Because I lost the green notebook in which I kept the thoughts of my adolescent self, I do not have a record of my early written words. Only a memory of sitting in the back of the chapel at the convent school where I spent six years from the time I was twelve until I turned eighteen and on those pages I journaled my interiority.
Those passions of a young and gawky fifteen-year-old who fell in love with a teacher. One who wore a habit of black after taking her vows to become a Faithful Companion of Jesus, when she was still a young woman, not much older than I was then.
I did not long to touch her or be touched by her, I longed only to be near her, to be in her presence, to hear her voice, to receive her words written on slips of paper which she passed onto me after I had sent my first messages to her during the holidays when I could not see her at school.
This then was my first foray into letter writing. My first attempt to put my hand into that of another and share my innermost thoughts in the hope of a warm response.
The nun wrote back letters and over time they held greater weight. They came to feel as if she had me in her mind but when my younger sister a year behind me at school began to fall in love with my favourite teacher, too, something began to sour. By the time I left the school with its green garden beds and high fences to keep out the sooty factories of Richmond and hide the smells from the brewery further up the Yarra River and close to the city, I had eased my way out of this love.
It is best to ease your way out of love. Best to let the glowing warmth in your heart, the hope and desire to be with another, fade away into a trickle of affection that barely lights your sky at night, rather than hold fast to the deep pain of lost love.
Or so it was for me with this teacher, nun, young woman who first taught me desire beyond the passions I once felt for my mother.
I am wary of the word love, of the depth of its charge. I use it freely to mark an affection for others whom I hold close, but the passions I once felt as a child and adolescent, as a young woman. When I feel for a young moon-faced man who tended to heaviness and walked with an easy restlessness, as if those two opposites could co-exist. Those loves have bypassed me. Filtered down to something gentler, more centred on the ground of the familial and of friendship.
Loretta Smith was three years older than me but despite the disparity in our ages she became my friend. She lived with her huge family in a ramshackle house at the end of our street and held the distinction of being in the girl guides. She urged me to join and after much pleading my mother relented. My mother did not object to her daughter joining such a movement given various of my brothers had taken to the boy scouts over the years, but she baulked at the cost of the unform. Still I had to have it.
There were no hand-me-downs available from my older sister. who took no interest in the guides. No one among my mother’s extended family who could hand over the clothes their daughters had outgrown.
I was the first girl in my family to join the guides. Once a week after dinner I walked with Loretta who collected me from my front door. Down the hill on Canterbury Road and through Shierlaw Avenue to the scout hall, a rectangular weatherboard box with large double front doors on top of which the words: Canterbury Scouts and the Fleur de Lys.
My skirt and blouse were crisp with their newness, something I had not known before. In my family new clothes belonged only to firstborns. And the pleasure I felt was soon offset by a chafing sense of guilt when I remembered my mother’s unease in the Girl Guide shop in the city when she looked at the price tags she needed in order to be properly fitted out. She’d been a cub mistress herself in her youth and maybe hankered vicariously to relive those days.
A year later when my younger sister wanted to join me and Loretta the thought of buying another such uniform again for me as my sister could take over my, by then, too small uniform, was too much for my mother. And too much for me.
What is it with younger siblings admiring us so much they want to do exactly as we do and then we’re left with a sense that our achievements are taken from us, or so it was for me. My favourite nun, my girl guides and later still a boyfriend.
But I did not factor in the way my sister paved the way for me with some of her friends. That because we were only one year apart at school, because we were thrown in together in our family as the little girls, we spent hours of time together and formed the closest bond imaginable.
Why do these bonds fray? Why do these loves go cold? Why not endure the test of time?