Introducing Mamamia Live – a frank conversation between two of Australia’s most outspoken women
Mia talks to Rosie about her best-selling new memoir The Anti Cool Girl and of course, The Bachelor. It will be as raw and moving as it is hilarious and you can meet Rosie in person afterwards as she signs copies of her book (which will also be available to buy if you haven’t got one yet!).
Catch them at the Intercontinental Sydney Double Bay on Monday 14th September at 6pm. Grab your tickets here.
This is an edited extract of Rosie Waterland’s debut book, The Anti-Cool Girl.
I started making ‘Rosie’s Chicken Soup’ (patented, so hands off) not long after my dad died. It’s a complex culinary masterpiece I developed for the nights when nobody would come home, and I realised if I wanted dinner I’d have to figure out this whole ‘cooking’ thing for myself.
In a trend that would follow me into adulthood, I kept things simple. The recipe is as follows: boil water in saucepan. Put pasta into saucepan (any pasta will do; I like spirals, but it’s up to you). Put powdered chicken stock into water (no specific amount, but if the water gets gluggy, you’ve gone too far). Wait for pasta to cook. Pour entire contents of saucepan into bowl. Eat.
It was basically my more sophisticated take on two-minute noodles, which although lovely as a treat, I didn’t think were a dignified enough choice for dinner (oh, how times have changed). Rosie’s Chicken Soup would be the start of my lifelong journey with preparing food, which now, along with adding water to things, also includes placing various products in the microwave.
But back then, I was still just an eight-year-old cooking novice, waiting for an adult to come home and make me a goddamn steak.
Mum had pretty much lost her mind after Dad died. Although, given we’d already been in and out of rehab numerous times, it could be argued that she was losing it well before he sat in that yellow chair and never woke up. Her bipolar was, at the very least, a rubber band that had been stretched to its limit for a while, and Dad dying was the thing that finally made it snap. Even though she had married Joe the Removalist, had a new baby and we were all living in a fancy private rental in West Ryde, Dad’s death broke her.
She started going to the fridge to fill up her glass from a chilled box of wine more and more often. Then the wine in the fridge must have run out, because soon she started leaving the house to fill her glass. And she must have had trouble finding wine elsewhere, because some nights she’d be out looking for so long that we’d wake up in the morning and she still wouldn’t be home.
Then the fights began. Fight after fight after fight after fight. She and Joe the Removalist would scream at each other for hours, each getting progressively drunker as time went on. It could be fascinating to watch, actually, as there really is nothing more bizarre than two inebriated people trying to have a coherent and measured argument (especially when they both refuse to put down their respective beverages). Drunk people arguing have no concept of proper debate etiquette, so things like voice volume and spatial awareness are never guaranteed.
This can sometimes make things exciting, like when I was once on a train in my early twenties and two lesbian junkies were having an epic lovers’ quarrel in the seat behind me. From what I could gather, one of the ladies had found a series of messages on the other’s phone – sexy messages. And this particular lady had not been the one to send those messages, so a very interesting debate about the rules of monogamy ensued, in which much slurred speech and tears were thrown about the carriage. I thought about adjudicating, but for the most part they seemed to be handling the discussion in a civilised, if not sleepy, manner.
Then, in an instant, things turned physical. One second I was listening to the cheater explain that she had been drunk when she ‘licked that bitch’s cunt’, and the next, there were two lesbian junkies wrestling on top of me, screaming about which cunts are allowed to be licked and which ones aren’t when you’re in a committed relationship (I think ‘Only mine, you bitch’ ended up being the general consensus).
The fight eventually rolled off me and onto the opposite chair (but not before squashing the cake I had with me – we still ate it later, just sort of cutting around the bum imprints), and then things started to quieten down again. Voices were lowered. Tears were shed. Promises about cunt exclusivity were made. By the time I got off that train, I really felt like I had been on an epic journey of romance with those ladies. Whether they were drunk or high, or both (I suspect both), they managed to cover more spectrums on the emotional scale in twenty minutes than I think the average uptight adult would reach in their entire lifetime. It really was an impressive thing to behold.
But when it’s your parents (or at least, your mum and your stepdad), and it’s been going on for months, it’s not so much exciting as it is exasperating. Watching two people who are meant to be taking care of you trying to explain why they hate each other after having had eleven drinks each … well, it tends to make it difficult to concentrate on the TV.
A few months after Dad died, it became obvious that things with Joe the Removalist were falling apart. I may not have hit double digits yet, but I had watched enough Ricki Lake to have a pretty good understanding of when a marriage was over. And this marriage, the one that had seen us escape Smurf Village and head to a fancy private rental, was teetering on the drunken edge. But what really clinched it, what really put an end to our brief happy family and launched the beginning of Rosie’s Chicken Soup, was the night Mum got her hands on a butcher’s knife.
It was late. Tayla, just a year old, was asleep in her room. Rhiannon and I, in the trusty bunk beds that frustratingly stopped me from masturbating at will, were meant to be asleep also, but the screaming had been going on for hours, and it did not sound like there would be an end to it soon. On top of that, when Joe the Removalist reached a certain level of drunk, he would start to play old Elvis records at a ridiculous volume. So not only would you be trying to sleep through slurred drunken insults, you’d have to contend with the accompanying soundtrack of ‘Love Me Tender’. It’s an odd audio combination, and not one I would recommend right before bed.
To Rhiannon and me, it was frustrating more than anything else. When you know exactly how a night is going to pan out (lots of fighting, one or both of them leaving, making ourselves breakfast in the morning, waiting for someone to come home), it gets to the point where you just want it to hurry up and happen already so you can get some sleep. We get it: he’s an idiot and you regret ever marrying him. She’s a whore and you wish you’d never met. Curse the El Rancho (and its irresistible romantic lighting!) etc etc etc.
As I lay on the top bunk, I imagined storming out to the living room and finishing the argument for them. ‘Mum!’ I would say, Ninja Turtle pyjamas doing nothing to assert my authority. ‘Joe thinks you’re a whore, and would like you to kindly get out of his face so he can listen to Elvis in peace. Joe: Mum hates you and wishes you were dead. She regrets the day she ever met you and thinks your Maseur sandals are ugly. Are we in agreement?’
They would look at me, shocked, but no doubt impressed by my ability to break down all the problems in their marriage so accurately and succinctly.
‘Good. Now kindly sign here so we can finalise this divorce and Rhiannon, Tayla and I can get some damn sleep.’
I would then march back to bed, legal documents in hand (I’m sure I would figure out what to do with them later), and leave Mum and Joe the Removalist embarrassed that they needed an eight-year-old girl to tell them what should have been glaringly obvious from the moment Elvis first started playing at full blast: the marriage was over.
But that night, I didn’t have time to go ahead with my conflict resolution fantasy. Before I had begun to even contemplate whether I would actually do it, I heard Joe scream. A terrified scream. Then I heard Mum laugh, and both of them started running towards our room.
I hung my head over the side of the top bunk and looked down at Rhiannon. Something bad was about to happen. Joe crashed through the door of our room, turned the main light on and closed the door behind him. Then he put his body up against the door and started screaming at us. ‘Move the bed!’ he was saying. ‘Help me!’
Rhiannon and I stood in the middle of the room, unsure what the hell was going on. Just a minute earlier we had been under the covers, listening to the soothing sounds of a drunken argument by nightlight. Now we were standing in a starkly lit room, being ordered to move a bunk bed that to us might as well have weighed eleven tonnes.
Then the knife appeared under the door.
‘Joooe … Jooooe! Come out, Joey baby,’ my mum chanted, as she tried to stab at his feet with the knife. Rhiannon started screaming. Joe was screaming. He was trying to hold the door closed just as hard as Mum was trying to force her way in. She kept stabbing at the door with the knife, laughing. The silver blade would disappear and then all of a sudden slip through a crack in the side.
‘Move the bed to the door. Now!’ Joe was hysterical, and he couldn’t keep holding the door not knowing where the knife would stick through next. But it was a giant fucking bunk bed, and there’s no way Rhiannon and I were going to be able to slide that thing across the room. I had made it my life’s mission to get out of PE by pretending I was seriously afraid of the risk of melanoma – there’s no way I had the physical stamina required to move a bed. Rhiannon, with her tiny, perfect, delicate little model body was equally as inept.
The only option was for us to go and get help.
Rhiannon leapt into action. If I hadn’t had her lead to follow, I would have just stood in the middle of the room, frozen and staring at the knife poking through the door until my mum knocked it down. But Rhiannon went into superhero mode.
‘The window,’ she said, snapping me out of my trance and pulling me over to it. ‘We need to climb out, jump onto the balcony and go next door for help.’
Our bedroom window was two storeys high, with the balcony a couple of metres to the left and about a metre below. We would have to scale the side of the house, jump down onto the balcony and pray we didn’t miss. Once there, it connected to the driveway, so we could safely escape and find someone to help Joe.
I looked at Rhiannon, petrified. But the determination on her face told me this was no time to argue, or to point out that she was a notoriously shitty climber. She went first. There were some bricks on the side of the house that stuck out a little further than the others, and she used those to stand on. But there was nothing to hold on to, so she just clung to the blinds from the window as long as she could, before letting go and hugging the side of the house as she made her way across to the balcony. She jumped, and she made it, so I followed. (Yes, I waited to see if she made it before I followed. It’s called not being a dummy.)
Once free of the house, we climbed the fence into our neighbours’ yard and bashed on the back door as hard as we could.
And that’s all I remember. After that, everything goes black, and all I see when I close my eyes is the knife through the door.
I woke up the next morning in my own bed. Rhiannon was asleep on the bunk beneath me. For a second I hoped that I had dozed off while planning Mum and Joe’s divorce, and all of it had just been a nightmare. I wandered out to the living room, hoping to see Mum feeding Tayla in her highchair and Joe watching TV. Hoping my mum would make me breakfast and give me a hug and ask me what I wanted to do that day.
But they weren’t there. The TV was on, and Tayla was in her highchair, but she was being fed by a lady I didn’t recognise. That didn’t faze me so much – growing up with parents who like to drink means you often wake up to random adults taking care of you. These people – family, friends, neighbours – would generally look at you with pity then take you shopping and buy you something. So, while your parents hadn’t come home and that was always a slight cause for concern, any bad feelings were generally outweighed by your new Polly Pocket.
The lady feeding Tayla that day said she was an old school friend of my mum’s. ‘Something happened last night, sweetie. And your mum and dad just needed me to watch you for a while.’
‘He’s not my dad,’ I said, looking in disgust at what she had chosen to give Tayla for breakfast. It was toast with Vegemite and mashed banana. I wasn’t thrilled about having a baby in the house, but even I felt sorry for Tayla and the fact that she had zero autonomy over her body and was therefore being forced to eat the tragedy on the plate in front of her.
‘Do you want me to make you some breakfast?’ the random asked, clearly misinterpreting the look on my face as some kind of desire.
‘Um, no.’ I said, slowly backing out of the room. I almost considered that breakfast more of a crime than what had occurred the night before.
The butcher’s knife incident was, sadly, the end of our time in the fancy private rental. Oh, and also the end of Mum’s marriage to Joe the Removalist. Mum, Rhiannon, Tayla and I packed our things and moved back into a Houso house, although we were in a regular neighbourhood this time, rather than a Smurf Village-style ghetto (which meant we at least didn’t have to worry about getting pregnant as soon as we hit puberty).
This was when I developed Rosie’s Chicken Soup (again – patented, so hands off). It was nice to have the constant fighting over, although I have to admit I did kind of miss the Elvis. But living alone with Mum meant there was no longer a Joe buffer when she took off to find wine, so every time she left we were definitely going to be fending for ourselves.
One night, with Rhiannon at a friend’s and Tayla with relatives, it was just me and Mum. Which meant that within about 20 minutes, it was just me. I killed a few hours watching TV, then, realising dinner was on my shoulders, came up with the brilliant concept of Rosie’s Chicken Soup. I burned half the pasta to the bottom of the saucepan, but managed to get a fairly enjoyable meal out of it nonetheless (a meal I continue to enjoy to this day, by the way).
It was at about 10pm that I started to get scared. I had seen Stephen King’s It way too young, which basically guaranteed that any time I was alone I became convinced that a devil clown was going to try and rip my limbs off and eat my heart. I started to panic when it didn’t look like Mum was coming home. With Rhiannon, I could handle it. But an entire night by myself? Forget it. I had to get out of there and save my limbs while I still had the chance.
This was the era of home phones, and there was only one number I could remember: the number that had recently been mine – Joe the Removalist’s house. Joe continued to see us girls after he and Mum divorced, so I assumed the knife incident had been forgiven (at least, my mum wasn’t in prison, so I considered that a good sign). I knew Joe would probably be home, and he was a good man, so I knew that if I asked, he would come and save me. I was also sick of the crappy new Houso house, and missed the fancy private rental where I had briefly felt like I was part of a proper family. I wanted to feel the feeling of being in that house again, so I called him.
I should have known as soon as I heard Elvis blaring down the phone that he was drunk. Too drunk to drive, in fact, which meant he couldn’t pick me up. But I was used to drunk adults – what I didn’t want was to be attacked by a Stephen King character and spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. There must have been enough panic in my voice to tug at Joe’s heartstrings, because he sent a taxi to come and get me.
I packed a little bag with my toothbrush and waited in the front yard – I had never been in a taxi by myself before and had no clue what it would entail, but I was determined to come across as a seasoned traveller. I was debating whether I should sit in the front or the back when the taxi pulled up. The driver seemed … suss. And rightfully so. Here was an eight-year-old, alone, standing in the front yard of a house that clearly had no one inside. I was holding a little backpack, and spent at least three minutes circling the car trying to decide which door to open. Eventually he got out and opened one of the back doors for me.
‘Thank you, sir,’ I said, in an accent that I hoped would convince him I was a royal who had somehow lost her private car and taken a wrong turn.
I tried to act like it was all the most natural thing in the world and that getting in taxis on my own at 11pm on Saturday night was totally something that I did all the time. I told him the address – still in an accent that sat somewhere between British and delusional – and he started driving.
When I arrived at Joe’s place, things were not as I remembered them. He paid the taxi driver, swaying a little as he did so, and took me inside. The house was literally devoid of furniture, which, although ironic for a removalist, made sense, seeing as we had all the furniture at our new house. There wasn’t even a TV, and since TV had been my best friend since I could remember, this made me nervous.
I had been hoping to find the warm, family home that had (however briefly) made me feel safe. Instead, I was faced with a drunken removalist, sitting on a milk crate in an empty living room, listing to Elvis records through headphones. He made up some blankets for me on the floor of the bedroom I had shared with Rhiannon just a few months earlier. But it was empty now. And dark. It was even scarier than when Mum had been putting the knife through the door.
I honestly don’t know what I had been expecting. I think deep down I had hoped I would walk through the door and then back in time, to when Mum and Joe were newlyweds, we had a new baby and everybody was so excited to be living in a fancy private rental. I lay down on the floor of the room I had once hung posters in, and cried as I tried to fall asleep.
At some point in the night, I woke up and, confused and disoriented, decided to head to Mum and Joe’s room to see if they would let me sleep with them. Sometimes, if I was really scared or had a particularly bad nightmare in which IT had eaten one of my legs, I would snuggle in between them early in the morning until it was time to get up.
The house was pitch-black, but I knew the way to their room. I ran my fingers along the wall as I felt my way down the hallway. I reached out to their doorknob and slowly turned it. It was best not to make any noise – you were guaranteed a snuggle if they woke up and you were already in the bed. I opened the door and slowly started to walk across the bedroom. I couldn’t see a damn thing with the lights off, but I knew it was only a few steps until I would reach the edge of their bed. I walked in the dark, arms outstretched, and when I felt certain I was close enough, I made a dive for the mattress.
Rosie’s first look at her debut novel. Post continues after video.
But I hit the floor, hard. There was no mattress there, because there was no bed there. In my sleepiness I had forgotten that this wasn’t my home anymore. It was just an empty house that my mum’s ex-husband was living in until the lease ran out.
I lay there, on the floor, in the dark, heartbroken. I had reached out for my mum and she wasn’t there. All I wanted was to snuggle between them until it was time to get up, and now I was lying on the floor of an empty room. I felt like a ghost in a house that didn’t exist anymore.
I stayed there until morning, not even close to falling back asleep. I didn’t really know it then, but I was heartbroken because that was the first time in my life I really understood that you can never go home again. And I’d never really had a home to begin with, so what was the point of ever getting up off the floor?
Joe, who had been sleeping on a single mattress in Tayla’s old room, woke a little later and drove me home. Mum, feeling more responsible than usual I guess, had come home during the night and panicked to find that I wasn’t there. She was waiting for me in the front yard as I climbed out of Joe the Removalist’s ute.
She put her arm around me, but it didn’t feel like what I had been looking for the night before.
As we walked inside, she turned to me and asked, laughing, ‘What the bloody hell were you trying to cook in that saucepan you left on the stove?’
‘Rosie’s Chicken Soup,’ I said flatly, and followed her inside.
Copyright: Rosie Waterland. This is an edited extract from The Anti-Cool Girl by Rosie Waterland; HarperCollins Australia.
Rosie Waterland joined Mia Freedman for this special episode of the No Filter podcast. She chats about her often traumatic childhood, and how she’s dealt with the extraordinary things life has thrown at her.