(Just a few things you should know about me before I reveal my most intimate secrets and private moments. It’s the least you can do to read it!)
So, here’s what you need to know about me. Yeah, I know, you want to jump straight to the good stuff, but then you’d miss out on all the backstory and parts of my present story wouldn’t make sense. Sorry, you’ll just have to suck it up and power through. It’s only a few pages and you might feel better about your own childhood if you do!
Shakespeare once asked, ‘What’s in a name?’ My short answer? A lifetime of torment if you get the wrong one!
Why do I have that opinion, you ask? Because my first name is Sugar. Now, this isn’t some nickname I’ve earned and it’s sure as hell not a name I decided would be cool to cart around for the rest of my life. No, my name was a conscious decision by my parents, Ruth and David Plum. Yup, that’s right. My full name is Sugar Plum. Ridiculous, I know.
Many times over the years I’ve asked my parents what the hell were they thinking when they legally stuck me with that name. I mean, I can kinda understand looking down at a new born baby, all gooey and emotional from coming out of the horrific labour of birth (who wouldn’t be giddy that ordeal was over??) and seeing something so sweet, that they wanted to immortalize it forever. But seriously! They had to have considered the consequences! Sugar Plum as a name stopped being cute at around the age of six!
Let’s face it. If you met an adult woman now who was named Sugar Plum, your automatic assumption is going to be; she’s a stripper. Really, with a name like that, parents are only leaving the kid two real choices in life.
One, embrace the name and nature, become a hippy, move to a commune and walk around the forest in bare feet, with little forest creatures following behind in a smitten manner, bringing sweetness and light to all she meets.
Two, completely eschew the name, making it an ironic moniker by embracing all things sarcastic and pithy, going Goth or heavy metal and embracing the rebel within, transform your body through fashion and permanent and semi-permanent body art.
Guess which one I picked?
I grew up an only child in a small country town called Ilparpa, about 10 minutes outside of Alice Springs. Growing up in outback Australia was an interesting experience. With a mixture of indigenous people and travellers visiting the tourist trap that is Alice Springs, I met a wide range of people growing up. My father was a was a tyre fitter at the local mines, working rotating day and night shifts often working 14 days on/7 days off. It meant we didn’t get to see him that much, but the money was good. My mum was stay at home mum until I went to school, then worked part time in one of the banks in town. I’m pretty sure that she got the job out of boredom, since we weren’t hurting financially.
There was no entertainment in our town, but if you travelled into Alice Springs, you could find enough to get you into trouble. Assuming you could find transport to get there. Nothing in my younger years really stands out to me as exciting or character shaping; but high school was another matter altogether.
I think high school for most people is fairly traumatic. A bunch of pubescent kids at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives, forced together for up to six hours a day against their will. Not a recipe for happy-happy joy-joy feelings if you ask me.
But in my case, I was a sarcastic, angst ridden teenager, with a name just made to be taunted. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still sarcastic with a name made to be taunted, I’ve just rounded out my repertoire with a large helping of bawdy humour. It’s amazing where a dirty joke at the right moment will get you these days. But back in high school, I had none of the humour and twice the sarcasm. I’ll admit that I was also easily riled. Though I was by no means a victim and I’m sure looking back, I myself caused some of my fellow classmates some pain, I still had a particular nemesis. A boy who became the embodiment of everything that was wrong with my life as a teenager. His name was Matt.
About 40 minutes out of our town was a joint American / Australian research facility called Pine Gap. It’s a satellite tracking station that is operated with both Australian and American staff. It sits smack dab in the middle of nowhere and is the centre of many a conspiracy theory, but growing up in the closest bit of civilisation to the base, I can honestly say I never noticed anything weird or shady.
An American national who’d moved to Ilparpa with his family when he was thirteen, Matt Jamison sadly attended the same high school as I did for two hellishly long years. Though he was a year older than me, because of the constant moving around of his family (his father worked for the American government and was in Australia to work at Pine Gap) and his natural inclination to buck authority, Matt was not what you would call an academic giant, and was essentially held back a year, forced to go to class with kids a year younger than himself. As an adult, one year is nothing. As a teenager it’s a great, gaping chasm. And how does one cross that chasm? Apparently in his case, by building a bridge made of snide remarks and undeserved arrogance.
Being an American in our school wasn’t a completely unusual occurrence, given the close proximity of Pine Gap and shouldn’t have been enough to make Matt instantly cool. But being a tall, good looking American, who played the drums and was older? Well that was the winning trifecta at my school.
Matt ruled his crowd of sheep with arrogance and disdain and was quick to disparage and pick on anyone who didn’t instantly bow down to his awesomeness.
And that’s right, you guessed it again, I was one of those kids who wasn’t a Matt Jamison disciple.
Over the two years that we attended the same school, sharing many of the same classes, Matt never once went out of his way to go after me. He never beat me, threatened me or deliberately set his minions on me. No, what he did was much, much worse. Intentional or not, through his actions and psychological warfare, he set out to undermine my self-esteem.
My name just gave him an easy starting point. He would ridicule that my name and my nature didn’t match (how original, like that hadn’t been done a million times before). But it didn’t end there. No, Matt had plenty of ammunition in his basket. We were teenagers after all, they can find anything to taunt. There was my unfortunate haircut (I thought it was stylish at the time, but now cringe at the thought. Hey don’t judge, we all had at least one growing up), my crooked teeth (two and a half years of agony fixed those right up thanks to braces) my freckles (I lived in the outback for crikeys sake, there’s not a lot of shade!) and of course, the ever popular lack of boobs (I was a late bloomer and now more than make up for my earlier lack).
But as long and painful as those two years were, Matt’s parents eventually moved back to the States, taking him with them and forever removing the excruciating thorn that was Matt Jamison from my side. I rejoiced the day I found out he was leaving, sure that my life was going to dramatically improve just by his absence. It didn’t of course. I was a teenager. Teenagers are genetically predisposed to morose depression and cynicism, at least in my opinion. Matts absence only meant that I didn’t have anything to blame my angst on.
The years passed after he left and as I grew up, I chafed at the confines of living in rural Australia. As soon as I was old enough, I got a job, hoarding my money for my planned escape. As soon as I had enough for a plane ticket, I shook the red dust from my boots as I high tailed it to the nearest airport, never looking back in my wake.
I’m not really sure how I managed to support myself during those early years of my travels. Mostly by doing odd jobs and not being too picky in my accommodations. I travelled the world, never really staying in one place for more than six to eight months before moving on to bigger and better things. I went back to visit my family a few times, but I viewed those trips more as holidays than going home. And they usually coincided with the time I would need to renew my passport or apply for a new visa.
Eventually, my travels lead me to Seattle, America, the home of the Grunge movement. My decision to stay here had nothing to do with the messy rocker vibe of Kurt Cobain. It was mostly a lack of funds, good friends and a job that didn’t suck enough to make me want to leave.
So here I am, a twenty-nine year old Australian, living in Kent, Seattle, a far cry from my humble country beginnings. After travelling for over eight years of my life, it was nice to have some roots again. I was coming up to two years being based in Seattle and life was okay. Good friends and a nice, if pricey, one-bedroom apartment in a nice complex, I rarely thought back to my formative years.
The universe, however, had decided that I needed to mix it up a little.