Somebody’s Daughters.

Lately the news has been breaking my heart, my female heart.

It started with the rape and murder of Somebody’s Daughter in Melbourne. She worked for the ABC, so it received even more coverage than most; a good thing, as at the time, the perpetrator was still at large. The story was shocking and elicited widespread workplace and café conversations. So sad, Somebody’s Daughter out relaxing with friends, having a drink, going home to her husband, and then – nothing. Nothing, because she was stalked, targeted and preyed upon, murdered, hidden, lost. So sad.
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Yet the conversations I heard were often about Somebody’s Daughter being out on her own, walking home on her own, how “silly she was”, how “she might have been drunk”. Wait, wait – what? Many musings only barely stopped short of saying she was asking for it. Listening to these conversations I could have, and could still, scream.

It was later revealed in the media that the stalker, her attacker, was well-known to Police, had been charged many times with brutal assault and was out on parole when he raped and killed Somebody’s Daughter. He was a large, broad-shouldered, physically strong hunter of women with a known violent streak. Because of this, her husband now fights for more transparency and stronger controls around parole conditions for known offenders. The loss of Somebody’s Daughter will hopefully yield a meaningful legacy, a positive change.

But not soon enough for Somebody’s Mother who was killed in April this year. She was bashed to death with a cricket bat by a man who was on parole for violent rape. He had almost 100 prior convictions and has since pleaded guilty, and been charged with, murder. Unfortunately this doesn’t help the woman’s 4-year-old son, who found her body. As a mother of a 4-year-old myself, I find it overwhelmingly sad to contemplate what effect that will have on that little boy as he grows up.
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In July, another young Somebody’s Daughter was walking home after celebrating the birth of her then-two month old child. She had been in the city with friends and after being approached by, and refusing the attention of a lone man walking the same street, she was dragged into a laneway, punched, kicked and raped. It was a particularly brutal attack; one of the gashes on her face was so deep it required plastic surgery. She would likely be dead if not for neighbours running out of their homes upon hearing her desperate screams.

Then there was the kidnapping, ongoing assault, rape and brutalisation of three Somebody’s Daughters by a man, a school bus driver, over a period of years. These (now) women deserve a bloody medal, as does the (literal) man-on-the-street who “did something” upon hearing a plea for help from inside the man’s house. I have watched subsequent courtroom vision and listened in shock to the man’s denial of guilt, his words on a badly done by youth and an addict-like urge to harm, disrespect and demoralise. Whether real or play-acted self-delusion, it was a slap in the face to hear this soulless man attempt transferral of blame.

I thought about another man, the father of a daughter he kept as prisoner in his cellar for 24 years, who he sexually abused and who bore him seven children. With forethought and careful planning, he kept his Daughter and three of their children in the cellar for their entire lives whilst raising another three ‘upstairs’ in the house, as he and his wife’s own family. The seventh child had died shortly after birth and the man disposed of the body himself by burning it in a boiler. He hurt not just his Daughter, but his own children who now have an extraordinary challenge adjusting to life in the light of day.

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And finally, this: in Delhi last December, Somebody’s Daughter, 23, and her male friend boarded a bus. Not long after they had sat down a group of 6 men started harassing the pair, asking the friend what he was going to do to Somebody’s Daughter when he got home. The friend protested and the 6 other men hit him on the head with an iron rod. To try to save her friend, Somebody’s Daughter challenged the men. In response, the men gang-raped the girl and beat her with the same iron rod for 45 minutes. Then they threw Somebody’s Daughter and her friend out of the bus. In hospital they discovered the true extent of Somebody’s Daughter’s injuries; besides being raped and bashed, the iron rod had been inserted into Somebody’s Daughter and removed with such force it dragged her intestines with it.

On this last story – perhaps I should have warned you what you were going to read. It’s horrifying and beyond belief except that it actually DID happen to Somebody’s Daughter, on a bus, with her friend, at only 9pm at night. I’m getting upset again. It breaks my female heart.

And so I ask this: what is happening? When did all the Somebody’s Daughters become so targeted, so expendable, so devalued and worthless? And how did such violent, predatory, brutal behaviour become an almost-everyday news item? And why are we not making a bigger fuss about it all? There are pockets of action, stories of ill-feeling and a mood of sadness – but what are we actually doing? I’m no better than anyone else really, for here I am, only writing and lamenting. It is not enough.

There is a terrible and tragic thing happening, bigger than anything else and worse because its far-reaching consequences go beyond the violent and murderous madness of the stories above. It is about humanity. Within our own species, in our own kind, our own families – the stronger preying on the weaker, with intent to harm. I’m not an expert biologist, but truly – does any other species exhibit such destructive behaviour? And even if there was – why would we want to emulate it? Aren’t we supposed to be a higher-order, more aware, more morally conscious, more ethically driven species than any other? Aren’t we?
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I hate the fact that I am more frightened now than ever before. I am Somebody’s Daughter with my own gorgeous girl, who I want to have all the experiences life can bring without fear of being stalked, preyed upon or attacked because she went out with friends, or walked home, or rode a bus. There are no boundaries for this fear; it consumes me when I watch the news, when I’m walking alone in a dark car park, when I watch my daughter at a playground. I feel less empowered than ever before, less able to make something change and I’m sure this is part of it, this overwhelming fear. I’m ashamed to feel this way because I’m pretty sure it’s what predators and stalkers would want, my inaction, my horrifying and crippling fear.

So today, no answers, only these thoughts:

I quietly hope that talking about my fear for all the Somebody’s Daughters will affect a small change somewhere in the big, wide internet world. I wonder about the over-arching themes in these stories of predation and violence of men against women. Perhaps this is where we can start, with teaching our children respect for themselves and for others – because all those horrific acts described above have also been carried out by Somebody’s Sons.

I can’t think of anywhere else better to start than that.

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Lavender and Aliens

When I first met her she was only a few weeks old. So small and gorgeous, eating and sleeping her way through the days. She cried and cried, sniffled and sighed her way into my heart. White with tan spots, she was a tiny Jack Russell, my first dog.

I’d had dogs drift in and out of my life as a child; we lived opposite a bush reserve which seemed to be a regular dumping ground for people’s refuse and unwanted animals, so I’d had a few puppy-pets in my primary school years. Each stayed for just days at a time before we ultimately delivered them into an uncertain future at the local RSPCA. I always tried to keep them, the undesired and unloved – their status endeared them to me even more. But it was not to be, and I promised myself I’d have the much-longed-for and four-legged friend as soon as I was grown-up and out on my own.
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So here we were. My new gorgeous girl’s name was Lavender, the first of a run of formal names given to her by the breeder, written hurriedly on the top of her vaccination card. She didn’t seem like a ‘Lavender’ to me – she was all spitfire and boisterousness, leaping and pawing her way through our yard. She was demanding; her need for attention was boundless and her perseverance in seeking the same was impressive. She would literally cry and wail for hours and hours, with no respite, whilst simultaneously chewing her way through the base of the laundry door. She was strong-willed and fierce. She was a pocket-rocket-sized chick with attitude. I thought long and hard about her name and decided on Ripley – not for the ‘believe or not’ connotation, but after Ellen Ripley, the lead female character in the movie ‘Alien’. They shared so many characteristics, fortitude, guts and determination, it seemed appropriate.

And so Ripley continued to exasperate and delight us in equal measure. In retrospect, having a Jack Russell as my first dog probably wasn’t the smartest move – I had no idea how to train any dog, let alone a breed that needed strong direction. Jack Russells are just too damn smart and I was ill-prepared for the pre-emptive and complex nature of their thought process. Ripley easily assumed the title of ‘pack leader’ and lead us a merry dance for several years.
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There was the time my grandmother ‘baby-sat’ Ripley at her house. Ripley was very young, still had puppy-teeth, and managed to corral my grandmother into the corner of her kitchen, nipping her heels whenever she tried to escape. She was still there when I returned a few hours later. Then there were the numerous times Ripley tried to escape – any gate, open for a millisecond, was an opportunity to flee. Her best effort was the afternoon before my 30th birthday party. She bolted through legs, out the gate, onto the road and straight under a moving car; I noted the tyre marks on her tummy as she was whisked away to the vet. I was so distraught, I wanted to cancel everything and yet – she was absolutely fine, back to engineering escape tactics within a week. And then there were the times when she simply needed to burn a little energy. She’d tuck her tail neatly under her bottom, pull her head in low-line with her back and shoot off like a bullet, lapping the yard. She’d run and leap into nothingness, off retaining walls and over hedges. One day, one overly-eager leap too far snapped her cruciate ligament – a footballer’s injury. The operation cost in the thousands; she chewed her stitches out twice.
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Things changed for Ripley when we acquired dog number 2 – beautiful, gentle Jasper. He was more than twice her size and three times her weight. He was a rescued dog from the RSPCA. He developed pneumonia 3 days after we brought him home, and so disappeared again for 2 weeks back to the veterinary hospital. Ripley clearly thought she’d won; she never liked sharing and now believed she had somehow sent this new dog packing. She seemed….satisfied. Not so. Jasper returned, and with a case of nose-severely-out-of-joint, Ripley initiated a series of arguments, nasty ones. For a while we thought we couldn’t keep Jasper. Then, eventually, things were resolved when Jasper assumed his role as bottom of the heap, the last in the pack. Poor Jasper – such a kindly old soul, he was never a match for Ripley’s mischievous maneuverings. And so, finally, our dogs settled into life together.
Beautiful puppies
I remember being (unnecessarily) worried about Ripley’s reaction to our expanding family. One New Year’s Eve, only just pregnant and still nursing the secret, I spent the night on our back deck with friends and family. I was tired – Ripley sensed my lethargy and jumped onto my lap for gentle pats and rubs. She nudged my belly more than once and eventually fell asleep curled into my warmth. I swear she was making the most of the now-dwindling opportunities for some alone time with me.

Life rolled on, and so we hit 2013. Both Ripley and Jasper were 15, turning 16. Incredibly old and happily ensconced in sunshine-y days of overstuffed cushions and soft brushes. Our dogs had lost the chase, and so now companionably shared water bowls and grassy lawn with pigeons and doves. Life became slower – filled with afternoon naps and sleepy tail-wags.
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Which brings me to now. My best mate Ripley, my little terrorist, has gone. We had to make the terrible decision to put her down. She was so mightily old, and lost her dignity one morning in such a mess that her milky eyes bade me turn away. Her back legs lay loose and unwilling to move. I tearfully rang the vet and said “it’s time”. I held her face and stroked her head as she went. It was heartbreaking.

That was Saturday. The next day, Sunday, was a day of celebration. My grandmother, the one so richly rounded-up by my little Jack Russell, was turning 90. Quite a milestone. She still lives on her own, shops for herself and walks every morning to get the newspaper. She’s funny and smart and can source a sarcastic comment when needed. Our relatives were coming from north and south the be part of the afternoon. It was a lovely few hours of shared memories, champagne and laughter. I let myself enjoy the event and tried not to think about Ripley.
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Then my grandmother began opening her presents. I was assigned the role of scribe, writing down the gifts on the corresponding card so my grandmother would now who-to-thank-for-what. Our gift was a photo book, around 150 pages of images of my grandmother from birth to now, and with family and with friends. I’d included 2 photos, one of each of our dogs. The caption under Ripley read “Moira’s nemesis”, a nod to the ongoing love/hate relationship they shared. It made me smile to think that even the day after she died, Ripley was still being remembered in all her rambunctious and domineering glory.

And so it came to be that within the space of 2 days I celebrated one long life and began grieving the end of another. Beginnings and endings. Life, overwhelming.

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Remembered always and so very missed.
Ripley Faulkner.
1997 – 2013.

Thankful.

This week the universe decided to remind me of what I have, and be bloody thankful for it. It was a week of surprising and sad developments, in large unpredictability. Here’s what I took away from life’s casualty room.

Death is a strange thing.
When a life ends, we grieve the loss ceremoniously. We gather with people who we might not ordinarily see, save for such ‘events’. We spend time talking with friends who we’ve not caught up with in a while. Death brings people and families together. Funny, then, that it also often creates the tensions that tear them apart. And there is something heart-breakingly sad about watching families deal with a loved one’s death.
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Relationships are strange things.
They are the source of our greatest joy and our worst heartache. And whilst love is built on trust, shared desires, hopes, beliefs and understandings between two people – the fact of the matter is that people change. It’s the nature of things. Relationships that last are the ones that embrace growth and change together. It is overwhelmingly sad when a relationship ends because that didn’t happen.
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Grief is a process.
It can be a death; it can be a relationship. Either way, the grief that follows is a process that can’t be avoided. It’s amazing to me that more time isn’t spent on arming people to deal with grief, as it’s inevitable that we all face it at sometime in our lives. Grief has recognisable stages, and learning this helped me greatly when I waded through its murk a few years ago. Sometimes long, sometime short, but always – hard.
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Three year olds make everything better.
After a few days of watching friends worlds turn upside down, witnessing their pain and feeling quite helpless…there’s this: my daughter, lying on her tummy on the floor, singing her own songs, writing a letter to Santa because she wants to “make sure he knows I love him”. Her voice is melodic and tuneful, her feet swaying in the air, her letter a zig-zag of lines. She’s so happy. Watching her makes me happy too. I catch my partner’s eye and we share the moment with small smiles. Like everything in this life, she will change and grow, and it is my fondest wish to see it all and be part of it – just as I am right at that moment.
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Suddenly I realise exactly what I have, how lucky I am to have it – and I am bloody thankful for it.