The boy’s name was Kevin. I met him at a party where they served beer and you brought your own spirits, to mix with lemonade if so inclined. Where almost everyone, although past the age of entry into adulthood, could be mistaken for a child. Kevin more so with his fresh face, his blue eyes and clean shining hair. A boy/man who left me feeling like a sophisticated woman of the world, even though I was barely past twenty-two.
Kevin lived in Balwyn with his mother and father. The youngest of a tribe of siblings, all of whom had left home by the time I walked into his life. I was not with him for long, but long enough to spend several nights alone in the single bed of a spare room attached to the back of his parent’s house, where his mother ushered me that first night Kevin asked her if I might stay over following another late-night party.
She had no idea what Kevin and I did in the flat I shared with a younger sister several suburbs away, where we had no parental supervision. No one keeping an eye out for what Kevin’s mother considered unacceptable behaviour in a couple not yet married.
Kevin knew cars. He was in training to be an electrician but also knew everything anyone needed to know about the workings of machinery, of pistons and gears, of crankshafts and motors. One early morning after I had kissed him goodbye – unbeknown to his mother, Kevin had stayed at my place overnight – I watched him stride downstairs to the car he used as a work utility, even though it lacked all the necessary accoutrements of a real electrician’s car. Kevin was still apprenticed to a man who took responsibility for his learning and mistakes. After Kevin left, I decided it was time to take responsibility for my own life and drive my own car to work, instead of taking the train as I had done since I began my new job in Glen Waverly several months earlier.
By then I had been licensed to drive for months but only took my car out from absolute necessity. Without a driving instructor at my side, the trip in my car terrified me. I knew how to operate this lump of machinery – I had spent two years learning – but there was something about the process of stopping, of coming down the gears to a neat and even full stop that evaded me. I preferred to reduce my stops to a minimum to keep the car moseying along, if possible.
A big mistake this morning when I turned to drive under the bridge on Dandenong Road only to encounter a coca cola truck that had stalled. I was travelling in second gear. A good thing. The truck driver barely noticed the impact, but the back corner of his truck took out my left head light and left a gash in the side of my VW. My little beetle looked like a person who had been punched in the face by some thug with evil intent.
The car was still road worthy, enough to get to work, but I needed to leave early before night fall as I had no proper headlights left and was in terror of being stopped by police with an unroadworthy car.
I was unroadworthy. I was ignorant of the needs of cars and the people who drove them despite now holding a full and proper licence to drive.
‘Your car needs a service,’ Kevin told me the following Saturday when he came to examine the damage.
‘People service their cars,’ Kevin told me, patient despite what must have been his surprise. Or was it my surprise? As far as I knew, cars just ran on and on. They needed petrol to run. This much I recognised, and I filled my tank whenever the petrol gauge pointed to empty, but the idea that a car should need any other attention, that there were things under the bonnet needing to be changed, like oil and water, came as shock.
‘I can repair the headlight and the dint,’ Kevin said, ‘in my dad’s garage. But you’ll need to book it in for a proper service. At least this once.’
And so, it was I entered a different realm of responsibility and as much as I continued to see Kevin as an innocent when it came to matters of the body, I valued his boy-like, at least to me in those pre-feminist days, his boy-like love of machines. He kept my engine running, until one day it was time for a change, and I said goodbye to Kevin, as kindly as I could, with as little bloodshed as possible. We could still be friends.
So much so Kevin came to my wedding two years later. He bought me a gift of Waterford wine glasses. When I opened the box in which the glasses nestled, long elegant cut crystal with tapered stems, well after the wedding was over and the guests had left, two of them were broken. Great chunks cracked out of each goblet. They me reminded me of the state of my car behind the coca cola truck.
I did not have the heart to tell Kevin about the breakage, nor did I see him again. Strangely the two glasses that remained intact are still in my possession. I took them wrapped in wads of newspaper whenever we moved house and put them high in a cupboard. Hidden.
The other day, spring cleaning, my daughter came across them. ‘What about these, she said, in admiration.
They were as new as when they first arrived in my possession, snuggled alongside their broken siblings. Like quads in some hapless woman’s womb. Too much to carry.
‘Useless things,’ I said. ‘Not dishwasher proof.’
‘I’ll have them,’ my daughter said. ‘When I leave home.’ And I was pleased to think the glasses might begin some sort of life, albeit brief. They’re the type that will not live long in use. Not like my VW that went on for another five years in my possession. I even drove it as far as Canberra and back before I sold it to a friend for $200.00.
My husband was relieved when it was gone.
‘A two-horse engine. It drives like a tractor,’ he said. ‘What a mistake.’ But it was my mistake and one of those memories I now look upon in awe. The way we look back on events in our lives and wonder how we survived them, given our complete ignorance at the time.