Category Archives: The Other Me

An ongoing serial about neurosis, beginning with anxiety that burgeoned through my teenage years, and grew into issues also with depression and OCD, amongst other things.

The Other Me

Originally, when I started The Other Me, I began the story with my first actual panic attack (at 19), thinking that (for a blog) that was the best place to jump in. When I’d finished serialising my adult life, I went back and covered my younger years, where I’d experienced neurotic symptoms that foreshadowed that first panic attack.

Last’s week blog was the last one (before that first panic attack), so the story’s complete.

For now.

Thanks to everybody who stuck with The Other Me. I really appreciate it. I hope it’s been entertaining, and also given you an insight into neurosis.

In the new year, I hope to still blog about neurosis (and other things), and one day I hope to compile The Other Me into an ebook.

Hope you all have a safe and merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

The Other Me

‘Normal as Hell’

iv.
When I was fifteen, I got a casual job during the holidays working for Kmart, working from 5–9 Mondays and Tuesdays. I kept working when school restarted, going to school from 9–3, then rushing home so I could get changed, catch a lift to the station, and catch a train to work. When daylight savings ended, so did the Monday and Tuesday shifts, and with it my job. Kmart kept me on record and called me the following Summer school holidays, but by then I had my broken arm. That was it for my working life.

The only additional learning – if you could call it that – I did outside of high school was a modelling course when I was eighteen, and a drama course when I was nineteen. The modelling I got into through a relative, who thought I’d be good at it. I did okay throughout the course, but didn’t have the gumption afterward to pursue it. Same with the drama. Same with everything.

This haphazard existence made family life tense, because being unemployed with no real prospects is going to do that. My three brothers had all finished high school, and were working. I had lots of cousins around my age, and they were either working, going onto tertiary schooling, or completing secondary schooling. I was doing none of that. I was doing nothing.

My parents saw me writing and on some cosmetic level they respected the endeavour I put in. From breakfast to evening I typed away – sometimes these uninterrupted twelve hour sessions. It was quite an effort, and you have to appreciate effort, even if it is the effort of a madman.

They also saw the stacks of typewritten paper I produced. Unfortunately, they couldn’t read it themselves – my mum has basic English reading skills, but not good enough to follow the plot of a book that was going to be the NEXT GREAT FANTASY EPIC; my dad could barely read English at all, (although he reads tons of books in Greek).

Moreover, they had less understanding about the business side of writing than I did. They thought I’d write something, advertise it, and sell it – the way you’d advertise and sell a car. It was a foregone conclusion to them, but when it didn’t happen they must’ve wondered what the hell I was doing, and whether I’d ever build a life for myself, or sponge off them forever.

Having the broken arm with the nerve damage gave me leeway, but the further I got away from that, and the more I wrote without going anywhere, the higher tensions escalated. My brothers might’ve even resented me and the free ride I was getting. I wouldn’t have blamed them. I would’ve resented me, too.

Gradually, my general unease evolved into a general malaise of edginess which only exacerbated everything else – the swinging moods, the social dysfunction, the occasional obsessiveness, and the constant fear about one thing or another.

Surely this wasn’t how everybody else felt?

For a little while, like a month or so, I cut myself. I’d do it in the bathroom with a razor (not a razor-blade, but a cheap disposable razor), slashing my already scarred right arm. I was never sure why. If I wanted to do real damage, I could’ve found a razor-blade, but the razor itself let me abrasion myself pretty good. That’s what I was: a self-abrasioner.

The one thing about the cutting was that it made me feel dark. It seemed such a logical thing to do. And it made me the centre of attention – not for my family, from whom I hid the results. But from friends. Like in my modelling class. One time I showed up and the other students saw my right arm was covered in abrasions and I told them that I’d put my arm through a glass window, because I couldn’t tell them what I’d really done.

They looked at me like I was mad. That was good. I wanted them to think I was mad, because that’s the way I felt in my head. You people: Normal. Me: Mad. This was the only way I could articulate that to others. Maybe there were no words, just actions. I guess that’s the way suicide works – when words are no longer enough.

When I was eighteen, I got a tattoo – a smiley face on my right shoulder. Again, it was another of those things where the idea just popped into my head. I knew it had to be something meaningful – that was why I chose the smiley-face. My philosophy was I always needed to carry a smile with me. During an argument with John, he asked if I was on drugs (no) and said that I used to be such a happy kid. I couldn’t remember that. I could never remember being happy.

If nothing else, my writing continued. Writing was the only time I was at peace. I would sit at my typewriter and immerse myself in my fantasy world – where I controlled everything – until I was lost to everything else. One time while I wrote, I casually butted out a cigarette in an ashtray overflowing with butts, emptied the ashtray into the metal wastepaper basket that sat at the foot of my desk (well, my table – it was a converted kitchen table), and kept writing. Several minutes later, smoke rose from the bin – I hadn’t butt out my last cigarette properly, and it had set alight the paper in the bin. I hadn’t noticed. That’s how much I got into writing.

After a session of writing, I’d be spent. It was like I’d exercised for hours. Sometimes, afterward, I’d be jittery, like I’d invested myself too deeply and I couldn’t shake loose, or hadn’t left enough reserves for myself. Then I’d watch some TV, or play a computer game, and try to unwind. The next day, I was back at it.

I finished Book One of my fantasy series a couple of months short of my nineteenth birthday, feeling a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Finishing a book – regardless of whether it’s good or bad – is an effort. Here I was, with a four-hundred-page novel.

Surely, it had to lead to better things?

And that was it, my teenage years, which were pretty normal.

Normal as hell.

The Other Me

‘Normal as Hell’

iii.
From about sixteen, I began going out. Whenever I did, I tried to look cool – just like any other teenager. I spent a lot of time on my hair, and sometimes blow-dried it, although the hair-dryer – in combination with the gels and mousses I used – always made me feel sticky and stifled. That was something that seemed to be developing as I got older, a physical hypersensitivity to external sensation – not that I thought much of it.

I also had good facial growth. Some people said I looked like George Michael, although that was never my intention. Whenever I went out, I’d shave a few days earlier, timing it so that my growth would be just the right shade to look my best – teenage vanity at its best.

Clothes were something else entirely. My wardrobe was modest, but I tried to look good – even if it meant discomfort (which it often did). Like my overcoat: that came everywhere, even inside clubs or parties in garages where wearing an overcoat was suffocating. It became my trademark. Jeans were something else. Putting them on for the first time, they were always stiff and scratchy. Sometimes, I’d put them over my pyjama-pants and bounce around like I was doing aerobics – just to loosen them until they were comfortable. Then I’d remove my pyjama-pants and put my jeans back on. I still hated the initial feel of them. It was like pulling sandpaper over my legs.

I liked getting ready to go out.

I liked the thought of going out.

But being out terrified me.

I projected confidence, but had none. When I was out, my heart thumped, there was flightiness in my stomach, and I was fidgety. Everybody was a threat. I wasn’t paranoid. That wasn’t it. But there was a potential for danger everywhere. The scale heightened whenever it involved people who looked … well, scarier than your normal person.

This is the teenage world. There’s always somebody wanting to fight or beat somebody’s head in. My parents were always reciting News where people got attacked. They used it as validation: go out and you might get beaten up. You might have an accident. Something horrible might happen.

Danger everywhere.

I also couldn’t relate to anybody. That had been the case at high school, but now it was worse. Whenever I talked to people, I was shy and awkward. I never knew what to say, never knew how to respond, and kept feeling I would blurt something totally inappropriate – well, not just inappropriate (I’m sure every teenager worries about), but something heinous, something unpardonable. If somebody told me there’d been a tragic accident in their family, I had the impulse to shout, Good! Great! You deserve it! Or maybe drop my head and butt them between the eyes and shatter the bridge of their nose. These weren’t things I wanted to do, but just what popped in my head. I had to warn myself over and over to make sure I didn’t do any of these things.

Because of this difficulty relating, my circle of friends didn’t expand and I never had a real long-term girlfriend, because I couldn’t connect with anybody and stay connected with them. It was bad enough being the author of the NEXT GREAT FANTASY EPIC – being an aspiring writer, and particularly of fantasy, wasn’t a selling-point amongst teenagers – but if I told girls what was going on inside my head, they’d think I was crazy. Half the time I thought I was crazy.

The way I handled all this was to drink. Drinking and being a teenager are synonymous, but I did it to cope. It was the only way I could feel at ease, the only way I could relax. If I didn’t drink, then I had to confront the way I was feeling, and the way I was feeling had a cumulative effect – it just got worse and worse.

This was probably the reason my best friend, Stan, and I got along so well – because we were so alike. My issues weren’t as specific as his, but we both felt like social misfits. When we went out we both drank to cope, relax, and enjoy ourselves. But whereas I remained meek Stan was invincible. One time, some try-hard pulled a knife on Stan and Stan reached out and closed the knife on the try-hard’s hand. Another time, a car pulled over by us in the middle of the night, and its two occupants – a pair of freak shows – gave us a hard time; Stan walked over and stared at them, just glowered at them, until they shut up and drove off.

I could never do that. I wasn’t sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line I became meek. As a kid, I’d stand up to bullies, be the first one off the high diving board, jump ramps on my bike, climb the framework of houses under construction and do lots of crazy stuff. I lost that fearlessness as I got older.

Stan and I went out regularly, despite our mutual social awkwardness and my underlying fear of everything. When we heard about parties, we’d travel as far as it would take to get there, catching lifts, taking trains, or even walking; at the end of the night, we’d walk home – regardless of the distance – or even hitch.

Other times, we went to clubs. There was a makeshift club, called Kasey’s, that operated out of a nearby reception hall every other month. Stan’s older brother worked as the bartender on some nights, so Stan and I always got free drinks – order a couple of beers, hand over a ten dollar note, get ten dollars (and sometimes more) back in change. If it wasn’t Kasey’s, we went to clubs in the city – we both looked old for our age, and were never carded.

When I was eighteen, I was at Kasey’s one night and got in a wrestle with a guy I knew – it was one of those playful things that grew semi-serious. I fell, and he kneed me in the bridge of my nose, breaking it. Afterward, he apologised, and everything was fine. The break was small and a specialist manipulated it back into place.

No problems.

The Other Me

‘Normal as Hell’

ii.
I finished the first book of my series shortly after returning from holiday – not a bad accomplishment for a seventeen-year-old dropout. It was written by hand, and took up two-and-a-half A5-sized exercise books. Immediately, I redrafted, beginning in a new exercise book, one that was A4-sized (I was moving up in the world, after all) but it felt redundant. I’d done the handwritten book. My productivity tapered until I wasn’t doing much of anything for the next month or so.

Then I felt like I was losing myself.

One night, I went out with my cousins. We were coming home from a bar when we saw a warehouse on fire. We pulled into an opposing driveway to watch the fire-fighters battle the blaze, and were talking when I sheared in two. My consciousness slid to the left, but funnelled until I was losing awareness of my surroundings, my thoughts, even myself. I had to shake my head – as if trying to clear a fog – to ground myself.

Over the next month, this happened repeatedly. I felt like I was slipping out of reality. I thought maybe I was being possessed and started reading the Bible. I also thought that my deteriorating physical condition – since breaking my arm, exercise had gone out the window; and I was smoking and drinking whenever I went out – might be a contributor, and began to exercise.

Something else that occurred to me was I had all these ideas in my head – for my book, for other stories – and I wondered whether my imagination was running rampant and I was losing touch with reality. I needed to find a way to get this stuff out, or it would consume me.

I had to write seriously. If not because of all this other stuff, but because the desire was building up in me. And I wanted to tell my fantasy epic. I wanted to get it out on the page, because if I could do that it would become part of fantasy canon.

I went to a typewriter store to look at the manual typewriters. That was all I could afford, but it was enough. I found a second-hand clunker that had a lovely tap-tap-tap feel whenever I hit the keys. That was important to me. It had to sound right, to feel right.

In fact, the whole back room – which I’d infested, and little by little was taking over – had to be that way. I rearranged everything – couches, chairs, bookshelves, TV, C64 computer. Then I cleaned up. I tried to keep things neat. But all it took was one thing out of place, and that was an invitation to lose all order. Then books wouldn’t be put back, papers wouldn’t be filed, nothing would be returned to where it belonged. There’d be anarchy, and anarchy always clouded me in a way I felt I couldn’t write.

Damn anarchy.

But that stuff aside, I wrote every day. I worked on short stories and on part one of my fantasy epic. The short stories were good in that they were small, self-contained entities. I could write them, be done with them, and move on.

The fantasy epic was something else entirely.

I called my book The Warriors’ Triangle, because it involved three warriors – one, the young, inexperienced King of Men through whom the story is told; the King of Elves; and a Half-elf warrior – on a quest to regain these mystical crowns that would bring hope back to the people and prosperity to the land, (a la the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend).

First, I drew a map. This involved spreading four by four A4 sheets across the pool table and drawing everything in – the kingdoms, the forests, the mountains, lakes, rivers, all that. There’s something … Godly about creating a world. Oh wait. Map-making-slash-world-building was therapeutic. It gave me control. I taped the sheets together, and stuck the map on the wall above my writing desk. The map allowed me to see where my characters were and where they were heading at any given time.

There were lots of false starts to the writing itself – lots of times I got a hundred pages in and felt I didn’t have things right. On those occasions, I contemplated finishing the book and fixing everything in the rewrite, or just starting over. I took the latter option on each occasion, doing that maybe four or five times. I’d rather get it right from the onset, than keep going with something that wasn’t right.

When I finally developed some momentum, my second-hand clunker bit the dust. Damn. Still, I’d gotten months of service out of it, but now it was back to the typewriter store. I bought a new manual typewriter this time. It didn’t have the same tap-tap-tap feel of its predecessor. It didn’t even get close. Nor did it have the same type-face. That meant I had to start my book again. Again.

I worked for a year, and had no more spells of losing myself. And although I still smoked, and drank too much when I went out (like most teenagers), I exercised regularly, playing tennis weekly with a cousin. I wasn’t in awesome shape – as I was just before I broke my arm. But I was in good shape.

As I neared the completion of the book, I became aware that I had no idea what to do with it. Where did writers go with their books? I looked at some of the fantasy series I owned, and found out they were published by Doubleday. So, there was a place to begin. Well, begin isn’t right, because that would suggest I’d go somewhere next, and my book was going to be accepted first off.

I never expected anything different.

The Other Me

‘Normal as Hell’

i.
The Arabs were coming! 427 million of them!

Almost a year after breaking my arm, I’d gone with my parents on a holiday to Canada and to Greece. Now we were staying at my parents’ village in Greece at our cousin’s farm. I’d awakened in the middle of the night, terrified that 427 million Arabs were about to invade.

The village was tiny and sat in the mountains isolated from civilisation. It was maybe half a kilometre long, and comprised a single road with houses on either side. There was probably only a population of six or seven hundred. There was no way we’d be able to contend with 427 million Arabs.

I considered waking a Canadian guy I’d been hanging around with. He’d have no idea what to do, but at least then I’d have an ally. But, again, it was the middle of the night. I knew the house he was staying in, but didn’t know the people there. What was I meant to do? Wake them all?

I woke my dad.

I wanted to tell him about the Arabs, but then felt embarrassed. Instead, I told him I wanted an escort to the toilet, which was outside and at the end of a yard filled with the farm’s animals. A few days earlier, I’d come out of the toilet and found myself face to face with a cow. It had stared at me. I stared back, then turned and ran for the stairs. The cow chased me.

Stupid cow.

My dad escorted me to the toilet as my mind nailed the incongruities of the threat. 427 million Arabs? Attacking a remote village in Greece? The terror simmered. What I needed to do was go back to sleep. Things would be okay in the morning.

They were. I tried to piece together what happened. I’d gone out and had a few beers – just a few, as I also had a bad flu. The last few days, I’d been reading a spy thriller about a politician’s daughter who’s kidnapped and sold into white slavery. I rationalised I’d woken up, delirious, and my mind had still been trapped in the remnants of some dream fuelled by the book I’d been reading.

That was the best explanation I had. I didn’t want to tell anybody else – friends I’d made in that village, or my parents – because it was embarrassing. People would think I was mad.

Best to try forget it.

But something similar occurred about six months later, back at home, when again I woke panicked in the middle of the night. A friend, Carl (and Carl wasn’t a very close friend) wanted us to wallpaper 349 million houses.

The enormity of the job staggered me. How long would it take? If you did one house a day, and a house every day of the year, that would be 365 houses, leaving the figure still in the 349 million mark. This was going to be impossible.

I woke my brother Nick, who slept in the bed next to mine, and tried to tell him what was happening. But even as I spoke, I realised the absurdity of it all.

Nick told me to go back to bed. When I woke in the morning, the episode was so dim I thought it had to be a dream. But my brother brought it up the following day, asking me what had been going on. I played dumb, telling him I couldn’t remember. He said I must’ve been drunk. I had been out that night and, in fact, the circumstances were similar to what had occurred with the Arabs: I’d had a few beers, and was suffering from the flu. Was this delirium again?

It occurred again about a month later, but not as bad. I awoke panicked. Something about a lottery and millions of dollars. Now, though, it was immediately apparent this couldn’t be real. I was able to settle and go back to sleep, thinking nothing more of it.

The Other Me

‘Weird’

vi.
A couple of years before I broke my arm, my brother Nick turned a third of the garage into a bungalow. He and his friend put up a wall, installed carpeting, a cork ceiling, chairs and everything. Nick played piano, so he wanted somewhere to practice, but that back room accumulated a lot of the amenities of life: besides my brother’s upright piano, a Commodore 64 home computer, a television, a radio, a couch, and several other chairs.

The back room became my escape. It was also a way to get out of the house without getting out. Better yet, it insulated me from all the shouting. Sometimes, I’d go in the back room and put the radio on full blast to drown out the shouting coming from the house.

My friend Stan and I also spent a lot of time there, playing games on the C64 and talking. Stan had an abusive, alcoholic father, and while Stan was an awesome guy – the sort who’d do anything for you – he had his own blackness. We connected on that level. Stan also began drinking early in his life as a way of coping with things.

I wasn’t capable of much else right after I was discharged from hospital. My broken arm and damaged hand ruled out lots of jobs for me, and you could be really specific with the sorts of jobs you wanted. I told the job agency I wanted to be an actor. It wasn’t a lie, either. I really did want to become an actor.

Of course, at different points throughout my life, I’d had different career ambitions – if you could call what I dreamed to be careers, or my dreams themselves ambitions. For a while, I wanted to be a computer programmer, because I had all these great scenarios for games. I drew up notes, jotted down ideas, and tried to learn computer code. Then I wanted to be a singer – or at least part of a band. I couldn’t sing; but I did play guitar for about six months, learning chords in the garage on an old guitar my brother Nick had bought. I also wrote heaps of lyrics, and imagined in my head the way the clips would look, making stories out of them. Next, it was acting; I visualised myself in lead roles I concocted in my head.

Really, I just wanted to tell stories.

That was the realisation that began to dawn through all these aspirations.

I liked fantasy and science-fiction – maybe because the real world was so mundane to me. The Lord of the Rings was my favourite. I’d read it – and The Hobbit – when I was twelve, and was awed not only by the scope of this world J.R.R. Tolkien had created, but also the history.

I started penning my own fantasy series just after I broke my arm. Luckily, I was left-handed. I wrote by hand, making much of it up on the spot, but developing a mythology as I went on. The Lord of the Rings was my template; Tolkien had impressed upon me that the universe in which any story exists has to be internally logical and self-contained.

I wrote and wrote, coming up with the story of heirs to a lost kingdom, and magical crowns. Originally, I made stuff up on-the-fly, but the further I went on, the more I plotted the background of the story – the foundation that it would be built upon. The world and its people took form before me. Often, I sat up until the early morning hours. Sometimes, I went right through the night, because I was so buzzed with my ideas that I just didn’t want to go to sleep. As pool slipped away as whatever hope it had been, writing now took its place. This was something I could do.

I would write a fantasy epic.

The Other Me

‘Weird’

v.
I was interrupted by the return of the doctors – five or six of them – who strolled in, joking and laughing. That had to be good. They wouldn’t be like this if it was bad news. I kept positive, telling myself over and over – like sheer repetition combined with hope would make it reality – that I wouldn’t need surgery.

They told me I needed surgery.

They were going to insert plates, and if my hand didn’t improve, well, at some point they’d have to cut me open to see what was wrong – not to fix it, mind you, but just to take a look. That was still their overriding concern – why I couldn’t feel or move half of my right hand. The break was almost an afterthought.

The surgery was successful, but now there was new pain. Of course, surgery does that. They slashed my arm open on either side and screwed six-inch plates into the bones to hold them into place. Each plate had six screws. It looked freaky on X-rays. I imagined nurses holding the incision open while a surgeon screwed in the plates with a power drill.

I was in hospital for eight days. But my mood improved. I had plenty of visitors. Nick brought me some books to read. Other kids came into the bay – including a fifteen-year-old who’d broken both arms playing football. (He didn’t get plates, though.)

Because of my age, the nurses let me stay up later and watch movies in the waiting room. One night Rocky II was on TV. While watching the climactic fight between Rocky and Apollo, one of the nurses narrated the damage each blow was doing.

When the plaster and bandaging came off six weeks later, I had seven-inch scars emblazoned down the top and bottom of my now-emaciated forearm. The incisions were covered in bloody scabs and looked like they were ready to burst at the seams. I almost fainted, seeing it.

Still, the concern was my hand.

I was booked in for a nerve test appointment, where they stuck pins into my hand and the top of my forearm. Electrodes ran from the pins into a machine that generated electricity. What they did was shoot electricity into the electrodes at the top of my forearm and let the nerve convey the current to the pins in my hand. This was meant to help gauge the extent of the nerve damage.

When they did this test on the nerve that controlled the top half of my hand, the pins would stand up and my arm would buck spasmodically. Even my brother Lou, holding my arm, couldn’t steady it. But when they did the test on the other nerve, there was only the mildest shock – like a carpet shock.

This impressed the doctor in question, who took photos of the way my hand had contracted into a claw. He wanted to use the pictures for medical classes. The photos are probably still out there. He also thumped on my arm (unconcerned that I was only a couple of months out of surgery) to further demonstrate the extent of the nerve damage and how I couldn’t feel anything – like I needed to be told that.

Given the results of the tests, the doctor estimated the nerve should recover in about eleven months. The doctor said they’d give it six months and if it wasn’t healing, they’d cut me open to check out the damage. Until then, they put a brace on my right hand that forced my ring and small finger to function whenever I used the rest of my hand.

It left me wondering, Why me? I wondered that a lot growing up. Why did this stuff always happen to me? The other guy in hospital had broken both arms – he didn’t have plates or nerve damage. Neither did my cousin Roo, who’d broken his arm twice. Or my cousin Steve, who’d broken his arm so badly that the bone had jutted out of the flesh.

One time my brother Nick said it could be worse. But worse was a sliding scale. If you lined up all the people who were worse on my right, I’m sure there were people on my left who were better-off. I’d be the worse one for them.

The next months were awkward. Once, while taking something out of the oven, I burned myself on my little finger so bad that the skin immediately blistered. I didn’t feel it. As for movement, I had only a little control, but no control of the digits.

There was an element of novelty in this – a lot of people break bones, but with the plates, the nerve damage, and the brace I had to wear, I became a minor celebrity. People always wanted to see how contorted my hand was, the lower half a claw. Or the scars – a thick purple line smeared seven inches long down each side of my right arm. Some people – cretins, mostly – thought I’d been in a knife fight.

The realities of my situation made me low. I couldn’t cut my own food. If I had a steak or something, my mum would have to cut it. One time, at the pharmacy, I couldn’t get change out of my jacket’s left pocket. My right hand wasn’t coordinated enough, (and my left was out-positioned). When I slept, I needed a pillow under my right arm and I had to stay mindful of not rolling around onto it.

Then there was pool. I tried to play left-handed. I did okay but would get frustrated when I couldn’t do what I wanted. So I went back to playing right-handed (but breaking left-handed), for the same result: frustration. The more I got frustrated, the more my ability deteriorated. I lost all confidence in myself.

I have no idea where my life was going before all this. Maybe nowhere. You never know. But now, every direction had become as fractured as my arm had been. I sat in the ravine of that break with too much time and with not enough to fill it.

The only real fortune was that my hand began to heal, so I didn’t need any more surgery.

The Other Me

‘Weird’

iv.
For years, my brothers – Lou and Nick – had a weekly social game of something or other with cousins and friends. Usually, it was soccer. I was hopeless at soccer, and only played it as a last resort. Lately, my brothers played football.

I’d never been invited to play because I was the baby. Regardless of my age and size, I always would be. But my cousin Roo – who was several months younger than me – had been invited to play, so my brothers could no longer rule me out due to age.

The first game I played I was horrible. I had nil stamina. I’d been fit all my life. Awesomely fit. I could run anywhere without puffing – I could jog three or four kilometres easily. But in the last year or so I’d taken up smoking. All my exercising had also slipped. Walking around a pool table all day didn’t do much in that regard. So that first game I puffed and puffed. It was embarrassing.

For the next week, I quit smoking and exercised daily, riding the exercise bike we had in the garage, doing weights, and pushing myself as hard as I could. It wasn’t just about finding fitness – it’s not like you can just find fitness in a week –, but reminding my body what it could do.

I dominated in my second game. I ran hard, hit hard, and felt good about myself. I wasn’t a champion footballer – I was okay and capable of some nice things – but in that game I fulfilled every bit of potential I had.

During one bit of play I leaped to punch the ball and was flipped in mid-air. All my weight came down on my right hand. Both bones in my right arm – about a quarter of the way up from my wrist – broke. It sounded like a plank of wood snapping – at least inside my own head.

My forearm dangled at a 45 degree angle from the point of the fracture. Seeing it, I thought, They’re not going to be able to fix that. Roo – who’d broken his arm twice – said, ‘That’s what mine looked like.’ That was assuring, that this might be normal. Assurance is an amazing thing.

Another cousin led me to the car. Roo shouted out they should take me to any hospital but the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital – or PANCH, as it was known. PANCH had a bad reputation. The reason he’d broken his am twice was he’d gone to PANCH the first time, they’d removed the plaster too early, and the bone had popped back out when somebody had grabbed his arm.

Lou and Nick drove me to St Vincent’s hospital. I clutched my broken arm in the back seat. The break didn’t hurt. But the lower half of my right hand screamed. Every now and again, it felt like my hand was on fire and the two lower fingers would contract. I couldn’t control it.

At hospital, I was told that broken bones are manipulated back into place up until the age of sixteen, but after sixteen they insert pins or plates. It had something to do with the way bones grew before and after that age. Because my sixteenth had been only a couple of months earlier, they were going to try manipulating the bones into place.

That worked, but concern grew over the next few days that I couldn’t feel the lower half of my hand. Fearing the cast was too tight, doctors ordered that it be split down the centre to loosen it, then wrapped up with bandages to ensure it didn’t fall free. The risk was that the procedure might cause the bone to pop out of the place.

The bone popped out of place.

As the doctors held a conference about what they’d do with my arm, I stood by the window of my hospital bay. Due to a lack of beds, I’d been stuck in a children’s ward.

I’d come in on a Sunday evening and been told that I would have to at least stay overnight. That agitated me. I’d been at camps and things like that, but they were places where you had a good time. This was a hospital. I was staying in here as long as something needed fixing. Now it was Tuesday.

I looked out the window and down into the parking lot. I was five storeys up. I wondered was sort of splatter I’d make on the concrete from this height. The thought popped into my head exactly as the thought to quit school had popped into my head. All I had to do was take a run-up and jump through the window.

Suicidal thoughts popped up (popped in?) every now and again. They were never serious. Irrational, more than anything. When I was about eleven, I’d even declared impulsively to Nick after something had gone wrong, ‘I’m going to kill myself!’ He laughed because, I guess, kids say stupid things. Now, though, it would be so easy to jump, to fall, crash, and know nothing more.

Just like that.

No more pain.

No more inconvenience.

The Other Me

‘Weird’

iii.
My oldest brother John bought a pool table when I was eight. It became the one arena where I could beat my brothers.

When you have brothers, you’re competitive about everything: sports, board games, who gets to lie on the couch. When you have three older brothers, you’re also at a physical and intellectual disadvantage in any contest that doesn’t rely on chance.

Originally, I played pool for fun. But I was good at it. Once, my brother had a friend over and I beat him game after game. On one occasion, he was ecstatic because he snookered me, but I fluked my way out of it. It must’ve been heartbreaking for this guy in his twenties to have this annoying ten-year-old kid beat him at pool.

I got better and better over the years, until I became the best in the family. Here was a game where size and strength didn’t matter. You still had to think your way through the game, but playing so much educated me – at least in the way that I could see how a game would unfold and the best tactics to use.

My best friend Stan suggested I try play professionally. Unrealistic probably. But it was something I considered when I dropped out of school halfway through my second last year. I was sixteen.

School had become unchallenging. Being pushed ahead a year meant that once I got to Year 11, I was doing work I’d done the previous year. They couldn’t push me ahead any further, since Year 12 was self-contained. I just felt stagnant.

I also developed the attitude that a lot of the stuff I was learning was useless. I didn’t mind knowing the basics of Accounting or Legal Studies, but if I really needed them, I’d see a professional. It’s not like if I opened a business I’d do the books because I’d taken Year 9 Accounting.

I was walking past the school the day I decided to quit. It was a Sunday. My friend Tim and I had played footy for the local football club. I’d spent the whole match getting smashed by the opposition after mouthing off to one of the opposition after he bumped me late. From there, I got poleaxed for the rest of the game. During one bit of play, I stood under a mistimed kick and an opponent whacked me over the back of the head as he attempted to spoil, while another cannoned into my back.

Tim commented how much he couldn’t be bothered going to school the next day and I told him I was quitting. Just like that. It was the first thought that popped into my head. I might’ve been concussed.

And that was it. My parents blasted me, threatened me, and all that. Why wouldn’t they? Work and stature was everything. You work, you save, nothing else matters. It’s about the nice job you have, the nice house you own, and all that. Then, when you’re too old to enjoy it you retire.

One of my uncles offered to buy me a car if I went back to school. I said no. Then one of my teachers called and asked if I was having any problems. Nope. I appeased my parents by telling them I’d sit a scheduled clerical exam later in the year and get a job.

They understood that: real work. It wasn’t like my brother Nick could’ve ever told them he wanted to be a concert pianist, or me a writer, because they were abstracts. Things like that earned an amused but condescending laugh, the way you laugh at a four-year-old who tells you he wants to be an astronaut. They did that a lot. They disapproved of things they didn’t understand or for which they didn’t see a place. In contemporary society that was only, well, pretty much everything.

They would’ve preferred I became a doctor or a lawyer. That’s stuff they understood, stuff you could really boast about – well, not you, but they. Clerical wasn’t as good as those, but it was something else they understood – a 9–5 job. So that was my plan.

Then I played pool – all day. I’m not sure why. It might’ve been because Stan put the idea in my head, or just because I was obsessive. I played ten to twelve hours a day and I became really good.

About six months later, I broke my arm playing football, and that was that.

The Other Me

‘Weird’

ii.
I was eleven-going on-twelve – my first year in high school – when the moods developed. When they came, it was like I’d never known anything different, so perhaps they were always there, and it was only now I became conscious of them.

Sometimes, I’d become hyper, bounce on my feet, fidget, and my talking would speed up. I always wanted to do something, or nagged people to do things with me. In later years, I’d learn people thought I was taking speed.

Other times I was bleak. I’d look at the other kids – friends screwing around, doing the stuff teenagers do – feel detached and think, Why can’t that be me? It felt like something I was incapable of and disconnected from, that was broken in me and incapable of functioning. I wanted to cry.

There were other things, too. Like, I couldn’t get thoughts out of my head. Something irrational would spawn, and then I’d obsess on it. Once, when I was about thirteen, the thought got stuck in my head that one of my brothers was homosexual. He wasn’t, and there wasn’t any evidence to suggest he was. The harder I tried to get rid of the thought, the deeper it got stuck. It only left several weeks later when I was able to stop paying attention to it.

Despite it all, I was good at school. For stuff like English and Maths I always got pushed ahead a year, and I breezed through all my other subjects, even when I didn’t do the work. They bought all my excuses for not turning work in. Teachers knew I was capable. In Year 10, I barely did any homework. They really should’ve failed me I did so little.

I liked English most of all, although my writing was clunky and needed lots of straightening out, for which I credited my Year 7 English teacher, who taught me about breaking down sentences logically and in point form to see what belonged where.

I wrote epic stories, whether they were wanted or not. In Year 7 English, we wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure story. Mine was over one hundred entries long, a spy action-adventure shoot ’em up. The teacher read it to class, letting the class choose the courses of action. They loved it. It was my first taste of sharing a story with an audience.

In Year 9, I wrote a sixty page sci-fi story. I don’t think the teacher ever read it. Who wants to read sixty pages of messily-written student fiction? Those efforts were normal, though. I just wanted to tell stories.

Writing was cool – to invent worlds, people, plots. It was something I did because I had lots of ideas in my head, and getting them down was a good way to make them real.

But it wasn’t something I wanted to do. Not then anyway.