I was innocent once

Most nights these days seem full of dreams or chasing down odd memories half asleep, triggered by who knows what, but leading down some strange or long forgotten byways. The night before last, I found myself down one of those rabbit holes, recalling a particular time of my life – a briefish period when I resided in Sydney when I was about 19.

I don’t know where the memories came from, or why they came at all, but there they were, fresh to me, as if I could close my eyes and see, could feel the sun on my skin – for most of these memories seem to come from under bright sunshine.

Which was the first memory? I’m not sure. Perhaps it was the utterly random recollection of a friend of my uncles, Noel Gulliver his name was. In my mind, he seems a prototypical Australian, though not of the ocker variety. He was open and friendly, easy with everything he did, confident in himself. He was the type that people instinctively trust, the sort of man other men want to become mates with, and women are drawn to. He was a smart guy, had lived and worked in London (I think) at some stage, and had acquired a lovely English wife, Jane. She almost epitomised the English rose type, blonde and fair skinned and a delightful person. They had returned to Sydney to live – he was from Melbourne originally – with handsome twin boys (Tom and ?), with snowy blonde hair. It’s funny the things you remember – I’m pretty sure he worked with Schenker.

He was my uncle’s childhood friend, but after settling back in Sydney had become more friendly with my aunt (with whom I was staying). He also knew and respected my dad – my father was the type you would respect for his intelligence and more general gravitas. In fact, my father became a topic of conversation in those days, through me. I don’t recall it, but I probably still had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about him back then, and clearly, it was visible.

There were barbecues and drinks and social interactions, and they were light-hearted and fun, but I can recall at least once Noel taking me aside to talk to me about my dad. I can’t remember what was said, but the gist was to let it go. He was a good man, and they were good people.

I remember other parties and the like, trailing in on the wake of my aunt, who was a social creature well-liked by many. There was one party I remember at a house in Balmain on a brilliant, blue-skied day. We’d got there on the ferry, and I remember among the exotic offerings was Chinese hundred-year-old eggs – I was at a naïve age when I thought at first that the strange-looking eggs were actually a hundred years old. There are moments of that party that are vivid to me, though they probably only amount to half a minute, when I think we were near to the last to leave, 5-6 hours later. I do recall a very slinky, sexy woman a few years older than me I had the hots for. Her name was Cecile.

I remembered a night at a restaurant in Paddington, or perhaps Darlinghurst, and though I don’t recall spending new years in Sydney, think it was new year’s eve and a set menu.

There was another of my aunt’s friends, Young Jack, as he was called, who I’d first met years before and become enamoured by. He was a smallish man, highly educated and very smart, but with a wicked, irreverent sense of humour – a bit bolshie. He lived in a Paddington terrace house with his wife, Doris, but spent much of his time at the local pub, The Grand National. That’s where I’d first met him back in the seventies, WSC on the TV in the corner. We became quite close until an imagined slight divided us.

There were others, of course, names and places, moments in the sun, stimulating conversations and laughter and a cosmopolitan world that was exhilarating to the curious young man I was.

I lay in bed. I tried to picture myself as I was then, tall and loose-limbed, innocent but keen. At that age, you look out upon the world and have a robust sense of self – all the things you’ll do, the adventures you’ll experience, even the women you’ll fuck – but generally, you’re incapable of seeing yourself as others do. I think now my inexperience may have been seen fondly, and if sometimes I overreached myself, it was tolerated. I don’t know if I was particularly confident – I think I wasn’t – but I was striving and curious. I had a good heart, and for all my innocence, was smart. I think I was probably viewed as a kid with promise.

Now, all these years later, and those memories and that experience compacted by many more years of experience and adventure and it’s a rich tale, but all of it contributed to a sense of loss – for these nocturnal reveries are not pleasant reflections. They go to highlight the pointlessness of much I feel now. That’s my challenge.

I used to read all the existential authors, not long after the time I wrote of above. I absorbed Sartre and Camus and compared myself to the Steppenwolf, but I’ve never suffered the sense of existential futility as I do now. I struggle to understand the point of what I strive for if it is only to survive on a physical plane. I need something in myself, and my memories remind me that once I had a vivid life, and for many years, and for much of it I felt as if it was leading somewhere. But now I have arrived and found nothing, not even the old reliable sense of vivid experience.

I know this sounds bleak, but I record it because it needs to be recorded. This is the truth, now. But right at this moment, all I feel is ambivalence. I know it’s not fatal because, despite my grim words, I have hope it can change. I know, mathematically, that’s true. The question is not so much how it can change, but to what? What now will fill me, as I was filled before?

There’s a second part to this, but you’ll have to wait till tomorrow.

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