Emus and kangaroos

I’m sitting in the university gym, my feet swinging aimlessly beneath my chair. The ceiling is probably higher than any of the buildings, including the apartment buildings, in my small town back home. Bleachers run from the floor up and up and up and up until there are enough chairs to seat the five-hundred-odd newbie students who mill around the gym in their designer jeans and converse sneakers. I straighten my spine and stare down the speaker at the front of the room, try to look like I belong, but in reality I wish I could curl in on myself and disappear into the floorboards, sleep with the dust and the dirt.

What am I doing here?

I’ve made a mistake.

What have I gotten myself into?

The lady beside me is a mature-aged student, probably with a husband and kids back home waiting to hear what Orientation was like. I, too, have a family, waiting to hear what my big day was like. I’m not sure what I’ll tell them yet.

I live in Australia, so before any big event it’s traditional for the Aboriginals of the area to welcome us to country. This usually involves a short speak, something along the lines of we are the custodians of this land, and we welcome you to our country and if it’s a really big event then there’s a song and dance as well. This, apparently, is a really big event.

About six or seven Indigenous teenagers and young adults hurry onto the stage, wearing paint-splattered clothes, the boys with white paint hand prints pressed to their black chests. I lean forwards in my seat as one of them takes a deep breath and exhales into his didgeridoo. The instrument sends the music scuttling through the air particles and into my lungs, my fingertips.

The lady at the front explains as the teenagers begin to dance. “This is the dance of the kangaroo and emu,” she says, her mouth tight against the microphone. The dancers wave branches and dance in a circle, then walk like an emu, their arms extended over their heads like the neck of the giant bird. “Kangaroos and emus can’t walk backwards, which I think is a nice metaphor for you all today.”

Kangaroos and emus can’t walk backwards. Not won’t, but can’t. Sitting there, my butt sore and my stomach grumbling because I refuse to eat and my fingers cold and my eyes dry and tired, I let that sink in. Can’t walk backwards.

I’m coming out of my depression, anxiety, anorexia. This is a new year. This is a new me with new experiences and new hopes and new new new new new. I won’t walk backwards. I can’t, if I want to make it through this.

So do me a favour. Place your hand over your heart. Feel the steady beat, feel your blood being sucked in then shot out to the rest of your body, delivering oxygen, nutrients. Run your fingers along your skin. That same skin is protecting you from diseases and bacteria, it’s keeping your insides inside. Grab your ear and wiggle it, scrunch up your nose. The cartilage you just grabbed, just scrunched up, is the same cartilage that makes up the backbone of a great white shark. Close your eyes and just be. That is the same you who is amazing in more ways than you can imagine, the same you who can’t walk backwards.

You’re too busy moving forwards to greater things.

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