What I know for sure: fucktardedry transcends cultures

On 31 December of each year, I do a review of the past year. I look at what I’ve learned, what went well, and what didn’t.  I revisit what I know for sure. This year it’s a little later because of, well, stuff. And by stuff I mean life and all that that entails. It has been a jam-packed year, though. Moving to Vietnam does that to a girl. From nearly dying to reinventing myself as a writer to almost falling in love, there hasn’t been a dull moment. I’ve had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. But what it has done is cemented in my mind what I know for sure, and I will be sharing these things with you over the next month or so. Here’s the first one.

It was meant to be…

At the end of August, one week before I returned to Australia for five weeks (I had to move out of my apartment in my home city of Adelaide so I could rent it out, and I decided to bring my cat back to Vietnam with me and she needed to be vaccinated and that had a waiting period), I met a man. A lovely Vietnamese man with excellent English, crossing the road in Saigon. A man who was worried about my safety (if anyone has ever visited Saigon and tried to cross the road, you will know what I mean). We got chatting (after I told him I lived in Hanoi and was used to crossing the road and he had nothing to worry about), and we swapped numbers (because he travelled to Hanoi for business and he would be there in two weeks and would I like to catch up?), and before I could say sexy times, I was strolling down the street with him to listen to some music — and he was playing. Drums, guitar and bass guitar. He said he was a businessman. And divorced. With two children. And Catholic. And music was his hobby. And at 48, a respectable six years younger than me.

Ignoring my three-month rule (why, oh why?) at the end of the night, we adjourned to my hotel. For sexy times. He left early in the morning, making it clear he wanted to see me again. And he did. He came to see me the next day before I flew back to Hanoi. And then we messaged every day (and talked once a week) for the five weeks I was in Australia. I thought it would fizzle, and was overjoyed when it didn’t. And when I got back to Vietnam we still messaged every day until I went to see him at the end of October. And every day after I visited him in November and December.

I was falling for this man. He was a lovely boyfriend: reliable and communicative and smart — and when I saw him, kind, thoughtful, warm and loving. The sex was amazing, and became more so with each visit I made to Saigon to see him.

Trouble in paradise…

And therein lay the problem. Despite frequent requests for him to come to Hanoi and visit me, I always travelled to Saigon to see him. The first trip there didn’t bother me. My work was more flexible than his (he said he had meetings with his customers on the weekend that he had to attend plus his daughters still needed him). I stayed in a hotel, because it was the first time I’d seen him since my return to Vietnam, and I wasn’t sure if it was a “thing”. And he didn’t suggest that I stay at his place. I vaguely noticed he didn’t spend the night, and that I didn’t see him during the day. It didn’t bother me because I had work commitments, and he promised me he would stay on the Monday night (he said he was worried about what his daughters thought of him if he stayed overnight, and weeknights were better because he could say he was on a business trip. Who was I to interrogate him about what he told his daughters?). He came with me to two work events (at night, although he disappeared during one for an hour to meet his school friends. I’m told it’s a thing in Vietnam). And he stayed the Monday night as promised…

I believed him because I had no reason to doubt him. Until I started doing the maths and added up all the excuses and subtracted all the missing time and divided every fucking thing by inaction.

The second trip to Saigon, I stayed in an Airbnb. And on the third.

It was on the third trip — I wanted to ring in the New Year with him — that I realised things were not as they seemed. He had promised to spend more time with me, when in fact I got less. I arrived on the Saturday, and he came to my Airbnb about an hour after I got there. He could only stay a short time, he said, because he had his regular catch up with his school friends, but he would try to see if I could come (and he would introduce me as a work colleague) if they went for karaoke. I was surprised at the secrecy, but needn’t have concerned myself. Karaoke — and the subterfuge — didn’t eventuate, and I met him a few hours later at a restaurant (where he proceeded to smoke outside and take phone calls). After dinner we went to a bar, listened to some music and had some beers. He dropped me off at my Airbnb around midnight and didn’t come upstairs to my room. I was disappointed, but accepted it. What could I do?

I slept late the next day, and messaged him. When was he coming to see me? He messaged back: he had things to do and would pick me up at 7.30 for dinner, but he couldn’t stay the night even though it was New Year’s Eve. His daughters, you see. They were smart and knew that business trips didn’t happen on New Year’s Eve. I was disappointed — again — and was starting to wonder what the fuck I was doing there in Saigon. And what the fuck was going on.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought about all the things that didn’t add up: I didn’t know where he lived (he has never invited me to his house, despite me asking) or where he worked (although that shit is easy to find out on LinkedIn). We weren’t Facebook friends (he wanted to keep a low profile for his daughters and business — he said he couldn’t have me tagging him in my posts and updates). He only stayed over on weeknights, when he could claim he was on a “business trip”. I rarely saw him during the day when I visited (only on Trip #2 did this happen, and it was for just a few hours). I’d not met any of his friends. He had never come to visit me in Hanoi. And all the Grabs (taxis to get around Saigon) were done on my account, not his. I was conscious that I was doing all the heavy lifting: airfares, hotel accommodation, visiting. I was the one investing, not him.

The penny drops…

Then the penny dropped with a heavy clunk. My lovely boyfriend was still married — or at the very least, attached — and not so lovely.

Holy fuck.

I confronted him. He assured me that he was 100% single. But my intuition wouldn’t back down.

And I had an uneasy feeling that things wouldn’t end well for me, and I told him so. How do you know, he asked. Experience, I said. And that uneasy feeling followed me back to Hanoi. I was reminded of The Italian. That same feeling of unavailability, of unwillingness to choose me or make me a priority, of me being sidelined.

And that feeling wouldn’t let up.

So I ended it. My intuition tells me that I am 100% right.

And despite a couple of messaging sessions after I called it quits, I have not been convinced otherwise. Nothing has changed. None of my questions have been answered. And now this man has dropped off the face of the Earth.

I have to say he was clever. Very clever. He told me enough of the truth that I didn’t suspect he was being dishonest or playing me or stringing me along. He talked of his plans for us for the future, of business projects we would work on together (I even registered a website and designed a logo), of the travelling we would do, where we would go. He made me feel sexy and desirable and told me so regularly. I believed him because I had no reason to doubt him. Until I started doing the maths and added up all the excuses and subtracted all the missing time and divided every fucking thing by inaction.

Despite all this, I’m proud of myself. I loved (or was prepared to love) with complete abandon and openness and trust. I was prepared to risk being vulnerable and the possibility of being hurt because I bought into something I believed in. It — we — could have been amazing. Was I hurt by this man? Of course, and I was deeply saddened by his cavalier disregard of my feelings. And his dishonesty. Will it impact my ability to love in the future? Abso-fucking-lutely not. To quote my dear friend Melissa, my side of the street was squeaky clean.

What I know for sure is that not everyone’s motives and intentions are pure. Especially when it comes to sex and matters of the heart. And the only way to really figure that shit out is with time.


Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

So… my mother died

A couple of weeks ago, on 22 November 2017, my mother died.

Her death is something I have been expecting for a year more, and I am glad it happened while I was in Vietnam, because it meant I had a good excuse not to go to her funeral. How could I eulogise kindly about a woman who did so much damage? A woman who was unkind at her best, and nasty and violent at her worst, which was often? A woman who should never have had children? A woman who had carved a powerful message deep into my psyche that I, her first born daughter, was essentially unlovable? 

I was surprised by my feelings the two or three days following her death. Emotions bubbled to the surface that took me unawares, mainly because — given that I hadn’t communicated with her for around 10 years — she was essentially dead to me. I had made my peace, or so I thought. I didn’t love or hate her. I didn’t care about her, which was the best place to be. I rarely thought about her, except when the deep emotional wound she inflicted — that has never really healed — was picked by some situation or other and started to bleed. Again.

I have written many times about my mother, the latest piece when I came back to Vietnam from Australia at the beginning of October, but I have never written to her. That’s why this essay is a letter. A letter to my dead mother about what it was like to be her daughter.

Dear Mum,

Tessa told me via Facebook Messenger that you had died. While I’m not sorry, I do hope you find the peace you were searching for your whole life. You were looking for someone to save you from yourself, but I don’t believe you were ever brave enough to look deep inside for the answers. Confronting yourself is difficult. Much easier to blame others.

You never did tell me the whole story of why you were like you were. I heard bits and pieces — snippets — about being abandoned by your own parents at a young age, and sent to live with Papa’s sister, Auntie Lil. I’ve been able to scrape together information, mainly from my cousins, that Papa had issues with alcohol and was violent. There was domestic abuse. And while you weren’t a drinker, you continued the pattern of violence with two of your three children. You continued the family legacy.

Even so, I craved your care and love and approval. I thought there was something wrong with me, and in my teens and twenties, I sought care and love and solace in the arms of men.

I grew up living in fear, afraid to open my mouth in case I said the wrong thing and was hit. That’s not a childhood. That’s hell. The slightest infraction would set you off. You would arm yourself with whatever weapon was closest — usually a shoe — and lay into me. I’d run to my bedroom, jump into bed and dive under the covers so I had a buffer against the pain. The bruises faded, of course, but the psychological scar runs deep, like an endless abyss. The beatings stopped when I was 17 — the day I hit you back and moved out of home. I gave you a black eye — but you deserved more, much more, than that.

Even so, I craved your care and love and approval. I thought there was something wrong with me, and in my late teens and twenties, I sought care and love and solace in the arms of men. Many men. Except it wasn’t love. Or care. I had confused sex with intimacy and love and caring, and couldn’t work out why I was so empty and unfulfilled. Those years of promiscuity and casual sex turned the endless abyss into a bottomless canyon, and it’s taken me decades to work out why: If your own mother didn’t love you, why would anyone else?

My teenage years were hell on steroids. At a time when I should have been going to parties and discos with my friends and kissing boys and drinking passion pop and enjoying my freedom, you wanted total control. You made having a boyfriend difficult. You were so rude and nasty to any boys I did bring home that they dropped me like a hot potato. They knew they weren’t welcome, and they weren’t going to fight a battle they couldn’t win. They were teenage boys. Who wants to get involved with that? There were other girls out there with nicer parents, and so they moved on. Quickly. I eventually got the hint (I’m a slow learner) and stopped bringing boys home. You won.

Except you didn’t. Slowly, I came to understand, to know, that it was you, not me. There was something indelibly wrong with you. I saw other mothers, mothers of friends and acquaintances, and they were not like you. These mothers were kind and caring and interested in their children. These mothers wanted their children to be happy and successful. They wanted them to achieve. You were not like this. But it wasn’t until I had my own daughter that I truly understood what was wrong with you: you never should have had children. You probably liked the idea of being a mother, of being married. But it is not something you should have done.

You ruined the lives of three men, and at least two children (I have no communication with your other child, my half sibling). The men you married: if they didn’t have issues before they became involved with you, they certainly had by the time they divorced you. My biological father — who you admitted you married on the rebound — left you when I was four, a broken man and an alcoholic. My stepfather, and your second husband ended up with psychological issues. The third one, who tried to be kind to us in the face of your unkindness, survived by becoming distant and withdrawn — and divorced you within two years. I had no role model for what a good marriage — even an OK one — looked like. And I have never married — not because I didn’t want to — but because I made terrible choices when it came to men. It is only now, in my mid-fifties, that I am in a place where I feel I am able to have a loving, caring relationship with a good man. After years of trial and error, I finally know what to look for, what to expect to void the script carved deep into my being: If your own mother didn’t love you, why would anyone else?

Slowly, I came to understand, to know, that it was you, not me. There was something indelibly wrong with you.

As you moved towards the end of your life, I wonder: did you ever reflect on it all, what came to pass, how it all came to be? Were you aware of the damage you were causing? Caused? I always said I did not want to be like you, both as a mother and in the way I live my life. You lived a mean, little life, with not much joy or happiness. My life is so much bigger than yours. I have filled it with love and generosity and knowledge and freedom and admiration. I want to live a life of no regrets, of adventure, and travel and experimentation and service. Despite everything, everything that you threw at me, I survived. Even better: I thrived. I have a strong spirit, confidence and an inner beauty that cannot be quelled. And I am proud of the mother I turned out to be. I’m not perfect, but I’m damn near good enough.

I was mentioned at your funeral, apparently, and how proud you would have been of me. I call bullshit on the whole pride thing. You have never been proud of me in your life. You have been controlling, violent, nasty, dismissive and uncaring. You’ve never shown any real interest in my education, my child, my career or my relationships — other than to discourage them all. Of course, eulogies are not where one speaks ill of the dead, but even in death, you being proud of me is something that has no meaning.

Because while you were alive, all I ever wanted was to matter to you.

Your daughter,

Diane


This is the 22nd essay in the #26essays2017 challenge that I’ve set for myself this year. I’m doing this because I’m the first to admit I’ve become a lazy writer: allowing guest posts and series and cross-posting to make up the bulk of content on The Diane Lee Project across 2016. The brave, fearless writing that readers admired and respected me for has all but disappeared. This year—2017—will be different. I’m reclaiming my voice—my write like a motherfucker voice!

Photo: my mother and I at Port MacDonnell, South Australia. I was 15 years old. 

Like mother, like daughter

My mother was not a pleasant woman. She was violent and cruel, controlling and uncaring. She probably had Borderline Personality Disorder. She was married (and divorced) three times, and all three husbands ended up with alcohol or mental health issues. They may have been predisposed, but my mother brought out the worst in them. If they couldn’t self-medicate with alcohol, they had breakdowns. Or both. And then they left, leaving my mother as the sole care provider (and I use that term in the loosest possible way) for her three children.

From the age of eight to 18 — ten years of my life — I was beaten constantly, for such unforgivable crimes as answering back, not cleaning to her exacting standards, being late. Once I was beaten for daring to tell a joke. My mother had a hit first, ask questions later approach to discipline. I remember being scared most of my formative years. Scared of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing. Scared that if I said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing, I would be punished. If the shoe came off, or the wooden spoon was reached for, I ran to my bedroom and dove under the blankets in an effort to diffuse the blows… and the pain. Invariably, the blankets were ripped off so whatever object of discipline that was in my mother’s hand at the time could connect directly with my body. Bruises decorated my arms and legs, external evidence of my mother’s internal workings.

The message I received loud and clear, and it is one that has haunted me all my adult life, is: if your own mother didn’t love you, why would anyone else?

I moved out of home at the age of 17 in violent circumstances: my mother accused me of sleeping around (I was still a virgin), lashed out at me and — for the first time ever — I defended myself, landing a punch that blackened my mother’s eye. I left that evening, taking a few belongings, and appearing on the doorstep of a kind work colleague. But even after I moved out, I still didn’t cut ties with my mother. I vacillated for a couple of years, from wanting to crawl out from under the weight of my mother’s cruelty to still wanting her to be my mother. The final move to independence coming at 21, when I located to a different town.

But up until my thirties — when I became a mother myself — I still tried to win her love and approval. Despite the cruelty, I still wanted my mother to be a mother. To love me as I knew I deserved to be loved. It took another ten years for it to finally click that this was never going to happen. That it wasn’t me, it was her. And now in my mid-fifties, I haven’t spoken to my mother since my forties. But the damage is done. The message I received — loud and clear — and it is one that has haunted me all my adult life and permeated most of my relationships with men is: if your own mother didn’t love you, why would anyone else? This legacymore than the physical violence — because bruises fade and scars heal — has been my unfortunate cross to bear.

***

At 29, I became a mother. I gave birth to a beautiful girl and I fell deeply, irrevocably, intensely in love with the tiny baby who, when I held her in my arms, contemplated me with a calm curiosity. Her eyes were a navy blue, deep like the ocean, and she had a shock of dark hair. When she nuzzled at my breast for the first time, I was complete. I was born to be a mother, and despite my own mother being so awful — or maybe because of it — I was good at it. Not perfect but damn near good enough. I gave my daughter love and stability. I taught her about making wise choices, and the consequences if she didn’t. I taught her about personal responsibility. I gave her the freedom and independence to choose her own path. I cared for her and about her. I gave her mother that I always wanted.

And all I wanted in return was her love.

I didn’t think that my daughter would reject me as a mother. But she has, and in the strangest and most tragic of Shakespearean twists, I have come to the conclusion I haven’t beaten my mother’s legacy after all. My daughter, in her own way, continues it. My daughter tells me every day — through ignored phone calls and messages, through her grudging relent to spend time with me, through her refusal to see me as anything other than a cash cow, through her prioritising of other people and activities over me, through her knowing what makes me happy and doing the opposite — that I am not worthy of her love. If your own daughter doesn’t love you, why would anyone else?

I now realise that am not the mother that my daughter wants, just as my own mother was not the mother I wanted.

I now realise that I am not the mother that my daughter wants, just as my own mother was not the mother I wanted. She wants a mother who is conservative, which I am not. She wants a family that consists of a mother and a father and loving grandparents, and lots of aunties and uncles and cousins, which I couldn’t provide her. She wants a mother who is quiet and doesn’t talk to practically anyone and everyone, which is not me. She wants a mother who will pay for anything and everything, which I cannot do. She wants a mother who doesn’t embarrass her, which — apparently — I do all the time.

I thought that after me being overseas for 10 months, she would finally appreciate me, value me, love me. This has not been the case. Things are exactly the same. Worse. I am dismissed, sidelined, ignored. Friends have told me that — with maturity — this will change… but I don’t think so. She is nearly 25. This is it for me. This is my reality. She loves me, I’m sure of it, but not in the way I want to be loved by. Like my own mother, I have to accept that I cannot change my daughter. I can’t change how she views me, or how she behaves toward me. All I can do is alleviate the effects of the hurt and disappointment and the pain of rejection. Harm minimisation, as it were.

And that involves the difficult and unrelenting task of silencing the voices that have echoed through my psyche for aeons: You are deserving of love. You are worthy. And you are more than enough.


This is the 21st essay in the #26essays2017 challenge that I’ve set for myself this year. I’m doing this because I’m the first to admit I’ve become a lazy writer: allowing guest posts and series and cross-posting to make up the bulk of content on The Diane Lee Project across 2016. The brave, fearless writing that readers admired and respected me for has all but disappeared. This year—2017—will be different. I’m reclaiming my voice—my write like a motherfucker voice!

Photo credit: National Science and Media Museum via VisualHunt.com / No known copyright restrictions

Dear Diane

Well, it appears that I did send that letter to John after all! I found this letter in my personal effects, hidden between a couple of old photos…

Dear Diane,

I’ve been thinking a lot about you the last few days. I was going to write you a letter sooner before your letter came today.

I’m sorry for my behaviour on Sunday for it was inexcusable but perhaps necessary for us to both realise the reality of our relationship and feelings toward each other.

Thank you for the letter. I’ve had a lot of good times with you too, and would like to say you’re a wonderful person with many interesting facets. The love and support I’ve felt from you over the last ten months has been greater than any other person I’ve ever known, including my family. This love has given me a lot of courage and inner strength. I thank you for this gift. I feel I’ve learned a lot about life from you.

I’m a little sad that our feelings for each other aren’t on the same level and I’m sorry you have been sad the last twenty four hours. Life can be so unfair sometimes.

I hope that you may have learnt something from me too or walked away with a gift as well. I would like to say thank you for the good times we had and the friendship we shared. We shared many intimate details with each other and sometimes knew each other like a well read book.

I’m sorry for my behaviour on Sunday for it was inexcusable but perhaps necessary for us to both realise the reality of our relationship and feelings toward each other.

I’ll never forget you and if you are ever in trouble, I’ll endeavour to help you if you want.

John


This is the 20th essay in the #26essays2017 challenge that I’ve set for myself this year. I’m doing this because I’m the first to admit I’ve become a lazy writer: allowing guest posts and series and cross-posting to make up the bulk of content on The Diane Lee Project across 2016. The brave, fearless writing that readers admired and respected me for has all but disappeared. This year—2017—will be different. I’m reclaiming my voice—my write like a motherfucker voice!

Photo via VisualHunt.com

Dear John

This is the 19th essay in the #26essays2017 challenge that I’ve set for myself this year. I’m doing this because I’m the first to admit I’ve become a lazy writer: allowing guest posts and series and cross-posting to make up the bulk of content on The Diane Lee Project across 2016. The brave, fearless writing that readers admired and respected me for has all but disappeared. This year—2017—will be different. I’m reclaiming my voice—my write like a motherfucker voice!

I have been clearing out my belongings in preparation for my indefinite move to Vietnam and I found this letter in a bunch of old papers tucked away at the back of my wardrobe. I met John a few years before I met the Italian and I wrote about him in The Ex-Files. I wish I knew about attachment theory back then, because I would have felt less like I was going nuts, which is painfully obvious in my letter to him, which, incidentally, I never sent.

Dear John,

After last night, I felt that I really needed to write down what I thought about this whole thing. I didn’t sleep at all, actually. I personally think that your definition of love is something that is based on too narrow a set of terms. From everything I’ve read, you seem to have a romantic notion of what love should be based on a general lack of experience. I don’t blame you. This is not your fault.

You said you don’t love me “enough”. How do you know? Do you feel closer to me than your parents? Have you ever felt this comfortable with anyone else? Have you ever wanted to spend as much time with anyone as you have with me? Have you ever be so willing to forgive and accept another person’s faults? Have you ever had this much sexual attraction for another person for this long a period of time? I think these are questions you nee to ask yourself, and answer honestly.

I think love is one word which encompasses a whole lot of other words. I think love is caring about another person and what happens to them, wanting to help them. It is about honesty, trust and respect; it is about compatibility, companionship and commitment. It is sex. It is about complications. It is about creating history. It is the time you spend with one important person. It is tears and anger and laughter and sadness, It is mercurial and changes from day-to-day, depending on your mood, energy levels and interactions with other people during the day. It is understanding and acceptance. It is empathy, it is communication. It is all these things and more.

I think love is one word which encompasses a whole lot of other words.

You show me all these things, and I can honestly say I have experienced more love with you, and you say you are unsure, than I have over the whole of my life from people who claim to love me. Love is behaviour, not a feeling.

Can I say that I would rather be with you in a relationship where you are “unsure” than without you. That is how sure I am about my feelings for you. I think if you look carefully and think about the time we’ve spent together good and bad you will see that you started much of our history together. The initial sexual attraction to me was very strong for you — and still is — and is getting stronger, not fading as it would if you didn’t want to be with me at all. The time we spend together, the history we are creating is feeding this. The connection is strong, deep and real.

Maybe you feel unsure because, as you said, you don’t know what love is, and maybe you feel you don’t deserve love. You do. You are a wonderful human being and you give me so much. You make me feel incredibly happy, powerful and strong. You have added a depth to my life, and continue to do so. I have learned so much from you and think I have grown as a person. These are incredible gifts you have given me. You are so worth the effort. We are so worth the effort.

Basically, I am writing this to get you thinking, questioning and re-evaluating, to see all that is right and positive and sure about what we have. Please don’t give up because you aren’t sure. The fact that we are still spending quality time together proves that you are more sure than not. Take time. Spend time with me. Allow yourself to feel close to me when you want to. Don’t worry about it if you don’t sometimes. Don’t say: Aha! That proves it — I don’t feel much today. Think about all the other times when you do and these far outweigh the times you don’t.

I think God has brought us together and is showing us how to be strong together. Think about how we met, how in sync we are, how things continue to by in sync, with everything happening for a reason. I think I’ve accepted that what we have being together is God’s will. And I can’t and don’t want to fight this.

All my love,

Diane


Photo via VisualHunt.com

On being an ageing woman

This is the 18th essay in the #26essays2017 challenge that I’ve set for myself this year. I’m doing this because I’m the first to admit I’ve become a lazy writer: allowing guest posts and series and cross-posting to make up the bulk of content on The Diane Lee Project across 2016. The brave, fearless writing that readers admired and respected me for has all but disappeared. This year—2017—will be different. I’m reclaiming my voice—my write like a motherfucker voice! 

There’s nothing wrong with old age. ~ The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

One of my favourite movies is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, it’s based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story (which I’ve never read and probably should) that traces the life of Benjamin Button, who was born old, and gets progressively younger. I find the movie deeply philosophical and moving in the way it deals with questions of age and ageing.

I was never one to rely on my looks to get me anywhere in life, mainly because I’ve not really had them to start with. I don’t consider myself ugly — far from it — but I am not beautiful. I am, on a good day, quite attractive. In my younger years, I had no trouble attracting men. My late teens and twenties were, in fact, spent quite promiscuously. There was something about me that men found rather fascinating. I think (but I can’t confirm) that I was a curious mix of vulnerability and strength, of resilience and uncertainty. I wasn’t skinny, but I wasn’t overweight; I had large breasts (and still do) and slim hips (which aren’t quite so slim anymore).

I’ve always had a big personality, despite the awful childhood that almost beat it out of me. Speaking up and out often resulted in being hit with whatever my mother could get her hands on: shoe, hand, wooden spoon. Funny how as an adult I am proud of my ability not to be cowed by anything very much. My big personality has always been my major draw card, and I haven’t worried too much about my graying hair, lines and wrinkles, the heading south of my body, despite diet and exercise. And four of my five tattoos — and counting — have been inked into my body after the age of 52.

I thought I had accepted that I was almost officially middle-aged, and had talked myself into the idea that ageing is a privilege. Not everyone gets to grow old. I even call myself an old lady, although I was kind of joking, and am pleased when people say: You’re not old!

The lines and wrinkles that are now an enduring and defining part of my face are evidence that time is marching away from me.

I had accepted my ageing… up until the last few months, that is.

Now, I am painfully aware that I am not young. I am, in fact, sliding solidly into old age.

I am aware that men look at — ogle, even — young women, even when they are involved in a rigorous conversation with me. Eyes slide sideways to take in a lithe form as she passes by.

I am aware that I am, essentially, invisible. I am overlooked and bypassed and ignored in bars and queues, and I protest with a: Hey! I was here first! and proceed to tell off the person who dared overlook and bypass and ignore me.

I am aware that menopause is descending on me at a rapid rate of knots, and with biological imperatives removed, I am a less than ideal mate, especially for the (slightly) younger men I prefer. Some would say these men are relieved, but that urge to procreate is strong, even if sex does not result in offspring.

I am aware that, as much as I profess to be comfortable in my skin, the truth is I am not. The lines and wrinkles that are now an enduring and defining part of my face are evidence that time is marching away from me. I am closer to my death now than I ever was, fate notwithstanding.

I am aware that when I am out with my much younger (and gorgeous) friends, I am thought of — by others, strangers — as their mother. Of course, I should be flattered that others, strangers, would think my genes are that good, but the superficial, snap judgement that my age is equivalent to motherhood is something I object to.

I am aware that the beautiful, younger men who cross my path daily in Vietnam will never find me attractive or appealing in the superficial way that I sometimes desire. In that “I would like to take you into my bed, strip you naked and have my way with you” way that occurred regularly 20 or 30 years ago.

(Although I recently met a beautiful Vietnamese man around my age who is very keen to take me into his bed, strip me naked and have his way with me. And not in a superficial way either, which is a much, much better.)

How do I reconcile ageing and invisibility? Ageing and judgmental stereotyping? Ageing and the inevitability of death?

I have no answer to these questions, at least not yet, but surely the answer partly lies in the idea that age is not synonymous with being old.

And old is not what I am.

Or will ever be.


Photo taken by me in on a ferry in Kerala, India in 2015.