The opening Chapter to Warrior, an adult survivor of complex childhood trauma coming of age novel.
Dad’s always made it clear that we’re nothing more than caged rats caught inside a spinning wheel. He once clutched an empty bottle of scotch to his chest and said, “We all need a poison of choice to get us through how cruel life is.”
Not knowing what to do is only the beginning of everything I never say. I’m six weeks pregnant to my boyfriend who’s desperate for a family I can’t go through with having. It wouldn’t be right. To explain why would send Troy wild. Why makes me sick. So sick. If he knew he’d have to get rid of me.
This morning it’s taken more painkillers than usual to keep moving until I arrive at Chelsea beach. Until they fully kick in, it’s like I’m dragging the weight of a rhinoceros to the sea side of the train tracks. Drugs and the saltwater breathing in and out along the shore help me to carry the heaviness of not knowing what to do. I’m lucky that without saying a word, I’m able to share everything with the beach. That’s how it’s stayed possible to keep hiding in my head, the life no one knows I’ve lived.
My running buddy, Milo, is stretching in front of the Chelsea Lifesaving Club. We’ve worked out together every morning since trying to outrun each other almost a decade ago. The local animal lovers group had let their dogs off the lead. I got caught between a few Labradors racing after a tennis ball and lost.
Turned out for the best since Milo cares so much about winning that losing makes him cry. His obsession with body building, white and being the best often makes me wonder what he’s like as a shrink for people in aged care facilities.
He’s always said that the only real problem I have is in my head. He reckons that’s where most people’s problems are and that therapy helps. The thing is I can’t talk about stuff that matters. When I try to speak there’s no sound. My voice evaporates and my mind goes blank. It’s had to since I was five. That way I could never accidentally trust anyone with the truth.
I’m lucky Milo bothers with someone as unlike him as I am. Him, the sea and the increasing amount of painkillers Lazarus, the old local sells, fuels me with the strength I need to make it out of the unit each day.
Milo nods hello and signals with his hand for us to start jogging. His spicy cologne overwhelms the cold air, making me more nauseous. I focus on breathing when I run. That’s all that matters as I push myself forward until the world fades and my body blurs with the wind.
Milo keeps pace and we continue at least twenty minutes before I stop. Lazarus, my only old friend and dealer, is asleep again on the rocks ahead where the river and sea merge. His curled body passed out like that could easily attract cops. Nothing and no one ever stops Dad or his twin from doing exactly as they please either.
I say to Milo, “You keep going, I’ll get Laz home.”
“At sixty you’d think he’d get himself home,” Milo says.
“I thought you said it’s okay to be helped?” I scratch my wrist, irritated by the contradiction.
“Yes Lu, there’s no shame in you accepting help. Like allowing me to help you get Laz home. His sixty kilos to your forty odd is too much,” says Milo.
I touch Milo’s Herculean forearm in a way that I’d never do if he liked women.
“Thanks but I’ve managed walking him home myself plenty of times. All you need to worry about is being your fantastic self today, okay?” I ask.
“I’ll do my best,” says Milo.
He could finally be crowned Mr Australia of the light-weight body builders if he doesn’t choke and fail to step on stage again.
“You do know that you’re better than your competition, right? You always have been. All you need to do is stay in it long enough for them to give you first place.”
He tugs the brim of his cap and nods.
“You can do it. Carlo’s party starts at 7:00,” I say.
It’s my younger brother’s Mount Olympus-themed twenty-first. It’ll be like waking in a nightmare. Dad’s twin, The Warden is attending and I can’t not go. My baby brother’s always there for me.
I clutch Milo’s hand and hold on until the vertigo passes.
“You are coming tonight, aren’t you?” I ask.
“The heat won’t finish until late. It’s way past the other side of the city. I can’t be sure what time I’ll arrive,” says Milo.
I pick up a broken shell and press it into my palm.
Milo wipes at his brow with his sweatband, grabs my hand and squeezes it.
“Everything’s going to be fine, Lu,” he says.
With my free hand I rub at the hardened ache in my stomach. If only tonight and the embryo could be rubbed so effortlessly out of the way.
“Troy will have your back the whole time. It’s what boyfriends are for,” says Milo.
“I guess,” I say and force a smile.
Troy’ll be drunk on stage with his band. Milo, a teetotaler, and twice the size would shield me from The Warden. At some point Troy’ll see red and start a brawl.
I throw away the shell and brush the sand from my hands.
“I’m going as a warrior so I can look after myself.”
He laughs. “It’s a party Lu. Everyone’s going to be on their best behaviour and looking to have a good time.”
I turn to the sound of waves wishing they could take me to the other side of the ocean.
“Yeah, well, I need to get Laz home,” I say.
Milo says goodbye and leaves the shore for the track around the river where Nina, who owns the local yoga studio, is doing sun salutations.
Yesterday, Lazarus suggested I consider taking Nina’s yoga classes and eventually her teacher’s course. It’s the first time he’s ever said Nina’s name or being willing for anything to put me further behind reading the books he over-fills my backpack with.
Nina disowned Lazarus as her father about a month before he and I met. He’s never spoken of what happened but I’ve always wondered.
I’d be happy to have Lazarus as a father. He said hospitality work doesn’t need to be the rest of my life. That I have more to offer than pouring beer and giving change. Dad wouldn’t ever say anything like that. He’s always warned me not to get ahead of myself. I’m lucky to have a job. Real lucky that anyone’s been generous enough to employ someone like me.
Lazarus says Dad’s wrong like anyone who can’t see past the end of their nose inevitably is. The thing is Dad’s voice lives on repeat in my head, so does his twin’s. I don’t know how not to be what I was and still am to him or The Warden.