Other pathways

Dreams are one thing, but what triggers the random recollection of long ago, long forgotten events? Why do things come back to us when they do? What’s the connection between today and that far distant moment we now recall? It’s an endlessly fascinating question for me. We harbour mysteries we understand nothing of.

I had one such occasion last week. It bears repeating here not only because of its unlikely providence, but because it is a story worth telling in itself, and an apt counter-balance to much else I recall to these pages.

It was Thursday night and I went to bed late. It was past midnight and as I lay there a memory from more than 30 years before popped into my mind. I was bemused that should recall such a thing, and curious too. It was not something I had thought of for many years. Why do I remember it now?

I was just a kid not long after school. I’d had a job as a computer operator changing tapes and loading JCL cards on an old IBM 360. That job ended when I moved briefly to Sydney. When I returned I was lost and became unemployed.

From this distance the chronology now seems uncertain, and even the year appears vague. Somehow, I remember, I ended up living with my grandmother in her townhouse in Kalimna street, Essendon. On Thursday nights I would walk the short distance to Windy Hill and watch my team train, rain, hail and shine.

I don’t know now how long I was there, or how it came about. In memory it was an easy, but thoughtless existence. My grandmother adored me, and I have one particular memory in winter of sitting by the fireplace with a cup of tea my grandmother has made and reading a biography of Peter the Great. Back then, that was enough for me.

I was unemployed though. I hate to admit it now, but I was happy to live like that day to day. I don’t know if I ever thought much about the future. I just lived.

At some stage I did the Victorian public service test and, as I always did, blitzed it. Not long after I was offered a job at the Department of Housing and Construction in their Bourke Street offices. I started there in a pretty lowly job, but it was easy, the people were nice, and if I recall correctly, there was a daily tea cart. There was a complication though.

As a condition of my employment I had to provide them with a copy of my school results. I’d bombed at school and didn’t have the credentials they needed. I ummed and aahed, I delayed as much as possible, but it slowly came to a head. I have to leave I thought, and when push came to shove handed in my resignation. They accepted it with regret.

A day or so later I was called into a meeting with my supervisor and manager. They were lovely men. They said they’d received a call from my dad explaining to them my circumstances. I was terribly embarrassed and when they asked denied it was the case. I understood why my father had made the call, but wished he hadn’t. They reassured me. It was okay, if that was the reason then they could sweep it under the carpet and I could stay on. Too proud to accept that I said it was nothing to do with it – and that was that.

I left about a week later. I’d done a good job while I was there and I remember the manager telling saying how he would miss my smiling face – I was always smiling, it seemed. Then they took me to the pub for farewell drinks. I remember them fondly now.

This is what I remembered post-midnight on Thursday. Thirty years later I felt a kind of regret, an wonder too. How might things have been different had I swallowed my pride and accepted their offer? As for dad, I now felt grateful for his futile intervention. We had a combative relationship even then, but 30 years on I recognised the love that had prompted him to pick up the phone. I wish I had have acknowledged it then.

I don’t remember what happened after that, but ultimately it turned out fine. I got a job at some stage after and began a slow rise that became quicker the further I got into it. Much else happened to. But what might have happened had I stayed there when I had the chance? I wish I had, If only because it was the right thing to do. Looking back now there are things I did – or didn’t do – which I’m not proud of. I peddle the myth to myself that I reformed after the disappointment of my school exams, but the truth is that it was years before I properly knuckled down and became the man I am today. It’s worth remembering that.


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