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”.