The opening Chapter to the novel, ‘Just Breath’, an adult survivor of complex childhood trauma, coming of age novel.
Dad’s always made it clear that we’re nothing more than caged rats caught inside a wheel. He often clutched his bottle of scotch to his chest and cried, “Why don’t you love me?”
Not knowing what to do about anything and everything is only the beginning of everything I never say. I shrug my shoulders as if I don’t care that I work in a pub and that my boyfriend Troy has planned the rest of our life together. I shrug my shoulders as if I don’t care that I’m a bad person for not telling Troy that I’m six weeks pregnant. It’s part of his primary plan for a family. I don’t know what else to do other than shrug my shoulders as if I don’t care that Troy would never want me in his family or to be the mother of his children if he knew me. All of me. Including the parts that make me sick. So sick that sometimes all I want to do is die.
This morning it’s taken more painkillers than usual to keep moving. Without them, I’d never manage to walk the ten minutes to Chelsea beach. Without them I remain buried beneath the weight of a rhinoceros. When I combine drugs with sound of the sea and feeling of being on the shore I stop feeling so afraid of not knowing what to do.
Every morning my running buddy, Milo, stretches while he waits for me in front of the Lifesaving Club. The first thing I learnt about him was his competitiveness. He was trying to outrun my cousin and weaved through the local animal lovers having let their dogs off the lead whereas my cousin just gave up. My cousin just laughed and said it was for the best cos losing makes Milo cry. I thought it was funny to care that much about winning. Maybe it’s because it’s always seemed irrelevant and exhausting.
Milo is inexhaustible, and the attention only seems to fuel him more. His obsession with bodybuilding and white often leave me wondering what he’s like as a shrink.
He reckons that most issues exist in people’s heads and nowhere else. He’s even recommended me a few shrinks in the past but I never go. I can’t talk about things people talk about to shrinks. It’s private. I don’t talk about private stuff. I promised not to when I was eight, and I always keep my promises.
Milo nods hello and signals with his hand for us to start jogging. I give him a high five, and we start at a slow pace. I focus on breathing when I run. Breathing is all that matters as I push myself forward until the world fades and my body moves with the wind.
Milo keeps pace, and we continue at least twenty minutes before I stop. His spicy cologne overwhelms the cold air, making me nauseous. Everything makes me nauseous, but since I tested positive it’s made everything so much worse. The old man and local dealer, Lazarus is asleep again on the rocks ahead. Where the river and sea merge is his favourite place to be. It’s where we first became friends.
I say to Milo, “You keep going, I’ll get Laz home.”
“Leave him. It’s up to him to get himself home,” Milo says.
“It’s okay to be helped. Isn’t that what you’re always saying?” I scratch my wrist, irritated by the contradiction.
“Yes Lu, it’s okay for you to accept help. Like right now for example. You allow me to help you get Laz home. His sixty kilos to your forty odd is too much,” says Milo.
I touch Milo’s Herculean forearm in a way that I’d never do if he liked women.
“Thanks but I’ve walked him home myself before. Just worry about getting that first place ribbon today,” I say.
“I’ll do my best,” says Milo.
All he needs to do is not choke and fail to step on stage again. That’s all he needs to be crowned Mr Australia of the light-weight bodybuilders.
“You have no competition. You never have,” I say.
He tugs the brim of his cap and nods.
“Remember, Carlo’s party starts at 7:00,” I say.
My younger brother’s Mount Olympus-themed twenty-first is something I can’t get through without him. Dad’s twin, The Warden, will be there and I can’t avoid going. Not when it comes to my baby brother, Carlo.
I clutch Milo’s hand and hold on until the vertigo passes.
“You will be there, won’t you?” I ask.
“For the last time, yes. The heat’s past the other side of the city so I can’t be sure what time I’ll arrive,” says Milo.
I pick up a broken shell and press it into my palm.
Milo wipes at his brow with his sweatband, grabs my hand and squeezes it.
“It’s going to be fine, Lu,” he says.
With my free hand, I rub at the hardened ache in my stomach. If only there were no tonight or embryo inside me.
“Troy’s going to be there. Nothing bad can happen to you when you’ve got a hot-headed boyfriend like that,” says Milo.
“I guess,” I say and force a smile.
Troy’ll be drunk on stage with his band. Milo, a teetotaler, and twice Troy’s size would is the only safe shield from The Warden.
I throw away the shell and brush the sand from my hands.
“If I go as a warrior it won’t matter, I’ll be able to look after myself.”
He laughs. “It’s a party Lu. Everyone’s going to be on their best behaviour and looking to have a good time.”
I turn to the sound of waves wishing they could take me to the other side of the ocean.
“Yeah, well, I need to get Laz home,” I say.
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