"Writers will happen in the best of families." Rita Mae Brown.
I have written a lot of short stories in my life, mainly fantastic things of heroes and villains, dragons and devils. I have also written many a tragic story, which are vignettes of my life but with the names altered to protect myself from repercussions. Ironically, until last year I had never written about my family, and I suppose it was to protect them, but also to protect a part of my life that I wished to keep secret. As I once told two of my friends who were arguing about Creationism and Evolution "Knowing something's origins surely makes it far less fun." When questioned to the meaning, I simply answered to them both "Look at your steaks. Once that was a living creature that only wanted to live and raise young of its own, but was killed, mutilated, transported and by looks of it, overcooked." My friends were unimpressed, as one is a biological student, the other a teacher in training who is an avid Catholic. My own beliefs aside, it got me thinking: what are my origins?
Consequently I wrote the first piece I had ever based on my family; a one-act play called Writer's Block that eventually circulated through my family and friends. While I had changed the names of those involved, I had not changed their personalities, and the play, a comedy I might add, did not go down well with my family, as they were having issues with many things I believed in, like the right to free speech.
I thought long and hard about writing another satirical piece as vengeance, as the play inspired a fight like no other within my household which cost me a great deal emotionally. After a long and tormenting battle with myself, I finally realised that any story about my family was also about me, and with some annoyance I realised that should I ever write about myself, I would have to write about the other people I live with at this time. My mother, my father and my sister.
Not as a parody.
Not as a joke.
Not as a caricature.
But as they are.
"My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it." Mark Twain.
I often look at photos with my mother and myself together, and there is one thing I have not noticed until now. I constantly turn away from her. All through my life I have never been fully at ease with my mother, though some moments have come close, and how I will treasure those moments my entire life. I have always wondered why that was so, and I suppose it is because even though I know she would do anything, including give her life up, for her children and family, even though I know she loves me as only a mother can, I also feel slightly betrayed by her.
My youngest years, my golden and eternal summer if you will, was with my grandmother in Gresford, a country town where I was essentially free to do my own thing, to explore, the make believe in wild fantasies. Hell, I even made friends with a horse. I still look back on those years with fondness, and even though my Gran has become a tiny woman who is quite aged, and now lives alone in the city, I look at her as though I was that child, though now I do clash with her on occasion. And that is what I think destroyed my relationship with my mother.
My mother was a working mother, with a husband always on the road, and raising three kids under the age of ten must have been hell, but she kept the two of school age with her in Maitland, and the youngest was in a sense, exiled. Exiled to paradise, true, but exiled nonetheless. This has always made me feel distant with her, for in my heart I know I was probably also scarred by this. A part of me can still feel the young child asking himself "Why doesn't Mummy want me?" Now as an adult I know that mum did want me, but could not handle the situation while staying sane. However, that unanswered question still echoes in my mind, still in that child-like voice, and is one I know I will never find an answer for. The wounds of childhood heal in time, but they leave some awful scars, and I have more than my share.
In time I returned home, mainly so I could start kindergarten. It was a loving household, but I was, I admit, an ill-mannered brat to my parents. My school-life was awful, as I was quickly marked out by my school as being 'gifted' and thus marked as a victim for bullying by my peers. That particular bullying would remain with me throughout my entire life, as (and I say this without pride, but rather shame) I am witty, urbane, intelligent, observant and most importantly, different. My mother did not know how to deal with me either. This lead to the biggest betrayals of my life, betrayals I know I have never forgiven her for.
To escape my bullying I dived into the world of books; reading, writing, creating new worlds within my own mind. Let's face it, fantasy is much better than reality, though the food is not as filling. During my younger years I had one favourite book, a WildC.A.T.s comic, and I would carry it around the house and school as does a child with their 'blankie'. However, during one of my temper tantrums, and I did tantrum quite well, my mother got so sick of my behaviour she screamed at me, growling and snarling (or so I remember it), terrifying me, and she took my book and ripped it in two. She later regretted her action, and I know she tried to apologise by buying me a toy car, but in my heart, I never forgave her. That was the first time in my life I would learn not to trust others, as they will only hurt you.
Soon after my bullying got worse, as I was now without my favourite way to escape, and my mother, and father I should add, sent me to see a child psychiatrist. I still bear a grudge to the both of them for that. Instead of dealing with the cause of the problem, a criminally negligent principal and school system, they just sent their son to a shrink because he was nuts. Fair enough, seeing an eight year old attempt suicide would scare the best of us, but I think I'd want to fix his problems, not convince him they did not exist. A mother's love was something I felt strangely lacking.
My mother learned from this early time in my life and would be slightly redeemed as life went on. My mother loved and cared for me, and in fact still does, despite our differences. She defended me on many occasions when I came into conflict with the arch-conservative schools I attended; she had come to see that her son had grown into a creative and assertive young man. Sure, I did call a teacher "A fat shit who couldn't get laid even if she was an egg coming from a chicken's arse" but she did maintain the teacher was accusing me of a crime at the time and had let me be beaten and bruised in her classroom while she sat there drinking coffee.
But all good things come to an end. And good things come to bad endings. In the recent months my mum has become a gravely sick person, suffering from diabetes, high-blood pressure, an ulcer on her foot, blood clots, heart attacks, heart surgery, spinal surgery and she takes an assortment of medical tests monthly. But she has also become an ill-tempered woman, continually biting my head off for even the smallest wrong. This has caused a sad but growing rift between us, a schism I do not think that will ever heal. I suspect deep down we still love each other, and at times we can both smile, but I wonder how much longer I can smile for a dying woman?
"My father taught me to be independent and cocky and free thinking, but he could not stand it if I disagreed with him." Sara Maitland.
My father, how the hell do I describe a man like that? My father was the parent I was always closer to. Perhaps it was because we were both men and shared that bond that only a father and son could have? I do not really know. But I did know I developed some strange idiosyncrasies which many know are simply mimicries and evolutions of his. So perhaps that is what it is? Is my life but a shadow of my father's? Not something my ego likes to think about.
But that cannot be true, I now realise. For my brother, Samuel, with whom I now have little contact with (which causes mixed feelings) is more my father's son. Sure, I have inherited my dad's quirks and his intelligence, but in many ways I surpassed him. My dad is a man's man. A store manager by trade (though his actual title is actually somewhat grander) he works for Woolworths, and is referred to by the other store managers as 'the problem solver'. From what I have learned while working for the same company, my father is unique in that anything he touches can turn to gold. A trait I have inherited, or so it seems at the moment. However, while my father is remarkably intelligent, he is a store manager to his finger tips, and often comes to clash with my sister and myself for attempting to run the house like he would a store, something which my sister and I, being his family and not his employees, often disagree with.
That being said, my father and I get along remarkably well most of the time, though our similar tempers have led to some fantastic fights. From my father I suppose the thing I inherited the best was his dry and sarcastic sense of humour, a sense of humour that allows us to be the fools we want to be when we can, a way of escaping the dull lives we lead. This humour has always brought us together, and sometimes it has ensured what we want gets done, as that quick wittedness allows both of us to think on our feet, a remarkable skill when haggling for a new computer at a lower price, as we both know.
My father also has some rather interesting hobbies. He loves to tinker with things, both in terms of the tool shed and the gadgets in the house. Not a bad hobby, for he could be a drinker or be abusive. However, he and I have often come to loggerheads over that hobby, with one sentence coming out of my mouth over and over: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" His love of sports is something I don't share; I find most sports on TV terribly boring. He can watch football though, because I'll be out with my female friends. My father is so much of a man's man, that along with my brother, they wanted to take me to a strip club for my twenty-first birthday, just to ensure I was not gay, though both had openly said "Being gay is fine. We love you nonetheless." Of course, when I introduced my father to my (now) ex-girlfriend, he was proud, for Christina was quite the beauty. While it did not last, my father has continued to be proud of my pursuit to not only the fairer sex, but the fairest of them all.
A rift began to form between my father and me over my degree in university though. During high school my father and I often made jokes about my problems, one of three crutches I used to cope, the other two being secretive alcoholism and a sexual pattern that my father would have been proud of had he known. This humour had helped hone my creative side, and many people had suggested I go to university to let it fully flower, to do something creative. My parents had hoped I would follow their desires and seek a degree that would end up in a high-paying job, in their eyes, being a lawyer. When I eventually got my HSC marks back I shocked my entire family by spurning the idea of being a lawyer, a chemist, or a teacher, but instead followed my heart into the Arts. For three and a half years I've toiled through this degree, knowing my father does not approve, he views it as frivolous, and when he found out I enjoyed writing cynical and smutty stories he was even less impressed.
However, my father's declining health, a bad heart and decaying leg muscles, have slowly warmed him to the idea of following dreams instead of following money, as he has faced his mortality and I suppose he has regrets. I do not know, as I rarely ask him of his life before I was born. I know a great deal about it, but I at the same time, I am ignorant of his motives. A great man without motives is a scary thought when I think about it.
But I know without a doubt that my father is the man who I look up to the most, and I suppose that helped define who I am, someone striving for the best and never losing my sense of humour, no matter how serious the situation.
"How do people make it through life without a sister?" Sara Corpening.
My sister and I have had a mixed relationship over our lives. Sure, we're the closest of friends now but for sixteen years she was the person I detested the most, often having to remind myself that many cultures frown upon murder.
She was always the eldest child, and lorded that fact over my brother and me. As the youngest child, it was my job to annoy the hell out of her. On several occasions I learned she is very fast and powerful with her kicks, and I have an extremely vulnerable area of my body. But it was more than that, I was always expected to follow her lead, and obey her. But the younger sibling will not simply obey their elder, they need to respect that elder. And when the elder enjoys being a bully, well, chaos ensues. Part of me wonders if it was also due to me being jealous at her for not having to spend her younger years away from our family.
So as children we fought.
A lot. And then we'd wake up the next day and do it all over again.
However, like everyone else in my family, my sister began to show signs of ailing health, and had to have surgery to mend her legs. Seeing as how I had just finished Year 10, I had four months of nothing to do but look after my sister while she was bedridden. Four long, trying months. But that changed things between us.
My sister began to see the helpful nature I possessed, and I began to see the weaker side of the bully in my family, and saw the person she was underneath. We even began making jokes and became friends. It was a good thing too, since Sam and I had been drifting apart for years as I finally got sick of his antics as a thrill-seeking jock with his brain in his biceps. Rachael and I had a lot in common, tastes in books, enjoyment of the perverse (she introduced me to things such as Drawn Together, Family Guy and How I Met Your Mother) and I found in her something I have found in only half a dozen people in my life. I found someone I could trust.
Eventually, as both she and I suffered from various medical problems, and as a way of dealing with her jealousy of me having the ability to heal from mine, I introduced her to my friends, since she had lost a lot of friends when she had moved back home for her health. She quickly became one of the 'the gang', the sister of the wise fool, the girl who could understand my humour and, like me, laugh at the petty behaviour of my incestuous friends.
To this day I count her as one of my closest friends, and my partner in crime when it comes to causing chaos when needed. This is not to say things are perfect with her, as she and I still fight, usually over my caustically cynical and callous attitudes compared to her emotional and empathetic ones, but still the friendship lasts.
"One cannot spend forever sitting and solving the mysteries of one's history." Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler).
And then there is the final person in who still lives in my house. Me. I have to admit, having written this I have felt slightly strange. Looking at the people who I live with through what I know must be a bias perspective gives me a new insight into who I am.
To my mother, I am the wild son, the uncontrollable creator. A son tortured by the confusion I feel due to my love for her and the fact that the child in me still resents her. She hates my temper, but ironically is the one I inherited it from. She is dying and I suppose I rail at myself because I am powerless to do anything and unwilling to try everything. Margaret Kathleen Cook, you are my mother, can you ever love a wretch like me?
To my father, I am the rebellious son, the unknowable genius. A son raging at the fact I was treated as inferior to an older brother I hold in contempt. A son who saw the man my father was and fled in fear of failing to mimic, followed a dream to become something different, a dream I love. I rebel against a man who I came from and whom I both seek to emulate and differentiate myself from, to be myself and not a clone. Bradley Noel Cook, you are my father, can you ever forgive me for being a clone that decided to follow a different dream and seek places not in this reality?
To my sister, I am the challenging whelp, the conspiring traitor. I am a sibling who challenged for power I had not earned, who gave respect not yet deserved. Was it time that made us friends, or the fact your illness gave me the power I so desperately crave over others? Will our friendship last as I grow colder as we grow older? I hope so, I really do. Rachael Louise Cook, you are my sister, can you ever trust a creature like me?
And finally, to myself. I have seen my family, and doing so have seen who, and what, I am. At times the martyr, at times the monster. I am an egotistical person so consumed by my own angst that at times I forget about the thoughts and feelings of others. And yet I still continue, still laughing as I hurtle through the life that is both my heaven and my hell. Mitchell Thomas Cook, I am he, and I wonder just how much I have been shaped by my family, and more importantly, how have I shaped them?
And what does my future hold?