Over the last month I’ve sorted through the multitude of boxes out in the shed sorting stuff out between what I wanted to keep and what I could live without. There’s necessity in that. I’ve collected a lot of stuff over the years, more than I can conveniently transport. That situation wasn’t helped when mum died. Friends and family went through her house like locusts in the months after, but there still remained much that still useful or had sentimental value. Rather than tossing them out – this was left to me – I collected it all myself, not really wanting it, but unwilling to part with it.
Besides that there are a million books – possibly a dozen boxes worth. I’ve always had the dream of settling down in my dream home and putting together a library with all my books neatly arranged. That seems unlikely now, and so I went through those boxes as well with the notion that I would part with any book I didn’t think I would read again, or had no sentimental attachment to. I’ve not finished that process, but so far managed to separate about 20% of the books into a pile to dispose of.
These are books I’ve collected over more than 30 years. Some I haven’t read for that long. There’s a lot that have sentimental memories attached to them. As I sorted through the boxes I would add the occasional book to a third pile – those I wanted to re-read now.
For the most part these were books I’d liked greatly at the time, but was curious if I would like them as much now. I’ve read about 3-4 of them in the last 6 weeks, and so far none have had the same impact on me as they did at the time. It seems sad, but I’ve added them to the pile to sell or give away.
I started on another book yesterday I remember vividly from the time. I bought it when I was 17, and the protagonist was the same age. Summer Crossing is the story about a kid from the hard end of town falling for a mysterious and desperately alluring newcomer. It’s a clichéd story, but only inasmuch as classic stories are. I read it and went along for the ride as if it was my own. Understand, I was much like the kid in the story, though from more comfortable background. I yearned and hoped and wondered and felt myself erupt with irresistible desire.
I read the book again after that, years later. Picking it up I found an old business card for a bookmark that must have sat there since 1989. I remembered it. It was the card for a man my single mother briefly went out with. He was like a handsome used-car salesman, tall and with a head of hair turning silver, and an alluring turn of phrase. I didn’t trust him from the start, but all of that is another story.
I must have been looking for work at the time. I remember he set me up for an interview at the place where he worked in East St Kilda. His card reads ‘Retirement Adviser’ – in effect he sold superannuation and related products, and earned a good commission doing so. I had to do a bunch of tests, and as always my results were off the charts. I was brought in and this was explained to me, and I was offered a job there and then. I declined. I couldn’t see myself selling insurance. I didn’t want to do it. Most importantly, I didn’t believe in it. Even then I couldn’t do what I didn’t trust. They were nonplussed. Such considerations never entered their mind. I walked away relieved to be gone, and soon after he was gone too.
One of the boxes I opened contained about 20 years worth of writing. Mostly it’s in notebooks, but there are pages and scraps of paper too. A lot of it is embarrassing to read now, but even so, some ideas throughout, and perhaps some promise of what was to come. There’s more than just fictional stuff in there. There are the occasional observations and thoughts, but most particularly a pretty raw commentary on what I was feeling then. Much of this is on scraps of paper and the back of envelopes I’ve kept as mementoes of that time. Most poignant are the many scraps relating to B, with whom I had such a tumultuous relationship.
Memories come flooding back as I fingered the pieces of paper and read the words I’d penned so earnestly more than 20 years ago. I loved her. Had she been healthier it’s probable that we would have married, and my life would be different. We didn’t though and it scarred me for a long time. Then one day I found out she was dead and I’ve never really been able to get over that. It’s self-indulgent to say, but she’s the tragedy of my life.
I know, she has family who miss her every day and wonder what they could have done differently. I’m just the man who might have been. It might have been for me though, too. Anyway.
Among the stuff I found where desk diaries for 1911 and 1992. Among the notes about meetings and things to do I found that I had taken to briefly recording what happened with her on those days. The voice is so fresh. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He hopes still, and sometimes he despairs, and on days he is angry, but it is all current and real and unresolved.
It’s so sad to read now. It comes back to me. I feel regret, then sorrow. I wish it had been different. I wish I had done things differently. I was in love though. I’d do anything to make it different now. Why did she have to die? If I never saw her again and she was happy then that would be enough. But not even that. I wonder, as I must, how much I was a part of that.
Now it’s just history. Boxes of my life. One day it might be worth something when I’m famous and they’re writing books about me. Or to that person including me in their thesis. One day I’ll have to read it all again properly myself. Those were the days of my life.