12) 1990. Thursday Island QLD 4875

(This story comes with a Trigger Warning for kids getting touched inappropriately. If it helps, the kid in question is me and I’m AOK.)

It felt like 1989 took an agonisingly long time to end, but finally it did and 1990 began. At first, it was equally interminable, but then something happened: my poor sister developed terrible impetigo and had to go into hospital.

photo 2 (2)

Poor little leopard-girl. But check it: her legs match her pretty dress (lucky the dress wasn’t paisley).

Masig didn’t have a hospital; only a nurse’s station, and my grandmother (who was a nurse at the time) had quietly posted us so many medical supplies we were better stocked than they were (most of the supplies used to stitch up my chin after I split it open came from our own stash). With no choice but to leave Masig, we were finally able to plan an escape. We would go to Thursday Island and check Lauren into hospital: as soon as she was able to leave again we would make a dash for the mainland. It had taken months, but we were finally leaving.

Dale found out. News travels fast on an island less than 800 metres across, I guess. Or maybe he was just extraordinarily suspicious. At any rate, he bullied and manipulated his way into our escape plans: he couldn’t get on the plane to Thursday Island, so he navigated a dinghy across the majority of the actual Torres Strait, from Masig to Thursday Island, so he could meet us there. Not that it mattered by that point, the most important thing is that were leaving THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING OCEAN. Him accompanying us was better than him trying to stop us.

I can’t remember what meagre possessions we owned by this stage (my sister’s stuffed toy monkey from the above photo, whose name was Manta, is the only belonging of ours I can remember), but whatever they were, they were bundled up into that tiny, rickety old lawn mower with wings that passed for an aeroplane and flown down to Thursday Island.

#ThrowBackThursday Island

As it turns out, we kind of needed Dale, at least in principle: by the time we got to Thursday Island mum had to join my sister in hospital, as mum had been hit with a double bill of dengue fever and pregnancy. Neither she nor Lauren were in a state to travel, so if it weren’t for Dale, whose family/friends/whoever they were on Thursday Island once again provided somewhere for me to stay while they languished in hospital, I don’t know what would have happened to us.

Then again, if it weren’t for Dale, we wouldn’t have ended up in a house with the man who would molest me (spoiler alert).

With mum and Lauren both in hospital, I was stranded in a house with people I barely knew, alone. This, obviously, was mum’s worst nightmare, but she was stuck in a hospital bed; her body busy making exciting new fluids to leak internally while her organs considered shutting down and her uterus wondered if everyone could keep the noise down as it was trying to make a person.

I guess technically Dale should have been around to look after me, but he never was. I don’t know exactly where he would go, and by now that should not be any kind of a surprise.

So the family’s eldest teenage son, whose name I honestly cannot remember, let’s call him “Pete”, ended up looking after me most of the time. I have no idea if it was for days, or weeks, or even only one day. My memory of that time is hazy. But I can remember, quite clearly, the afternoon we were in his room watching the movie Porky’s II.

Yeah, I got molested to the backdrop of a shitty 1980s teen sex comedy’s even shittier sequel.

He sat on the floor at the foot of his bed, facing the television. I sat on the floor directly in front of him, between his legs. His hands were around my stomach in a loose, inattentive bear hug. This didn’t feel at all out of the ordinary to me. If anything, it was such a relief to have the first person in weeks (my own mum and sister aside) be nice to me. Everyone else either yelled at me or ignored me (and I had only very recently been completely blanked by Santa). So it was really an aching relief to feel safe and comfortable for once. Not to mention being in proximity to a toilet with plumbing. I was more than happy to sit in a lap and be held.

It is with a particularly tangy irony that I note that this was the safest I’d felt in weeks.

At an unremarkable point, while sitting there on the floor, Pete’s hands stiffened. The inattentive hug became more of a focused clasping, as if we were both acrobats and he was about to toss me into the air. He stayed like this for a moment or two, and then one hand moved quickly inside my pants and he grabbed my penis.

I jumped up with a startled yelp. “It’s okay,” Pete whispered. “It’s okay. It doesn’t matter. Sit back down. Let me do it, it’s okay.”

I sat back down. Partly because he was an authority figure who’d given an instruction. Partly because where else was I going to go? And partly because this, still, felt safer than any of the time spent on Masig. I’d recently had a run-in with a tiger shark and had smashed my chin open on the side of a boat and had regularly had to shit in a bucket; a horny teenager’s hand was nothing.

He put his hand back down my pants and spent a not insignificant amount of time…well I guess he was jerking me off. But I was nine, so nothing was happening, so I’m not sure if that’s still an accurate description. His other hand wandered all about the place, squeezing and poking and caressing, while I just tried to keep as still as possible.

Eventually he stopped. His hands went back to his own lap, and I sat there, not sure of what was going to happen next. He was fidgeting a lot behind me, though, and it was uncomfortable. I kept getting nudged in the back. I shuffled the smallest distance away from him, to see if he would stop me again. He didn’t. So I stood up.

His hands were down his own pants now (that would explain the shuffling and nudging), and as I stood up and took a step back he leered at me and pulled down his pants.

What I saw horrified me. I had never seen a grown man’s erection before, so as far as I could tell he was horribly disfigured. His penis seemed frighteningly large. And swollen. And kind of shiny. Was he sick? Had a bee stung him? Was he holding it too tightly? Did he have an allergy? Why was it that colour? Mine was at best a very very pale pink. Pete’s skin was darker than mine, sure, but that didn’t explain the weird reddish purple hue; a colour I’d never seen outside of a bruise. Had he bruised it? Was it like a black eye, only much worse? Did he need to go to the hospital too? Maybe they could deflate it for him?

Clearly the thoughts of horror that were racing through my mind also registered on my face, because when he saw how I was reacting to what looked like the world’s worst balloon animal, his eyes widened and he glanced away. Very quietly, but very curtly, he told me to get out. He never spoke to me again. In fact, I never saw him again.

I didn’t comprehend the full scope of what happened to me until many years later. It was fucking awful, but it could have been much, much worse. I wasn’t physically hurt. Mum and Lauren and the little clump of cells that would eventually become my brother all came out of hospital. We went home.

That I even had a concept of what “home” was meant to be by this point is a surprise, actually.

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11) 1989-1990 (FINALLY). Yorke Island/Masig, Torres Strait 4875

With the 1989 school year ended, we were free to move on from Bamaga and go to yet another new place: Yorke Island. (Not because my schooling had been a point of contention for any of the other moves so far that year, it’s just that Yorke Island didn’t have a school.)

photo 1

Not pictured: indoor toilets (no really).

Yorke Island, now known by its traditional name of Masig, is closer to Papua New Guinea than it is to the Australian mainland—that is to say, it is a long, long, long, long way away from anything.

photo 2

I’m so glad Google Maps didn’t exist in 1989. I would have spent all my time on the island staring at this image and freaking out about how far away from anything I was.

By “anything”, I mean anything: up to and including indoor plumbing. Toilets on Yorke Island were actually, ahem, “thunderboxes”: outdoor toilets that are little more than a bucket under a seat with a hole in it. You may think your office toilets are scungy, but try sitting forty centimetres above the recent waste of at least seven other people, one of whom is a raging alcoholic. Did I mention the maggots? Oh, the maggots.

Masig clearly was not my favourite place. Let’s be clear: I hated it. Luckily the island is only 800 metres across (I have no idea what that is in cartwheels, but it can’t be many), so there wasn’t much to hate. 800 metres across, with no indoor plumbing and only one telephone, which was actually a public phone box in the middle of the island. If the phone rang, the nearest person answered it, and then went and roused whoever it was the call was for.

During my time in Masig, I:

—Learnt to climb a coconut tree. However, I was too afraid to let go enough to grab any coconuts, so all I could do was shimmy up the tree and then shimmy down again. Surprisingly, this is not a skill that has any lateral applications,
—Split my chin open on the edge of a boat during a bad storm, resulting in six stitches and a bad-ass scar (SPOILER ALERT: this would not be the only time I would get hit in the face with a boat),
—Had my first tetanus shot (on account of taking a boat on the chin),
—Saw the most beautiful beaches and clearest tropical water that I have ever seen or will ever see again,
—Discovered the truth about Santa,

We arrived the afternoon of one of those “Santa arrives and gives presents to the children (that have actually been provided by parents)” events. As we’d only just arrived, and no one had bothered to tell mum about it, we were unprepared. So I learnt Santa was a lot darker than his publicity suggests, and also he hates me.

—Got scurvy as a result of my refusal to eat anything except rice and tomato sauce (if you’re a fussy eater and you hate seafood, I don’t recommend living on a small sand island in the middle of the Pacific ocean). It means you get big gross sores all over your legs which have to be cleaned with hydrogen peroxide, and you become weak and kind of whiny: but I was already weak and kind of whiny, so nobody noticed I was sick until I got the sores,
—Watched the sun rise over the ocean and set over the ocean on the same day (800 metres across!), and
—Got stalked by a tiger shark.

Let’s elaborate on that last one.

Before you freak out, it’s okay, I wasn’t just paddling about in the water with only my nine-year-old limbs for protection; I was in a dinghy. I had at least five millimetres of aluminium protecting me, so we were safe as houses.

Well, thin aluminium houses in shark-infested waters.

There was a group of about ten of us (six adults and a handful of kids) in two dinghies heading over to Aureed Island for the day. Aureed was uninhabited, but it held familial significance for Dale, so we were going over to pay our respects.

It was about a half-hour trip from Masig to Aureed in the tiny little dinghy. As we started to approach the island, most of the kids (and one or two of the adults) prepared to jump out of the boats and swim the rest of the way; the water near the islands is always shallow, clear and beautiful, plus it’s always hot, so leaping into the water long before the boat reaches shore was never unusual. Suddenly there was a holler from the next boat: “SHARK!”

Shark? What shark? There was a shark? We always kept our eyes open just in case, but until this date I’d never actually seen one. But sure enough, about four metres behind the dinghy we were in, was a medium-sized tiger shark. And it appeared to be keeping pace. We slowed down our approach to the island to figure out what to do, which I personally think was a mistake: were I in control I would have thrown open the throttle on the outboard motor and not stopped until we reached the island, at which point I would have gunned it as far up the sand as the ridiculously small propeller would allow.

I’ll admit, what happened next was a bit of a blur. Once the shark’s presence had been confirmed and I had seen it with my own eyes, I very bravely burst into tears, convinced this killing machine would attack us and eat us, and I would spend the last three days of 1989 as shark poop. The consensus was it was not safe for anybody to get out of the dinghy, nor was it safe to just turn around and go back to Masig, leading it with us. They would have to kill it.

(Did my little nine-year-old self quake at the thought of this majestic creature being slaughtered? Did the tender buds of my environmentalist streak bloom right then and there? Shit no, I was sure it was him or me. I wanted that fucker DEAD.)

The handful of men that were between the two dinghies went straight to work with their spears. These guys, they speared everything. Fishing lines and nets were for chumps: you wanted to catch food out of the water, you needed enough dexterity, precision, and reflexes to stab it, from a distance, through water. It was (and still is) a terribly impressive skill.

Though it did jack on the tough hide of a shark. All it did was make him mad. At one stage he took refuge directly underneath our dinghy and my terror reached a point of solid molecular vibration: had anyone so much as touched me I would have imploded on myself like a white dwarf.

Eventually they got a rope around the shark’s tail and managed to get it up on the beach. I have no idea how this happened. I mean that literally: I have zero comprehension of how this was achieved. I was so paralysed with terror I can’t remember a thing. In my head it just says “MISSING REEL”; the whole thing is a blur. The next thing I know, the dinghies were embedded in the soft sand, and we were safe to get out onto the safety of the grou—“WAIT!”

Wait? Why was Dale screaming at me?

“STOP! FEET. FEET UP!”

I had no idea what the problem was. I could see the shark, it was five metres away, a rope firmly looped over its tail. But I was already riding a fear factor of 27 out of 10, so I dutifully hoisted my little legs back over the side of the dinghy. Dale grabbed his spear and went SPESHUNK into the shallow sand, then lifted it and SPESHUNK a second time. He raised the spear to show two enormous sand-coloured stingrays. Everything on them, from their weird, beady eyes to their impressively, scarily large stinger barb things, was the exact same colour of the sand.

Second close call of the day.

I swear, standing up on the sand of that beach was the most freeing sensation I have ever felt. I’d cheated death twice.

Sadly, the feeling quickly dissipated when Dale suggested it’d be a great photo opportunity if I sat on the shark’s back.

What. Even. The fuck. You monster.

I begged not to, but he said “come on, it’ll be fine, it’s dead!” and because I was a good boy who did everything he was told, I complied. Shaking with fear, I gingerly straddled the shark’s back, and a photo was taken.

photo 1 (2)

BRB, RELIVING TERROR. CAPTION NOT FOUND

And then it thrashed.

It wasn’t dead.

photo 4 (1)

NOT DEAD. Notice, on the periphery of the photo, the people scarpering? Yeah. EVERYONE shat themselves. I WAS RIGHT TO BE AFRAID. I am not on the periphery of the photo because I ran so fast I was well out of frame (and halfway down the beach).

I went sprinting off down the beach so quickly, and so outstandingly full of adrenalin, that I may well have kept running, circumnavigated the island and then tripped over the shark from the other side before bothering to slow down. The only thing that stopped me was the cry of “CROCODILE!”

I’m not even kidding.

One of the little boys was standing on the other side of where the shark was being held, pointing at a row of divots in the sand. It was a row of crocodile tracks. Specifically, one row of crocodile tracks, headed inland only. The crocodile itself was still on the island, and due to come out at any time.

Whatever we were planning to do on the island never got done. The shark, the stingrays, and the hunted-three-times-in-one-day humans were loaded up and taken straight back to Masig, and we never went back.

None of the days spent on Masig were particularly pleasant. But every day that something didn’t try to kill me was, comparatively, a fucking winner.

10) 1989 (yes, still). Seisia Road, Bamaga 4876

From Weipa we went on to Bamaga. Bamaga is the Australian mainland’s northernmost town. It’s right up there, right at the very, very top.

bamagafromtheair

See that red dirt? Know that red dirt. Make peace with that red dirt. That red dirt gets EVERYWHERE. At the end of every day I looked like Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy.

It is very small, but it has a school; a school in which I was able to finish grade four. It had only taken six schools to get there: Barkly Highway State School, Central State School, Balaclava, Hambledon, Weipa and now Bamaga. (I still got straight As, because despite everything I was still a tiny, tiny know-it-all shithead.)

Living in Bamaga was a challenge. I learnt a lot of things, usually the hard way. Things like: don’t lean on the trees for too long, because they’re full of green tree ants who can’t tell tree bark from warm flesh.

This happens every time. EVERY TIME.

Also, don’t stand under the trees for too long because the green tree ant’s understanding of gravity is scant, and if anything, half a dozen green tree ants falling into your hair is even worse than a hundred green tree ants marching up your arm.

greentreeantnest

HOLD ON YOU CLUMSY BASTARDS

Also, don’t shake or bump the trees because green tree ants use a special combination of teamwork and special ant bum-glue to stick leaves together and create large, elaborate nests; however ant bum-glue isn’t very strong so all it takes is a slight nudging or a stiff breeze to completely compromise the structural integrity of the nests, turning them into green tree ant cluster bombs.

With alarming frequency I could be seen running in a mad panic into the ocean to wash a colony of ants off me; trying to avoid this happening:

scarab

This is exactly how it feels.

Actually, a lot of the things I learnt were mainly focused on how to avoid being stung, bitten, scratched, poisoned or eaten. And that’s just from the other school children. ZING.

No, but for real, I spent a lot of time bewildered and anxious. This wasn’t at all helped by the distance from home, the language barrier (most people in the Torres Strait speak Pidgin, or at least incorporate some of it into their everyday speech), the mystery of what we were doing or where we were going, and the fact that I couldn’t get anyone to be nice to me. It wasn’t their fault: we were always relying on the hospitality of people Dale knew, and he wasn’t exactly the world’s most gracious guest. Not once during our travels north of Cairns did we stay somewhere on our own. So these poor people always had this annoying whiny white kid getting all up in their faces. I wouldn’t be nice to me either.

The net result was I spent every day trying to figure out my place in the world; trying to put my universe the right way up, and always failing.

The only time I really knew my place in the world was when a sign pointed it out for me.

photo (5)

Tan, thin, cool sunglasses. What a guy.  (The tan was mostly red dirt, the thinness was borderline malnutrition because I was too fussy to eat anything, and the sunglasses were mum’s)

One day—perhaps our second day in Bamaga—mum and Dale went to nearby Thursday Island. I don’t know why, but I didn’t know they were going. (I’ve since been informed that I was indeed told they were going, in which case I totally forgot, which isn’t out of the question: I had a lot of things on my mind, like where the fuck are we and when can we leave and why does nobody ever eat anything other than seafood has nobody heard of chips?). At any rate, they were gone and, apart from a vague idea that people often went to “T.I.” for the day, I had no idea where they were.

I spent the day in the care of some woman. I can’t remember who she was, but she was courteous to me, if not openly pleasant. She gave me a late breakfast, let me read for a little while, and then took me for a walk to the town’s only set of shops.

During the walk back from the shops, it started to occur to me that my mother had been absent for longer than I was happy with. But I was determined to be a big grown-up boy about it. So, while nonchalantly dragging a stick through the dirt as we walked, I casually asked: “Is my mum coming back today?”

“Wa…?” came the reply. I tried again.

“Is mum with Dale?”
“Wa?”
“Did mum go with Dale?”
“Wa?”
“Dale. Did he go with mum somewhere?”
“Wa?”

This went on a few more times. I just kept asking the same question over and over. I was tenacious, but not imaginative.

“Is my mum coming back today?”
“Wa?”
“Is my mum coming back TODAY?”
“Wa?”
“Is my mum coming BACK today?”
“Wa?”
“Is my mum COMING back today?”
“Wa?”
“Is my MUM coming back today?”
“Wa?”
“Is MY mum coming back today?”
“Wa?”
“IS my MUM coming BACK toDAY?”
“Wa?”

All the while I was trying to figure out in my little head what this woman’s game was. Was she deaf? We had communicated alright, if sparsely, earlier in the day. Was she unable to speak English? I had heard her speak plenty of unfollowable Pidgin, but again, we had come this far. Was she just tormenting me? This was possible; I was only young but I was starting to learn that not all grown-ups are nice people. I just couldn’t tell what her angle was.

Eventually it got too much. I didn’t want to cry, but when that first swell of emotion hits that threshold between the chest and the throat there’s really nothing you can do. I stopped walking and let the tears come. After the first wave of blubbering had crashed I took a deep breath and screamed at the woman.

“TELL ME WHERE MY MUM IS RIGHT NOW!!”

The woman suddenly realised what was wrong. She grabbed me and hugged me and said “HEY HEY, BOY. ‘WA’ MEANS YES.’”

She’d been speaking Pidgin the whole time.

She spent the rest of the afternoon teaching me words I would probably need to sabe (know): the main one among them being wanem, which means “what?”, which I would use five hundred thousand times over the next few months. She taught me how to properly ask when (wataim) my mum (ama) was returning (kam bai’gen). She then took me back aus (home) for kaikai (food) which I steadfastly refused to kaikai (eat) because I was being a fussy little shit (fussy little shit).

I take back what I wrote earlier: I got one person to be nice to me. Thanks, lady whom I’ve almost entirely forgotten: you were the nicest person I met the entire time I lived that far north. You taught me how to communicate so I wouldn’t feel quite so alone, and kept me distracted enough so that I was able to spend at least one entire day not getting rained on by green tree ants.

9) 1989. ??? Street, Weipa QLD 4874

Triple question marks again. But this one isn’t my memory’s fault: We were only in this next place for two days. I don’t think we ever learnt what the address even was, let alone be able to remember it twenty-five years later.

As the whole point of this project is “sixty stories from sixty addresses”, you already know we didn’t stay in ??? Street in Edmonton. Even though the house was practically a mansion, we had Robby living with us being both an excellent person and a live-in nanny, and the local school didn’t entirely suck; we didn’t stay. Why?

The answer is: Dale. Every inexplicable decision from now until about 1998 can be answered thusly: Dale.

I know now—but did not know at the time—that Dale was a violent, controlling drunk. Well, I knew the drunk part: that’s much harder to hide, but I wasn’t aware of the other, more despicable depths of his nature. It was hidden from me alarmingly well, and for the first few years he was never aggressive towards me in any way. In fact, I felt very close to Dale for a time. This in itself makes the violence he inflicted elsewhere all the more insidious. I won’t be writing too much on the details, as those stories are my mother’s to tell, not mine; but she has, for the purposes of this blog, given me some details with permission to repeat them.

We moved north because we had no choice. We were entirely at the mercy of Dale’s whims. We’d already moved away from family in Mount Isa, and had no real ties in Cairns. He then made us financially dependent on him: Mum lost her job as the office manager of a car dealership because Dale would skulk around the premises all day, checking to see if she was talking to any “strange men”. Mum was given an ultimatum: “he goes or you go”, and if you don’t understand why that’s not technically a choice then you need to read some literature on domestic violence situations. She quietly resigned, and another tie to the outside world was severed.

With no family, no money, and no autonomy, Dale was in complete control. And we were headed north. Again, I didn’t realise how dire this situation was; to me it was just another cross-country adventure.

Though I would soon learn it was a pretty shitty adventure.

So, we leave Edmonton. Robby did not come with us: I don’t know why specifically, but one can only assume she heard the plan, thought about it for 0.000002 seconds, went “yeah, nah” and bounced the fuck outta there. Because she is smart. The four of us that remained clambered into Dale’s Nissan Navara—which didn’t have any backseats, can I just point out: only a “cavity” covered in blankets my sister and I perched uncomfortably on (I believe it’s called a “king cab”?)—and headed north, to the bewildering wilderness of Cape York Peninsula.

See that bit between the door and the trailer? THAT is where Lauren and I perched for the entire drive.

See that bit between the door and the trailer? THAT is where Lauren and I perched for the entire drive. Also, the missing front wheel? SPOILER. Keep reading.

Cape York. Land of long, unbending, unsealed roads. Low, dense scrub as far as the eye can see, split right down the middle by a single, unbroken corrugated dirt road.

This. For hours and hours and hours and hours and hours.

Everything about the area is ominous. Abandoned cars dot the landscape in an ominous manner. Wooden signs over rivers ominously warn of that river’s connection to an estuary, and the subsequent ominous danger of crocodiles. Anthills loom so ominously tall you can use them as cover to take a shit in complete—if ominous—privacy (THIS IS IMPORTANT, because if you take cover behind a tiny little shrub instead, your mother may well take a photo of you, mid-poop, for laughs).

Yes, I learnt this lesson the hard way.

Yes, I learnt this lesson the hard way.

Weipa, which is where we ended up (and am counting as an address, because by the time we got there it was the first house we’d been inside of in a week), was actually our third stop. Our first stop was a solitary roadhouse by the Archer river which sold a burger known as the Archer Burger. It was shockingly, devastatingly, inimitably tasty. Or maybe that’s just because I’d just spent who-knows how long wedged behind a bucket seat on a rolled up towel driving along hundreds of kilometres of corrugated dirt road, having not seen another living soul. Maybe it was like how McDonald’s tastes delicious when you’re hungover. All I know is that I’ve never had anything as delicious as that burger in my life since.

Mum just looooves photographing me with food either going in or coming out, huh?

Our second stop was in a weird hamlet called Coen. We weren’t going to stop there, we were going to drive on, but on our way out of town (where we drove past THIS creepy sight)…

Nice park, asshole.

…our car broke. Not broke down; just broke. The entire front axle got munted. We had to get a tow back into Coen, where we ended up staying two nights.

Oh! And the creepy backed-up-a-tree car? On the way back, we discovered it had disappeared. There was not a single trace of it. So obviously we were chuffed as fuck to spend 48 hours stranded in the area with a busted car. There’s a reason I can’t watch the movie Wrong Turn without violent sense-memory flashbacks.

Obviously, I’m here to tell the tale: we didn’t get chopped up by mountain men. We did in fact make it out of Coen almost entirely unscathed (though I would still very much like to know where the fuck that car went). Eventually we ended up in Weipa, which, almost 900 words in, is where this story was supposed to start. Sorry about that.

After the roadhouse on the Archer river and the Eli Roth-esque Coen, Weipa seemed like a thriving city. We were so happy to see paved roads. All six of them. We stopped, we stayed with some people, we looked briefly for a house in which to live, I enrolled in the local school…and two days later we left again. As before, I don’t know why any of this happened, I just know we didn’t really have a choice.

So, the people with whom we stayed: were they friends? Family members? Who were these people? I had no idea. All I know is they had a house that was probably quite big for them, but with four extra people jammed in it suddenly became tight and cramped. I know that our welcome was tenuous at best, and I know that the bathroom was always partially submerged in water. Always. A centimetre or two of water across the entire floor. It made going to the bathroom extremely uncomfortable, and taking a bath downright confusing.

I remember being mortified that there was a chance I was standing in other people’s pee (or worse), and testing the toilet to see if the water flowed out of the bowl. It did not. It came from somewhere else (or at least, leaked from a different part of the toilet). I tested the sink: it drained like it was supposed to, as did the shower. I never found out where the water came from.

Compared with what was to come next, living in this house would be the most comfortable I would feel until well until into the next year. And this was a house with so much standing water in it, you had to go outside to get away from the mosquitoes. There’s a reason I can’t watch the music video for Shania Twain’s “Don’t Be Stupid” without violent sense-memory flashbacks.