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April 5, 2014 / Amy Bradney-George

Listening

Last weeken5514545438_0503c1ef03_bd I went to meet a friend at Abbotsford Convent, where she was doing an acting workshop. I got there really early and decided to wander around the place, taking in the people having late lunches at the cafes, a happy wedding party and a very interesting photo exhibition that was partly morbid and partly fantastical.

I think I was fairly open to going with the flow and filling the time however I was meant to, and maybe that’s why what happened next was so strange and interesting to me.

I was in the bathroom (which has all sorts of inspired messages scrawled on it, like “I will love you no matter who you are” alongside other statements like “go vegan”), washing my hands next to a woman in her 30s and a little girl. The girl’s mum was waiting for her at the door, but she was there trying to reach the taps.

“Do you want me to help?” I asked the little girl. She shyly nodded and I turned on the tap as her mum came over to hurry her along. The woman next to me glanced towards us and started shaking her head.

“Well that may be the case but I just don think it’s right,” she said. “Just because a person goes to parties and takes some drugs in their 20s, doesn’t mean they are always going to be that person.”

At first I thought she was continuing a previous conversation with the mum, as if they knew each other, but as she kept talking I realised that wasn’t the case. I wondered if she was talking to me, or to herself? Or maybe one of the acting students that trains at the convent on weekends. But for some reason I made the decision to listen.

As she kept talking she revealed that she was “that person” who had gone out partying and taking drugs. She told me that she wasn’t accepted by her family or by anyone else, that her mum and stepdad had rejected her and that “everyone else can go and do all of those things and make mistakes and then be accepted, but I’m not”.

At some point I noticed the mother and daughter left and several more people came and went, giving the woman a wide berth, and looking at her like she was a crazy person. I stood there and listened.

She told me about how she felt strong and knew who she was but that everyone else “tries to make me out as someone I’m not”. She felt like she’d been made a victim and was all alone in the world. She said single people she knew hated her because of her independence and people in couples saw her as a threat to their relationships. I could see she was really frustrated by the assumption that she would interfere in other peoples relationships, and she told me that she had “more integrity than that”.

“I could have that,” she said. “I could go out and be in some relationship with a guy I don’t really love. I could be married with kids but I don’t want to do that if it doesn’t feel right.”

At this point I felt like I was in the middle of a scene from some kind of indie film with a message. What was I supposed to do? Drawing on my training as an actor, I decided to follow my impulses, which were currently telling me to stand there and listen. It was almost like doing a Meisner exercise, almost like repetition.

But my sense of being in a heightened moment, in a scene from a movie or a play, grew from there. Here I was, listening to a stranger open up about her struggle to find acceptance, choosing her integrity over “settling in some compromised relationship”, in a bathroom at an iconic location in Melbourne. Outside the bathroom – as if on cue – a man suddenly started belting out “I Will Always Love You”.

I thought it was the perfect soundtrack to what she was saying: a message that we can all find love. She wasn’t so impressed, struggling to keep up the rhythm of her story and eventually turning and yelling at him to shut up.

I don’t remember if he did go quiet (but I do remember hearing him about an hour later when I left the convent). I was listening to her again. I felt like I needed to listen, like maybe no one had really listened to her in a long time. So she told me how she thought jealousy had got in the way of her relationships with people. She said her mum was jealous of her and that her friends parents had been jealous of her when she was growing up.

She said she was undermined by her two housemates (“who have mums that come and look after them”) because they were jealous. She said her life would be different if her mum had been there for her. And I thought: “maybe seeing the mum and little girl earlier is what triggered this pseudo-soliloquy?”

Then she told me her mum accused her of having mental health issues, and assumed that it was because of the partying and the drugs. She said it was hypocritical, because her mum had once lied about having bipolar disorder as an excuse for her behaviour.

“I knew it wasn’t true,” she said. “She used it as an excuse to raise her voice and yell at me like I’m yelling at you.”

She softened when she acknowledged her raised voice, like it was a beat change. Her voice was sadder as she told me that if she ever had kids she would “raise them better than I was raised”.

“And I’m sorry for telling you all of this but I just feel like it’s really unfair that other people can do things and be accepted and I’m left out.”

“It’s okay,” I told her. “You needed to be heard.”

“Yeah, it’s just really unfair,” she said.

“I know.”

“What’s your name?” She asked me. We exchanged names and she apologised again.

“You don’t have to apologise at all,” I said. Then she thanked me and left.

Image credit: michaelgreenhill

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Donald Kinsey / May 18 2014 11:58 am

    Gratitude for your time in making the video…

    • Amy Bradney-George / May 18 2014 3:22 pm

      Hi Donald, thanks for leaving a comment…I’m not sure what video you mean?

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