When I was 12 years old, my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. She was probably expecting me to say something along the lines of doctor or lawyer. Maybe teacher. As regular readers know, I said, “Rich.” Naturally, this led to her asking how I planned on becoming rich. I said marriage.
My mother felt rich isn’t something that just happens to a person without some sort of work, however. But why work for your money when you can marry it? And anyway, doesn’t everyone say that marriage is hard work? It hardly seems like the easy road to a black Amex. “Was there anyone in particular I wanted to marry?” she asked. Someone old, preferably with a heart condition. That way, on the wedding night, after a little vigorous activity in the bedroom department, you might get lucky and experience the joys of early- onset widowhood. Widowhood is always better when experienced with an exposed cleavage and no veil to shroud the face.
And they have these homes where they keep those kind of people. A sort of stud farm for humans. You go in, choose your favourite one and then wheel him out into the car park, load him into the car and drive him to your nearest register office. If Anna Nicole Smith could do it, why couldn’t I? We shared the same hair colour, after all. And there was a chance that, one day, I might be blessed with boobs, too. I wanted to be Smith. What’s so wrong with that? Not to mention that I’d be doing someone somewhere a huge favour by taking their unwanted burden off their hands. Do you know how much it costs to home a stud at the farm?
A few years have passed since that particular conversation and, needless to say, the riches aren’t visible on the horizon. I’m now too old to have my pick of studs on the farm. It turns out that, when you are an adult human woman, there’s an expiration date on your ability to marry for money: around the time your boob can hold a pen in place when you put one underneath it. Which is why I now have to work for it. The old-school way. Which is also why I’m now sitting here, writing this sad tale of rebellion – or should that be non-rebellion? Life can slap you in the teeth like that sometimes.
Not that, with the benefit of hindsight, Smith is someone I would encourage anyone to aspire to be. Her story, though glorious when it began, didn’t end that way. But back then, was there anything else a 12-year-old could aspire to be? Who doesn’t believe in love trumping adversity? Yes, that might sound naive, but I blame Disney for skewing my life view. She was the princess whom the prince in his gleaming chrome wheelchair came to the rescue of, releasing her from that cruel master that is the stripper pole. He knew she was worth more than a crumpled dollar in her G-string and, like the Prince Charming he so obviously was, he went out and proved it.
The reason for me failing in my journey to a soluble bank account wasn’t me, though. I blame my mother. She encouraged me. Steered me away from the path of selling my body to the highest bidder with her mantra that I could be anything I wanted to be. A little hard work is all it would take, she said, and then the world would be my oyster. And like the trusting little thing I was, I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. To quote from the gospel of the children of destiny, the rock I’m rockin’? Oh wait, I’m not. It’s the classic parental mistake: you push your kid to dream, fill them with hope and sit back while it’s all hacked away, like an arm infected with gangrene up to the elbow. Apparently, though, not all dreams are created equal or worthy of being pursued. Mine wasn’t. Which is when I rebelled. By not rebelling.
Rebellion is hard to achieve when it’s expected of you. And everyone expects a teenager to rebel. Especially my mother. But then, in her defence, she wasn’t allowed to do anything when she was young, which meant that she allowed me to do everything. For some reason, on my first day of sixth-form college, she decided it was her duty to take me in (possibly because she hadn’t slept all night). Her parting words of wisdom outside the college gates were, “Now that you’re 16, you’ll probably want to try drugs. That’s fine – just remember natural is always best. If you want to try acid, let me know. We can do it together. If you must try cocaine, then just a little on the gum. Look at me, I haven’t slept all night.”
To this day, I’m still not sure what put me off drugs more – watching Christiane F detox in that West Berlin hellhole of a flat, locked in her bedroom and projectile vomiting on the walls, or my mother actively giving me permission to get high. It wasn’t the permission thing that put me off necessarily, it was more the idea that at some point, in what sounded like the not-too-distant future, I might find myself sitting opposite her at the kitchen table, with us chopping lines together. No matter how close you might be to your parents, there are moments when you want to keep a bit of distance, this probably being at the top of that list.
For my mother, though, not rebelling isn’t natural. It’s also the sort of thing you want to get out of your system as quickly as possible, ideally between the ages of 16 and 18. Leave it any longer and it has a tendency to become ugly. The only problem with that being it’s very hard to do if you have nothing to rebel against. The rules in my house were very simple: there were no rules. The theory was that if any were in place, you’d still find a way to do whatever it was you weren’t allowed to do, and should things go wrong when doing the thing you weren’t allowed to do, the consequences would be worse than if you’d been allowed to do the thing in the first place.
When my mother was growing up, if she wanted to go to a party, my grandma would purposely occupy the bathroom so that my mother couldn’t wash her hair, something that she still cannot leave the house without doing. So instead, she’d wash her hair with Fairy liquid in the kitchen sink and not come home for three days. Not on purpose. She would go to the party and, on her way home, run into someone she knew and go on to another party and, before she knew it, a couple of days would have passed before she finally made it home – my grandma, in the meantime, would have called the police to report her missing. This was, of course, during a time before mobile phones, when keeping tabs on your wayward offspring was much harder. And calling home to check in goes out of the window when you’re having fun.
And so, I was pretty much free to do as I pleased. Which I did. And which, in its own way, became a cause of much worry. Not that the going out and doing as I pleased was the worry. What worried my mother was that I wasn’t going out enough. I’d always thought that being out twice a week (and by out I don’t mean at the cinema or anything that can be done in daylight hours) and on days that weren’t at the weekend (hardly anyone else at school was out on a school night) was pretty good going. But apparently not. In my mother’s eyes, when you’re young, you enjoy it, because youth is to be enjoyed and I wasn’t enjoying mine enough. What she was worried about was me not rebelling.
So I tried. In the only way I knew how. And failed. I got a tattoo. I didn’t fail in the getting-a-tattoo part. That worked out pretty well. I walked into Saints tattoo studio on Portobello Road, saw a butterfly on the wall (cliché, I know) and had the man needle it onto my wrist. In black and white. And then I went home and proudly displayed it for my parents to see, waiting for the uproar to begin. And nothing. My father thought I’d drawn it on myself and suggested I should think about going to art school because it was so good. My mother thought it was a transfer and very pretty.
It was six months before she realised it was real and confronted me about it on the bus on the way to the cinema. I said it was fake. She said she wasn’t stupid. To which I replied that I knew she wasn’t stupid, but it was she who had told me six months previously that it was fake. I wasn’t giving her lip, I was just stating a fact. She asked me what I was going to do when, in 20 years’ time, my skin started to sag and hang off my wrist like a pair of wrinkly, overfished knickers and the tattoo became ugly, to which I responded that, by the time that happened, I would be able to afford a diamond bracelet to cover it up. She said I’d better hope that I could afford two. One to cover it up and one for her, to make up for the pain I’d caused her by getting it done in the first place.
Which brings us back, in a rather roundabout way, to Smith. Admittedly, the skin on my wrist isn’t sliding off the bone like the flesh of a well-cooked chicken yet, but give it another 10 years and there’s a chance it might start to. The way things are looking, though, that diamond bracelet is going to have to be paste. And if she had let me follow my dream, she would have had the chance of being given a real one. The moral of this story? Always let your child dream, and never, ever encourage them to rebel against you. It could backfire spectacularly. She has a long wait ahead of her for those sparkly carats.
Text by Natalie Dembinska
Illustration by Stephen Doherty
Taken from the latest issue of10 Magazine Australia, REBEL HEART, on newsstands now…