Debbie Lee
Warrnambool, Victoria, January 1994

The wait. For a uni offer. Seems interminable. Music, the only thing which helps.

Even if your favourite song that year is Loser and you don’t even know that it is only going to reach #45 in Triple J’s Hottest 100.

It is an anthem, even if it’s got Spanish (Soy un perdedor) and gun references (Double barrel buckshot): things pretty detached from the western district of Victoria. Even before the John Howard gun asylum, grandpas on farms don’t regularly get the rifles out for the girls.

Still, you get Loser. It’s yours, made for the small-town mindset and the harm of a misguided parent holding forth with “It’s okay, love, no-one thought you would get a first-round offer”.

What the …?

In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey.

You just want that greener pasture. Some calm. You don’t want to work at Target, ffs!

And the weird part, you know Dad means well. When he talks about your sister Deb being “the bright one”. And you the middle child, who is going to get by on looks, apparently.

Someone came in sayin’ I’m insane to complain.

But not Deb. She just takes charge in that bossy, but loving way only she can.

“Here’s what we are going to do. You’ve got five minutes to cry, get all that out of your system. Then we plan. You’ll be a great nurse. They will be lucky to have you. Don’t think for a second that you’re stuck here, a place you don’t want to be. You’re coming to Ballarat. I know it is going to be FINE.”

Or something along those lines. You’re still feeling numb, exhausted. How can the year after VCE, the year after finishing school, feel like this?

I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?/Know what I’m sayin’?

It helps; being bossed into a plan of attack. You start writing why you want to be a nurse. Deb makes the calls to the uni’s health sciences department, so we can arrange a face-to-face meeting.

You struggle at times to explain myself – You can’t write if you can’t relate. But even so, you figure we start. Deb can improve it.

And my time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite/that’s chokin’ on the splinters.

Disintegration and formless angst. As your numbness shield slips, you grip the bathroom ledge. Cold and hard. You’ll be nothing if you can’t get out of here.
And yet…

Things are gonna change, you can feel it.

Yeah, change is good. It’s cool. Persistence and determination: far preferable to passivity and destruction. And not too long later, the second-round offer! Woohoo!

All the weird Loser lines you love; back to being cool. Time to dance like no-one is watching!


© Debbie Lee

Debbie Lee is a writer based in Brisbane. Her sister Barb, the narrator  and central characterof this story, started a Bachelor of Nursing in 1994, switched studies to child care and ultimately forged an accomplished career in a senior telecommunications position.

See also Debbie’s story about Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones.