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
reckoned. 
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
drunk.
To this day I do not know what overcame me.  Thoughts of my father, himself a
drunk. 
‘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
bedroom.
 ‘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. 

40 thoughts on “Not with this crowd”

  1. I watched a doco many, many years ago about nuclear bombs striking the capital cities of the world and the safest place to head for if you have enough advanced warning of a nuclear bomb about to strike Melbourne was Ballarat and beyond because most the radiation fallout is carried by the wind toward Gippsland and you can survive the shockwave if you're lucky but not radiation sickness. Did ya know that a nuclear bomb launched from Russia only takes half an hour to reach Melbourne, scary stuff isn't it!.

  2. I can't imagine living in a commune. I value my solitude and privacy. Such things would not be accepted in a commune, I think. I hope your husband didn't take too long to choose.

  3. Oh I love it! I had a similar baptism of fire with my first husband's family at our first meeting – but in reverse. He was one of twelve and apart from him they were all pretty heavy drinkers – and I have always been TeeTotal, not for any reason apart from the fact that I don'[t like alcohol very much. I must have passed the test though because we were married for almost forty years, until he died.

  4. So you were Yoko, eh? I’ve been a part of religious communities all my life—same church, different congregations—so I’ve been the outsider but mostly I’ve been a member of the inner circle watching others make a bid for membership. Although I don’t miss the religion a part of me does miss the sense of community which was strong, at least in the congregation I grew up in. Having no extended family so to speak of—I only saw my maternal grandmother once in my life and the same goes for most of her children (I met no one on my father’s side)—these people became my family, proxy uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews. People came and went, got married and had kids of their own. The mix was always in flux but the heart remained. I look for some of them now and again online but I guess an active web presence is frowned upon—I left before there was any clear guidance passed down—and I get that. Certainly in my last life I would’ve had little time for a second online family nor any need. Now you are my family—never had a big sister before—and you know most of the others. I pretend not to be a social animal but I was for too long to shrug it off with indifference.

    What this post made me think of was my first marriage. My ex-wife has five sisters and although she was third in line she was the first to get married although the eldest was cohabiting. It was a strange experience being absorbed by that lot, becoming part of an extended family with grandmothers and even a great-grandmother still alive and kicking and very much a part of their everyday life. It was a completely different world. Her dad wasn’t so unlike my own father, a working man although a bit younger (remember my parents waited twenty-one years for me); he was into bowls and we’d walk down with him to the bowling club, drink several pints and stagger home. My dad did develop a problem with drink in later years but we never ever went for a pint together, not once. The very thought of it is unimaginable. Maybe that’s why I wrote that poem ‘A Drink up the Crow Road’ on the anniversary of his death. I was never comfortable with the drink culture that was very much a part of my new family. My daughter tells me that at least one of the sisters is now a card-carrying alcoholic. I think I’ve been drunk with that bunch of people—maybe not moroculous but certainly unsteady—more than with any other group. I did not like it. It wasn’t me and I’ve shied away from drink ever since but especially after my dad became dependant. I think there’s nothing sadder than someone talking about the previous night’s bevvying and saying something like, “Had a great night last night. Cannae remember a ‘hing.”

  5. As much as I'm in awe of the 1960s counterculture, I could never be a hippie. Or a socialist in the early 19th century sense of the term. I'm too much a loner to live in a commune. I have a difficult enough time living in the world at large. It's not that I can't share material things (though I don't always trust others to), but I don't want to share my sense of self, i.e. I don't want my personality to be compromised, as flawed as that personality may be.

    Interesting your husband-to-be insisting you apologise. After only going out with you for three weeks, he must have felt he had the upper hand in the relationship to make such a demand. Yet, I'm guessing you made him chose you over the commune. As I said, interesting.

  6. Hopefully you learnt from the error of not having food before and with alcohol. Hopefully I have too, although it might have taken me three embarrassing upsets like yours to learn. I guess the last line contains the answer to what your husband chose.

  7. He must have already had a strong idea that he wanted you. You did as he asked and that likely helped him when you asked him to leave the commune.
    I also had one of those nights where I just had to put my head on a bed. Sadly I was given a spiked drink and I ended up messing up the lovely spread on the bed! Darn embarrassing time and at my dear brother's SIL!! My brother has been dead for years but I just saw his SIL last April at a baby shower.

  8. Yes indeed, Anthony, you could say my husband to be in this story made the right choice. And yet after all these years, how things change. Memory turns experience into a story.

    Thanks, Anthony.

  9. All your talk of nuclear disaster puts me in mind of the fact that today's supposed to be the last day of life on earth as we know it, Windsmoke.

    I don't dwell on it too often, but occasionally, and I reckon if it is to be the end, so be it. We'll all be gone, as long as it's not a prolonged and grisly process.

    So far the world outside of my window today in Melbourne on 21 December 2012 looks pretty good. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. the plants are lush and green but we haven't yet reached midday and for you it's still the middle of the night, maybe hasn't even reached the 21 yet. I'll let you know if we get wind of an ending soon- if I can.

  10. Communes are not for me either, River, though I enjoy community, not too much community, otherwise it becomes rather like boarding school. As for choosing to marry, it was a mutual thing in the end, and didn't take terribly long to decide upon.
    Thanks, River.

  11. 'Baptism of fire' is a good way to describe it, Pat. And it's wonderful that you passed your test in the enormous family of hearty drinkers and then enjoyed the benefits for so many years.

    Thanks, Pat.

  12. I'm happy to be identified as a big sister, Jim, delighted even. I am in fact big sister to three others, two sisters and one brother so the position fits well, but not quite so the image of Yoko despite the hippy references. She's always struck me as an odd person, though I know very little about her other than the obvious.

    Communities are such funny things, Jim, especially the religious ones. I sometimes miss the sense of belonging I felt as a child within the Catholic church but at the same time I'm relieved to be free of it. There's something deeply constraining about that institution, at least there was for me.

    Your first marriage sounds familiar, Jim. I too married into a large family, though my own is larger than my husband's. I recognise the uncomfortable feeling of being subsumed into a family that's other than your own. On the other hand, I find my husband's family a little less troubled than my own.

    My husband's family tend to be like him, straightforward. You get what you see. Whereas my family members tends to be more troubled I reckon, which is not to say my husband's lot don't and didn't have their share of woes, only different.

    Thanks, Jim.

  13. I'm with you about the undesirability of commune life, Kirk, though perhaps for different reasons overall. Still I too would not want to compromise my personality too much if that's what communistic life requires.

    The call for apology might seem odd in this story but at the time in the real world beyond the story, in my memory at least, it seemed reasonable and not overbearing as you imagine.

    All these things are open to interpretation of course.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  14. Yes indeed, Andrew, you guessed right about my husband to be's choice of partner. And yes, too, I no longer drink alcohol on an empty stomach,at least not if I can help it. It's a useful lesson to learn. No more hangovers for me.

    Thanks, Andrew.

  15. I suppose we all have experiences like this, Heidi, tucked away in our memories but still a source of embarrassment and shame. I suspect we keep the memories alive but others, like your sister in law, might well have forgotten about it.

    Thanks, Heidi.

  16. Sorry to delay my responses to comments, Robert. I'm not as conscientious as I once was within the blogosphere. I'm trying to write a book and find that if I concentrate too much in cyberspace I don't get as much written as I'd like. Hence the trip to Varuna.

    Thanks, Robert.

  17. You're writing a book? Wow. Steamy I'll bet. Should put a breeze up the skirts of those Camberwell matrons.

    Cyberspace writing is the best writing you'll do, it's the pressure you know; nothing beats a live audience.

  18. I agree, Robert, nothing beats a live audience, though cyberspace writing has its limitations. It tends to lack the polish of the well worked over stuff, which can on the other hand make it more spontaneous and therefore lively.

    Thanks, Robert and happy Christmas-time to you.

  19. I stayed in a couple of student communes for a while — I don't think any of us had the kinds of practical skills we claimed to value, we were all sloppy housekeepers. I do remember the clannishness though, the sizing up of any guests, new lovers of commune members.

    And some of us were more worried about our own drinking than about being accepted.

    This struck me as a rite of initiation story, the either/or question of belonging and choosing. Perhaps your future husband was secretly ready to leave the commune?

  20. Lovely to hear from you again, Kass. We are like ships in the night. It's always wonderful to see you pass by. I'll get out into the blogosphere more actively again when time and space allow. In the meantime, happy Christmas to you, Kass.

  21. You may well be right, Mary La. My husband to be may well have been ready to leave that commune which was once to be. As it happens , it never happened, the commune that is, though most folks have stayed friends, albeit at a distance.

    You seem to have a much deeper experience of commune life. I imagine it had its many ups and downs, maybe as many as elsewhere in life.

    Thanks, Mary.

  22. I don't suppose there's much point in writing comments that aren't useful in some way, Robert, though again the usefulness or otherwise lies not only with the writer but with the reader and therein lies the trap for many of us, both writers and readers.

    Thanks again, Robert.

  23. Of course it's for the reader, all for the reader!

    You're a great one for having a buck each way, is there anything you're positive about? Good heavens, it's remarkable that hubby ever got his nose past the post.

  24. I'm a middle child, Robert, one of the great conciliators, compromisers, and always in search of the middle road. I don't like things to be too black and white, boring as that might seem. To me the only immutable is death, and only then can you be certain, but then again…

  25. Death and taxes, indeed, Robert. Please see my next post, which I'm about to instal.

    It's still a tad on the boring middle road, but with due reference to death, the great leveler.

    Thanks, Robert.

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