Differing view points
We went to stay with my dad's friend in Sydney. I was twelve.
I was an aspiring poet and while the 'adults' were drinking in the lounge I asked if I could have some paper and I'd write in the kitchen. That was fine by everyone and Malcolm (the friend) produced a typewriter.
'You can use this if you like.'
I smiled and lifted off the cover. It was larger than my one at home and it had a different font. After I had typed a couple of letters I realized the letters were all joined together in a very pretty cursive style. I was delighted. It added a new elegance to my name- Tiffany- right at the top of the page. Quite distinguished.
Malcom lingered in the kitchen and eventually sat down beside me. He wore a black beret, was thin and slightly effeminate. He was in the music industry and knew a lot of people, so my dad says.
'So what are you writing?' He leant towards me and there it was, the slack wet mouth pouring out that unenviable beer soaked breath.
'Just a poem.' I continually smiled. It was my only defense against personal attention.
'What's it about?'
I struggled to explain what was on the paper. But as soon as the words were out in the air, I knew the poem had to be read for itself, so he stood behind my chair, a hand rested on my shoulder, and he bent forward.
My step-mother came in to fill her glass and he didn't move his hand away. He actually patted me and I tried to grimace at her. But she wasn't interested in my reaction. She wanted his.
She spoke to him, tried to draw his attention, but he was only vaguely responsive and another woman came in to claim her bleary gaze.
Wilma was a fattish dyed blond with remarkably large breasts. I never developed beyond a 12B, and that was at my plumper stage of life. Allow me to say that from a small athletic girl's point of view, those wobbly bits of fatty tissue are intensely offputting. Frankly she revolted me and left me with an instinctive fear and facination of large breasted women. Although I’m disgusted, I can’t seem to look at these women enough... but that’s beside the point.
So Malcom went back to the gathering for a while. I finished my poem and drank fanta and tried to occupy myself without disturbing the adults.
Of course he returned. He was very impressed with my poem and wanted to speak to me about it.
It was entitled 'Reaching the top', an A4 length aa bb rhyming effort about walking up a mountain. To me it was that simple.
Malcom devised a sexual symbolism to the eventual rise to the summit that I admit, unfortunately, to having missed.
He was trying to get me to admit to his perception and as it began to sink into my brain what he was getting at, my face became as flexible as granite and my ears started to hurt. I tried to deny his meaning.
I discovered a problem. My denials or protests were of no consequence to either of us because I could not say no. I could speak the word but the power of denial had never been encouraged or respected in our house. What ever the adult wanted was his/hers without question. Dad was always right and what ever he wanted was unquestionable and may as well have been divine. There I was, seated with a self stimulated wanna-be paedaphile and he was demanding my submission and I smiled and quietly said, 'No, that's not what I meant. I didn't mean that.'
But Malcom saw and heard differently. He saw I was embarrassed about admitting to the meaning, he saw the smile and that's all he needed to visit me again later in the night.
They went out. I stayed in the flat watching TV and slept on the couch in their living room.
My heart woke me. The pound and thud of its pressure alerting me to his closeness at once. He was crouched beside me and shook my shoulder.
'Are you awake?' It was a loud whisper.
I murmured but my eyes were wide. He spoke about a woman at the party who had been pursuing him. He hadn't wanted her at all and couldn't think about anything but me ect... I have long since realized the common content of his pre-pounce speil. I did not realize though, at the time, where it was leading until both of his arms were about me and he was pressing his mouth to mine.
My right leg came up and I tried to push him away with the base of my foot. His mouth was wet and sloppy and merely distasteful. His drunkenness was enough to excuse his behaviour to me. I had enough experience with the stuff to know how it robbed the drinker of responsibility.
Finally a light was turned on in the hall and I looked up to see my Dad silouetted in the light. Malcom immediately begun to mumble that he was merely talking to me about the night and Dad told him to go to bed. Once his friend had gone he stood there a moment looking at me. I don't know what he saw, but he turned off the light and left me with Malcom's tongue imprint on my cheek and lips and never spoke to me about it.
Basically this was the first real shove I had from the realm of adults. It was designed to stimulate independant thought and for the first time that I could remember I thought my father was wrong and felt distaste in my stomach. It was unjust, wrong, hateful. My vision of him changed and if there was one chink in his armor then perhaps there were others. I was too well trained to ever allow my thoughts out of my head. I was not the type of teenager to talk back to my parents. And there began my life as an actress. Hatred and bitterness in my heart while I smiled like a serpent. I was evil personified.
Then there was the discrepancy in opinion about my poem. I have had a lot of problems with accepting differing perspectives. I rode on a double wave of acceptance and incredulous 'how the hell can you see that' until I was 21. I felt it was my duty to explain my point of view, to make everything very clear, leaving no means for misunderstanding. My early literary training didn't help advance this perspective. We were moulded to be the perfect reader. We were taught the correct meaning of the symbols used, and we are taught not to take the symbolism too far. There is a fine line between symbolism and reality. We as mere readers were trying to discover the author's intention. We did not create the text. It created us or so I was trained to believe.
Now to my reaction to Malcom's misinterpretation of my mountain poem.
Firstly I was sure he was wrong and that my meaning was the only one permissable.
Secondly I did not admit that there could possibly be another brain (Malcom's) that would give my poem another framework to be viewed from.
Thirdly, who was right? Who is closer to the truth? Malcom, in his beer soaked limply lustful disguise or me, shrouded in naivety?
And finally, how can there be an answer to number three? The answer is there is no answer.
I have to admit to giving my dad several chances to clear his record and make himself pristine. Though finally the blind was lifted. I sat in judgement and fried in my bubbling bitterness. The loss of illusion was too much to comprehend. I moved inwards and remained there.
A move towards 'adulthood'
I was fourteen when we moved to Melbourne. We stayed with my grandparents for a few days. It was a spacious, white house. Very clean and tidy. My grandparents were okay, gave me good food to eat. Then dad and Wilma said they were going to a friend's house, there was a race meet up in the country, and it would be better if I stayed with the grandparents. That was fine. It was two weeks before Wilma called again.
'Your father and I have never been together before, without one of you kids. We thought it could be nice if you stayed with your grandparents now.'
'Its up to you Tiffany, you don't have to stay there if you don't want to.'
'Its okay. I'm sure everything will be fine.'
My foldout bed was in the second lounge room. I pressed my face into the pillows to muffle my tears. It was the last time I cried in self-pity. It was the last time I thought of them with any feeling. I felt the chains of paternal love fall away, leaving me at once a small spot of bitter energy, fermenting in my own tears.