My childhood, for the most part, was like an episode of Little House on The Prairie. Now I've never actually seen Little House on the Prairie, but it seems to be the comedy stereotype for an idyllic, innocent youth. If it's good enough for cliched comedy writers, it's good enough for me.
While my parents certainly had their fair share of arguments, and I certainly got a few beltings for misbehaviour, I was blessed to have a nuclear family with a mother that stayed at home to look after us, a father who earned enough money to buy a new Holden every three years and take us overseas, and a younger brother who was kind enough to avoid the face when he grew old enough to beat the shit out of me.
I know. I'm so frickin' white middle class it hurts.
So it gives me great delight to look back on two eventful occasions in my life that I can legitimately call: Potentially Dangerous Encounters With Sexual Perverts. The first one's a bit serious, but if you get through that, the second one is kind of hilarious, in a disturbing kind of way.
October, 1990. My tenth birthday party – one of the greatest-ever weekends in my life. I had invited five girlfriends over for a sleepover. They arrived late Saturday morning, and we began by making string balloons. You know where you cover a balloon with glue, wrap in in string, wait for it to dry, then pop the balloon, and voila! A beautiful, artistic, stringy creation. Then we hit the pool. Then some dancing in the rumpus room, followed by a party dinner, with all of my Dad's best food. Saturday night we chatted, as only ten-year-old girls can, before a game of Truth or Dare (as usual, everyone wimped out on the Dares), and eventually sleep.
We greeted Sunday morning with another swim, before deciding on a walk down to Cash's Crossing, the then-single bridge that connected Albany Creek to Eatons Hill (it was duplicated a couple of years later). Our property backed onto the great divide, with the North Pine River still flowing through it, so it didn't take us long to walk through the gap in our back fence, through the land of the Good Shepard Baptist Church that surrounded us on two sides, out past the Scout Den at the back of them, then down the cement path to the river.
We wandered along, six girls, with my brother and his friend along for company (whenever one of us had a party, the other would always be allowed to invite their own friend so they wouldn't feel left out). As track wound around towards the bridge, we saw a man standing just near it, astride a bicycle, but stationery, with one foot on the ground, watching the river. He seemed old to me then, but in hindsight he would have been no more than 18 or 19, with a boyish face and short hair. A yellowy t-shirt, from memory. We group walked up and under the bridge, and three of the girls decided to climb four metres up the slanting support wall, to sit in a nook under the bridge itself. Two had to take off their shoes to do it; the other two girls and the two boys decided to go on ahead. I waited at the bottom of the support wall, near the shoes.
I don't remember the man watching us; but he must have been as he didn't continue on his ride. I had my back to him, watching the girls as they admired the graffiti sprayed on the underside of the bridge. When they tumbled their way down, we waited while two of the girls put their sneakers back on.
It was then that the man clicked his foot onto the pedal, and rode over and around to us.
“Hey girls, wanna make some money?”
“You show me yours and I'll show you mine”.
I don't remember what the other girls looked like – I think they were like me, part surprised, part confused.
I spoke first. “No!” From memory, it was a fairly disgusted-sounding no. It must have been forceful enough, as the man didn't try to press the issue. He simply circled us once more on his bicycle, muttered something like “Your loss”, then rode away, back up the path we had just come down.
The four of us looked at each other, then took off in the other direction, catching up with the other four who'd wandered out into the sunshine and long grass on the other side of the bridge. We told them what happened, and we agreed we had to rush back and tell my parents. By the time we left the creek, emerging back out behind the Scout Den, there was no sign of the man on the bicycle. We kept our eyes peeled the whole way home, but our house was on acreage, and the roads were at least a hundred metres away.
I remember my mother was hanging laundry, or doing washing, or something on the ground floor of our two story. I vaguely recall rushing up to her in a swirl of white bedsheets fluttering on the line, but that may be my overactive imagination. We told her, in rushed breaths, interjecting with each other, what had happened.
From there, I don't remember much. We stayed close to home after that, jumping back into the pool and picking up with the inflatable toys and body boards where we had left off. I don't remember if Mum or Dad told the girls' parents when they came to pick them up; I don't know if Mum or Dad called the police, or if any other action was taken. I should probably ask them some day. We may have mentioned it at school, but it was soon forgotten, at least publicly. I don't know if that incident made me any more aware of child abuse, or paedophilia, but it certainly at least reiterated the “stranger danger” message. It was my first encounter with an ugly flipside of life, one that thankfully would continue to be completely alien to my everyday experiences.
Of course, I have no idea what happened to the man on the bicycle.
August, 1998. Seventeen years old, halfway through my first year of university, not really a child anymore. But certainly not adult enough to be ready for what greeted me on a drive home one night.
I had gotten my first role in a uni drama production, and it had been opening night. I played the Chorus in Oedipus Rex. A one-woman chorus, but it was a modernised version, and I was playing a journalist - the commentator, if you will, on the actions of a bloke who had, ironically enough, a bit of an Oedipus complex. We'd had the traditional red wine and cheese after-party, and I had gotten into my gorgeous little blue Barina (beep beep!) to head home.
I was stopped, as usual, at the top of Burns Street, at its intersection with Moggill Road. Despite the fact it was nearing midnight, I still had to wait a while for the lights to go green. It was during this period of idling, that I noticed a figure walk out from behind the wooden fence to the left of me, and round the front of my car. Thinking about how the show had gone, I wasn't 100 per cent focused, but I still remember having these vague thoughts:
“That bloke looks like he's coming towards me. That's strange. He is. Hang on, what's he holding in his hand, around hip level? Wait, what's he doing at my window?!?!?!”
The man, who was wearing a red checked flannelette shirt and walking in a fairly hunched fashion, had been holding what appeared to be a sausage in his hand. It was, as you've probably all guessed by now, a penis. I certainly hope it was his, but you never can tell. Perhaps he found it on the ground. Whatever had happened, he was keen to show it off. He came up to my car window and, well, presented it to me. That's the best way I can describe it; it was like he was a waiter showing me my wine selection for approval.
I wouldn't say I was freaked out, even though there was a man trying to insert his member into my half rolled down window. Again, I was just part surprised, part confused. Then it hit me; what the FRICK?
I yelled “Oh, are you right?!?!”, grabbed the winder and started rolling. In hindsight I wish I'd said something zing-ier like “You call that a penis?” or “What is that, a Cheerio?”. But that was all I could manage as I slammed the window shut. To this day, I think that if I had had an automatic window, I would have caused some serious damage. At that moment, the traffic lights turned green, and I shot off across the intersection, keeping my eyes forward until I was over the crest of High Street, Toowong.
I drove home in a daze. Several times I actually convinced myself that the whole event – which only took several seconds – had not happened. Why would anyone want to stick their penis through a car window? I thought about contacting the police, but what would I tell them? You probably will not believe me, but I couldn't recall anything about the penis itself, in terms of size, colour, or foreskin presence. Of course, I didn't really look. I never saw the man's face either, as obviously it wasn't the part of his body at my eye level in the car. I think he had straggly, longish hair. Certainly not enough for a police description.
I resolved that at all costs, my mother must never know. She still worried about me being out late, and would call to ensure I was safe. I had just started a play, and didn't want to get Mum even more fretful about the safety of the university and its surrounds at night. Ergo, unlike the man on the bicycle under the bridge, she must never know.
But that didn't stop me telling everyone else. After a few days of convincing myself that yes, a man really did try to stick his penis through my car window, I began to see the funny side, especially considering how close he was to a Lorena Bobbitt-style amputation. These days, while I very rarely mention the man on the bicycle, I'm still more than happy to peel out the penis story.
I often wonder what became of both of these unfortunate men. I hope the first one's in jail; I hope the second, if his particular peccadillo remained relatively harmless, received some good psychological help. And while I love a good story, I think I'm relatively happy to just have two close encounters of the perverted kind in my anecdote folder.
Based on a suggestion from Michael.