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Entering the room, I barely recognize the small, frail figure who sits gazing vacantly at the game of indoor bowls being played by the other residents. When I finally manage to get her attention I see she is struggling to determine whom exactly it is standing before her clutching flowers. I hug and kiss her, compliment her on her hair and endeavour to engage her in some small talk. I draw her attention to the flowers but can’t decide whether she is looking at them or looking through them, her once active mind now little more than an empty vessel.
We sit. She dozes, wakes up, asks where she is, fades out a little, sits for a while and then asks where she is again. I tell her twice, thrice, twenty times and more. She knows it’s me sitting beside her. I hold her hand, smile, chat a little, accepting that this is the way it is now. At the meal table she stoops towards the table as she tries to navigate a sandwich towards her mouth. By the time she finishes eating, everyone else has long gone. When it’s time for me to leave she becomes frightened and confused.
A welcome call from Teddy first thing this morning; toast and tea at Karen and Mark’s; sitting holding hands with Mum as she dozes; an inexplicable and hurtful rebuttal from a much-loved friend; a drive through the Parra Wirra listening to Oscar Peterson; an afternoon of reminiscing with Narooma’s residents; Mum crying as I bid her farewell; a sunlit drive through the Barossa listening to John Mayer; dinner, wine and music with Cherry and Horst at Mount Pleasant; Cherry and I reminiscing about the Island, and another welcome call from Teddy to round off the end of the evening.
I decide to phone my friend. After a succession of incorrect numbers I manage to get through. It’s his flatmate. Success! I ask whether my friend is home. The flatmate goes to check. When he returns, I’m dumbfounded by his reply.
“He said to say he will contact you when he’s ready to speak to you.”
What? This doesn’t make sense!
“Is he trying to avoid me?” I ask the flatmate.
“At the moment it would seem so, yes.”
“Why? What am I supposed to have done?”
The flatmate is clearly uncomfortable. “I’m simply passing on the message.”
Spending time with Margie is always a great pleasure. We have been friends for nearly thirty years and never once has the mutual affection and respect faltered. She is one of life’s true gems. Catching up with David and his new partner Michelle was similarly rewarding. And this evening, spending a few hours with Mal, Trish and their adorable three girls simply confirmed the importance and value of reconnecting with old friends. In the wake of the death of one friend and the rejection of another, the reaffirmation and renewal of friendship is something to be celebrated and highly valued.
There are too many to name to do justice to with 100 words but the people, family and friends with whom I’m currently reconnecting with are inextricably interwoven into the fabric of the many chapters of my life and have helped shape, in varying degrees, the person that I am today. And it’s not simply that I’m touching base for the sake of it. It means something to me to make the effort to do so. I remember a much younger Terry who believed passionately in the importance of friendship, and it’s good to discover that some beliefs remain constant.
My great, great niece is 21 months old and she’s wonderful! We had the best time pulling funny faces, playing chasey round the corner and going boo! Everyone watched on, intrigued. It was so much fun! As I said to Helen, my niece who is the same age as I am, I can remember when she and I were that age. Spending time with her and the family so soon after seeing her in London was a real treat. I’m glad I come back each year. I’m blessed with family and friends and there are lots of them over here.
9:28pm and I’m exhausted. Tired actually, rather than exhausted. Mum speaks so infrequently now. Conversation isn’t really an option. She has the occasional semi-lucid moment but more frequently she either sits staring down at the floor in front of her or she’s distressed because she doesn’t know where she is. I tell her over and over but still she becomes confused and at times quite frightened. Mostly we sit. I chat to the other residents, watch TV, sing along with them at service time, all the while sitting with her, holding her hand and letting her know that I’m there.
Walking back to the car tonight after parting ways outside the coffee shop, I couldn’t help but smile. There was a time when you meant more to me than words could convey. Ours was an intense, lop-sided relationship punctuated by dizzy highs and crashing lows, plus every conceivable variation in-between. It was you who first drove me from these shores in a desperate bid to put you behind me, yet catching up this evening for drinks and a meal was fun. It’s been nearly 30 years, and how time flies. Still, it’s good to know you’re still on the planet.
It’s too much to convey is so few word: my last (in all probability) farewell to Mum; the continuing shadow of a dear friend’s rejection; the ongoing emotional hangover of Riki’s death; an evening spent with so many fine people, family and friends from so many different yet interlinked chapters of my life, not to mention the serendipitous meeting with another friend and his family at the same restaurant. It’s too much. My mind is awash with so many intense and divergent thoughts while my heart feels simultaneously warmed yet heavy.
Let’s just say it’s been a full very day.
Spending my last day in Adelaide, revisiting some of the old haunts, I tried to put you out of my mind but couldn’t: not quite. It’s hung over me the whole time I’ve been here. It just doesn’t sit comfortably with the you I thought I’d known all these years. Which begs the question: What did we actually share? And what has changed? Like the constellations, I imagined that our friendship was fixed, constant and always there. Apparently I was mistaken. So be it. If that is your wish, my last act of friendship will be to honour that wish.
After threatening to pass me in the height stakes since my last visit, my nephew Tom has finally succeeded. He’s now a good four or five millimetres taller than me, a small but significant difference for a 14 year old lad. And there’s little doubt that before he’s finished he’ll be towering over me much like Ben does. That’s one of the things I like about James. Not only do we think alike but we’re exactly the same height as each other. Not that height is an issue. Rather, it’s one of those perennial points of interest in a family.
This is the time of the year when I spend a few days working on the house in Prahran. Itís a now-familiar routine Ė trim the jasmine and other creepers growing along the side of the house, trim and tidy the front and back garden, rescue the pebbles from a yearís deposit of leaves, chop and bundle everything into bin bags ready for taking to the dump. This year the side gate needs re-hanging, the front gate needs wedging to stop it from jamming and of course the inside of the house needs some serious attention as well. Ah, home sweet home!
ďThis is Harryís son,Ē says Vince as I go to pay the bill at Papa Ginoís this evening.
ďWhat, the one I did the drawing of when he was a boy?Ē
Wow! The young guy standing before me smiles and shakes my hand. Harryís son! Itís moments such as these that remind me of the passage of time. The portrait I did of Papa Gino himself has remained unchanged on the wall since Harry hung it there 16 years ago. I guess it serves as a reminder that while the dead remain forever unchanged, the living grow and flourish.
I return to Papa Ginoís this evening to see Harry. We greet each other warmly and exchange pleasantries. I sit at table one, the same table that the recently departed Peter Moss sat at every week for so many years. I tell Harry about meeting his son. Grinning, he points proudly to an attractive young waitress approaching the till. ďThatís my youngest,Ē he says. ďShe was still a baby when you drew her.Ē Another mind-blowing moment. For the next couple of hours I sit happily sinking a bottle of red and watching Harry greeting his incoming patrons like old friends.
I think about Riki every day. I still canít seem to get it through my head that heís gone. Iíll never hear his voice again. I wonít be passing him on the street and apologizing for not seeing him first. Thereíll be no more Christmas gatherings where he spoils everyone with his wonderful cooking; no more stories about his trips to France or his regular visits back home. Death is not only arbitrary, itís so deafeningly final and absolute. And while we may not have been bosom buddies, nonetheless we were friends and his warm presence will be sorely missed.
After an evening of good food, wine and music with Donna, I awaken in the night to the rumble of thunder breaking overhead and echoing down through the valley. A little later another loud peel breaks over the house, followed by rain; lightly at first, the odd drop or two tapping down onto the roof and gradually building in intensity to an increasingly steady downpour. Iím reminded of those meditation CDs, the ones filled with natural sounds to help you relax. And lying there, I smile inwardly to myself in the darkness while the soundtrack of nature plays on outside.
Itís a sunny winterís day and Iím heading off to Benís on the number 1 tram from Coburg into Melbourne. From there Iíll take the train to Windsor. Then Iíll either walk or tram it down to Orrong Road. It should be a good night. James and the girls will be there. No doubt weíll all drink and smoke too much but hey, itís Saturday night and Iím in the mood to party. Mind you, last yearís gathering will be a hard act to follow. Anyway, whatever transpires during the course of the evening, it should be a good one.
Gathered together in the Espy in St. Kilda listening to loud frenetic music in the company of some of my favourite people, I found myself thinking just how much I miss such nights. We all came together and had a brilliant time. 5am saw the remaining core of us on the bed in Benís room listening to music and declaring undying friendship to each other. By 8am we were at the local bakery where Ben hustled the staff into giving him a hug. To be able to enjoy the company of oneís own family so much is a real blessing.
Being around Ben is such a pleasure. At six foot five heís the genuine article; a true gentle giant, embracing life in the same way he embraces his friends Ė openly, genuinely and sincerely. ďI decided this year I was going to smile more and say yes,Ē he tells us. James and I simply smile. Who else would stand by the roadside on New Yearís Eve with a sign declaring, ďGet Your Free Hugs Here,Ē and actually have people stopping to collect them? Heís so good for James, too. Introducing the two of them was certainly one of my better ideas.
There are times when I ache with the intensity of love that I feel for those closest to my heart. For so many years it was a quality that tended to separate me from others. For one thing, I wasnít very good at expressing it and for another, people could rarely reciprocate in equal measure. As Iíve grown older and become more adept at loving it has served to draw me closer to people. At such times, all of lifeís other concerns become secondary. Experience has taught me that loving and being loved transcends all of lifeís other many priorities.
We go back a long way, you and I. My life would have been very different if you hadnít appeared when you did. I mean, weíve been linked since the day I was born but curiously, I only discovered the other day that my very first journal, which I stumbled across in a box at Marcís, was begun on the day you arrived in Australia nearly 35 years ago. Walking out into the night as we did tonight, with so much to talk about and share, it felt good to retrace our old footsteps, albeit it in a different place.
Much as I love Melbourne and the people Iíve been spending my time with, I can feel the pull of London taking hold. I often wish the two cities were not so distant from each other. A six hour flight would be so much more manageable than a 24 hour one, not to mention a lot less expensive. Still, for the time being London is where I need to be; where I want to be. Yet Iím returning with the knowledge that the many and varied relationships I share with family and friends here remain just as potent as ever.
Itís my last night in Melbourne and Iíve chosen to spend it with James and Fusun. I spent the day finishing work on the house in Prahran and spent a sunny afternoon drinking beer with David G. in the courtyard. This evening I took James and Fusun out for a meal. As always, weíve laughed till weíve cried and taken lots of wonderfully silly photos. We get along so well and the bond between us continually strengthens, and lying here now on their unbelievably comfortable couch waiting for sleep, I smile inwardly and outwardly while the cat purrs contentedly nearby.
Sitting in the departure lounge, a bit after 11pm, I find myself feeling a little lost for words. In another hour or so Iíll be taxiing down the runway. For now Iím in an emotional limbo, my mind awash with all thatís transpired over the last few weeks. Coming back is always an emotional roller coaster ride. I love it but thereís always the sadness at knowing I wonít be seeing everyone for another year. Nonetheless, itís time to head back to London now and pick up where I left off. Itís time to begin another yearly cycle once more.
I have a fascination with lifeís little serendipitous moments. While scrolling through the in-flight movies I stumble across ďOn Golden PondĒ, a movie I first saw while on a flight to London in 1982. Thatís 25 years ago. Now, as then, I find myself moved by the simple but touching story about love, relationships, friendship and aging. I am by my own admission a hopeless romantic who is sometimes embarrassingly affected by a good old weepy. Yet the movieís message is a timeless one and as I sit here suspended between two worlds, itís tissues I most need right now.
I felt quite disorientated when I landed yesterday and more than a little strung out after the long flight. But after a good meal with Teddy and a decent sleep I awoke feeling somewhat more refreshed than I had anticipated. After visiting John to offer my condolences and support concerning Riki, we headed into town to enjoy the sunny, warm weather and lunch in Chinatown. Trafalgar Square bustled with tourists. We admired Holbein and Michelangelo at the National Gallery and caught the number 24 bus home afterwards. After a few weeks away London is an intoxicating feast for the senses.
After a couple of hours of sleep I awake in the night, my body clock denying me any further rest. I guess I shouldnít have slept for four hours after returning home yesterday afternoon. No matter. Thereís something rather nice about sitting beneath the lamp at the desk, listening to the various clocks ticking away and the occasional car passing by below. I donít go back to work until Monday. In the meantime I have the opportunity to slow down, take stock of things and enjoy the slower pace of being at home and quietly relaxing in my own space.
It feels good settling back into my old rhythms; spending time at home, pottering around, not doing much and enjoying the idleness. That in itself will change soon enough. In the meantime I feel no great compulsion to step outside the front door; no desire to engage with others and no wish to participate in any kind of meaningful activity. For now Iím happy to watch TV, surf the net and listen to music. Down on the street I can see people rushing about their daily business. In a few short days I will be joining them.
But not today.
In the pale cool light of the early morning I lie awake, my head swirling with a multitude of ideas for some story I have in mind to write. Suddenly, your breathing, which has been barely audible for the last half hour, begins to quicken. You become fidgety and agitated, although you donít awaken from whatever dream is troubling. I ask myself, should I stir you and perhaps spare you whatever anxiety has found expression in your sleeping state? As Iím deliberating on this, your breathing settles once more. Whatever was troubling you has passed, and you sleep on.
We gathered at Westminster Cathedral for the service in which we paid our final respects to Riki. After the service we went back to Johnís place where I got to know Rikiís 25 year old nephew who only arrived here in the country a few weeks before Rikiís death. Apparently he and Riki became very close during those final short weeks and it was he whose task it was to break the news to Rikiís family. On Sunday Riki was due to embark on an extended trip to China. Sadly, it was not to be.
Fare thee well, my friend.
The Tip Jar