Yeah nah, I think I’d have left anyway. I guess it had always been my plan? I worked out when I was eleven that I’d turn eighteen right after I finished year twelve and that it would be 2001. New millennium, new life. So that was always when I’d planned to leave. Alan Sebastian insisted that 2001 was the start of the millennium rather than 2000? There was a reason. I can’t remember what it was.
2001. So I don’t think I left because I had a baby. When I was pregnant – I was sixteen – god that’s a long time ago, fuck… when I was pregnant at first I assumed I’d have to take the baby with me. Obviously. And I was dreading it. Like what if Scott wanted to stay involved? I’d never be able to properly let go.
I always thought Alan Sebastian might come with me though. We’d go together. Before I had sex with his best friend and fucked everything up.
I guess I always assumed it was as important to him to escape Mum as it was for me. And I didn’t want him to be alone, you know?
He’d get away with stuff I couldn’t get away with. But I still felt like I had to protect him, to explain him to Mum so she wouldn’t hurt him too. She did anyway. Not as much. But I always felt like it was my fault when she hit me. And it was even more my fault when she hit him.
“Alan Sebastian can’t help it. You can,” she’d say. And she was right. I knew why Alan Sebastian acted the way he acted. I also hated the sounds of hand-dryers in bathrooms. I also hated the flickering fluoro lights. But I guess I could put up with it in a way he couldn’t. I knew how to do that. I knew I was supposed to. I could do it and I could comply, so I had to. We just all worked around him. Like… he was some sort of immovable object or something? Like there’s nothing anyone can do he’s just going to do whatever anyway. So don’t bother. Just let him be.
But I still thought he’d come with me. And years later it still feels odd to me. This isn’t the way I thought things would go.
“I love you,” Smithy had said, “but I’m sick of your bullshit.”
So I did that thing again. The one where I pack up and leave and start over somewhere new. That’s one of the bullshits. My one jumper had worn out and I just put up with being cold for ages. The cold never bothered me anyway. I could have bought a new one, obviously. Instead I moved to the Gold Coast and joined a cult.
I don’t think it was a proper cult. Not a cult-cult. A semi-cult. Cult-lite. It’s one of those things that felt very significant at the time. But less significant in hindsight, somehow?
So really, this is context.
I didn’t realise that’s what it was at first. Nobody does. Nobody recruits people to join a cult. Even when it’s Cult-lite. They recruit people to join a self-help group.
I joined a self help group. SelfWork.
I don’t even remember how I got into it. Usually people are recruited by someone else. Once we were in we were certainly encouraged to spread the word. I think I saw a flyer somewhere. Or a poster? And I thought… why not?
It was SelfWork but I don’t think it even had that branding at that point? We always just called it the group. It wasn’t group therapy. But group therapy is definitely what it wasn’t.
I’ve spent so much of my life feeling broken. Like I have to spend so much effort holding myself together, so I don’t leak too much of my bullshit out onto other people. And spilling my guts to a man in a white coat (to be fair, not always a man or wearing a white coat) didn’t ever help me feel more normal.
Also it was free. So I went.
And you’d think that joining a cult would be the sort of thing that changes your life. Like even once you get out you’d never be the same?
But I kind of feel the same now. Not like it didn’t affect me but if I hadn’t done that, it would have been something else. I was vulnerable and ready to be taken advantage of. Ready to be taken in. It could have been worse. It could have been a guy. A guy who turned out to be abusive. A guy who turned out to be married with three kids or something. I didn’t have to go through those things. And I am sure I would have. I’m never really good at judging people’s intentions. I just assume that everyone is nice. I had to really work on learning that lesson. I forget that sometimes people are malicious. But I didn’t go through anything like that. I joined a cult instead.
So I guess those years would have been different if I’d never picked up that flyer. But I think somehow I would have just… ended up in the same place even if I hadn’t.
Do I resent my brother? Hm.
I don’t know if resent is the right word. I sometimes thought I hated him. Like my life would be simpler without him. We had to… live around him you know? Alan Sebastian has to be home in time to watch his shows. We can’t eat that because Alan Sebastian doesn’t like it.
Alan Sebastian needs that bedroom. Alan Sebastian needs that pillow. Alan Sebastian needs this or that.
It was never about what I needed, you know? It was definitely never about what I wanted
But no. I don’t think I resented him. We loved each other. Like I don’t feel like I was allowed to hate him when he just… he was the only person who didn’t… want me to be different than I was.
It’s good when nobody knows each other. When we’re all equally strangers. Maybe that should have been a sign. That everyone was new. But at the time it was just reassuring.
I showed up early because that’s a thing I do. I like leaving but I hate waiting to leave. So when I’m ready to walk out – and I’m always ready to walk out – I go. Also I wanted to seem much more together than I was and people who show up early seem much more with-it I think. I wanted to seem like I had a handle on things. Even though it was a group of broken people. I wasn’t intending to pretend not to be broken, but I wanted to seem like someone who was good at it.
So I showed up early and they were still setting up and I offered to help. I set up the chairs and poured water into plastic cups. June was in charge although she claimed that she wasn’t in charge.
“We’re all in charge of ourselves,” she said, “the whole point is that we don’t abdicate our power to others.”
She preferred to think of herself as a Guide.
And she was so nice. So welcoming. She smiled at me like I was her favourite person.
“I love music therapy!” she told me when I mentioned that I played, “let’s talk about that afterward! I have so many ideas I’d love to talk about. We all need more music in our lives, don’t we?”
I guess? I don’t know. Music is very important to me. It’s one of the only things I feel anchored to. But why would I assume that it’s just as important to everyone else? Not everyone likes the same things or wants or needs the same things. Somehow other people don’t seem to notice that? It seems to come up all the time, for me.
Then when more people arrived I greeted them and introduced myself and two people asked me how this whole thing worked. Definitely good at dealing with it.
I’ve never been into it. There was this girl at school who was religious. Jehovah’s witness I think? One of the ones where you’re not allowed to celebrate your birthday.
I was jealous in a way. My birthday’s in the middle of the school holidays anyway so nobody ever came when I had a party. And Alan Sebastian never wanted a party and he hated it when things didn’t seem fair or equal. So I figured I wouldn’t have been missing out on that anyway.
But she really seemed to be… part of something or whatever. She had… a community. I just had Mum and Alan Sebastian. And Sam for a while. Friend of Mum’s. She spent so much time at our house she practically lived with us. I wonder what happened to her? Actually no I think she wanted to actually move in but Mum didn’t want her to? I don’t know.
So I was jealous. I tried to pray. I didn’t believe. But I wanted to be the sort of person who did. I thought maybe if I practiced doing it, something would stick. That if there really was a god, then maybe I’d feel something. I gave up after like… two days.
I was on guard of course in some ways. For it all to turn into a talk about Jesus or god or something. I was prepared to just walk out at that point. But it never came up.
“We don’t talk about a higher power,” June said. “We talk about an inner power. We’re all our own highest power. And some people need to externalize that. And that’s okay. We all have our own path. We’re all on our own journey. But when you can stop yearning for a higher power and start to harness your inner power. That’s when your life changes. That’s the strong foundation which allows you to rebuild your life.”
And that was exciting to me at the time. That I could rebuild my life. Well… I didn’t really have a life so it was more like building rather than rebuilding.
I actually felt… accepted.
At twenty-five I was the youngest in the group. But I was praised for how self-aware and brave I was for working through my ‘stuff’ so early in my life.
With so much less to untangle, I’d probably get in touch with my inner power more easily than someone who was only finding their way in middle age or later. June told me that. Took me aside as everyone else was leaving.
“I’m so excited that you’ve found us,” she told me. And that was exciting.
I’ve pretty much always been liked immediately. It’s only later on that people get sick of my bullshit.
I’m not sure that anyone had ever been excited to meet me before. At least nobody had ever told me.
It’s funny. I’ve always run away. I ran away from home like four times as a teenager. When we were like, little kids, Mum kept me in the stroller while Alan Sebastian walked because he’d just stand still and stare at the ground if he wasn’t constantly being reminded to catch up. I’d bolt at the first opportunity. Run Forest, Run!
I guess at one point we lived our life around me and not him. That’s weirdly comforting to think about.
My mother once told me that one day she woke up and knew she had to run away. That she couldn’t even help it. And it was only later that she found out she was pregnant.
It was rare for her to be that open with me. So it stuck in my memory, I guess.
“Old enough to say ‘mama’,” Bethany once said, a mixture of horror and sympathy in her eyes. But he’d never done that and somehow that made me feel better about it rather than worse.
Deep down I always have the urge to run. To escape. And I think, somehow, if I open up too far to anyone I’ll escape right out of myself and never come back. Maybe it wasn’t my mothers impulse to run at all – she stayed put as soon as we were born. That desperate desire to escape it all… might have just been me, all along.
Bethany never seemed to understand that impulse. Until she did, I guess.
I don’t have many proper friends. Not ones that stick around. I was ‘popular’ at school in that I was invited to all of the parties and nobody outright hated me or laughed at the things I said like they did to Alan Sebastian. Or if they did I didn’t know about it.
I struggled a bit more when we were younger. Maybe because Alan Sebastian was so socially isolated and I wanted to protect him? I used to defend him. But eventually he’d told me that my interference just made him uncomfortable. So I stopped.
Then I learned how to do people better. To say the right things and make people laugh. How to stop talking when it was someone else’s turn to speak. How to work out when someone was interested in talking to me. So at some point I got the hang of it. He never did. My high school friends were the same group of girls I’d hung out with in primary school. I had boyfriends, went to all the parties and smoked behind the shed. I wasn’t the only girl to get pregnant in high school but I was the first in my group and the other girls had cooed and fawned on me and bought presents for the baby.
And from that moment on it felt like it was all about the baby and they forgot all about me. And it wasn’t the same as it used to be. Things stopped happening the way I thought they would happen and I didn’t always know how to deal with that.
I never really wanted to get in touch again, after I left. Maybe I still could.
And I wonder
what would happen
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