The first time I thought of leaving the house by myself I was nearly 13 years old. I’ve always been a tentative person, scared to get in trouble or step out of line. It’s not like my parents were restrictive; they gave us free rein, really. And we lived five kilometres out of town, so we weren’t going anywhere without having to ask. If we did go out walking no one was stopping us.
It was springtime, because everything was lush and overgrown, not yet dried to a crisp. I climbed over the gate at the far end of the paddock on our property. I was scared to do it because that was trespassing. I was listening to music on my iPod, and it was probably I’m Yours by Jason Mraz.
I remember the breeze and the intense feeling of freedom wash over so clearly, like I’d broken through some kind of barrier within myself, where I realised I was my own person. I hadn’t even gone that far. Just the next paddock over.
There were a couple of abandoned old sheds, and a few trees. A cow pen, made from wooden fencing that was slowly rotting. A round concrete trough in the corner. Sometimes cows wandered in. They were pretty nice until that one time they charged at me and I climbed up a tree, waiting until they left.
The place was littered with old glass bottles, tin cans, parts of things. All of it became mine. My teenage refuge.
Two years before I had attended a music camp, which brought kids in grades 5 and 6 from all of the schools in Benalla together to sing and dance and play instruments. It was a week-long camp just before the end of the school year. I played violin and piano, and I liked to sing as well.
That year the camp was held in an old Budget motel right on the edge of town. (Trekker’s Rest no longer exists.) And it seemed that every single boy with a guitar at the camp was playing and singing a catchy, folky, pop tune that I didn’t know. It became the theme tune of the camp and that summer.
I was drawn to I’m Yours by its breeziness. I was drawn to how it made everything seem to melt away from me, the way no song had ever done before. Perhaps it was the muted strumming, the bobbing reggae feel. Or the fact that I didn’t really get what the singer was talking about, but it sounded romantic. Or perhaps it was the scribbled drawing of the man’s face on the album cover, dazedly looking at me.
Or perhaps because it reminded me of escaping school, of Christmas coming, of being a kid for the last fleeting moments. It would play in my ears relentlessly until the end of my childhood; until I grew into myself and learnt to climb fences.
An earlier version of this story was published in Gemma’s zine Soup. (Edition 1. August 2019.)
Gemma is a musician and illustrator. A graduate of Collarts, she regularly performs an Edith Piaf show at Melbourne’s Speakeasy HQ. She plays bass with Eliza Joan & The Renegades.