‘You know you’re the lowest class in society?’ my friend said to me.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, you’re a female for a start,’ he shifted, ‘and the male is dominant.'
‘And you’re a single mum. That puts you even lower.’ He chopped his hand through the air and placed the other hand below it to emphasise. ‘Plus your uneducated and poor’ he added, chop chop chop.
‘Not that uneducated,’ I replied sitting down. ‘I have certificates you know, and I've done five subjects of a degree.’
‘Of a degree you never completed’, he raised his eyebrows. ‘So now you have a debt too. ‘And you rent’ he continued, looking around, ‘and look where you live? The poorest in society live here.’
I looked around me at the small rented house with its uncut grass and sighed. ‘I never knew.’
‘Don’t worry’ he shrugged, eating a sandwich. ‘Here,’ he offered ‘want a bite?’
It had never occurred to me that I was oppressed, and now that I knew about it, I felt worse. Just like when I was nineteen and found out I was short.
‘You’re so short,’ said a friend.
‘I am?’ I could tell by the tone of her voice it wasn't a compliment. I looked across and saw her boyfriend ‘leave her alone,’ he said, ‘I like women that size.’
She took up all the room as she passed.
So now I’m not only the lowest class in society, I’m also short.
I met Andreas before the girls were teenagers and he liked me just as I was.
‘You don’t want me taller?’ I asked, ‘or skinnier or prettier?’
‘I like you just as you are’ he said. My very own Mr. Darcy. So we got married and bought a middle class house in a middle class suburb and I looked around for a low paying job that would support my expectations.
‘Why don’t you go to university?’ my husband asked. ‘your always telling me you want to be a writer, and you got a pile of rejection slips from publishers, so why don’t you go?’ he handed me a form.
My breathe tightened. Didn't he know? It wasn't the form; I've filled out a million of those from school and centrelink. It was the university. I would be betraying a long line of ancestors if I rose above my class. The Germans have a saying ‘grossen vans nicht’ (too big for your boots) and my mum often said ‘who do you think you are, the prima donna?’ reminding me to back down and quieten my voice.
‘I thought you were going to university?' My husband asked.
‘Oh,’ I said, waving my hand. ‘I deferred, gosh, I have so much to do this year, I’ll go next year.’
The following year he asked again. ‘I thought you wanted to be a writer?’
The Prima Donna scoffed, ‘there is no way’ she said.
So I wrote in secret. I got up at 5am and wrote for two hours before the girls got up at 7 and we did the school run. I started work at 9. I wrote for one year and completed my 80,000 word novel. It was full of telling the tale and redundancies but I didn't know that-I was uneducated. I had a book I would never show and no one would read. ‘What if I found out I was no good?’
I enrolled again at uni. I promised myself that if they were mean, laughed at me and said I couldn't write, I could go home.
I got in the car and drove. I hoped to miss the turn off, it was a lovely day for the beach.
I got to the uni and parked.
I walked to the lecture room I hoped no-one would recognise that I didn't belong. I sat at the back.
The lights dimmed, Ross and Gary switched on the projector.
They started talking about a book I’d never heard of. They made jokes.
My breathing slowed. There was a pretty book jacket on the screen. I think I’m supposed to have read that? I thought.
‘You get it from the course outline’ a student in tutorial told me.
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘You’ll find it on blackboard.’
‘Where’s the blackboard?’
Ross laughed ‘ I've forgotten what its like to be a first year student’ he said.
He had no idea my destiny hung on his opinion. If he says I’m no good, I leave. I approached each lecture with a tightness that messed up my understanding, and cried each week from having no understanding. Maybe I should quit? ‘Perhaps you are stupid?’ Prima Donna said as she gazed out the window.
‘Get a mentor’ said the girl who sat next to me.
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘Someone to help.’
So Julie came along and showed me how to navigate a course. And Ross told me he liked my story. He forgave my punctuation and style to give me a distinction. I cried. The world got brighter. I came back the next semester.
Naomi headed the next class. She was everything I’m not. Tall, beautiful, smart, educated with a great sense of fashion.
She hates me, I thought, finding a seat in my old jeans and t-shirt. Why can’t I wear a dress to uni? And put a flower in my hair? The Prima Donna laughed, ‘that would be ridiculous,’ she said.
Naomi smiled and offered to help. Over time I cracked my shell and let her in.
‘But what does it mean?’ she asked me.
‘I dunno?’ I shrugged. ‘why does it always have to mean something? Why can’t the little dog be there because he was there?’
I could see the frustration in her eyebrows, but I just didn't get it.
It’s not an easy transition to change a familial pattern. Each semester I am afraid I might get ‘caught’ being somewhere I don’t belong. Each semester I am afraid to speak in-case I say something that gives me away. But each semester I learn something amazing.
It took me three years to complete eight subjects.
This year I've decided to belong. I will speak. I will participate. I will stand in the light and be judged. I am allowed to be here, no matter how my ancestors groan. I can see the Prima Donna shining her shoes. She shrugs at me, ‘maybe you’d look good in a dress?’ she says.
‘Get bigger boots’ my best friend told me.
I got bigger boots and asked a question in class. No one laughed. No one is even looking, they are immersed in themselves.
‘So what do you think?’ I ask as I pull up some grass on my father’s grave. ‘Do you still love me?’
My father rolls over and smiles. ‘Always’ he answers. ‘It was never meant to be that you stooped to our ceiling, but I didn't know that until I left.’
He lifted the ceiling with his hand and it dissolved into the ether. ‘See how easy it is?’
I smiled, ‘Thanks.’
‘You’re welcome.’ Then as an afterthought he reminded me that class was a construct created by patriarchal societies and I didn't have to buy into it.
‘Wow dad,’ I said, ‘you’re so educated now.’
‘I know’ he winked. ‘But don’t tell anyone.’
GreetI am a yoga teacher, author and artist.
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