‘Normal as Hell’
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.