Touching Base, a short story by Sean O’Leary at
Pat Whelen

Touching Base

Touching Base

written by: Sean O’Leary



I met an Aboriginal guy in Kings Cross. I’d just finished an all-nighter shift in a dodgy motel on Darlinghurst Rd. It was summer and we sat in the gutter. I gave him a cigarette and he said to me,
‘When my father died I cried so much that I had no tears left. Acid burned out of my eyes, into my skin.’
I looked at his face, there was scar tissue in the tracks of his tears. That’s serious sadness but strangely it made me feel better.
‘How long ago was that,’ I asked him.
‘About ten years,’ but I still feel sad.
I told him how I was over the job. Over Kings Cross and he said,
‘You have to go then. Move. Do something else,’ and he started laughing, said, ‘I’m not sad all the time and you don’t want to sit in the gutter the rest of your life.’
And I could see he was ok, making a joke of life.
It made me realise that life post schizo diagnosis wasn’t so bad. I’d been in love a few times. I might have friends if I cared to dig them out. I smoked another cigarette with him but he didn’t say anymore. I went home and slept for ten hours and when I woke up, I staged a mini-revolt in my life and quit the shitty job. Caught the bus to Melbourne.


I’m at the Homeground office in East St Kilda. I don’t need crisis accommodation, just a clean boarding house for a month or so until I can get some work, re-connect with a few people.
I should ring Sarina who has tried to be a great friend over the years. I should still be on good terms with her except I didn’t return her calls. She tried many times to get in contact with me but I was, I don’t know, not well. What about, Ryan? An old and true friend, same story. If I told him I’m holed up in a boarding house in St Kilda the reaction would be,
‘Oh shit! What happened? A boarding house?’
Like I might have committed a crime, done something awful to have ended up like this. Best wait until I’ve got some work; a flat; organised; decent.
The thing about going crazy, being psychotic is when you get better; get back to a level of normalcy. Your confidence is so shot you find it difficult to get out and about. Forget about it when you’re psychotic. That’s bloody scary stuff. Voices and feeling threatened and thank God I don’t have to put up with that anymore. (Please God). Good old medication. Hmmm. I had the diagnosis though. Chronic schizophrenia and it was the chronic that worried me.
The boarding house was clean. A lumpy single bed, desk, bar fridge and wardrobe but so dark. Even in the middle of the day. No light unless you leave the door open and then you have no privacy. Smoke outside so you can breathe when you’re inside. The room is like a child’s bedroom without the good stuff. I’ve applied for five different jobs. One night porter job; one-night packer job; three call centre jobs. Should keep Centrelink happy and hopefully put me in work. It’s not the work I could do but I can’t go back to that other high-stress life.
I’m smiling a little more lately. At least that’s what I’m telling myself this morning. I don’t think the other tenants like me. Paranoid or truth? You tell me, I don’t fucking know. I don’t sit around in tracksuit pants and shoot the breeze with them. One guy told me to eat at the Sacred Heart Mission to save money. How I am supposed to react to that? Yeah. Cool. That’s about a forty dollar saving or I’m not that destitute and fucked up so please stay away from me.
I look normal. If you saw me in the street you wouldn’t think, that guy’s a schizo who lives in a boarding house. They see me the other tenants, looking neatly attired and say, ‘he’s up himself.’ But I buy all my clothes second-hand at Vinnies and other Op-shops. They drink alcohol; I don’t. Or maybe they just roll their eyes and say, ‘get fucked’ under their breath. I’m a little lacking; I know I am. In confidence and interpretation of what the hell is going on in my head. Shaky ground. Not fitting in anywhere; not accepted. Hence the night-shift jobs. No one to fit in with. I’m in a rut after five weeks in Melbourne and what happened to that smile I had ten minutes ago. Give yourself a break man, it’s only been five weeks.
Hard questions to answer when you’re out of sorts, a little nervous and with still some lingering bad thought processes and paranoia. Push yourself, Nicky. I make an appointment to see a psychologist (free with Medicare) in the city, in a building in Flinders Lane.
The psychologist’s name was Colin, he was dressed in jeans, a white shirt and a sports jacket even though it’s hot. He has that look nailed. Perhaps he might need some patches on the elbows of his jacket, yes some cord patches and he could star in the sequel to The Dead Poets Society. But I’m being facetious and he wants to help. Get some volunteer work into you, he suggests. I tried that but they wouldn’t have me. He gives me a strange look and packs me off and out the door.
I wake up the next morning, my thoughts are not in order. I know straight away it’s going to be a bad day. I rush to get out of the boarding house with my thoughts racing to Fitzroy St, order coffee (stupid?) at the bakery, cinnamon donuts, three. I walk to the beach fast, breathing hard. You have to talk to someone. Do it. I go to a phone box and call Sarina, now slightly calmer. I tell the truth for ten minutes, gush it all out decrying embarrassment and she gives me what I want. We agree to meet the next day at 11 am, Saturday. I feel great, my smile is back.
We agreed to meet at the State Library, Swanston St. I walked around, found a spot in the shade, hope I don’t seem too wired. Too overtly happy to see her but why shouldn’t I be. I don’t see her until she gently touches my back with her hand and pecks me on the cheek.
A little smile from me.
‘Hey, Nick.’ She says, ‘You look good, you’ve lost a little weight but good. Still smoking I see.’
‘Sarina, yeah, you look good too, as always. Can we sit down together somewhere?’
‘What about that bench over there.’ She says and, ‘Let me get a coffee first. I’m so hungover. Nothing’s changed.’
She rushes off. I sit down looking at the trees and thinking green—calm because my heart and thoughts are racing along superfast.
We were never together, just friends.
‘Ah thank God,’ she says holding up the coffee, almost worshipping it. She plays with her bracelet, pushes her hair back behind her ears, says,
‘Nick, I know you haven’t been well, even before the call yesterday. How could I not know? You’ve had a bad time.’
I feel a little sad and put out that she thinks I’m somehow totally fucked up but I push the thought aside. She came to see you. I pull myself together out of the ‘feeling sorry’ state and say,
‘Have you seen, Ryan?’
She doesn’t say anything for a minute, seems to age right before my eyes. Tears roll down her cheeks.
‘You’re not the only one who fucked up, Nick. Ryan killed himself about a year ago. Don’t you take that bloody option.’
‘Look, Sarina, if he felt like I did at my worst there may not have been an option. Was it…’
‘Don’t you bloody get it, Nick? Ryan and I were together. You can’t tell me anything I haven’t seen before.’
I don’t know what to do with my hands or how to make things right and she leans into me and puts her head on my shoulder. We sit like that for ages until she says,
‘Thanks for turning up you, prick. You bloody-well let me down that many times I nearly gave up on you.’
‘Yeah, well, here I am. A shell of a man.’ And I laugh at myself.
‘You’re ok, Nick.’
‘Am I?’
“I always liked you, you know.’
I get nervous again.
What happens now?

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