One last letter

Dear Ms Smith,

My third day of Year 9 and you made me do one of the bravest things I’d done in all my almost 14 and a half years of life.  The topic was Grits, Guts and Determination and you had asked us to write down ‘the hardest thing I’d ever done’ and hand it in to you.  I very nearly didn’t do it.  I’m not one for lying so if I wasn’t going to tell you a truth then I wouldn’t do it at all.  But there was something about you that made me want to trust you – to edge warily onto that tree limb because maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t snap beneath me.  So I wrote something for you.  It felt short and inadequate.  I wanted to say something about my father but everything felt too much.  Instead I wrote about my brother and very little at that.  I told you that the hardest thing I had ever done was something ongoing and that was living with my brother.

If you can believe it, I had never told anyone about my brother and his problems with mental health.  That’s the difficulty with illnesses in the mind – no one can see them.  When the problem first started arising, it was the cause of much embarrassment for me.  I remember sitting in the car with a friend while my brother raged beside us and how later she told me what she thought of him.  All people ever saw when they looked at my brother was a really bad kid who wouldn’t obey a single command.  They couldn’t understand the full extent.  At some point in primary school I just stopped inviting friends over to my house because it was just too risky.  If I complained about him my friends would complain about their brothers and I didn’t know how to explain that mine was different.  So somehow it became this whole section of my life that I never spoke of and as I grew up and made new friends who never came near my house, I was given a blank slate.  I never said a word to anyone.  Until you, Ms Smith.

I remember the day I had to had it in and I was so nervous that I was still in two minds about whether I would even give it to you.  My friend had written about skiing down a mountain slope but I refused to let her read mine and all the while the tension was building until suddenly it was done and out of my hands and into yours.  And then you gave them back in a few days and thanked people for their honesty and that was it.  No big moment but for me it was huge.  Someone in the world knew – knew very little, just a handful of paragraphs, really, but knew all the same.  And they hadn’t dismissed me or walked away and left.

Six months later something happened which made all the things I never spoke about start building up and demanding to be spoken.  In an effort to release the pressure I started writing letters.  The first one I wrote to you.  For all of the reasons listed above.  I wrote fifteen in total, to a variety of people.  I never intended to send them, I just needed a place to spill all my secrets.

Eventually, those letters led to me actually speaking to someone in person.  Now there’s practically a whole world of people who know the things I used to never speak about.  Well, more like two handfuls though that’s a lot in comparison.  But you were the first and I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to tell the others if it weren’t for you.  So thank you, a thousand times thank you, and I wish I could have told you this in person.

Except you died on Sunday in a freak motorcycle accident the day after your son’s wedding.  And none of that is fair.

I don’t know how but you always seemed to have an idea of what was going on for me and every time you patted my shoulder or told me to ‘keep going’ it was slightly more bearable knowing someone else in the world cared about me.  And there’s still so many girls who need that from you.

But you’re no longer here to give it.  So here’s one last letter for you.  You were a fantastic English teacher.  You made us all laugh.  Your writing was absolutely shocking.  There was not enough chocolate in the world for you.  You had that spark people talk about.  You made sure we knew that you cared about us.  Thank you.

Love Amanda

Ms Smith

Waking Nightmares

Last night was the first time in about two weeks that I went to bed and didn’t have nightmares.  I suppose that the strangest part of that is that my nightmares happen when I’m awake, not when I’m asleep.  I suppose what I see in my head and what I imagine when I’m awake has always been so much worse than anything my brain could come up with asleep.  It’s always been like that, ever since I was a kid.  And technically I think most of my nightmares are actually called flashbacks and are part of the whole PTSD thing.

Having nightmares every time you go to bed for two weeks is not nice.  It’s stressful and unpleasant and horrible and means that for the last fortnight I’ve been doing an excessive amount of yawning.  And I feel like a little girl if I say it to anyone but I’ve always called them nightmares from before I knew about the whole flashback thing and that’s what they feel like.  Like your brain is stuck in this place with these thoughts and you can’t control it, just watch it play out in excruciating detail.  And I hate it but I can’t seem to stop it.

And I want to be able to tell someone, to be able to explain all the horrible things I see but the people I want to tell don’t seem interested – not that they need to be very interested but they do need to make some sort of indication that it’s okay for me to keep talking if I bring it up.  Maybe they don’t know how bad it is because during the day I’m fine.  It’s just the in between moments – before I fall asleep, driving, catching the train, walking to work or the station.  And I’m worried that they’ll think it’s silly, that they won’t understand what it feels like to watch these things in my head, to imagine what will happen next and see it all and not be able to make it stop.  I mean obviously they probably won’t understand exactly but I don’t want them to think I’m just worrying about stupid things when I’m not.  These are legitimate concerns of mine.  I live waiting for my world to fall apart because at any second it might and I have to be prepared for that.

I hate myself for the things I see in my head but at the same time I need to see them because they remind me what can happen and what will eventually happen.  They ready me for the next time everything falls apart.  They remind me not to ever let people break me like that again.  Except at the same time I feel so reliant on people.

I am so scared that people will leave me.  Not all people.  Most people I could live without but some people are my lifeboats and they mean so much to me and I need them so much.  More than they ever need me.  I’m so scared that they’ll leave and I’ll be alone even though I know God is there but I don’t know how to feel that God is there.  And so I monitor every single word I say and everything I ever do so that I am never a burden and they never have any reason to leave.  That happened once and it was my fault and it broke me and I drowned.  So I am caught in this terrible balancing act between relying on people enough that I don’t drown but never too much in case they leave and I drown anyway.  It’s exhausting and I always feel like everything could be pulled out from beneath me at any second, like everyone has one foot out the door and the second I become too much for them they’ll leave just like the last person did.

I hate myself for needing people so much.  I hate myself for being so much of a burden to them.  I wish my head would shut up.  Sometimes I wish I was unconscious.

The Darkest Minds / Never Fade

The Darkest Minds – Alexandra Bracken

When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed.  Something frightening enough to have her sent to Thurmond, a government ‘rehabilitation camp’.  Ruby might have survived the mysterious disease that killed most of America’s children, but she and the others had emerged with something far worse: terrifying abilities they could not control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

Having barely escaped Thurmond with her life, Ruby is desperate to find East River, the only safe haven left for kids like her.  She joins a group of other runaways who have escaped their own camps.  Liam, their brave leader, is falling for Ruby, but she can’t risk getting close.  Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all Liam.  But there are also other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government.

Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice – and one that may mean giving up her only chance at having a life worth living.

The thing I like most about this book is that Alexandra Bracken made her main character believable.  So often in the recent post-apocalyptic book trend, the characters are brave teens with mad skills who adapt really well to whatever nightmarish reality they’re thrown into.  And there’s nothing wrong with that because those kinds of people also make great characters.  But it was nice to have a bit of a change with Ruby in The Darkest Minds.

Ruby isn’t the hero type – she’s the terrified girl who doesn’t say anything.  Her best friend was the hero but the story isn’t about her.  It’s about Ruby who’s scared of herself and what she can do.  Ruby who’s just trying to survive by not drawing attention to herself.  And I think that’s what makes this series all the more real.  Because reality is, if something like this happened to our world then yeah, there’d the be the few heroes, but most of us would be just like Ruby – scared out of our mind and running to hide.

Never Fade - Alexandra Bracken

Never Fade – Alexandra Bracken

I really enjoyed the first book in this series which I actually read quite awhile ago.  Just last month I read the second book so you lucky folks are actually getting a ‘two for the price of one’ review here.  Without spoilers.

The second book, Never Fade, is quite different to the first in some aspects because we’re dealing with a different Ruby.  She’s tougher, stronger.  She’s learnt to survive.  Almost too tough because, as a side note, I think that more could developed in terms of the PTSD I assume she has because of her experiences in Thurmond but I suppose there can’t be everything and overall I think the character change is good.  And the story is still great and I’m liking where it’s going so what this comes down to is me saying, yes, this is a trilogy which would be worth investing your valuable reading time into so go out and borrow/buy it!

The Darkest Minds 4.5/5

Never Fade 4/5

The U.S. covers (I think)

The U.S. covers (I think)

If only my emotions weren’t so conflicting…

What does it feel like to forgive someone?  We always talk about forgiveness and what it feels like to be forgiven – the sense of relief, the easing of shame, and the like.  But what about the other person?  How do you know when you’ve forgiven someone?  Because I can’t tell.  I’m not sure.  And sometimes it drives me crazy living in my head the way I do.

Is forgiving the same as forgetting?  Because I can’t forget.  I relive it all in my head and it’s excruciating.  And I’m torn in two because even though a part of me longs to forget, an equally desperate part is determined to remember so that I never let myself be that hurt and broken again.  So if that’s what forgiving is then I haven’t done it.

Except if I look at my life then surely I must have forgiven them at least partially.  What about the relationship we have?  The one where I talk to them and go back for dinner each week and spend Christmas and birthdays with them.  Doesn’t that mean something?  Because compared to where I was four and a half years ago, surely there’s some forgiveness there.  Because when someone asked if I still saw my family after moving out, I was able to say yes and does that mean forgiveness?

Or does forgiving mean that the memory no longer hurts?  Does forgiving mean that you’re healed?  Because some days being in the same room with my brother makes me so angry I want to smash his face into a wall.  Some days the wrong tone of voice from my father makes me panic and run out the door.  Some days I’m still broken apart and I don’t know how to stop those days from happening.

How do I know if I’ve forgiven you?

Why can’t I just smile and bear it?

You know those moments when you say way too much but wish that you had said more?  Or maybe you don’t.  I suppose that was a slightly hypocritical sentence.

For the record, it feels kind of crap.  Like you should be crying but you’re not because you’re angry and still thinking clearly which means having a cry and being overly emotional won’t make you feel better.  It won’t have the detoxing feel, the coming new after your insides have been scrubbed clean feel that it usually has because you’re not in that place.

Sometimes I hate myself.

Sometimes I think that maybe I want things to be bad because otherwise why would I go around thinking the things, saying the things and screwing up the things I do?

Do I only want horrible things in my life?

Am I looking at the good and wishing it would go away because I don’t know what to do with it?

My family are incredibly good at sweeping things under the carpet and pretending that they never happened.  We were having a sweep-free Christmas.  Still are, I suppose.  Quite an achievement considering some of the shockers we’ve had – no physical injuries, no one walking out, no going home early, no psychotic episodes.  Yes, sweep free and we were doing such a good job at smoothing out any wrinkles in the rug we did happen to come across.  No tripping over those old things either.  Just like they never exist.

Except the older I get, the worse I am at that.

It grates.  The little things.  I’m not used to them like I used to be when I lived with my family.  So living with them for a week in a rented apartment in Melbourne over Christmas is big.  And I suppose all the little things with my brother used to be so overshadowed by the big things like violence and psycho stuff.  Everyone keeps focussing on how much better he is because that stuff isn’t happening anymore and I see that, I really do and it’s great and all but he’s still not easy and I wish people would remember that.

And so there’s all these little things which seem bigger and I’m angry at my parents because from where I’m sitting it seems like they’re letting them all slide but he’s 18 and that can’t keep happening.  And I hate the way he acts and quite possibly it’s petty of me but he’s so unbelievably greedy and selfish.  And we all are at times but so often he doesn’t ever think outside his own bubble.  Like complaining over some of the presents he got.  I just want to slap him and tell him to shut up because how dare he?

But the worst is the way he speaks to my mum.  It kills me.  I hate it so much, the way he talks to her.  So often too.  And she just takes it because by now she’s kind of used to it and that’s the worst.  Because on Christmas Eve when we went to the cathedral for the carols service and I was internally freaking out a bit because last time we went to the cathedral a few years back things went…badly, so I was a bit sharp with my mum and then she apologised and got all worried looking like she was in trouble even though she’d done nothing wrong and it was my fault.  It was easy to make right again and I did that but she shouldn’t look like that.  And it’s my brother and my father too, a bit, that’s done that to her and I hate it.  So much.  Because no one should speak to my mum that way.  And hearing it so often from my brother and her not doing anything because she doesn’t want to start something, she doesn’t want things to explode because she’s trying to keep things nice and calm, it kills me.

And I’m no good at pretending like things are nice.

But if things are never going to be nice, is it worth relearning?

I look at my brother and he is so far from self-sufficient.  He’s at the stage where he can go out in society and not get himself arrested or piss off the wrong person.  I look at him and I’m scared that my parents will die and I’ll be left dealing with him.  I look at him and I’m scared to have kids.  I look at him and I see all the proof that my parents have spent my life picking him over my other brother and me.  And even if he’s so much better than he was, a large part of me doesn’t think it’s worth it.

So I said crap.  Because I couldn’t help it.  And I never even said the real draw card.  Because if I was brave enough I would have looked at my parents and told them that I have PTSD.  That I have flashbacks and that my anxiety has me imagining all sorts of horrible things.  That yeah, I wanted to leave but maybe I never wanted to have to make that choice.  I would have said to them that my youngest brother is too scared to even go in a swimming pool.  And then I would have told them that it’s all very well for them to say that they’ve given my brother the ultimatum: act a certain way or you leave, but excuse me if I don’t believe them because they’ve been choosing to keep my brother since they brought him back from the psych ward when he was 10.

Except I just skipped to that last part.  Because I’m a wimp.  And part of me still wants to protect my parents from feeling guilty.  Because, really, I know they’ve tried and if they hadn’t done what they did then my brother would be nowhere near as good as he is now.  Just I can’t help feeling like it was always going to be a trade off.  Get to keep him and try and make him better but there’s going to be fall out on your other two children.  And part of me is a horrible, selfish brat because I hate that they chose him and I’m living with the fall out.

That’s not how it is, I know.

But in a way it is.

I said one thing which I regretted.  Dad asked me what I wanted him to do and I said I wanted him to slap my brother around a bit.  It just burst out of my mouth without me thinking and as soon as I said it I… I don’t know.  I hate myself for even thinking it because he used to do that and it was horrible and I know my brother doesn’t deserve it and I don’t really want that but what if I do?  I never know what I feel towards my brother.  So much of the time even his presence can make me so unbelievably angry.

I hate what kind of person I might be if that’s what I want.

The Other Me

the other me could win an Oscar for her work:

in my absence she acts out my life,

a part she’s been playing for years.

she slips into my skin like a life-sized hand puppet

makes my limbs move

forces words, a plastic smile, a puff of laughter from my mouth

and I watch outside of myself

as she, the other me, gets on with my life.

I hate her.

I need her.

she feels like a stranger I don’t want to know.

she is the me who never misses a day

who sits in class and takes notes while I am elsewhere

who takes me to and from places when I am gone

she is the me who doesn’t flinch

or cry

or tell

she is the me who keeps all my secrets

even when I’m screaming

banging on these glass doors to be let back into the world

but she shuts the door and locks it

gets on with my life

ignoring the ever diminishing, fading me.

I think that I might disappear

and she won’t notice

just keep wearing my body as if she were the real owner

so I scream and I bang on the doors

because I hate the lie

and I need someone to see the truth

not her.


Copyright Captain Amanda

Death Cab for Cutie: Plans

Plans - Death Cab for Cutie

Plans – Death Cab for Cutie

I’ve been listening to Plans on repeat for the last two weeks ever since I bought it on a whim in JB Hi Fi with little idea as to what I was getting into.  I know Death Cab for Cutie.  I’ve listened to a couple of their songs before on youtube.  Most recently I listened to ‘What Sarah Said’ after it was referenced in a talk I heard as the ‘saddest song anyone could think of’.  And that’s probably the reason I bought the album; that song and needing something new, different.  Also, I can’t seem to walk into JB without making a stop by the counter.  For the sake of my wallet, I should not be allowed into that store.

You know those albums which you listen to and the first  time round you’re left feeling unsure about it but with each listen you grow to love it more and more.  It’s like, with music, you can’t really appreciate it until you’ve been allowed time to dwell in its intricacies.  And then it astounds you.  Also, the first time round you rarely understand the lyrics and I think with this album so much rests in the lyrics.  In review, here are a smattering of my favourite lines.

Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole / Just like a faucet that leaks and there is comfort in the sound / But while you debate half-empty or half-full / It slowly rises: your love is gonna drown.  –  Marching Bands of Manhattan

And I do believe it’s true that there are miles* left in both of our shoes / But if the silence takes you then I hope it takes me too / So Brown Eyes I’ll hold you near ’cause you’re the only song I want to hear / A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere.  – Soul Meets Body

*apparently it’s ‘roads’ but I could swear they’re saying ‘miles’ and I kinda like that better

The boundaries of language I quietly cursed.  – Different Names for the Same Thing

But if heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied / And illuminate the NOs on their vacancy signs / If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks / Then I’ll follow you into the dark.  – I Will Follow You into the Dark

Just a series of blurs: like I never occurred.  – Someday You Will Be Loved

‘Cause I built you a home in my heart with rotten wood and it decayed from the start.  - Crooked Teeth

You’re so cute when you’re slurring your speech but they’re closing the bar and they want us to leave.  - Crooked Teeth

I don’t know what it is about the last two lines from ‘Crooked Teeth’.  They’re not pretty images but there’s just something about the way they’re phrased which is so perfect.  And something in his voice when he sings them.

And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to Father Time / … / As each descending peak on the LCD took you a little further away from me.  - What Sarah Said

But I knew that you were a truth I would rather lose than to have never lain beside at all.  - What Sarah Said

You may tire of me as our December sun is setting ’cause I’m not who I used to be / … / But now he lives inside someone he does not recognise when he catches his reflection on accident.  - Brothers on a Hotel Bed

On the back of a motorbike with your arms outstretched trying to take flight, leaving everything behind / But even at our swiftest speed we couldn’t break from the concrete in the city where we still reside.  - Brothers on a Hotel Bed

This image in my head of the motorbike and arms and the blurred lights of the city, it’s perfect.


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