Content notes apply to this chapter.
The first time I came back home after moving to Melbourne things were awkward. We’ve spoken on the phone, Scott and I, but we don’t talk about us and what we are or were or where we stand with each other. We talk about Mani, mostly. And I talk to Mani and read him a story over the phone.
I miss them both but it’s easier to miss Mani because I’m not angry with Mani. He’s grown so much even in the time I’ve been away and I wish I’d stayed. It’s easier to miss Mani than it is to miss Scott. But it’s easier to miss Scott than it is to miss Michelle.
We went to the playground, the three of us. Mani’s just turned three years old and has a stuffed toy unicorn I gave him for his birthday and he wants to take it everywhere.
“Do you think it’s okay?” Scott said, “I don’t want people to make fun of him.”
“I just thought he would like it and I want him to have things that he likes,” I said.
But Scott had tears in his eyes as he held the stuffed toy in his hands.
“I had this… pony toy,” he said quietly, “A My Little Pony knockoff type thing. Cheap as shit probably. But it had this long rainbow mane and this little comb and I loved it. It’s feet got all messed up because I used to chew on them. I took it everywhere. I used to sleep with it. I just… loved it so much. And I was probably a bit old, you know. And my mum’s boyfriend. Not Steve. The guy before that? Josh I think. He told me I couldn’t play with girls toys anymore. And he. And he… set fire to it. Or tried to. It melted. And it stank and set off the fire alarm. And he told me if I cried he’d punch me in the face.”
I sat down beside him.
“I was so much like Mani,” he told me, “when I was a little kid. I had these blonde curls – like Mani’s colour but curlier. And my dimples, you know? Like a perfect little cherub. And I didn’t really notice what people used to think of me and then when I started to… it was too late. I was already… weird. And I just. I don’t want Mani to feel like that. I don’t want anyone to make him feel like he can’t just be the way he is…”
“Then don’t,” I told him.
And we sat and watched Mani play together.
“He’s getting bigger,” I said.
“So am I,” he said.
And I don’t know what I am supposed to say about that or if it is a trick? Am I supposed to pretend he looks the same as he did a few months ago? Or pretend that he wasn’t already getting fatter before that?
“And so are you!” he said, squeezing my arm, “at least yours is in a good way.”
I’ve been having trouble sleeping and somebody suggested that working out at the gym might help tire me out. It hasn’t seemed to help me get to sleep or stay that way. But there is a 24 hour gym not too far from my house so at least when I really can’t sleep I have somewhere to go and something to do.
I wanted to tell him that he’s bigger in a good way too. But I didn’t know how. I pushed my shoulder against his shoulder and bumped my knee against his knee. And when he looked at me I had to look away because I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
He hasn’t mentioned a girlfriend. But he didn’t mention Jasmine, either. I had to find that out from someone else.
But later that night when we’re watching TV, he reaches for my hand in the dark. And I don’t push him away. And I think. This could be the last time he wants me like this.
But I sneak out early before he wakes up and I’m already on my way back to Melbourne when he sends me an SMS.
did you go for a run?
I turn off my phone.
I don’t want him to remind me again that he doesn’t want me to stay.
Michelle often accused me of making all of her problems about myself. And she’s probably right. But I don’t know how not to.
In a way I was proud of her for leaving. It was validating, I suppose. After all, I’d left my family too.
I should have been mortified, I realise. She’d left because of me. But I’ve had a lot of practice at disconnecting from my shame.
So she left. Just like I’d left at almost the same age.
I used to spend a lot of time hiding. When I was small I would climb into the cupboard or squeeze under the bed. And I thought if I held my breath for long enough he wouldn’t hear me and he wouldn’t find me and he wouldn’t touch me. But eventually I always had let it go and eventually he would always find me again.
At the time they’d seemed like separate and distinct events. The first time I ran away, and the second. But at this distance they collapse into one and my time sheltered by Nanny Bas becomes an interlude in one long, desperate escape.
And then I hid and held my breath and I’m not sure I’ve ever really let it go.
And I could have followed her. I could have looked. I could have found her.
But I thought that if I didn’t find her then somehow I’d be more sure that he wouldn’t find me.
But I can’t talk about that.
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