By Sabdha Charlton
Albury. 1989. Year 10. I was fifteen, and my mum had got me a job at the local Angus and Robertson. The boss was an asshole with wandering hands, and his son was worse. I made up for it by being lightfingered with the books. Books! Oh, the books made up for a lot.
It was the year of Jessica. On the bus I would put my bag on the seat next to me until the stop before hers. One day it worked – I watched her fingers toy with the straps of her bag and hoped she couldn’t hear my heart thump. I thought I was sick, perverted. She was only in Year 7, a whole three years younger than me, just a child but so perfect. Once she threw me a dirty look across the playground. I kept myself tight but the intensity in my gaze must have burned through her dress anyway.
I tried telling Jacqui. But she went and told someone else (but not my name) and then I died as we all walked down Dean Street and Cindi said how her friend knew this girl who liked other girls and oh my god how awful and she’s a really huggy girl and my friend feels really uncomfortable now every time she sees her and what a freak, I wonder who it is? They never knew it was me. I kept myself tight.
So books were all I had, and in 1989 in Angus and Robertson in Albury there were only two – What are Ya? and Happy Endings are All Alike. I snuck them home in my schoolbag after doing the Thursday late night shopping shift because the boss wasn’t around, and read and re-read and cried and wished that there was a Swallow to my Leith, a Jaret to my Peggy. I wrote the word ‘obsessed’ in my diary about a million times.
And then it was Year 11. I moved one rung up the social ladder, stuffed my longing and the books and diary deep into my closet, and started flirting, mostly unsuccessfully, with boys. I hid those books so well that I never did find them again.
Carlton. 1996. University. I was 22, sleeping with the Queer Officer, among others. Every Sunday I dragged my sorry hungover ass to work at the flagship Angus and Robertson store in the city. I used to sit on the floor, blue hair shining in the fluoros, reading young adult fiction instead of shelving it.
When Hide and Seek arrived in the store, I re-arranged to make room for a face-out pocket, and noted the stock levels. Next time I came into work they were all gone. I was excited, until I looked at the computer. I found them in adult fiction. The manager said but we don’t want to give teenagers the wrong idea, and what will parents think if they see it here? So it was war – every time I came to work I moved them back to the young adult section. I knew that someone might need them.
Preston. 2008. Maternity leave. I am 34, with two small babies and a gorgeous girlfriend. Last year a good friend told me that his friend is Jenny Pausacker’s partner. I was thrilled. To be so close to such greatness!
I hoped I might meet her one day, but I knew if I did I would be too shy to say anything much. How would I find words to tell how her books sustained me as a lonely teenager, and soothed me through my angsty twenties? So I am very glad to have this opportunity. Jenny, happy sixtieth birthday, and thank you so much. Your books made up for a lot.