Content warning: this piece contains references to graphic self-harm.
At seventeen, I slipped from existence. What I mean to say; I felt as if I slipped from presence and for all purposes did so. I thought I had issues; I thought I was edgy. I was riding the remains of my heterosexuality, while fumbling through a new virginity with a boy who shared my name and little else. I was nursing the dual delusion that I would one day be a professional jazz pianist, and that being said pianist would invite men to kiss my neck as I played. I was between teen angst and realising that teen angst is both real and a label for a deeper sadness diagnosed as something else in adulthood. This typical, coming-of-age, real but-also-not-real crisis, evaporated one evening in July: my brother carved words into his skin, overdosed, hospitalised, and soon after, was admitted to a white room in a blue ward called East. He was sixteen.
In the wake, I continued to be, but also, not to be: I became a liminal spirit in my own family, a kind of friendly ghost, who cooked dinner and shopped for parents who worked ten hour days, kept watch over my brother as he stumbled between crises—between the blood on the bathroom floor, or the endless bottles of wine, or tobacco or weed, the money always running out and the people chasing him for the dosh he owed them, the horses that never won, the stubs pouring out of drawers, pockets and backpacks. To care for somebody in this form of pain is consuming, it can—in its most abusive form—be a type of burning, of being reduced with each need; you are a wooden statue in the middle of winter, being disassembled to keep the town warm, until there is nothing left but the podium where you once stood.
To be consumed, and not a consumer, is to be nothing at all. I was eighteen, just eighteen, it was my eighteenth, and I was visiting my brother in a different ward, more eggshell than the last. He looked as he did through that period—unwashed, tired and too pale. He had asked my mum to bring him aero chocolate, but when she delivered it, he was uninterested. The despair as she held her arm out, waiting for him to accept it, remains. All he cared for was the footy game between Melbourne and The Bulldogs, a battle for the wooden spoon in the middle of May and so there we watched it together in the pale of the blue screen light. Nobody remembered I was eighteen, that I was failing uni, that a rash had spread across my cheek to name the despair I could not speak. We were too consumed by the gravity of his sadness.
Two weeks later, an expansive brown armchair arrived in my bedroom. It could have seated two, and wrapped in so much leather must have come from more than one cow. It was a present, delivered without ceremony. My parents had said the week before, it’s your birthday, do you want a chair, And I’d said, no, and they’d said, are you sure, and I’d said, yes, anything but the chair, and here it was, without a word to justify its presence, the chair. It faced the centre of the bedroom. I stared at it and it into me. I took a seat, and slid off immediately—to gaze into the abyss in one thing, to sit in it is another. Dinner that evening, I sit and nobody mentions the chair. To this day it remains in that room, long after I have left it, facing the brown cupboards and not the expanse of green bushland behind it. It remains unused. I remember, when one evening, my brother kicked over an armchair and screamed, ‘You’re not my father,’ to my father, who was indeed, his father, and I no longer felt safe and my mother crying, ‘I hate him, I hate him, I hate him, I hate him.’
At nineteen, I slipped back into existence, not unlike Dale Cooper through the socket; I was not yet awake, disoriented, caffeine addicted, thinner, and new. I had no friends but a distant family member who extended themselves in a time of need, no hobbies, I was in a degree I knew nothing about and felt nothing for. But there I was, lying on a mattress in my cousin’s painting room. There was the hum of America’s ‘The Last Unicorn’ and the smell of pancakes: Their Sunday Ritual. I slipped from the bed, and stumbled into the living room, struck my head against the model hot-air balloon they had attached to their ceiling fan.
‘How’d you sleep?’ they asked me.
And I started speaking.
If Clancy Ryan could get a BA in veganism he definitely would. This summer, he plans to volunteer with a drone program tracking endangered turtles. He lives in Northcote across from the Wesley Anne with the gays, lesbians and mothers with their strollers.