This is an excerpt from Snakes and Ladders. Book is currently in development with Affirm Press. Follow Angela J Williams on Facebook for more excerpts and news on publication.
You probably want to know about the person getting arrested, so let’s take a minute out with the here and now me to think about the there and then her: She’s one of those smart people, really smart, like smart with a capital MART. But like all smart-with-a-capital-MART people, she’s actually also pretty stupid in a lot of ways.
I was white blonde as a child, whip-thin and tanned brown from hours running on sand and jumping in water. As an adult, I’ve plumped out post-child, with a patchy tan from not slapping the sunscreen on far enough when I garden or walk to the dog. There’s nothing on the outside to tell the casual viewer that I’m a habitual victim. Nothing except the invisible neon sign I can feel flashing above my head. But, I like to reason to myself, there’s no such thing as a natural victim – that flashing neon sign over my head, visible to only me and potential perpetrators was installed. My mother was its engineer.
I was born in Queanbeyan, the armpit of Canberra. Well, technically still in NSW but also the armpit of Canberra. My dad was a sailor, submariner to be precise. My brother and I, a year and two days apart, were both born in Navy hospitals. Guess Dad had leave nine months before November. Our mother needed a radical hysterectomy after my brother was born, and this kicked her into immediate un-HRT-assisted menopause. Already a bit mad, she went madder and madder. Our father isn’t around anymore. Not so much the ‘love ’em and leave ’em’ type, rather ‘the drink too much, get hepatic cirrhosis, and die in a puddle of your own vomit’ type. He did the rock-star exit when my bro and I were four and five, respectively, and after that things got a bit dodgy. For my mother, finding her beloved dead in a puddle of vomit on the kitchen floor made it infinitely worse. She took us on the run from her trauma, two tiny kidnap victims living out the worst kind of Stockholm syndrome. This was the start of the victim program installation.
We took the slow road towards the Central Coast as the physical and emotional abuse increased. Our first stop on the way to living solo with the psycho was a commune in Goulbourn, St Joseph’s House of Prayer. It used to be an orphanage, one of those institutions which Australia is quickly becoming famous for (or is the word ‘notorious’?). A giant stone building filled with empty dormitories and a few families, many of whom were single parents, scraping out a farm-like existence on the outskirts of Australia’s biggest inland city. There were lots of flannos, ankle-length floral skirts and second hand agricultural tools. We were hipsters before it was cool.
Before getting pregnant and marrying dad, my mother had started out training as a Federal Cop. Gave up this sparkling career to mother. I have to figure that they taught her how to hit in the AFP, a skill she practiced often and with flair. We’d get beatings almost every day, for everything from lost items of school uniform to her having misplaced her cigarettes.
Our stay at St Joseph’s didn’t last long. The last thing I remember there was a white painted bathroom, tiles and basin dripping with blood. A middle-of-the-night-quickly-bundled-into-the-car departure. Screaming as we drove off in the car. My screaming as we drove off. Her screaming, screaming the whole road from Goulbourn to Woy Woy. My grandmother’s hands dabbing wet cloths across my face. Falling asleep crying in the granny flat at the rear of her house in Booker Bay.
We settled on the Central Coast, a quick drive away from Granma and Grandpa. It was a white bread heartland, not a brown face in sight. We lived in an insulated bubble of summer. I cried myself to sleep a lot on the Central Coast.
Before my mother satisfied her own internal programming (command prompt: FIND A HUSBAND), we lived in a small apartment where the bro and I lived in fear of her moods, the sudden snap, reach for the wooden spoon/shoe/hairbrush/power cord. I think I was too young to worry about the neighbours at that stage, busy hiding under the bunk beds or curling myself into the deepest recess of the red and white streaked Gardenia shrub at the front of the building. Step-daddy turned out to be a man she’d ‘dear John’ed’ before moving to Canberra. She invited him around for dinner and to ‘hang pictures’. The pictures eventually got hung, but in his mother’s house when we moved in six months later. They were married when I was eight and my brother, Trevor, was seven.