Monday, August 9, 2010

253. Postcards

I once went out with a guy called Matthew.  I really liked him.  But we broke up.

My best friend Anne was dating Matt's friend Mark.  Mark had gone to England for work and had sent Anne a postcard.

Anne and I were house sitting and I'd collected the mail, giving Anne the postcard.  She had a quick look over it, not reading it then handed it to me, saying I could read it if I wanted.

I read it through, and got to one sentence:

"Matt was cheating on Sarah"

Nice way to find out.

2854. On the Nose

I went on a date two weekends ago.  It wasn't a successful date. It wasn't a fun date. 

We met in Cottesloe and had a drink.  He was a brawnosaurus - all muscle.  He couldn't even walk properly because he'd worked out so hard on his legs that day, then gone for a 2 hour run.  He just wasn't my cup of tea.

He could have been Prince Charming for all I cared.  When you're getting over someone you have feelings for, it's hard to appreciate anyone else.  And I am getting over someone. 

We sat on a wall and ate icecream.  I knew I was sad and it wasn't a good idea to have come on the date.

I looked over and saw that the guy had icecream up his nose.  It was the final straw that broke my heart that little bit more.

I made some excuse that I had to leave and walked back to my car.

For me getting over someone means time, not replacements or distractions.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

302. Squeaky

Writing about what must have been a horrendous car trip for my mum, transporting two children and two car-sick animals on a three hour trip to Perth reminds me of a car trip my friend Anne took from Perth to Exmouth.

Exmouth would be, say, 10 hours drive from Perth.  Anne's family had a penchant for Daihatsu Charades.  Which was rather comical as her father resembled a white-haired, bespectactled Kong from Mario Brothers Mario Kart.  He'd squeeze behind the wheel of that tiny Charade, knees up around his armpits and furrowed his brow, as his car, under extreme conditions, tried to work its way to top gear. 

Anne's Aunty Carol had come to visit, all the way from Switzerland.  I think the family had decided to take her to Exmouth and show her a bit of the "state" of WA. 

Ma and Pa H., Anne and Aunty Carol set off in the Charade, which realistically was already full with just Father K in the front seat, let alone with all of their luggage stowed in the tiny space behind the two back seats, and wedged into any available crevice between the passengers.

Anne found herself cheek to jowl with a polystyrene esky.  This wasn't so bad at first, as it was quite cooling against her hot and flushed cheek.  Given that the airconditioning was not making it past the cramped shoulders of K and J in the two front seats, Anne was thankful for her cool travelling companion, even if it did preclude her from looking out the window.

Father K isn't a man who likes to do what he's told, or what he should.  Father K decided, somewhere in the Murchison region, that he was going to divert from the main highway and take Swiss Carol through the heart and soul of the WA outback.  Anne related to me that she remembered six hours of gravel road, animal carcasses and sweating so much she could feel the foam seat beneath her squelch with salty-water.  What was worse, Father K being a huge fan of opera played Faust for the whole trip.  Anne sat sweltering as they continued their hellish journey.

But the part that really made me cry with laughter about this journey was the esky perched next to Anne's head.  On the 6 hours of rough road, the esky was bounced up and down against the rubber window framing.  For six hours Anne had an unrelenting "squeak squeak" or "eee, iii, eee, iii" in her ear.  The horrible sound of squealing polystyrene had her in such a state that when they reached Exmouth, her mother had to calm her down with gin and a promise of a plane ticket for the return trip.  Anne was so distraught they gave her sleeping tablets and let her lay in total silence in their hotel room for the entire first day of their holiday in Exmouth.

8. Narrogin

I lived in Narrogin until I was two and something years of age.  I know that we were still living there in April 1979 as I have a photo of me, my brother and Carl (family friend) standing on a verandah.  It's my favourite photo.  I'm staring off into space (as usual daydreaming), my brother is looking at me, and Carl is looking at my brother. We're dressed in the epitome of 70s childrens fashion.  I'm rocking a burgandy pinafore, Carl's got on a tight mustard yellow tshirt and my brother's wearing a matching blue on blue polo shirt with massive collars and short shorts with a belt.  If you look closely at the photo you can see two other random things; a white jelly bean on the verandah table and a lone thong, laying abandoned.

I remember some things about Narrogin still.  I remember the first house we lived in had multicoloured striped carpet, predominatly mustard, brown and turquoise.  I also remember our house being next to an empty block and walking across that block with my brother and our Great Dane dog to the neighbours house.  I also vaguely remember peacock feathers in a vase on a hall stand in a neighbour's house.  At that same neighbour's house (who were Carl's parents) I remember sitting in their childrens' activity room cutting out paper shapes with a pair of Wonder Woman scissors.  I also remember crawling through the hedges on their front lawn, emerging from the dark and damp maze covered in dirt, scratches and my mum telling me off for going missing.

I don't remember leaving Narrogin, or moving out of our house, but I do remember moving into our new house in Perth.  I remember being very excited.  I remember my dad's Ford Falcon.  I remember liking our new mission brown letter box.  Number 8 Eskdale Street.  I'd look down the hill and across what to me at the time was a huge expanse of trees and valley and to the other mountainous side of the valley.  These days I know it to be a mere hill with an oval inbetween.  But to me as a two year old it was the universe, I might as well have been looking out towards Mars, for all my ability to make it there at the age two. 

I don't remember trip down to Perth, it's like the trip was just so traumatic my little baby brain turned off.  Which might be explained by the following.  My father somehow bamboozled my mother into transporting in her two door hatchback Celica the following items:
1 x five year old
1 x two year old
1 x Great Dane dog
1 x cat
various kitchen paraphenalia

As you can imagine, that three hour trip must have been quite...eventful.  No wonder I can't remember it.  I most likely tuned out or went into a protective coma.

My dad somehow made the trip down to Perth with nothing but an empty sedan and airconditioning.

457. Wet hands

My posts so far haven't been very joyous, so here is a happier post, out of time and place, and just for you.

I completed my final University exam on November 23rd 2007.  I started working on the 26th November.  I had a weekend off after 5 years of study. 

I like to make things hard for myself.

My first job was at the same place where I'd completed my final practicum.  After three month's prac I went from being a student to an employee.  I wanted to impress.  I wanted to show the team I work with I wasn't a student any more; I was a professional.

Standing in the staff kitchen, I was making myself a coffee when in walked the only tolerably good-looking and single-ish (i'm not really sure if he is single, but he doesn't wear a ring) male employee.  And he's slim pickings as it is.  To explain what I mean, the four other males include a fitness freak father of six, a married neurologist who resembles Toad of Toad Hall, an androgynous neuropsychiatrist who never eats or drinks and secretary who drinks too much and has a ZZ Top beard.  Needless to say, there are no hijinx at staff parties to look forward too.

I'd only ever heard about this one, semi-viable yet illusive bachelor, and never seen him.  A handsome MAN at work? I don't believe it!! It's wall to wall females who eat tuna and take hormone tablets. 

So in barrels the only slightly decent man on the premises. Endearingly confused, English, floppy haired, vague and with a penchant for v-necked swearters. Just my type.

I smile at him slyly as he introduces himself and hold his hand out to me.

Now, the problem is that I don't have a filter that stops me from saying what is at the very forefront on my brain.  If a thought is formed it just fall through the cracks in the floorboards of my language centre and comes bouncing out of my mouth.  I kind of like to think that the progression of concept to utterance is like a sewing machine that hasn't been threaded properly.  The cotten gets all tangled and confused.  Just like my words.

So, what did I say? Well I stood looking at his hand, and then said:

"I can't shake your hand I'm sorry.  I just went to the toilet and my hands are still wet"

He looked at me and my hand in disgust and backed away.  I realised what I had just said, and tried to mend the situation by adding: "on, no! I mean, they are wet still from washing my hands, not wee".

It got worse because I then proceeded to dry my hands and reach out to shake his hand informing him "it's ok, they're dry now".  His response was to pretend he didn't hear me and run out of the kitchen.

Needless to say, we don't speak.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

7. Germany

Germany features later on, and earlier on. But slots in nicely here too. Whilst I was being born, my maternal grandmother Irene tripped off back to Germany and left my birth mother Bella alone, and giving birth to her first child who she would not see again for another 18 years.  I was in essence Irene's first grandchild.  Not surprisingly, I don't hold Irene in high esteem for this decision to leave Bella and take a 'trip' to Germany.  However, I don't know her and from all accounts Irene's life didn't turn out quite as she wanted it to, so who knows what was going through her head.

Saying that, Irene was to repeat this, in my opinion, rather callous performance again when my half-brother James was born six years later. My maternal grandmother obviously decided it was just all too much for her to deal with and decided it was time to up stumps and take a holiday and visit her family back in the Rhineland. Bella was left to go through birthing a second time with no family or support, and with the possibility of relinquishing another child for a second time  This did not eventuate and she kept James.

James was to be given up in an informal adoption to a couple that Bella had known since she’d been with my birthfather Ian. The couple, Jeff and Jeanette, could not have children of their own and had been keen to adopt James.  At the last moment Bella decided to keep her son. 

And as far as the story goes, Bella never told James this and he still doesn't know.

I met Jeff and Jeanette when I was 26 or 27. They had only known me as a bump on Bella’s belly. I remember thinking that Jeff was quite handsome. It was a fun night, and I think rather emotional, as they had also known my birth father Ian, and had all kicked around together as a foursome. They could see the younger Ian and Bella in me.

James was there too that night, and it must have been strange for Jeff and Jeanette to think how the bump and the boy had turned out and how different things may have been.

6. Bella and Ian

Bella and Ian, my birth parents, had what can only be optimistically described as a 'rocky relationship'. When Bella had become pregnant with me, Ian insisted he didn't want a baby and left Bella heartbroken and knocked up. Thank goodness she didn’t abort.   Although I have a sneaking suspicion she didn't abort because she thought that Ian would reconsider and want to be a father.  Well, that didn't happen but at least I got to draw breath and be.

There was always a question as to whether I was actually Ian’s child, or Grant's - his brother.  Talk about being a 'love child'.  There was so much love around that no one is entirely sure whose I am.

Bella had been 'sleeping with' (what a quaint euphemism) both brothers around the time I was conceived. I think this information shook Ian to the very core, and even though he didn’t want to be a father, Ian over time had come to accept that his genetic material came to a rather finite end with me, and that I was the sum total of his ancestor's struggle to continue their genetic material. Grant never had children (but we'll never be entirely sure...). So whichever way Bella took the tumble, I am a Roberts and the end of their line, unless I'm a pretty hook to catch a fish and have a school of little fishes of my own(Pisces that is, being a Pisces of two other Pisces, with a half-brother and brother who are also both fishes).

Ian did request that I have a DNA test to check his paternity, however, given that him and his brother would have practically identical DNA it would be difficult to ascertain whether it was him or Grant who actually fathered me.

But back to the ballad of Bella and Ian, they eventually got back together after I was born and no longer 'around'.  Their relationship lasted about 10 years.

I wonder if they ever discussed the interim when they weren’t together - you know, the part with Bella gestating and giving birth - or whether the topic was just too big to talk about and instead decided it was easier to never discuss it.

The relationship didn’t last, and the love saga of Bella and Ian ended. They did keep in touch, delicately and remotely, through her many love affairs and his few and far betweens.

5. New parents

I was born one month before my parents met me. They were living in Narrogin when I was born, busy being a nurse and policeman, and running a restaurant and pub called the Woolly Bull.  It's very strange to think of my parents as one-time pubilcans.  One night when my dad was on chef-duties at the pub, he telephoned my mother at home to ask her "how do you make batter stick to fish?"  Their reign over the Woolley Bull didn't last long.

Viv and Ray already a son, Jason. He had been adopted too, three years earlier. Viv and Ray travelled the long and dusty trip along the gravel roads from Narrogin to Perth to collect him. My mum had bought a baby outfit from Coles Fossey's to take along with them, so they could change Jason for the trip back home. I can only imagine the excitement that both my parents must have felt during that long trip to Perth. It makes me get quite teary thinking about how they must have thought that all their dreams had come true and that their prayers had been listened to and a child delivered to them.

Luck wasn't smiling on them the whole time.  My dad Ray ended up getting food poisoning from the roasted Red Rooster chicken he bought to eat whilst my mum ran into Target in Carousel to buy Jason some extra booties.  Well, every day has it's ups and downs.

God answered their prayers again in 1977 with the news of a baby girl.  In the 1970s there was a scarcity of children who were put up for adoption. Due to a mixture of a decrease in the public outcry at unmarried mothers, the ready availability of contraception and various abortive methods, babies were either not being born or weren't adopted out.

My mum was unable to have children of her own. She, like many women had been on the early version of the contraceptive pill, which had catastrophic levels of hormones, and the pills had subsequently rendered her unable to conceive. Most devastatingly, my mum had always wanted lots of children. I think she had dreamed of at least five or six. She herself was one of five children, and quite possibly hoped of having children and providing them with a better childhood than she herself had had.  And she did.

My parents already had a three-year-old son when they received a second call to let them know that there was a baby girl available.  Maybe "available" isn't the right word, but how do you describe these things?  It makes me sound like a empty car park, or spare seat on an airplane.

My mother accepted the offer of a daughter sight-unseen.  So my dad and her travelled up to Perth a second time to meet their new daughter - me! My brother also made the journey, and repeatedly informed my parents during the journey that I was to be called 'Riki Tiki Tavi'.

At this point I had been languishing in King Edward Memorial Hospital for a month. I believe that this was due to there being a ‘cooling off period’ where birth mothers could change their mind about the adoption. Therefore, as a safety precaution against the precarious state-of-mind of a post-natal teenager, I was put in a holding pen, until such time was up and I was definitely to be adopted.

Bella told me that they never let her hold me when I was born.  I was whisked off by the nurses, never to be seen again, and in all probablility to prevent any attachment on her part. The social workers, doctors and nurses all probably thought they were doing the best thing. 

Bella named me Amanda Scharfenstein. My birth father was not named on my birth certificate.

When I was 13 I had a friend called Larissa. Larissa and I were the same age and went to the same school and lived in the same suburb.  Larissa had been adopted too. Larissa had been born in Perth, two weeks before me. And by sheer luck and chance I was adopted by my parents, and not by hers. I always thought, how lucky I was.

My parents eventually decided on calling me Sarah Jane, in favour of other such options and permutations as Briony Rose or Sarah Louise.  I can only thank whatever name-gods there are out there that my parents didn't call me Briony Rose.

In April 1977 I became their daughter and sister to my brother.

4. Heather

Whilst in hospital awaiting parents, I was known as 'Heather' by the KEMH paediatric nursing staff. It’s interesting to think that for a whole month women who I’ll never know hugged me, named me, played with me, fed me and washed me. Intermittently.

Sadly, during this time because I had no constant carer I experienced ongoing stress. This was pointed out to me by a counsellor who I saw once regarding my adoption.  Everytime someone picked me up and cuddled me as a baby, they would inevitably put me down again, and more than likely I’d not be held by them again. Until another nurse picked me up and put me down. So for a month, a long time in baby-time, Baby Sarah never knew when next she was going to be fed, held,  or cuddled.  In other words, there was no  consistent bonding  schedule.

Surprise, surprise, I have abandonement issues. It’s easier when you know why.

But thank you to those nurses who cared for me and named me Heather, and to those who gave me whatever hugs and love they could during that time.

3. 04/03/1977

I was born on the 4th of March 1977 at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia. I’m not 100% sure of the time. I think it was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I really should refer to my birth certificate to find this out, but i'm no longer sure where it is.

I remember when I was in primary school telling my best friend that I was born when the microwave went ‘ding’ in the hospital’s kitchen. For some reason she believed me.

By all accounts it was an uneventful labour.

I have an inny belly button.  Just in case you were wondering.  I'm thankful to the Dr who tied my umbilicus.

2. Gobbles Nightclub

My birth was a collaborative affair between two Pisceans named Bella and Ian.  They are confusing, intelligent, humourous, good-looking, tall, complex, delicate, distant and idealistic.

I’m under the impression that Bella and Ian's eyes first met whilst they were dancing, dressed in go-go boots (her) and flares (him) to Rick Springfield or the likes, in the mid 1970s at a nightclub called 'Gobbles'. They were probably as hirsute as each other.

Gobbles was, and still is in some respects, an icon of the heady, free, innocent, hairy, polyestered days of the 1970s. Where men were men and women still had hairy bushes and wore exceptionally high and tight jeans. Then again, so did the men.  Think "Bee Gees".

Gobbles was still around when I was a teenager, but closed before I was of legal age to visit, or able to get drunk enough to want to do so.

I’m not sure what went on that night between my two genetic donors, but I think their eyes locked across the dance floor, and in the ensuing hours, so did their lips. But whatever the circumstances, it eventuated in a child. So although Gobbles is not the most romantic place for my birth parents to have met, it bought them together, and produced me, so therefore holds a special place in my heart.

Gobbles Night Club interior circa 1976


My maternal grandmother Irene ran away from her home and family when she was 16 years old. Miraculously, she had been corresponding with a German gentleman who had immigrated to Kalgoorlie.  The gentleman was Herr Scharfenstein.  He must have possessed extraordinary powers of charm and persuasion, as he was able to lure the young and beautiful Irene away from her well-off and well-mannered family in Germany and come visit  him in Kalgoorlie; a fairy city paved with gold.

Dressed in matching coat, hat and gloves, and speaking little English, Irene packed her trunk and used what money she had to purchase a ticket for a boat headed to Perth, Western Australia.  Irene sailed to the other side of the world with a head filled with the hopes and aspirations of most 16 year olds; love, romance, babies and bridal dresses.  As it was the 1950s, she was probably also dreaming of automatic washing machines, fold out ironing boards, Kenwood mixers and a frilly apron that would match the kitchen drapes.

Irene would instead find an alcoholic, aging batchelor and the fairy city Kalgoorlie comprised of a gaping mining pit, prostitution and alcoholism, and as culturally devoid as the expired breath of the soused con-man who enticed her there.

Irene, with no money to return to her family, married Herr Scharfenstein and became Frau Scharfenstein.

Herr Scharfenstein I know very little about, aside from his last name, which is the name I was born under. A complete stranger to me, and will always remain so.

Frau and Herr S. did not last long. Likely the reality outweighed her dreams, and Frau dispatched to Perth to work as a shop assistant.

The Narrows Bridge was constructed in the 1950s and opened in 1958, joining the city with South Perth.
Battye Library [3373B/55]

Frau at some point in the early 1950s met a dashing Polish man and indulged in bigamy. Frau could not divorce Herr Scharfenstein as women could not petition for a divorce from their husband.  Subsequently Irene lived with, and became pregnant to my maternal grandfather, Peitr, whilst still legally bound to her husband Herr Scharfenstein.

My birth mother Bella was born on the 9th March 1956, with the surname Scharfenstein, as Frau was still married to Herr, although Bella’s father was Herr Kostecki.  So although a Scharenstein, she is a Kostecki by another name.

Herr K. is as shady as Herr S. I have little idea of his heritage.  Even Bella had little idea of his history.  His brother, allegedly, was sentenced to a Siberian prison camp for political dissension.  Herr K. fled to Australia and never spoke of his past, aside from admissions of a Ukrainian and Russian heritage.

Peitr died before I could meet him.  I think I would have liked this eccentric and beguiling grandfather.

I was on holidays in Italy at the time.  In Florence, which has other significance for me.  I telephoned Bella, rather inappropriately, after a drunken, wild night to say, through hiccups and slurred words 'hello!'. Bella informed me that her father had passed away a week before and she had just returned from his funeral.

It wasn't the best way to receive the news that you would never meet a grandfather who you had hoped to meet.

I did get introduced to Herr K’s ashes one Christmas Eve a few years later. We were drinking beer out on the veranda at Bella's house when she took 'him' down from on top the kitchen cabinet to meet me, his granddaughter.  Pietr was interred in a large silver pot. I saw and held his white, dusty ashes and was surprised by the sheer weight of them, and by the number of larger fragments of bone matter in amongst the finer powder.

Frau and Herr K. did not last very long either. Long enough to create a child and long enough to get to know each other well enough to know that they did not like each other well enough to stay together.

Irene raised Bella in a ground floor apartment off Hyde Park in Highgate, Perth. I know very little of this time.  I do know that Irene loved attending matinee sessions of Elvis Presley movies, dreaming of a better life, whilst Bella would crawl under the chairs on the red velvet carpets of the art deco Luna cinema in Leederville.

Eventually, Frau was granted a divorce petition for Herr S, and remarried a man called Mitch. She remained with him for the rest of her life.