I am eight.
I am eight, and I am an avocado in a flock of magpies and I want to be a magpie so badly that it makes my fingers curl.
I want to know what it feels like to dig my claws into the ground and to stretch my wings and be told that one day I will reach the corners of the sky.
Instead, I curl my avocado toes into the dirt and they look like soft, white grubs.
I reach my hands towards the clouds and the sky feels so far away. No matter how tightly I squeeze my eyes shut, I cannot imagine my fingers skirting tree canopies, or the wind in my hair.
The Power Ranger boys at preschool grew up magpies. So did my best friend’s brother who tried to peck me with his magpie beak.
They don’t have to squeeze their eyes shut to imagine their place in that big, big sky. I hear them practicing their magpie song in the back corner of the playground, and I want a song so that the world can know my magpie call.
They are told to look up at the sky and that it will be theirs when they are ready.
We are taught how not to get picked until we’re ripe.
That year I get my brother’s hand-me-downs and I claim a red t-shirt with black and white magpie print. I wear it all the time.
Maybe some of those magpies will rub off on me.
I am eleven.
I am in Westfield with my mother. I’ve been walking two metres behind her all morning pretending that I don’t know her.
She’s irritated, and maybe a little hurt? by my distance, and I stand at the top of the escalators to wait while she browses. I wait and watch the men watch me.
They look normal, I think, these men. They come up from the floor below like a production line.
Brown leather jacket, dark blue jeans, brown hair with flecks of grey. He looks like a dad. Not my dad, but a generic sort of dad. I watch his hand on the black handrailing as it moves upwards.
I flick my eyes up and his pupils stare back at me. I look down. When I glance up again he’s gone.
That’s the game –look down, look up, look down.
I start again with the next one. Black, shiny shoes, charcoal pants and white shirt. No tie. Thick grey hair. I look down, I look up, I look down.
Blue eyes, this time.
Blue eyes watching me watch them watch me.
I am fourteen. I hide the magpie t-shirt behind the bed and go shopping with my friends for clothes we think the boys will like.
I push my hopes to be a magpie back behind my eyes and down my throat and swallow them; and wish for someone to pick me so I can find out what life feels like outside the fruit box.
I meet him at a charity event. He has long hair, and a broad smile, and I watch him watching me watch him when I dance in front of the speaker stacks and I don’t stop dancing until he comes over after the band has finished and asks me for my number.
I lie about my age. We meet up for lunch. Turns out having lunch isn’t just having lunch, and I’m not sure that I’m ready. He keeps asking if I’m sure I’ve never done it before. (It’s not the kind of thing you forget, I say.) I never hear from him again.
I’m eighteen and studying at university and I cannot believe I’ve spent all this time thinking that I’m a piece of fruit.
I get my first ‘real’ job and work long hours with big eyes and an open heart and every belief that we will change the world. I watch women be crowded out of meetings and I listen as the air is filled with the sounds of men. I say nothing.
I say nothing and I’m in the lift and he spins his headphones faster and faster in circles, closer and closer to my face. I laugh. I press back against the wall. I wait for the doors to open and am filled with resentment that twirling headphones is all it takes for him to beat me.
He walks home behind me one night, after I tell him I don’t want him to walk with me. I feel a familiar tickle beneath my lower ribs and swallow down the lumpy ball of anger and flattery that has risen in my throat.
I feel impotent.
I feel silly.
An avocado in a power suit is still an avocado.
I’m twenty one and I sit on the lawns outside the university bar and we drink beer and smoke cigarettes after class. We talk about the times men have touched us when we didn’t want it, and the times they touched us when we did, and no one is remotely phased that in the puddle of women on the lawn not one of us can say we haven’t been afraid.
It’s a callous kind of conversation. We talk crudely and brashly of wounds and of fear, and we laugh and we drink, and we sit a little closer.
I am twenty six. I am preparing to move to leave the city and move to the dry, red desert. I sit in the sun in my backyard with a good friend and we drink two bottles of wine, as we talk about the world and our place in it. Like magpies we look to the sky as if we have a claim to it.
It’s fun, to talk about our possibilities.
It’s Friday, and we don’t have work and are feeling silly so we walk to the pub to meet some friends and are joined by two men who talk to us about the sky. We pretend we have a claim to it.
One asks me a lot of questions and I get that tickle beneath my lower ribs and we go back to his apartment.
I tell him that he’s hurting me and that I want him to stop. I tell him that I’m scared.
He holds down my arms and calls me baby. After a while he stops.
I leave. He doesn’t stop me.
A man at the servo sings out to me and I can barely hear him through the dull thud between my ears, and the sky is so big and so dark I cannot believe that just hours before we were talking about how it could be ours.
The next day I joke to friends about how pathetic it had been and how he’d said he loved me, and I dance around the edges of the bit where I couldn’t prize him off me and he left me bruised and unrecognizable.
A friend squeezes my knee under the table, and I feel that perplexing mix of relief and despair that she understands.
I am 27.
I am 27 and (hopefully) only a third of the way through living and the air is thick with the sounds of women.
The clouds hang heavy with songs of stolen opportunities and broken bones, and the fog is dense with the stories of men who tried to make them disappear.
I am looking at the sky again and all around the neighborhood women are standing with upturned faces and cheeks that are damp with rain.
I breathe in the stories of women who punched holes through avocado skin and listen to the softly building anthems of women reclaiming their sky.