ONE (Being Born)
I was born slap bang in the middle of the last year of the Punk Wars. Desperate battles fought by artistically thin Soft Boys in silk shirts, their warrior faces composed of hard glitter and blue eye-liner. These style soldiers, out in the cold night air, free from bedsits, hostel rooms and revamped verandahs, spinning their beloved, sacred music with strange and jerky flourishes, dangerous and kind of lonely.
Years later my uncle Charles, a new wave veteran, would sit in our kitchen smoking fragile ciggerattes and tell me about the Friday night frontline:
He’d tell how he would practice Irony and shrugs, drinking black coffee after a dinner of crisps and scratchy indie singles, then move on to neon glow gin and tonic as evening crept slyly in.
He would go watch the boy bands in the hotel lounges covering Kraftwerk, their sets artfully mixed, with new disco darling tunes and the latest cold child thoughts transcribed into portable keyboards.
Meanwhile the Rockers, the mortal enemy, with their perms and faded jeans, played stadium chants in the pubs. Already old, these adult popsters, their talent was to take power chord flavoured bubblegum and stretch it thin over sexual innuendo, lyrics poached from tatty workbooks, full of crude line drawings and shifty jokes.
These culture wars though were mostly fought unseen and unheard by the average citizen; my parents for example, (apart from the weirdness of my uncle occasionally penetrating their home), had no idea such passions existed.
Music for them was a Saturday afternoon, Sunday thing. Where until I was ten or so they would pull out their James Last and Rolling Stones LPs and the sound of these strange skirmishes between Easy Listening and Dirty Pop would roll out from the living room.
(After I turned ten, this was all replaced by live sportscasts and some cheerful fellow on the telly teaching us how to cook.)
My uncle was an outsider, something new, but also not really, all he did and all he wore was copied from imported magazines and the covers of expensive strange looking records.
But he was gentle, scaring no one, as he walked through our town in his new romantic get up, he would be met with some scowls or, mostly, quiet laughter (never understanding smiles though).
On the night I was born, he came to the hospital dressed in Persian fairy tale splendor, somehow managing to be erotically masculine while flaunting the dark side of the feminine. His colours of delicate chaos must have been the first glimpses of the ‘’other’’ that I would have seen, How delighted my new soul must have been to see this rich kaleidoscope after the harsh whites and brights of the maternity ward.
When my father told Charles that my name was to be Julianna he nodded and said, ‘’yes that’s good, that sounds right, and do you know what, she will never be Julia, Julie, Jules, no quick fixes for this girl.’’
My name is Julianna. I was born slap bang in the middle of the last year of the Punk Wars. And I have lived, I am living, a dangerous life.
Two (The Illumination of a Saturday Afternoon)
I was dancing in my folks’ bedroom, in front of their full length mirror, to a song that had just leapt out of my radio, freeing itself from a worthy dull bundle of chatter and advertising sound effects. The song was already pretty old, but I did not know that, I would not know the name of the band till many years later or realize that it was a song before its time, it was a rock song that woke up and invented New Wave several years before the first day-glo suit was worn on MTV, it was white reggae fashioned in a pure pop way by men more famous for mining a strange brew of heavy metal, blues and pastoral folk.
I didn’t care about any of that though, all I knew was that it made me want to jump and jive and dance in a giddy silly way only ten year old girls unwatched by peers or parents can.
Later I learned the name of the song was D’yer Mak’er by Led Zeppelin, and wasn’t even highly rated by most critics. I didn’t care then and I certainly don’t care now, it was fun and it STILL makes me want to dance.
As I giggled and posed in exaggerated elastically PopStar ways I had this feeling of total utter happiness, a clear headed shot of cocaine like clarity and sense of the essence of the tiny seconds I was moving in.
The nausea hit like a slap by an ugly witch from an ancient morality tale, my fingers jerked OUT and hit the radio, hit the off button, hit the plastic and steel hard enough to sting, hit the wonderful noise and shoved it into silence.
I fell backward onto the double bed, and the sounds of the afternoon slipped in to fill the vacuum.
I heard my mother in our kitchen, the clatter clutter of plates and pans, the creak of the cabinet door, the gentle stroking melody of wooden spoon against ceramic bowl, her slightly off key humming.
I heard the TV, the shuffle of soft murmurs, interwoven with short sharp bursts of laughter, the rhythm of carefully thought out one liners.
I heard the growl of a motor cycle far away, energetic, desperate as it waited for the lights to change so it could fling free.
I heard children, were they angry or were they playing at that strange form of innocent war?
I heard the tick-tock of the small clock on the dresser.
I even heard the sunlight swimming in tiny bits of dust, swimming downwards to hit the carpet and start its journey towards the passage.
I heard the queasiness slip over me, sighing slurping, wet. Then it sunk into my skin, flowed from my throat and mouth and throbbing head, down my throat BACKWARDS, yes retreating hateful, into my stomach and
It was gone.
And I saw, as if I was watching a badly recorded webcam capture, a man, a terribly thin man pause his kissing of a beautiful woman’s shoulder, and look towards me.
His surprise turned into a sly smile.
I noticed that they were naked, the woman was beautiful, she glowed, her skin almost golden, the man pale, rotten.
She wanted him though. her hand searched for his, to guide it
He needed to have her, destroy her and he loved that I was there to watch.
I did not watch though, I turned, rolled so damn slow, off the bed to hit the floor, I must have screamed then, because the kitchen noise blinked out, and I vomited, groaned, vomited
It felt like drowning.
I called to my mother to save me. And then she was there.
I accepted the oncoming blur.
The heat of the day is bright shimmers, easy to ignore when deep in thought. Few sounds intrude as I walk home from school; those sounds are fragments, coming in and out, a dog a car, a child a father.
My thoughts are nothing, everything, perhaps solving that school day’s mathematical problem; perhaps leaping ahead to the next chapter of the book I will read when I get home.
I have walked this path so many times that I do not really see it now, except as subliminal directional pointers, here is where I turn left and cross the field of dry grass, here is where I stop for a few seconds and wait for the lights to change in my favor. Here is where the row of gentle huge trees rule, forever comforting in summer, forever haunted in winter.
The sounds of the girl, the father drift into focus.
She is asking why
Why are the trees so high?
So that they can be the first on earth to catch the rain
Why must they be the first?
Because they own this road, they are kings and kings always get the gifts first
Why not the flowers, they are much prettier than the trees?
(Then a groan, a low sound, an intake of breath, crying.)
I turn and the father has fallen, he still holds the daughter’s hand so he pulls at her, so she kneels.
He is still now.
I run to them, the girl is howling, scared.
Do I lift him up? I cant fucking remember anything about first aid or CPR, even though we learnt it just a few weeks ago, (I was paired with fat Chrissy with the unsmiling face, and then with beautiful John, I spent the time looking anywhere BUT at his face.)
For a second the Thin-Man fades into this day, touches my shoulder, and fades out.
I touch the father’s chest; t shirts feel so personal, I should not be touching his, too personal. I can feel breathing. I THINK. I can feel the heartbeat, I am ALMOST sure.
I turn to tell the girl, not to worry, to not be afraid, to stop crying, but say nothing instead, and leave her crying as I run to the house behind us.
Get halfway there.
Change direction and run, instead, into the small shop squeezed between the entrance to the public swimming pool and another house.
I take in the clitter chatter of the normal world, and shout to the man(woman? I DON’T KNOW) behind the counter.
People run out of the building and across to the fallen father.
I stand there for a long moment staring at a row of tins of baked beans. Jolly Elves sit with big silver spoons on the sides of giant blue dishes, full of beans and lovely brown sauce.
The elves don’t seem to be afraid.
I am aware now that the noise of the day has become rather loud. So I walk out of the shop, ignore the crowd that has gathered and soon, I am opening our gate, the cat who waits for me then usually haughtily ignores me once she is sure I am home, looks up and for a change brushes across my legs.
I wait for the sound of the ambulance. It never comes.