“There’s No Place Like Home”

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Words || Rhys Cutler

Homecoming must be a weird feeling, going back to a place you’d called home before, to a place you’ve lived. Going back to wherever home is for you. I’ve had so many ‘homes’ over the course of my life. We’ve moved and rented out our houses, then came back for a few years, then left again. How can you be attached to a place when all you’ve ever known is change?

Today we’re here to talk about me and my experiences with homecoming – and yes, this may just be another excuse to fuel my narcissism and exhibitionism. I won’t object my dear, it’s always fun having a dainty trip down memory lane. Don’t mind if I’m a little blunt, I’ll just tell you how it was. 

I guess I had a childhood like anyone else. I was born and then pointlessly flailed about the world until I had enough coherent thought to actually think about shit. I did all the normal things. We were normal. Well, normal in the sense that we were a family and this was the only family I’d ever seen or understood.

It was easier as a child. I was too young to understand and the memories hadn’t yet been tainted by the years to come. My family was my family, and everyone knew not to get between their father and his beer right? We were living in fear of the hurricane on the horizon, of what that storm would do. I was scared of how it would all end, but I couldn’t give up – I couldn’t let him go. I guess I needed him to love me. More so, I wanted him to love me and to show it.

So we tied ourselves to the house, to the family and we lived like sailors in a storm. I couldn’t understand that there was any other way to live. That there was any possibility for it to change – this life was all I’d known. How could I expect anything else?

That hurricane just kept coming, sweeping through. It spiralled down and down – drunk anger, broken doors, my mother on the kitchen floor. You see no one could help us now, we were caught in the hurricane’s grip, we belonged to it. Worse and worse we spiralled down.

I would barricade myself in my room to sleep at night, if only to feel safe. God forbid Thursday nights, they were gambling night – you see he’d get his pay check, then head to the pub. I cut back my hours at work and moved my laptop and studying stuff into the family room, because he’d be less hostile if I was there. I laid on the hallway floor and listened to my father and mother divide up the things we owned. We packed our bags and left one night after an incident – we slept on a friend’s couch. I went with my mother to the police station the morning after, then I went back to school, an hour or so late.

Maybe the violence was better – at least he cared enough to be angry and anything was better than neglect.

When the storm grew too loud, when the nights were so long and I couldn’t find sleep behind my barricade, I’d leave. I would sneak out the screen door by the kitchen and I’d slowly open the gate so as not to make any noise. It was maybe 1am, or 3, or 4, and my mind was too loud and there was no running from the projections in my head. So I’d walk to the park opposite our house under the violet night sky and I’d jump the fence into the AFL field. 

It’s not that I played AFL or that I liked it – it was just the perfect spot. There were no trees, no buildings, nothing to obstruct my view of the stars, of those gleaming lights. I’d lay my head on the dew-dampened grass and cast my eyes to the stars. I guess it was kind of nice to feel so small that all my worries were just grains of sand. I’d stay like that for a while, till the thoughts were quiet or my eyelids drooped in fatigue.

Those nights were peaceful. They were an escape. A remedy to my insomnia. A way to feel free.

I always had a joke with a mate of mine, that we left my father for my 18th birthday, but that wasn’t strictly true. It was a few weeks before, we packed up our things and moved out. It was weird being in a house without him, in some ways it felt empty and I knew I should have been happy – I should have felt free.

But I felt anything but free. 

We went back for the cats a week or so later. My father seemed more interested in saying goodbye to the cats than his own children.

After the hurricane had passed we were lost – with only the stars to guide the way. We’d left that house, we’d escaped, but at what cost? There were things, parts of the world and parts of ourselves, that we couldn’t put back together again. The hurricane was all we’d ever known. 

That was the worst part. I was no longer in that house, but I was still living as if we’d never left – I was still afraid. I cut everyone off. I grieved for everything and everyone. 

I couldn’t just go back to living my life. I hated that there was no way to just move on. I hated my school. I hated my friends. I hated that I was still lying. I hated my Indigenous heritage. I hated the way I flinched when my teachers raised their voices. I hated that I just didn’t care, so much so that I drank myself blind and fell head-first out of a car. I hated that it felt like all the pain we’d gone through hadn’t been worth it – all that suffering had amounted to nothing.

I just wanted all the costs to be even.

I stopped going to the AFL field. I stopped talking to anyone at all, unless it was to keep up the perception that all was fine. I just gave up, I gave in. I was tired of fighting for everything and ending up with nothing.

I guess that’s where I started the uni life. I applied for early entrance through Walanga Muru in the Spring. I wasn’t performing too well at school and I was coasting through life – to be fair, how important is school when you’re barricading yourself in your room to sleep at night? I got it – as well as the racist jests from the people around me. I finished my HSC to end the shittiest year of my life and then had a break from the world. 

At this point my heritage as an Indigenous person felt lacklustre. I was done with being a token minority, of reading the welcome to country and being offered ‘aid’ and then never getting it. I assumed that was the way it was and I expected as much.

I was an outsider to the Indigenous community. I don’t think many people understand how lonely I felt at this point. I couldn’t speak to my friends because they’d never understand, I couldn’t speak to the school because I was just a token to them and I couldn’t speak to my family because we were all healing. I couldn’t bear to put any more weight upon them. 

It was just me.

Maybe that isolation was self-imposed but I guess I’d gotten so used to keeping everything and everyone at arm’s-length. 

But they were kind to me. Walanga Muru just wanted me to feel like I was a part of their community, to feel that I was accepted. Back then I didn’t get that, I’d had the idea that I wasn’t Indigenous enough drilled into my head for so long I’d started to believe it. The shame I carried, a remnant of my father’s and my grandmother’s before him, was hiding in my head. 

Space and time have a funny way of making you see the most beautiful sunrise – they make the pain dissipate. Maybe it made everything okay in a way that only distance and experience could. My father isn’t a monster – merely a reflection of what the stolen generation did to him, to our family. Imagine how lonely it must be for him. He never learnt to show his love, he doesn’t know how to ask for forgiveness or to find a way forward. He was only acting the way his father did. A crude form of imitation.

He was trying so hard to run away from his childhood, from his father, that without realising it, he had become his father.

Maybe I’m being hopeful, foolish, naive. But I think that’s what breaks this chain. I’m not angry, I want to choose to forgive – to heal and to learn. Forgiveness is something I had to learn. I’ve learnt these lessons so that others don’t have to. It’s one of the reasons I went into studying psychology – no child should ever have to question their worth. Maybe one day, if I’m strong enough, I can fight for those that cannot fight for themselves. 

I still feel like I’m not Indigenous enough to be a part of Walanga Muru. I still haven’t called my father back.

I still haven’t been back to that field since we left.

Some part of my mind is telling me it’s because I don’t need that field anymore – I’ve grown and changed. I’m not that child watching the stars, head laid against the soft, supple grass. Some part of me knows it’s because I’m afraid. Afraid that if I go, I’ll ruin the sanctity of that place, I’ll bring in what’s happened to me and see the place I once loved tainted by my memories.

I guess I’m still finding my way towards homecoming. Maybe, home isn’t a house, but more of a sense of serenity – a way to escape and be free. Maybe it lingers in our scars and haunts the places we gave our hearts. Maybe it’s only a fantasy in our heads, a wishful thought under a starlit sky.

I’m finally starting to feel like I want to come home.

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