoming Australia’s first female prime minister, a pioneering scientist, a tennis-playing wife (and that could have rung a warning bell somewhere if someone was listening), a writer and a sculptor. I would be someone great; someone charming; someone admirable.
But when I left school I got lost and then found myself in a dreamy saviour narrative. Someone would save me? No, I would save someone. Probably a man. Yes, a man. At some stage, after I met the object of my fantasies, I believed we’d save each other.
It went like this: charming wife, possibly a writer and very likely not a tennis player, saves genius musician husband from drug addiction caused by an unhappy and disrupted childhood.
But as anyone could tell you (and even my teenage self would have told you) it was never going to be like that. It was always going to be theft, dramas, police visits, dismayed families, lies, fear, loneliness, poverty, blame, and hollowed-out emptiness and shame.
My trouble was I couldn’t let go of the story. In the end it was ripped away.
When my son was born he took it. Somehow he got hold of Woman Saves Sensitive Genius and Lives Happily Ever After and pulled it out of my psyche. I know this because when the midwife passed my son to me I noticed my husband was a warty frog.
I wasn’t in the habit of telling the truth at 23 so I pretended I hadn’t seen the frog (but there was nothing wrong with my eyes when they were open).
I lived with a warty frog for bit less than a year. I even slept with him. I wandered around the house. I avoided answering the telephone, with all of its unwelcome intrusions. I visited the mothercraft nurse who talked about cheese and vegetables. I was so lonely I thought I would die. I might (quite possibly did) resent my son, that completely innocent stranger, for stealing my story.
Then one day, in the warmth of an afternoon, I fell asleep on the couch with my son on my chest: I breathed, he breathed. We rose and we fell. I was wearing a soft, stretchy red dress that I got second hand when I was still pregnant (and not because thrift was cool). When I awoke, I understood that my son Ariel and I had something in common. We were, both of us, aliens in this world: he was new; I was lost. We were kin.
Someone said I should get a job… Maybe it was me talking to me. Quite possibly it was me. I was one of the only people who was talking to me at the time.
I saw a job in the paper. There was a feminist collective that needed a woman with life experience to support women and children escaping domestic violence and incest.
I applied. Even though I was still 23 and still in the habit of lying, I told the truth about my life and my ardent desire to change it. I suggested to the Collective that I would be an excellent refuge worker and that (quite frankly) I could think of nothing more joyful than working for feminists.
They interviewed me. They said my marriage wouldn’t survive my employment. Still truthful, I told them I wouldn’t mind.
I got the job. I got divorced. And those sisters helped me find a gazillion new narratives to fall in love with.
Tor Roxburgh is the author of 15 books. She has written on family violence, pregnancy and youth homelessness and currently writes speculative fiction. Her latest title, The Light Heart of Stone, is an epic fantasy novel that explores contemporary themes. Her pregnancy book, The Book of Pregnancy Weeks, has recently been re-realised as an ebook.
The Light Heart of Stone (fantasy novel)
The Book of Pregnancy Weeks (non-fiction)