Prologue, Perth 1982
The machineguns are silent. Bullets spent, barrel overheated, chamber jammed, grips sweat-slippy, trigger finger numb, myself exhausted. The forces allied against me are too great too numerous too ferocious too remorseless too determined too much. I’ve nowhere to go, nothing to do when I get there, betrayed by my partner, divorced from my family, no resources left, no ally to call upon, no Sanctuary and no third party mediating a peace deal on my behalf. I am defeated. I feel it. I know it.
Through a momentary lull in the fighting I’ve broken through their cordon and find myself seated two rows before the back of Line Bus 960 exiting Perth’s Central Business District heading for Victoria Park. This is not over. They’ll catch up soon enough, to administer the coup de grâce.
I am falling towards The Bottom. Racing, more like it. And they are gonna make sure I make it.
Bottom of a swamp, bottom of a bridge, bottom of a building, base of a tree, the underside of a train, bottom end of a bottle of vodka no Valium left. Bottom of it all. Places cold, dark, alone. Heading home.
I lack strength fortitude commitment belief. I can’t continue. Can’t fight them. Staring out the window of Line Bus 960 crossing the Causeway over the Swan River it is the most acutely lonely moment of my entire and admittedly short life.
Suddenly I become aware of a presence as perhaps the most alluring, beautiful and irresistible young woman is sliding into the seat right next to me. She has huge luminescent eyes that for all the world look identical to that of a spiny-tailed gecko. Her face peaceful and angelic. Sandy hair, short, wispy. She smiles at me as she sits down revealing countless rows of hypodermic teeth.
She breaches every etiquette on personal space and snuggles right up next to me. She is irresistible and I am helpless to prevent her. Wrapping her arms around mine, lacing razor blade fingers through mine she tells me in a voice of limitless possibilities that “I have a solution”.
Yes, she does. And it would work. I would simultaneously win and lose the war. Either way I would be beyond Them. Beyond even me.
Looking down the length of the bus I pick up on the low level of babble, voices cascading down through everyday subjects between the other passengers. Somehow it is exquisitely comforting. Beautiful. Reassuring.
Turning to Suicide Bride “Thanks” I tell her as she looks at me with those amazing eyes. “I may not have anything to live for. But I don’t really have anything to die for either”. Looking back down the bus I continue “I’ll keep going until I find something to die for”.
She doesn’t shrug, or show any disappointment. She smiles warmly at me, rotates in the seat her feet up on the outer rim and leans against me. “Don’t worry. I will never let you down. I will always be with you”.
And Line Bus 960 continues its journey.
After eighteen months on the back of the Lemon, a Yamaha XJ 400 with a cracked facsimile of the Silver Warrior painted on the tank, eleven countries of which five were newly independent post- Soviet Union states I finally limp into Amsterdam. No money, no job, nowhere to stay, the Lemon (& I) in a sorry state, nothing except perpetual hunger. I plan to pack up what little I have in the Netherlands and return to North, the far, far north of Norway and the woman I’ve fallen in love with. But she’d let me go without telling me she is pregnant. I find out the day my daughter is born and there is absolutely no way I am welcome to return and take part in my daughter’s life.
In an exquisite twist of emotional fate the woman I literally ran from by embarking on the Epic in the first place tells me “I’ll die if I never see you again!”. Emotions uplifted, I head to Zaragossa in Spain to meet her. Only, we’ve both moved on from out last fateful time together and my emotions crash again.
Nursing two broken hearts I find myself sharing an enormous abandoned school in Rijswijk, just south of Den Haag as the worst winter in forty years begins to settle on the Netherlands. I’ve scored casual work taking soil and ground- and surface-water samples testing for pollution. Frozen water frozen ground and there’s no work. No other industry, no other company, no other employer believes I can add value to their bottom line. Unemployed whilst having a job, I’m getting desperate.
After eighteen months on the back of highly specialised custom built bicycle, appropriately named Dreamer pulling a significantly updated and modified trailer called Zi-Biddi, I ride triumphant to the back porch of my father’s house in Glen Forrest, just east of Perth, Western Australia.
Some people have the luxury of ending an Epic where they began. Returning home, they pick up where they left off. Their appreciative boss gives them their job back. Families welcome them back into the fold. Friends and social networks re-forge timeless connections.
For me Epics are life-changing events. What comes after bears little relation to what came before.
It took several Epics and more than a few lifetimes to understand my Epics are simply a grandiose method of running.
Child sex abuse leaves a terrible legacy. Particularly if internalised. I buried it, denied it, pretended it didn’t happen and sealed it under thick layers of steel reinforced concrete. There was relentless pressure pushing up against these thick layers. My shameful past trying to make its presence known.
I found the simplest way to avoid facing up to my past was to have a present so intense I didn’t have time to think how I got here nor where I came from. Running. Flat out.
And Epics are the ultimate Running. Flat out.
How do I end my Epics? When I look back over thirty years of Epics I realise I don’t end them. Each morphs into the next one. A new partner job country language culture social world, experience. Flat out.
I’ve been doing this for thirty years.
A decade ago stuck up a Transylvanian mountain I am an emotional wreck trying to hold it together as floods of emotional overkill wash over me threatening to reduce me to tears at the slightest thing. A new country, a new job, a new partner. I can’t believe I just lost my last country, my last job, my last partner. And finally I decide to let the thick steel reinforced concrete layers crack and face up to my past.
A decade later I’ve finally got the final pieces to the puzzle of why I live the lifestyle I do.
This Epic is as life changing as any of the others. Only hopefully the changes following this Epic will allow me to finally conquer the Big Three Ss: Stability, Security, Settlement. To finally achieve my long sought after goal: Sanctuary.
I need a bit of Sanctuary now. Time to sort out Epic from Post-Epic. I look forward to doing this in the house of my father. The only time I ever lived with him, and Ros, was a six-month period back in the late 70s. I have nowhere else in Perth to go or be. It’s here or nowhere. I can kill two birds with one stone (what a horrid analogy): spend time with my father AND sort Epic from post-Epic.
I peel a layer of ice from the inside of the abandoned school’s window where I’m camped, wondering if I can work today. It’s minus eleven. The coldest winter in forty years. The Elfstadentocht is ramping up in Friesland, a 200 km ice-skating tour de force. Frozen ground makes it impossible to take water and soil samples as a bodemonderzoeker. I’ve fuck all money, living in a place with no internal heating, casually employed depending on the weather, and suffering no less than two broken hearts. Times are hard and I am not in a good place.
My machine guns are worn out and empty, ammunition spent, springs worn, barrel distorted. I’ve been using them incessantly lately trying to force a break in Their lines. To no avail.
Suicide Bride stands next to me, peering out of the grimy window. A bucket contains the sheets of ice I’ve removed from the inside of the window.
“I know somewhere else we can go” she tells me brightly.
It’s tempting. A legitimate solution to an intractable problem. I don’t know what They are looking for. Certainly not qualifications and experience. That I have in abundance. They want a look, something they can identify with. And I do not have that look. Others have it, often with significantly less qualifications and experience. They live in centrally heated apartments, drive small cars through outrageous traffic jams during their daily migration to and from work. But not I.
I look at her and she beams a beatific smile back. I return to the grimy window and the frigid world outside. Tempting, tempting tempting tempting …
But I am not ready for that yet. Returning to my camping mattress on the floor with the humungous Norwegian army sleeping bag on top, I set about repairing my machine guns. The battle not yet over.
It is the first time ever that an Epic ends where ultimately they all began, in the bosom of my family, albeit somewhat modified. Mom and Pop separated after years of bitter fighting in the mid 70s. Barry started a relationship with Ros several years later. I’ve had a better relationship with Ros for longer than I ever have had with my birth-mother.
I have expectations. Spend time with my father before Alzheimer’s takes him too far from me, write up this blog into a book, check out the state of the market for Sustainability Professionals in (Western) Australia, build bridges with the rest of my estranged family and in particular my mom resulting in we as a family actually committing to making an enduring effort to remain in contact.
No matter how hard it ever got during the nineties and the early naughties in Europe it never occurred to me to pick up the phone and ask for support from any of my family. The times I did call, mostly when wired on a variety of narco-cocktails, they’d complain of the time I called or the cost of returning my call. They never followed up with a “We’re just checking your OK”-call.
The challenges I face from the entire rest of the world are less than the challenges of returning ‘home’ and taking on the Demons that drove me from Perth in the first place.
And now, January 2017, I am in the den of the Demons, post Epic.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my father very much. I have long forgiven him for his sins against me, the benefit of a week long reconciliation retreat in my villa overlooking Kotor Bay in Montenegro in the summer of 2010.
At best I feel tolerated and at worst unwelcome. I am expected to get my shit together and leave. It is quite reminiscent of my childhood. At best tolerated, at worst unwelcome. It is not unpleasant in my Father’s house. It is just that I should not be here. OK for a short while, but not longer. And how long is ‘a short while’?
Priorities shift. Make sure all of my stuff, of which there is a lot, is packed and out of their way, to reduce my residual footprint in their space into something they won’t actually notice.
Scour the camper relocation ads, check prices of flights to Indonesia, dream just a bit about Tierra del Fuego, the Great Ocean Road, even Tasmania. And decide when to pull the plug.
I don’t get what’s so civil about a ‘civil war’ and I’m reluctant to bring my machine guns to bear. It’s an old habit, perhaps the oldest I’ve got: don’t take the fight to those who actually started the war in the first place. Easier to bear the burden myself, accept that it’s my fault, for being born. To them. That I fucked up their life and therefore cannot expect mine not to be fucked up.
Suicide Bride actually looks a little perplexed. She looks at my father my mother my brother my sister and to a lesser extent Roz and wonders why I do nothing. For I am a fighter, a survivor. But here, am I here?
She extends an arm in a gesture of sympathy and rests it upon my arm. “I’m sorry” she says in a quiet voice. “But you need to go through this. Or you’ll never get rid of me” she continues without a trace of rancour.
“Yeah I know. I know”
In the Meijer’s apartment on the Kostverlorenstraat, Amsterdam, I’m lamenting my circumstances, the endless struggle I face, searching remorselessly for work. Any work. Should I cut my losses and return to Australia, picking up on a resurgent commodities and resources’ boom? Perhaps I should head to the Maldives, complete my PADI Instructors Certificate and retreat to the beach and the endless spectacle of the sub-surface world. Maybe I should continue the career I gave up in the early nineties in the hospitality sector and start managing bars. What about a return to the north of Norway and a life on fishing boats? There’s work too here in the Netherlands, as a bodemonderzoeker, dakbedekker. Hardly jobs requiring a Master of Science but work befitting my education seem as remote as flying jet aeroplanes. Unless I head to Sweden … Then there’s the perennial dream of crossing the Atlantic and taking on South America.
The Meijer listens to my lamentations as we drink oude jenever, Westmalle Tripel and smoke endless joints, superlative tunes float around us.
“You have luxury problems” he tells me, “No one else I know has so many choices they can choose from”
And he’s right. I do have choices. Choice, however, has never been my problem. Not even making choices. It’s sticking them out.
Somehow though it’s crushing, demeaning. Fronting up to interviews I comb out my hair, letting it hang long and straight and black. Somehow I crawl through the interview all the while watching them try to work out something. My CV, my qualifications slamming up against the full gamut of emotive and intuitive subliminal messages which stitch human interaction together. Qualified I may be, but there’s something not quite right in the picture. And that ‘not quite right’ is me. And I am powerless to address this, for if I don’t understand who I am how are they meant to?
Should I get work, turning up with the pony tail revealing the sides of my head clean shaven always freaks them. Imagine then if I apply gel and spike my hair. For it is not who you are that they are interested in, but the image they wish to preserve.
I shave my head which assuages some of their concerns.
“What are you doing?” I ask as I watch a long prehensile tongue worm its way out of her mouth and move over her gorgeous eyes.
The tongue retracts. “Well” she explains “you’ve given me gecko eyes. They don’t have eyelids. I can’t blink. So I’ve got to use my tongue to clean them. I wouldn’t mind some eyelids, eye lashes, eye brows. I’d like to put on some makeup but it’s not designed for a woman with gecko eyes”
“Yes, I think it would accentuate my features”
“I don’t mean the makeup. I mean about the eyes”
“I love my eyes. Great at night. Lots of detail. But people do seem a bit alarmed by them. And that’s without me cleaning them with my tongue. It freaks some people out”
I think inwardly for a bit and realise she’s probably right. When I turn back her beautiful gecko eyes have eyelids with long lashes and a lovely arch of eye-brow over each.
She still looks and is irresistible.
Early February 2016
This time it’s different. There is some continuity between what came before and what’ll come after. Not quite the country, for I return to Sweden whereas my Epic started in Finland. But it’s damned close. Not quite in terms of what am gonna do. My profession and career are imminently doable in Sweden, but perhaps I lack the commitment and drive to start again. Certainly in terms of what is arguably the most important aspect of continuity … My Partner. Beautiful, lovely Ram. She who’s stuck by me no matter the dislocations and changes I’ve forced upon her. No matter the scatter-gun approach and relentless insecurity of my life, she still wants to be with me. And it is time I honour this, honour her, and retreat into the Sanctuary of her love.
Repeatedly I am asked by my father how long I am staying. Ros, according to him, is badly affected by my presence. Alzheimer’s being what it is I am not sure whether he is telling me an actual truth, or something made up from the remnants of his brain. I’m tempted to see it as what he wants: that I ‘badly affect’ him by my presence. Regardless, it’s another reminder that I should leave sooner than later for it doesn’t matter what truth it is. It is clear my presence is disruptive.
Guess my Epic is not over. I just have to organise The Next Bit, and fast.
I nurse my machine guns as wave after wave crashes over me. So far my defences have held. Something’s changed. Ten years after I decided to let the layers of concrete crack and split I am no longer so sure my machine guns are fit for purpose.
My mother, arguably the most complex part of my entire life, reluctantly joins me in a neutral area to discuss ‘us’. Reluctance didn’t last long. As we progress through the reconciliation process I designed it dawns on her we are making progress for the first time ever. Ever.
My machine guns remain out of site. I don’t need them here.
In amongst being called incompetent, disruptive, domineering my father also mentions I’m rapidly approaching the end of my welcome. Ros points out she “wants my house back”. Even if it’s all completely true, it doesn’t generate that anger any more, the anger that fuelled an intense and self-destructive lifestyle for decades. Though I have my machine guns in each hand I just can’t bring myself to raise them and let fly with a hail of bullets. Sometimes I’m tempted, but not quite enough.
Suicide Bride stands next to me as I look at Baz and Roz in the lounge. “Would it change anything?” she asks. “Well, they would finally know what I feel. But no, it wouldn’t change anything. It’s too late, this is not my father. This is a beautiful man who looks and feels like my father, but is not the man responsible for me being here in the first place. That man is gone.”
“And Ros?” “I’d hoped for more, but it’s not going to come. It’s her house, her world, her man. It’s best I leave her be”
“Are you sad?” “Yes and no. I kinda knew. There’s nothing new here. There’s a reason I live 13500 crow flying kilometres away. And that reason still exists”
“No. I was never really welcomed. And still aren’t”
“Time to go then. Let’s leave”
I stare at her. It’s the first time she’s offered an alternative that doesn’t involve suicide.
“Your time is almost through here” she explains “And I’ve gotten used to road trips. I like them” as she smiles brightly at me.
Mid February 2017
The break in the traffic comes fast. Seventh of February, a Prado needs relocating from Perth to Darwin, kinda now. I suggest in a week’s time, and my offer is accepted. I pick up the Prado on February the fourteenth, driven to the hire-car yard by my mother. She offered. Testament to a successful reconciliation process. Only she “can’t promise I’ll keep in touch”. Some things never change.
Returning to Baz and Roz’s place, I load the Prado and head east to spend the evening at my brother Cob’s farm in Northam.
How does an Epic end?
I dunno, I’ve never successfully ended one. A few hiatuses here and there. But end? No, not ended.
So, what does one do when their expectations fall flat, they outlive their welcome, have no other alternatives and no compelling reason to be somewhere?
As I first point the Prado east on the Great Eastern Highway, then north heading towards the Great Northern Highway, I am once again on an Epic.
The weather’s turned, the water and ground has thawed and I’ve continuous work.
I’m invited into the apartment and the bed of a woman who lives on the Overtoom near the Vondel Park in Amsterdam’s Oude West. I’ve known her three days.
My heart has healed.
I’ve a rich social life.
Money is accumulating rapidly in my account.
The Lemon is getting a serious make-over.
Part of the deal of moving in with the woman on the Overtoom is that it is not permanent. A mid-year fling before reality separates us permanently. She back to her complex inner-Amsterdam life. And I? Back to Epics … the long way across Germany, Poland into Lithuania through Latvia until Estonia. Then crossing the Baltic Sea, and into Sweden and the promise of a New Life. Epics.
“You’re pretty good at this” Suicide Bride tells me, as she watches me prepare the Lemon, watches me get up at five-thirty every morning to make it to Rotterdam Alexander and work by seven, watches me enjoy an inner-Amsterdam lifestyle after two months of a frozen abandoned school in Rijswijk, watches my heart at first heal then grow to enjoy another’s heart and to fall in love, again, watches me look at maps plan routes and pick destinations. Watches me prepare another Epic.
We’ve not spoken more about the options she specialises in for weeks now. The Bottom End of it All has bottomed out and I am on the ascendance.
The only time I lose Suicide Bride is when I’m moving, floating between two alien media, ricocheting between the fabrics of reality, going nowhere coming from nowhere with nothing to lose. Epics.
When I finally leave Amsterdam in August 1997 and I’m crossing the vast plains which make up much of northern Germany and Poland I am euphoric. Mobile, travelling, moving, journeying. Nothing remaining in the Netherlands. I have no connection to the lands I travel over. I don’t know where I’m going even though I have a destination. I am free. Euphoric. Epics.
Suicide Bride has no place here.
The challenge I face is not how to end an Epic. It’s how to not end them.
Epilogue, the end of 2017?
With the final pieces of my puzzle available to me now, new choices also become available.
If Epics were/are a response to a life of not being welcomed and the abuse that ultimately led to, then what do I do when I am welcome and there is no abuse?
Ram wants me. She welcomes me, whole-heartedly. After two years no-one has tempted her to leave me. And no one has tempted me away from her either. Godda mean something.
She wants to be stable, settled and secure. In a nutshell she wants to create Sanctuary. Our sanctuary. One we create. Together.
Not something I have a lot of skills in. Not something I’ve particularly tried. I’ve always relied on Sanctuary created by someone else. It provides an inestimably defensible reason to run if the Sanctuary fails, because it’s not mine and circumstances do change.
But if I create my own Sanctuary, with Ram, then the chances of it failing decrease exponentially.
As the Prado rumbles north it is clear to me I have to fully break from my past, leave the weird world of Country Bum Fuck Hick Town Perth Western Australia to those who seem to know how to survive it and forge my own world with Ram in far north of Scandinavia. Sanctuary.
Finally, perhaps I’ll work out how to successfully end an Epic.
Jabiru 28 February 2017