There have been times in my life when I have felt like a mermaid stranded on dry land. Out of my element, I have floundered.
The month after I completed my Masters was such a time. Learning had been like a drug for me and I had buried myself in writing and research. Once the final papers were handed in, I came out of my intellectual trance to find myself living in a low rent area, scared out my wits. I had known my neighbours were unpleasant but I’d been so busy I hadn’t really registered just how scary they were. Over here we call such people bogans. It’s hard word to translate. Picture young people in heavy metal T shirts given to drinking and partying till 4am. Doing burn outs in hotted up cars their main recreational pastime. Sometimes the smell of burning tyres was so intense it wafted right through my house.
In my bed alone, broke and unemployed my mermaid self cringed. Surely, I was made for finer things – books and poetry, art and conversations with my muse.
One night my son came to see me. It was a timely visit for while he was there all hell broke loose next door. A full scale brawl. Screaming and loud banging then deathly silence. As I dialled the number of the police I heard the neighbours wife had beat me to it. Hysterical she begged the cops to come immediately. They had been attacked by men wearing black balaclavas. When she rang off I heard a terrible whimpering. Her husband, beaten black and blue, cowered in fear just by the fence that divided our properties.
The night wore on. The cops came. The beaten man refused hospitalization. I’m not sure why. As the police interviewed them I heard enough snatches of dialogue to piece together what had occurred. It had been some rival gang on a revenge mission. They had been hiding in my front garden then jumped out when the neighbours arrived home.
‘You’ve got to move,’ my son said. He would not listen to arguments that I was broke and needed time to get the cash. ‘You’ve got to move now,’ he insisted.
With his help I got out. The fear, the stress of studying so hard and of not being able to find work all took their toll and for some years after that I was ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It took quite a while to find my element again but now my life is utterly different.
Still, contemplating moving house, I realise some of that old fear remains. What if I move to a place with crazy neighbours? It was only last night that I became aware of the level of fear I had felt then. Somehow I’d buried it. I found myself shaking as I relived that sense of terror. Casting off the burden of it, I felt released.
I’ve walked enough pathways now to know when I’m heading into danger. These days I choose to live in my element.