Missing the boat

For the last week I’ve had a memory recurring that I had not thought of for years. It was many years ago – the nineties – and I don’t know what triggered the memory now, except perhaps the possibility of getting ‘involved’ again. It relates to a relationship indecision entirely typical of me.

This was around 1996 if memories serves me right. It was a funny time for me. Looking back on it I can see how I steadily progressed in my career. I went from basic roles to more complex and responsible roles, all by contracting. I was good at what I did and impressed the people I worked for and consequently got offered better and better roles. That’s looking back. At the time it didn’t feel nearly as smooth. While I was confident of the direction my career was progressing in, and possessed a buoyant confidence in myself, the good jobs were interleaved occasionally with whatever I could get.

Such was the case in this story. In the month or two before I had worked as a courier, zipping around town, and occasionally into the bush, delivering parcels. It was not a job I enjoyed much. It didn’t pay well to start with, and god knows I wasn’t meant to be a courier driver. That’s what I reckoned anyway. Fortunately I had people in the recruiting industry looking out for me, as well as keeping a keen eye on things myself. That’s how I ended my courier career by joining a place called Vic Super.

It was basically a glorified clerical role, but a step up from driving my beat up Magna around. I worked in Spring street with people who had been there for years, pleasant and competent and generally quite happily unambitious. It was not a bad place to work, but in my eyes no more than a way-station – which proved to be correct. I had bigger plans in mind, and stood out by having an edgier attitude.

I look back upon that stint as being a fun, social time. There were a bunch around my age who spent every Friday out drinking, more often than not at the Imperial. I made a number of friends in that time and had many sodden Friday nights.

I was there when a woman started work in another section to me. My memory is sketchy on these things, but I think her name was Justine. She was intelligent and interesting and had an air of refinement that made her stand out. She was quite attractive, and had, I remember, exceptional breasts. It seemed natural that within a week or two we gravitated to each other. We were counter-parts if you like, and I think that was the generally accepted view around the office. We were a match, the golden couple in waiting so to speak.

It didn’t work out that way, and it was all my fault. It’s always my fault.

She joined us on our Friday night jaunts and throughout most of that we were a pair. An unofficial pair. I bought her drinks, she bought me mine, we spoke in the same group rarely far apart, and left together. It never became more than that because of the very standard reason that I found myself unable to commit myself to that outcome. I remember thinking she was there, I only had to say the word. Maybe that’s over-stating it, but it felt that close, that fucking ripe. I didn’t say the word though, not until too late.

This has been a problem for me throughout my life. It’s a problem for a lot of men. As soon as you say yes to one you have to say no to the rest. So you leave it as long as you possibly can, just in case. The irony in this case is that I wasn’t interested in anyone else – but I suspect there must have been some uncertainty in me not to take the plunge sooner.

In the middle of all this a young girl started in my area. She was just turned 18, a very pretty girl of Serbian or Croatian descent. She was quiet at first, but then warmed up, thrilled to be out in the world and mixing with these interesting adults. Of all the interesting adults, I was foremost. Very quickly she seemed to develop a crush on me. She engaged with me at every opportunity in the office, and when we went out stayed close by. I have a history of flirting with women oblivious of what it might mean, but I don’t think that was the case this time. I was genuinely fond her. Something about her, her unaffected innocence perhaps, touched me. In those days I was generally both funny and fun. Life was a fantastic game. I was often playful too, as I was with her when she first began. I remember how we got into a ritual of poking our tongues out at each other. What was for me a bit of thoughtless fun developed into something more for her. She was lovely and sweet, but very immature, and she went on and on long after the novelty had passed.

She was just a girl, that’s how I saw her, but I’m guessing she saw herself as becoming a woman. I couldn’t see her like that, in fact couldn’t see her as she wanted me to see her. Even so, I didn’t want to hurt her. I tried to cool things down, tried to dissuade her, pointing out how much older than her I was, and what about the nice boy over there? Invariably she turned her nose up at the nice boy over there and turned back to me, her gaze steady, teasing me again as more words were no more than jest.

It was only natural that she joined us on our Friday night drinks, and the two of us, Justine and me, became three. One night I remember when everyone had left a bar in Little Lonsdale and there was just the three of us remaining – Justine, my Serbian girlfriend, and me.

It made things more difficult. It’s easy to say that she cramped my style, but that only really counts if I intended to do something with Justine. In a way she became my excuse. When finally I decided to act, many weeks later, I’d left it too long. It was not that Justine had found someone else, and when I spoke to her she did not turn me down – but nor did she say yes. She indicated that it was something she wanted to think about, but never got back to me. That was my answer. I think, quite rightly, she had grown weary waiting for me to formalise our relationship, and subtly slighted in the delay. Fair enough too.

Nothing eventuated. I remember her sister, who I had become friendly with, telling me I’d left my run too late. You’ve missed your chance buddy. If you ask why I’m still single there’s a prime example of it. I imagine that Justine today is an accomplished and elegant woman. We had much in common, outlook, lifestyle, politics, culture, and perhaps even attitude – I was the cocksure but easy-going comer against her measured and elegant reserve. It could have been something, but never was.

Instructive, in many ways, but not really a sliding doors moment. It might have been different, but only in hindsight – how it worked out was emblematic of the man I was then. That was that. As history shows, my career continued its upward arc, until, for a time, it was just about vertical – before nose-diving. There’s another instructive story, as there is with the various companions I found along the way. If I paid attention there’s much I could have been instructed by, but the pity of it is that it’s always after the fact.


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