So many battles I've had to fight alone. Betrayed by those I loved the most, they were also the ones I had been fighting for. The weariness of this realisation makes you weak at the knees and yet you must continue to fight or else the duplicity of their motives will win the day. You become hollow inside, not by cancer, but by the fact that something deep and magical and life enhancing has closed down never again to be reignited. You feel lighter as you inch closer to death. All that remains on most days is a shell. This is when you are called upon to become an actor and give 'em what they want. A performance. A great performance because it is so convincing most people think you still function and have risen above the hurt and damage of the shadow people. But then again, your life, or what's left of it, hangs on the thread of your ability to push on through the small talk and darkness of "What if...?" without puking on someone's expensive shoes. So many amongst us are asleep at the wheel and do not understand or care about what is at stake. Love is a distraction. Pain is the only honest constant and it has become your friend. You cannot be hurt anymore, which is disappointing to a lot of women. You cannot be brought down any further, which is crushing to many men. You cannot be bought, because there is nothing you need. You cannot be humiliated anymore, which is pleasing to God. For now all layers of bullshit and make-believe have been ripped away. You are free now. God almighty, free at last! You once had a dream too. But now you have awakened to see the game for what it is. Nothing can scare you now. You are impenetrable. This makes you frightening to those who only operate by spreading fear amongst us. And at the dawn of our demise you are noticeably at peace. And powerful again. (c) Frank Howson 2017 Painting by Frank Howson (c) 2017
The street was the same as I remembered it. And the birds swooped as if to herald my return. So it was true, I hadn’t dreamed it. For a moment I stood and took in the beautiful cacophony of noise that I’d never fully appreciated before in all its ugly glory. The sun came out to shine on cue and its warmth informed me that I had now entered a safety zone for lost boys.
How can you know a place so well and yet feel that you are seeing it for the first time? If this is a dream and I awaken now I will be angry all day. Maybe all days.
I continue moving on further into it until I reach the gate no one ever closes, and the narrow cement path leading to the apartment block steps I once knew so well I could climb them in the dark, and under the influence of too much life. This time there seems to be a lesson learnt in each step and greater effort needed to conceal the weariness of the outsider.
Halfway up I enter the glow from the first storey window that conspires to shine God-like behind the statue of Buddha as if even the universe is welcoming my return.
More steps and more weary remembrances of lessons learned and I am at the front door, knocking in a drum pattern of whimsy and familiarity.
After an eternity of seconds the door is opened and I see your smiling face as I remembered it from a long ago carefree time. Bright, loving and kind. I can now die in my footsteps and not be lost to wander and wonder.
I enter and am surrounded by the comfort of the greatest books and music ever written. Each word and note a friend of mine. And I sit at the empty table. Alone no more. Everything and nothing has changed as I take my place amongst it.
You ask me how I am. But there are no words to convey the miracle of ordained destiny.
For in that sheltered moment, I am home.
(C) Frank Howson 2017
My home felt like a home to me. My mum and dad were there. And frequent visits from Uncle Arthur, Auntie Gladys, Uncle jack, Auntie Dagmar, Uncle Alf, Auntie Daf, Uncle Bill, Auntie Mary, Uncle Barney, Auntie Terri, and Uncle Charlie (who wasn’t really an uncle but was an honourary member of our family), who all added colour and laughter to our home at 51 Fawkner Street, St. Kilda.
From my child’s point of view our house was like Graceland and I was very proud of it. Today, I stand outside that same house and see a place so small and modest it resembles a doll’s house for grown-ups. Amazing that so small a space can house so many memories. To those who wander passed it would probably at best be considered “quaint.” To me it is a museum of my youth and I can still hear the distant echoes of laughter from my family, now all long gone.
My personality was formed in that house by those people. Life was simple and there was no need to be afraid of anything because my mum and dad held all the answers to Life.
It was a nicer world. People trusted each other. When we were having a poor week, Mr. and Mrs. Kilpatrick who owned the corner store would put the cost of groceries down on a piece of paper behind the counter and we’d pay them when we could. In those days to be able to wander up the street and buy an ice cream on the good of your name gave a small kid a lot of pride in who we were.
I learned the meaning of generosity and trust and the value of reputation in those bygone days. Your word was your word and your reward was the warm glow of pride when you were able to settle your meager debts.
From my mother I learned the meaning of kindness and never turning anyone in need away. I would sometimes wake in the morning and toddle down the corridor to find a stranger sleeping on our couch in the living room. When I’d ask my mum who this person was, she’d reply, “Oh that’s Tom, he’s from Hobart and didn’t have anywhere to stay so he’ll be here for a few days until he finds some place of his own.” People did what they could for each other.
From my father I learned that we all battle our own internal demons and that alcohol can sometimes make you say things you don’t mean. Hurt people hurt people. Sometimes in that house a kid got to hear and see things that ruined the dream world of Disneyland and Father Knows Best forever. But I learned forgiveness – knowing that at the heart of it my father didn’t mean what he said. He was not lashing out at us, but at the world. He’d had a much harder childhood than I could imagine and who knows what innermost regrets and sorrows his poor heart held and had to deal with every day. All I know is that he was the nicest man in the world up to 10 drinks. And that’s the man I choose to remember.
From my elder sisters I learned that envy can drive people to be cruel and mean-hearted and after many attempts over the years to forgive their actions towards me I had to cut them out of my life for good.
We were the last house in our street to get a television set and in the end we only got one by an Act of God. One day a delivery man from Steele’s dropped one off to us by mistake. Steele’s department store only realized their mistake two years later and dispatched another delivery man to pick it up. But by then we were seriously addicted to the weekly TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene, and there was no way my dad was giving it back. When the delivery man sensed that my dad was willing to fight to the death to protect his family’s entertainment, the man from Steele’s swiftly departed and our ownership of the small mahogany television set was never contested again. My dad was a hero that day.
Before God granted us a television set, a boy had to invent his own entertainment. So each day after school, I’d rush home, change out of my school clothes, get dressed, grab a football and stroll out onto Fawkner Street and start bouncing it up and down on the pavement. It didn’t take long before boys from other houses would hear the familiar sound and start piling out onto the street for a kick to kick football match until night fell and we were all called home for dinner.
I used to try and take skyscraper marks, sometimes climbing up onto the backs of my opponents, like my football idol Big Bill Stephenson of St.Kilda. My mum and dad had taken me to every St.Kilda match from the time I was a baby in their arms, and as a young boy I had marveled at Big Bill’s genius at full forward. Then, one day when the Saints played Essendon, Big Bill had climbed into the stratosphere for a mark and came down landing badly and ruptured his knee. When he collapsed to the ground, he uttered the words, “I’m buggered” to which his opponent Don McKenzie replied, “Thank Christ for that!” So far that year Bill Stephenson had kicked 20 goals in just three and a half games and at that rate would’ve scored 102 goals for the year at a time when the leading full forwards averaged 54. He never played again. To me, it was a tragedy on the scale of the JFK assassination.
It’s funny the things that mean so much to us along the way and shape us as human beings. I still sometimes get teary eyed when I recall the long forgotten football hero Big Bill Stephenson. He passed away in 2010 with hardly a mention in the newspapers. But it meant something deep and profound to me. From Big Bill Stephenson I learned that no matter how high you soar, there is a still a price to be paid.
When I was born my mother wanted to name me Peter. My sisters wanted to name me Michael. And my Irish grandmother demanded I be called Frank. Guess who won out. A short time later we got a dog and he became Peter. Oh my, how I loved that dog. My first best friend. My confidante who never snitched on me if I did something wrong; who continued to smile at me even when I disappointed him and proved I was only human. From Peter, my rock, I learned loyalty.
One day I came home from school to be told the tragic news that Peter had run away from home. What? My best friend had run out on me? Had abandoned me for greener pastures? How could this be? It didn’t make sense. I grieved for many years over this and never got another dog. Perhaps deep down I still grieve in my schoolboy heart. Not that long before my mum passed away she told me the true story. Peter had not run away. The neighbor across the road had thrown chicken bones over our fence thinking the dog would like them. But Peter got one caught in his throat and choked to death. My mum invented the story that the rest of the family stuck by thinking it would be less traumatic for me if I thought he’d run away. I wonder if they still felt that when every evening after school I’d stand at the front gate looking up and down each end of the street for my best friend to come home. To me. It has probably instilled in me abandonment issues I carry to this day. If you love something too much, God takes it away.
Anyway, that was my first home. Sometimes I stand outside it today and fantasize that one day I’ll knock on the door and offer the people who live there a huge sum of money to give it back to me. I need somewhere to house these memories and am weary of carrying them for so long from one place to another.
And when I have it back, there’ll always be the kettle on for a visitor, a spare couch for someone in need, and if you have a dog with you, a big hug as I close my eyes and imagine Peter has come home.
(c) Frank Howson 2017
Well you're free now Of this world and its pain When I heard the news I went walking in the rain A thousand unanswered questions That'll never make any sense "Guilty" cried the moon The stars had no defense I'll never get used to you Not being around But you never belonged here You were an angel chained to the ground Well adios Until we meet again Some are born a hawk But you were caring like a wren And no one can point a finger And say that you weren't a friend Farewell from this life The next will have no end I'll hear you in the morning When the birds start to sing I'll feel you at sunset And at the heart of everything In the smile of a child In every mother's eyes And I'll beg your forgiveness I'm no good at goodbyes I'll never get used to you Not being around But you never belonged here You were an angel chained to the ground (c) Frank Howson 2017 Photograph by Maurice Rinaldi
The street beneath my feet Has never let me down Unlike the people Who think they own this town I tried my luck But the cards were cut When I complained I was told to shut up Goodbye black, hello blue What happens next depends on you I miss the world I thought I knew Goodbye black, hello blue I gave myself to you But then you lost your nerve I was your army Always ready to serve You cut me off And you burned my flag I surrender In peace I pack my bag Goodbye black, hello blue I'll spend my life forgetting you I'll miss the dreams that won't come true Goodbye black, hello blue So I'll be off Until who knows when I'll see you in the stars Until the broken heal again Goodbye black, hello blue What happens now we can't undo I'll miss the love I never knew Goodbye black, hello blue (c) Frank Howson 2017 Title suggested by Chris Thomas.
Stop arguing with people who don't want to know. Look at the small print. Listen to your heart. Stop yearning for what is gone. Look out for children. Listen to what is not said in a conversation. Stop worrying about tomorrow, you may not be here. Look into someone's eyes to view their soul. Listen to the silence just before you drift off to sleep. Stop pushing for things you don't really need. Look and learn. There's a lesson in everything. Listen to your inner voice. If something doesn't feel right, it isn't. Stop the wars fought for nothing. Look after yourself. Listen to the warm. (c) Frank Howson 2017 photography by Vanessa Allan.
There is a toll for every virtue There is a tax for hearts like yours You didn't deserve your crazy childhood Or the loss of the brother you loved Cut down by animals in the night Those are scars that don't wash away No matter how many tears you cry When I'll think of you I'll see your smile And think of the battles you fought to be Let down by so many, we're only human, baby And both had rocky roads to bear You tried so hard to stand beside me You tried so hard to hold me close But you had too many ghosts to haunt you And they all got in our path In those hours after midnight When I knew I couldn't stay We were both two orphans We used to laugh and say But you got away, baby But why did it have to be this way? You were always such a loyal friend And you loved me to a fault Looking back you may've believed in me more than anyone And loved me more than I deserved But why did you have to prove your point like this? Gone, and taking all the laughter Gone, and taking all the kindness Gone, and taking all tomorrows And what may've been for you and yours The trouble with you was you cared for everyone Like a child in search of her own But too many things cluttered our space And we lost ourselves Too many things leave us alone Perhaps you got carried away by a foolish idea That all romantics exit like this But did you think of the pain you leave us? Did you want us to hurt so we'd understand yours? Too many questions without answers Just like those nights we'd argue until dawn I tried so hard to help you To make sense of what you'd been through But you couldn't understand me Your hurt was too deep to be cured Now every evening at sunset I'll look at that blazing sun and think of you It's going to take a lot to forgive The hurt you have bestowed us with So many took advantage So many manipulated behind the scenes They didn't realize how fragile you were Or perhaps they did And if so, they have blood on their hands I'll remember you pretty as a picture And a smile that'd light up a room With the excited joy of a child And those mad conversations that made no sense That ended in laughter or tears If you wanted part of my heart you have it But this was no way to take it It could've been yours for free (c) Frank Howson 2017