When I look back over my 28 years, it turns out I’ve managed to do some pretty hideous things. Even now, some memories catch me off guard and make me want to curl with shame. I could be doing anything—driving my car, buying groceries—and out of nowhere, bam: suddenly I’m 10-years-old and urinating myself in front of the church congregation. Or I’m 18 and losing consciousness in the middle of a one-night stand, reeking of beer. Or I’m 19 and projectile spewing a bottle of bargain-bin shiraz on my mother’s carpets as she looks on helplessly in teary horror.
It’s always been like this: a cycle of rank stupidity followed by crippling mortification. As a kid, I told my entire Year 3 class that my mum had had an “abortion” before conceiving me. Then I had years of panic attacks after realising I’d gotten my terminology wrong and actually meant “miscarriage”.* Sometimes though, I’ll have good days where I feel okay about myself, when my boyfriend suddenly brings up the time I awkwardly picked up friend’s cat and accidentally fingered its anus in front of everyone. We all try to bury our shames deep down, but if you’re anything like me, it only ever turns out to be a shallow grave.
There’s one story from my 20s I’ve never quite managed to live down. At the time, I was living with two of my best friends, Fliss and Ross, in a giant, sprawling Queenslander. For Fliss’s birthday, we decided to throw an open-invite party, one of those free-for-alls where you’re not terribly concerned about who might show up, because there’s always a chance someone good looking will come and then you’ll get drunk together before touching one another in your secret toilet areas.
It didn’t take long before our house was packed full of strangers. Many of these people were intimidatingly-dressed fashionistas I’d never seen in my life. When I smiled at one of them—a girl with Ewok hair and a face like a cat—she cooly examined my outfit, arched one eyebrow, then sharply turned away from me to sip chilled wine and continue talking to her friend on my sofa. My sofa. She’d dismissed me while sititing on my own sofa! My thoughts turned hostile. Who were these people? How dare they judge me in my own house! Also: what the fuck was up with that perm?
Later that evening, the party had to be killed off. Fliss had decided to head to a local Korean joint for a robust late-night session of karaoke and taxis were on their way. Someone had to carry out the grim task of ushering everyone out so we could lock up the house. When I turned the music off, it immediately killed all conversation. “Okay!” I said, sloppily clapping my hands like some alcoholic kindy teacher. “I’m so glad you’re enjoying yourself in our fiiiiiiine establishment. But unfortunately all good things must come to an end!” Everyone looked at me, unimpressed. “Either you can come with us to karaoke—” (I’d lowered my voice for dramatic effect, for what was coming next) “—OR YOU CAN GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE.”
You could have heard a pin drop. No one moved. Instead they stared at me, open-mouthed and appalled. Though I was quite drunk, it also dawned on me that all of my friends—the ones who would’ve known I was joking—were already downstairs waiting for taxis. Meanwhile, I was upstairs violently yelling at people I didn’t know. After a long pause, they all got up, quietly and disgusted, refusing to make eye contact with me. They dusted themselves off before leaving. I could have died.
But perhaps I shouldn’t be so embarrassed. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge each other, let alone ourselves. As it says in the Bible, “Lest ye judge thy neighbour unless thee cast the first stone,” something-something. (I forget the rest.) But the point is, we could all have been that person misjuding the situation. You too could one day end up finding your finger firmly lodged inside a cat’s warm arsehole. That could be any of us! Well, that’s what I tell myself, anyway. But deep down inside, something—or someone, who happens to have an Ewok perm—insists that could just be me.
* I’m not making up that abortion-miscarriage mix-up story, by the way. It’s all there in frankie #17, as well as my book. Feel free to relive the horror there.