I’ve been quiet with the blogs because I’m working hard at uni. But I’ve been thinking lately that I should devote one day a week to blog writing. And I had an idea today and jotted down an outline. But I sabotaged myself. I like my blogs that have ‘facts’ in them, not simply ramblings about myself, so the idea I had involved some personal reflections as well as requiring a bit of research to discuss the topic. Well, all that is fine and good – but it did somehow stop the spontaneity. Then, this evening, sitting by the window and having a smoke (as is my way) I was flooded with the memory of Michelle. I have written about her before, many years ago. It was an attempt at fiction where I took the tale of our friendship and shaped it into a story. Somewhere, in my huge cupboard full of paper, I think there is a hard copy. I hope so. But I haven’t read it for years. I wrote it for Robyn who, at the time, lived upstairs from me in Enmore. Each day she (Robyn) and I would meet on the back steps and drink tea and eat chocolate biscuits and smoke and discuss life. They were deep conversations and till this day it remains one of the most meaningful friendships I have had. It ended, as these things must, but during those days when we came together we planned to write a story for one another. I wrote about Michelle for her. She failed to write a story for me. In those days I would spend hours each day writing in my journal. Robyn wanted to be a writer too, but she didn’t write. She read. She would go upstairs and read, and I would retreat to my cave to write. But I digress. This is a blog about Michelle. Nothing can do her justice. I know a simple blog post can’t. And as I thought about her this evening, and felt that familiar pain, I thought to myself “Can I dig up these things? Can I afford to dig up these memories while I’m at uni? Is it just too hard to recall these things?” All I can do is see what the next hour brings. If Michelle can come to light. If she can shine as she did in those days and years I knew her.
Michelle was butch, like me. She wore her brown hair in a crew cut. We met at the Department of Social Services (DSS), when they had an office in Newtown. These were the days when Newtown was rough. Full of subcultures. The queer scene, art scenes, drugs scenes and students. We had all dropped out. Rents were still cheap, and the townhouses had not yet been renovated. They were full of cockroaches and the walls and ceilings had peeling paint, mould and cracks in them. I lived at Station Street. Our house backed onto an alley, the same alley that the Sandringham Hotel backed onto. We were right behind the Sando. Next to the Sando, on King Street, was a milk bar. And beside it was 381, which in those days was a very cool café. I would sit in there a lot, writing in my journals. Drinking coffee and smoking. Waiting for something to happen. I’m not sure what. I think I was waiting for someone to notice me.
Anyhow, 381 was on the corner of an alley and across the road from there was the DSS where I had to go to fix up something related to my pension. I was (and am) on the disability pension. That was where I met Michelle. She was waiting there too.
We spoke of course. I looked as much a dyke as she did. I’m still far from feminine (cough cough) but in those days I was quite butch. A ‘baby butch’ as a lecturer at art college had once affectionately called me. So, Michelle and I started talking. And within those first few minutes we had shown each other the scars on our wrists. Mine are very small, very faint, and cut in the wrong direction. Hers were larger, darker, and cut in the right direction. We became firm friends.
We knew people in common, other girls on the dyke scene. I would hang out a bit on that scene, but I never fitted in. No wonder really. I sent out no signals and received none. I failed quite miserably. It wasn’t my ‘thing’ in the end. I was just butch. But, anyhow, we knew friends in common.
We didn’t see each other often. It was a strange friendship. I’ll try to describe it in more detail.
She lived down the back of Newtown, in a block of flats. The building had a security door, a glass door, and you had to buzz her before you could enter the building. But you could see her front door from the security door. Remember, rents were cheap. This was a run-down place. But it was clean inside.
She had a little bedsit, where she lived alone. It was one small room, with a small kitchen and a small bathroom attached to it. So, she was self-contained. She had a bath. We had a bath together once.
She lived a very quiet life. My life was crazy. I was crazy. I was a mess. She was a mess too, but in a different way. It seemed to me that I was helping her, as though I were somehow more in control of things than her. But that wasn’t true. She helped me. It was always her offering sanctuary to me. I would run to her place when things were too fast, too out of control, when I was too distressed. And it was an oasis there. She looked after me. And calmed me.
Like I said, it was as though I was the one in control. Because I knew she struggled too. We both had mental illnesses. But whilst I was still running around living a messed-up life she had settled down and retreated from the world and had a calm space. She was lonely and isolated, and I knew my visits meant a lot to her.
I didn’t visit her enough. I visited her when I needed her. When I needed to retreat to her calm space.
I would arrive, and she would let me in. And we would go up to King Street to the video store and get a video. And I would dance around being overly affectionate with her in the video store, which I knew made her feel uncomfortable. She didn’t like people and didn’t like attention being drawn to her. And we would get a big bottle of Coke because she liked Coke. And we would walk back to her place and watch a video and drink Coke and chill out and have a lovely time together. It was sweet. It was calm. Her loneliness abated for a moment. And the madness stopped for me.
She had a mental illness, like I said, and had retreated from the world. She suffered depression a lot. And anxiety. Michelle never finished school, but she enrolled in TAFE and was finishing off her Higher School Certificate there. And I think she was going to start another course. I’m not sure.
She would tell me about how she would have to catch the bus. And the anxiety would rise in her and she would sit next to the big widow that you could break open if they had to get out. If there was an accident.
So, in this way she managed herself. She managed her illness. By living her quiet reclusive life.
I found out a bit about her, of course. Over the course of our friendship. She was a foster child. They had been quite religious. She said bad things had been done to her by someone in the church.
I’m not sure what else. We would talk. But mainly watch videos. We would just relax with one another. It was a safe space. To enter her world when my own was falling apart.
As I said, I didn’t visit her enough. Then when I was twenty-six I moved out of Station Street, where I had flat mates, and into a bedsit in Enmore where I lived alone. Robyn was upstairs but when I first moved in we weren’t friends. I met a guy, he followed me home from a pub, and he stayed living with me for six months.
I had seen Michelle. She had changed. She told me the doctors had put her on an anti-depressant. I think it was Prozac but I’m not sure. It was when Prozac was still new. It was a wonder drug. They were giving it to everyone.
She stopped living her quiet life. There was a guy living upstairs from her. I never met him. But he was rough. She started hanging out with him and using amphetamines. In the time I knew her she hadn’t used drugs.
One night I saw her. At the Oxford Tavern, on the corner of King Street and Enmore Road. It was full of the normal riff raff. I went in there with this guy I was living with. And I saw Michelle. She was off her face. She told me she had had an abortion that day. I was concerned about her. I tried to ask if she was okay. She was just really off her face.
I didn’t see her for a while and I worried. I visited where she lived and tried to buzz outside the security door. She never opened her door. She was never there.
For some reason I had her foster mother’s phone number. I don’t know why. That’s not something we did in the inner city. We didn’t contact peoples’ families or know how to contact them. But for some reason I had her foster mother’s number. I must have been worried about her when I asked for it. I must have known something would go wrong.
I rang the number. A woman answered. I said “Hello. I’m a friend of Michelle’s. I’m worried about her, I haven’t been able to contact her. Is she alright?”
The woman said in an angry voice “Michelle is dead”. Then hung up.
I knew she had had an overdose. I don’t know how I knew this. I knew she had killed herself with an overdose of heroin. There was nothing I could do. She was gone.
She loved Jodie Foster. I remember when we watched a movie with Jodie Foster and Liam Neeson in it. I can’t remember the name of the film. But it was such a great film.
And she loved Cindy Lauper. And then this one time when I was in the warehouse. Ratnajyoti had a warehouse full of Buddhist books. He distributed them around Australia. And it was during my Buddhist phase. And I used to go to the warehouse once a week and help him out. And we used to have the radio playing the whole time. And one time Cindy Lauper’s “True Colours” came on. And I started to tell him about Michelle. But I had to stop. I started to say that she had died. But I couldn’t say it. I whispered, “she passed away.” And I could feel myself start to cry. And it was like that every time I heard that song. I just thought of her. Because it wasn’t fair. She didn’t have a chance. I don’t know if that is true. I don’t know what is true. But she needed help. So many people who need help. Who are alone and battling with these illnesses. With this trauma. And she couldn’t do it by herself. And now she’s gone.
But I haven’t forgotten you Michelle. I’ll always remember you. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more. I was just such a mess myself. I’m sorry. I wish you had have made it. I wonder what you would be like now. Would you have been as lucky as me? You could have made it. If someone had have helped you. I’m sorry there was no one there.