I wrote a blog called Christopher Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. You probably have because I talked about it for long enough. I spent four years writing it. Then I spent a year posting the stories week by week. Then I spent six months adapting it into a one-man show. Then I spent another six months performing that show at three different festivals. One seventh of my life has been spent telling the story of how incredibly fucked up the other six sevenths have been.
It’s been so cathartic, as a process. Through that blog (and, now I think about it, this one too), I have worked through so much stuff: Moving house 60 times, attending 22 schools, having three different stepfathers—one of whom was violent towards my mother, getting scurvy, being molested, living with my grandparents (and taking twenty years to realise that they were horrible people to live with), fracturing my neck in a car accident, getting bullied, coming to terms with my sexuality, getting jobs, losing jobs, finding love, losing love…
…and ultimately trying to find a way to fit all this mess into a man-shaped sack of functioning adult. It’s been difficult, but mostly successful.
I say mostly, because there have been kinks along the way. The show in particular has been a highly emotional experience; a joy to perform, and something of a successful venture as a comedian, but still, it made a bit of a mess of my head. At the end of the show’s debut at the Melbourne Fringe Festival in 2015, I had started seriously considering getting some therapy: an impartial expert who could help me empty all the crap out of my head, sort through it, and only put back what I need. Like that guy on that TV show who helps hoarders, only instead of dried cat poop and piles of old magazines I had shitty memories and self-destructive thoughts.
I finally took the plunge after something happened while I was performing the show a second time; this time at MELT, a queer arts festival in Brisbane.
During the ten days I was in Brisbane, I stayed with my Dad and his partner, Fran. If you’ve read the blog or seen the show, you’ll know that Dad doesn’t get mentioned in it much. This is not for any reason other than he wasn’t an active part of the tumult of my childhood. He and I have forged a pretty good relationship since 2003, but there wasn’t a lot of face time before that. I mean, he’s always been my dad, but we just didn’t get to see each other very often.
There was a period between 1991 and 1993, when I was living with my grandparents in Tin Can Bay, that I did get to spend a fair few weekends with him down in Brisbane. He would drive up and take me to his place for a couple of nights. I always loved it, and not just because they had a Sega Mega Drive and an adorable dog. But then in 1993 I moved to Darwin, and those weekends stopped again.
As an adult I had occasionally wondered why living with Dad had never come up as an option during my childhood. Surely it would have been the more stable option? They’ve been in the same house since the late 1980s. In the time I’ve moved house 44 times, they’ve moved zero times. You know, like normal people.
But I was too much of a coward to ask about this, so the issue lay dormant.
It reared its head again in 2014 after I cut off communication with my grandparents. I’d finally galvanised in my head what a destructive presence they’d been in my life and the life of my family. As I processed this, I started thinking again about those two years between 1991 and 1993 when I lived with them, and how miserable I had been. I found myself again wondering why I’d never been saved from that situation by my Dad? It plagued my thoughts on and off for several months, until I came to the conclusion that there was no happy answer to that question: either my Dad tried to get me to live with him and was thwarted, or he never tried. What good could come of knowing either of those things? I tried to let the idea go.
Fast forward to February of this year. I was staying with my Dad while I performed my show at MELT. Naturally, given the entire reason for my being in town, on many occasions we discussed the trajectory of our respective lives both during and since my childhood. The director of my show, Daniel, was also staying at my Dad’s house, so with an outsider in the mix (though he knew my life story inside and out) the conversation between Dad, Fran, Daniel and me flowed quickly and freely. We reminisced and shared stories and helped fill the gaps in each other’s narratives.
In no time, the conversation had rolled onto the time I spent with living with my grandparents, and before I was even fully aware what was happening, the big reveal came tumbling out.
Dad and Fran had tried to get me to live with them.
They’d organised the whole thing; they even had the paperwork for the school they were going to enrol me in. They discussed it with my grandparents, and my grandparents immediately set about sabotaging the arrangement: I was sent to Darwin, under the pretext of “it’s time to go back to your mother”.
So when Dad called to organise a time to come and collect me, he was told “Oh, Christopher’s moving to Darwin tomorrow” and then I was gone. He was never told why or how it happened; for all he knew the decision could have come from me, in an attempt to get away from him.
But I had no idea about any of this. For 23 years I had no idea.
I have not fully been able to recover from this news yet. I’m glad I know now, but it is not easy to process. To think of all the things I could have avoided: the moving around, the instability, the poverty, living with my grandparents a second time less than a year later, a fractured neck, being pushed down a flight of stairs at a particularly shitty high school (fortunately this happened two years after the fractured neck, I’d had time to heal).
I could have felt safe.
That’s not to say it was all bad: I had some great times with my family, made some great friends (occasionally), and experienced a lot. And of course, without everything happening exactly the way it happened, I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am now. The Butterfly Effect and all that. And I mostly like who I am and where I am now. There’s not much point delving too far into the possibilities of what-ifs. It’s all moot now anyway.
But there’s one niggling thought, and I guess that’s why I started seeing a therapist (and she’s the one who told me to write this, because writing about my stuff is clearly my first port of call for processing it and it’s stupid, in hindsight, to think that this hadn’t occurred to me yet). One horrible little question I can’t push away.
Would I be happier?