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 Shoulder Before Bed

A little reflection before bedtime:

I think what makes the difference is knowing that someone is willing to listen to our story when we feel the need to tell it. I also think that to be in a situation where you don’t feel there’s anyone who wants to listen must be the loneliest place to find yourself.

I am reminded of this quote from Truman Capote (I think it’s Other Voices, Other Rooms?)
“But we are alone, darling child, terribly isolated each from the other; so fierce is the world’s ridicule we cannot speak or show our tenderness; for us death is stronger than life, it pulls like a wind through the dark, all our cries burlesqued in joyless laughter; and with the garbage of loneliness stuffed down us until our guts burst bleeding green, we go screaming round the world, dying in our rented rooms, nightmare hotels, eternal homes of the transient heart.”

I’m very lucky to have people in my life who want to listen to my stories.

The Worst Two Words You’ll Say To Me

Have you ever played the Worst Word game? You know, the one that usually results in a group of people gagging over ‘panties’ or ‘gusset’ or ‘discharge’? I know, I know – and I’m sorry for making you read that – but I have two more I want to add to the list: ‘always’ and ‘never’.

I admit they don’t make me cringe the way I do when I hear ‘panties’, but it occurred to me recently that the further I travel in life the less I find myself using ‘always’ and ‘never’, and the less I want them said to me. They come laden with the weight of expectation, and my experiences tell me that expectation always precedes disappointment. I’d like to say I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve truly been disappointed in my life, but the truth is I remember every one. That’s what disappointment does; it leaves a mark that no amount of soul scrubbing can remove. And that’s okay. It’s through those disappointments I’ve learned the most about myself, but they remain what they were – great disappointments. And once I started to scrutinise it I realised that, in most of those situations, much of the heartbreak could have been avoided if ‘never’ or ‘always’ hadn’t been uttered.

I think what I’ve come to believe is that they’re used too flippantly to be bound as tightly as they are to human emotions. We promise never to cheat, never to stop loving someone, never to hurt another person, or that we’ll never want children. We say we’ll always be there, that we’ll always be together, and that we’ll always have each other. We talk about always loving people, declare that we’ll never give up, and promise to always look on the bright side of life.  But in truth we mean these things only as long as the conditions in which we say them remain the same. What we really should be saying is “I will never cheat on you provided nothing changes” or “I will always be here for you as long as something terrible doesn’t happen to me.” The reality is life can and does change quickly, and promises made under different circumstances can suddenly become unrealistic. This isn’t only related to romantic attachments. Illness, accidents and altered living circumstances all have the potential to break unbreakable promises. I can’t say “I never want someone I love to die” because I have watched people in the final stages of illness and, despite loving them very much, I did want them to die in the end. I guess I can say “I never wanted to see them sick in the first place” but that’s not really the same thing. Besides, I once wished for an ex with a drinking problem to fall sick because I was so desperate for her to give up alcohol. Despair can make for irrational requests of the world.

Even at the most basic day to day level ‘never’ and ‘always’ are hard to commit to. I can’t even say “I’ll never eat corned beef as long as I live” because there are stories of people who wake up from comas and everything about them has changed. Unlikely as that seems given my utter loathing for Silverside, I have to admit it’s possible. I doubt I’ll ever buy a Justin Bieber album either, but who knows? There’s a woman in America who woke from a coma speaking with a French accent; bet she never expected that to happen.

I don’t know, maybe I’m over-analysing like I always do. I’m not trying to be maudlin about it. I just can’t help thinking that some of our falls in life wouldn’t be so hard if these two words and the pressure to live up to them didn’t exist. But they do exist, and at the very least we should try and use them sparingly.

What do I want to hear instead? Well…I want someone to stand in front of me and say they’ll try their hardest despite the circumstances; that they’ll love me for as long as they can, that they’ll do their very best not to hurt me, and that they’ll fight to stay in my life for as long as they are able – and for them to understand that by offering the same in return, I am promising far more than I would be if I just said “I’ll never hurt you.” Maybe that way we’ll find delightful surprises far outweigh crushing disappointments.

And I can go back to believing ‘moist panties’ are the worst two words you’ll ever whisper in my ear.


It’s a nice sentiment Dolly, but I just don’t believe you.

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”.