Someone’s daughter, someone’s son #2


It’s Monday night and I’m travelling to Princes Park to cry for a girl I never knew.

Today I talked to a colleague. “It’s all pretty sad”, he says. Like it was a storm, or an avalanche, that killed her.

As I walked to Elizabeth Street, I could see the number 19 tram stops were overflowing. Instead, I took the train up to Jewell and am tramming back down. I know how, because this is my home, the north. My car is nearby at Mum’s house. She followed me and my sister here when Dad left her, when I was pregnant.

Tonight, Mum has picked up my ten year old from Taekwondo, so I can go. Tonight, I am glad she does Taekwondo. I am glad she can run fast. I am glad she doesn’t take any shit, even from me.

I am leaving behind my child so I can go to Princes Park to cry for someone else’s.
On the tram, a couple are looking at their phones, wondering where to get off. I interject, with a small smile. “Third stop”, I say to them. “My friend just texted. It’s near the tennis club.”

A woman my mother’s age smiles. She’s rugged up in a beanie and Kathmandu snow coat. We pass Gatehouse Street, and alight by the cricket club. Another tram from the city stops in parallel, and people pour out, and wait to cross the service road on Royal Parade. A middle-aged woman in a Mazda 3 stops to let us cross, even though the light is green. The man behind her honks. Her jaw is firm as she waits. She refuses to give a fuck.

*****

It’s just after six in midwinter. The park is dark, unusually so for this time of night, and cold. And quiet. I trudge across the muddy grass in my work boots. All around there are shadows walking silently and slowly, evening ravens gliding to perch. We duck under pole fences and divert around trees. Even those here in groups aren’t saying anything. My hands are stuffed in my coat pockets. We are walking towards a black mass ahead, lit in warm flecks by candles.

*****

In my early twenties, I lived nearby in a share house and would walk or ride to uni along the thin road between the park and the cemetery, tracing the edge of the grass. The Princes Hill High School students hung out there at breaks, and played sport on the fields. The innerurban school had few open spaces, so the park was the retreat where these harlequin kids in clothes of their choosing sat under trees to chat or lazily kicked a ball around.

As I walk, I remember cutting through this park myself sometimes. I think about Eurydice striding across, her career emerging bright, texting a friend, midnight lighting shining down on her. We know she, like every woman, took precautions.

I wonder how it happened. But I also remember how it feels to be held down by a young man, unable to get away.

My school was a a girls’ school, but I had lots of boys as friends all the way through school, some of them my best friends. We’d meet at tram stops and stop in at each other’s houses on the way home and horse around. Boys were uncomplicated creatures to me – they held themselves easily, were pretty direct with their thoughts, and were rambunctious fun, verbally and physically.

I remember turning 13, 14, 15, and watching them become strong, often in spite of themselves. I would be surprised if any woman wasn’t deeply aware of the strength of a determined young man.

Comedian Cal Wilson told a story once, for The Guilty Feminist podcast. She described a kind of popularity ritual that went on at her co-ed school. If a girl was considered popular, the jockish, sporty boys would circle her, throw her on the ground and bite her hard on the bum, leaving a mark. This was considered a badge of honour. Twice it happened to Cal. The first time, she laughed and felt flattered.

The second time, a switch flicked in her mind. It was the signal that said “stop”. But she couldn’t fight them. She screamed and wrestled and told them to get off her, and they wouldn’t. And here’s the thing: she couldn’t get them off. Nothing in her body was strong enough to throw off a young man.

Finally, she started to cry, and they all reared back. Finally, one boy called out: “Can’t you take a joke?” They laughed and left her, no longer popular.

I remember one night, hanging out in someone’s basement, when a group of boys thought it would be funny to hold me down and tickle my feet. I was notoriously, utterly ticklish, and was secretly terrified of it. Suddenly, in the middle of a mixed group of teenagers watching a movie, I had one guy on each arm and one on each leg, and the guy on my right leg tickled my foot. For a second, it was funny, and flattering. Then it kept going. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t speak. I started to feel scared. I mustered all my strength and started to fight, but soon realised there was nothing I could do that would even shift their grip – they were immutable. Finally, the tickler tried to change his grip, and I kicked out, and the guy copped a hard heel to the head.

Of course, afterwards, I laughed with them, as I shook inside.

This was the first of at least three or four of these experiences, in my teens and early twenties. Casual displays of the brute, immovable power of the determined male body against mine.

*****

I approach the edge of the circle, and feel my way to the right place to stand. There are five police officers, quietly standing on the perimeter in hi-vis vests: three women and two men, one tall as Wayne Carey, with arms crossed. I find a spot a few metres in front and stand still.

People are all around me in shadows and silhouettes. Everyone is evenly spaced, about a body length apart, alone or in clusters. We all stand still, for quite some time. Dogs are here but quiet. Little children are here, many held in their fathers’ arms. They are quiet too. We form a vast, soft mandala around Eurydice’s shrine.

Sadness falls upon us all in a blanket. This was not a flood, or an avalanche. This was a human thing. This should not have happened. 

The city lights blink at us, as we stand in the dark, safe in the multitude.

I hear a bit of noise behind and to my left: two men muttering. They stink a bit - I can smell them as they approach. They’re older than me, or perhaps they just look it, and they’re talking a bit loudly, walking crooked. They look up at the cops as they walk in front.

"How ya goin'?"

“Yep”, responds the tall cop.

They bumble past me and I automatically dart a hand to the top of my bag.

I look back. The tall cop hasn't taken his eye off them.

Eurydice grew up in the local housing commission flats. A decade ago I used to do outreach legal clinics there. It dawns on me that these guys could have been her neighbours.

I fumble with my hand.

*****

Many things have been written about this over the past week, scribbles overlaid across this tiny shrine in a park.

Many of them talk about what we need to teach boys. We need to teach them to respect women, we need to teach them not to be violent, we need to teach them not to be bystanders.

Yes.

Misogyny is a pyramid.

Yes.

But I wonder if any of this would have helped Eurydice.

Nobody chooses to do this. Nobody thinks it is a good choice to kill an innocent, weaker person, to attack a stranger and rape them and scare them and hurt them. Nobody ever thinks that is a good choice. We could have the death penalty and it wouldn’t make any difference.

Because brutality like this comes from another place.

So much of what humans do are bad choices, because everything we do is filtered through eyes and ears and bodies and minds. The world that exists through these lenses is barely the world that exists. We live in Plato’s cave.

I wonder what this boy’s lenses were. What shadows he saw on the wall.

I wonder if he was loved. I wonder if he was taught how to love. I wonder if he felt like he belonged anywhere. I wonder if he was angry. I wonder if he was fearful. I wonder if he feared himself.

I wonder why he was out, alone, wandering a park, desperate to do something horrific to make him feel powerful.

*****

I decide to walk around the perimeter of the circle, before I find my friend. I can smell the mud of the soccer field underfoot. They haven’t played since last week. We need to cleanse this space, for them. 

People slowly move in and out. I approach the cemetery road, and there are a few lights, marshalls and media vans. There is a tight huddle in the middle, and around it are young people crying and hugging.

I can’t think about policy right now. I can’t think about prevention, intervention, solution. All I can think about is a 22 year old girl, a police tent in the cold light of day, a pile of flowers where her life used to be.

And a stupid, stupid, angry boy, who gave himself up to the police.

*****

It’s 6.30, and the lights come on, slowly warming up. Life returns to the soccer field. People around me come into focus, children start to squawk, dogs bark. Colours begin to glow in scarves and beanies. My phone dings: it’s my friend, she’s not far away.

I trudge over to the tennis club and find her, clutching her bike. We hug, and both burst into tears. We both have daughters. And she has a son, who she worries about as well.

As we stand and chat, a little boy runs up to us, about three or four, curly-haired and giggling. He runs up and plays peek-a-boo, big shiny brown eyes sparkling from behind fingers covering his face before revealing a wide, shiny grin and a giggle that bursts with joy that only toddlers have hold of. He runs back and forth between his mum and us, knowing he’s entertaining us.

Knowing he is loved.

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