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

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

AND THEY CAN NEVER TEAR US APART.

For my True x

What goes up must come down. I’m definitely in a slump at the moment but also highly strung – isn’t the English language funny? I’m both of those things and also feel on edge which sounds like I’m being torn in three different directions and actually that’s fairly accurate, if not an understatement.

As wonderful as having my children together is, it is proportionally devastating to have that change again. It is hard.

When they are together it is as if they have never been apart. Sometimes they squabble and I have to remind myself that it is normal sibling behaviour, even as the anxiety rises in me because as soon as the clock starts time is running out. ‘Play nicely guys because this is all the time we have’.

But now is always all the time we have so I try not to focus on the hard stuff to come or the hard stuff that’s been. Instead I marvel at how alike they are, how in sync they are. How much they love each other.

We talked together about Daughter Number One. It made Son Number One too sad so we had to finish the conversation when he wasn’t there. It made Son Number Two sad as well so he phoned his best friend. It made Daughter Number Two sad but she said through her tears that she would rather know all she can about her sister even if it made her sad and together we read some of the things Daughter Number One’s friends had written about her after she had died. We talked about her hopes and dreams and Daughter Number Two’s understanding of her Big Sister gained poignant dimensions; that her Big Sister was a girl not much older than she is now herself, who had hopes and dreams. Followed swiftly by the cutting realisation that Daughter Number One never got to live out her dreams, or her life.

Talking about her Big Sister and sharing our memories is the only way that Daughter Number Two will know her but they are so very alike it is uncanny. Both with similar talents and passions. Both with huge open hearts.

When our time with Daughter Number Two was coming to an end this time – just for now, just until next time – we travelled the country and beat our previous record with four states in twenty four hours. Definitely taking the scenic route! Although we didn’t have time to see everything and everyone we wanted to see we did have time to connect with some very special people who are dear to us. A constant theme here is the wealth of love and support we have to draw on and how strong our family of the heart is. They are there to lift us up, to love us and our lives are so much the richer for it.

Someone speaking to my ten year old Daughter Number Two this week called Son Number Two her ‘half brother’. It was a remark meant to belittle and diminish the bond between them. Instead, it only served to belittle and diminish the speaker, and really, who even thought that was possible?

How pathetic that an adult would try to lessen for my Daughter a relationship she holds so dear. Technically speaking Daughter Number One and Daughter Number Two are ‘half sibling’s as well. Her Big Sister that she will never get to meet. She will never get to sing a duet with her Big Sister or go on adventures with her, as she does with her Brothers. She won’t ever feel her Big Sister’s arms around her, giving her one of the hugs she was renowned for. Daughter Number Two will never see for herself the ways that she and her sister are similar and the ways that they differ. So, hasn’t she lost enough, my ten year old girl? Why would anyone want to try to take any more away from her? Why do some people have to try to tear others down to build themselves up?

And I think of all the people we are privileged to have in our lives, my Daughters, my Sons and me. I think of our family of the heart who stand with us so that we know we are never alone. I feel the fierce love that surrounds us; from one end of the country to the other, across the world, through the years and, as we head towards the fifteenth anniversary of Daughter Number One’s murder, even beyond death. People who show up for us, consistently, when we need them. People who love us, even when we can’t love ourselves. People who speak my Daughter Number One’s name and remember her always. And then, I can feel pity for the person who can only define family in such limited, simplistic terms as shared genetic material. Compassion I will have to work on.

Although I feel in a bit of a slump I lean into the love that surrounds me. All the laughter and good times my children and I have shared are still with me and with them also. Even those I am apart from are always in my heart.

Safe onward travel x

MAY YOUR DAYS BE MERRY AND BRIGHT.

A few weeks ago Son Number Two came home from a movie night with The Boys. He said “Mum, there’s a movie we have to see!”. He went on to explain that he had seen the shorts for a film called’Goodbye Christopher Robin’. He said “Mum, we have to see it, it’s Winnie the Pooh”.

As I’ve said before, Daughter Number One loved Winnie the Pooh and her room was full of Winnie stuff. After her murder my Sons and I decorated her coffin with Winnie the Pooh stickers, messages of love, glitter and their tiny handprints. So, “Mum, we have to see it, it’s Winnie the Pooh” – Of course we did.

Off we went, on my birthday at the beginning of the month. It was a very good movie. Terribly British in a charming way; it had themes of the futility of war, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the mistakes we make as parents, forgiveness, family of the heart and how we carry on. It is the back story of bow Winnie the Pooh came to be. I didn’t have any knowledge of Winnie the Pooh author A.A.Milne outside of Winnie himself and it was incredibly moving and interesting to watch this film. I cried, oh, how I cried. And I unreservedly recommend you watch ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ too. I also recommend doing your own research around A.A.Milne and reading some of his other works.

Well guys, it’s been a year! Christmas is almost upon us and then another year. I don’t know about you but I’m tired. My plan is to spend my time and energy on the people I love, who love me. That’s all I’m sure about. As always I am tremendously grateful for those who travel with me.

Wishing you and yours health and happiness! Safe onward travel x

DREAMS THAT YOU DARE TO DREAM. 

Not much stuck from my childhood. Actually, that’s not quite true; LOTS of it stuck but there’s not much I choose to hold onto. This week though one thing has resonated.
As I child I was taught that if you feel like saying something you should ask yourself three things – Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? This ridiculous, non binding, divisive, resource wasting postal plebiscite has exceeded the fearful expectations of those who opposed it and the climate is ugly out there. It is being used as a platform for sinister untruths and as a license to spew hate. On a daily basis, on a deep level, people are being attacked for who they love.

Of course, this is nothing new. The LGBTI+ community has never been immune to persecution. It is the openness of the hatred at the moment that appals me. That we are being compelled to choose a side and that an actual campaign is being waged to validate bigotry. More resources wasted to generate and perpetuate hate.

I am a Sagittatarian, it’s kind of mandatory for me to be blunt and I value honesty highly. But I come back to those three questions; Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? The thing about opinions is that everyone has one and I’m not going to argue that you aren’t entitled to yours, even if it opposes mine. What I am sure about though, is the neither of us should take our opinions and use them as the basis of acts that damage other people.

If you do feel you have something to say then be thoughtful around how you express yourself. Check your facts. Make sure they are, in fact, facts. Decide if you really need to say anything. Will you actually be contributing? If so, express yourself respectfully. There’s a school of thought that asserts that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. I don’t agree with that. Lots of the things I speak about here aren’t nice but I feel like I have something to contribute by not staying silent. I hope I am respectful. I try to be.
Daughter Number One’s best friend was gay. Well, to the best of my knowledge he still is! She loved him dearly. She had been to several Mardi Gras parades in Sydney before she died at 14. Son Number Two, my tall, nineteen year old, straight son, also has friends who fall outside of heterosexual norms. So do I. Dearly loved friends, some I have had for decades, some who have walked with me through the darkest of nights. Even Daughter Number Two has a best friend who shows signs of growing up to walk the road less travelled. He’s young, so who knows? My point is that whoever her friend grows up to be my Daughter will not judge him on who he loves. Because she loves him. Just as he is.

I have been so sad about this postal plebiscite. The stories both from mainstream media and people I know are heartbreaking. I go to rallys when I can. I posted off my yes vote. I write about marriage equality here and I share things on facebook. But this issue has been going on for so long now in Australia that I am able to share facebook memories from three years ago that are still sadly relevant. And, in the face of the sea of hatred that is tsunami-ing over us, it doesn’t seem enough.
So tomorrow I am going to a PFLAG meeting. PFLAG stands for ‘Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays’. When I rang up today to register my interest in attending tomorrow the lady on the phone asked me for my story. She asked where I heard about PFLAG. I’ve seen them march behind their banner in Mardi Gras. I’ve watched Debbie represent in Queer as Folk. I’ve heard them speak at rallys. What’s my story? “Do you have a gay child?” she asked. And I don’t. But I could. And that would be perfectly fine with me, because love is love.
I believe in love. With so much ugliness in this world I believe in love. I know and love many beautiful people and I believe they all should be allowed to make the choices they feel are right for themselves, in their own relationships. I don’t believe ‘different’ should equal ‘lesser under law’. So, I’ll go to the PFLAG meeting tomorrow and I’ll go to the marriage equality rally next week and I’ll keep writing here about things that matter.

This article here gives some insight into why straight allies are important and this link will point you in a practical direction if you have time and energy to share. PFLAG can be found here and there are many groups and events you can make contact with in your state.

Travel safe x