Day Twenty Three - Appreciative August
Resolution and Redemption
When I was seven and my older brother was nine, he had two-and-a-half extra years of physical strength and the mental agility to tease with more effective results, mercilessly thrash me at Monopoly and invent better and more hurtful insults than I ever could. Perhaps he was annoyed that, as a three year old, I'd get up and eat his school lunch that Mum had made the night before, or pointed out that he always stuck his tongue out when he was batting at the crease or concentrating during a particularly challenging game of back-yard brandy.
The two year game of catch up didn't seem to end until we were in our late teens and one day I realised that we were friends rather than enemies. We could laugh at Blackadder and drove out to the orchards together in the summer holidays to endure the heat, the mindless work, the bogans and the boredom in order to earn the book, beer and bond money for the upcoming university year. We raved about the Midnight Oil concert at Memorial Drive in 1985, played endless games of tennis where he showed me how to run-like-my-very-life-depended-on-it for every single shot like a real bloke would; and he'd make wisecracks at the dinner table that would not only make me laugh but marvel at his quick cleverness.
It was me he came to see when he first felt the stirrings of real connection for a girl he'd met. What should he do, what if he'd got the signals wrong, what if she said no, what if......? Outwardly I listened intently, and assured him that it was worth the risk; she would say yes and that life would continue if it backfired. Inwardly I was so honoured that he chose me to confide these things to: was this the same person who made me cry so many times as a child?
When my share house was broken into in my third year of study, my two girlfriends and I came home stunned. We were all dirt poor, struggling on Austudy and holiday jobs and wondering just how in the hell we were going to replace our one and only bar heater, colour TV and tape player. The robbers must have been so disappointed to break into our place to reveal that it housed the poorest tenants of Hackney inside - no microwave, CD collections, stereo system, art work, computers or gadgets; which is why they found the time to smoke and butt out their cigarettes in my bedroom, go through my wardrobe to remove anything with a recognisable label and select whichever cassette tapes appealed to their ear.
Rob himself was also still a penniless student, but he cycled over from Mile End an hour later, somehow carrying his own double-tape stereo deck, a black-n-white television and an ancient Vulcan reflective heater. "Ah, no worries," he said, brushing off my thanks, "I'm at Libby's (his girlfriend's) place most of the time, and she's got better stuff than I have."
He moved in with us for a few months when Jo was working overseas for a few months towards her geology PhD. We needed the rent, he was in between jobs and houses and I wondered how he'd fare with Charlotte, a fairly straight, classical piano student who'd come from a family of five daughters. I shouldn't have worried - she loved his quirky outlook on life, loved him calling her 'Chuck' and he asked her endless questions about boarding school, life raising horses and exactly what piece of music she was practising and why.
We had a few interesting meals when he'd visit the Central Market just on closing time, buy an entire box of one vegetable and try and make something different with it for dinner for the following week. Avocados, parsnips and even on-the-turn tomatoes were particularly challenging. He'd chop up onions wearing his swimming goggles and, after we'd finished and enjoyed his seafood Hokkien noodle stir fry, he'd say, "Oh I'm glad you didn't notice that I also put the beaks and eyes of the octopus in as well; it makes it go further."
One time he, Love Chunks, my best mate Jill, a few others and myself were at Boomer Beach. God I loved the waves there and used to love jumping up, over and then let myself get swallowed up in the white foam and unceremoniously shoved into the sand at the shore. Inevitably the day came when I misjudged the timing of a huge wave spectacularly badly. Jill recalls that it looked brilliantly funny from the shore, but for me it was like being flung and and then dunked further into a wading pool by an angry ogre,over and over again.
The power of the rushing water, sand and waves still breaking overhead - or was it overhead, because I could not tell which way was up and was being thrown about manically and could not do anything to find the bottom of the seabed or stand up - seemed to go on forever. I had sucked in too much seawater and wondered if, maybe, this was it for me. Or was my head going to smack on some rocks that I saw some distance over, but might now be right under me for all I knew? Were my friends on the shore just assuming I was goofing off and having a wonderful time? Could they even see me out here?
Smack, tumble, gasp, tumble, smack. All my eyes saw was sand, foam and darkness, even though it was a 30C summer day. Why couldn't I, a strong swimmer and fit young woman, stand up? Why couldn't I breathe?
Rob found me, grabbed my shoulders and hoiked me up. I was coughing and sobbing, "I thought I was going to die, Rob, I really thought that this was it for me...."
"Ah come on now, it's OK, you're fine. That's a fair old codpiece of sand you've got dangling between your legs now, Kath." He laughed at me, but his eyes looked worried and relieved.
And yet this year, the two-year difference re-emerged. We were living in two separate states of the country, in two different households, two different spouses and with two different sets of issues and problems to deal with. We fell out. He blamed me for something I hadn't done; I fought back without trying to see why he might have done so; he snapped back defensively; and I told him a few other 'truths' I thought he needed to hear.
Such is the nature of cliches that it is only when you live through one that you realise why they're cliches. They're true. My words, spoken in anger and frustration and aimed to wound, felt impossible to take back, especially when left to hang for a long time.
Five months went by. I was fuming over the unfairness, the hypocrisy and the lack of truth I'd received. I cried many times into Love Chunks' shoulders in confusion and pain. Coming only two months after the Bulldog fiasco at work, I had sworn to myself that I was no longer going to accept being treated badly without fighting back and insisting on my rights, yet having to assert these with my brother was heartbreaking.
We didn't speak or email each other. We didn't respond with even a polite, "Oh, really, that's nice," when our parents, or little brother David, tried to pass on news of each other. We didn't take action even though our parents urged us to. And yet, I continued to grieve. Wasn't I worth respecting? Why did he do this to me? Why didn't he understand how damaging it would be?
At the urging of Love Chunks, my younger brother Dave, sister-in-law Sonia, I wrote to Rob, asking for what I wanted. An apology.
An email shot back: "Can I fly over to see you?"
I was on the blower the second after reading it.
We both cried. "I am so sorry---"
"Don't thank me---"
That night, after a long conversation and the luxury of time to fully explain, to listen and to finally understand, we hung up. I chatted jubilantly to Love Chunks who said, "I'm so glad, Kath, I'm really glad," and I ran the fastest, strongest and best session on the treadmill ever, singing out as loud as I could, without giving a flying fig what any of the neighbours thought.
I love you Rob.