By WENDY SQUIRES
The last week or so I have become a woman obsessed, juggling so many feelings I am finding it hard to keep track of which emotional ball belongs in which hand.
You see, I am taking the murder of sex worker Tracy Connelly, which I wrote about in The Age and Mia Freedman so eloquently humanised last week, extremely personally. And I can’t apologise for it. It is just how I feel.
When I become emotionally affected to this level, I like to stop and ask myself what’s really going on. What buttons has this tragedy pushed in me that I am feeling so raw and sensitive and thin skinned?
Part of the answer, I realise, is that I am overwhelmed with the public response to Tracy’s death. It is as if my faith has been restored with the heartfelt reaction Mia and I have received from readers who are too distressed by brutal death.
But here is the real truth to what I think is really affecting me so deeply – I know I could have been Tracy. It wouldn’t have taken much more in my childhood to tip me over the edge and in to an abyss with little chance of escape. And I never forget it, not for a second of a minute of any day. It is so intrinsic to who I am its like it’s a part of my DNA.
I don’t want to go in to too much detail of my childhood other than to say I was raised by an alcoholic father with severe mental health issues after my mother left. I brought myself up while trying to save him at the same time and it was bloody tough. I felt different to other kids and was ashamed of who I was and how I was living. I felt like white trash, a lesser person, and believed everyone around me thought the same.
But somehow I got through and, at 16, left home to become my own legal guardian. I did HSC while living with my musician boyfriend who would regularly pawn his beloved guitar to keep us afloat and get me through sixth form.
His generosity and devoted care for my future was an absolute gift that changed my life and destiny (thanks Bob if you ever read this) and I am forever grateful to have been its recipient.
But there was a time around 18 when I had to make a choice as to which direction my life would go in. I had found a new family and sense of belonging with a group of friends but suddenly drugs and needles had become a harrowing presence.
One night, after watching yet another one of our gang figure “why not” and plunge a needle in their arm I found myself alone. I was the only one holding out, the last begging, “please don’t”.
It was then the peer pressure ramped up. I shouldn’t condemn if I don’t know what it feels like, I was told. And so, terrified I would be ostracised, I found myself with a tourniquet strapped around my arm and a full syringe about to plough in to my vein. Bob tried to stop me but I was scared I would be ostracised if I didn’t join in. I would lose the family I so desperately wanted.
But something, I don’t know what it is, made me say stop. And while you may applaud me and think it was just my good sense showing through, I look at it differently. I see it as another wonderful gift placed in my path and again, I am beyond grateful.
Others, like Tracy, perhaps weren’t so lucky. Maybe they didn’t get the chances I did. Maybe their pain was so deep and so profound that the desensitising anesthesia found at the end of a needle was the only reprieve they got. It was their way of attaining a sense of normal they craved. And I know how strong that pull can be.
I am aware that deep down, many people believe they could never have ended up a Tracy, that it was somehow genetically impossible and that her ilk, heroin addicted sex workers, are from a different caste, an underclass of society perhaps predestined at birth. And while they sympathise with her plight, they can’t truly emphasise.
However, I believe that no one really knows another person’s history and no one can therefore judge. If Tracy’s life seems unrealistic to you then count your blessings every day because you have been given great gifts in life that enable you to feel that way. And not because you somehow deserved those chances and the Tracys of this world didn’t. You are lucky. You have been loved. Someone has been there to pick you up if you fall. Not everyone is so blessed.
Show me a child who deserves to grow up a heroin addicted street sex worker. No one gets to choose their parents. Tracy didn’t grow up wanting to be exchanging sex for money to feed a habit that domino-ed in to a Catch 22 of pain management. No one does.
The day my Age story appeared I got a message from someone pretty famous out of the blue. And it made me cry – in the nicest possible way. It was evident that this person felt as strongly about Tracy’s death as I do, that it has rattled their body and soul too.
I recalled reading a story about this person’s childhood and it all fell in to place. I believe that this person, like me, is aware they could have easily stepped on to a wrong path that has no u-turn. This person knows Tracys, who started life with a clean slate that somehow got sullied by circumstance.
But what their words showed me most of all is that that this person, too, is profoundly grateful for what they have and where they have come from. And their intent is to never forget it.
What this person has gained from early adversity is the same thing as I have –empathy. It is a legacy of life struggles and a reminder to be thankful for good fortune and respectful of those who have lacked it. I see empathy as perhaps my proudest achievement, a blessing, a gift of love that I can hopefully give others in need of one, like I was.