You know time’s gone by too fast when a nineties song finishes playing on the radio and they call it a classic. And when I think of the nineties I think about sharing a bunk with my older brother in a cockroach infested house on Water Street. We would stay up til late every night and listen to the radio, hoping our favourite songs would come on so we could record them on the tape deck.
When our mum and stepdad went out on the weekends, my brother and I would go in to the back shed and look for something to do. The people who lived there before us must have had more money than we did because they left behind their tennis racquets. I’d begged mum for months to let me play tennis but she always said we couldn’t afford it. In the backyard was a huge tree that dropped red berries all over the grass. They left a deep red stain on your fingers if you squeezed hard enough
Sometimes when we were bored my brother and I would get the tennis racquets out of the shed and fill a bucket with the berries. We’d go up on the back steps and if the neighbours weren’t home we’d smash the berries over the fence with the racquets and watch the red stains drip down the neighbour’s white fibro walls. We would try and outdo each other, see who could hit the berries the hardest, the most far and then when we heard the car pull up we’d grab the bucket and run down the back steps into the shed to hide the evidence.
In those years before, I saw glimpses of the kind of kid I was becoming and I wasn’t sure I liked it. Before Water Street, we lived a few blocks away in a house that was not cockroach ridden. There was an invisible line drawn between that side of our suburb, and the next.
I used to talk to this girl over the back fence – we went to the same school but only ever talked in the safety of our backyards. One day she stopped coming out to talk so I went over to the fence and called her name until she came outside. When I asked where she had been she said we couldn’t talk over the fence anymore because her grandmother said I was a bad influence. I’d never been called that before and it hurt. It got worse when we moved to the suburb over the invisible line – into Water Street.
A girl in my brother’s grade lived at the other end of Water Street and one day our mums started drinking VB together and then we started to hang out too. Mostly at her house because we had cockroaches and her neighbours had a mulberry tree that lingered just enough over the back fence that we could climb up and fill paper bags with the mulberries. Once we’d filled the bag up we’d slump down in the faded plastic chairs and eat all the mulberries in case we got caught and had to give them back.
One Saturday afternoon we were bored with our clothes and our lives so we decided to have a clothes swap for our Barbies. She wanted the clothes my Dad had bought my Barbie for my birthday that year. I never saw my dad anymore so the stuff he got me meant more than it should and giving away the clothes felt like giving away part of him. I felt guilty for days and avoided her. I cared more about my Barbie’s fashion than my Dad and I couldn’t stomach it. But I wasn’t an Indian giver, I knew I couldn’t take it back.
We didn’t hang out much after the clothes swap, and within a few months my family were moving house and schools again. I didn’t see her again until high school where we just kind of nodded at each other in hallways, too afraid to confront our former lives.
I didn’t realise at the time – the kind of kid I would become, had we stayed in that house much longer. I guess it was lucky that one day Mum found a rat living in the wall behind the stove because she called up the landlord and told him we were leaving that shit hole house and that we better get all our bond back.