A wise old man by the name of My Grandpa once told me that every artist needs a Wound. Van Gogh was psychotic. Kurt Cobain’s parents divorced and his mother remarried an abuser. Taylor Swift was bullied at school, and then again at twenty-six by Kimye in a social media war which led to the creation of the best, most wondrous musical album that has ever graced the surface of this Earth. There, I said it. Fight me.
But what My Grandpa didn’t know was that I, too, have a Wound. I, too, have suffered for my art and lived to tell the tale. And the tale is this:
When I was four we used to go to Sunday School in this community centre in Bondi. While the Grown-Ups went to Proper Church, the kids were sent upstairs to colour in pictures of Jesus and sing songs by Colin Buchanan. I have lots of traumatic memories from this period of my life, such as wearing a pink frilly dress one time and being made fun of by the boys for being Too Girly, and another time when I ran at a strange man’s legs and hugged them, assuming he was my father (which was odd since Dad has literally never set foot in a religious institution in the whole time I have known him), only to be horribly embarrassed and disappointed. But no memory was as traumatic as the time I encountered the thing that would go on to haunt me for the rest of my days.
Of course, I had been in The Elevator before, with parents or the Sunday School teachers as they chaperoned us around between hymn singing and colouring in. But, being four and therefore stupid, I hadn’t quite worked out the mechanics behind it. All I knew was that you were in one place, then the doors closed, and when they opened you were in another. Kind of like a real-life game of ‘peek-a-boo’ except instead of the same person pulling different faces each time, you were on Level 3 instead of Ground Floor.
So, one Sunday, in the bit after Sunday School and Proper Church had finished, when all the Grown-Ups mingle for Biscuits and Tea and the children all sit around waiting to be taken home, I decided to do some exploring.
There The Elevator stood, in all its majestic glory, buttons waiting to be pressed. And I am nothing if not adventurous, so naturally, I pressed them. Proud of myself for how cleverly I was handling this whole independent elevator experience so far, I listened for the ‘ding!’ and when it came, and the doors slid open, I stepped inside eagerly. The doors closed behind me. Here we go. I waited, bouncing on the balls of my feet, for the magic to begin.
Eventually, I started to panic. Something wasn’t right. The doors weren’t opening. It occurred to me suddenly that they might never open again. Maybe this would be where I lived out the rest of my days! What would I do for food? Where would I go to the toilet? Would I ever see my family again? What if I died, and I hadn’t even written a will, so nobody would know what to do with all my toys and drawings???
Then, suddenly, we spurred into motion, The Elevator and I. Thank fuck, I thought to myself, probably. There’s that rumbling feeling beneath my feet. Any minute now the doors will open and I’ll be back where I started and my family will weep for joy that they found me and we can put all of this behind us and move on with our lives.
I was half right. The doors did open – but, much to my dismay, they did not open on the familiar carpeted second floor where all the Sunday School rooms were, where my sobbing family was undoubtedly waiting for my return. Instead, they opened into a big, concrete underground area that I had never seen before. A Grown-Up stepped past me inside, and – terrified of being trapped in The Elevator for any longer – I bolted out. The doors slid closed again and I was left alone in the darkness.
I don’t know how long I wandered around there for, dwelling on happy memories of the Life I Once Had. The things I had taken for granted, like preschool and yoghurt and my parents. I could barely even remember what they looked like anymore. Such is always the way, I suppose. Like a bird, I had spread my wings and left the nest, and somehow ended up in a basement carpark to live out the rest of my days.
Then, something wonderful happened. The Elevator ‘ding’-ed once more, and the doors slid open. And out stepped – but could it be? Could it really be – Mum!
Hysterical, I ran over and threw my arms around her (or, at least, the highest part of her that I could reach – her knees). Much to my surprise, she didn’t seem particularly fazed. With a mere chuckle – a CHUCKLE, as if any part of this was funny – she patted my head and said simply, “What are you doing down here, Eleanor?”
It was as if she didn’t realise how close I had come to Certain Death!
But I was safe now, and with Mum by my side, The Elevator took us back to the main reception area, where the Grown-Ups were still engaging in Biscuits and Tea as if nothing momentous had happened at all.
I didn’t go into The Elevator (or any others) for about ten years after that, so scarred was I by the experience. To this day, I have nightmares. I expect that, years from now, when I am a world-famous Oscar-winning screenwriter, and my millions of fans are clamouring for a memoir, this story will be Chapter One: How Trauma Shapes You.
After all, as My Grandpa will tell you, every artist needs a Wound.