Fake Memoirs

I remember a life of nothing. That time so many and so few years ago when survival was a daily chore and inspiration came from so little. Back in those days money was merely token for exchange. A secondary currency to good will, friendship and sucking up your pride to ask for help.

I used to live in a small unit with a friend from university. She came from a wealthy Tasmanian family. The walls were beige and Chinese calligraphy hung from suction cup picture hooks on every wall. The kitchen had the same green-brown tiles as the bathroom from my childhood holiday home. My friend’s father paid her rent, her living costs. She hid her part time job from him so that he would continue to support her long after she ceased needing it. Once a week she would get a fake tan, once a fortnight her nails and hair colour, once a month a wax and facial. I’d spend hours looking at her and then looking at me. Her blonde, tanned, manicured, hairless, toned self. My shabby, spotty, boney, pasty self. Feeling as though beauty was beyond my capability because I’d never be able to sustain such a ritual. She was prim and proper and didn’t socialise with my western suburbs friends. She had her own friends who owned nice cars and lived in big houses with swimming pools and parents who paid their way. And on occasion I’d be asked out too. If the ratio of girls to boys had fallen out. Of course I’d never go. The places they went would cost my entire week’s food budget just to step in the door. Knowing how little I fit in, and knowing how little they cared about me. Still. I smiled when they asked me, and cried when I yet again was left alone.

Our landlord was girl from China who spoke very little English, especially when she was angry with me. Our house, which was never a home, was always silent. I could not play my music and soon forget how to sing. On occasion I could have a girlfriend over, during daylight hours, if we were quiet, if we hung out in my room and not the lounge. One night, my friend and I decided to screw the ‘rules’ and had some people over for a movie night. At 9pm we were interrupted and asked to break it up. We were a third of the way into the movie. A week later the landlord’s mother moved in. Rent free. Without even telling us she was coming.

While I lived here, I worked one shift a week scooping ice-cream at a major fashion shopping centre. I’d stand on my $5 op shop shoes for 8 hours, my arm hurting and fingers numb. I’d smile and chat to the fashionistas laden with bags from hours of shopping. They’d complain of numb fingers too – from holding too many bags; of boyfriends and husbands who jokingly handed over credit cards to keep their partner happy and out of the way. I’d pretend that this job was more of a hobby, that I enjoyed it. That maybe, in some alternate reality I could go out and shop the way they did. After this shift was over, I was going to pop into Scanlan and Theodore and pick up the cute little cashmere cardigan they have in the window. I have a skirt from Witchery that would work perfectly with it. There’s a belt in Sportsgirl that would tie it all together beautifully. Every lunch break I browsed the stores. Peeking through the windows into the racks, never would I step foot inside. I had my real wardrobe and my fantasy wardrobe. One was housed in my bedroom, one was housed in my dreams.

Financially, Centrelink helped me out with the rest. Every fortnight on pay day, I’d put aside my rent money and bill money. Then I would have the agonising task of breaking down what was left into some sort of lifestyle. I soon discovered every fruit tree in my suburb. I knew everyone who owned chooks, or whose family had a farm. I realised that you didn’t need meat to live off and that by rotating the colour of my vegetables, I could minimise how much weight I lost. If I bought carrots one week, I’d buy brocoli the next and cauliflower the next. All of my breakfasts were instant coffee and vegemite toast. All my lunches were 1 fruit item and 1 baked item. All my dinners were rice or pasta with vegetables. If someone’s chook laid too many eggs, I could make muffins with fruit from my neighbors’ trees. Food was just fuel to keep on living. I neither enjoyed it, nor cared if I ran out of money on Thursday and didn’t eat again until Monday when I got paid. When my periods stopped, I was relieved that I would now be saving $4.95 a month on tampons.

This situation. I may have been able to find a way out of it. But I didn’t look to get out of it. I looked to make the most of it. There is no real way to end this story. Because life doesn’t like being boxed into beginnings. middles and ends. And I still do not own that cashmere cardigan. But one day when luck came my way, and I clawed myself into a better situation. I looked back. And I smiled. And I knew what I was capable of.

Fake Memoirs

Jo O'Brien

Melbourne, Australia

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Artist's Description

I want to create a fictional character that comes across as completely real and believable. This is my first attempt at giving her a history. Stealing parts of myself, and my past, and filling in the gaps where required.

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