Family Ain’t a Holiday, straight (Frankie – 2010)
Each year, as I become more self conscious and weird, it becomes harder and harder to relax at home. I touchdown in Tasmania a burnt out husk, declare my tears at customs and am bundled into the back of Mum’s Kia feeling like an overgrown teenager with improved vocabulary and fashion. This year, my home time imploded after the ‘Nan VS the gas barbecue’ fiasco left me so tense I changed my flight back to Melbourne three weeks earlier than planned. Sticky fingers clicking around webjet, thoughts as maxed as my credit card, I realised something. Home isn’t a holiday.
It’s a common dilemma for people to tire of their families after a few days. The fuss, the frustration, the flicking of your personality switch to ‘defensive.’ This has never been an issue for me. I am spiritually bound to these people through contracts written in blood and memories and soup. Now it’s just Mum and Nan and they are my elders whom I love more than the stars in the sky. I am their Justin, the prodigal only child who returns each year with tales of success and gentle humour. I feel too much guilt and responsibility to allow myself the luxury of impatience.
This year, something broke. I arrived at Nan’s place still sporting my city scowl, retinas hot with emails. I took a turn around her garden, (the Big Day Out of the flower world – a festival of colour), closed my eyes and drew in my medicine. The sweet warmth of freshly opened roses and mown grass massaged my memory banks; a cotton-soft sunkiss blessed my back while meticulous songbirds plucked scraps from my ears. Inside I sat, underslept and sweaty as Mum and Nan quizzed me about happenings. My mental minions worked overtime, unpacking the words to capture my spinning plates existence. I tried to tell Nan about my new girlfriend, but she was not celebratory. She warned me about my past hurts and I snapped at her. Snapping at your Nan is the worst thing you can ever do.
Grumpy and ghostly, I parked myself in front of the cricket, the dull haze of the crowd and meandering commentary acting as a security blanket. Nothing says ‘rehab’ like zoning out infront of ads for carpet court, munching away on chips while you explain to your Mum why its too early to tell who’s winning. You shouldn’t be here, bohemian demons whispered, you should be on some beach in Thailand or a vodka bar in Berlin like other cool people your age. My girlfriend had just gone to New York for three months and a chorus of my former selves were screaming from the photos…’you have to go visit her.’ I’d tried, but I’d spent all my money making an album.
Home isn’t a holiday, it’s like a class free period at uni. Sure, you’re not doing work, but it isn’t exactly a ‘break’. Going home is like a school assignment where you are made to visit the museum of emotions and write an essay about it in small talk. Perhaps family become harder the older we get because we realise just how much we have grown into them. Mum nervously eyes the timetable and makes us stand outside fifteen minutes before the bus arrives – I am witnessing the softly spoken evidence of where I come from and why I’m such a worrywart. To her credit, she is able to joke about it. It’s not all bad. We are just two damaged people who can still share a laugh.
Home time is at its best when I go over to Mum’s unit. Our ritual is sharing a stubbie and talking about life and the past. The irony is Mum, who I could barely get a word out of during my childhood, is now more talkative than me and carrying the conversation. It’s a strange twist of fate, in my hour of need she is there for me. That night I lay in the single bed I grew up in, staring up at the sticker stars that still glow bright. With my glasses off its a big fuzzy universe. Things could be a lot worse, I think. It’s important to remember that.