How Angie makes sense of her life of abuse


Angie was my best friend in middle high school, in Geelong. We clung to each other, careening together across the black ice of adolescence with no brakes.

We both had single mothers. She would tell her strict mother she was having a sleepover at my place on a Saturday night and, in reality, we would hitchhike to the beach town of Torquay. There we’d drink Moselle in the sand dunes and blindly sacrifice ourselves to surfer boys who would never remember our names.

Julianne O’Brien as a 16-year-old.

Julianne O’Brien as a 16-year-old.

Angie and I are 60 now, connected on Facebook and now on the phone.

First, she apologises for the repetitive nature of her dialogue. She speaks in short-phrasal loops and keeps going back to the same story afresh. She has brain damage, she’s living with an inoperable brain tumour, alcoholism, short-term memory loss and ADHD diagnosed at the age of 42. That diagnosis made sense to her and, hearing it now, made sense to me. She had certainly displayed low impulse control in our wild days when I was breathless to keep up in her wake.

I ask her how she acquired her brain injury, but she can’t remember.

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She had five kids to two abusive husbands. The first husband slammed her head into a wall on two occasions. Once he dragged her down their street by her beautiful hair. A man watering his garden turned the hose on them like dogs when the coward could have intervened to help the woman.

Angie’s 26-year-old daughter has just been released from prison in Brisbane but won’t tell her mother what she was in for.

But Angie is not without insight into the past. She tells me she thinks her mother was jealous of her. I totally agree. I can still see her mother chasing us out of the house, awkwardly on the steel callipers she had to wear due to childhood polio, shouting that I was a “bad influence”! I believe she was jealous of Angie, who was effortlessly beautiful, refreshingly unselfconscious, blooming to bursting and full of potential.



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