We spent 9 years of our life in a small country town in North Queensland called Charters Towers. These are my memories of the people and events that were a part of our life during that time.
Don't let that girl near my mother.
Don't let that girl near my daughter.
The phone rang and the lady at the other end asked did I know a Natasha. When I said yes she asked if I could come and pick her up because there were a number of kids outside her shop threatening to bash her.
This was fairly typical of the types of feelings that Natasha evoked in people. At first glance the reasons why were not obvious. The first encounter with Natasha could be deceiving. She presented as a friendly outgoing young girl. After a short time it became very obvious that there was more to her than what first met the eye.
When Natasha came to live with us April and I were coming to terms with some of the implications of infertility. Life was marching on for both of us and the prospect of not having children was something we had to consider. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps Natasha was God's way of giving us a daughter.
I never saw anyone be friends with Natasha for more than a week. The only relationships she did develop were with people much younger than her and these never lasted. Perhaps the most enduring relationship she had was with our next door neighbour who was in Year 3. This was an age gap of nearly 10 years. One test of character she did pass was with our dogs. She was great with caring for our dogs and related very well with them. Dogs are far more forgiving than humans.
Natasha struggled with school. Or, should I say it in reverse the school struggled with Natasha. She was a constant visitor to the guidance officer and the school's administration with a constant array of problems. She was a dependent person and teachers who gave extra time and effort found themselves being sucked dry by Natasha's demands.
She was a chronic liar. Even when it was obvious that Natasha wasn't telling the truth she would still lie. It didn't matter if she knew that the lie would be found out she would still choose to tell the lie.
It was difficult to know how to handle Natasha's behavioural problems and we tried a wide range of tactics. Grounding seemed to be one option. But it ended up that she was never getting out of her room and zero social contact. Gradually we came to a point of allowing her to choose her actions and suffer the consequences of those actions.
Despite this black picture I have painted so far I really cared for her. Natasha and I spent lots of time together. Often we would dash over the church before the Sunday service to give the chair a quick wipe over and the floor a vacuum because the cleaner that week had forgotten to come. She was always willing to help out although when not interested in the task she worked at a maddeningly slow pace. She never refused to help when asked.
Her background was severely disadvantaged. She was taken from her mother at a young age and grew up with an alcoholic stepfather. The reasons why she was taken were never clear but they must have been quite serious to be removed from her step mother and placed not in the care of her natural father but her step father. Evidently her mother was quite promiscuous and her relationships with men intruded on her capacity to care for Natasha.
Lindsay the stepfather tried his best with Natasha. He was battling with his own demons and was poorly equipped to raise a teenage girl. Verbal abuse was quite a common occurrence during his drunken binges. Natasha's self esteem was poor and she clearly lacked many of the skills that a mother brings to a relationship with a daughter.
April worked on many of these things with her. Teaching her how to wear makeup and match clothes. She helped with all those girl sorts of things that I have no idea about.
Being the parent of a teenager is not easy for most people. Natasha brought with her a load of baggage that increased that difficulty immensely. We tried as far as possible to include her as a member of our family. She came on holidays with us.
The morning she left began like many others. I was in the shower when April tapped on the door and said, Natasha is leaving.
I quickly got out of the shower to see what was going on. Natasha asked if she could use the phone to ring a friend so that she could move her gear. Her room was already completely packed. Evidently she stayed awake most of the night packing. Within half an hour Natasha was gone. Despite the difficulties we had with Natasha we considered her part of our family. I couldn't bear to watch her leave the house. I had to go to the backyard to be myself and cry.
At first she wanted nothing to do with us. She told all sorts of lies to her friends about the reasons why she had left. However she gradually began communicating with us. We went a couple of times to the ice cream shop where we would talk. But, it was quite clear that she wanted to live her own life without any of the responsibilities that being a part of a family brings with it.
Shortly after she moved to Townsville. We tried to stay in contact. A couple of times when we were in Townsville we ran into each other. She would always have a bloke with her. Occasionally she rang to let us know her address. After a year or so the contact began to fade. I last tried to find her at a hostel but the people said she had moved and didn't know where she was.
I find it difficult to understand why Natasha would exchange the love of a caring family for the cheap transient pleasures that she was looking for. I know we are not the perfect family but I am sure the lifestyle we offered would be the most secure she had experienced. Then I think that most of us are not that different. We choose to forget to take the best that life offers and fill our lives with cheap baubles that have a superficial attractiveness.