Port Macquarie in the summer is the thing of postcards. Great pines rise on the bluffs, beaches gleaming yellow-blue below. Everything is green and sunshine and sparkling waves onto the horizon. Tourists flock. Kids scamper in the shallows. My fellow schoolkids cruise the beachside roads in cheap P-plated cars, joy and youth practically pouring from their smiling mouths. The HSC is done, school is over and there’s a great swell of hope and the joy of freedom before they skip off to their perfect uni daydream. The future’s so close they can almost touch it.
Where am I on this portentous day? Picture this: I’m knee-to-knee with my best friend Peter in his living room, curtains drawn, punching cone after cone from a blackened Orchy-bottle-bong. Two stoned, queer kids, Peter with frosted tips, me with inky-black-dyed hair, months unbrushed. I’m probably wearing bright red mary-janes and a skirt that is too short. Tops with no backs, just strings, are the fashion, I wear a lot of those. We are playing Placebo at high volume because we are the Weird Kids.
The future that we see for ourselves? Fuck, nothing. There is no future. There is only now, the minutes between cones we fill with cigarettes, so we don’t have to breathe anything untainted.
I smoke cigarettes all day and punch bongs all night, provided by Peter’s older boyfriend/benefactor, who brings home a fifty every evening after work. We know this is a fucked-up situation, a weird way to wield control over us, but why would we say no? You’d have to be stupid to say no to free drugs. I don’t live at Peter’s place (that is, in the way that I pay rent to live there), but I live there in a way. I sleep on the itchy brown couch every night in a sustained effort to never go home, where I would only lapse into fights with my mother and also not be able to punch bongs all the time. Better to stay here, stay stoned.
When I open the letter with an acceptance from my third-choice (what does a communications degree even mean?), Mum tells me I can’t go to uni. I’ve been unemployed for so long and she makes just enough to make ends meet and there is no money for me to move out. I’d say I never cried so hard as when she tells me that, but that would be a lie. I’ve cried harder over smaller things. I’ve cried harder over nothing.
The only solution to this is more fucking strangers who flock to my beachside town on their crappy holidays, more weed and speed and split skin on the soft tops of my thighs.
‘I’m driving down south tomorrow,’ my friend Kirsty says when she calls me up one day, because, at this point, people still call each other. ‘Do you want to come?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t have any money.’
‘You have to get out of here,’ she says.
I don’t know, but I pack a bag anyway. I take the fifty dollars that Mum has given me that week from my Youth Allowance payment, and I put it in my wallet, jam a few books into my suitcase. Another friend offers half of her bed for a week in Newtown. Only when I ask her.
‘You have to get out of there,’ she says.
I don’t know. But when Kirsty shows up, I get in the car. The freeway stretches long and grey ahead. I feel a deep craving to be high, wired, anything but this, and ride it long and down, because I have nothing on me. I smoke rollies until my throat is raw, my fingers yellowed, because it’s something, anything that I can consume to fill up the space left from whatever’s pouring out of me.
We arrive in Newcastle early-afternoon and she drops me at Civic, where I take a hideous, green-vinyl-seated intercity train through the scrub and the ‘burbs and the Hawkesbury, the Northern suburbs, into Sydney. I start to feel things again as we pass Strathfield. Fear. Anticipation. Excitement. I stretch my legs at Central Station and carry my suitcase downstairs to Platform 19.
I always dreamed I’d live in Newtown. It was my alt-babe, fucked-up kid paradise with punks and longhaired dirtbag boys (my favourite!), girls with dyed black hair and fringes (my favourite!) and drag queens walking down King Street in full regalia at eleven in the morning. I’ve dreamed of Newtown since I first visited.
I have fifty bucks and a bag and a huge yearning inside me, and I am finally here. This is not any of the beachside towns that I’d grown up in, a weird girl in a small town. I am now a small girl in a big town but when I step out of the station and onto King Street, I just have this feeling like I am gonna make it.
And I do, in a way.
After a while.
Marlee Jane Ward is a writer, reader and weirdo from Melbourne. Her debut novella Welcome To Orphancorp won the Viva La Novella Prize and the Victorian Premiers Award for YA Fiction. You can find her short fiction at Interfictions, Terraform, Slink Chunk, Aurealis and more. This piece is an excerpt from her memoir-in-progress, Id Girl. She tweets at @marleejaneward and blogs at marleejaneward.com