It’s 9am on Saturday morning. I got up two minutes ago, head pounding. Mum actually woke me up at 8.15am, and then came into my room every ten minutes to wake me up again. So bloody annoying. Dad is meant to pick me up now for our big day together, but all I want is more sleep. I shouldn’t have drunk so much with my friends last night. I slump into our saggy couch, drinking a glass of milk.
At 9.09am Dad still hasn’t arrived. I scroll Facebook, but there’s nothing interesting.
9.28am: Still no Dad. ‘Mum, this is pointless. Can I just go back to bed?’
‘He’ll be here soon. This is your big day together.’
‘Yeah,’ I roll my eyes.
’I have to go to work now, stay awake, and have a great weekend with your Dad.’
‘Uhuh,’ I grumble.
‘Also, I have a date tonight,’ Mum says carefully.
‘Frank wasn’t a prick.’
‘He hit you.’
‘He was angry, it only happened once.’
‘He HIT you.’
‘I haven’t seen Frank in over a year. This guy, George, is really nice. You’ll like him.’
‘Do I have to meet him?’
Mum sighs. ‘Why do you assume he’s a prick?’
‘Because if he’s dating you, he probably IS a prick!’
Mum’s face freezes, and then she rushes out the door without saying goodbye. Is she crying? I didn’t mean it to come out like that, I meant that she always chooses the pricks, not that only pricks will ever like her. I hear the car engine and screeching tyres as she reverses out of the driveway.
At 9.53am Dad rings the doorbell. I groan, collect my overnight bag, and meet him outside.
‘Hey Sweetie! Been a while… My, you have grown. You’re so tall and beautiful! Are you excited for sailing today? It’s going to be so fun!’ He rubs his hands together with excitement. No ‘sorry I’m almost an hour late’. No ‘sorry I haven’t seen you in five years’.
‘I’m stoked,’ I mutter as I hop in the car.
‘Still half asleep, hey Missy?’ Dad says, getting in the drivers seat.
’Number one: I’m not ‘Missy’. Number two: I’m not ‘Sweetie’. Number three: You’re really late.’
‘I’m not la-’
‘You’re an hour late. Five years late. And I have a bad hangover. Please be quiet so I can sleep on our way there. How long will the drive take?’
‘About two hours sweetie - er, I mean honey, um… Megan. And sure thing, I’ll let you get some sleep.’
‘Thank you,’ I sigh, feeling guilty for snapping at him.
Sailing turns out to be fun. It’s my first time, so Dad teaches me how to change direction without getting hit by the boom. We even chat for a bit without it being strained. After sailing we get an ice-cream, before driving to Dad’s apartment to get ready for dinner. While showering I think of my time with Dad on the boat, and feel warmth in my chest that Dad is back in my life. I get dressed and admire myself in the mirror. I look good, classy even. My bright blue dress shows off my figure, my heels make my legs look longer, and my earrings are the perfect finishing touch.
‘Are you ready?’ Dad shouts up the stairs.
‘You look great,’ Dad smiles as I come down the stairs.
‘Thanks,’ I grin.
We are silent on the drive to the restaurant, the radio softly playing hits from the 70’s.
‘By the way,’ Dad says as we park, ‘a work colleague may join us later tonight, as they’re in the area anyway.’
‘I thought this was our weekend together?’
‘You’re right, I’ll tell them not to come.’
‘You know what, whatever. They can come.’ Saves us from having to find things to talk about all night, I think.
A cute waiter directs us to a table. ‘What would you both like to drink tonight?’
‘Just water, thanks,’ Dad smiles.
‘Lemonade, no ice.’
‘Coming right up.’
‘So, tell me more about how you’ve been,’ Dad prompts.
‘Well, there’s a lot to tell. I was 12 or 13 last time we spoke, right?’
‘Er, yes,’ Dad shifts uncomfortably. ‘Let’s start with this year, what’s it like to be in Year 12?’
‘Good, I guess. It’s weird that this is my last year of High School.’
‘When did school start for the year?’
‘Three weeks ago.’
‘Ah. I remember when I was in Year 12,’ Dad begins.
‘Oh yeah?’ I sigh.
’In Year 7 I used to gaze at the Year 12’s, thinking they were giants, and then when I was in Year 12, I didn’t feel that big. Today those Year 12’s still seem bigger than me! Meanwhile I bet I’m taller than most of them.’
‘Yeah, funny,’ I nod.
‘So what do you like most about being in Year 12?’
‘Recess is still my favourite.’
‘Are you excited about next year?’
‘Haven’t really thought about it.’
‘You should start applying to universities now, so-’
I choke on my lemonade. ‘I’m not going to university.’
‘Why not?’ Dad snaps.
‘Seriously? I’m never going to get an ATAR score good enough to get me in.’
‘What are you talking about? You’ve always done very well in school.’
‘Don’t you remember all those gold stars you’d get? For English, Maths, Art - for every subject!’
’That was in primary school. Have you seen one of my report cards in the last five years? Oh that’s right, no you haven’t. Why? Because you left our lives for five years. I’m going to the bathroom.’ I get up and walk to the bathroom, mad. I fix my hair in the mirror, trying to calm down. After five minutes I go back to our table. Dad shuffles awkwardly, but when our food arrives we both brighten. It’s delicious. We chat about movies, an easy subject.
‘Dessert?’ The cute waiter asks.
‘Definitely. I’ll get the cheesecake,’ Dad grins.
I’m spoilt by choice. ‘Umm… I’ll get the fruit tart.’
‘Ah, Cassandra,’ Dad smiles broadly, standing up. I look around. He’s pecking a woman on the cheek, and guiding her to a chair at our table. Judging by where his hand is on the small of her back, they’re sleeping together.
‘Hi Megan, John has told me so much about you,’ she gushes.
I look her up and down in disbelief. She’s stunning. How is she with my Dad?
‘This is Cassandra, Megan,’ Dad says. ‘My work colleague.’
’Oh, this is what you meant when you said a work colleague may be joining us?’ My voice rises with warning. Dad throws a reassuring smile at Cassandra before turning back to me.
’You invited your girlfriend to our dinner, when you haven’t seen me in five years?!’
‘Megan, please calm down.’
’Calm down?! I had fun sailing today with you, Dad. But you don’t actually care about me, do you. You wanted to abort me. Mum told me. You. Didn’t. Care. And almost eighteen years hasn’t changed a thing.’
‘I do care!’ Dad whispers loudly. ‘That’s why I took you sailing today. Please, calm down.’ He glances uneasily at Cassandra, mouthing ‘sorry’.
‘Oh, and I assume you also cared about me for the past five years, right?’
‘Please, Megan,’ Dad whispers, looking hurt.
He has the audacity to look hurt? ‘Prove it.’
‘That you actually care about me.’
‘I took you out today, and now we’re at this lovely restaurant.’
‘We’re not at this lovely restaurant,’ I point to myself and him. ’We,’ I point to Cassandra, Dad and myself ’are at this ‘lovely’ restaurant. If you do care about me, ask Cassandra to leave.’
Dad’s shocked. He opens his mouth but nothing comes out. I count to five.
‘See,’ I spit. ‘You don’t care.’ I grab my clutch and storm out the restaurant without a backward glance. I’m so mad. I’m so hurt. Two tears roll down my cheeks.
I see a bar, wipe off my tears, and with a smile saunter to the door. Security looks me up and down and lets me in. Hot girls are good for business. I collapse onto a bar stool, my fake smile dropping away.
‘Can I buy you a drink?’ A guy asks from behind.
‘Thanks,’ I smile, turning. He’s alright looking, but I can do better. I’ve only slept with guys from school before, but I am almost eighteen. I can do this. I smile sweetly, and he pays for my drink. And another. Once I’ve finished them I move to the dance floor, glad he’s distracted by another girl.
After a while someone’s hands grab my hips. I turn - now he is hot. And looks about mid 20’s… I’ll say I’m eighteen. We dance.
‘Want a drink?’ he asks eventually.
‘Yes please! Gee I’m hot,’ I shout, fanning my face.
‘You are,’ he shouts back, grinning. I laugh and saunter to the bar. He guides me with a hand on my back.
‘What’s your name?’ he asks. The music is loud, so he has to lean in close to be heard. I lean in closer and breathe ‘Megan’. He nods and smiles. I don’t ask for his name, I don’t want to know.
‘You know what,’ I shout in his ear.
’I don’t know if you like playing ‘the game’,’ I pause. Do I have the courage to say this? ‘But I just feel like fucking you.’ I guess I do.
He blinks at me, then smiles. He leans in, his lips meeting mine, and I melt against him. Minutes later we come up for air.
‘Let’s get an uber to my place.’
I wake up alone in a strange room. I gaze at my surroundings, and piece together what happened. Sailing. Dinner. Fight. Bar. Sex. Hot, satisfying sex - but I feel disgusting. I grab the dressing gown from his floor, wrap it around me, and venture out. The lounge is cramped with faded couches, on which a guy is reading the Sunday paper.
‘Good morning,’ he says, looking up with a friendly smile. ‘My roommate had to go to work, he left you that note on the counter. I’m Steve, by the way.’
‘Ah, um, thanks. Hi Steve. Megan.’ I walk to the counter and read the note:
Sorry I’m not there when you wake up - work :(
Last night was amazing.
I’m relieved he isn’t here and hasn’t left his number. I feel cheap. Used. Even though I asked for it.
‘Do you want a shower?’ Steve asks.
‘No,’ I begin, but stop. ‘Actually yeah, I’d love one.’ I want to wash this cheap feeling off my skin.
‘I’ll grab you a towel,’ Steve pushes himself off the couch.
‘Are you, um, used to waking up to a strange girl being here? I mean, you seem so casual about it…’
Steve chuckles. ‘I am. I’m a few years older than him, but when I was twenty-two I was the same. My girlfriend and I are moving in together this May, I can’t wait. Here’s your towel.’
‘My girlfriend is incredible, I’m so lucky. I love her more than anything. The bathroom is the door on the left,’ he points.
I turn the hot tap on full, hoping it will burn away my self-disgust. But when I step out of the shower five minutes later, I still feel dirty inside. I only have my blue dress to wear, which doesn’t help. I felt elegant in it last night, now I feel cheap.
‘Nice dress,’ Steve says, looking up from the newspaper as I come back into the lounge.
He laughs. ‘Yes, that was a compliment.’
‘Last night I felt beautiful in it, but now I feel… cheap.’
Steve’s face clouds. ‘Was that the first time for you?’
‘Crap!’ He slams his newspaper onto the couch. ‘I told him to never pick the virgins!’
‘Oh I wasn’t a virgin, I meant that that was the first time I’ve slept with a stranger from a bar.’
‘Oh, I understand.’ He relaxes back into the couch. ‘Are you feeling okay?’
‘I had a fight with my Dad last night,’ I roll my eyes. ‘And now I feel… gross.’
‘Because of the sex or the fight?’ Steve asks gently.
The safest person to tell a secret to is a stranger, right? I plonk down on the other couch.
‘Both. And because I hurt my Mum yesterday through miscommunication, and I’m failing High School.’
‘You are eighteen, aren’t you?’
‘Yeah,’ I lie.
‘Phew,’ he sighs in relief. ‘Go on, I didn’t mean to interrupt.’
‘Well, I just feel misunderstood by everyone, I don’t even know who I am anymore. I’m a horrible person, I hurt my Mum… I hate myself.’
‘No you’re not.’
‘Not a horrible person.’
‘But I said the meanest thing to my Mum yesterday. What kind of daughter does that? I didn’t mean to, it just came out wrong. But I am rude to her, often. And I manipulate my teachers, even the few who are actually trying to help me pass.’
’Everything you have just said is behavioural, you are not your behaviour.’
‘Huh? Then what am I?’
‘A human being with unlimited potential-’
’Don’t give me the ‘potential’ crap.’
‘It’s not crap, it’s real. Welcome to reality. You have bloody unlimited potential.’
I roll my eyes.
’Right now your life sounds not the best, but you can change it.’
’I’m serious. You are very used to behaving a certain way, it’s habit you repeat. But you can decide to change your life, really commit to that decision, and follow through with the necessary actions. Work out the new habits - behaviours - that you want to do, and then use your frigging will power to do it.’
‘Right,’ I scoff.
’And you’ll need truckloads of compassion for yourself, because you’re likely to stuff it up. Old habits can be hard to break. Like, hard. Far out, it took me over a year to break my drinking habit. Now I don’t touch alcohol because I choose not to, and I follow through on that choice. If you want to be happy bad enough, you’ll do it. You’ll see that those behaviours don’t reflect who you really are, and they obviously don’t-’
’If being rude was an accurate reflection of who you are inside, you’d be 100% happy right now. The fact that you are unhappy and disgusted with yourself proves just how good a person you are inside. The real you, inside, is good. Amazing. That woman inside knows these behaviours aren’t the real you, and behaving differently to how you feel inside is why you feel like crap now. It shows how good a person you are.’
‘That kind of actually makes sense.’
‘How’d you realise this?’
‘A combination of random conversations with switched-on people, fascinating books, interesting TED talks…’
‘What books did you read? And what was the other thing?’
‘Oh there are many many amazing books, and TED talks are short talks on a wide selection of fascinating topics.’
‘I have an idea!’ Steve exclaims, jumping up from the couch. He approaches the small bookshelf, and runs his finger along the spines as he reads the titles.
‘Here it is! “Make the Impossible Possible”. Now hang on,’ he disappears into the kitchen. I wait on the couch, tugging at the loose threads.
He returns a few minutes later, triumphant. ‘This is my gift to you. Enjoy.’ And he hands me the book. I haven’t read a whole book since Year 6.
‘Wait, I’m not taking your book from you,’ I try giving it back to him.
‘Are you seriously going to rob me of the joy of giving you this book?’
He laughs. ‘Read it, enjoy it. Here, look.’ Inside he has written:
’I hope this story inspires you.
Some great movies to watch: Freedom Writers; Erin Brockovich; Mandela.
And some awesome TED talks: Dying To Be Me; Looks Aren’t Everything, Believe Me, I’m A Model; The Power of Vulnerability
Remember: Have compassion for yourself, and for others.
‘Wow, thank you Steve.’
‘My pleasure,’ he grins. ‘Now, I have to head off in 5 minutes-’
‘Yes, of course! I’ll just get my things.’ I rush into Mr I-Don’t-Know-His-Name’s room, gather my phone, clutch, earrings, and heels before reappearing in the lounge.
‘Again, thank you Steve.’
‘So what are you going to remember?’
‘Have compassion for yourself and others.’
‘You’re going to need it.’
‘Okay… I’ll do my best. Thanks Steve, bye.’
I walk out onto the street, finding myself surrounded by ugly apartment buildings. I don’t know where I am, and I have no cash on me. I could look at Google Maps, but I like being lost. I cross the road, walking with my clutch and book in one hand, and my heels in the other. Darn, its obvious I’m ‘the morning after’ girl. The weather is mild, the sun is shining… not too bad a morning actually.
I should call Dad, but that means apologising when he’s the one who should be apologising to me. I’m still mad at him. Still hurt. I could call Mum… but that means apologising. And explanations. Best if she doesn’t know I ran away. With a sigh I turn my phone on and see 23 missed calls. 22 from Dad, 1 from Mum. Crap.
I should just call Dad. I stop walking, drop my heels to the pavement, and open the book. ’Have compassion for yourself, and for others.’ Should I be compassionate toward Dad? I sigh, dialling his number.
‘Megan! Never, ever, EVER run away again. You hear me?!’
’Never make me want to run away again and I-’
‘Where are you?’ he bellows.
‘Umm… I don’t know, on a street.’
‘Where did you sleep last night?’
‘At a friends place. They picked me up, I’m fine.’
‘Then why don’t you know where you are?’
‘I went for a walk this morning - you know fresh air, exercise, they say it’s good - and I’m not sure where I am now.’
’Well ask someone. Or look on your phone for Christ’s sake, this is the 21st Century! I’m in the car already. Just tell me where you are and I’ll come pick you up. And by the way, I do care about you.’
Dad doesn’t say a word when he pulls up at the curb thirty minutes later, nor on the forty minute drive home. As he stops the car outside my house he takes a deep breath.
‘Do you agree we shouldn’t tell your Mum about last night?’ He asks.
‘Yes.’ I want to say more, but I’m not sure what. Dad nods. I gather my stuff and open the car door. ‘Dad?’ I ask.
‘Um, sailing was fun.’
‘I’m glad you enjoyed it,’ he sighs.
I hop out and watch him drive off. I can still feel the weight of his silence pressing down on me. Who is he to tell me off like that? It’s not like he’s behaved like a Dad recently. I walk up the path and open the front door, plastering on a smile.
Mum meets me in the hall. ‘So how was it?’
‘The sailing was fun! I’m really tired now though… I think I’m gonna have a nap.’
‘Okay,’ Mum’s smile falters.
I close my door, rip off my dress, and snuggle into trackies and a T-shirt. Falling onto my bed I think about what Dad said on the phone. Does he care about me? I hug my pillow to my chest. I should apologise to Mum for what I said to her yesterday. Was that only yesterday morning? It feels like a week ago…
‘Mum?!’ I yell.
After a few moments she opens my door and pokes her head in. ‘Yes?’
‘Um, I just wanted to… how was your night?’
‘It was great, George and I had a lovely time.’
‘Awesome. Um, well, I just wanted to say that…’ I struggle, looking at the objects around my room for help. ‘I had fun with Dad yesterday,’ I chicken out.
Why is apologising so hard? I stare intently at my bedspread, my finger tracing it’s floral pattern. C’mon Megs, you weak, pathetic excuse of a daughter. Just say you’re sorry! I take a deep breath.
‘Also, sorry for what I said yesterday… About you and pricks, it came out wrong. I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry.’ I glance up, and find she’s already left. She didn’t hear my apology.