Not with this crowd

They arranged a dinner party for the Saturday night, a dinner
at Rosie and Joe’s house, a dinner supposedly to celebrate the Cup Day weekend, but in my mind more a front for meeting me.
I had met the man who was to become my husband only three
weeks earlier.  From the outset I
knew he was part of a group of friends, close knit friends, friends who were so
keen on each other, so much in each other’s pockets, that they met monthly to
discuss the possibility of forming a commune together, in the country
somewhere, close to the beach for easy escape, Wilson’s Prom, Kennett river,
far enough out of Melbourne to avoid the nuclear holocaust they were convinced
would happen any day soon.
My own life up to that point had been so nuclear that I had not considered escape possible but meeting this man who would one day become my husband
made the thought of settling down a possibility, only not with this crowd, I
We sat down to pre-dinner snacks, a tapenade of sorts,
olives, cabana sticks, chunks of tasty cheese on skewers and wine.
I had not eaten much all day. Hell bent on staying
invisible I had tried to convince myself that food was unnecessary. 
 ‘You look lovely’, Verity said.  Verity, the matriarch of the bunch.  I could feel her eyes upon me the whole
evening.  I could feel all of them
sizing me up. 
Who was this woman who had come along and taken over their
favourite friend, the group clown, the one who until now had managed to stay
single, except for one disastrous episode with Fran a year before?  Fran who had once become so angry she
smashed his entire pottery collection. 
They looked to me as if they were sizing me up as the next
Fran, and I performed accordingly.
I did not mean to drink too much, but within an hour I was
off to the toilet on wobbly legs, not to be sick but to catch my breath and
next to the toilet was the bedroom with a double bed that called to me. 
I would just have a nap.  The wine made my head spin.  I needed to sleep.
I woke in darkness, confused as to my whereabouts and still
To this day I do not know what overcame me.  Thoughts of my father, himself a
‘Go away,’ I called out to the night to some imaginary
presence, my father, who hovered over my bed.
A baby started to cry. 
I had woken the baby, Rosie’s baby, who shared her parent’s bedroom.
My husband to be came into the room.
‘What’s up with you?’ he said.
‘I’m scared,’ I said.
‘You’re drunk,’ he said.
Joe came in. 
‘Give her these.  They’ll
help her to settle.’
I swallowed the two white pills with water and lost touch
with the night.
In the morning I woke to a thumping head.  My husband to be and I were in the same
bed.  We had taken over Rosie
and Joe’s bedroom.  They’d moved
with the baby into the spare room. 
My husband to be refused to speak to me. 
We four sat in silence over a breakfast I could not eat. Rosie spooned
mouthfulls of sludge into the baby’s mouth.  I wanted to get out of there. 
Still dressed in my long hippie dress of the night before,
the dress Verity had so admired, I all but tripped over on my way out.  Rosie and Joe were kind.  They looked consolingly at my husband to be.
He did not speak to me in the car on our way home until we
closed the front door of his share house behind us and creaked into his
 ‘You’re going to have to apologise,’ he said.  ‘If you keep this up you’ll need
therapy or we won’t make it.’
I telephoned Verity.
 ‘What are you talking about?’ she said.  ‘It was a lovely evening.’
I telephoned Monica.
 ‘That’s okay,’ she said.  ‘We all get carried away sometimes.’
 I telephoned
Rosie and Joe.
 ‘You should have seen Monica the night she drank too much
and fell asleep at the table.’
I had been accepted into the inner sanctum, perhaps, but
there was a caveat.  I saw it in
their eyes when next we met.  I saw
the way they looked at my husband to be at the first commune planning meeting
we attended together.
They wanted people in the commune with practical
skills.  They wanted people in the
commune who could cook, keep house, make babies.
They did not want people in the commune who got drunk,
smashed pottery or woke babies. 
It became a choice then: me or the commune.  My husband to be needed to choose. 

Open doors and apologies all round

My husband left the flame under the pan this morning
after he had cooked up a batch of bacon and chorizo. When I walked into the
kitchen to fetch my second cup of tea for the morning the place was grey with
smoke.  He was reading the newspaper at the kitchen table and had not
noticed until I pointed it out and then we discovered the overheating fry
Open doors and apologies all round.  The smoke
has dispersed though the smell of burned fat remains.  It could have been
worse.  It could have been kippers, another of my husband’s favourite
weekend breakfasts, and one which leaves its traces in the air long after it’s
been eaten.
I can’t get Varuna out of my mind.  The smell of
the house, musty, the green of the garden and its warmth.  It can get cold
in the Blue Mountains but I have only been there through the sultry heat of an
early summer, when the weather is unpredictable in the form of heavy storms,
early mists, higher temperatures and rising humidity.   

 Varuna, outside my window, and inside the Green Room.
‘Let my nerves be strained like wires between the city
of no and the city of yes!’  Yevtushenko.
These are the words that someone had penned onto a
scrap of paper in blue ink and pinned to the fridge in the kitchen at Varuna.
 They have stayed with me as a reminder of the tension between
writing and life.  
Yesterday my youngest daughter went for her driver’s license
and passed.  It’s the end of an era for me.  Four daughters, all of
whom can now drive a car, or at least are licensed to drive. 
To me it’s a major achievement largely because it took
me so long to get mine.  I had left home by then but even if I were still
at living at home I could no more imagine my father taking me out to practice
driving than asking him to walk me up the aisle.  Neither of which I did. 
Instead I left learning to drive until I was in my
early twenties and into my first proper job.  I paid for driving lessons
from an instructor who took me out sometimes twice weekly in his turquoise
Datson Z.  We drove through the streets of Caulfield. 
In those days I had broken up with my first long term
boyfriend and shared a flat with my youngest sister in Narong Road.  My
driving instructor may have had an islander background judging by his dark
complexion and shock of wary hair.  He was kind and competent.
‘You’re phobic about driving,’ he said to me one day
after months of seemingly getting nowhere.  I drove all right but I
panicked whenever I needed to make a major change, for instance whenever I
needed to go down the gears to slow down or to stop.
I failed my license twice as a result. The first time
I could not bring myself to stop when a man with a wheelbarrow crossed the
footpath of the exit to the driving school.  I nearly ran him over.
 The instructor stopped the test immediately.  The second time round
I failed because I completely stuffed up the parallel parking.  By rights
I should have failed a third time because I could not master parallel parking
but my final examiner took pity on me and let me through. 
I have not been able to parallel park since those days, but if there is a large enough space between cars I can now reverse
into place without too many turns of the wheel.  I’m comfortable driving
these days but I was such an anxious driver in my early years that I have
worried about passing on these anxieties to my daughters.  It seems I have
not succeeded.  They are all more confident behind the wheel than I ever was.  
I think I may be experiencing similar difficulties as
I experienced learning to drive in relation to writing my book,  not
writing it per se, but putting it together.
It is as if I have trouble getting the gears to work
in harmony in order to master my story.  You might have noticed, a
tendency to be all over the shop.  
Still, I tell myself, I will get there.  What
other writer hasn’t struggled in such an endeavour?  Besides, I learned to
drive in my twenty second year finally and I have been driving ever since, give
or take a year when I first held my license, but was too scared to use it.  Now that’s another story.