Miles Street was a definite elevation in status for snobby eight-year-old me. It was a two-storey apartment (not a flat; an apartment) with an internal staircase. Up until that point I had never seen an internal staircase in real life. I had seen plenty on the outside of homes; Queenslander houses have massive ones. But indoors?
Finally, I was one stop closer to living my dream of being a member of the Huxtable family. All I needed was a swinging door to the kitchen, a giant coat rack, and a door that opened up directly onto the street. And yes, they were the only differences I could perceive between me and the Huxtables.
Admittedly, the internal staircase wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t a solid staircase that curved 90 degrees at the bottom. It was a straight staircase up against a wall and you could see between each step; it was designed more like an outdoor staircase. Still, it was a step (yuk yuk) in the right direction. Even those of us destined to be Huxtables had to take our lumps; and at least here no one stole our sandwiches.
In the apartment next door to us lived a lovely old couple. At least, I assumed they were lovely. I assumed because, thus far, old people had always been lovely to me. But then, everyone was lovely to me. At this stage in my life, I’d been loved by all adults: relatives, teachers, mum’s friends; and kids our age hadn’t yet learn that cruelty that kids are known for, so I’d never actually experienced unpopularity of any kind. I was an adorable child, and I was adored.
But all that changed with the couple next door; who, for the sake of ameliorating my bitterness, we shall call Mr and Mrs Fuckshit.
One day I was playing on my back fence and I saw Mr Fuckshit walk out into his backyard. I called out “HEY MR FUCKSHIT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” in my friendly, adorable child-like manner.
“NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, YOU BAD-MANNERED LITTLE BUGGER” he barked back.
Well, I never.
And this wasn’t a one-off. This old couple only ever spoke to me in that tone. Whether screeching at me to stop swinging from the clothesline (which, okay, I wasn’t allowed to do it—mum would have yelled at me too—but it wasn’t their clothesline), or muttering loudly enough for me to hear about “that bloody kid next door”, they were constantly unpleasant, to the point where I started to think maybe the horrible adults in Roald Dahl’s novels were based on real people.
The Fuckshits next door were responsible for me feeling something I’d never felt before: resentment towards an adult. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible. So eager was I to please my elders and follow every rule ever given ever that it had never once occurred to me to be angry or upset with someone taller than me. They unlocked something dark and vile within me. It was because of what they unleashed that I became so full of pain and anguish that I ran away from home.
I didn’t pack. I didn’t leave a note. I just walked out the front door and kept going, never to look back. I don’t know how long I walked for, or how long the police were looking for me, or how many tears my mum shed over my absence. All I know is that by the time I finally looked up to see where I was, I’d made it all the way to here:
Feeling like my family had learnt their lesson, I made the journey home again. Mum, ever the diplomatic one, bravely pretended like she hadn’t even noticed I’d gone. But I knew. I KNEW.
As for the Fuckshits: I don’t remember their real name, or even what they looked like, so they can’t have left too strong an imprint on my psyche. But they were my first memory of having someone actively dislike me for, as far as I could see, no apparent reason. The concept was, and remains, distressing. Not least of all because it would look bad on my application to become a Huxtable.