On January 27 we hosted a special Story-share event at Smith’s Alternative, themed around ‘new beginnings’. Below is a transcript of the talk shared by Sarah Mason.
I was born into an artist’s house, where naked women languished on the walls in frameless canvasses and jars of methylated spirits sprouted technicolour brushes in every sink.
My mother, with dark shaved head and anklets, introduced me to the world with an impressionist’s touch; large bright brushstrokes, missing pieces and Me and Bobby Mcgee on repeat.
When my sea-salty Grandpa visited, it was with a dusty plastic bag of VHS tapes and a pack of Arnott’s cream biscuits. Singing in the Rain, The King and I and North by Northwest danced under my skin while the black cat ‘Pig’ begged for attention.
My very beginning was all about Janis Joplin and Hollywood. She taught me heartbreak and Hollywood taught me love.
At school, I learned about liturgical dance, shoplifting, hip hop and the important and sure fact that our yellow Datsun station wagon was not an acceptable car to be picked up in. My impulse-soaked skin was always too white, too freckled and not booby enough. And I knew that no man could love it or the weird girl inside. It wasn’t important, I proclaimed, instead feasting on x-files and chicken salt chips with my oddball clan.
At the end of it all, I tumbled out, wrapped in a black gown and blinking at the speech which announced that I was In The Real World.
Then there was him. Telling me he liked my Lou Reed t-shirt and offering me a first day of uni pen.
We were just friends, drinking beers with our sweary journo mates, legs leaning together under the stained lunch bench. Just friends, in spite of eyes which became stickier and stickier with each VB. Just friends, until the night when we drank from my engraved flask until my legs turned to solid giggle. He pushed me into a taxi at 3am and we sang The Beatles until Tuggeranong.
It was a toast for dinner moment. With the floor undulating beneath my chair, I listened hard to my deep belly rumble, which I was sure was a symptom of vodka or street vendor pizza.
“What do you think?” I asked him. He handed me a strong black tea and fatly buttered toast and said, “I think it was a perfect day.”
“But we are Just Friends.” I said.
It was a crummy first kiss. When I told him so, he laughed at my bad joke, brushed the bread off my lips and kissed me again.
The day after the kiss started with the clammy mouth hunger of sleeplessness and ended with the delicious sweat of sticking to cheap car vinyl in swimmers. Jumping in the river and daring to throw them to shore in spite of the threat of real ‘nudists’. I freckled my round belly which I never would expose except with his tickling brown hair resting on it.
That 3am tummy rumble wasn’t vodka or street pizza. We knew, with each melty minute, that this was the only time anyone had ever been exactly here. Every taste was sweet, salty and fat with promises about the bohemian life we would own. Fucking and kissing and fucking again; and I started to believe in Valentine’s Day.
We sat in his clanking car and rumbled into a sunset which couldn’t be anything but what Hollywood had promised us. Finally, I’d found someone just for me. He who loved the Beatles even more than I did. He who got my bad jokes, he who loved my white freckly self. With sunshine in our hair and pizza on our breaths, we rolled around in our lovely, grubby, slushy first. I could see the paintings hanging on our walls in a someday future. I could smell the milky breath of our children.
We marked our first year with two tickets to Abbey Road. With foil-packed Qantas beef in our bellies we trod the English asphalt and searched for stripes. One tube and two red buses later, we found that kerb, and walked that line, and made that promise. We would always love each other. Always. I rubbed the pink sweat pooling under my backpack strap and watched myself like a c-grade daytime movie. Eyerollingly sweet, but that’s what I wanted. The more I ate, the more I craved it.
In Rome, we laid on a rooftop with the asphalt sun soaking in our backs and the stars sparking loud approval. I watched his profile in the garlic dark.
“I’ve been thinking.”
My stomach wrinkled with salted slug petulance and I frowned into the sky.
“What?” He asked.
“Just… I like this place. I like this moment.” I said. He smiled. I kneaded my fingers into my belly and closed my mouth hard.
That night, I stretched my matchy red stockings and bra over my hips, my bald elbows and knees banging the hostel bathroom cabinets. With an imaginary drum-roll, I stepped into our fluorescent room, thighs pressed together and blushing.
He was perched against the window frame, staring into his strings, biting a pencil and humming. I rubbed my freshly bruised left elbow, waiting for his eyes. He took the pick from his teeth and strummed.
“Hello,” I said. He strummed again. I waited. He strummed. Took the pick from his teeth and looked at me.
That night I watched him in the long bedroom mirror as he curled around me and sweated on my back. But he was staring into his own eyes. I watched his curled lip and hunched shoulders. Try harder, do better, be more – he was wet with it. I salted my pillow to sleep and wedged myself into the cold corner of our pilled hostel blanket, willing a fade to black.
A week later we sat on a splintered park bench agreeing that it was over. “Kiss me one last time,” I said, like the perfect Hollywood princess. And it was done. He kissed me; the music swelled and the booming voiceover of Shakespeare himself told me that it was better to have loved and lost.
I put my middle finger in the air and cursed him: Cupid, Paul, Ringo, John, George, and most of all Jeff Buckley, the king of make-out music. They’d fooled me; I was pissed.
But that wasn’t the end. I still knew exactly how his hair felt under my hands. And the difference between his real and fake laugh. I could smell him in my pillow and our song on the radio pushed me flat to the floor more than once. They reminded me that I was now unloved.
I worked, drank coffee and put on bright makeup. But when all the distractions were tucked in and dreaming, I remembered every small and important thing I’d ignored during the Year of Us.
The long black hair on my pillow which didn’t belong to me. I didn’t imagine it though he told me I did. The text with the wink which he didn’t want me to see, from the friend he didn’t want me to meet; the stutters he’d never had before; and his eyes drifting from mine when I told him I loved him. Silence on the Rome rooftop.
And one more middle of the night moment, knees rolled to my chest on on a mildewed blow-up mattress on the floor of my mother’s house, I saw. Through the tears, vodka and valium, I saw. I knew.
The songs we’d sung, the tyres which spun on dirt roads and the balloons, promises and chocolate ginger cookies I’d baked. The stocking-wrapped sexy surprises jumping from behind couches and plants and bedroom doors. All this, and I didn’t buy Hollywood. All this, and he wasn’t my Always Man.
On the day I saw it, I bought a ticket and ran.
The honking taxis sounded like Dylan and Sinatra. The tapping stilettos and boots whispered New York, New York. The sickly sweet hotdog bread dripping with mustard was better than any plush-chaired restaurant meal drizzled with precious truffle juice. It was more; it was the movies.
The place where one ate breakfast at Tiffanys. The place where cheesy clichés didn’t stick to the roof of my mouth. The popcorn-crunching-under-my-boots and nothing-can-go-wrong-here home to neurotics and artists, and Oscar the Grouch.
I was in New York, learning how to smile in spite of the sweet something which slipped through my fingers, the little poisons which infected my steps. My beginnings before that and before that and before were nothing more than circumstance. But all of it, and after the truth, there was still this.
Now I knew them both. The dusty ground Janis which sounded like the day after whiskey. The can’t wash my hair blues. But I still needed my Hollywood dreams. I hitched my backpack to my shoulders, looked to the spitting sky and began.
Image: Caleb Ekeroth
Sarah Mason is a Canberra-based writer and film-maker whose articles, poetry and illustrations have been published over the last fifteen years, with her musings ranging from onesies to feminism, family and embracing her red-headed roots(!). She is a credited scriptwriter for the feature film Blue World Order, (currently in post production) with release internationally in 2016. Sarah is also represented by literary agents, Curtis Brown (Australia) for her first two fiction novels which explore issues of generational trauma, technology and vulnerability.