Having collected Daniel from Chris and Tracy, I felt both nervous and hopeful for the future.
I had to accept that if Chris would not support me working then I had to make the decision to either put Daniel into child care, or simply not work. It wasn’t a great pay-off to have Daniel in care all those hours at such cost – much better to be with family – so while driving I decided that if I were to not work in the acting job (that I was stunned to be thought good enough for, having passed auditions), then I would look for other work.
We would get by, we would be fine, I determined, slowing down for the lights.
“How are you, gorgeous?” I turned to say to Daniel, and he gave me a big rosy-cheeked grin. He then burbled something in the trill of a song bird, sounding excited and eager. I laughed. The joy which emanated from this young being was so charged, I was begifted every minute by his very life.
I turned to continue driving.
It’s important to not hope on Chris’ support, I thought to myself. I did not like the sense of power I felt Chris possessed in being able to say yes or no, he will care for his child. I had no power of sway (also did not care for power games) for I had said ‘yes’ to Daniel with all of my heart upon his birth. Thereby, I would always be there for him – but Chris had the power to be available for his son and assist us, or not be available to his son and be absent, a father.
I had to remember Chris had it in his character to disappear from Daniel’s life at will, like when I started talking maintenance and he spat, “I’ll piss off, you’ll see!” – and then was uncontactable for a month. That had been such a torture to me, isolated in Western Australia without family, no friends with children, night clubbing buddies lost to the night and lost my number, no adult to talk to but Tom when I ran into him. And it had happened just before Robert ambushed me sexually.
I could have rung Des from theatre days but he could not relate an iota, single man living a single man’s whims; I could have rung Tom my yoga teacher but preferred him not know me depressed for he was always so positive; I could have rung the theatre director Andrea who’d said, “Keep in touch, now” – but who ever means that?; I could have rung my grandmother but I had not exposed her to Daniel yet, and wasn’t sure how she’d receive me as a parent single; I could have rung my sisters over east but I didn’t want them to know Chris was toying with me (that’s my pride, my downfall)… really, I could ring everyone and no-one; besides all of which, utterance of the word ‘help’ had not crossed my lips ever, not ever, in my life.
“Neighbours are more curious than concerned (don’t ever seek help/tell what’s happening)”, dad had hissed at us. Still, Wendy during an argument with him, had flung open the window one day and screamed into the world, “I DON’T CARE IF THE NEIGHBOURS HEAR!” I can never forget my father’s freezing at that moment, and I did too: she was so, so brave.
I had got through everything alone and I would again (if Chris doesn’t help), I decided resolutely as I turned down Eric Street, Cottesloe Western Australia.
Who am I? Had I determined at an early age self-imposed exile? Was I abandoning myself from the human race, so that I cannot be abandoned; not asking for help so I cannot be rejected?
I remember that school essay, “Write on the theme ‘No man is an island’.” But I am, I had thought to myself.
But torture, it had been – his disappearance for a month after I tried to discuss maintenance. And psychological endurance. I would not ring Chris, I’d decided at that time, when he told me “The other mother doesn’t ask for money; why should you?” (What other mother?… You have a daughter you don’t support too?). For, if Chris loved his son he would come to see him, have time with him. Oh – but was that me playing games, too?
And when Chris did ring after that month, I needed to pretend I was fine, we’d been fine (to not allow him the power of seeing me broken). No, no, OF COURSE I didn’t leave our son playing on the floor when I was immobilized by depression, lay in my bed so Daniel would not witness the real me, a tear welled from the little girl still inside me, welled in my eye. And unfallen, it glazed my vision. So I stared, something like an hour, at the vacancy of space spread across my bedroom wall.
Mum used to lay just so – get up, get up. You can’t do this to Daniel: get up, get up.
But I can’t move my legs, I can’t feel my legs – or my body, my hands. I’m numb. I’m stuck. I’m stuck in tragedy in time. Get me out. Move me. Someone move me.
Snap out of it: “Depressed (sneer) yer don’t know the meaning of the word” – Dad: circa, Yesterdays.
to the bathroom, wash my face,
to Daniel, big smile.
Him looking at me quizzically.
Me sitting with him, lifting a toy but it’s so heavy, just so heavy. Trying to act, “Hee hee – ha ha – smile – beautiful! darling! gorgeous! we’ll go to the beach later!”
But I couldn’t do it.
‘Kung fu is practiced every where every way’ – Sifu of Yesterdays.
I can do it!
Stare, freeze, stun, numb.
I had gone to the kitchen drawer one of those bad days, those terrible terrible days when I had carried Daniel with me every waking moment for more than a week unending, given him the whole of my attention unending, when my back felt broken, when my body shut down on me, collapsed on me.
I had gone to the kitchen drawer in desperation, as Daniel wouldn’t settle and was bored of his toys and I needed to rest. I needed to find something to occupy him before I lapsed into unconsciousness, so unslept was I, unwashed, ravaged by depression, aloneness, Chris’ departure from Daniel and all it implied about who he was by way of Daniel’s other parent.
I had yanked it out of the cabinet, the drawer, and plonked it on the kitchen floor. Daniel, fascinated, took to it immediately. I watched a few seconds, then stumbled away to my room and collapsed. I blacked out with fatigue, extreme fatigue. Not sleeping at night. Not sleeping at day. How do they do it in the Army? How do they march on? Only those who could march on, survived Mao’s long march. Would I have died, therefore, weakly now resting on my plush bed? We all think we’re strong, think we’re survivors, but we all collapse – at some point we collapse.
Mum? Are you there?
Daniel’s clanking and rattling the kitchen utensils. There’s a great commotion out there. Are you a Guardian Angel, or are you just pleased to see me? Ha ha – hee. That’s not funny. Not funny.
When I had woken that time that Chris disappeared for a month – I remember so clearly, I came to consciousness with that good feeling in the body, where your whole being thanks you for stopping, just stopping in your strides of life. Refreshed, I’d sat up and looked across at Daniel’s cot, but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t in my bed either, where he crawls to, and we become two pearls in one oyster clammed off from the world, secure and warm ‘neath blankets.
I had got up and said his name, but there was no answer.
“Daniel?” I’d said again, panicked.
I had rushed quickly out of my bedroom to the kitchenette and there, slumped alongside the kitchen drawer on the hard ground, was Daniel. My boy in my care: not one year on earth yet: was slumped on the cold wooden floor.
I tiptoed close, seized with fear. What had I done to my boy? I had slept, had neglected my boy.
Once close, I saw peace a gentle veil lain over Daniel’s face in rest. I would not disturb him.
But the cutlery? There was no cutlery in the drawer. I wondered if I was half dreaming, if I had removed the cutlery from the drawer when I gave it to him – but all that clanking???…
I looked under my writing desk, alongside the refrigerator, behind the bin, but there was no cutlery. I then opened a cupboard door, and there discovered a collection of knives and teaspoons. I opened another door and saw on the shelf where I kept the dish cloth and detergent, more knives, more spoons, and forks.
My God! I thought to myself in horror: how stupid, stupid, stupid am I, to leave my son playing with knives. My God, what is wrong with me, I thought to myself as I stared, a little awed at the completely stashed collection. I looked back at Daniel but he was not cut, was simply sleeping like none but an Angelic cherub can.
How curious it was that Daniel had so meticulously shoved all my cutlery from the drawer into the cupboards. He must have decided to divide the stash as it must have been spilling from one, requiring another. Not yet walking, he would have crawl-walked little bundles of cutlery across to the cupboards. How curious, how odd, how funny and cute. But I just could not believe I had been so stupid.
Thank you, dear God, I said in my head. I so, so meant it. God knows what Daniel and me were spared in my stupidity, fraught with exhaustion and despair yes, but – it could have been horrific – an eye out, anything.
That day, then, I returned to my bed and, refreshed, mentally lay, new plans to survive Chris’ withdrawal upon my talk of maintenance. We would be fine, we would get by, I’d thought; just as I was thinking now. I released Daniel from his car seat in the car park of Cottesloe Beach, Western Australia, and brought him across to the front seat with me. We’ll be fine if Chris doesn’t support me working. I will find another way.
I remember reading once that there are infinite paths to the same end – you just need to be flexible, adaptable and persevere. So, simply, I would take another path. I had sold every material possession of mine that was sellable: sold the kitchen table, my music tapes, books, work clothes, but, “We’ll be fine”, I said to Daniel, our cheeks like two marshmallows squashed against each other as I hugged him. I could have almost squeezed him to death.
I unbuckled myself and, not caring, at the ocean’s shoreline I removed my jeans. Then in t-shirt and knickers I played with Daniel. We splashed, made holes, I buried his feet so he couldn’t move, and giggled when I pretended I couldn’t move after he buried my feet.
Time brought us through the day on its tide until eventually we were warm, clean and in nightwear. Then the day closed like the heavy eyelids of a child who has had so much life in one day, they’ve grown a mile.
Thing is, I thought to myself, lying alongside Daniel in my bed, him sleeping – that time Chris “pissed off; you’ll see” - that time, just when I had buckled up and adjusted to the all new brand of non-support (absence, instead of unpredictable presence) – just as I had adjusted, Chris returned. And it all started again.
I would not let Chris have such an effect on me again, I decided, amongst my last thoughts before sleeping. I will pretend to the agent that I can make the acting assignment at the Police Academy. If Chris pulls out and I have to cancel, lose my good standing, then so be it. Some thrilled actor will step into my place, and I will never be called up by her again. So what. That’s life. It’s only acting. It’s only something I want – not a need.
The most important thing is – Daniel snuffled, his long brown eyelashes fluttered. I smelled him. I loved him.
The most important thing is, because I had to learn from that month’s absence and how it destroyed me alone in a flat, facading wellness to passers-by in my life – I’m okay, we’re okay: what I would learn this time was, I will not rely on Chris. I will even start looking for other work, while waiting for Chris to say yes he’ll take some responsibility for his son in support of me working and bettering Daniel and my lives.
If there’s a road block, we’ll take another route.
Copyright, Noeleen&Daniel 50/50