“Mrs. Steel, while we are removing a fibroid uterus and an ovary with an ancient cyst, it’s an ideal time to remove the other ovary. This is just in case it becomes cancerous one day’” Dr O’Brien said.
Patronising bastard, I think. “So might your nose. Are you going to chop that off just in case it becomes cancerous?” I remark.
Is the premeds take effect I think of how Mother and I only began to develop a friendship late in her life when she came to live with Bill, our two daughters and me. My eldest girl was four and the youngest two. My Mum lovingly called them ‘Hooligan and Roughien’ and indulged them in ways she had seemingly been unable to do with her own children.
It shocked me when Mum took a tiny ornamental tea set treasure that I was not allowed to touch as a child, and handed it over to her grandchildren, a hyperactive preschooler and a toddler and then brushed my concerns away with a wave of her hand.
A brilliant woman, talented and eccentric, Mum allowed her life to be governed by superstition and destroyed by my father’s addictions. Growing up, Mum would always answer my questions about what things were with her nonsense answer 'What, is the grocer in South Melbourne.’
I still have mountains of unanswered questions I want to ask her. It has taken me twenty-five years since her premature death, to feel capable of facing the painful, ‘Why did it have to be like that?’
She is with me even now. I can’t even think the word ‘she’ without hearing my Mother’s voice in my mind, saying one of her silly expressions. ‘She, is the cat’s mother.’
Like an onion, each time I remove an outer layer of the past and feel healed, I discover another layer beneath that I still need to shed.
Training myself out of the superstitions was easy. I simply defied them, even if I couldn’t stop superstitious thought coming into my mind, I would not act on them. I feel I have mastered this.
Another round won in breaking free from the past.
My Mum always commented ‘you would cut off your nose to spite your face’ when I rebelled. I was always punished by having promised privileges taken away. Knowing those privileges existed only as a bribe fostered my dislike of authorities.
I remember feeling that intense hatred of unjust power when I was in was forty. A surgeon tried to convince me to agree to have this operation then, ten years before I did not need to have it.
I muster up my best sarcastic voice and said, “Do you require a brand-new set of golf clubs?”
I bet they’ll write, eccentric lady, in their notes, but I don’t care. “Leave me alone. Don’t get pushy with me,” I mutter.
So it’s here I find myself today, in the room outside the operating theatre some ten years after I was ordered to have this operation done. I am drowsy with medication, and I have lost the ability to fake some lighthearted bravado and laugh this off as my fiftieth birthday present to myself.
Jane Steel, hysterectomy, and bilateral oophorectomy are scrawled in chalk on a blackboard on the sidewall of this puce green and cream, anaesthetic smelling room. “You are not taking out both my ovaries.” I try to yell at them. “NO! I’m not having both ovaries removed.”
The staff are dressed in theatre clothes, wearing different coloured floral paper caps over their hair and gowns of that same puke green as the walls.
The older of the nurses, the one who’s acting like she’s the boss, gets papers off the bench and brings them over and shows me. “Your theatre notes say only the one ovary will be removed,” she said.
The trolley I am on moves towards the door, and I yell, “NO!”
“What's wrong?” My surgeon, Dr O'Brian, leans over me.
“I am NOT going to go into that theatre while that blackboard says something different to what I have given and signed permission for,” I state firmly.
I am walking around our garden with Bill. It's so good to be beside him. I hold his hand tightly. The familiar warmth takes some of the sting out of what happened ten days earlier. I need Bill and my garden to give me back my serenity.
“How dare he presume to remove more than I gave permission for?” I say, still working my frustration out of my system.
Bill is the quiet type, bottles things up and I have to try to get him to put things into words, express what’s upsetting him or more frustratingly I have to try to guess, which I can do most of the time. Now I need to get things out of my system and Bill is helping by listening to me rant, “I told them; do not dare remove an irreplaceable healthy part of me.”
“I’m listening. Patiently, waiting for you to calm down.” Bill points to buds that are opening in the garden.
I know Bill doesn’t enjoy my tantrums. Total opposites we are, aside from our love of each other and nature.
“I triumphed in that round,” I say, Then I decided that I had best stop pushing Bill’s patience, thinking he would be sick of my venting. But, he surprised me by talking about my experience.
“Some surgeons think they are akin to a god.” Bill shows me the hyacinth in full bloom, then a rose. Taking out his pocketknife he cuts the stem and gives me the beautifully formed yellow rose.
“It’s taken me a long time to learn to trust people; I still do not trust people with power over me,” I say.
I smell the beautiful rose. Nature and Bill have worked their spell on me again, and I am content.
‘Don’t talk about it and she will forget.’
Bill and I have this loving companionship with each other and this helps me gain a little understanding of my mother. While I still do not know why she acted the way she did to me when I was very young, I know she never knew the contentment and security of a lasting love that brings a sense of peace into your life.
That she loved my father, I do not dispute. She never said a bad word about him and had an excuse for all his actions, staying faithful to this man who dumped on her so badly. That my mother was distraught is all I know. ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’ I often think when I see people with an emotional illness. ‘Where might I be if Bill had not been sent into my life?’
Some years ago my sister Joyce confided in me that Mum had instructed her to never speak to me about the violent things that affected me as a child. 'Don't talk about it and Jane will forget' were her exact words.
There were many strong memories of violence, and I grew up defiant rather than cowered, yet inwardly terrified of people. Well, that was until I met my Bill. Since then I’ve brought these fears and defiance into a manageable form and continually work to heal myself.
My defiant refusal to go to bed still lingers with me as an adult and is indulged by me in the quiet time of my best creative work. I discovered as a young child that I needed to create my inner world of beauty and did so through my night time escape into creative arts and my days of fantasizing an imaginary friend, and enjoying nature.
I am sure my ability to create my own beautiful world around me and ignore reality is what allowed me to emerge from my childhood, sane. My sister Joyce believes it was my anger; my ability to rage about injustice and so get things out of my system that protected my sanity.
Back before I let go of the pain through telling Bill about my childhood and by striving as best I could to create the happy family I had longed for, I would be affected daily by terrible memories. These hindered my daily life and engulfed me every night as I relived the petrifying fear of just one of the ordeals.
Each night, the repeating memory, nightmare, terror was the same. It builds in intensity, beginning from the time I instinctively know that a stranger, a sandy-haired, dusty looking, young man is menacing me by the way he blocks my only exit on the seaside foreshore path. His eyes are scanning to see if there is anyone about. There is a smarmy look I already recognise as menace, on his face.
He asks me, 'Are you here by yourself?' This confirms the danger, so I tell him defensively, ‘My father and brother are ...’ - I falter as I say this and my voice trails off. He looks at me and knows that I am entirely alone.
The next thing I knew was that he was holding a knife to my throat and was trying to force himself on me. He tells me ‘Do not make a sound and do what I tell you to do or I will kill you.’ I know that the thing he fears most is noise. I realise my only escape is to scream and make him afraid I will be heard. I try to scream, only to discover my voice box immobile.
I am terrified. With a huge effort to release the constriction in my throat, I manage to whimper. Then, with each attempt to scream, I force out a slightly louder whimper.
In the after event nightmare, my whimpering would wake me up from the nightly terror of reliving this ordeal.
“The man is distracted by my whimper, looks around to see if anyone may have heard. Fear no longer freezes me and I fight back.
I relived that moment every night for the next ten years until one night, confident in Bill’s arms I told him all about it. ‘When the man had lost his concentration, I used the self-defense maneuver I had rehearsed so often in my mind. The one I had been practicing with my sister. I curled my right leg behind the man’s knees, and then shoved with both hands hard at the same time against his chest and threw him off balance. As he stumbled, I broke free and ran.’
I bolted in terror out of the bush, down the path between the tea tree scrub. The urge for flight got me out of the foreshore scrub fast. I guess I must have checked for cars on the busy Beach Road. I don’t recall doing so; I just remember bolting along the footpath on the opposite side to the beach scrub, still feeling exposed and terrified. I reached a hedge and flung myself to the ground beneath it. I crawled into the darkness there, ignoring how the branches dug into my flesh. I was hidden. I didn’t dare move. I lay petrified with fright and emerge until long after nightfall.
When I ran home, Mum was there waiting. I had never seen her looking anxious for me before. It was a relief. I had expected to be belted for returning home without the firewood I had been sent to collect, but I was more afraid of being outside where I knew that man still lurked somewhere.
I tried to tell my mother what happened. I was able to blurt out some of it. She called the police. They were in our lounge room within minutes. This man had a history and as I later discovered, was targeting schoolgirls.
My already strongly developed fear of men had saved my life as I now believe this same man is a convicted mass rapist murderer serving multiple life sentences. Never to be released. To the best of my knowledge, I may be the only person he had tried to assault who got away. If I had not known there was danger around me as a child, would I have developed sufficient self-defence skill to be capable of escaping physically unharmed?
I remember how terrified I was of the five policemen. This happened before there were female police in Australia. ‘Fancy sending five tall men to interview an eleven-year-old girl after an ordeal like that!’
Trying to tell the police what happened was as much a struggle as when I tried to lie to the man and say I had a brother and father on their way. My voice trailed away, and I froze in silence before them. Even when they phrased questions to me, I began to deny the things that had happened. Too humiliating to tell them what I saw. ‘How could I tell strange men those things?’
My mother stood back and watched. She was there, and she was concerned. But, there was no cradling me in her arms. If she had tried to hold me, I would have rebuked her attempt out of pride - such was our strained relationship. By the time the police finished interviewing me, I was more terrified of them, than I had been my attacker.
‘My tears never came until now.
Hey it's me, Ryn.
Copyright Short Stories by