Sunday, March 13, 2005

the way we were

I can see us now: pale, stockinged and pleated. Fresh-faced, back-row dwellers whispering in-jokes and scathing remarks about our more vapid classmates and trying to laugh quietly. Fifteen and faultless, at least in our own minds. And maybe we were more right than we knew. Fuck knows, we'll never be quite that self-assured again.

Our world was tiny. That wasn't our fault; we were fifteen after all. But it was ours, and in it we were queens. We despised the shallow high school hierarchy--the arbitrary laws that made "some girls more equal than others", to borrow from Orwell. If we'd thought to make the comparison then, we would have taken smug satisfaction in our knowledge that those girls would fail to appreciate the reference. Wouldn't know George Orwell from George of the Jungle. Orwell or Sylvia Plath or Radiohead. They even failed to appreciate Ewan McGregor when we studied Brassed Off in our Film As Text class. (It wasn't until much later, when he appeared opposite Cameron Diaz, that he was sanctioned as a 'hottie' by the airheads). But I digress. They were idiots, and we knew their sunlit days of spotless leadership were numbered.

We invented a nightclub together, before we were legal age ourselves. We called it The Doctors and planned and schemed everything from the decor to the playlist, the drinks menu and the staff costumes. It was sheer brilliance, as far as we were concerned and we imagined ourselves appearing at the opening of its sister venues in London and New York.

We wrote a book together, too. I say "book" because that's what we called it at the time ("Have you got the book? It's your turn, you know.") It grew to the length of a short novel, too: 93 pages, 38 000 words. What it was though, was a long-winded mutual fantasy in twelve point Times New Roman. We wrote the lives we wanted. We were successful talk show hosts who were admired by those we admired. A commercial radio DJ we listened to religiously begged us to appear on his show and in the off-ratings season we flew to London where we sang karaoke with Robbie Williams and drank with Oasis. She was the Oasis fan, I preferred Blur and this rivalry bled into the narrative. We would gently war over our heroes. I wrote Blur frontman Damon in as my mate and had him attend a soccer match with us, she had the Gallagher brothers "glass" him and land him in hospital. We had plans to de-throne Ben Elton from his chair as recurrent Brit Awards host, because we suspected we could do a better job.

And so it went. We mercilessly mocked our more inept teachers and were kept after class for stern but usually futile lectures--futile because one of us could not stop from making the other laugh and its difficult to reprimand two smug, mildly hysterical teens. We managed marathon phone conversations in the evenings, despite having seen each other all day. As time passed, much of these conversations were devoted to how much I thought she had changed and how things "weren't the same", an accusation she vehemently denied. More than once I hung up feeling depleted and miserable. Sometimes I went to bed, weeping and wounded and not knowing why. She later told me that our conversations had made her cry, too.

At our high school graduation we breakfasted on hash cookies and giggled our way through the farewell mass. That night we got drunk, got a crush on our waiter (an exquisite African bloke named Sis-sea-lay) and got blisters dancing along-side the girls we'd always disliked. We spent the obligatory period of post-high school revelry known as Schoolies' Week on the Gold Coast and we saw each other less and less after that.

It was almost an accident that we caught up for dinner the other night in Brunswick St. I had my reservations. The few times we have seen each other since high school I've been struck by her new confidence which borders on cockiness (and sometimes crosses the border entirely). I've had trouble relating to her: her new raver lifestyle and the apparent pride she took in empty relationships. I've wondered if by seeing her I was simply trying to go back to a place that no longer existed--a childhood hideaway that had been bulldozed and redeveloped to the point of being unrecognisable, till only the geographical location remained the same. I was trying to return to a place based solely on latitudes, when everyone knows Place is made of so much more than that. You can't go home again.

But for some reason this time was different. She's still cocky. She's still a raver. She's lost weight. 18 kilos, she tells me, and the amphetamines have nothing to do with it. (She looks great, but I wonder). But she's there. The redevelopment has not been absolute. People don't change so utterly and completely after all, I discover and my soul sighs in relief. It's her. The intelligence, the unexpected wisdom. While I nibbled on my risotto with button mushrooms and she polished off a sleek portion of Atlantic salmon we reminisced. About our nightclub (we still agree it is brilliant) and our book and the way we were. Outside, as I shivered in the crisp night air and she chain-smoked the conversation turned to what we had, what we were still hoping for and whether we were happy. Then, in an after hours bar, where she ordered a Coke and rolled another cigarette while I took in the velvet walls and funky furniture we spoke of love. She told me about the one boy who had been different from the others, the butterflies in her stomach, the break-up he initiated. I told her about the boy I'd just met, the ways in which he was perfect and how I'd learned that he wasn't free. And we told each other, with the bravado and blind optimism of the young and the lovesick that it wasn't hopeless. Everything had changed. We'd each found someone who made us feel the good kind of queasy, and just knowing we could feel that way was enough. At least for now.

Then she stubbed out her cigarette and we walked back towards Johnston St where our cars (both red hatchbacks, hers equipped with an overpriced sound system, mine with a nodding purple dog on the dash) were parked, said goodbye and told each other we should do this again sometime.


Blogger transience said...

that was a beautiful, aching tale of moving on and catching up. i feel i can totally relate to you on this one. there are some people, no matter how far you get away from them, almost always bring you back to that place and time where everything seemed like yesterday. and yet, it isn't. because like you said, you can't go home again.

this made me want to cry. for things that were and things that could have been.

Mon. Mar. 14, 12:41:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Calaloola said...

hey trans! i have a thing about history. there's no substitute for it. i love meeting new people that have the same goals and like the same things as me, but somehow that can't compete with the simple fact of having known someone for almost half your life.

hooking up with old friends also shows you how far you've come. any you need that sometimes, its too easy to get nostalgic for a period in your life that really wasn't that pretty. i wouldn't go back to high school for all the love in the world, but if nothing else, i think i was more certain then...

Mon. Mar. 14, 01:00:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Jax said...

this made me want to cry. for things that were and things that could have been.
Took the words right out of my mouth.

I have to say... I am envious for what you have here. I have no one I've known 'half my life' or really anywhere near it. That's the result of moving across the country, then the world at 4 year intervals for your entire life. Up to now anyway.

And as for the self-assuredness... well that returns with time, and a bit of practice. Humans are wonderfully adaptable creatures. You'll figure out this bigger version of the world you've entered.

Your comment about finding someone that makes you feel, what was it, queasy? the butterfly effect... yeah. That's important. Never forget that. All the people around you are changing just as much as you, one of them will change into something that works for you.

Mon. Mar. 14, 09:45:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Calaloola said...

"You'll figure out this bigger version of the world you've entered..." I like that, thanks jax ;)

I often fantasise about big moves and severing all ties so yeah, its nice to see the flipside occasionally. The *reward* of a shared history, instead of just the cost. Or maybe thats just Mr Kundera getting to me (I've been reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being lately :))

Tue. Mar. 15, 11:06:00 am 2005  
Blogger Jax said...

I often fantasize about NOT having big moves, and having ties unsevered. Appreciate what you have goddammit. You'll never have it the same way again!

...I love to know that there are other people who are trying.

Tue. Mar. 15, 10:32:00 pm 2005  

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