Nothing at all to do with theatre ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Nothing at all to do with theatre

This morning, I heard that Bree died. She was 29 years old.

Bree lived down the road, at the commission flats. I didn't know her very well, but I knew a little about her life. Every now and then she would turn up at the front door. Usually she needed money. If we had it, we gave her some. Sometimes we were as broke as she was, and she got nothing.

She always had a story. Sometimes I knew it was true, sometimes I knew she was lying. I told her once not to insult me by making up stories, and after that I don't think she did. Sometimes she needed $10 to pay for prescription drugs, or to buy toilet paper, but most often she spent it on alcohol. Sometimes she just wanted advice: she had a legal letter that she didn't understand, or she wanted to know where she could find information about epilepsy. A couple of times she turned up because she wanted a hug and a kind word. "I'm so lonely," she said once. "I'm just so lonely."

Whether she was lying or not, whether or not she turned on the waterworks, the sorrow was real. I never felt able to judge her.

Over the past five years, we've been watching Bree kill herself. She had multiple problems: as well as her alcoholism - sometimes she turned up stinking of meths - she suffered from epilepsy, and a host of other illnesses that stemmed from her addiction. She had two children whom she saw occasionally, when they visited. They lived in Geelong with their father. She was a terrible mother, but she adored her son, a sweet-faced blond boy. A couple of years ago, she had another baby, but it died.

It wasn't as if Bree didn't understand that her life was shit. She was poor and ill-educated and sick, but she wasn't stupid. She was ashamed of what her life had made her. For a long time, she struggled: she wanted dignity, she wanted to live a better life. Once she turned up, clean and shining with hope. She had got a job through the social services, and was on a program to combat her alcoholism. For a week, everything was looking rosy. Then she lost the job: she said it was because she had an epileptic fit at work and they told her they didn't have the resources to cope with her illness. She might have just fallen off the wagon. I don't know. But after that, something in her gave up.

She was sexually promiscuous. I'm also sure that she was raped. She was certainly often on the wrong end of violence. She stole things, although she never stole from us. She was despised by the people at the commission flats. "She was still warm," said the woman who told us of her death. "And they were already ripping her to pieces".

A few months ago, the doctors told her that if she didn't stop drinking, she would die. The next day she was pissed.

There are no homilies to be drawn from her life. Many people tried to help her, and they couldn't. She was part of the underclass that we won't admit we have, and she couldn't climb out of it. Too many things were against her: her poverty, her health, her class, her lack of education, the brutal facts of her life. I could never find it in me to blame her for wanting to escape into an alcoholic haze.

I can't get over the sadness I feel at the terrible waste of Bree's life. No, she wasn't important, and she wasn't good, and some people will say that trash like her won't be missed anyway. But she was a feeling, living human being, and now she's dead. And I want to pay my respects, because I have nothing else to give her.


sydney arts journo said...

Thanks Alison. This means a lot, to a lot of us.

richardwatts said...

A thoughtful, honest and touching tribute.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for reminding us all that 'problem people' are still people, with problems.

Anonymous said...

Everybody deserves respect, and it looks like you respected Bree. As someone who's going through a rough patch at the moment-- and who knows what it's like to be looked down upon-- thanks for this.

stinginthetail said...

lovely post - poor Bree. I always think 'there but for the grace of God go i'. I'm currently in the Underclass by virtue of income, where i live, and disability. (Once i was a nice middleclass girl with a university education.)

Homelessness is a breath away, and the pressure to just give in and take up drugs or alcoholism as a way of life is immense. I don't feel sorry for Bree - i do feel for her.

rubyjoymurray said...

I linked to this through twitter, randomly, and thank you. It made my morning all the more thoughtful and strange.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks, all, for your comments. I hesitated over whether to post this, but you reassure me.

I hate that shit about the "deserving poor". Bree didn't deserve the hand she was dealt. Nobody does.

Mark in Brisbane said...

Thank you Alison...for thoughtfulness, honesty and perspective.

Charlie said...

My best friend from primary school dropped off my map about ten years ago, and I've recently enquired at the local police station to see if they have any record of her. They certainly do (although of course they can't tell me what it contains). They just warned me that she's definitely not someone I should try to get back in touch with, but I know she's not a bad person - she's just got a bad life. She had a shitty childhood, and she got lumped with shitty choices, and she's never had anyone be there for her since we lost touch. So I'm glad you were there for Bree. It makes me feel that maybe I might have the strength to be there for Maddy.

Anonymous said...

I read this.

Not sure what else to say. Mere words are insufficient.

Thank-you Alison.
I'm sorry Bree.

maria said...

alison, you say bree was not important
you make a mistake
she was/is as important as you or me or
any one alive
thank you for writing about her life

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your heartfelt tribute. Sometimes we forget what a fine line it is. We all know someone like Bree and it's good to be reminded to treat everyone with dignity and kindness.

Anonymous said...

A very moving tribute. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

You make the world a better place, Ms Croggon. Thanks. Marcelle

R.H. said...

If everyone got an equal chance there'd be less chance for you.

Alison Croggon said...

I don't actually believe that. It's a useful lie, though. It would mean less chance for a very few to make obscenely many times as much money as the very many, perhaps.

R.H. said...

It's true, it's why all the arts are mediocre -at best.

And besides, there's no affluence for any of you without a cattle class.

Alison Croggon said...


Which arts? What? "Equality" (or, better, justice) isn't about everyone being the same. Nor has a high income ever guaranteed anyone artistic talent or a low income prevented it. But you can persist in your delusions if you wish. I'm not stopping you.

R.H. said...

I personally know a lot of schizophrenics with delusions. If you did you wouldn't go about diagnosing, maybe.
I've got opinions, that's all, capable of change.
You won't see many products of a drunken pigsty upbringing in your theatre audience, not because they despise culture but because it's never been brought out in them. They don't have pushy parents, they have parents who really don't give a damn about their future. That's the truth.
You can believe me or not, I grew up among enormous human waste, a waste of talent. Equality (or better justice) is indeed about everyone having the same chances. But good parental income and kind upbringing doesn't guarantee talent, my word no, just have a look around.

Alison Croggon said...

Er...yes. It's not rocket science that our society as presently structured depends on an exploited class, although it's mostly in the so-called developing world. That structure is held together by the belief and fear that if you don't push your own boot into those faces, you too will be sucked down and become socially invisible and marginalised, poor, homeless, jobless, etc. You seemed to be expressing that belief; perhaps I mistook your meaning. It is, as I said, a useful lie, and readily promoted by those whom it serves to those whom it makes powerless. That's what I mean by delusion. You could call it a social pathology if you wanted.

I have personally had far more to do with mental illness than I would like, and I meant no disrespect. But you don't have to have a mental illness to be deluded.

R.H. said...

I try to be accurate, avoiding cliches ("it ain't rocket science"), and won't misuse clinical terms like deluded. Because no amount of pleading, love, (or even money) will stop the deluded from murdering relatives, friends and so on. Rationalised greed makes excuses for exploiting people, that's all. It's nothing to do with "Messages from God".
I've always understood from experts that the middle class are continually in fear of sinking to the lower level. And of course where there's fear there's mythology. Stereotyping too, and assumption. Meanwhile the middle class are charged with keeping the lower orders docile; social workers (all social, no work) do it with sweet talk and cliche. Most of it based on assumption. For instance it turned my social worker niece partly grey to discover I'm not a drunkard like my father, because all her text books said so.
While she was visiting here one time I went out to the shed to get something "Ah, a man and his shed," she said, and was certain of it.

You're not the only one who's said "it's not rocket science" this week. Kerryn Goldsworthy has said it too.
Really, I expect better from my betters.

Alison Croggon said...

Nothing wrong with the odd colloquialism.

"Delude" is a perfectly good English word that has a much wider application than in the clinic. Here is the dictionary definition:

Main Entry: de·lu·sion
Pronunciation: \di-ˈlü-zhən, dē-\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin delusion-, delusio, from deludere
Date: 15th century

1 : the act of deluding : the state of being deluded
2 a : something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated b : a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary; also : the abnormal state marked by such beliefs

You'll see the clinical application is Definition B.

I'm not sure what your point is, since it's not clear at all. And it seems to me that you haven't understood what I have said. Maybe just leave it here, eh?

R.H. said...

Okay. If I were deluded I wouldn't.

PS: I saw you on Bush Slam, you're sure looking good, curvier than a Queensland Gerrymander.


Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Robert. (I think!) And cheers.

epistemysics said...

Firstly, my condolences. Secondly, if you haven't read "The Lady in the Van" by Alan Bennett (it's in his first lot of memoirs, 'Writing Home'), then now would be a good time to read it, in fact, probably the best time in your life to - reading your tribute reminded me of it quite strongly...