Unforgotten years

Lockdown has eased slightly from midnight last night, and I can look forward shortly to visiting some of my friends in their own home. Here and now nothing is different for me. You go out, you see things from afar, you return home, and at home, you dwell. You live inside yourself much more because what’s outside is much less. I suppose that’s hard for some people, unused to turning inward, and those for which there is little inside. That’s not a problem I have.

You know how it is, the tiniest of things can set off a series of memories. That happened to me last night when I found myself recollecting the life I had early in the century.

For some reason, I think the last couple of years of last century forgotten in terms of my life. I don’t know why that is, except for maybe because there’s a 19 in front of it instead of a 20. Nothing remarkable happened at that time, but it was hardly uneventful. I travelled to Europe for the first time. I had my usual love affairs. Work was going well, and my social life was healthy. I remember the NYE party I went to to see in the new Millenium, down Frankston way at a house on the beach, everyone wondering if Y2K would strike, and in the meantime, partying hard.

That was not what I recalled last night. What I remembered was a time in 2001 when I’d just returned to Australia from travelling through Asia and Europe. It was a rambling, confronting holiday if I dare call it that. I’d left a few months before to go to Singapore to meet a girl.

We’d been lovers in Melbourne, and I thought she was marvellous. But then she got a posting to Singapore as corporate counsel with her work, just as she’d dreamt of. Go, I told her, selfless as always in matters such as this. At her farewell party, her mother came to me and told me to follow her. I hadn’t thought of it until then, but suddenly I thought, why not? And so about 8 weeks later I caught a plane having resigned my job, sold my car, and let out my apartment. All very H.

It didn’t turn out as I hoped. It never does. We’d left it too long, she had a new life, and I always had the feeling there might be someone new in the background. I stayed with her a while and then left. It’d been a memorable fortnight for several reasons, but I left feeling distraught.

I couldn’t go home, so I did the next best thing – I went to Paris. I moped around there a few days feeling sorry for myself, before spending a few more days in Deauville and taking day trips around. Fortunately, Cheeseboy was in Europe at the same time visiting his parents. I caught a train to Brussels, then onto Amsterdam, and after a few days, met up with him. We had a great time, and it was just what I needed. We met up with a couple of his girlfriends of his from uni and went to Haarlem and Boomendahl, riding bikes everywhere, drinking big steins of beer, and smoking ‘super’ joints. Then back to his hometown of Rijssen.

I parted from him eventually and went back to Paris, and from there flew back to Singapore, and then onto Vietnam. Eventually, I made it home a few days before 9/11.

I had no place to live and no job, so I stayed with my mum in Canterbury. I remember watching TV at about 10pm and a newsflash reporting a plane had flown into the WTC. At that stage, it seemed a terrible accident. Then another flew into it.

They were momentous days. There was a sense that the world had changed forever with this monstrous act. Everyone was in shock. Everything else paled.

I felt in a fugue. I was unemployed and my life was doing nothing but watching the news reports. I was a frail state before any of this had happened. I was broken-hearted but yearning still, and the horror of 9/11 spiralled me into a deeper state of depression. I was distressed at what had happened, but when I cried – which was pretty regular – the sorrow was equally shared between what had happened to me, and what had happened to the world.

I remember one day mum and my sister took me out to lunch in a pub near North Richmond station. They were concerned I was depressed and spoke to me about it. They were right, but I didn’t realise till then that it was so obvious, or that my pain had transferred to others. I remember I broke down and wept at their kindness.

They were strange times. For a while, I was convinced I had to go back to Europe. My destiny, I felt, was following the art trail there, starting in Italy. It resonated with my inner self, the creative side of me that could look at a piece of artwork and feel immersed in it. Perhaps I wanted to submerge myself in a deeper meaning in a time that my heart was broken and terrorists had changed the world. For weeks, it seemed, it felt as if that was the answer if only I could get there. Maybe I just wanted to get away. None of that happened, and I felt surprisingly aggrieved.

Looking back it seems an unlikely and possibly preposterous notion, yet life is like that sometimes, and sometimes it’s meant to be like that. The straight and narrow leads us to places we already know. There’s not much fun in that, and no adventure. Thankfully, though I didn’t do this, I’ve spent a lifetime straying from the path and feel better for it, despite the tribulations along the way. I wonder though, what might have happened had I followed my desire then?

Instead of that, I got a job, and eventually a lot of my swagger back. I hooked up with a woman from New York and went with her for a while. She had high hopes for me, but though she was smart and attractive – and we had great sex – she had no sense of humour. I can recall, many times, I’d say something and she’d look at me blankly before asking, was that a joke? Of course, it was, but it kills the moment when you have to explain it. Like many Americans, she seemed to struggle with the subtleties of dry wit. It was never going to work.

Next was a consultant I met at work. She was sweet and lovely and thought I was wicked – she got my sense of humour. She was from Taipei originally, and for weeks there was this build-up of expectation. It was steamier for her than for me. All my frailty had passed, and I was very much at ease. Eventually, one night, the inevitable happened – but it ruined everything else. We fucked, and that was that.

There was another woman. I was a consultant brought in to look at something or another. My desk was in a pod with four women whose work had nothing to do with mine. Still, we’d banter all day.

One of them was the sort of cool beauty that other women look at with envy. Others gravitated to her for that reason, much as they do all over the world. She knew it too, though I think had become jaded by it. We’d look at each other and slip each other one-liners – she was very good like that. I remember one day all of them were wondering aloud why I was single and what they could do about it. There was a lot of teasing going on. The cool beauty piped up asking if I’d tried online dating, then, upon my prompting, proceeded to give a verbal profile for me to use. I remember her calling me handsome and witty, and I knew then that she liked me.

I should have done more with her. We circled each other for a while. I knew the secret with women who have men clamouring after them was to remain nonchalant. That was easy for me. Being cool was my default setting. And, predictably, it intrigued her. One night we all went out to a bar, and she had too much to drink and got a bit emotional. There was a mini-scene when it got too much for her.

I’d known for a while that things weren’t great for her. I won’t say she was tormented, but she was unhappy. I remember her family had issues. From what she’d told me they’d seemed dysfunctional and incapable of leading a sensible life. She alone, the beautiful product of it, seemed to have any self-awareness.

Something of all this came out that night in an outpouring of grief and anger. One after another of the men there went to comfort her. Roughly, she rejected them. I want H to tell me she proclaimed and came to me. I can’t remember what the question was now. I can’t remember what I told her, though I would’ve comforted her. I was good at that.

After that, we felt bound together somehow, but though I saw her a few times, I allowed it to fade away eventually. That was very H also.

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