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YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN PUT IN A BUCKET
'When you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, you must crawl through it and light the bloody thing yourself.'
I always knew I was adopted ... I grew up feeling isolated and misunderstood – a rebel without understanding the cause, but knowing there was one – as I relentlessly searched for something different because I did not fit into where I was. My mother told me: 'You weren't an accident, we wanted you, we had to work hard to get you.' But, as it turned out, they were ultimately disappointed with what they got.
I had a hard time fitting in. My mother once told me that on my fifth birthday party, attended by some neighbourhood kids, she couldn't find me anywhere. Eventually she did – I was hiding in my wardrobe, reading a book. The kids picked on me and so I hid from them. Nowadays you'd call it bullying. Back then it was just normal.
I was a voracious reader from a young age. The books I really loved told stories about brave girls in faraway places. I tried running away a few times but I never got further than the end of the long dirt track that we lived on. It wasn't until I was fifteen that I really got away.
When I think back to that time in my life, I feel an uncomfortable twisting feeling in my stomach. My parents didn't like me; I was shunned by classmates; when I did make the cut and I was allowed into a circle of friends, I spent my whole time desperately appealing for their approval. So they had no respect for me.
I remember swimming in a school carnival race. I hated sports events; I hated being in the spotlight. I was always being accused of being 'up myself', anyway, and I'd grovel and say, 'No, I'm not. I hate myself.' I said that so often throughout my childhood that it became an anthem during my teens and adulthood – and I really have spent the last 30 years working to erase that statement from my brain. I finally banished it about five years ago when I was 45.
Back to the swimming race ...
It was the 50-metre breaststroke, and I dived in and started to swim. I just did it – I didn't think about winning, only that I had to do this. After what seemed a long time I heard my mother's voice: 'Come on, Fiona. Come on, Fiona!' I looked up and saw her running along the side of the pool and calling out to me. I glanced behind me and saw, in the lane next to me, the best swimmer in my class (whose name was Carolyn) and ... I was beating her! I looked to my left and realised I was beating everyone. The end of the pool was only a few metres away – I was going to win!
And so I slowed down and let Carolyn win.
After all, she was the better swimmer.
I remember getting to the end of the pool and not being able to lift myself out. My arms had never felt so weak.
People were yelling at me to get out. The next race was starting. I think my mother pulled me out of the pool.
I had come second.
Good – but not good enough. I'd made sure of that.
The kids at school called me 'Fish Lips' but this nickname had nothing to do with being in the pool that day. My classmates on the school bus ride, which was an hour each way from my home and which I was forced to endure, had given it to me. I have full lips. This was before they became trendy. Sometimes I am bewildered at the way women inject substances into their lips to fill them out when I was so scorned for them, growing up. 'Small tits, massive lips, Mrs Fish, Fiona Horne', was how the song went. There were other verses, and when I got on the bus every day there would be a rousing chorus. I spent my years from age 10–15 covering my mouth with my hand when I spoke and bowing my head forward when walking past people, so my hair shrouded my face and hid the profile of my bulging lips.
When I was going to job interviews at 15 I trained myself to sit on my hands so that the potential employer wouldn't think there was something wrong with me as I spoke through my fingers.
I was also a terrible nail biter. My fingertips were bloody, chewed-off stumps. My mother painted my nails with foul-tasting 'Stop Bite', but it didn't work. To her credit she spared the money and took me to get artificial nails when they were first invented. But it didn't stop me from putting my fingers in my mouth and picking at the skin around my thumbs.
Everyone has stories about the challenges of growing up. Mine are what they are, and in writing about them, here, it mostly illustrates, for me, how far I've come in unraveling and releasing the mess of my childhood.
Growing up, writing was something I loved to do. I wrote in diaries – I still have all of them from when I was seven years old.
This is the first poem I wrote:
'My flowers run wild,
I loved Enid Blyton's books. My dearest wish at Christmas was to receive the next instalment of The Magic Faraway Tree from Santa. I can remember feeling so incredibly thrilled unwrapping the book, and immediately I raced away to a quiet chair to read. I experienced unspeakable joy in the adventures of the cloud world at the top of the Faraway Tree. I'm sure Enid influenced my confidence that the natural world was indeed a completely magickal and spellbinding place, where I would spend most of my time if I could.
I remember feeling happy when a short story I wrote when I was 10 was selected for the school year book. I can remember it pretty much verbatim, 40 years later:
Isobel awoke to the boom of Admiral Jackson's cannon. She rushed to her bedroom window, pulling aside the thick drape ... and saw a world carpeted in white. 'Snow!' she cried.
Still in her pajamas she ran to the front door, hauling on black rubber boots and a heavy ruby-red woolen coat. She opened the door, stepping down the steps and out onto a carpet of white ice.
Isobel walked along a corridor of trees, the sound of her crunching steps lulling her into a dreamy state. Snowflakes fluttered down from the sky, dusting her cheeks ...
Queen Isobel is sitting in her throne. Around her, members of her court are having hushed conversations. She is dressed in a beautiful red gown lined with ermine fur. A small goblin approaches her, holding a tray with a glass of red wine. As he lifts his foot to step up to her throne he trips and the wine falls into Queen Isobel's lap.
Isobel awoke with a start, she had fallen asleep under a tree and a pile of snow had slid off a branch and into her lap.
It must be getting late! she thought, and quickly jumped up and ran home.
Home was somewhere my heroine ran to, but, growing up, 'home' didn't feel safe to me. A lot of places didn't. From a very young age, I was sexually abused by my grandfather. One of my earliest memories is being told to go and sit with him in the TV room at my grandparents' house while my mum and grandmother washed up after dinner. Grandpa would have The Price is Right turned up really loud on the TV and he would put his hand on my leg and then his fingers would creep up under my dress and into my underpants. He would breathe heavily and never take his eyes off the TV screen. I was very young; my first memory of this happening, my legs didn't even reach over the edge of the chair. This happened every time we went there and continued through the years when my legs could reach the floor. I never told anyone. I grew up thinking I was a yukky girl. My childhood logic was that 'yukky things happen to yukky girls'. I thought in some way I deserved it. Why else would it keep happening? It didn't occur to me to disobey my mother and not sit in there. In my youngest years I did what I was told. In my teens, at family gatherings, my grandfather would grab my breasts and stick his tongue in my ear. It was so disgusting.
Years later, my grandfather conveniently died of Alzheimer's and was never held accountable for what he did to me. I remember seeing him at a church event as his illness progressed. He stared blankly at me like he didn't know me. He said in a soft voice, 'How are you, love?'
I had terribly low self-esteem in my teens and if I wasn't naturally feeling it, I made sure I created reasons for it – choosing lousy dropkicks for boyfriends, hanging out with rebellious, mean kids, who I ran around after, seeking their approval while they rejected me. This was a pattern I had grown accustomed to. I wanted my parents to love me, but nothing I did was good enough or right enough. I loved trying new things and I would jump from idea to idea, project to project and, eventually, job to job! My father loved saying I was a 'jack of all trades, master of none'. So I sought more rejection. It's just what I learned to do.
I also purposely did badly in school so I wouldn't get picked on, and in an attempt to be liked I did dumb stunts like climbing from one classroom window into another classroom window – on the second floor – and taking a handful of allergy medication because some classmates said it was drugs and it would make me 'out of it' and cool. All it did was make me nod off in class, and the kids who had told me to take the medication pretended they didn't know me. I was taken to the head mistress's office and made to stand in a corner all day, nodding off, until my mother came to collect me. I was expelled.
I have a report card left over from that time which says: 'Fiona is a gifted but troubled child.'
As my father also liked to say often: 'You should have been put in a bucket.' He wasn't happy that they got me in the adoption lottery.
I realise this is a terribly dark way to start a book. Sitting here contemplating my childhood I feel, alternatively, like crying and erasing everything I've just written. Although not formally diagnosed, I've struggled with depression most of my life. Was I born with it? Or was it created and implanted into my behavioural patterns by the events and experiences I had throughout my childhood?
The good thing about having mostly bad and uncomfortable family memories is that it highlights the wonderful times I spent alone in my childhood.
To my mother's credit, she would make us kids go out and play in the bush when we got home from school. And it was in the (then) densely forested southern Sydney suburban bush that I had my first tangible, magickal experiences. I loved being in the bush – I trusted it and felt safe in nature. We were brought up to be careful of snakes and spiders, but I was never fearful – I only felt happy and free. I followed the trails and paths into the bush; I knew where the waterfall was and where the rockpool with its lush moss edges lay. I made fairy gardens and left offerings for the frilled-neck lizards with their blue tongues whipping in and out (they were my favourite animals at the time). I climbed high up into trees and lay in their branches, smelling the aromatic eucalyptus leaves. It's still one of my very favourite smells. I collected pebbles and chunks of quartz crystal and kept them in secret spots in the crevices of tree branches and under loose bark.
One day I climbed up the steep face of a cliff over the river and found a small cave decorated with indigenous drawings. For a table I used an old plastic rubbish can that had been washed up on the riverbank, a piece of sandstone as a seat, and a broken bottle as a vase. I picked native flowers for my vase and filled it every week with water from the river. I was sure that, one day, I would live in the cave full time – safe. I was only 10 at the time. Because you needed to haul yourself five feet up the face of this rock on roots and vines, to get in, I was convinced no one would find me. My cave looked out over the Georges River, where I would sometimes go and chip oysters off the rocks along the river's edge. To this day I love eating raw oysters. I really, really loved the bush. I was being brought up in a strict Catholic school and attended church every Sunday, but in my heart I was a little Pagan.
My mother took great pride in her skills as a homemaker and I learned a lot from her how to run an orderly home. She was also so skilled at knitting and crocheting. Even though I have so many unhappy memories as a child, I remember loving the time Mum taught me to crochet and knit. She is such a passionate gardener too. To this day I have loved taking walks with Mum, looking at her garden and her telling me about what she is planting and growing. She really is the consummate homemaker. It's just that I was not the consummate daughter that she wanted.
But, nonetheless, she instilled in me good housekeeping skills and I leveraged this to my advantage when I made a deal with my parents from the age of 14 that I would not have to go to Mass if I cleaned the house. I loved my two hours alone at home on a Sunday morning, cleaning. I would play my Abba record and clean and clean. I took great pride in how lovely the house looked when my parents returned home. I still enjoy cleaning my living space, now, and keeping things spotless and organised.
As much as I poured my energy into having a beautiful, clean family home, it did not feel safe to me. My dreams were always nightmares. In a recurring dream a volcano would grow in our backyard. It would explode and hot lava would run over the lawn. I would run and run, as hard as I could, but I could not get off the lawn and away. I would wake up just as the lava engulfed me.
I also had a recurring dream about flying in a room full of boxes, with a man in a cape and top hat chasing me. I was terrified during the chase, but I loved the feeling of flying. Maybe this dream planted the seed for my eventual career as a commercial pilot. I didn't flap my arms like wings; I flew as if I were an aeroplane.
In my adult life I have been asked if I'm an adrenaline junkie. I don't think I am, but when I was young I loved jumping off things and pretending I was the Bionic Woman. On the backyard swing set I would rock myself higher and higher and jump at the very peak of the arc, enjoying the slow pull of gravity as I came off the 'hill of air' and plummeted to earth. Just like skydiving out of a hot-air balloon (I would discover years later).
Not all the adult relationships in my childhood were dysfunctional: I looked up to Sister Geraldine, a nun who was tough and cool and who bossed the boys back into line at my co-ed primary school; Mrs Hestalow, my Level 2 maths teacher told me I was really smart, and she was so proud of me when I did well in class that I couldn't bring myself to purposely fail the first term. As a result I was put in the Level 1 maths class, which I immediately failed so I could go back to Mrs Hestalow. Mrs Kahane was a really nice science teacher who made weathering and erosion so interesting that I forgot to purposely fail her class too. I really liked her knee-high leather boots, A-line skirts and pageboy haircut. I was such a big dag back then. I loved ABBA but I loved AC/DC too (the rock chick was peeking out, but she wouldn't fully emerge for few years).
There was one other guest teacher I remember having a good adult connection with. She taught an elective class – cosmetology – and she mentioned a new product that combined a shampoo and a conditioner. I remember putting my hand up and saying that I didn't think it could work because the shampoo would just wash out the conditioner, and she asked me if I did well in science because that was a smart thing to say. I remember the girls in the classroom mocking me afterwards, but I was secretly thrilled that this lady thought I was smart and didn't put me down for it.
I also remember my very first yoga class. It was a Friday afternoon elective. I was allocated this class because my preferred electives were full. I got lucky. To this day I can still feel the extraordinary sensation of the guided meditation. The teacher's voice prompted us to visualise colours with different temperatures flowing over our bodies. My unfettered child mind went off into a trippy hyperspace with my first meditation. The colours were so lush I could taste them in the back of my throat. I felt as if I were floating in a kaleidoscopic ocean. I was boiling-hot red, icy green, warm blue. I completely loved that yoga experience. It planted a seed deep inside me that I would cultivate later in life.
Despite not enjoying being the centre of attention and not having many friends, there is one pivotal memory from a school disco that I was allowed to attend. It was my first school social event and Olivia Newton John and John Travolta were the style king and queen from the movie Grease. Mum dressed me in a blue terry-toweling strapless jumpsuit. I carried a shiny red vinyl purse and wore red high-heeled wedgie shoes. I had Farrah Fawcett curls down the front of my long blonde hair. I loved my outfit but I was so nervous when I arrived at the public hall. All the boys were on one side of the room and all the girls on the other. I didn't know what to do, so I just stood there. And then the DJ announced a dance competition. The song was 'Rock Lobster' by the B52's. I LOVED this song. My love of the song overcame my nerves and I went to the centre of the room and danced like a mad girl, shaking my head almost off my shoulders. And then as the singer called 'Down, down, down', I lay face-down on the floor ... before getting back up and flinging my body all over the place again.
Excerpted from "The Naked Witch"
Copyright © 2017 Fiona Horne.
Excerpted by permission of Rockpool Publishing Pty Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
THE NAKED WITCH,
YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN PUT IN A BUCKET,
A GIFTED BUT TROUBLED CHILD,
WE ARE SURFERS OF THE MIND,
THANK GOD YOU LOOK LIKE ME,
FIONA THE HOT WITCH,
HOLLYWOOD'S HOTTEST COUGAR,
THE BROKEN-HEART SYNDROME,
THIS WILL BE THE BEST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO YOU,
A PLANE IS MORE COMFORTABLE THAN A BROOMSTICK,
50 DOES NOT SUCK,