Back in the days playing gigs in pubs around south-east Queensland we’d always meet characters. Some people were hilarious, some were drowning their sorrows, some were agressive, some were flirty, some were complete nutters, and some had really amazing stories to tell.
We had a residency on Tuesday nights at the Parkwood Tavern on the Gold Coast, and there was this one girl in particular who was a regular at the pub. I gradually got to know her as weeks went by, and one night during breaks between sets she completely opened up to me about her past. Her story really, really moved me, and later on that night I sat and wrote down everything I could remember about our conversation, with the intention of one day turning her life story into a song. I’m yet to do that, and to be honest I’d completely forgotten about her until the other day when I happened to read over my old notes. A flood of memories came rushing back, and I’m going to share her story here, both because I wonder how she’s doing today, and also because it makes me realise how fucking lucky I am to be living the life I’m living.
Just a warning: it’s a bit explicit.
It was the 20th of March, 2007. I didn’t get her name. Well I’m sure I did at some stage, but I didn’t make note of it, and I definitely can’t remember it. She was in her early 20’s, quite attractive, fairly thin and around 170cm tall with light brown/blondish hair. She exuberated a very honest, friendly personality, and she also had quite a “simple” feel to her, suggesting she wasn’t the academic type and didn’t really have any major ambitions in life. Despite this, however, I got a clear impression from early on that she was vulnerable, and there was something underneath her confident disposition that suggested all was not well.
You wouldn’t have known it at a first glance, but she was a junkie. She used to be on ice, speed and ecstacy, although she was adamant she’d been off all that for quite some time and had ceased contact with her suppliers. She still wasn’t off the drugs completely though, and admitted she still smoked a lot of pot and often needed five cones just to get to sleep at night. She smoked cigarettes too, but doesn’t hold her alcohol very well. She had been working on cutting down her overall consumption… it’s been difficult though, and she assured me she’d been trying her best.
She worked part time at a car detailing workshop, but it was hard work, the hours had been very thin lately, and she only ever worked on weekends. In a good week she’d make $180, in addition to the minimal Centrelink benefits she was entitled to. It wasn’t very much to live on at all, but she’d made a deal with her landlord (he was actually the estate manager, not the owner itself), who had agreed to give her a $50 discount off her weekly rent if she gives him a massage.
The landlord was a complete and utter creep. She hated him. Initially he only forced her to hug him, an act of which she bitterly obliged, but gradually his advances became more and more thorough. His hugs were painful, and he would squeeze and grind into her body to the point where it physically hurt. One day he noticed a pimple on one of her breasts, and he used that as an excuse to cross the line. She had no choice but to just let it happen. She lived with him, he was the boss, and she had nowhere else to go aside from the streets. The weekly “massages” weren’t just a back & shoulders, they were the whole deal. Front and down below as well. All the way. But if it meant $50 off her rent, it was worth doing.
It wasn’t abuse, she claimed, just harrassment. She could live with it.
Understandably though, she had a disrespect and mistrust in men like you would never believe, which more than explained why she was a lesbian.
The problem being that her current girlfriend had been very distant lately, and showing signs of schitzophrenia. They’d been getting along amazingly in the inital few weeks of their relationship, but they’d only recently started taking the next step together, and for some reason her girlfriend wasn’t being receptive at all. She was afraid she’d been putting too much pressure on her, because only recently after thinking her girlfriend had finally gotten over her inhibitions, she stopped mid-act, couldn’t take any more and burst into an emotional mess. All this had put a massive strain on their relationship, until just the other day when she found out the real reason why her girlfriend had been showing such a lack of intimacy. She’d admitted that she was HIV positive.
They broke up.
She was devastated. She really liked this girl. But she was determined to keep looking for the girl of her dreams, and despite her lack of confidence in ever finding a suitable partner, she was adamant that aside from the situation with her manipulative landlord, she would NEVER go back to men. Lately she’d been flirting with a few of the female customers who come into her workplace, hoping that one day she’ll see sparks fly with one of them.
She’d had an abusive childhood. Her father left before she was even born, and she was brought up by an uncaring mother, who regularly received (and still does receive) an income by means of prostitution. When she was six years old, she remembers her mother taking her to a bikers bar, where the bikers would make her undress and perform unmentionable acts in return for bags of lollies. Later on in life, she recalled this information to her mother, who flew into a fit of rage and accused her of being a “lying slut.” She will never see eye-to-eye with her again.
She’d been with many, many guys in the past, all of whom had simply taken advantage of her. She never felt loved or wanted by any of them, but at the same time she would do whatever it took to gain their illegitimate trust, or to simply stop them from being violent or abusive, an act of which she experienced many times. Most of these guys provided her with drugs, money or somewhere to sleep for the night, and it was due to this that she claimed at one stage, she slept with a different guy almost every week for the period of about nine months.
She cares so much for her brother. He’s young, and she’s worried, because he’s constantly getting into trouble with the law. She was a little taken aback recently because he asked if he could film some of her lesbian antics and put them up on the internet, as he apparently had contacts who would pay top cash for that kind of material. She’s doesn’t want to say yes, but she hadn’t yet said no. Anything to help her little brother…
* * *
As you can imagine, by this stage I was sitting with my mouth gaping open, listening intently, feeling all her sorrow and pain as she recollected her past traumas. There was a forlorn authenticity to her tone and body language that assured me she wasn’t bullshitting. She was the real deal.
All I could do was apologise to her. I apologised on behalf of the male gender for turning her life in the hellhole that it clearly was. I apologised for the fact that she’d had the misfortune of meeting so many scheming, scathing, downright fucking pigs who have the audacity to call themselves human beings. I felt embarrassed to be a man, embarrassed that she’d not been given the chance to experience the love and affection a real man could offer, and embarrassed by the fact that I’ve complained about my life, which was in effect, a complete breeze compared to hers. And on top of all this, I didn’t understand why she’d chosen to tell me her story. After all, was I not a man? Was I not one of those same materialistic fuckers who’d ruined her every hope of a normal, happy life? Indeed, she said, I was a man, but I wasn’t like any of the men she’d talked about. She told me she trusted me. We’d met a few times in weeks gone by, and she said she simply felt comfortable and at ease around me. Maybe that was an example of her downside coming through – how she had too much trust in people – but at the same time, I felt honoured for such a tortured soul to admit to such a hopeful statement.
The great shock came towards the end of our conversation, when she told me that she was happy. She was actually happy to have lived an agonizing youth, because she felt it’s moulded her into a strong person, and anything she embarks upon in life from now onwards can only be bigger and better than that of the past.
Why, only the other day she was watching TV and saw a documentary on a six month old girl having to work for a living. Her job was simply to dig through junk, resulting in the cutting and bleeding of her tiny hands, in order to find items of value to sell. Her family earned the equivalent of 20 cents per day, and they owned a traffic island in the middle of a street, where they lived.
“Life isn’t that bad after all,” she told me. “My soul will keep me going.”
* * *
She never came back to another gig after that night, and I never saw her again.
I hope you’re doing well, wherever you are. May your soul keep you going.