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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Bolder times


I’ve been chatting with a colleague about the good old days when life was a bit more free-wheeling that it is now. It started off talking about the footy. Our formative years of AFL were pretty much the eighties, which was a wild and woolly and utterly great decade of football. It was an era of great games, larger than life characters, and bruising football. We were both wistful about how AFL footy has become sanitised since then. It’s still a great game – probably better than ever – but an awful lot of the rough and tumble has been legislated out of the contest. For someone who grew up watching robust footy, and playing it too, it’s a bit sad, but very much a sign of the times.

So too are expectations of us. There’s a corporate party on this Friday night at one of the city bars. I’ll go along for an hour or two of free drinks and nibbles, then be home in time for the footy (ironically). Ahead of the party Friday a corporate missive has been sent out to all and sundry reminding us of the standards expected of us, and basically telling us to pull our heads in and behave. Now I understand that, but once more I can recall a time when it was different.

In the mid-eighties I worked at a bank in IO. It was a competitive environment of younger folk with no-one much more than about 27, and with just about an even split of men and women. We worked hard, as was the culture, and played hard too, which was the culture also. Some of the stories from back then would make your eyes pop, but gee, it was fun living.

Anyway, one year we had a mid-year Christmas party on the 30th June at the Banks Rowing Club on the Yarra. It was a great venue and everyone keenly anticipated the event.

Leading into it many of us nominated a CPT – a Christmas Party Target. I don’t know how that started but I for one happily joined in. For my CPT I chose one of the currency dealers, an enigmatic and attractive woman with long, curly blonde hair and other attributes that led her to be known – in my mind at least – as ‘big tits’.

I’d had the hots for her for a while and, unbeknownst to me, she knew it. I was an intern learning the business, as most of us were. I’d got friendly with one of the old hands showing us the ropes and confided to him that I quite fancied that girl with…well, you know. As it turns out they were very good friends and somewhere along the line he told her. I’d probably have been mortified had I known, but it worked out well – turns out that going into the event I was her CPT.

It should have been a lay down misere then. I wanted her, she wanted me, and in a lubricious atmosphere with an abundance of alcohol to urge us along we should have sealed the deal pretty quickly. As they say though, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. So it was that night, and for a very good reason.

I never got to see those fabled breasts up close and personal. I sort of wish I had, but the reason I didn’t was pretty good.

The night proceeded pretty much as had been promised. Lots of drink, excellent food – up to and including lobster (the bank didn’t stint) – much carousing and a few shenanigans. I swear that come midnight that quite a few of the bushes by the banks of the river rustled as CPT’s bonded.

In the meantime, I hooked up with someone different. It was with a girl I’d met and connected with and liked some weeks before. Turns out she had a thing for me, thought I had presence, loved how I walked, and other things she later told me in exuberant detail. I liked her too, and perhaps it was because I liked her I didn’t nominate her as my CPT. Big tits was fun, and probably a lot of fun, and I was probably the same for her. Mogesh – the girl I found – had found a place in a different part of me.

I can be a bold character, and that was certainly true then. I can be crazy flirtatious and funny and charming – less so these days, though it’s coming back. The women who drew that out of me were generally the women I felt a more primal attraction to. The women I really liked, liked deep inside of me, drew from me a different set of behaviours. There might be some wit, but I’m more serious. I’m incredibly sensitive then, and tingle with tenderness. I become a more compact character, not the provocative charmer, but someone much quieter and sincere. That was the person drawn to Mogesh, and he didn’t do CPT’s.

In any case from early on that evening I found myself with her. I don’t think I ever asked, but I’m pretty certain that’s how she planned it. We spent the night there together and afterwards went back to her flat in East St Kilda. I spent the night holding her in her ¾ sized bed and refraining from sex. By morning I had a bad case of blue balls she was finally happy to relieve me of.

I spent the weekend with her and it was one of the most special weekends of my life. We spent most of it in bed making love. We shared a bath, went out for dinner, came back. I remember at the end of the weekend waiting to catch a tram back wondering what had just happened.

There was a bold character inside me, but within him was this romantic soul. It felt the truth of me and I was suddenly grateful that I had found someone with whom I could be that person. I fell in love with Mogesh: she was the first. At one stage we planned to get married. That encounter changed my life forever.

I would be bold again then and in the years since, but all the while searching for the woman I could share my more sincere self with.

Times have changed. I lived through that time when there were fewer boundaries drawn, and when expression was a natural thing. I’m still here, I know what it was like and a large part of that era is lodged in me. Now the expectations have shifted. We have become more consciously civilised, boundaries are firmly drawn and reinforced, and expectations of behaviour, conduct, even belief, are clearly stated.

I understand. Much of that is for the theoretical good, but there must be room for individuality and dissent. I look back upon those brilliantly coloured characters, not all of them politically correct, and think, what a time it was to be alive.

 

Not fade away


I’ve got a heavy cold right now that makes me feel as if my head might pop at any moment. My nose is blocked, and I can feel the pressure behind my eyes and in my ears. I took the day off yesterday because I was sneezing all over the place, and because I had a new oven being installed. I spent the day quietly on the couch or in bed and in between working at the novel. Being crook is a nuisance, but I’m back at work today.

At the end of the night yesterday I was lying on the couch contemplating bed when instead I clicked on a movie to watch I’d recorded last week. Travelling North seems to me one of those forgotten movies. A zillion movies get made every year across the world and some will be remembered for decades to come, for the right reasons, or wrong, and most will fade into the past. A few, for reasons I can’t understand, get lost in the past. Travelling North is a worthy movie, but one of those lost movies. Who here has ever heard of it, let alone seen it?

It’s an Australian movie starring Leo McKern and Julia Blake and based on a David Williamson play. It has a solid cast and is well made and is clever. It’s not a movie that should be forgotten, which is one reason I recorded it. It came at me as a novelty. Oh yes, I thought, I remember that movie. I wonder how it plays now.

I probably wouldn’t have cared, except that I saw this movie at the cinema when it came out. I remember it very well. I went with a mate to see it at the Roseville Cinema in Sydney. For dinner before we went to a Black Stump restaurant. In retrospect it seems an unusual movie for us to have elected to watch, but we both enjoyed its modest pleasures. That was a while ago, I knew, but when I saw it was from 1987 I felt a mild flutter of wonder. I knew it was from about then, but I realised that was 30 fucking years ago. 30 years! How does that happen?

Back then when I saw it first the actual storyline would have had no direct relevance for me. It’s the story of a couple of retirement age driving up from Melbourne to a new home in the north of Queensland. They go from the hustle and bustle of the city to a laid-back lifestyle in a tropical setting. It’s a well-worn trail, with thousands of retirees making the trek from the southern states to the tropical climes to warm their bones with their working life done. I was not much more than a kid then and all of that was many years distant, if at all – and I doubt it ever crossed my mind.

That time is 30 years closer now. I’m still a way off and very much doubt that I would go north – it might be pretty, but I’d miss the conversation and the culture. Regardless, there will come a time in the next 20 years when I will need to consider what I’ll do. If not travelling north, then what?

Who can say? A lot can happen in 20 years, and I hope it does. I’ve changed in the 30 years since I saw the film. Back then everything was ahead of me. Right now a lot of it is behind me. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve lived an interesting life, and occasionally a big life. My desire is for that to continue, though it’s harder now. I still want to feel that vibrant urgency, still want to be relevant – I don’t think I can live without that.

That’s my problem with retirement. I accept that I’ve a harsh perspective on it, but that’s because I’ve observed it so much. I’ve watched retired husbands – long careers behind them, but past – trail after their wives in the supermarket. Just recently there’s been a bunch of press on retirement and aged care homes, and none of it good. But I’ve also listened in as retired couples have lauded the facilities and activities of their retirement villages. They make it sound like landlocked cruise ships with lawn bowls and cards and group activities, and so on. Perhaps that’s as it should be – but it’s not for me, and I can’t imagine a time when it will be.

If you ask me I’ll tell you I want to stay independent to the end. I want my own home and space, want to make my own decisions and live life as I choose too. The Leo McKern character in the movie is a retired civil engineer and ex-communist. He’s done things and has become a curmudgeonly old man. Well, excuse me, I think that’s exactly as it should be. Live on your terms, and fuck convention.

There will be plenty who object to my suppositions and to each his own. What it feels like to me is that to settle into a retirement home of any sort is to accept the fact of eventual death and to wait for it in comfort. I don’t accept it, and I won’t wait for it.

For me, right now, it’s simple. I’m happy to live simply. Have my home, a vegie garden, a dog, and hopefully a partner to share it with. That’s to start with. But you need more than that if you are not to become one of those lost husbands dogging their spouses heels in the supermarket because they have nothing better to do. You need something for yourself.

I know this because I have always needed that. I’ve been strident because I wanted to feel life and engage with it. It has become my nature and it won’t change just because I might retire one day. You need to do, or at least attempt to do. All your life you have contributed to society, if only modestly – why should that change now? So okay you tell me, because you’ve retired, because those days are gone, because now it’s time to rest and enjoy. Enjoy what though? The ethereal pleasures of playing bridge and going to the theatre?

I believe that you must put in as much – if not more – than what you take out. A life living as a valued member of the community builds that balance up, from which you withdraw as necessary. At retirement the deposits cease unless you make an effort otherwise. You begin to draw from that account and what fun it is to start with – but then it pales, doesn’t it? For the active mind I’m sure, it would. To take without putting back becomes a superficial existence. What meaning acquired over lifetime of rich experience evaporates in the artificial sunshine of retirement.

I want to keep putting in until the day I die. For me it means in that little house with the vegie garden I must do something more. For me that will be writing, but probably something else to. And if I could I would live like that starting tomorrow.

I can’t disengage. I can’t put things at arm’s length. This is what you have to remember. When you die you don’t come back. This is it. Why waste it? Why become irrelevant? Live all the way through I reckon.

The people who know me


I make it a rule that no-one who knows me personally has the address of this blog. Theory goes I don’t want to be inhibited knowing that people close to me are reading what I’m writing. And, I guess, you never know when I want to write about them – problematic when they can read it.

That’s the theory. In reality there are people who know me who know about this place, and at least one who is an active reader. In his case he basically pleaded with me to get the address, and I relented – he’s now a loyal reader who gives regular feedback. There are others who knew about the site back in its inception, in 2004, but I doubt if any of those still read, or are even aware that it’s still active. Then there are the accidents, the calamities, when people you know unexpectedly learn that you have a blog – and have written about them.

I had lunch today with a mate, the very guy I mentioned above and who is probably reading these words right now. He was telling me how he had recently gone back into the archives and began reading my posts from the second half of 2006.

As he said, that was an interesting time in life – though probably a better read than it was to live. Without going into too much detail I became infatuated and very likely fell in love with a workmate who happened to be attached to someone else. It was a complex, messy and ultimately doomed period of my life, and it all came back to me as he asked questions about it. Like I said, it’s a good read, like an edgy Mills and Boon.

Life happens and it goes on. What was forever once soon recedes into the past, but it’s always yours. I could think of nor imagine anything else but her back in the day, but ultimately you move on. That’s the pattern. If I look back it’s with a mix of wistfulness and regret. I don’t regret feeling what I did or meeting her, and I’m not even really sure if I regret they way it turned out – badly. Shit happens, after all. I regret that I didn’t know better and couldn’t close it out, one way or another.

It is of the past though and just another story, except that this was an occasion when others stumbled across my blog. That was tough. They were some of my work colleagues, including her, and everything I had written was revealed. That would have been tough enough without my intimate thoughts being exposed – and believe me, there were intimate thoughts.

I curled up in a ball. I cringed. I felt myself naked, as if everyone knew and were pointing at me behind my back. As it happened I had written of my feelings for her, and everyone could see, not the least her. For a little while I password protected my site. I withdrew into my technological shell. At work I probably put on a stony face, but I felt it. And then there were the comments I had to respond to. As always, I was combative, but I felt under siege.

Looking back now I don’t know what difference it would have made had that never happened. Did it cruel my chances with her, or enhance them? Certainly she could read my innermost thoughts, most of which were tender. I had reason to believe that she was receptive to that at least – I could track her frequent visits to the site, and saw that she had saved many of my posts to her hard drive, as if she want to keep them and read them whenever she wanted. She was in a relationship, yet she kept returning.

On the other hand it made things near impossible between us. What had been a small thing shared became tawdry exposed to the open air. What might have gone on quietly for months and simply enjoyed without undue expectation suddenly had an expiry date. Exposed as we were it couldn’t go on.

Ultimately the resolution was ugly and it remains one of the more difficult times in my life. I felt ostracised, but squared the jaw and didn’t complaint. The writing was on the wall, loud and rude, and I took myself away from there.

It’s long in the past now – more than 10 years. She could be reading still for all I know, but both of us have moved on.

Do you regret? It might have been different yes, and I wish we had stayed friends – she was a grand person. But no, I don’t really regret. For a while I was filled to the brim, and I felt it, felt it all the way so that I knew that I was perfectly alive. And now it’s just a story, but mine – and hers too. That much we still share.

 

Journeying


Like a lot of people, I went through an existentialist stage in my early 20’s. You’re coming into a rich and mysterious stage of life. Up to that point, you’ve been cloistered from many of life’s realities, but now you’re in the thick of it. It’s both exciting and confronting. There’s a lot of good stuff in it, but also much that is confusing. If you’re like me you live it to the hilt, but in doing so find a lot of questions coming to the fore, both low and high. If you’re the questing type you search for answers, enlightenment, and failing that, clues and a direction to look towards.

It was natural for me. Like so many, I cut a swathe once I hit adulthood. I only have a vague recollection of the details these days, but have a general remembrance of being out all hours, of having real money in my pocket and a place to be. I would head out, with friends often for a big night out, but similarly I might join work colleagues for lunch at the nearest pub and entrée into the adult world of quickly poured beers and murmured conversations, the easy banter and camaraderie of colleagues who must endure work together, and in my case being the kid the gentle chiding and sense of protection being taken under the wing of the more experienced.

On top of that, there were girls. Gosh, I was wet behind the ears, I know that now, but back then I couldn’t get enough. I was smitten in general. I had always liked girls through school and had many a lurid fantasy as boys do – and spent most of my last year at school with a folder covering my lap to hide the almost eternal hard-on I had. Enough to make me nostalgic now, but then – both embarrassing and thrilling.

It was different as an adult. There were rules around being a schoolkid that were removed once I hit 18. Anything was possible. And the women were different. They were like me, making their way in the world, or were more than that – women who had transcended that stage and become sophisticated, mysterious women full of an almost exotic allure. The sheer range and possibility was enough occasionally to take my breath away. In this, as in other things, I was hugely ambitious. I wanted a piece of everything.

Then one day you’re past that. Maybe you’ve had your heart broken for the first time. Or maybe you’ve seen enough and been around sufficient to see beyond the bright lights and glitz. The spell fades, the veneer is rubbed off, peer behind the curtain and there for the first time you see the tawdry reality. It’s not all sweetness and light. But if it’s not, what is it? And what does it mean?

I continued to live large for the most part, but more and more these questions began to gnaw at me. For the first time, you attempt to place yourself in the schema of things. Where do I fit in? Whoa, who the fuck am I? What happens now?

Being of inquisitive nature as well as a great reader I sought the answer to these questions in literature. I had already been roused by writers like Hemingway and felt a subliminal curiosity at what it revealed to me. The next step on was to delve into writers like Sartre and Camus (as well as Nietzsche – a compelling character; and the Kierkegaard of Either/Or). I went through Sartre’s Roads to Freedom series once, and then a second time, as well as Nausea (and his play, The Wall). They were fascinating and engaging at an intellectual level and led directly to many hours of tortured contemplation, but it was the more humanistic writing of Camus that ultimately had a more lasting effect on me. I still read Camus occasionally, but Sartre I haven’t picked up since that time. In my perception, Sartre is the more sophisticated thinker, but like many highly intelligent people had blind spots, and a propensity to take something simple and make it more complex than it was. Camus was not as intellectually nimble, but he was a much more humble and attractive human being whose simpler, less audacious perspective had a truer wisdom. Or so I think.

That was then. I still ponder these matters. I have come to see myself as an outsider in the existentialist sense – that’s a post for another day – but I have come to terms with all that once upon a time where matters of urgent wonder. That reading, that time, is part of me, and informs who I’ve become and how I think. Since then, however, I’ve been caught up in the maelstrom of living life, and not just the consideration of it. Much I started then is still going on, though the route has been indirect and complex – there is no answer, after all, no single answer at any rate, but rather a gradual process of enlightenment that never reaches an end. The questions I asked then and which kept me awake now seem secondary – like tabloid headlines that somehow miss the true story. The truth has a finer grain.

I wished I had someone to talk to about these things back in the day, and even now I would welcome someone with who I could gently debate these matters with a glass of good whisky in hand. I look back on who I was and see myself clearly at that point and would like nothing more than to meet him, as if it was possible for the man I am now to exist in the same place as the man I was then. What a great journey it is!

What I recall


Watching 13 Reasons Why has induced in me an unexpected sense – I think – of nostalgia. Is it nostalgia, I ask myself, or is it something else? I’m not clear on that even still, but reckon there’s a bit of nostalgia anyway, or perhaps just familiarity, mixed in with a bunch of other things. It’s not unpleasant, and in ways, it’s welcome, because returning to me are memories and thoughts that I have not come across for some years.

Watching the show there was certainly a sense of familiarity, even if things have changed since I was a teenager going to school. It made me question things too.

You become a man and you look back and what you see is filtered through your man eyes. The purity of the moment when you were an actual teenager is no longer available to you. Watching this show and walking in Clay’s shoes I got closer to it than I have before.

I tend to think who I am today is a clear linear progression from who I was as a boy. You don’t think about it really, as if it’s a given, but it isn’t really, and probably not true in my case anyway. I’m sympathetic to Clay. I recognise something, but it’s hard to articulate what it is. Perhaps it’s his sensitivity. Or maybe the sense of yearning, so common to adolescence. Was I as intense as he is? No. I wasn’t as troubled either, or as awkward. I wasn’t brash or particularly confident, and I was thought shy by many. I was very independent though too, which was heavily tinged with rebellion. Maybe stubborn. That hasn’t changed. I liked girls and was erratically good with them, but I was rarely confident with them (though might have acted it at times). I played sport and had good relationships with the ‘in’ crowd, though I went my own way.

I had quirks. Every teacher knew I was a brainiac, but I seemed to resist the categorisation. I’d earn perfect scores and then slacken off to mediocre marks, much to the frustration of my teachers. Looking back I can see the seed of the outsider I grew to become (quite deliberately). I didn’t like being taken for granted. I didn’t want anyone expecting anything from me. I wanted to be myself only. At times I would express that in unexpected ways. I remember once I finished a science test early, whereupon I whipped the folding comb from my back pocket and began combing my lush hair in the classroom, just like the Fonz. My teacher didn’t like that and let me know, but I carried that comb everywhere.

I was cute more than handsome, but the sort of cute that becomes handsome, and for most of my high school years was slim and of average height, even a little less than. I grew late, and left school a lanky thing.

Life hits you after that and shapes the man you become. Everyone says I’m confident now, even arrogant. I still think a part of me is shy, but there’s also a brash aspect to me. I can be intimidating, mostly inadvertent. All of that came later. Back then I was a lovely boy I think, a good kid who erred in being unexpectedly rebellious and individual.

I watch Clay with his family and heading off to school and lots of that is familiar to me also. I came from an upwardly mobile middle-class family and the living was pretty easy. I went to a private school and most of my schoolmates were at least as comfortable, and mostly more so. I never doubted anything and looking back I think there was a general sense of expectation, even indulgence in school. That comes easily to a kid who knows no better about the world. I would walk to the bus stop every morning and catch two buses to school and another two heading home. The buses were full of the raucous behaviour of schoolkids everywhere.

I lived in a leafy street and on the weekends I would ride my bike with friends riding their bikes. Sometimes we’d kick a footy in the street or play cricket in the backyard, depending on the season. I had an often fraught relationship with my father, but felt much loved by the extended family, particularly my grandparents, who would dote on me. I had real close mates I shared everything with, and had great adventures. It was easy, and that’s certainly something you take for granted. You live in a cocoon and mine, like Clays, was pretty snug.

Those things resonate with me as I watch the show, but ultimately what really connects is the recollection of how intense adolescence is. It’s a ride in which you feel keenly every thrill, every spill. Looking back I think of it as a kind of carefree intensity, because life really is pretty good and most of the things you feel – no matter how extreme they feel – are common rites of passage. I look at the kids in the show and witness their dramas and a lot comes flooding back to me – yes, I was there, I did that, I felt that too. You forget sometimes – once upon I was a teenager as well. And that’s what I remember – how often do live as intensely as you did when you were a burgeoning teenager, when everything was vital and anything was possible? That’s the resonance for me.

What is different is the hard edge portrayed in the show. I wasn’t bullied. I don’t recall ever witnessing it (though it looks different as a child from an adult). I was a rugged kid at primary school – I had a lot of fights and won every one of them – but I was always righteous, and never bullied myself. No doubt it happened, but in one way at least my time was more innocent. There was not the pervasive influence of social media and the 24/7 cycle it enables. If it occurred it was more straight up – I saw a few fights, and there were probably people sidelined in the popularity stakes – but I have no distinct recollection of any of that. Really, I sailed through.

I like remembering because it feels forgotten. Maybe it’s my imagination, but too often we seem divorced from our teenage self. Certainly, I look about me sometimes on the train and try to imagine the weary, the unfit, the cynical about me as they might have been when they were young, fresh and innocent. Often it’s very hard. And that counts for me too.

Easter’s past


It’s been a lazy, unproductive Easter for me. I went into it planning to read a lot and write a lot and maybe cook a little. I haven’t done any extra reading, I’ve hardly written, and while I made a pie yesterday, haven’t cooked much. Instead, I’ve watched footy on the TV and on Saturday afternoon ventured down to Sandringham oval to watch a VFL game. Saturday night I had a big night out, which left me feeling very lethargic yesterday. Now it’s Monday and tomorrow I’m back at work.

It’s not unusual at this time of year to recall Easter’s past. Fr many years Easter was a big date in the calendar for me because every year I would join my family for the weekend down in our holiday property at Yarck.

We must have done it a dozen years or more in a row until it seemed routine. It was a good-sized house that could sleep a dozen, and there was a cabin as well, which is where I would stay. There was a beautiful in-ground pool, a tennis court, and up behind us some tranquil, rustic hills in which kangaroo and wombat would roam. And up the road was pretty Mansfield, which most years we’d visit for the annual fair.

That was life. At the start of the year I could look ahead and map out the things I knew would definitely happen. Besides Easter, there was Mother’s Day, and of course Christmas, as well as each of our birthdays being celebrated as a family, and the random occasions in between for barbecues and dinner and just lazy days drinking wine in the sunshine. I knew nothing else than that – and now I know nothing of it.

I looked forward to our Easters. We all did. Besides mum and my stepdad Fred, my sister with her family would come, as did my step-sister with her family. Each of us was responsible for cooking a meal during the break, and mum would allocate to us the different things she wanted us to bring with us. Generally, I was tasked with bringing cheese. I would also take a couple of good bottles of red knowing that we’d drink those plus another 10 bottles or so, as well as a slab or two of beer. We weren’t going anywhere so we ate well and drank fully.

The Easter break always seemed to mark the transition for summery Autumn to wintry Autumn. It coincided more or less with the end of daylight saving and so the dark came sooner, the days were cooler, and with the exception of the occasional sunny and warm day, the pot-bellied fire would be on constantly.

Naturally it being Easter and with all the kids there we would have an Easter egg hunt on the Sunday. With customary delight my mum would hide hundreds of mini eggs around the property, assisted by the ever amiable Fred. We would race around searching for the eggs while mum watched on with pleasure, occasionally giving hints “warmer…colder…hot, hot, hot…”

How you take something like that for granted. It seems like another life now. That’s one of the things I’ve lost – not just those occasions and that life – but my understanding of it. It’s all gone and with it – for me – has gone a sense of innocent, even naive pleasure. It’s as if I can never be naive again, and as if between where I am now and where I was then is an insurmountable barrier. I grieve, not for those times – times change – but with the fear that I will never be as carefree and ‘naive’ as I was then.

I fear I have become battle-hardened. For years I denied I was tough, but there’s no doubt I have been toughened. I sensed it in ways on Saturday night when I realised I had not the patience or the will to be what others want me to be. I can’t do things simply for appearance sake. If it’s not in my heart I won’t do it. I won’t join in to be conventional – I’m happy to stand apart. In a way it’s quite selfish, but then you wonder why it is we should play along with things we don’t abide? It’s a blunter way of being, but very authentic. I think that’s locked in now, and while it seems a matter of simple honesty, I wonder what I lose by being that.

I look back and my dear old mum is dead, as is Fred. I don’t speak to my sister, her husband is dead, and I lost my step-sister – who I was close to – in the disastrous days after my mother died. By comparison, it’s a bleak landscape and I don’t really know how to change it.