From here to there

I read during the week how Australian’s on average are the wealthiest people in the world. I read with mixed feelings: happy for the country as a whole; and sour on my own behalf. It’s not many years ago that I would have pushed that average higher. It’s about $250,000 for every man, woman and child in the country as of now. Three years ago my net wealth would have been around the $700,000 mark. I had property, a decent sized share portfolio, as well as other investments. Today I’m well beneath the average.

This is not happy news, but to a degree I have become accustomed to it. I can’t change the facts as easy as that, and so on principle I’ve set myself to reclaim what I have lost. That’s no easy task. In fact it looks impossible right now, but I’m level-headed enough to know that looks can be deceiving, and that things can change very quickly – look at me. I went to having a lot to fuck all in no time.

Last night some of this loss was brought open to me in very graphic style. I had been invited to attend a kindergarten fund-raiser at the local RSL club. It’s not my usual Saturday night outing, but it made for a change. Before heading off to the RSL club we stopped by someone’s house for a couple of beers sitting on their back deck. The house, just a couple of streets from mine, had been recently renovated. There were beautifully polished floorboards throughout, an open plan living area with a large entertainers kitchen, and a back deck overlooking a manicured garden. Hampton is one of the better suburbs of Melbourne, and average wealth here would be quite a bit more than the national rate. Still, as I looked about me, I thought, this was mine. I had all this, in concept at least. This was my destiny – money in the bank, leverage in the market because of the house, and a bit more besides to play with thanks to my investments. I said nothing to anyone. I sipped on my beer and joined in the conversation with a smile on my face, but my mind dwelt on it: this is what I have lost.

We went on to the function. It was casino night – roulette, blackjack and poker tables had been set up. Everyone there were parents, but me, and all dressed up for the occasion. It was fun enough, though something very different. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, and occasionally fascinated by my status as single man. Towards the end of the night the music fired up and the women particularly flocked to the dance floor. There was the sense that this was an escape from maternal reality they wanted to make the most of. Sitters were home looking after the kids. This was their time to shine. And so they put on their best frocks, had a couple too many glasses of wine, and took to the dance floor like they did when they were 21.

I cruised through this. I danced a little, being pulled onto the dance floor at regular intervals. I went through the motions gambling with the monopoly money we’d been given. I chatted and laughed. I had a few drinks, but not too many. I was in control in other words, and perhaps more reserved than normally. I observed things without thought, knowing that they would come back to me.

We left a little after 12. I walked home, dying for a kebab. It was a warm night, Hampton street was quiet but for people spilling out of the pizza joint at closing time, and a cafe were a guitarist plucked the strings of his instruments watched by a mellow crowd. I had things on my mind.

It all came together. In the one night I’d come face to face with the two great things I lack: the home that hard work makes possible, and the family to fill that home. I felt abruptly bereft. It was curiously without emotion. As I walked along I wondered where I had gone wrong. At what point did I deviate from the conventional script that would have delivered me the conventional outcome? I tried to isolate it. Was it her? Was it then? What if I’d not done that; or if I’d done this instead? It’s a dispiriting loop, without answer or comfort. Strange, earlier in the day I’d come up with a story idea in which a man meets up with an older version of himself, and learns in the experience. I wished I’d had the opportunity. And I wondered what I would say if I could go back.

It took me about 20 minutes to walk home. All this was in me, and it seemed very bleak. It was bleak – yet, I did not feel it. Perhaps that is a symptom of the times, as I touched on last week. You feel too bluntly to experience the acute. Life is without curlicues or artifice. Unhappiness seems an indulgence, though happiness itself appears a myth. Straight lines, angles, mathematical equations. Blunt and practical: the alarm rings but you switch it off, knowing you can do nothing about it for now.

The funny thing is I wanted to feel it. Why is that? I think I wanted to feel that loss to make it count. I knew it was not something I could shrug my shoulders at. It was not feeling, but thought that had me the big loser in life’s game. Add things up and it comes out a negative. I should feel that. It should burn. I wanted it to, wanted, I think, for it to hurt so much that I could not rest because of it. I didn’t feel it then, nor even now.

I slept and woke up with all of this in me still. I lay in bed unwilling to get out, or even to properly wake up. I snuggled up to Rigby. In that dreamy half-sleep these things swirled in my head. I was lost, but it did not seem so bleak or so terminal as it did the night before. Take the other road I thought in some blurry way or another. Then: at least I have Rigby.

Awake now, I’ve been out and about today. I continue to operate with my feelings blunted. I seem beyond any sort of despair. It’s good in the sense I continue to function, and pretty effectively. The extraneous things I have no power over are pushed to one side. The pile of things I have no power over grows bigger every day. There’s some ugly stuff in it, but if I can’t do it I can’t do it. Concentrate on what I can do.

I’ve not lost: I’m just losing. I think that impassively. There’s nothing gung-ho about me. No reflex “I’ll show ’em” attitude. This is the world. That’s the situation. This is gravity. I don’t want this to be the end of it. I don’t think it need be, but it’ll take a lot of effort and a bit of luck to turn it around. So be it. You resign yourself to a long road, though first you have to somehow survive this now. It comes down to numbers again. You need to do this. That needs to happen. If it doesn’t then try that. You keep doing, curious, but a bit like a machine too. There is no room for sentiment, not even hope. Hope doesn’t pay the bills.

I’m here. Tough spot. Somewhere, far away, is where I’d like to be. I may never make it that far. I’ll try though. Along the way there are smaller destinations. That’s how it is. I feel I’m travelling on foot when once it would have been in a fast car, but, again, that’s the world. I can’t stop. And I can’t stop thinking I can make it right.

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