When you’re a child your home will stretch as far as the walk to the corner shop with your parents or your two older brothers. One brother will be skinny and passive and the other will have a large skull and make a lot of jokes. End up a mix of the two. Splash around the inflatable swimming pool during summer and squish pink playdough in front of the gas heater during winter. Accompany your dad to work one day because you like how it feels to write on a whiteboard. Go with your Mum whenever she goes to get a packet of Pall Mall Green 25s, Baseline, and hold her hand because sometimes she gets you a piece of raspberry liquorice as well. The shop owner will like your big brown eyes and wild black hair. Go for years without knowing his name but assuming it is something like Akash or Maneet. When you’re fifteen his family will leave the business and he will give you purple freesias to say goodbye. Learn that his name was Dan.
Your high school will be poor and degenerating, and no one there will really seem to mind. Get to school late every day and complain to everyone that you hate it. Exert minimal effort and receive mediocre results. Sit next to the popular girl in Year 11 history and observe her very childlike handwriting. Spend the remaining three years of school wishing the boy you liked preferred you rather than her. Dream of the moment you finally get to leave. Struggle to picture what exactly you want to do when you leave, but be sure that you want to leave. Learn to drive to aid this desire. Make the transition from car park to road prematurely and pop the front tyre on a drain when you try to turn your first corner. Cry because you have to call your dad now and you’re embarrassed. Stop crying when he calmly – almost cheerfully – changes your tyre and says, these things just happen when you’re learning. A few weeks later at your graduation prizegiving the guest speaker will be a former student who got rich and famous for playing rugby really well. He will address his audience as Youse Guys and everybody will leave feeling really inspired.
But most of the people from your year will stay at home after that and you should too. Spend the first summer swimming at the local pool and telling relatives you’re looking for a job. Spend so much time at the pool that the lifeguard asks you if you would like to work there. Accept on the spot with a big smile and nod and do a really good job for four years. End up in a semi-serious relationship with your much older co-worker which appears to accelerate your mental growth exponentially, then just as you move in together on the other side of town, watch it fall apart. Cite the twelve year age gap and observe him getting really upset because he was hoping you’d have his kids. Begin to feel the blue of the chlorinated pools make your eyes sting and your head spin. Hand in your whistle, keys, log book and sorries.
Move back into the sleep-out at Mum and Dad’s. Talk for hours with Dad about the town’s gradual gentrification and get your mum’s Pall Mall Green 25s, Baseline, for her when she’s too tired. Notice that it’s been ten years since Dan’s family left the corner store and not once have the new owners shown any interest in who you are. Consider that you aren’t as interesting as you were when you were a child. Reconnect with your girlfriends from high school to see if you’re still interesting at all. A couple of them have kids and husbands. Be unsure of what to make of this. Go to the bar with them and bump into the boy you liked as a teenager. Let him notice that your cheeks are now acne-free and your chest has developed from a pale, featureless plane into a strong, shadowy B-cup. Accept his advances with the same eagerness you would’ve had at seventeen and try not to wonder why he’s not with the same pretty girl from high school, even when, six months into the relationship, you keep catching him talking to her. Put up a good fight for him because the two of you have shared numerous delicate intimacies in the early hours of the morning - sometimes partially drunk but always completely honest conversations about being lost and unsure and scared but okay because you have each other. Be in love. Be sure of it. Forgive his shortcomings and meet his family and have two kids in the next five years to prove it.
Do all of these things, and do all of them with sturdy righteousness, because you don’t want to be like Freya. Freya left here after graduation, and is the kind of person who will go on to become another of those ghastly guest speakers. She will present a speech about getting into a prestigious dance school we haven’t heard of and working for three tough years with teachers whose names she announces as if anyone might have a clue who they were. She’ll talk about how, even when she landed all the roles and won all the prizes, she felt like she wanted more. She’ll talk about how her craving for adventure saw her take up a yearlong internship teaching English in Laos. She’ll mention her moments of uncertainty and tell the kids it’s okay to have them. She’ll put up a goddam slideshow of her OE, and have the whole school in awe, thinking that’s the kind of lives they want to live.
She’ll look striking and beautiful and happy in all of her photos with her weight loss and her haircut and her bird tattoos but she won’t say what it was about the real world that made her change her appearance like that. She won’t mention watching her parents balding and greying through blurry Skype calls home that kept cutting out or the evenings she would burst into tears when she got home because there was never anyone there waiting for her. She’ll show you waterfalls of the most brilliant blue and shots of real-life wild baby tigers and she’ll tell you the world is yours but she’ll leave out all the bad parts because she’s no different from anyone who never leaves home, just sadder and lonelier.
Ignore her. Ignore anyone like her as well.