Parkbench Perspectives – V

This series of prose imagines the world as seen through different people’s eyes – each sitting on the same park bench at different times and with different life stories.

Park Bench Perspective #5

I always imagined that this would be the bench where we would sit and contemplate the world when we were old and grey. There would be no need to say anything. It would be enough that we were together, relaxed in each other’s presence, basking in the sun of happy memories, still in love after so many years. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I am such a fool. My naïve belief in fairytale endings blinded me. There is no “happily ever after”. In real life, this is how it ends: one person is always left alone on the bench, their heart ripped out, their life in shreds.

I wish the initial numbness had lasted. Now all I feel this seething, writhing, bubbling anger. I want to scream, to smash this bench, to set fire to our bed, to hunt him down, to make her sorry for what she did. How could she!? How could sixteen years together mean so little? How could she do it, knowing how much it would hurt me? I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy. So what does that make me? I thought I knew her. I thought we were in love. I thought we would always be together. What planet of self-delusion have I been living on?

I have always said that people fall in love, and they can just as easily fall out of love. And I still believe that. But I never believed it would happen to me, to us. How could I not have seen it coming? How could I have felt that our love was growing deeper, when she was really drifting further and further away? What about my poems? What about all my declarations of love? Did they mean nothing to her? What about the “love forever” that she wrote in all the cards?

I should have listened to my instincts – all those times I felt jealous. It’s my own fault, for trusting her. And yet what is a marriage without trust? Ever since she cheated the first time, I have never felt secure. My biggest fear has always been that I would lose her. But I convinced myself that I was just being paranoid. I allowed her reassurances – her lies – to placate me. So many lies! How could she deceive me? Repeatedly! She was living a lie, with me right there. Did I deserve that? It can only mean that she had no respect for me whatsoever. And yet, how is that possible?

And how can I respect her now? She will always be tainted in my eyes. Not only was she prepared to deceive me, to inflict pain knowingly, to plan our demise consciously, but she shows no remorse, no inclination to stop. I feel so sorry for his wife, for his kids, living under the shadow of a lie. When they find out – when, not if, because they will find out, sooner or later – the pain will be so much greater. How can she continue this affair? I just don’t understand it. How does she sleep at night? Has she no shred of moral fibre in her body? Is this the same person I married?

I know I must let go and move on. But it has all happened so quickly. Two weeks is all it’s taken to go from blissfully in love to painfully estranged, from together to apart, from married to separated. How could she throw it all away so easily? What about everything we’ve shared? Everything we’ve gone through? Both the good times and the bad. Do those memories mean nothing to her? She has degraded our past by what she’s done, and it sickens me. She’s made us less. How am I ever going to be able to forgive her?

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Parkbench Perspectives – IV

This series of prose imagines the world as seen through different people’s eyes – each sitting on the same park bench at different times and with different life stories.

Park Bench Perspective #4

Why is it, when I sit on this bench, that I feel free? It makes no sense. So much of my life is a cage. So what is it about this bench, this place? Is it the open space, uncluttered by the props of my life’s drama? Or the early morning sun and the sparkling dew on the grass, whispering that even the longest nights end and the coldest freeze thaws? Maybe it is just that everything I care most about is right here where I see it clearly, from this bench.

The twins are happily preoccupied on the blanket with their toys, and the boys are close by in the playground area. They epitomise what it means to be carefree. They still know the joy of simple pleasures. When last was my life simple? It’s hard to believe it ever was. How much time do they have left, before their innocence evaporates? Before their world gets complicated? Before they realise the harsh pain of reality?

It won’t be long now and I can’t bear it. To know that I can’t protect them from being hurt. To know that I can’t shield them from being caught in the crossfire. It’s not their fault! Why should they suffer because their parents don’t love one another; because power and politics twist relationships; because they are part of a deal to avoid public embarrassment? Will my love be enough? Or will they resent me, for making them complicit in the lie I’ve been living?

Just look at Adrian, in his superman t-shirt, waving at me from the top of the slide, looking for all the world like the superhero he is. God. I remember that feeling! I even had the t-shirt: Wonder Woman of course. What happened to her? Did she die in one too many battles with cynicism? Was she educated to death? Or did the church crucify her? And who is going to tell Alex that he’s not invincible? I don’t have the heart to tell him that saving the universe is a little ambitious when people can’t even save a marriage.

And what about Brian? He has none of Adrain’s confidence. He is such a sensitive soul. Cries for almost no reason. How is he going to cope in a world that rewards bullies and scorns softness? At least I had the confidence. At least I was with the “in” crowd. I know now that that was a mixed blessing. Some people still me as little more than a cheerleader at the ballgame which is my husband’s career. But at least I was a bit older before I learned about rejection.

And who knows with the twins. They are still so young. If things go wrong, if things get messy, how will they be affected? Will they be strong for each other? Later, when they find out the truth, will the join together against me? Or will they forgive me? Will they believe me when I tell them that everything I did was because I thought it was the best for them? Or will they just see a coward who lived her life to please everyone except herself?

If I had one wish, it would be that these beautiful children of mine grow up to be free. Is that possible? Can I live in a cage without placing bars around them also? Will I teach them to expect limitations and to accept compromises? Will my bitter experience of love convince them that love is never sweet? Will they renounce their faith in dreams, because my nightmares have haunted their lives? So many impossible questions, it drives me crazy.

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Parkbench Perspectives – III

This series of prose imagines the world as seen through different people’s eyes – each sitting on the same park bench at different times and with different life stories.

Park Bench Perspective #3

It’s so unfair! Why do I have sit here on this stupid bench, watching while all the other children get to have fun in the park. It’s all Billy’s fault! He pushed me. That’s why I fell and broke my arm and cried and had to go to hospital and have this ugly plaster cast put on. It’s because of him that I can’t bath properly and it hurts when I go to bed and I have to sit out when everyone in my class gets to play games.

Mommy says I must be grateful, because there are other children, like in Africa, who don’t have arms because they got blown up and don’t even have food or anything. I suppose she is right, although it seems a bit dumb to be grateful for a broken arm. Anyway, at least mommy’s given me lots of cuddles and kisses, that’s something good for sure. And everyone at school feels sorry for me and the teacher gives me less homework.

The boys are nasty though. They call me cry-baby and say silly things like, “did you fall down the toilet.” It makes me so mad, I just want to hit them, or tell daddy how horrible they are being, so that he can give them a good sorting out. But I don’t, ‘cos then I would be a tell-tale, and I’m not a tell-tale. I did tell that once, when I saw Jackie with cigarettes in the girls change room, cos mommy says smoking can kill you and I don’t to die. I thought I was going to die when I fell and hurt my arm, it was so sore …

Look at Jane, sitting at the top of the slide. I bet she’s scared to go down. I’m an expert on the slide. I can go down forwards and backward and upside-down and the right way up and with my eyes closed and with my eyes closed and anyway you like. Mommy says I should join the circus, but I want to be a dancer. I dance every week when my arm’s not broken. And my teacher says if I practice and practice and practice and practice and practice, I might be on TV one day, like famous people. Then I could buy lots of dolls and dresses and have a mobile phone and a car and everything.

Maybe I will get my favourite doll for my birthday. I told mommy when I saw it in the shop. And my birthday is coming up soon. Mommy says I only have to watch the Munchkins on TV another twelve times and then it will be my birthday and will be seven. I love it when the Miss Chiff (that’s the naughty girl Munchkin), hides her brother’s shoes in dog kennel. That’s so funny! And he looks everywhere but he cannot find them. And he sees Rugsy, the Munchkin dog, having his shoes for breakfast…

Hey, look, there’s a dog like Rugsy chasing a ball in the park. I wonder if he had shoes for breakfast. Hee hee. There’s a dog in my picture book that daddy’s reading to me before I go to bed at night. But he’s not like Rugsy. He’s a human dog, not a Munchkin dog, and he eats dog food, not shoes. But he also has spots. Daddy says reading will help to make my arm get better sooner. And while the other children are playing outside, I will be getting cleverer. I hope so, because I think you have to be clever to get on TV.

My friend, Jane, also wants to be on TV, but she wants to be a singer. She also has to practice and practice. Sometimes, we practice together. She sings a song and I dance. We even do a concert for Jane’s granny and grandpa sometimes. And they clap when we are finished. They say we are stars.

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Parkbench Perspectives – II

This series of prose imagines the world as seen through different people’s eyes – each sitting on the same park bench at different times and with different life stories.

Park Bench Perspective #2

Relief, at last. Thank god for this old bench – my nightly refuge, this bed of weather-bleached, splintering wooden slats, decorated with graffiti, both obscene and obscure; the one broken beam exposing its jagged edge, like a wounded limb; its upright arms enfolding in a cold, concrete embrace; partly sheltered from the wind by the school behind the park; partly protected from the rain by the creaky ol tree. Not much, but at least it’s a place I can call mine, in a world that seems to have so little space for people like me.

Here, at least for the night, I can rest in peace. No insults. No harassment. No self-righteous advice. Just R.I.P., like a dead person. Here, on this bench I like to call my own, I am not disturbing anyone. No one can accuse me of being a nuisance. I am temporarily obliterated from the face of the earth, hidden in this suburban park. Safely tucked out of harm’s way.

It’s not much of a home, I’ll be the first to admit. Nothing like the warm, cozy house I remember from when I was still a child. I guess that was part of deal though: I kept quiet about those things daddy used to do to me, and in return I got a roof over my head. Well, that was part of growing up for me, wasn’t it – realising that having a roof over your head isn’t everything in life. And also that you don’t have to just sit back and take it. You can fight back. Today, I may not be a pretty sight, but at least I’m free.

I smile when I think of it, what a feisty bitch I grew up to become. Angry at the world for the raw deal I’d been dealt. Rebelling against everything and giving the finger to everyone. I used to think of it rather melodramatically as cursing the gods and courting the demons. Some would say I’ve got what I deserve, but I don’t buy that guilt-trip crap. Shit happens, and it’s happened to me in truck-loads. But I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I’m just getting on with trying to survive. Like everyone else, I’m doing the best I can. And anyone who’s got something to say about it can just piss off and tell some one who cares!

That’s my attitude, anyway. It’s not like I asked to end up on the street. And it’s not like I haven’t tried, over and over again, to get a job. I’m not afraid of working hard. Try staying alive without two cents to rub together, and tell me that’s not hard work! But you know, a person can only hear ‘no’ so many times before you start to crack. When rejection becomes a way of life, there’s not much self-esteem left to go around.

I remember the first time I got desperate enough to beg. I felt totally humiliated, ashamed that I’d sunk so low; embarrassed that I had to rely on other people’s generosity to survive. God forbid that I’d see anyone I knew! But hunger drives you to do crazy things, as I have found out more than once since then. Swallowing my pride was just another step towards my next meal.

But after a while I learned to look at it just like any other job. And to figure out what works and what doesn’t. The tricks of the trade, so to speak. Not too clean and cheerful, or else no one feels sorry enough to give you anything. But also not too dirty and desperate, or people are too disgusted to come anywhere near you. I soon got used to feeling like a ghost – people looking straight past me, or through me, in an attempt to hide their own discomfort.

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Parkbench Perspectives – I

This series of prose imagines the world as seen through different people’s eyes – each sitting on the same park bench at different times and with different life stories.

Park Bench Perspective #1

It’s only when I actually stop – like now, taking time out, sitting on this bench – that I notice how fast the world is spinning. Or have I got it the wrong way round? Is it me spinning and the world standing still? More likely. Like a hamster running on its wheel – no wonder everything’s a blur. I suppose it’s not called the rat race for nothing. But you have to wonder, are things really speeding up, or does it just feel that way? And even if the pace is quickening, does that just mean we’re getting nowhere faster?

Well, not today, or at least not for these five minutes. There’s no pressure to be somewhere else. No deadlines to chase, or things to follow up. Not even a guilty conscience about being away from Lynda, spending quality time. She’s happily dug in on the couch, watching that cooking program that, for reasons beyond me, she seems never to grow tired of.

And I’m off doing my husbandly duty, taking the dogs for a walk. So, for this unique wormhole in time, everything seems to be in balance, like the planets perfectly aligned. Even the dogs fit the picture of idyllic harmony, happily in their element, charging from one invisibly scented hotspot to the next, excitedly catching up with the latest doggie gossip from around the neighbourhood, and, of course, squeezing out their drop’s worth of news to add to the mix.

Something about their carefree spirit echoes the joy of this moment for me, with the morning sun, warm against my upturned face, a gentle breeze rustling through the branches of the red-gum tree. It’s about being in the moment, isn’t it? They say that about animals – that they live totally in the present. Which is why they apparently don’t worry, or fear death, the way we humans do. They have no sense of the future, no imagination to conjure up disaster scenarios or start stressing about how things may or may not work out. There’s something to be said for that.

Although, I suppose it’s no great epiphany. That’s what Buddhism has been teaching for thousands of years. Meditation, yoga, what are they about if not taming our monkey minds to focus on the here and now, the ever elusive eternal present. All very well in theory, but quite another thing to put into practice. I should know. There was a time when the so-called path to enlightenment was almost an obsession for me. Thinking back, it almost seems surreal, those young days of my all-consuming quest to find a spiritual master, to search for answers to all the big questions.

I remember promising myself that I’d never lose that sense of clarity about what is really important in life. Now look at me! What happened? It was only, what, less than fifteen years ago? I guess that’s life. Or, at least, that’s what happens when “the default option” takes over – the default being the course society expects us to take: get through school, go to university, then get serious, start your career, after which, the treadmill of earning to pay bills pretty much takes over, with a bit of pressure thrown in, the imperative to achieve something (results, promotion, whatever).

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