I was merely six yet already an impassive witness to a life that had proceeded as if I were merely part of the scenery. The credo I imbibed was bleak and clear: to be visible but not vocal, and often not even the former.
It was under the strict supervision of my grandparents that I existed — a target for their disillusionments and beatings rather than an entity worthy of affection. Their displeasure had little to do with me and everything to do with themselves. Their failed ambitions and unrealized potential all found a resting place on me. As for my father, a failure in their eyes, and my mother — well, she was “open to any man’s advances,” or so my grandmother would bitterly pronounce. I am thankful I was too young to decode her innuendos.
Lonely is a different word. Loneliness implies an alternative, a parallel life filled with companionship and warmth I could have had. My reality contained no such duality.
A goldfish swimming listlessly in a transparent bowl for a time. It’s an appropriate analogy for my upbringing — clear boundaries but insurmountable, perceptible, yet infinitely distant. My grandparents, custodians by necessity but jailers in practice, peddled criticism and blame as if these were commodities more valuable than kindness. I was resented and disliked. “The grandchild.”
My parents? They were players in an entirely different narrative, a complicated story without space for me. I was an appendage to their plot, a detail to be overlooked, a sentence never completed. The words “Shut up,” whether emerging from my grandparents’ mouths or alluded to by my parents’ absence, were parceled out as if rationed for war. The silence this imposed on me became my armor, a protective yet imprisoning barrier.
In school, an unlikely sanctuary, I found a warm version of what might pass for everyday life.
My grandparent’s home in Dover, Tasmania, is a fragment of the world so removed yet tethered to my very core. Like a single comma in a sprawling narrative, I was present but disconnected.
My grandmother, who still lived within the rigid circumference of old customs and prejudices, dismissed our neighbors as inferior. Yet, they — the people next door, the ones down the street — became the compass by which I navigated a sense of normalcy.
Occasionally, I was allowed to visit them. Their warm kitchens, where the aroma of baked bread mingled with the murmur of daily life, became my…