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Sometimes the Universe Knows Better.

Well, as one alcoholic said to the other, “It’s been a long time between drinks.” Since my last post in August, I’ve had lots of ideas and done absolutely nothing about them so I thought I had better redeem myself and get scribbling … so before I get to the point of the whole exercise, a little background information.

I was a bit of a smart chicky-babe at school and earned a scholarship to University with a view to becoming a teacher but after completing my Bachelor’s Degree, I just couldn’t do it. The thought of another year of lectures, study, research and assignments made me ill whereas the thought of travelling the world did not. Serious money needed raising because although I have always been quite happy to go camping and poop in the woods, the idea of schlepping all the way to Europe with my own bed sheet and having to share a hostel room with assorted party animals and snorers was not quite the dream trip I had in mind. So, after three years of tertiary education at one of the State’s finest universities, I put my degree to good use and went off to learn how to be a secretary – or PA (Personal Assistant) if one wants to be PC (politically correct) – which nobody was back then. A little over nine months later I could take shorthand at 120 words a minute (how useful would THAT have been during lectures…) and type…umm…very fast! And that, my dear readers, is how I ended up at Grace Bros and the reunion that sparked this post because not only was it my first job, it was where I fell truly, madly, deeply, deliriously, fiercely in love for the first time. secretary for post

To protect the not-so-innocent and for the sake of this post, let’s just call him Max. If someone had asked me to describe the complete opposite of what I found physically  attractive about a man, he would have been it – shortish, baldish and pretty ‘meh’ in the looks department but he would walk into my office and I would flush hot like a Bunsen burner turned too high. He was a Manager and I worked for his boss so we kept the relationship a secret until one of us left. People were dumbfounded when they found out. Hilarious really, considering we ‘worked back’ almost every night and the occasional Saturday morning so the chances of being caught not actually working, on my boss’s sofa, were reasonably high but it never happened. The secrecy drove me mad but I had to acknowledge the position he was in and his concern that telling our workmates might put our interactions under a scrutiny that neither of us would have welcomed. And my God – all the hedging and evading when people asked what you did over the weekend! “Ohh, you know, movies, seeing friends, usual stuff.” I had ‘vague’ down to an art form. Our subterfuge was so seamless, even when we both requested leave at the same time (to go to Queensland for Expo 88), no-one suspected anything. Honestly, I should have quite the secretarial scene then and there and become a spy. I would have put Mata Hari in the shade.

I’m ashamed to admit that I cannot remember the first time my husband told me he loved me (although I’m fairly certain it would have been over the phone as we were conducting a ‘geographically undesirable’ relationship between Australia and America when the ideas for Skype and FaceTime were, as my late Italian father would so colourfully explain, “ancora nelle palle di San Francesco”…. which delightfully translates to “still up in the balls of St Francis”.) but the scene of Max’s declaration is still as clear as the glorious Sydney summer day on which it was made. We had been lying by   the pool at his mother’s apartment. I was earning a little extra pocket-money by waitressing at a friend’s restaurant so needed to leave late afternoon to get home to shower and change. With the car in reverse, driver’s window down, he said goodbye with the usual “Drive carefully.” followed by the not-usual, “I love you”. To my credit, I did not lose control of the car or squeal or ask him to repeat himself and I have absolutely no recollection of how I responded but I can tell you my heart just about burst and we were heart-stoppingly happy. Three years later it was over and not because the relationship faltered or we stopped loving each other – but that is a post for another time.    crazy-true-love-bubbles-22795960

That was 25 years ago. Now, schedules permitting, we catch up at the annual Grace Bros reunion which is where I saw him last Friday night and it absolutely astounds me, as it has each time we have seen each other, how I can look into his eyes, listen to his voice…. and thank the gods of every nation on earth that we didn’t stay together. I believe it’s described in the vernacular as having “dodged a bullet”. And it’s not that he has changed – it’s just that now I see how incredibly unsuited we were for any long-term commitment. The things that drove me a little crazy when we were dating would have driven me completely demented over the long haul. Characteristics I glossed over when we were living apart would have turned into major obstacles when we were living together. Had we married, I seriously doubt it would have lasted. It does freak me out a little though to feel so dispassionate about this man that I loved so wholeheartedly, so intensely. How can you feel absolutely nothing but a little residual fondness for the person who was your first great, all-consuming love? Truth be told, part of me is a little sad that our encounters don’t have even the teensiest hint of the Mills and Boon about them – no catch of breath, no short, sharp pang of the heart. Not only are there no embers, the fire has been well and truly stomped on and covered over with several thousand kilos of earth.

Just goes to show that Soren Kierkegaard knew what he was talking about when he said   “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

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Mementos and Me

Let me be clear – I am NOT a hoarder!  But I do keep a lot of ‘stuff’ for sentimental reasons which is probably what a lot of us do when we’re single and by “a lot of us”, I am generally talking about women.  “I’m always going to keep this coaster/postcard/pressed flower.”, said no man ever.   Movie tickets, concert tickets, love letters, scraps of paper, programmes – I’ve kept versions of them all.  When you are young and life is being lived at full speed,  every experience becomes a memory to be collected….to be then shoved away in boxes or drawers that are ultimately found by our children after we die, cleaning out our houses and muttering, “What is all this crap?”

Well my dear son, this ‘crap’ is evidence of a rather fabulously spent youth.  I recently found a paper bag full of concert and theatre ticket stubs, some faded and almost illegible but it was quite a stash.  Let’s not dwell on the fact I couldn’t remember half of them but that’s not the point is it? The point is, I went to them all, undoubtedly having a blast at some and probably hating others. They represented time shared with friends, dinners, drinks, dancing, suppers…and all the things I now loathe – loud music, crowds and not enough sleep!  God I had a good time. As a measure of how change comes to us all, I recently took my husband to a concert where the support act was not only deafening, their bass notes reverberated through the seats to such a degree I thought my spine was going to shatter.  We ended up waiting outside until they mercifully stopped playing!

At the risk of blowing my own horn, I was rather popular in my younger years and had the cards, flowers and gifts to prove it. One of my admirers wrote an essay about me in Year 12, another a song. Who would be mad enough to just toss these wonderful works of passion aside?  Well certainly not me.  I have them in an album with assorted and sundry notes, birthday cards  and Lord knows what else because I haven’t looked at it in centuries – but I know it’s there.  I’m not actually sure where ‘there’ is but I know I still have it because it would NEVER have crossed my mind to get rid of it no matter how many clean-outs I would have had.  In fact, it came with me to America, where I lived for 8 years and then returned with me, I’m fairly certain, in one of the boxes that had remained unopened all that time.  If I told my husband I have kept all the cards he gave me while we were courting, his first reaction would be, “You’re kidding – what for?”.  What for, indeed.  Because they are hard copies of that first flush of love, of secrets shared, of the growing certainty that this relationship was heading down a path not before travelled.  They are time capsules made out of paper and ink.

My first serious boyfriend (at age 18) gave me a small bundle as I was about to board a plane to join my parents on holiday in Italy.  There were six small, exquisite cards – one for each month we had been together and each with a simple, sweet message.  Even after 38 years, my heart constricts just a little when I think of them.  Grand gestures have their place but it is the small, unexpected intimacies that follow us from our past to our future.

And yet I find that collecting keepsakes, like many things in life, becomes somewhat of a paradox because we think all these mementos will keep the memories alive when, more often than not, they remind us of just how much we have forgotten.