In October 2005, nine months after moving to Canberra, I finally got the hang of the city. I still felt entirely overwhelmed and fraudulent at my job, but I got the hang of being a person who lived in Canberra. This was helped, largely, by leaving behind my Dickson apartment and its revolving door of bizarre housemates.
See, after Dual-WoW-Playing-Hai’s much talked about promotion finally came, it came with a relocation to Sydney. To replace D.WoW.P. Hai, Wannabe-Wife-Wendy moved in, and immediately started trying to nest with me. She kept asking me what “we” were doing on the weekend, and then suggesting couples stuff, like buying a blender. Okay, so I had not yet been part of a couple at that stage so I had no idea what couples did, but co-buying a blender seemed like a pretty big step. Perturbed by my refusal to raise her blender as my own, W.W. Wendy moved out and was replaced by Either-Frugal-Genius-Or-Shady-Fucking-Thief Tess. E.F.G.O.S.F.T. Tess kept trying to renegotiate the amount of rent she should pay weeks after signing the lease, was continually scamming rebates and discounts out of every company she dealt with, and definitely tried to screw W.W. Wendy out of her bond. (I bet a thousand dollars that today E.F.G.O.S.F.T. Tess is in jail for bank fraud. Don’t tell her about the bet; she’ll try to cheat me out of my winnings).
With the peaceful quiet of Dickson suddenly drowned out by the screaming of housemate alarm bells, I started spending as much free time as possible hanging out at the house of my workmates Zak, Joel and Tammy.
Zak, Joel and Tammy shared a smallish townhouse in Evatt that was already cramped with the three of them. With me cluttering up the joint even more every second day and most weekends, we started to make broad, grand plans for the four of us renting a mansion together: it was the solution to all our problems. They were always dumb, imaginary plans; like when you decide what you’re going to do with your lottery winnings.
At least they were imaginary, until one Thursday when Joel invited us to lunch at a “new place”. He gave us an address and told us to meet him there. The address was for a house that was for lease, and Joel had the keys for an inspection. He’d seen the “for lease” sign as he drove past that morning and decided, on a whim, to go for it. It was the biggest house I’d seen in quite some time. One hour later we were filling out application forms. One day later I was using my clout as a local celebrity to give our application preference (this literally happened and it literally worked: they’d put our application in the bin because we weren’t a family, and only fished it out again when I called to be clumsily coquettish at them). One week later we were inappropriately using the radio station’s Black Thunder vehicle to move all our stuff in.
Built by a Greek family in the early 1970s, the inside of the house was all columns and archways and elaborate chandeliers, so we affectionately called it The Parthenon. The Parthenon was fucking enormous. Four bedrooms upstairs, with a rumpus room and a fifth bedroom downstairs. The backyard was tiered, with huge patches of garden and a lemon tree that strained under the weight of its lemonly bounty. But the crowning glory of the Parthenon was the pond in the front yard, featuring self-sufficient goldfish and a little-boy-peeing fountain statue. I’ve never lived anywhere so majestic. (The day we moved in, my inner six-year-old horse owner vanished forever. Now, in his place, there lives an inner 24-year-old frontyard water fountain owner. He has been disappointed in me ever since.)
Because I was the one with the 4am starts, I was given the master bedroom with en suite, because it meant I was free to shower or poop or scream with fatigue in the wee smalls without having to stomp through the rest of the house. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise considering the peeing statue fountain out front, but my en suite also had a bidet. It didn’t actually work, so it was really just a large porcelain bowl that jutted out of the floor. But still. I had a bidet. I used it as a chair.
Between the four of us, we had a sales manager, a promotions and marketing director, a traffic manager, and an on-air announcer. We could have started our own radio station at home, but we started a family instead (I mean the four of us were family: nobody got Tammy pregnant or anything). Tammy, Zak and Joel were, and remain, beloved members of my family. After Mum, Robby and Sarah, they get to claim a hefty chunk of credit for me being the person I am today. They were way better housemates to me than I was to them; hopefully I learnt from them how to be better. They remain among my dearest friends—Tammy and I have even travelled together. (Sort of. Well we met in a country that wasn’t either of our own for Christmas. We arrived separately and left separately but we were together for two weeks: does that still count as travelling together?)
It was at The Parthenon that the tradition of Fake Christmas was introduced. It started in 2005 as a way for us to exchange presents and get bollocking drunk in a Christmas Day manner without it actually being Christmas Day (because we all had our own actual families to go to for real Christmas – Tammy’s and Zak’s in New Zealand, Joel’s in Albury, mine in Queensland).
It’s a tradition that’s held on: Fake Christmas has become an annual event, held every year since. I’ve only missed one in ten years.
It’s early 2006, which means it’s thirteen years since I had the car accident, and twelve and a half years since I got the (supposedly temporary) partial denture that replaced the teeth I left wedged in the side of that dude’s catamaran. I would have thought, after twelve and a half years, that I would be familiar with all the ins and outs of the dental plate by now, but apparently I was not, because one morning I woke up at my usual time of 3:45am to get ready for work, and it was gone.
I don’t know how else to explain it. The plate wasn’t in my mouth. At first I thought maybe I’d bitten it in half in my sleep, somehow chewed through hardened plastic and metal wire, and swallowed it. But it would have ripped holes in my oesophagus all the way down, and I was neither in pain nor gushing blood, so that wasn’t it. I thought maybe I had taken it out overnight: when I first got it in 1994, I was told to put it in a glass of water before going to bed. I completely ignored this instruction because I was thirteen, not fucking ninety, but once a year or so I would try it for fun. Well, partially for fun and partially to really amplify my sense of self-loathing. At any rate, there was no glassware in my bedroom at all so that wasn’t the answer either. The plate was simply gone.
I ruffled through my bedclothes, I searched under my bed, I tore my entire bedroom upside down looking for the plate, and it was nowhere to be found. By this point it is 4:10am, and I have become hysterical because I have a giant gaping hole in my face. I was, and had always been, very sensitive about the whole false-teeth thing: very few people knew about it, and nobody had ever seen me without it. Nobody until Tammy, thirty seconds later, because my frantic ransacking had devolved into broken, hysterical sobbing, which had woken her up, and she’d burst in to ask what was wrong.
I scream my predicament at her, barely coherent above the rising panic. Well, rising panic and the fact that, without three of my front teeth, consonants are thirty per cent harder to say. Tammy helps me to search the room again. Still, the plate is nowhere to be found. It is now 4:30am, and I was expected at work half an hour ago. I call my co-host Sarah, still sobbing, and tell her that my teeth have gone missing and I can’t come into work, partly because I can’t talk properly and partly because if anyone were to see me in my grotesque state I’d surely chased out of the city and beaten with sticks by an angry, torch-wielding mob. Tammy, unable to help any further, leaves me to my wailing, and I hang up the phone and do what I have always done when faced with insurmountable distress: I curl into a ball and immediately go to sleep.
I wake up again at 8:20am, utterly disoriented. It’s the wrong time of morning to be asleep, why am I not at work, why does it feel so breezy behind my top lip…
I remember why I’m still at home, and begin sobbing again. Lying there, crying, I try to plan my day. I have to find a dentist, I have to pay however much money it will cost to fast-track a new plate, I have to figure out if a dentist can even make one from scratch, or if they’ll need my dental history from the shitty rural Murgon dentist who made the first one. I can’t go into work until it’s replaced. In fact I can’t go anywhere until it’s replaced: I’m a breakfast radio announcer in a relatively small city: I’m recognised everywhere I go. So I’m stuck. I can’t do my job or leave my house or bite an apple or say “Susan Sarandon”. I feel like I’m going to throw up. Stress and panic and sadness wash over me. I could definitely throw up. I’m so stricken with grief and panic I can’t even think about what the next step is.
Oh, wait, yes I can: I absolutely have to throw up.
I fling back the covers and leap out of the bed to race to the bathroom. As I do, something scratches my upper arm. Almost simultaneously, I see a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye and hear the soft, padded thud of something small landing on carpet. I look down and there, on the floor, is my plate. Just sitting there, like it had been there the whole time. Which it most definitely hadn’t. The nick in my arm had been from the wire of the plate as it fell to the floor. But fell from where? Then I saw the hole in my singlet. The hole that the plate wire had clearly been hooked through.
So, not only had my plate come out of my mouth while I slept, fallen down to my singlet and gotten itself hooked, it also managed to STAY hooked while I searched my room, twice, hysterical and crying and generally making a scene, and then still stayed in place when I went back to sleep for four more hours.
That day I learnt that an alarming amount of my self worth was tied up in that small arrangement of plastic and wire. And while it seems so simple now, at the time I honestly could not conceive how I would go about changing the situation. So I continued to live with the risk that at any moment a giant chunk of my humanity might flee from my gob and lose itself in my pyjamas. I lived with that risk for eight more years.