friends

To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before

So apparently I’ve reached that point in my life where, when I catch up with friends, all anyone wants to ask me is whether I’m seeing someone. I’m not sure if it’s my clitoris or my heart that people are most concerned with, but either way they aren’t concerned with any other achievement in my life. Correction – any actual achievement in my life. All they want to know is if I’m attached, and if I’m not, then why not?

“But you’re so pretty/funny/smart/successful/blah blah blah”…who cares? It’s all irrelevant if what you’ve got isn’t what’s on demand.

It’s weird. I guess I hit ‘married with children age’ a while ago, although I never really felt it happen. But suddenly I’m the single friend, and everyone wants to see me paired up. People look out for me, they feel sorry for me. They want to ‘see me happy’ as I keep getting told. For some reason, we’ve worked out that it’s not polite to ask if a woman is pregnant, but to put someone in a position of analysing their desirability is still okay. The reality is I’ve been dumped more times than a Channel Ten newsreader, and while I’d be kidding myself to say it didn’t hurt like hell to feel that I’ve never been worth holding on to, for the most part it’s not a big deal. I get that I’m a bit left of centre and most of the time I can handle that. My mother let me off the hook a long time ago when she told me that not everyone was meant to fly accompanied. I remember at the time feeling so much calmer with that thought. Shame the rest of the world didn’t get the memo.

Not that I don’t fall in love. I do, though rarely with the appropriate target. I seldom find people who spark my curiosity anyway, so it doesn’t often matter.

And then today someone commented on how many times my position as girlfriend has been made redundant, and I thought to myself “fuck this” – I may be single and live alone, at risk of becoming the crazy cat lady my brothers always said I’d be (bollocks to that, I’m a dog person), but without the knock downs I wouldn’t know I can get back up again…and I wouldn’t have such an extensive music collection. And sure, there are days where having to face another partnered friend and their well-intentioned questioning is just too hard. But it is the way it is.
So screw it. I might have a worse batting average than…um…some shit cricket player (I don’t know names)…but I have learned a lot from every single one of those relationships. They might not be good for a back massage any longer (actually none of them ever were), but these are the things I have accumulated along the way…

The world’s best taco recipe
Joan Armatrading
Learning to use my mirrors when I’m reverse parking
Champagne at midnight
Knowing that Calvin Klein men’s boxers are the most comfortable sleepwear ever
Bright red lipstick
Funny Girl
Brain Pickings
Kurt Vonnegut
Dusty Springfield
Wine appreciation
Carol King
Midnight in Paris
How to walk in super high heels
How to pitch a tent
M People
Honey Birdette
Brazilian waxing
The rules of AFL
How to order caviar
How to use a strap on (sorry mum and dad)
Amelie
Armagnac
How to ride pillion on a motorbike
The best way to eat oysters
Patsy Cline
The best Vietnamese in Sydney
How to apply a smoky eye
The Pretenders
How to cook a lamb roast
Friends (not the exes – ugh – but the people around them have almost always been worth it)
A million other little things that have made me who I am

I realise that most of these aren’t particularly exciting. But sing ‘em to the tune of Willie Nelson’s To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before, and you may just be on to a winner.

Alternatively, skull a bottle of red and cry yourself to sleep. It’ll all be okay tomorrow…

Brave to the Bone – for The Big Smoke

Brave to the Bone – for The Big Smoke

Here’s a little piece I wrote for a new publication out of Sydney, The Big Smoke…

From The New Yorker

From The New Yorker

A Killer Rack

I was chatting with a mate a while back about my desire to change careers, and she asked me if I felt I was an expert in anything.

“I dunno” I replied offhand. “Probably boobs.”

We laughed, because everyone knows Boob Men don’t come much bigger than me. What can I say? I’ve never been any different. All I know is that any time a decent set of boobs appears in front of me, I lose the ability to speak. I’m like a rugby league player trying to string a sentence together.

Lately though, boobs have been messing with a close friend of mine and they’re starting to lose their appeal. They’ve tried this before with other friends, even succeeded on two occasions in taking great women I knew. But this time I’ve been a little closer to the action, and it’s highlighted to me how little I understood of breasts at all.

I suspect some of us girls are a bit blasé about breast cancer. We are bombarded with ‘breast cancer’ messages and campaigns almost to the point of being desensitized by it all. We know to check our breasts and we know the risk factors from lifestyle choices. Sure it can kill us, but the statistics are on our side, and most of us know at least one woman who’s been diagnosed, had a lumpectomy and a round of treatment and come out of it the other side with little to show for it other than a new hairstyle.

Well, yes. Except, no. Big NO.

Breast cancer is horrible. It is a hideous, nasty, insidious disease that attacks us at the very core of our being, not only because of the importance we place on our breasts, but because our bosom is also where our heart is, where so much emotion is stored and felt – as though our chests needed any more pressure placed on them. For all the feminist ranting about the over-sexualisation of breasts, the truth is that our boobs are more than just utilitarian objects designed to feed babies.

We are destined to have a dysfunctional relationship with our breasts. From the minute our chests begin to fill out, or even more awkwardly don’t, they are an undeniable sign of our burgeoning sexuality that is visible to the rest of the world. We are judged on them, and judge ourselves on them, from the minute they appear. The other things that come with puberty, like pubic hair and menstruation aren’t readily available for viewing (well, you’d hope not), but our breasts? We have no control over them. They force us to confront our body’s development in comparison to our peers, and often they’re the cause of some pretty soul destroying taunts as we negotiate adolescence. Some of us are lucky enough to get through it all and end up happy with what we’ve got mammary-wise. Some of us get there via push up bras and cosmetic surgery. Some of us never learn to love our breasts at all. And for an increasing number of us, we wade through all that only to have our breasts betray us and develop life threatening tumours anyway.

It’s a lonely journey, cancer. Much as she has many people there for her, no one is really there with my friend. I don’t know exactly how bad the post-surgical pain was, although her tears gave me some idea; I didn’t know exactly how rattled she was by the diagnosis, although I could sense it in her text messages and emails and every black-humoured remark. I didn’t know how scared she was of what the future held, although I could guess. I was scared for her too. And I may have been alongside her in the hospital for part of it, but only one of us was the patient.

I sat in a scanning room in Nuclear Medicine, arguably the grimmest part of any hospital, while she had radioactive fluid injected into her nipple by a doctor she’d met only minutes before, the same doctor who was at pains to make sure it was okay I be in the room lest I get a nipple flash – as though there’s something awkward about a friend seeing your boobs, but not a bunch of medical staff. The room, at once high tech and 1960s retro, was a bit like the set of The Thunderbirds. The off-grey walls and floors and harsh lighting only added to the alienation. I watched her being slid into the PET scanner, manoeuvred and bossed around by staff who go through it too many times a day, saw them tape her breasts and draw guides for the surgeon on her skin in Nikko pen. I kept wanting to say “you know that’s a person there, right?” as they joked amongst themselves and worked out where to put the markings. It was all I could do not to reach out and grab her hand, give her some form of human contact amongst all the science fiction.

And yet I saw some of the sweetest moments of humanity in that hospital too. Fleeting connections between strangers that made all the difference to both of them – whether between the staff and patients, patients and their visitors, or between the patients themselves. There is an immediate level of intimacy created when people are brought together through illness. Maybe it’s just because someone else knows how bad the hospital food is, but it’s a connection nonetheless.

The fatalist in me says that breasts are just breasts – who cares if they go? And actually, I do believe that. Having a killer rack suddenly takes on a whole new meaning when there’s a Grade 3 malignant tumour nestled in your cleavage. If they’re out to kill you, then get rid of them. It’s not like your personality is stored in your mammary glands.

But I still have my breasts intact, and I don’t know what it’s like to mourn their loss. Another patient, full of good intentions, said that it’s better to be safe than sorry. She was right, of course, but my friend’s response “I’m both” was gut-wrenching.  It doesn’t matter how many times a woman is told she’s sexy, there’s a part of her that fears being undesirable. So imagine the psyche of a woman battling the combined effects of chemotherapy – the disappearance of distinguishing features like eyebrows, eyelashes and hair; the nosebleeds, blistered skin, lethargy, nausea, weight gain (or loss depending on the person) – along with the crippling depression that is both a symptom and a result of treatment, and whose scars across her chest continue to pull and hurt and send phantom pains shooting from the nerve endings where her nipples used to be. Can you imagine the strength it takes just to get out of bed some days, let alone out the front door? Seeing someone who oozes self-confidence be so vulnerable is heartbreaking. This should not be happening to her.

And yet, why not her? That’s the nature of this stupid thing. It doesn’t give a shit that she’s fought enough already to be here. Cancer is completely indiscriminate in its selection process. It’s never cared about any of the people I know who’ve answered that knock on life’s door.

I simply can’t fathom how anyone copes with being told they have cancer. It’s terrifying enough as a friend to hear words like tumour, mastectomy and chemotherapy. To be able to remain a functioning member of society when you are at your most fragile; when control of your life has been taken from you and put in the hands of a stranger now known as your oncologist; when dealing with the shock and fear and disbelief at how quickly life exploded has turned your brain to mush and left you unsure of every decision you make; when you can deal with it all with humour; when you can maintain some semblance of life despite all that, and when you can come out the other end never once having asked “why me?” while knowing there’s still so much ahead to get through…well frankly, that’s where my words run out.

And so, my love affair with breasts has hit a rocky patch. I still think they’re lovely, but I now view them the way I view a potentially dangerous dog. I’m happy to play with them, but I expect them to attack.

Image

For Iris

I remember the first time I met you, at a dinner party in Balmain. You seemed smart and funny, although slightly annoying in a peppy, sunshiny way. I now know you can be far more energetic than you were that night, but at the time I found your positivity just a bit more than my cynical nature wanted to deal with.

It was a weird party; for a start it was totally vegetarian, and we all had to bring a plate. The house was insanely gorgeous, but also a little creepy. And the mix of people was unusual. Great, but unusual (remember that intense American girl Paula, who we all individually thought had a crush on us, but who was really just an attention seeker, and who fortunately vanished from all our lives, never to be seen again? Anyway…) It turned out I met lot of people that night who are still my friends, so I guess Mon knew what she was doing after all. Mon performed for us. I didn’t even really know she could sing or play guitar, let alone that she was actually good at it. It was long and boozy and fun. There was candle wax everywhere by the end.

The terrorist attacks had just happened in New York, and the world was still reeling. We all did our best to keep the conversation light, but it was hard to be flippant with those images in our minds. I was pretty sensitive to it, given Tove had only just moved there and for a little while I thought I’d lost him. Talk kept going back to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Leon’s sister Silvia was at the party, and the frustrated activist within her kept coming out with conspiracy theories. She almost sounded on the side of Bin Laden. I could see you sizing her up in your quiet, analytical way. I suspected you thought she was full of shit too, but instead of coming out and telling her like I was, you continued to sit and listen respectfully to what she was saying. It was only later, when it was just the two of us in the kitchen, that you rolled your eyes and said “is she fucking serious?” We’ve been friends ever since.

It’s funny how that first meeting is exactly how I think of our friendship always being. Me, a mouthy opinionated bull-at-a-gate; you the hand on the shoulder, reminding your friend to breathe. Maybe it’s the Asian Buddhist Zen thing you’ve got going on in your genetic makeup. More likely though, all those years of studying psychology, combined with a natural curiosity for the human condition and a gentle disposition, has made you incredibly sensitive to everyone around you.

I haven’t always returned the favour. I wasn’t a particularly good friend a lot of the time. Bogged down in my life, permanently distracted by work and a relationship that required a lot of ‘handling’, I didn’t always make time for you when I really should have. You never gave up on me though. You hung in there, listening to my dramas and never judging. You were the only one who never once said “Why on earth are you still with her?” instead asking “What makes you stay?” We even survived my clanging assertion that I didn’t find Asians attractive, and my hurried “you’re okay though” afterwards.

You have always been such a good friend; an involved, attentive, conscientious friend, who puts huge energy into maintaining connections. Thank god for that, because without your input we’d have fizzled out years ago. I remember saying to you once that no one would ever be as good a friend to you as you are to them. You replied simply “I know.” That isn’t what friendship is about for you.

There were a lot of years, the Alice Springs and Darwin years, when we didn’t have much contact other than me teasing you for moving up there and teaching blind Aboriginal lesbians (really, could you have found a more specialised field?) Then facebook became a thing, and I said to you “get on it” and you did, and we were back on track.

You were living in London by then, and had started dating someone. A Dutch girl called Lidia. Of all the nationalities in Europe, you went for my least favourite. Some bad experiences meant I couldn’t believe my friend could be attracted to anyone Dutch. “What about an Italian? Or a Spaniard? Why does she have to be DUTCH?” You emailed me a photo. At least she was attractive. I could see what you saw in her physically, even if I didn’t get the Dutch thing. As time went on I had to quieten down. You clearly had a lot in common. Sport and the outdoors primarily, and frankly I was relieved there was someone other than me for you to discuss those things with. Exercise? Who, me?

When you moved in together, I tried again. “Are you sure? She’s from HOLLAND.” You just laughed. Eventually I gave up. You’d learn soon enough.

But you didn’t. Even during the rough patches every relationship goes through (which I naturally always blamed on your girlfriend because she was Dutch) you always showed complete respect and love for her. You were never comfortable hearing anything negative being said about Lidia, no matter what was going on.

And it turned out, bizarrely, that you were completely right and I was completely wrong (who’d have thought?!) All the hard times, all the tough, confusing moments when nothing was sure and you were both re-evaluating what you wanted, were worth it. You two broke free and became a happy, unified, team. You made changes, and you supported and encouraged each other. You grabbed life by the balls and attacked it as a couple. And you had so much fun doing it. Is there anywhere you didn’t get to, any mountain you didn’t trek over like a right pair of Alpine lezzos? All those god damn camping trips, cross country skiing trips, early morning departures to meet the ferry, car trips that involved snow chains. Every time a new lot of photos appeared on facebook, I’d think ‘ugh – jesus they deserve each other.’ There were never enough cocktails and city lights for me to be too jealous of your vacations! And yet, I would have loved a little of what you two were sharing.

I got over the Dutch thing. I even used a bit of Flemish on her, much to her amusement. “Hey Sweetmilk” never got old, not for me at least.

Discontented with London, and keen for fresh challenges, the search for a new home was on. There were so many avenues open to the two of you, so many options. Eventually you settled on Australia. Excitingly for the other Carrie & I, you decided on Brisbane. Visas were applied for, signed affidavits testifying to your relationship were filled in. What did I write? “I don’t know a couple more committed than Iris and Lidia.” It was the truth.

Then we waited. You guys packed, organised, sorted and started selling up. We waited. And waited. Your intended departure date was getting close. Six weeks! And a civil union to squeeze in before you left.

Finally we got the news on Thursday that you’d been approved. And we all got excited, and joked about how best to celebrate.

And then…and then…a phone call from a number I didn’t know woke me early Friday morning and a shaken, crying voice said hello and it was the other Carrie…and there was something about an accident, and a darling friend on the other side of the world was left shattered and broken, and a beautiful girl gone, and none of us knew what the hell was happening.

And now all that is left to do is be here for you. Unable to be there, I can only say “I’m here” and my arms aren’t long enough to reach out and hug you, but my heart is with you and my mind is always on you and I love you.

I know eventually we will all start to breathe again, and not feel this terrible weight of sadness. It won’t go away but it will change and shift, and we will be able to see further than we’re currently able to. And then we will know that your pain is a little less raw, and we will find you again on the other side of your grieving, changed forever, but still our beautiful friend.

But right now that moment seems very far off, and there’s nothing to say except “I’m here”.

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Facebooking My Demons

I am in the midst of a very weird experience! Yesterday I, after much pestering from several friends, joined Facebook. And it has been a minor revolution. Yesterday morning, there was a long list of people I’ve often thought of over the years but for whatever reason had lost contact with. Almost 48 hours later and I can’t get over the people I’m now communicating with! Friends from high school, people I travelled with, even someone from primary school that I really had to comb the cerebral archives to remember. It’s amazing, and addictive. Such an easy way to stay in touch that I’m finding myself frustrated by those I know who aren’t yet on it. So silly really!

And yet, as I traced through the collections of ‘friends’ on everyone’s pages looking for people I recognised, a funny thing started to happen. I sort of reverted back to my social position in high school. Most people I went straight in, clicked on and submitted a friend request. No problem, I know they’ll want to be my friend! But there were quite a few others over whom I hovered the mouse before deciding ‘Nah, they might not respond’. Social death Facebook style. I didn’t like the idea of possible rejection, or them thinking I was just being a ‘hanger-on’.

What is that about? It was straight back to the awkward & socially tumultuous times I experienced in high school. I was never one of the tarty ‘popular’ girls, but nor was I a complete social pariah. Mostly, I think people found me a bit weird because I wasn’t easily classifiable. I sort of just drifted towards whoever was talking to me on any given day. Every day was another experiment in having to pretend I fitted in. What’s strange is I don’t feel that ever anymore, so why does the idea of hooking up with school friends bring it all back? Why does that time of my life weigh so heavily on me that, almost 14 years after I graduated, I still obviously haven’t left it behind? Why do I still care what they’re thinking? I’m not at all fazed by people in my current life, so why these people with whom the only thing I really have in common is our education? I even caught myself looking at the picture of me I posted, thinking “Jeez, it’s a bit cheezy. People will think I love myself”. Who gives a rat’s arse really? Well, me apparently!

Truthfully, with the exception of the few I have had a little contact with, most of these people don’t know me at all. Nothing about me. My interests, likes, loves & what my every day entails. What’s more, we’re adults & we’ve all grown up. We may even find that over the past decade we’ve become even more alike. Who knows? Problem is, I probably won’t know because I’m not sure I can take that first step & put myself out there.

Am I going to end up on Dr Phil? God, I hope not