Remember that fella I got all excited about earlier this year? Who I walked around the park with and talked philosophically and then finally pashed on a bushwalk on our sixth date and who made me feel like I was falling in a really great way? Well, here is the end of that story. You asked for it.
See you on the other side,
Again, not a photograph from where this story is actually set. This is where I spent last winter – working on the Monaro Plains, which I’m sure we can all agree looks devastatingly cold and lonely but also devastatingly beautiful.
It was winter Wednesday when I felt the fizzle. It was May, in the middle of my final teaching placement. I liked the school and I wanted a job there so I went above and beyond. All my housemates were away that week. I didn’t realise how much I had got used to having people around: the companionable sharing of space – preparing separate meals in the same kitchen, watching telly together, just knowing someone else was around even if they’re in another room doing their own thang. I got sick of sitting alone in my kitchen.
That Wednesday was the second night in a row I’d stayed in the teachers’ staffroom until the cleaners vacuumed around my feet at around 7.30pm, planning highly detailed lesson plans and fiddly learning activities that I’d inevitably deem inappropriate in the moment in class or forget or run out of time for. On the way home in the car Triple R was playing some beautiful but mournful live acoustic set from some sad blues bloke, so I switched to SmoothFM 91.5. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Easy listening. Not offensive. But so many songs are love songs. And so many love songs are sad songs.
As soon as I switched the radio over, it was as if the universe knew that actually what I needed was to weep for minimum 4 minutes to one of the most tragic pop songs of all time. That deceptively upbeat 80s synth! Those Gibb brothers and their falsetto harmonies that render most of the lyrics inaudible except for the devastatingly simple “And I don’t wanna be alone!” Could the epic daginess make this scene any more tragic? A 32 year old single student driving home to an empty house in her grandmother’s old purple Honda Jazz, bawling her eyes out to the fucking Beegees, then eating microwaved leftovers whilst continuing aforementioned fiddly high school lesson plans on her fluro-lit kitchen table? Trying to push the fact that the flame she’s been stoking for two months is maybe fizzling out? This was some bleak as fuck Bridget Jones’ Diary bullshit right here. I cried, then I cried because I was crying to the BeeGees, then I laughed because it all seemed so ridiculous, then cried again.
Before placement, the flame had instigated a ‘chat about our expectations.’ He worked two jobs, was studying full time, lived an hour away, was separated but not yet divorced and still learning how to co-parent his young child. He wanted a relationship but did not know if he had time for one. It seemed that he wasn’t as ready as I was, and I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was. I wanted to be part of his life and for him to be part of mine, but fear held me back from really asking how to do that. All these things could have been fine. We could have made it work. Perhaps neither of us were really in the right place to ask for what we needed from each other, to give what we really wanted to give, or to receive it. We tried. We decided to see each other once a fortnight until the uni holidays, but after three weeks it seemed that we were fizzling. So I texted and asked if we were fizzling out. We were.
Wrong place. Wrong time. Not enough time. Not ready.
And so it goes.
It wasn’t our season.
I was stressed and sad and lonely. But these feelings look different in the city. You can just call in the cavalry. Fire off a few SOS texts to a few friends and within a few hours you’re invited to comedy gigs in the city or around for dinner in front of the telly or to plan lessons together in a warm loungeroom or sent encouraging WhatsApp messages. You can walk around the corner to the gym. You can ride your bike to placement in the morning and notice clouds and weather and as you wait at the lights you can feel part of an active community of fit hipsters. You can go to the shops at any hour and buy the exact brand of the exact things you need to cook dinner and lunch for the next few days. It’s easier to look after yourself.
I finished placement. I learnt a lot about teaching and about my ego. I still had a lot to learn, but teaching did seem like a decent way to spend time and earn money. I went back to uni for some final classes and to finish off assignments that loomed larger than they probably were. I went speed dating and told a Moth story. My great uncle died. On the day he was cremated I learnt that a young woman I knew from Tasmania had died. Three of the student films I had to mark for one assignment were about suicide. I got some extensions then submitted the final assignments the night before I got on the boat to Tassie to do some work with my old job. The boat was rocky. I breathed in the beauty of the wild beaches, spent time with good friends and went to a memorial service. Drove around and dined solo in Hobart and felt good about it, forgetting I had friends there. Did a reunion dinner with most of the young women I used to work with and did the work and did it well and it seemed like a decent way to merge my great joy with one of the world’s deep needs and my colleague asked me to do some more work down there for a month or two and then some work back in Melbourne for a year or two. On my way to a punk gig in a shed my Dad sent me a message outlining where all their passwords and keys were hidden in case anything happened when he flew into Istanbul on the day of the election.
I felt a lot of feelings and thought of things. Back in Melbourne I spent a week spinning out about my post-uni career. I went to Sydney to scatter my great uncle’s ashes and spend not enough time in Canberra with my young cousin, my old friends, their big stories and their babies. I went to church and wept and said the words I knew from childhood and lit two candles.
There are so many stories from this winter that I don’t know yet how to tell.
A friend told me life is a series of separations.
We just get better at grieving
At marking moments of loss
Discerning what to hold on to and when to let go
Finding how to forgive
How to live
With little deaths, with darkness, with winter
By not running from it, or lying down too long or falling into it, but by sitting with sadness, walking with it, carrying small pieces of darkness gently with you, holding on tightly to love and letting go of heaviness and fear
I know some of the strategies – some of the ways of doing this, some small daily choices
to rest in the night
then get up out of bed with the sun
to be still for long enough to listen deeply to whatever is being said – to be in conversation with your soul, your friends, the seasons, the small world around you and the big universe
then to move your muscles lest your bones rust
to be present in small moments that remind you that you exist in the world – to lovingly prepare a meal that only you will consume, to tend to pot plants, put flowers in a jar in your room, to dust your grandmother’s writing desk, and to make your small world a place of beauty that is worth being in, to wash and iron and mend your clothes and dress up for each day you are alive in the world
then to look at clouds and notice sunsets and pick up perfect autumn leaves and marvel at frost
to busy yourself with doing things with other people, for other people
then light some candles and burn some lavender oil and put on the Amelie soundtrack and weep softly and write
sit with your sadness
be not afraid of darkness
but always walk on
with a lightness in your heart
turn inwards in the winter
wait with hope for spring
There are so many stories I don’t yet know how to tell.
But now you know what happened with that bloke I fell for a few months ago.
Well, the last few have been a bit dreary haven’t they? There are all sorts of defences I could make for this: that if ya want the warts and all account then you can’t shy away from the warts, that the lows make the highs even higher and ya can’t have comedy without tragedy etc.
Rest assured I am fine. This morning a date asked to reschedule for the second time. I shed a few frustrated tears on the floor in front of the fire then decided to go on a date tonight anyway. I got dressed up, grabbed my laptop and a novel. As I walked up Swanston to the State Library I put my headphones in and told Siri to ‘play music’. Say what you will about Spotify, but nothing is quite as satisfying as the complete randomness of iTunes on shuffle. All that music that you’ve ever consciously purchased for various reasons throughout the last decade, all those memories or feelings or lyrics or beats just lying in wait. It’s like playing roulette with the universe – what message is it trying to send through the medium of iTunes? When walking to a date once this classic track came on. This afternoon this classic track came on:
I let my hair out so I could feel it bouncing as I walked up towards where I could see the sun shining in a gap between the buildings. The wind was going in the right direction to emphasise the billowing hair behind me vibe.
I put one foot in front of the other.
I had done this before.
I could do it again.
“I know I’ve got to find
Some kind of peace of mind
I’ll be looking everyday
I know I’m gonna find a way
Nothing’s gonna stop me now
I will find a way somehow”
With joyful hope,