THE DAY STEVE DIED

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I was standing at the milk bar counter like I did every weekend; it was raining on this particular Saturday. I always went to the milkbar on a Saturday and bought a hamburger. It seemed fitting that it was raining. I had just found out that Steve had taken his own life. I was 20.

Steve lived in my neighbourhood and we went to the same primary and highschool. Steve was a couple of years younger than and so we didn’t really hang out but we spoke; he was a lot quieter than I was. Other than living in the same neighbourhood we had another bond; we are both children born to Greek migrants.

Now back in the 80’s it was a difficult road to navigate. My children can’t imagine what it would be like to go to school and be called wog. Or to be told to go back to your country; fuelling confusion when you know that the meek response of “but I was born here” isn’t going to cut it with these mean spirited people.

Complaining to our parents was futile because it only seemed to cement their view that those “Anglo Aussies” are not to be trusted and their suggestions that we hang around our ‘own kind’ just wasn’t enough to clear the fog of confusion.

Steve and I well, there was a common thread amongst all of us wog kids. We lacked a real identity. Our parents expected one thing thing from us; the Anglos another; and lastly, the thing that got the least attention, was what we wanted for ourselves.

It’s difficult navigating two sets of identity; one at home, one at school. It’s difficult living up to two sets of expectations. It’s difficult when you know the rules make it near to impossible to succeed in either.

Children of NESB migrant parents are particularly vulnerable. Migrant parents know how to do guilt. “We came to this country to give you a better life. We came to this country so you can go to university, get a good job and look after us. We came to this country and those Australians don’t like us; don’t trust them. We came to this country to give you a better education; you must study. We came to this country but you still need to be Greek.”

It always felt like we had to be more responsible, more mature and more accountable than our Anglo Australian counterparts.

This sort of rhetoric isn’t news to anybody. Even to the Anglo Australians. A lot of us felt like we were in limbo. And when you’re a teenager it’s hard to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

We weren’t fine. Steve wasn’t fine.

The difference between me and Steve? I whinged and complained. I had friends who whinged and complained too. Nobody had an answer; we all just kind of bonded over our shitty situation.

Some even told us to quit our whinging because ‘you’re not the only one with this sort of pressure’

No, we’re not. Most of us did manage to get through; battle weary and scarred but alive.

Steve is not alive.

On the morning Steve died he wrote a 2 page letter and he left it on his bed. Steve’s older brother came to visit that morning and he and his mother wondered why Steve was sleeping in for so long.

Steve’s brother found the letter on his bed. He rushed out to find Steve but it was too late. Steve was already dead.

It didn’t take long for the news to go around. We were stunned but if I am going to be honest, and I suppose this is the time to be honest, I wasn’t completely surprised. Not because I had particular insight into Steve’s state of mind, but because all of us at one time or another had broken down and wondered if it were better to be dead.

Seeing Steve’s mother pained me. I’m sure migrant parents don’t intend to put pressure on their kids. I’m sure they feel the frustration of being in a new country and thinking their culture is dying. I’m positive they are trying to ensure we are successful so we never have to feel insecure.

Migrant parents are insecure. Migrants, especially asylum seekers, leave their native country and come here to Australia to a whole other world of uncertainty and insecurity. Can you imagine what insecurity does to you and your mental health after a few years? It wears you down, it grinds at your resolve.

My parents didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until they owned their house outright. That’s when they finally had stability. Because they never felt they had job security. 40 years after they came to Australia they could finally breathe. Migrant parents try to control their situation; to make it more secure. Their children are their ticket to security.

It’s a huge burden.

That Saturday standing at the milk bar talking to the owners about Steve, I looked across the street and I could have sworn I saw him walking with his dark green jacket, black hair and head hung low like he always did.

I wish I had asked Steve if he was okay. Would it have made a difference? It might have bought Steve another day. That extra day may have turned into 1000 extra days. Maybe the fact that I had a group of wog friends that I could whinge to saved me from a similar fate. Like I said, Steve didn’t talk much.

RUOK? It’s a simple question. What’s key here is that if someone asks you RUOK? don’t just say “yeah fine”. It’s not a cursory ‘how are you?’ as you pass someone in the hall. Give the question the answer it deserves. The truth.

If you want to talk to someone please contact one of these organizations below.
www.lifeline.org.au
www.kidshelpline.com.au
www.reachout.com
www.ruokday.com.au

20 Comments

  • At 2011.09.14 17:28, rachel said:

    wow, marita. you have given insight into so many different issues here and said it so beautifully. thank goodness you had the support of friends who understood your situation. what a shame steve did not feel that same support even though it was probably there for him too.
    my husband is from a migrant family (from asia) and he has often described that pull that you just did. he said it was like he never truly fitted in wherever he was – in asia they thought he was too aussie and here he was always the token asian kid. this was also in the 80’s but he was child then. it was difficult for him more so in his teens. thankfully he got through it.
    x

    • At 2011.09.21 23:38, Maria said:

      Thanks Rachel. It is such a bizarre notion to be displaced in the only place you’ve known as home.

      And I always find it interesting when ‘they’ bang on about integrating when ‘they’ make it difficult from the outset.

      Thanks for the visit and the comment.

      Love & stuff
      Mrs M

    • At 2011.09.14 17:53, David Sander said:

      I had friends in school who were Australian-born with foreign parents (as well as others who were foreign-born themselves). It was very much a multi-cultural environment. I didn’t care where they were from. It was exciting to be exposed to different foods, ways of thinking, speaking, interpreting the world. I welcomed it. I never considered any of my school mates as inferior or weird or unworthy, and I’m pleased to say that amongst my fellow pupils I was not unique, either. It annoyed me there were some “Anglo-Aussies” students who expressed bigotry, but even back then I reckoned that kind of idiocy was a result of parental indoctrination rather than any genuine rationalisation.
      Maybe I was as open-minded as I was as I have a parent who is foreign born (Scotland), and maybe developed some level of empathy (even though culturally there was never any of the pressures as experienced by my peers), but it was nowhere near like some students, especially who were expected to speak their parents’ native tongue at home and English at school. Even then I respected their tenacity, as I was witness to how tough it could be for them.
      Steve’s story is depressingly far from unique, and it is difficult to imagine the current trauma being suffered by refugees and their families as they attempt to build a new life in a nation that openly expresses hatred and bigotry at them, from talk-back radio hosts all the way to some vociferous members of our government. How many innocent lives that will cost is anyone’s guess.
      Am I okay? No, but outside the concern of a very small number of very close friends (who all have their own problems), nobody seems to care these days, so I barely mention it any more. I’ve gone beyond the “yeah fine” and “not really” and through “I’ve got to see someone, please help” and “this is serious”, and nothing has been done about it, so I bury myself in work and turn bad thoughts and feelings and anxieties and depression into good things like stories and art and music and hospitality and helping others.
      It kind of works.
      Kind of.

      • At 2011.09.21 23:46, Maria said:

        The thing is Dave I don’t think anyone is ever okay all of the time. I know this is making light of the situation but an actress friend of mine who had a pretty good childhood found it hard to be method because she had no reference point to draw upon for a range of emotions.

        We all do the best we can everyday. I write. Most bloggers will say that writing is like a form a therapy. They’re not wrong.

        Thanks for the visit. It means a lot.

        Love & stuff
        Mrs M

      • At 2011.09.15 12:04, Becci said:

        It’s great to see another side of the immigrant life (from what I see) and feel for those that are still vilified for being from somewhere else. I was sheltered growing up in the Southern suburbs but my parents were very open minded and were English/NZ immigrants themselves. It wasn’t until I was 30 and started going out with a boy from the Western suburbs with a Maltese family and then lived in Cabramatta for a time then worked in a school for new arrivals that my eyes were totally opened and I now love the diversity of this country. But also have seen the trauma that these children go through. Thankyou for your story.

        • At 2011.09.21 23:58, Maria said:

          Hi Becci,

          I too love the diversity. When there is no agenda other than to get to know people, conversations with people from varying backgrounds are the best.

          And I just think these kids can’t get their head around the politics of Australia’s Multicultural Policy and how much of society accepts of rejects the idea. It’s just not fair to use kids is this fashion.

          And like you said, you eyes are totally open and it can only lead to good things.

          Thanks for the visit.

          Love & stuff
          Mrs M

        • At 2011.09.15 14:10, MummyK said:

          Great stuff M, great stuff. This is an awesome post and rings so true. I can definitely relate being only a citizen for over two years. There’s that sense of insecurity, definitely something people should talk about.

          • At 2011.09.22 00:03, Maria said:

            MummyK,

            It is criminal that a smart lady like you should feel insecure. It really is. I hope no-one dismisses you and that sense of insecurity. Because that would just be insincere.

            Love & stuff
            Mrs M

          • At 2011.09.16 00:54, Nicole aka _wideeyedgirl said:

            Maria – this was just a beautiful read from start to finish. Thank you
            (My Dad came here when he was two on a ship from Italy, your post resonated more than you know! xxx)
            Nicole x

            • At 2011.09.22 00:04, Maria said:

              Nicole, it’s a bitter sweet moment when someone says that can relate to this post. Great, because I’m not the only but on the other hand, what a shitty thing to relate to. You don’t wish this stuff on anyone.

              Love & stuff
              Mrs M

            • At 2011.09.16 01:33, Twitchy said:

              I told you you could do it and so glad you did. Beautifully written, and much I could relate to. My experience of being first generation Aussie was not as intense as yours because both my folks came here in their early teens, so the effect was somewhat lessened. But I do know what it feels like to not feel exactly right at either place, with home and cultural expectation at one end and Aussie friends, Christmas and state school at the other. Well done and thank you for sharing this. xxx

              • At 2011.09.22 00:09, Maria said:

                Twitchy, I thought I had these thoughts and emotions in check but when I started writing it I realised if I poke around enough emotions come to the fore again.

                I suppose it’s less about me and just fierce irritation that this sort of racism just shifts from one race to another. Used to be Europeans, then Asians and now people from Middle East and Africa. Have we learned nothing?

                Love & stuff
                Mrs M

              • At 2011.09.17 01:36, Purple_cath said:

                Oh man. Amazing post. So sorry for your loss. It must have been so confronting. I get you I truly do. I’m sorry for the Steve’s death but what really affected me was “Steve and I well, there was a common thread amongst all of us wog kids. We lacked a real identity. Our parents expected one thing thing from us; the Anglos another; and lastly, the thing that got the least attention, was what we wanted for ourselves.

                It’s difficult navigating two sets of identity; one at home, one at school. It’s difficult living up to two sets of expectations. It’s difficult when you know the rules make it near to impossible to succeed in either.”

                I went to school with so many children from different nationalities, my friends and long term boyfriend were all different. I was the only “skip” I loved what they taught me yet I am so proud to call all of them my friends for exactly what you described above and how they navigated it.
                Thank you so much for your insight.
                I’m so glad we’re connected. Love. -xxx-

                • At 2011.09.22 00:16, Maria said:

                  Hi Cath,

                  I will say that not every ‘skip’ I came across was nasty to me, or us wogs. But there was one girl that used to go on and on about being 6th generation Australian. Drove me nuts.

                  I often wonder things like I described above make us stronger or weaken us a little bit. I don’t know. Little bit of both depending on the day? I suppose the one thing it has done is, I can easily recognise false people now.

                  I’m very glad we’ve connected to. I like that I know I can throw questions out there and you consider them. That means a lot.

                  Love & stuff
                  Mrs M

                • At 2011.09.19 07:03, kirri said:

                  A story beautifully retold. I think I may have mentioned it before….I always learn from reading your musings and continue to ponder your words for some time later. Im so grateful for that and (note to self) I must visit more often!!

                  On a side note….your commenting style is really something special. So intelligent and you have that ability to throw a little something unique in your comments, every time. Maybe something you can market?

                  ~Kirri

                  • At 2011.09.22 00:21, Maria said:

                    Hi Kirri,

                    Such a lovely comment. Thank you. As for my commenting style, I love a good discussion; that’s how I learn more, from you guys. :-)

                    Thanks for the visit Kirri.

                    Love & stuff
                    Mrs M

                  • At 2011.09.19 16:02, Grace said:

                    Being a child of migrant parents, this post resonates with me.
                    “Migrant parents try to control their situation; to make it more secure.”
                    I remember my childhood being riddled with money problems, been told we couldn’t do a lot of things because we couldn’t afford it. But yes, there is no point f you externalise it. Whinge. Complain. People think it doesn’t make it difference. It changed things in volumes for me.
                    Thanks for sharing this story, Mrs. M xxx

                    • At 2011.09.22 00:29, Maria said:

                      Grace,

                      The money thing…. old habits die hard too. My dad still lives a very simple life while watching others around him with new stuff. God knows what he’s waiting for. He’s 78.

                      And I got the “so this job that you got, did your degree help with that? Because the 3 years you spent at uni you could have been working and saving”.

                      My father never understood the concept of unlimited earning capacity. Still doesn’t. He was a blue collar worker with a hundred standing in a line behind him ready to take his job. That’s how he understood life.

                      I wonder if children of frugal migrant parents are frugal themselves or more flippant when it comes to money.

                      Thanks for the comment.

                      Love & stuff
                      Mrs M

                    • At 2011.09.23 21:16, Daisy said:

                      I’m finally getting around to a few of the RUOK? posts! This was brilliant to read. Very informative. I did a lot of study on migrant Australia in Theatre at uni of all places! Everything I read spoke about children of migrants feeling displaced in their country of birth, but I’ve never seen it quite like you put it.
                      Thank you for sharing xx

                      • At 2011.09.23 21:27, Maria said:

                        Hi Daisy,

                        It is a very unique and peculiar thing. Not even my parents would understand how we feel. Because when they were growing up they felt very much part of their mother country and only felt displaced when they migrated. Whereas to feel displaced right from the word go, it’s weird. It does get better as you get older and by the time we hit adulthood we’ve got it sussed. But for our parents, it’s in their adulthood that they start to feel displaced. So we’re leading opposite lives in a sense.

                        Glad you liked the post and thanks for the visit.

                        Love & stuff
                        Mrs M.

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