And crying and remembering (apologies to Milan Kundera). I’ve had a very strange week – last week an old friend popped into my head, so I decided to Google him. Google can tell you many things and haven’t we all used it to
stalk, I mean – look up – past lovers or find old friends?
Last week I learnt about the death of an old, old friend and reconnected with an old, old boyfriend. Oh my. It’s left me feeling discombobulated and all out of sorts, a feeling I haven’t been able to shake.
Should I blog about them? It seems too personal, and this is not a “Dear Diary”, but I blogged about IVF and that’s pretty personal. So here is my story about them.
I met this boy called Rob when I was 17, he 18. Before then though, when I was 16, I knew who he was but didn’t actually know him. He went to one of the boys’ schools and I was at one of the girls’ schools in my home town of Perth.
At 16, oh boy, did I LOVE this boy. My school friend and I used to swoon whenever we saw him. Swoon and sigh and squeal in a way only 16-year-olds can. He was always tanned, with blue, blue eyes and a cheeky grin. I remember the way he walked – shoulders pulled bank, head slightly forward, with a bit of a swagger.
When I was 17, I met him on the island just of the coast of Perth called Rottnest. “Rotto”, for those of you who don’t know, is kind of a rite of passage for West Australians at the end of the school or uni year. It’s debauched, drunken, sun-soaked, sandy and ridiculous fun.
The day I met Rob I guess must have been the happiest day of my young life, since I had been so infatuated with him, except that I was probably drunk on tequila slammers so I can’t really remember. I just know that we met, and became mates, and were mates for the next eight or nine years on and off. We kind of dated a few times in the middle of that time, but nothing serious. I left Perth to travel at 25, and never really went back there to live, so lost touch with him.
Last week, I thought of him and wondered what had become of him. I did the Google search. All I could find was a death notice.
On the weekend, I went through all my old photos, looking for a photo of Rob. I thought I would find one or two, but I found lots – at parties, at Rottnest, at my house. And I guess until I saw those pictures, I had forgotten how much he was part of my life back then. Funny how you forget. It made me so sad – that I could have loved this boy so much – even saying his full name (I always called him by his full name – first name and surname) still makes me feel like a swoony 16-year-old again. And I had forgotten a lot of it and it made me so regretful. I wish I had kept in contact.
I’ll always remember Rob. He reminds me of summer and youth and gorgeousness.
And there was a man, many years ago, who I loved. And who loved me, surprisingly. Let’s call him Johnnie. Because that is, in fact, his name. Of course I won’t give you any other distinguishing features, except to say that he was so, so gorgeous, and unbelievably sexy, and the first “man” I had been with – I was 25 and he was 10 years older than me – as opposed to the boys who were generally around at the time.
I was in awe of him, and really quite intimidated by him. I wondered what he saw in me. But there were some things between us that were breathtaking.
We didn’t really break up, but I left Perth to go travelling and to work in the UK. I don’t think I ever processed that relationship; I had no-one to talk to who knew me and him together.
He was the first person to say “I love you” to me. (And there has been a pathetically short line of men in the future to say that to me). He was the person who quoted a line to me I have never, ever, forgotten; the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me. It was a line from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet that goes:
“And forget not that the earth delights in the tread of your bare feet, and the winds long to play in your hair.”
How could you not love a man who says that to you?
I stayed with him the night before I left for the UK. I got up in the middle of the night and sat on the sofa and cried. He came and found me and said, “What are you doing?” “Crying,” I said.
“Crying and sighing; sighing and crying,” he said, because he turned everything into a lyric, or a bit of poetry.
I think it was me who stopped writing, because I thought there was probably no point, and I didn’t want him to feel like he had to write to this silly girl.
I thought, probably rightly, that we would have broken up anyway had I stayed. We were so different, he was so experienced and worldly; I was so young and knew nothing. He was edgy, unconventional; I was still throwing off the vestiges of Catholic school and had a conservative side that needed to be buffed off.
When I was in London we wrote back and forth; I called him, apparently (according to a letter from him I still have). I sent him a present, probably a shirt. He sent me a tape of his songs – he was a musician and actor. But I stopped writing, because I thought he wouldn’t mind, because I didn’t really matter to him.
I thought I didn’t matter.
My mother bumped into him a few years after I left – I think at a party in Margaret River, she used to go there a bit to visit friends – and said he asked after me. She told him I had recently visited from the UK. She told me afterwards he seemed upset that I hadn’t contacted him. And I thought – Oh? Why would he be? Because I thought I didn’t matter. Despite evidence to the contrary.
I emailed Johnnie last week, then he called me, which was such a surprise, and threw me just a little. We talked a bit. Over the weekend I found his letters and photos. I looked at the photos and thought, “I left this man? Was I insane??”
I’m writing this all down here because I’d kind of like to have a conversation with this man but, really, it’s been 22 years. Why would he want to know? I guess I still think I don’t matter. What do you think?
So I’ve been hit quite hard, with remembering and feeling sad, I’m kind of surprised how hard I’ve been hit, but there you go. I’m emotional.
I think I’m also grieving about the carelessness I have shown towards the people in my past. And I don’t mean, oh I just lost their number and so lost contact. I have been angry at myself for not caring. Even though I did care. It just seems careless to discard people just because they are in the past.
I’ve spent the week crying and sighing, sighing and crying over – I don’t know what exactly – obviously mourning my old friend, but I’ve been crying about – lost youth? Missed opportunities? Lost love? Or simply that I should have been more careful, less careless, with friendships, with my own feelings, and the feelings of others.
P.S. I contacted Rob’s brother to find out what happened to him. He died in Thailand, partying till the end. He wasn’t in a good state physically – had been “self-medicating” for a long time – he loved an illicit substance did Rob. He got an infection and then his heart and lungs failed. His was in his mid-40s.
I opened a Pandora’s box of memories
Me and Rob, Rotto 1986