I hate Sydney. I’m up here touring a lesbian show for Mardi Gras, and I’m trying desperately to make peace with the city that stole whatever innocence I had left. This city with its cockroaches, rude drivers, homelessness and drunken backpackers. I’m here at a time when I should be celebrating my gayness, where the rainbow flag waves with pride in the humid breeze, where my wife and I can hold hands with confidence in the busy Newtown streets. But all I’m doing is trying not to be broken.
I lived here for a very short time more than ten years ago. I lived here to attempt to move on from my failed relationship with my ex girlfriend. To be more accurate, I lived in the Cross, in a brothel where I worked. The Cross – Kings Cross – is Sydney’s notorious red light district. It’s been cleaned up considerably since I walked its pavements and ate in its dingy restaurants. It’s still a tourist attraction, but maybe for different reasons now. In my day, there were streetwalkers every few metres, interspersed with junkies, strippers, and organised crime bosses. It’s where I witnessed an Aboriginal man, high off his head, being brutally manhandled into a paddy wagon, and when I say manhandled I mean beaten across the head with a baton and thrown – literally thrown into the van. It’s where I witnessed a woman being slashed and stabbed by whom I assumed was her pimp in an alley by the brothel where I worked. It’s where I walked passed a teenager dying from an overdose in the gutter. I saw all this, and I kept walking. I told no one. I pretended it wasn’t happening. I was too afraid. I kept walking back to the brothel where I let men pound me for $110 an hour so I could forget. The Cross is where I lost myself.
Being back here is like paying penance. Every time I come to Sydney I have a headache. It feels like a tight band around my head, just behind my eyes. My mental health deteriorates more the longer I’m here. I thought that touring here, doing something I loved here would create new, better memories. I’m all for facing my demons head on, but I think this is one dark part of my life that I can never make up for.
Sydney broke me. I realise that now. I forget the effect it had on my life until I’m back here. I was walking up Darlinghurst Rd with my producer and a few cast mates the other day, hanging up posters for our show because our theatre is just down the road in Woolloomooloo. We turned left onto Bayswater Rd and I couldn’t keep going. I couldn’t walk past a particular street. It was an odd sensation, feeling trapped in my shoes. It’s like being stuck in tar. I started to cry, the tears prickling in the corners of my eyes as the band around my head tightened. My wife asked me what it was that hurt me so. I couldn’t tell her. That fear was back, laced with a sprinkling of shame. This is the place where I learned not to care. This is the place where I hardened my heart and my soul. This is the place where I fell apart, bits of me scattering everywhere, and I still can’t put the pieces back together again.
Never before has my mental illness affected my ability to perform, but tonight it did. My head was scattered, my thoughts disappearing into black holes. Being here a week, trying to keep it together, dealing with missing my cats and my home and my ordinary love-filled life finally dealt its blow and I gave one of the worst performances of my career. I came offstage and burst into tears, so embarrassed, so mortified that I couldn’t get my shit together enough to actually do my job and act well. This place is threatening to tear me apart again. Thankfully, my cast and my producer are a tight knit group of understanding and compassionate people. They deserve a better me than the one they’re getting.
I am tired. I am beaten. The weight of my experiences and decisions is heavy on my heart.
I am trying not to be broken.