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My partner loved what I wrote about his injury. He was delighted to find himself in a starring role in a blog-story and to have his ant-war cartoonised. But he quickly began to regret turning down my offer or re-writing the injury part with dragons. He didn’t make a big deal about it, but I could tell he felt he had missed his opportunity to be immortalised in a daring action-filled escapade.
I understood. Ants are just not as cool as dragons.
So I drew it for him as a surprise gift.
This is what true love looks like.
Last week I got a call from my partner while he was at work.
“I’m okay, but I’ve had an accident!” he said.
My mind went straight to:
The reality, I established after a few minutes of agitated conversation, was more like:
He had dislocated his knee. He was waiting for the ambulance to arrive, and he stayed on the phone with me until the pain got so bad that he was having trouble not screaming. I told him not to worry, the paramedics would be there soon and I would find him at the hospital, and then he hung up.
I had no idea how I would get to the hospital.
It’s a good forty minute drive, and I am not well. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) not only keeps me physically and cognitively exhausted, but also smacks me down ten times as hard if I try to push past my (very pitiful) limits. It lets me build up a crippling energy debt, and then it comes to collect. As you can imagine, it makes it (at best) difficult or even (at worst) dangerous for me to drive. I had sold my car a few months earlier. Now I was stranded.
I was used to CFS making me feel helpless, but this time I only felt rage.
My partner was injured, and I wanted to be there. After the surgery I had a couple of years ago, he had been with me every moment he was allowed. For a week he paid exorbitant hospital parking fees, ate cheap food from nearby take-away places, napped in a chair in my room and only went home when I had gone to sleep. Now I couldn’t even pick him up from hospital.
I was vaguely aware that there must be a rational way to sort this all out without making myself sick. Perhaps one of his work colleagues who had stayed with him would take him home. I didn’t have to personally go in. But I did have to, because that’s what you do when the person you love is hurt.
I decided that CFS wasn’t having this one.
I pulled out my Zombie Apocalypse List of friends. You know the friends I’m talking about. These are the friends who, when you really need something, just say ‘okay’ and help you. Everyone needs at least one of these people to call when the zombie apocalypse starts.
So I called one of my Zombie Apocalypse List friends and explained that I needed him to drop everything and drive me to the other side of the city and back because my partner had a non-life-threatening injury. I said that I really needed this.
He said, ‘Okay.’
Twenty minutes later we were on our way. I spent the whole trip monologing about the insanity of the cheap romance novel I am in the process of disemboweling to make paper roses for my upcoming wedding.
Just to clarify, I do not intend that as a generalisation of the entire romance genre. But this specific book was arrest-level crazy. Someone needed to sit those characters (and probably the author) down and have a serious talk with them about a) making life decisions, b) contraceptives and c) consent. There wasn’t actual rape, but there was rapey kissing, where one character forcibly kissed another who was saying ‘NO’ loudly and fighting to get away. The author seemed to think this was romantic, but it made me throw up a little bit in my mouth. Needless to say this scene is not making it to my wedding, even reincarnated as a paper rose.
My Zombie Apocalypse List friend listened calmly, understanding both the ick-factor involved in rapey kissing and that being tangential is just how I dispel nervous energy. I was very impressed and upgraded him to my Help, I Need to Bury a Body List. When I later told him this, he said that he could not in good conscience help me bury a body when a bathtub full of lye would do a much better job of removing physical evidence.
We got to the hospital and promptly got lost. This was unfortunate because at this point I was definitely down to borrowed energy. We wandered around while I, using my health as collateral, built up a bigger and bigger energy debt. This meant that at the time I could push through, but the next afternoon I couldn’t move from the couch. I was so exhausted that standing up made me want to cry. Usually my loving, caring partner would do what he could to help me, but this time he was stuck on the same couch recovering from a dislocated knee. It’s a miracle we didn’t starve to death.
Maybe my CFS had a bit of a chuckle about all this. Maybe it even thinks it won this round. But you know what, CFS?
In the end we found the emergency department (it was the big, red part of the building with lots of ambulances parked in front of it that we had already walked past several times) just as my partner, mellow from pain-killers, was given the all-clear and turfed out of his wheelie-bed.
We finally heard his story in full.
Apparently he was lying on the ground to examine some cables.
He rolled over to get up, but his foot got caught on something.
The rolling action popped his knee out.
He waited half an hour for an ambulance (dislocated knees are not a high priority). He quickly realised that all this had occurred on top of an ant nest.
But he couldn’t relocate because it hurt too much to move, so he engaged in a vicious war with the ants in which his only weapon was his bum.
…which he used to crush the ants. Not gas them or mesmerise them with a sexy dance or whatever else popped into your mind.
See? Crushing them.
If you judge a war by its casualties, then he won. Hundreds of dead ants were later shaken from his pants. But if you judge it by any other means—such as who ends up with the land or dignity (or both) that was in dispute—then he lost.
It’s a truly terrible injury story. I offered to improve it with a car chase and some dragons, but he seems happy with his ants.
It’s easy to let silence take over part of your life and to forget the good things about yourself. It’s easy to twist your mind and see yourself from a bad angle, to believe that acts of anger or rebellion are always bad things, to submit and tell yourself it’s only this one time. And if that’s easy, then it’s easy for it to spread, like metastasising cancer, from one part of your life to others, until it’s everything.
It’s hard to be sure exactly where it started. It’s hard to recover.
This, just like all my stories, is about who I am. It is for me, although it is available to anyone. It is a rebellion. It is a reminder, because I forgot.
When I was twelve I built myself a tree-house.
I had pestered my parents for one for years before finally accepting that an adult was not going to build it for me. Fair play to the adults; my dad had already built me and my two younger siblings a cubby-house fort.
It was a very good fort. We could climb up its walls, through its windows, onto its roof. We weren’t supposed to do any of these things, of course. The only parentally sanctioned fort-climbing was up the entrance ladder. The roof was firmly and repeatedly deemed out of bounds and we were reminded often that the railing around the balcony was for fall-prevention, rather than a climbing aid. We climbed it anyway. We used it to fight pretend wars, and it was very difficult to invade the fort by climbing politely up the ladder.
Other than that it was obvious we would find a way for it to kill us, there were two problems with the fort. One problem was that there was only one fort. What was the use of one fort? You need two forts, at least, for a proper war. If you had three you could even forge alliances and have betrayals.
The other problem was that I had watched it being built, and I had enjoyed this more than playing on it. I wanted to build more things. Lots of things. Dangerous things. Our yard had stacks of bricks, piles of corrugated iron, heaps of unused wooden planks, mounds of excess pavers. And we knew Dad kept his tools in the shed.
So my brother built his own crossbow which shot chopsticks-turned-arrows with goose-feather flights. It was very effective. We never had chopsticks in the kitchen drawers after that, but they were all over the garden. We built a small table to go in our fort as well as a heavy door to defend it. Our family home got an extension, and a few weeks later so did our fort. We sunk new foundations and built ourselves a dungeon.
We built so much that after a few years of this we started to run out of supplies, particularly nails. The First Great Nail Shortage ended the Christmas after Dad discovered all his nails were disappearing from his shed at rate suspiciously similar to our garden construction boom. We realised that, judging from his irritation and how much he complained, he must really like having nails. We understood. We liked having nails too. We’d found lots of things we could make with them, and when we’d run out of them we’d learned that screws made terrible replacements; they’re so difficult to hammer in.
So the Christmas present we got him that year was perhaps not entirely altruistic, but then, we really did think he would like it too.
I was confused. He only seemed to pretend enthusiasm for the nails, when he had told us time and time again how badly he wanted them. Also, Mum seemed very amused, even though she was the one who approved the present idea and drove us to the hardware store—although when I came to think about it I remembered she had laughed then too.
The new box of nails did not last long, and we were soon plunged into the Second Great Nail Shortage. The Second Great Nail Shortage lasted years and years. In fact, as far as I know, it’s still going.
Nevertheless, other minor forts began springing up all over the garden so that we might have proper wars. One made clever use of existing materials and junk, another was made of corrugated iron and held together with twisty ties.
But I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted a tree-house fort. As a child I loved climbing trees and was good at it. I hardly ever hurt myself, especially if you don’t count the three times I broke my arm before the age of seven. But those incidents involved a car, an arm chair and a fitness trampoline respectively, never trees.
So I think I had every right to consider myself an excellent tree-climber in need of a tree-house.
In the end I decided to build the tree-house myself. And I had to do it without nails. Or screws. Or rope. Or heavy-duty tuna fishing line. Or any of the other things Dad used to have that we had completely used up.
But I still built it.
I used the wooden planks, which were round logs cut down the middle. I wedged two of them in the branches of a tree, roughly parallel, and then laid out more planks across them to create a platform. I dreamed of nails and rope, of bolts and drills, but I didn’t have those things so none of the planks were secured with anything. I had planned well though. The planks were quite heavy and there was a good deal of overhang on each side of the support beams which made it difficult for the planks to work themselves free. As long as I didn’t step on the overhang it was a relatively safe tree-house. And it was all mine and only mine, as I had built it by myself. Without even nails.
The ‘without even nails’ factor quickly became a big deal for my parents. It was dangerous. It would fall to pieces. They didn’t want me to play in it.
I ignored them. I was twelve and was used to parents and other responsible adults disallowing anything remotely fun, like spinning on office chairs, sliding in socks on wooden floors, climbing on the roof or setting the trampoline on its side and trying to climb up it as it falls over.
And my tree-house didn’t fall down. So I built a smaller, higher platform as a second story and installed a dog ramp.
I cannot claim the genius of the dog ramp as my own. Dad had come up with the idea for our first fort. He made a ramp out of a suitable plank of wood and he trained out little dog to run up it. Our dog learned quickly and soon understood how to do it without any pointing or instruction. If he wanted to play with us in the fort, he only had to run up the ramp.
I fixed up a similar ramp to my tree-house and trained our dog to climb it.
The result was, I believe, a masterpiece.
I was fiercely proud of my tree-house, my space, and then I grew up and forgot to be. It’s easy to think that tree-houses aren’t real achievements. They don’t help you with school, for example. Only, really, it did. It may not have directly helped with my grades, but having my own space helped me get through at all. And even when I got older and stopped visiting it so often, being the girl who built it did help. Always.
Always, at least, until I forgot.
My tree-house was removed, plank by plank, and then the tree was cut down. And I forgot that I was the girl who built it, without nails or permission, who painted a flag for it, who loved it and defended it and who shared it with her dog.