Chapter 2: HOW I GOT MY STRABISMUS
In April of 1982, My father took me home from the maternity hospital to a skinny, two storey colonial house on Davey Street just before the Southern outlet in Hobart, Tasmania. I have unusual and inexplicably early memory recall from when my infantile mind should theoretically not be able to form memories, so it was of massive interest to me that I got the chance as an adult to go back inside that house, when a guy named Shaun South was deserted by his friends and host during his visit to Tasmania, and I organised and chaperoned him to stay at my friend Brendan's house. And so there I was in the front room which was being used as a computer and music room, which my father had used as a lounge room, with an armchair on the right handside of the door, covered in a knitted woolen square blanket from the opshop. It has been scientifically demonstrated though that the heart, for example, with a direct path of communication to the brain, forms memories as soon as it begins to beat, and initiates image meaning, so I think there's plenty of room for entertaining these guest memories.
I remember him being quite nervous and unsure of how to entertain me. He placed me gently in that armchair, and as he stood up, I saw how faded the knees on his blue denim jeans were. He went over to the record player and put on The Pushbike Song single, and came back and did a song and dance for me. He also told me once that he named me after Emma Goldman, but like his choice in my first song, he has a psuedofeminist and problematic politic, and I remain skeptical though I know it is well-meant. As an adult, my favourite filmclip is M.I.A.'s Bad Girls, which now that I think about it, is a fascinating and revealing juxtaposition. The making of that filmclip makes for good viewing also.
Eric also told me he named me after Mama Cass, and he was completely obsessed with Cassius Clay. Humour was a constant resource around my father, though often completely overshadowed by squalid horror. He also told me he named me after his great grandmother Cassidy who was the last non-sociopath in his family. My younger brother also to my mother is named Ash, and my parents have strong Norwegian heritage on both sides, so it's more likely that my mother named me, as we would then be the two sacred trees of the heathens.
The first few years, I would say he did ok on his own. He had an idea of himself as a male breaking gender norms, and even spoke about it on ABC news. He defintely did receive some mistrust from people as a single parent which was undeserved, but he also is just naturally someone who has social problems and can be transgressive and deliberately shocking. I look back on those times as me living in the shadow of his desire for female companionship, and I desired female companionship through that lens as his appendage. He would often act as if I was holding him back from a relationship, and would scare women away from himself by brutally yelling at me for crying when they were around. I could never understand why I was unable to stop crying when he told me to. It became my first ontological inquiry of myself. I suppose that is some form of ego differentiation. I don't know how different it would really be from many people's experiences of growing up with a stressed out, underresourced single mother though, at least in some cases.
I just don't think it was necessary for him to be the sole provider. There were other people around who wanted to take some custodianship, but he wouldn't let them. I don't have any clear memory of how the big trouble got started. Of why my mother wanted to steal me. By the time I was stolen, I hadn't had really any contact with her for quite some time, and before then, when she had access, my father was pretty well-behaved and certainly not engaging in anything that would get you off in court for kidnapping a child, let's say. Whereas my early memories of her were mildly abusive. She would arrive suddenly from the hospital, and resentfully ram something into my mouth she decided I should be eating instead. She would pick me up to burp me, but it was more like strangulation and punching on the back. I remember Eric gently trying to protect me from her without offending her too much.
But I think the reason he had cut off contact was because I had come home from a visit with her and grandma and told him that he had lied to me about nature, and that one day the lion would lie down with the lamb. He felt so violated by this that he cut off all contact, including gifts. I personally think that is too harsh, I don't know if they had a clear agreement beforehand which grandma had violated. I think it is a serious thing if you violate an agreement regardless of what it is, but who knows. But I can also see how it would be very triggering for both Susan and Margaret, because when Margaret finally lft her abusive husband, Sue was the only one who stayed behind, and she was extremely young. Having an eclipse of communication cut out by a father would trigger all the worst associations.
It's not worth asking my father about, because ever since he got electroshock therapy for depression, he has been a broken record about how they stole me and got a group of people to say he's a pedophile, which is all true, but he invests very heavily in the story that people unfairly call him a pedophle, to the detriment of other aspects of the situation, which are necessary for anyone trying to navigate relationships afterwards. And I mean it that it's brain damage, or more accurately, neuronal heart damage, because even if you showed him this page, before his mind had parsed what his eyes saw, he would be telling you about Margaret Grace and how she used her position within the Jehovah's Witnesses to call him a pedophile to avoid going to jail for life for kidnapping, and how it ruined his life, and consequently my life, by stressing him out so badly that he became an alcoholic and had his child removed from him, and he only drank because he missed me and was worried about me.
When I talk more about the initiatory aspects of the time in the desert, and my grandmother's deathbed, I'll go into my time in the children's home, because most the of the action happened there. I was quite relieved to be there, and even more relieved when my father would stand me up on the weekends at the busmall rather than turning up drunk and resentful. I was a very hyper-vigilant and hyper-responsible child. I had a game I invented to keep myself calm on the bus from Chigwell to the city. I would look out the opposite window any time we went past one of the hundreds of Hobartian pubs. If he arrived to meet me, it was preferable if I was there first, so that I could observe his gait, and have time to walk away if I immediately picked up that he had drunk any alcohol. Its weird, but he is a problem drunk even if he's only had half a glass, so my ability to discern and decide practically on detail became intense. But that's a person I became much later.
Before the abduction, around the age of five, me and dad were living in a Christian charity village called Saint Joseph's in Taroona, which is down the river Derwent from Hobart, along a winding coast of pine forest which has now been largely chopped down. Dad had started reading me the Narnia series, ironically for an atheist, and I was especially enjoying playing knights and dragons in the pine forest around there. My auntie Linda was Catholic also, and I had played dragons with my Catholic-sized family of cousins already. But I did attract some consternation and ostracism from the staff and parents there for my macho and messy behaviour, and my dad had a bit of trouble fitting in with me.
Before Saint Joseph's, we had lived in the roughest cul-de-sac in Kingston, and I had been so badly bullied that I couldn't play outside, so my dad had said that if a bully ever hurt me or anyone else, I should hurt them straight back. Being in a more tame environment, I took this literally. A four year old girl in our friendship group got sexually assaulted by an older boy in the cool place we hung out, and we were told that we weren't allowed to play there anymore, and so the older kids moved in there. So I got my Green Machine go kart and made a track underneath the blackberry bushes that I would then duck to go under, knowing that the older boy would get jealous and steal my gokart. He got badly scratched on his face and back, and I had my Green Machine taken away for awhile. So I announced a battle, and all the little kids sneaked out to meet the older kids on an oval. We had left iron rods in the dying BBQ flames from dinner, and we grabbed them and waved them around to make sparks fly in the dark, and I pretended to have a sword fight with him and just hit him with it.
I didn't get caught for that straight away, because it wasn't like I was the only aberrant sheep in the community. That little girl, her dad was the mad doctor who later became famous for killing his wife and flushing pieces of her down the toilet. I saw him have domestics on the lawn. My dad found out it was the same guy, because he used to choose to stay in the medical part of the prison as a way to pay off large utility fines. That particular murder happened in 1983, so it is actualy impossible that this man committed the crime, though it is possible that this man did murder his wife, and my father did see him again in the hospital prison. I did my best to tell the accurate truth when I wrote this, but the reality is that as I now push forty and finally begin to find my voice and voice my perspective to my father, most interesting stories he told me as a child turn out to be bullshit that he then accuses me of making up. I'm often also left to wonder if the end game was always part of the plan.
A trip to the beach was organised for the families in a minibus. The mad doctor dad announced when we arrived that he wanted to leave relatively early, establishing himself as the covert alpha by dictating the frame of enjoyment through guilt because he was driving. My father spent the day fervently collecting driftwood further up the beach, and refused to leave when the other guy wanted to. The other dad guilted me into being the one to try to convince Eric to get in the car before he was finished making a scene collecting driftwood. My dad became annoyed at me for that. He wouldn't come for over an hour. He didn't care how anyone else felt. It was just a power battle between him and the other guy, I guess because the other dad reminded Eric of his father. So we left much later than when we should have. I was so embarrassed, I sat in the very back right-hand corner of the minibus, and just stared out the window, wishing I had some semblance of real parents and a real family, as everyone else sung yellow submarine.
The road in Taroona along the coast is mad, snaky winding, and walled sometimes with cliffs. Not something any visitor to Tasmania would expect. While I was wishing I had real parents, a motorbike pulled beside us on a single lane road. There was a girl on the back, a guy on the front, maybe twenty years old, ancient to me at that age, but the perfect age to be my perfect parents. I waved at the girl.. She waved back enthusiastically, so the guy noticed and waved as well. The energy was so loving and exuberant that it is infectious to recall the experience.
Our paths diverged as she continued waving at me, mouthing 'goodbye' and smiling warmly. We pulled over. The singing stopped eventually though it took awhile to settle everyone down, adults and children. I couldn't hear what anyone was talking about from so far in the back seat, until the other dad said that my dad had to go and check the riders, because HIS daughter was the one who had waved. My dad shouted 'What?! Emma... were you... WAVING FOR CHRISTS SAKE?!?!?' He eventually went, and came back and said they were dead. And I got told off and told never to distract people while they were driving because they could die.
After that, my father told me that he was going to give me more noble responsibilities by knighting me on a rock in the ocean at the beach. When we got there he insisted that I be Queen Boudacea from now on instead of Sir Lancelot. He used my plastic sword, which I had already imbued with a lot of my prana. A few weeks earlier we had been at a garage sale and a guy was selling a real broadsword and my dad almost bought it for me, but when the guy found out that my dad intended to give me the sword, he refused to sell it to my father. The last conversation I had with my father was me reminding him of this incident and him saying its sad how I've developed mental illness and imagine my childhood.
My strabismus eye began at the age of five, like everyone else. Like a frame of film split in the middle.
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