love

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…

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.

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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.

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

Semi-Precious Moments

I owe a few people an apology. Actually it’s probably quite a few people, so I’m just going to go with a blanket “I’m sorry” to anyone I’ve ever accused of over sharing and be done with it. Turns out whatever the reason was for me attacking your need to disseminate all aspects of your private life in public was nothing compared to my latest discovery on YouTube.

This morning as I was making my usual way through procrastination central, I stumbled across videos of women telling their partners they’re pregnant and…well…I’m kind of horrified. I’m not talking Maury Povich-style “you ARE the father” videos. I’m talking sweet, loving moments between couples who are ultimately pleased about becoming parents. Videos like this:

There are thousands of them, the majority of which have titles like Telling My Husband I’m Pregnant – *Emotional* or Jake Finds out He’s Going to Be a Daddy – Beautiful!!!  I sat through a few, my heart unmoved by what I was watching, and all I could think was “what are you people doing?”

I’ve never been ‘with child’ so maybe I am totally romanticising the whole concept of pregnancy, but there’s something about this I just can’t handle. I understand being excited about being pregnant, and I understand wanting to share that joy. I even get filming the moment you tell the rest of the family you’re pregnant, because some of the grandparents’-to-be reactions are genuinely laugh out loud funny. But that very first time you share the news with your partner, before the pregnancy becomes something that belongs to everyone else, don’t you want five minutes together to say “this might be happening to us” that no one else gets to share? Isn’t that one of the few moments of pregnancy that belongs just to the two of you? If you’re going to let everyone in at that point, why not just invite them to the conception as well?

For those who want children, then this is arguably the moment between a couple; the point at which they realise they may well be bringing another human into the world. Discounting intervention from fertility specialists and pressure from the mother-in-law to give her grandchildren, no one else is actually involved. So why are they stopping to film it for the internet? Is it a competition between females to see whose bloke will prove himself the better man?

I know we live in a world where the line between private and public is fuzzy, enough has been written about how we overshare our lives. But this seems to be a very clear example of where we’ve got our priorities all arse about face, and I’m starting to feel a queasy sadness about what we’ve lost. Perhaps you could call it mourning sickness.

This is more than just sentimentally holding on to keepsakes that have special meaning. Mementos are different. My home is full of little knick knacks that hold value for no one other than me (although I’d probably draw the line at turning the urine covered pregnancy test into a framed wall décor like quite a lot of these women seem intent on doing). Aside from these videos being pretty boring viewing given they’re mostly of guys dumbfounded by both impending fatherhood and the fact that they’re looking into an iPhone rather than their partner’s face, the moment being recorded is actually being altered by the presence of the camera. If you’re busy concentrating on the Director’s Cut, making sure you’ve pressed record, worrying whether the sound is okay, that you’ve got your script ready and you’re both in frame, you’re not exactly giving the father your undivided attention. And he’s not giving the moment his undivided attention either based on how many videos include the line “are you filming this?” All you’ve ended up with is footage of two people dealing with life changing news, aware that their behaviour is being recorded for probable mass consumption. Way to ensure the reaction is anything but natural.

The thing is we don’t actually need permanent reminders of everything that happens to us. We have memories and the ability to tell stories – and a whole lot more can be evoked by a loving retelling than can ever be gleaned by sitting through a home movie. Consider it the real life version of ‘the book was better’. And okay one day you may forget that memory due to age or brain function, but at that point no YouTube video is really going to help you. If you are experiencing something that means so much to you that you want to remember every single second, then participate in it without the distraction of the viewfinder. Be present for the moment itself, not just the instant replay, because right now you’re somewhere between participant and audience and that kind of sucks.

Frankly I can’t help thinking we’d all be better off putting down our phones and just enjoying the experience of making memories we’d hate to forget, rather than footage of what might have been.

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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Never Noticed…

If I really were in love

I would notice

so much more about her

than I do.

 

The way she laughs

head back

girly

hand on knee.

 

A hand that brushes

her fringe aside

reapplies lipstick

after every wine.

 

She pins her hair

and repins her hair

as she speaks

as she listens.

 

The green of her eyes

the glow of her skin

or her lips

I never noticed her lips.

 

Her giggle

a rearranged skirt

a  straightened necklace

oblivious to her charms.

 

The way she says no

when she really means yes

her ability to persuade

to be persuaded.

 

Her self-doubt

her fragility

her search for inner calm

her vanity.

 

Thank goodness I never noticed

any of this

or I might just think

I was in love.

As Dreams Take Flight

I’ll sit amongst the trees today

And watch their branches sway

I’ll imagine that they’re fanning a breeze

To set you on your way.

I’ll lie upon the blades of grass

And make angels in the earth

I’ll wish that they could come to life

To prove to me love’s worth.

I’ll run along the esplanade

And watch the seagulls glide

I’ll let them lead me down a  path

I’ll let them be my guide.

I’ll follow them to the water’s edge

And say a little prayer

Of thanks for the fun we’ve had

The memories we’ll share.

A MOMENT

“Hold your hand up.”
“Why?”
“Just do it. Palm facing me.”
I held my hand up as she asked. She pressed her hand against mine, aligning our fingers and wrists.
“Do you feel that?”
“What?”
She pressed more firmly.
“That.”
Slowly I began to feel the gentle pulse of her blood and mine beating at my fingertips.
“Yes.”
“That’s our hearts beating together.”
I lifted my head to look at her face, and watched as a tear slid down her cheek. As I moved to wipe it away, she clenched her fingers around mine.
“Leave it” she whispered. “It’s happiness, that’s all.”
by caz.