CAST LIGHT ON THE SHADOWS LONG.

Seven years ago I wrote the “Shout” post on this blog. It’s over two and a half years since I wrote “Tell me, what’s fear to you?“; the post that went viral and took my words to people all around the world. June marked fifteen years since my Daughter was murdered and next February will be the thirtieth anniversary of her birth. I turned 48 years old myself this week.

In all those years there is one part of the night my Daughter Number One was murdered that I have never written about. In her powerhouse performance “Nanette” Hannah Gadsby talks about how the things we leave out, the things we don’t say, the things we hide from ourselves and from others can end up shaping our narrative. She says “You learn from the part of the story you focus on”.

Last month was the Pride march here. Son Number Two and I were again proud to march with PFLAG. Last year we brought two friends with us. This year we brought five friends with us, mostly young people. Pride, for me, is a celebration of love and community. I see people around me struggling with identity and worth, purpose and meaning and if there’s one thing I can still be certain of, it’s that we really can’t have too much love and community in our lives.

As we marched I was thinking about the “coming out process”; how for some it is momentous and for others it’s anti-climactic. Some feel compelled to make a statement while others think their sexuality is no one’s business but their own. Some fear losing their families, their jobs, their homes, their lives.

It made me think about the #metoo movement; why does anyone speak up? I think the reasons why people don’t speak up, in general, are pretty clear. Whether it’s in a courtroom, the schoolyard, online or in the media the risk for vilification and ridicule are huge. Recently, in Ireland, there have been protests after a lawyer there argued that the teenage survivor’s choice of underwear had been implicit consent to sexual intercourse. While my mind was screaming “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?” to that there came the heart wrenching response from a Scottish mother whose 17 year old daughter killed herself two weeks after the trial of her rapist, during which she was compelled to hold up her own underwear in the courtroom, three separate times. For fuck’s sake. There are so many valid reasons not to say a word, to anyone, ever.

My Daughter Number One kept her secret. Until she found someone she loved and trusted enough to share it with. Shortly before she died she told her Very Best Friend that her murderer had touched her inappropriately when she was younger. Her Very Best Friend was thirteen years old. In the brief time between her disclosure and her murder, my Daughter and her Very Best Friend argued about her telling someone else. Someone who could do something. The Very Best Friend tried, over and over again, to get her to tell. My Daughter was trying to protect us, her siblings and her mother, that much I know. I don’t know what she had been threatened with to keep her quiet but she was brutally raped and killed, so I don’t doubt her judgement that the threat was real.

The psychologist from the Sexual Assault Unit that I worked with shortly after Daughter Number One’s murder said that, in her opinion, Daughter Number One had been testing the waters by disclosing to the Very Best Friend. She was met with a loving, supportive response. She was listened to and believed. In all likelihood, the psychologist thought, she would have made further disclosures, if only she’d had the time. If only she’d had more time. We all ran out of time.

My Daughter Number One’s Very Best Friend was thirteen years old when she rang him from a public phone box in the dark of night, shortly before she died, to say that she loved him and would miss him. Her murderer spoke to the Very Best Friend and told him that he was letting her call because he “knew how much she loved him”. He was thirteen years old when the police came to his door the next day to tell him my Daughter was dead. He was thirteen when he attended her funeral.

By the time the inquest rocked around her Very Best Friend was fifteen. He was fifteen when he sat through the evidence produced and he was fifteen when it was his turn to sit, alone, in the witness box. So many lives spun off their trajectory when Daughter Number One’s life was savagely ended. The Very Best Friend took paths and made choices that devastated me and I carried the grief and guilt for what had happened to him just as much as I did for what had happened to my Daughter.

I didn’t ever write about the Very Best Friend. He was so young, at first, and then, when he was older my own shame and guilt and reluctance to cause him any more pain kept me quiet. When my post went viral two years ago I had a message from the Very Best Friend. He said that I could write about him if I wanted to. He said he was ok. He said he still missed my Daughter Number One, but that if what happened hadn’t happened he wouldn’t be the person he is now and he’s GOOD with who he is now.

I still haven’t written about him until now. I can’t even tell you why now feels like the right time. Just that I want to honour their friendship and my Daughter’s love for her Very Best Friend. He heard her and he believed her. And I will always love him for that. For my own sake, too, as I scroll through his photos, I need to focus on seeing the Very Best Friend as he is now, a grown man who survived and is good with who he is and where he is at. While I don’t ever expect to not feel guilty for some of the negative impact my Daughter’s death had on the Very Best Friend’s life, I’m thinking maybe I don’t have to carry it around with me every day. I’d rather be proud of him and happy for him, instead.

All of the people and all of their lives and all of their words and all of their hearts and no man is an island. We are all connected and the choices we make every day can literally change lives; our own and other people’s. I was lying in bed in the home of a Beautiful Friend. It was after 1am and, sooner than I was happy to acknowledge, it would be time to get out of bed to babysit her Magic Kid. I was reading Twitter when I saw a Jim Jeffries tweet that Russell Crowe had retweeted. Son Number Two and I had gone to see Jeffries last time he was in town, in a packed Arena holding 10,000 people. I knew he was touring again but I couldn’t afford tickets this time around. In his tweet Jeffries said he’d be at an open mic night in town that night. And I thought to myself that, if my Beautiful Friend came home to her Magic Kid early enough and I made my way home in time, Son Number Two and I should check that out. He’s always up for an adventure and life is short, you know?

The Beautiful Friend arrived home and drove me to my place. Son Number Two and I got ready and by 4.30pm we were on our way into town. We arrived just after 6pm, to find a handful of people outside the club. A young guy in a suit promptly informed us that there was a list for those who had pre-booked and a queue for those who had not. There were many people who had pre-booked and no guarantee of getting in. We joined the queue. Just before the doors opened at 7pm the guy on the door, who had been clicking off the numbers of privileged people on the list as they passed, turned to us and said “You guys will get in. I don’t know about the people at the end of this queue but you will definitely get in!” The half dozen people who were in front of us when we arrived had been found on the list and gone in already, so we were at the head of the queue. And shortly afterwards we were waved up the stairs.

Entering the club a gentleman with an English accent, also looking sharp in a suit, asked me if it were just the two of us and I answered yes. He seated us in the third row, just off centre. We were under three metres from the stage. Phenomenal seats! It would be understating it to say we had a brilliant time. The venue was intimate, the entertainment high quality and the experience sublime. It was a once in a lifetime experience and with all the shit things Son Number Two and I have been through together it was cool to do something that goes partway to balancing the ledger. Everything happened so smoothly to get us there, things falling into place like dominoes. When you factor in all the variables we definitely beat the odds. But sometimes you do. Someone has to, right?

When I spoke to my Daughter Number Two about how her Sister died we talked about the Very Best Friend as well. When Daughter Number Two chose to speak about her Sister for a school public speaking assignment she asked the Very Best Friend for help. When a young friend of her’s wrote to my Daughter Number Two and told her about some risk taking behaviours she was engaging in, she heard her and she believed her. Then my Daughter went and told a trusted adult. She said to me “I was worried she would be angry with me. She was upset, but not with me. I told her about my Sister and why I had to tell.” There are so many reasons not to say a word but there are just as many reasons to speak.

We can never really know all the people who will hear us, or the impact we have by the choices we make. We will never know how far the ripples of our lives will go. But I can guarantee that you will touch many more people in this life than you can possibly imagine. That is your superpower.

Safe onward travel x

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AND I BET THE WHOLE WORLD THOUGHT THAT I WOULD GIVE UP TODAY.

Soon I will be trekking across the country again. This is a trip that I didn’t know if I could make happen and by myself it would have been completely outside the realms of possibility. Luckily for my children and I, we have the great gift of our family of the heart. The people who love and support us in so very many ways. There are some days they make cross country travel possible and some days they make getting out of bed possible, but there is not a day that goes by that I am not grateful they are there. Cheering us on, lifting us up, lighting our way.Not long ago the psychologist I first worked with after Daughter Number One died sent me photos of her gorgeous new puppy. Last week I had a phone call from the friend who rang me every day that I spent in a mental health unit years ago. Someone I’ve only ever met once in real life. Who I met through a friend I had met on Plenty of Fish. The other morning I had a message from Daughter Number One’s friend who shared her name; that is, until she recently got married! This trip, to pick up Daughter Number Two for the school holidays was made possible by, in no particular order;Another lovely soul I met through the same Plenty of Fish guy as above – THANKS GLEN MY FRIEND! The incredible mother of Son Number Two’s beloved Hope, who has been Daughter Number Two’s guardian angel on earth this year, One of Daughter Number One’s treasured school friends, who also recently made a beautiful bride, An extremely dear friend that I have really only known two years but feel like my heart has known forever, A newer friend still, who I met through the friend above, who regularly thrashes me at word games, A special friend who has had much travelling on many levels this year but has still made time and space to connect with me,A lovely and glamorous friend who has moved houses recently and mountains always,A friend who comes from my life before, before Daughter Number One died, who continues to fight the good fight for vulnerable children, The one I bought from eBay, despite their pricelessness,My dear ones who always give me a safe place to land,My favourite former housemates,My high school friend and regular bridesmaid, The sister of Son Number Two’s Best Friend and the Best Friend himself, who I trust to keep an eye out for Son Number Two when I am not there to do it, Son Number Two himself. This list above is just of people who have helped in concrete and measurable, practical ways. It is by no means comprehensive! From different periods of my life, across varying distances and on many levels we have a wealth of people checking in, supporting and encouraging us and believing in me on the days that I can’t. Every kind word said, every good wish expressed, every ‘I hear you!’ counts. I do not walk a day where I feel like I am doing this alone and the responsibility and privilege of knowing people are genuinely invested in us keeps me wanting to show up for them. With this support I am growing into the best version of myself I can be. More steady on my feet than I have been for a very long time. All these threads; old friends, new friends, dear friends, true friends; weaving themselves into this safety net/ security blanket that gives me enough confidence to fly. This week, literally. In my own ways I try to pay these gifts forward, in whichever way I can. Last week I attended Angelhands’ Guinness World Record Attempt and as often as possible I send the message, make the phone call, post a card, pay a visit; reaching out my hand to let people know that I am there and I that I care. For me, that human connection has been the thing that is worth sticking around for. As challenging as I often find social interaction – and I really do, in numerous ways – the not insubstantial effort is worth the rewards. Even as I sit here now, doing the things I didn’t think would be possible, it still feels surreal. It is overwhelming me a bit to grasp the reality of having such a huge wish come true. The joy, the utter relief, the continued anxiety of waiting for the next step to fall into place; I am looking forward to the pace slowing a bit so my head can stop screaming so loudly “WE DID IT!!!! WE REALLY DID IT!!!! THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING!!!!”. We have the capacity to change people’s lives every day. Even our own. Especially our own. What you put out into the world matters. It counts. Sometimes in ways you don’t expect, many times in ways you will never know about. But in absolutely real ways that can make all the difference. Never underestimate the power of the little things. To my Dearest Hearts, my beautiful people, for every thing that you do and are, THANK YOU. I hope, even if just a little, you understand how incredibly huge this is and what we have accomplished together. We did it, guys. We really did. Safe onward travel x

MAY YOUR GUIDING LIGHT BE STRONG.

Earlier this week a friend was taking me to an appointment and we were on the freeway. The traffic ground to almost a standstill and we were barely crawling along. I googled traffic conditions and the website said that there had been an accident resulting in partial closure of the freeway with no information about injuries as yet. The post was several hours old and I immediately thought that there must have been a fatality. As we crawled past no less than three lots of cars, who seemed to have run into each other in the barely moving traffic jam and were exchanging details, I was transported to another freeway and a rock faced wall. My hands sifting through sandy dirt at the edge of the road and finding a melted section of a car badge. Another freeway almost fifteen years ago.

In the present day my heart rate and breathing escalated and I started to cry. My phone vibrated with a message from a friend asking how I was going and I told her. Fifteen minutes later – maybe? It could have been quicker, everything was moving very slowly – another message from my friend. “No fatality. It’s a diesel spill xx”

Just over seven years ago I posted this post titled “With a little help from my friends”. This week, again, always, I have had much cause to be thankful for the beautiful people who surround my children and me. There has been so much going on, many layers of things. Those people who walk beside us make this life a gentler trip.

So this shoutout goes to ones who are there. The ones who get us. The ones who love us. The ones who pick up the slack and give us a boost. Who take us to concerts and give us safe places to land. Who know what to say and when to say it and when to say nothing at all. The ones who don’t give up or turn their backs. With all our love and thanks to you, because we seriously couldn’t do this without you! Which is really something I can’t say enough.

Safe onward travel x

THIS WOMAN’S WORK.

Content warning: Violence against women, Domestic Violence, sexual assault, violence against children, suicide.

This is not your regular Mother’s Day post. It’s not even MY regular Mother’s Day post, although it starts about the same. Earlier this week I was at an appointment and the doctor asked how many children I had and I answered her and I cried. Then I had coffee with a friend and there was a Mother’s Day promotion on a card in the middle of the table so I turned it around to face the window. So I couldn’t see it. So it couldn’t see me. Yesterday, on the phone, a stranger told me to ‘Have a happy Mother’s Day’ and I hung up my phone and blinked away hot tears.

It’s a SHIT time of year for me. Mother’s Day is about three weeks out from the anniversary of Daughter Number One’s murder. Fifteen years this year. And the day before that will be three years since her father killed himself. And the day before that will mark twenty years since a beloved friend killed himself – the fun never ends at this time of year.

Then the news broke of Australia’s worst mass shooting in decades; a murder suicide with four of the dead being children. There’s been a screaming inside my head and a dagger in my heart ever since I heard.

For the innocent lives lost and the friends and family they have left behind. The first responders and all who will be touched by this in a professional capacity going forward. To their wider community, in all the various communities they were a part of. My heart just bleeds and bleeds. The devastation and destruction and just incredible wastefulness. Happy fucking Mother’s Day.

I’ve had a post half written in my head for weeks now. The more usual, for me, Mother’s Day one. The one where I acknowledge the Mothers who are without their children and the children who no longer have their Mothers. Where I remember the Step Mother’s and the foster Mothers and all the women that step up in that capacity without deserved recognition. But in thinking about it I’ve realised it’s SO MUCH MORE than that. Because if you are a woman, whether you have had children or not you can be DAMN SURE you’ve been mothering someone! In fact, it’s not just women but girls too. If you are female the chances are you mother someone in your life; partners, siblings, friends, colleagues, parents etc. It’s what we are trained to do. It’s what is expected from us.

To mother, the verb, means “look after (someone) kindly and protectively, sometimes excessively so.” And we do. We do. I know my Daughter stayed silent about the sexual abuse she suffered because she thought she was protecting those she loved. She literally died doing so. It’s why I can’t shut up. It’s why I won’t. Until I literally die.

We use the word ‘mother’ to denote things of import – Mother Nature, mother load, mother ship – but where, exactly, do we pay more than lip service to the significance of mothers? To the significance of women? Unicorn slippers and breakfast in bed tomorrow just really don’t cut it for me!

Let’s get some perspective on this, shall we? Counting Dead Women Australia count every known death due to violence against women in Australia. As of yesterday the tally sits at 23, so far, this year. Which means we are currently SMASHING our national average of one dead woman per week in this country due to violence against women. And this tally doesn’t even include children lost to domestic violence.

Please keep in mind that I live in The Lucky Country. A first world country. A ‘civilised’ nation. And yet I also live in a country where my sanitary products are taxed under a goods and services tax – literally taxing me for being a woman! – even though condoms are exempt. I live in a country that will pay me less than a man for doing the same job. I live in a country where abortion laws vary from state to state and abortion is technically illegal in two.

Elisabeth Moss, who stars in and produces The Handmaid’s Tale gave an interview recently in which she said hates hearing that someone won’t watch the show because it is ‘too scary’. That she struggles with the idea of that because “This is happening in your real life.” There is no question that The Handmaid’s Tale is confronting viewing. There is graphic violence against women and sexual assault. Yes, it is scary. But what is even more petrifying? Is when you watch it and realise that we are not so far removed from that possible reality. So, please, be scared, be uncomfortable, Watch it anyway and then be OUTRAGED.

Tomorrow and all the other days after that, let your outrage inspire you to action. Speak your truth, shout it loud, share it widely. Support your local woman’s refuge or collective or your next door neighbour who’s struggling a bit. Read, learn, question. And take care of your own damn self.

Angelhands is currently organising a Guinness World Record attempt for the Largest Gathering of Angels. Angelhands provides support to people affected by violent crime. This event will be their major fundraising initiative for 2018 and is being held on Wednesday 27th June 2018. This is PTSD Awareness Day and June is PTSD Awareness Month in the USA. All details regarding this event can be found by clicking through to the Angelhands website here or to the Facebook event here.

Rest peacefully Cynda, Katrina, Taye, Rylan, Arye and Kadyn.

To all of you for whom tomorrow brings sadness, go gently.

Safe onward travel everyone x

YOU’RE ONLY DANCING ON THIS EARTH FOR A SHORT WHILE.

Does anyone else remember Space Food Sticks? They were these weird snack type thing. The consistency of half dried Play-Doh and with a flavour vaguely reminiscent of chocolate? For some reason I thought of them about a month ago and thought I’d buy some for the nostalgia value. But I couldn’t find any at the supermarket, so I googled them. Apparently production stopped on Space Food Sticks in 2014. Maybe there was a public outcry or a farewell ceremony but if there was I missed it. And now they don’t exist anymore.

Next month will be twenty years since a very dear friend of mine died. I know that because I was pregnant with Son Number Two at the time, and here he is, almost twenty years old. I dreamt about my friend the other night. In my dream I was so happy to see him. After all these years Malcolm, you are still so missed.

Last night I spent a couple of hours putting together a piece for my wall that I have been assembling in my head for weeks and, I guess in one way and another, I have been working on for years. It’s a huge Kmart poster size frame with a marriage equality poster from the campaign in the centre. Around that I have put photos ranging from a rainbow flag Daughter Number One had drawn, to a photo of her on her 14th Birthday – her last birthday- with her beloved best friend, to the wedding we attended before it was legal with Daughter Number Two dancing with Son Number Two, to rally’s for Marriage Equality and the memorial service for the Pulse victims. There were photos from the Pride Parade and the newspaper report from the wedding we attended that was one of the first legal same sex marriages in Australia, where Daughter Number Two wore the same gown she had worn to the non-legal wedding a couple of years before. All those times, separate but linked.

A rainbow collage of years and memories and meanings and people but mostly love. I am looking forward to hanging it on the wall, where I can see it and remember and be glad.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, we went to a camp. There was a ‘silent auction’ there. Items were placed on tables with pieces of paper where you could write your bid for the item and the highest bid would win. As we walked around looking at the items I could see Daughter Number One’s name written in her childish hand on item after item. I was appalled! Asked her what she was doing? Didn’t she know we couldn’t afford to pay for these things if she won? Daughter Number One protested strongly. She hadn’t written her name on anything! She didn’t know why it was there!

It turned out there was another girl at the camp with the same name, and, incredibly, a birthday one year and a day different from Daughter Number One’s. After that camp they became pen pals and exchanged letters for years.

When Daughter Number One was murdered there were many people I had to tell but, as silly as it sounds, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her friend with the same name. It felt too wrong. Like I was telling her about her own death almost. I know that’s not logical but that’s how it felt. It’s something I still feel guilty about to this day because it didn’t give my Daughter’s friend the opportunity to attend her funeral. I took that from her and I will always be sorry for that.

But this girl, with the same name as my Daughter, this beautiful, generous girl heard about Daughter Number One’s murder through the extensive media coverage and sent me a card. Over the years she has kept in touch with me. We chat on Messenger sometimes. She’s a pilot now, based overseas. A female pilot, which is pretty fucking special. The other week she sent me a video and the message attached said she hoped I’d enjoy it. It was footage taken by her co-pilot, in the cockpit, of her landing a plane. IT WAS AMAZING! And that she thought to send me the video means more to me than words can say. I saved it onto my phone.

All of the years and the memories and the meanings and the people and most of all the love. And I remember. And I am glad.

WE CAN BE HEROES, JUST FOR ONE DAY.

I left the house early the other morning to go and spend time with a friend. I thought it would be more efficient to do my make up en route so I made my way to the bathroom at the train station, where I was meeting my friend. The ‘mirror’ was a piece of polished metal and I looked at myself with the scratches and smudges and distortions of the metal overlaying my features and thought to myself that I looked the way that I felt. I thought that all of us go through days when we present a (relatively) poised and polished outward appearance while the scratches and smudges and scars we accumulate lie beneath the surface. That anyone looking at us would have no idea of what is underneath, how much it weighs to carry. And yet, we get up, we put on our faces and we go out into the world, one foot in front of the other.

A little while after writing my last post the School Captain of Daughter Number One’s graduating year, that is, the graduating year she would have been a part of had she not been murdered three years beforehand, uploaded to facebook the speech he had given at their graduation ceremony. One of Daughter Number One’s friends saw it and let me know it was there before tagging me so I could read it. There were beautiful references to my Daughter but more than that, the writer relayed a story about her that I had not heard before. In a couple of months it will be fifteen years since she died. Can you imagine what it’s like to hear something about my Daughter that I have never heard before? It is SPECTACULAR! Such a profound gift. To know she was remembered on such a significant day for her peers, to know she is remembered fondly still; priceless beyond all measure.

On my Daughter’s birthday I was looking through some of her things. She had these books – I can’t remember what they were called? Slam Books? I think that’s it – anyway, they are notebooks with questions in them and you pass them around your friends and get them to answer the questions about themselves. Daughter Number One had also answered them herself, several times in the months before she died. Beside each question that asked “Person I most look up to” she had written “My Mum”. It is exquisitely devastating to me, to read those words, but I try sweet girl. Still I try.

Safe onward travel x

FEBRUARY MADE ME SHIVER.

To the Students of Stoneman Douglas High School,

There are not words to convey how sorry I am for what has happened to you all. On a day most associated with love, in a place that should be associated with growth the magnitude of the horror you have experienced and continue to experience is almost incomprehensible.

I don’t pretend to know what you are going through but my heart bleeds as I imagine you going from funeral to funeral, from hospital bed to hospital bed. Even just going from day to day, as you navigate this, your new normal.

This Sunday, my eldest Daughter would have been turning 29. She would have been, but she was murdered aged 14. I don’t pretend to know what you are going through so I will speak to what I do know.

I know that all these years later, my Daughter’s friends still say her name.

You will move on from this. You won’t have a choice. Time rolls on regardless. I hope you can hold on to your outrage but not let it rob you of all that is beautiful in life. None of you have chosen this but you will get to have some choice about what you carry with you into your futures. Or how you carry it into your futures. Honouring your friends and your teachers but also, importantly, honouring yourselves. Take it one step at a time.

I hope that you can ask for help if you need it. I know that you will not forget. More than anything else, I hope that you see the change you are fighting so hard for.

Safe onward travel x