The Vegemite Antidote.
There were the three of us, my sister June who was twelve, Beryl who was 13, and a true horror at times, and myself just eleven. We’d decided one hot day to go for a walk up the long hill out of town, vegemite sandwiches in hand. We never worried about water, and no one had backpacks or drink bottles that we knew of. It was late in summer, one of those intensely hot days where the air has a glass like quality and things feel brittle and dry. It was hazy in the distance but the sky was blue, blue, blue as only an Australian sky can be in late summer.
We had decided to see how far we could walk before midday out into the countryside and then turn back again with our parents none the wiser.
Past the town dump (a most interesting place) we straggled… On along the thin dusty gravel road.
I had trouble keeping up with them, then it was a matter of catching up as they would get so far ahead, I would have to run on and off to at least keep them in sight. I was more of a swimmer and June and Beryl were known to be good runners. Every little while they would pull ahead and stop, turn and watch my red faced, useless attempts to re join them. I must have looked pretty funny because they seem to be laughing by the time I got near them and then off they’d sprint.
The hot morning drew close to noon and finally when I looked up they were no longer to be seen anywhere.
I was completely alone. A stillness settled in me and for the moment something, some strangeness was in me; around me. I stopped my silly fuming and temper at how I was being treated and looked around me. It was so intensely beautiful. In the distance the low blue mountains moved in waves… waves of energy…waves of heat.
My stubby feet seemed stuck to the road.
I no longer felt like that stumpy red faced blonde headed child with her shabby shorts and her T-shirt. The clothes came down to me after Veronica and June had worn them. But June was always slimmer than me so by the time I got them they were too small and looked a bit weird. I knew this but mostly only cared if someone laughed.
I felt taller, straighter and in some place I wanted to be, to stay, far away from the hot, invasive tackiness of the town I lived in.
I was no longer the child I had been moments before.
There was a moment in time when the whole world seemed to become still, intensely quiet, and I was aware of it.
The moments passed and I began to become very afraid. They’d been gone for so long. Knowing I would never catch them I devised a foolproof way of getting them to come back to me.
“Snake! Snake! Snake!” I screamed out using every bit of air in my lungs, always a great actor as a child.
Needs must again.
“Snake!” I bellowed. “I’ve been bitten!”
Out of the trees up ahead they quietly emerged, hesitantly. Unbelieving, but not so sure. They’d been watching me.
“See, she talks to herself, first sign of madness” that bit of wisdom came out of Beryl’s tight little mouth. She spouted this regularly to anyone who’d listen and about anyone she could. She was a cruel little bugger at times.
“Show us! Show us!” they chorused together as they slowly and nervously approached me, standing stock still in the same spot I had been grounded in.
“Show us…g’wan you little liar.” Who said that?
“You can’t see it. “ I yelled back at them beginning to stagger a bit. That’s what snakebite would do I imagined. “You can’t see it…(why?)”
“You can’t see it because I put Vegemite on it to stop the poison!” Quick thinking Therese. I quickly stuck my finger into the greaseproof paper, into the sandwich and clawed out the vegemite and whacked it on my arm.
“See!” I thrust my arm confidently.
They laughed and pointed and laughed some more. We turned for home, the down hill part…much better.
I tried to keep up the pretence as long as my pride would let me, and we walked back to town eating our vegemite sandwiches with gusto. Not bad for a snakebite victim.
The story of the “snakebite and the vegemite antidote, did the rounds and caused some merriment, and once the embarrassment of my lie died down, I thought it was a pretty good yarn too.
I was not longer a child though.
When I arrived home, I was bleeding.
I thought I had Kidney disease like a friend of ours, Zita Stevens had. She had recently died from that.
Sure I was going to die, I went and told Mum.
It was my first period…a strange day and one I had almost forgotten, till now.
At eleven, I could never understand the contrast between my outside life, which was my life, and a life I enjoyed being a social sort of kid, and the internal life which was with me all the time. That life I kept well hidden, except from Mum, mostly.
I didn’t dwell too much on this. It was more an awareness.
It was like there was the appearance of me; stocky, strong, rough headed hair cuts, living to swim in summer in all the daylight hours if I was let be; talking constantly, asking questions, quick to anger, just as quick to get over it, laughing loud and long in all the wrong places, as well as the right ones…
…then there was this kid who would wonder at the mountain range, sitting low on the distant horizon behind our house. The kid who happily would watch for hours the sun setting and the colours arrive above the mountains. Behind those mountains was a magic world, like Atlantis, a place I know I was unaware of at this age. I never crossed that mountain range in childhood nor in adulthood, and am glad for that because the wonder remained untouched by the physical reality that what really was over that mountain although beautiful was most likely pretty much the same as what was on my side.
At that moment of change from the frustrated, hot and angry eleven year old child to the tall, ageless spiritual being, which was how I felt in those still solitary moments; I became aware of it, became aware of the change in me, in the atmosphere and in my understanding.
For that precious moment I did not have to worry about public scrutiny. Children do not really have much privacy in that way. Everything they own, write, say and do can be pried into by others. Even the private places are not sacrosanct as with adults, unless parents are generally sensitive, which mine were. But there is for many kids, this screaming need for a private place, a private time, something noble to aspire to, without ridicule, or help.
In that moment I felt holy.
At times in my life, whether out under the stars at night or at the kitchen sink, I have felt myself to be taller, as if the sink is lower and my head seems to be almost pulled up. When this happens its not as dramatic as it sounds, but this is how I can describe it with the words I have at hand.
It passes quickly, but its like an infusion of spirit…or something.
It felt like (feels like) that for the moment I “know” and if asked what it is I suddenly “know”, well a good way to answer is just “stuff”.
It comes rarely, but when it does come it comes freely and its not because of something great or wonderful about oneself, no its more of a humbling moment.
Here I was, plodding along in my little childhood world. Hot, angry, frustrated and a bit sad because what I had hoped would be a wonderful day, a different day was destroyed.
I was too young to know, to young to understand that they hadn’t wanted me to come along because I was younger and that’s all it was…and here I was tagging along. Slowing them down. Probably seeming like a nuisance because I just could not keep up….
…then for some wonderful reason only God knows, only the great Universe knows, or maybe there was no reason at all, I was given a gift of knowing. As said, what it was I knew…was just “stuff". Maybe I as an adult would say it was just being allowed insight into beauty and energy and the nature of creation…because that’s what it felt like.
For the small town child, going out into the country, not just driving through it as with family trips, not just a flash here and there, but walking out into it was like Manna. It fed my soul. It still feeds my soul to see a wide sky above me and to breathe in the vastness and vulnerability about me. I feel like that, I felt like that. Vast and yet vulnerable.
My rapid return to ‘normality’ was self-inflicted by the fear. A fear which comes to us if we let go too much, unguided. Maybe that fear for a child, or adult is a good thing. That fear may protect us, because maybe we are not at that time equipped to handle the full gift of knowing, but are let know it exists throughout our lives so we never forget it exists.
For me, to forget the other, to forget the beauty, the spirit, the strangeness, the “stuff” would be like dying. I think.
I can’t separate myself from the eleven year old inside my fifty one year old. For me its just another aspect of my self and right now as I write this, as I remember a day almost forgotten, it only seems moments away.
Yes just moments away.
I stand looking at myself a shock of recognition from the child at what I look like now, and an equal shock from my fifty one year old self at how honest fresh and real that child was.