By Jo Walker -
If a misspent childhood watching terrible schlocky horror flicks taught me anything, it’s that the world is full of misunderstood monsters. Gore-splattered chainsaw maniacs out for justice. Draindwelling clowns desperate for a bit of human contact (and maybe a balloon or two). Man/fly hybrids who just want to do good science.
When I was 23, I became one of those monsters. Shambling; incapable of coherent speech; oozing rancid waste products; fearful of human touch. Because the creepiest thing that’s ever happened to me was becoming an adult with chickenpox. Trust me, my friends – it’s a horror show. You get sores everywhere.
OPENING MONTAGE: I’m working in a music store at the mall. I tell my boss I’m feeling sick, but she makes me work the end of my shift. (And fires me when it becomes clear I’m ill – yes, the real horror here is the casual job economy!) I realise my stomach is covered in spots and drive myself to a medical clinic, where a doctor confirms the worst: I am toxic, and will soon be covered in pus. Also, since I’m an adult chickenpox-haver, there’s a small chance of developing brain damage from the raging skin herpes that now inhabits my body! Then, the itching begins.
MOUNTING HORROR: I hurriedly vacate my sharehouse. My mother, who is living overseas, flies home to care for me as I cannot be trusted to take a shower without falling on my head. We move into my old childhood home. I am unemployed, my mum has to bathe me, and
I have blisters inside my vagina.
Actually, I have blisters everywhere. My face, inside my nose, eyelids, ears and mouth, all over my body; on the top of my head and the soles
of my feet; up inside every possible orifice a human being can provide. I ooze, then crust over, then ooze again. Mum covers me in special non-scarring band-aids, and I wear slippers all the time because my feet bleed when I walk. The only thing I can eat is cold soup, since my mouth is full of sores. The meds mess with my brain, so I talk funny and sleep a lot. I hurt, I groan.
I’m also on the dole, or so I thought. Having diligently collected doctor’s certificates and mailed them to the government with a note basically reading, “I am infectious and cannot look for a job right now,” I thought I was covered. I am informed otherwise. Apparently, Centrelink needs me to present myself in person at its local branch office. So, reluctantly, I do.
THE MONSTER EMERGES: I am vengeance! I am fury! My mum dropped me here on the way to the shops! My hair is matted, and I’m covered in weeping scabs. Wearing blood-specked slippers and a stained nightie (no bra or undies – they hurt too much), I smell faintly of soup and strongly of despair. This is my lowest moment. And when the woman behind the counter attempts to deny my claim, I’m reduced to incoherent moans and rage tears. A Frankenstein monster in Brisbane’s northern suburbs, with only slightly nicer scars.
I want to tell these strangers in this awful place that I was once like them! I too enjoyed non-creepy skin and working feet! I was not always this wreck of humanity they shudder from now! And, most of all – goddamnit Centrelink, I want you to know that visible contagion is a pretty good excuse for hitting pause on the job-seeking.
Finally, some sort of sanity prevails. A supervisor is called over, and my social security reinstated.
I am grateful, and repulsive.
I snatch my forms and shuffle to the car. A small part of me hopes I infected every unhelpful bureaucrat in the joint. Maybe I really am a monster.