• Two cardboard boxes turned up at work for me on a Wednesday afternoon, carrying the memories of a life I thought I’d left behind. (Cultura RF)Source: Cultura RF
When I came out to my parents at 16, the punches were coupled with blows to the heart.
By
Elliot Aird

20 Aug 2020 - 8:31 AM  UPDATED 20 Aug 2020 - 8:31 AM

Two cardboard boxes turned up at work for me on a Wednesday afternoon, carrying the memories of a life I thought I’d left behind.

One was sealed with thick packing tape. The lid of the other, an old wine carton, was carelessly tucked shut.

“We thought you knew they were coming,” said the security man at the front desk. “That’s what the old guy said when he dropped them off.”

My face must have shown I didn’t know what he meant.

“Your father in law?” he said.

The security man hovered behind me as I pulled the wine carton open, still confused about its contents.

The burgundy velvet of an old gown spilled out. I exhaled. It was my wizard robe. I remembered my nine-year-old self using my mum’s dressmaker’s scissors to cut the plush material to make the costume. I used to wear it at home, perched on the edge of a wooden stool, while I watched The Worst Witch on TV after school.

Nothing more needed to be said. The boxes had come from my parents, who I hadn’t properly spoken to for about a decade.

I closed the box and hid both under my desk. I told myself I shouldn’t open them until I was ready - if at all. But I couldn’t help it. I returned to work late that night to bring them home.

I closed the box and hid both under my desk. I told myself I shouldn’t open them until I was ready - if at all. But I couldn’t help it. I returned to work late that night to bring them home.

I rifled through their contents with a glass of shiraz in hand and Norah Jones crooning in the background.

A threadbare shark puppet, some colourful building blocks and a neon green marionette from the Royal Adelaide Show. These were the forgotten artifacts of my childhood.

As I opened the second box I dreaded finding a note from my parents, because I was sure the words within it wouldn’t spell out the apology or acceptance I wanted. 

There wasn’t a note, and strangely, dread became disappointment.

Instead I found a bundle of birthday cards, dating back to my birth, incongruously tied with a red ribbon. There was artwork I’d created with crayons on butcher’s paper in primary school. There were reports detailing my musical promise - and noting a few pesky ‘rhythmic difficulties’. And there were photos, lots of them.

In one, a boy - me - sat in a blue paint-splattered bucket. My ginger hair was shorn in a harsh line above the eyes and I sported a grin so wide it looked as though my cheeks might burst. The photo won my father an award at the local camera club.

Another showed the same boy - still about five years old - staring down the camera with a blank face and wide blue eyes. The curved bridge of my nose glided smoothly into two defined eyebrows.

“I was such a pretty kid,” I texted my sister. “I didn’t know it then - and was never made to feel that way.”

“I was such a pretty kid,” I texted my sister. “I didn’t know it then - and was never made to feel that way.”

As I dug deeper into the box, the boy grew older and became rounder, more reserved and unhappy. His image was almost unrecognisable to me, but his story I could still remember.

I remember the feeling of my father’s hand hitting me many times as we argued.

I remember the first time it became a closed fist and met my nose. I was knocked unconscious to the ground.

My lips were sometimes left bloodied and raw, their flesh clamped between knuckle and enamel. Other times my legs and fingers were left marked by glowing white scars after I was thrown into the tiled steps of the bath.

I once threw a butternut pumpkin at his back in retaliation - raw frustration uncontrollably bursting from within me. The vegetable fell to the ground, splitting open and spilling seeds across the cork floor.

“You think you can throw a punch, do you? I grew up in Port Adelaide,” my father taunted as my chest heaved. At that moment I thought he was right. I was truly pathetic. But it was the only way I knew how to fight back.

Like always, my mother was nearby, just watching.

“Don’t bother calling Kids Helpline,” she told me once.

“Don’t bother calling Kids Helpline,” she told me once.

When I came out to my parents at 16, the punches were coupled with blows to the heart.

“Who are you f--king?” my mother demanded to know when I first told her I was gay.

She later said no one else needed to know, that I might get HIV, and that the path I’d chosen was too difficult.

That was in 2009, and I knew as I dug further into the box there wouldn’t be any more photos. Because I never returned home. I was 16.

I didn’t realise that fathers shouldn’t hit their children until years later when a friend told me what happened to me wasn’t my fault. She said it was screwed up. But it took a lot longer for me to realise that I wasn’t.

Back then I was angry and confused and always unwell. Ashamed, too, that I had to accept offers of cash, food and shelter from my friend’s mothers. Sometimes their love was almost too much for me to bear. It was so foreign. Their kindness was unconditional, but in compensation I’ve offered them my achievements - education, career, relationships. They belong much more to them than my own parents, sadly.

I slid everything back into the boxes and left them untouched for weeks.

Not out of sight but mostly out of mind.

The uncomfortable memories had long since been put to rest in disjointed hour-long counselling sessions.

The uncomfortable memories had long since been put to rest in disjointed hour-long counselling sessions. I spent thousands of dollars from the age of 17 before discovering I could learn more about myself from outside the armchair.

So in the end the decision about the boxes was easy. I would purge that boy and his possessions from my life. Just as my parents had, I suppose.

I stashed the photos and my birth certificate in a safe spot, dropped the toys at the op-shop to be loved by someone new. As for the rest, I dumped it in the bin.

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