I cannot find the beginning to this story. Every time I think I have found it, I realise that there was something that preceded that moment, which preceded another moment, and the further back I go, the more history seems to light up, and as I sit here, I realise that if I were to truly tell this story and give it any real justice, I would have to write a book, and a book will come, but not today, so I will have to pick the part of the story which I love the most, and make that the beginning.
And so, the part of this story that I love the most, was the night he kissed me, and that, I suppose, really was the beginning of a story that would span over 10 years, and not end in happily ever after.
He used to take me driving.
I had this thing for cars and when I got in the passengers side of a car and the person behind the wheel was someone that I not only trusted, but that was a skillful and ballsy driver I was a very delighted girl. James was not only skillful, but I trusted him behind the wheel 110%. And so he used to take me driving… okay, he used to take me for burnouts, and I would pay him $2 for every time he would.
We were friends, but I also adored him.
One night I press a $2 coin into his hand and he gives me a smile and walks out of our house. He starts the car and waits for me to take my place in the passenger’s side. He kept his end of the bargain and probably ruined at least 2 tires worth of tread while he swung me this way and that over tarmac and I was flying all over that front seat with a grin across my face that I just couldn’t wipe away. Later, as he parked the car, I am sure I was still hollering with the joy of it all, but he gets out and leaves me alone in the car while the engine tick, tick, ticks away, as it steams and creaks and cools. I get out of the car and walk towards my front porch and he is there.
As I walked up to him, he didn’t step aside to let me pass, he just waited for me to get close enough and when I had come at an arms length he put his arms out, took me in and kissed me.
We never had to say the words, and I don’t remember a time it became ‘official’ but we belonged to each other after that. Only 17.
I can’t remember really arguing with James. We had been friends first, and I think we remained friends first and foremost, and so we ‘hung out’ a lot. We would go driving, or get drunk, or talk, or not say anything at all. I wasn’t infatuated with him. I wasn’t giddy, I simply loved him for who he was, and it wasn’t complicated. It just was.
I was 17. Just turned and renting a big house in my home town in New Zealand with one other girl, Evie, and half a dozen guys. While there were only 3 or 4 of us that paid the rent, the number of actual residents was anyone’s guess. Most mornings we would wake up to find the floor carpeted with human bodies. Alive? Who knew after some of the nights that were had inside those 4 walls. But if they weren’t gone by noon we simply adopted them as a new housemate and we were happy enough.
The days spent there are a blur. I often refer to that place as a circus filled with circus animals and circus freaks. After we had put enough human sized holes in the wall to threaten the stability of the structure itself we all moved to an ‘apartment’ in the city center. More chaos ensued, the likes of which you couldn’t make up if you wanted to. We were young, stupid and having the time of our life.
Things with James continued easily enough. Any arguments we did have were petty and usually consisted of me just standing in front of him tapping my foot and pointing at some chair he had lynched up into the ceiling or at the burn out marks on the sidewalk below the apartment, but he didn’t care about my grumpy moods, he would just say ‘ahh! Pipe down woman!’ and grin and laugh until I had no choice but to drop my case, shake my head, and try not to smile.
He would have done nearly anything for me though. One night, after dropping a friend of ours off across town I told him to take off all his clothes and drive back through town naked. He didn’t bat an eyelid. ‘What Baby wants, Baby gets’
He drove through town and up ahead was a police car, so I told him to overtake it. He overtook the police car and to my delight, we were pulled over. The police officer didn’t know what to make of James, staring into the light of his big torch, completely naked. So he just shrugged his shoulders and told us to get the hell home. That was how things were between us. Just two kids really. Young? Yes. Stupid? Most of the time, yes. But having a lot of fun in one another’s company? Yes. Absolutely yes.
One day we were at the beach with Evie and Jordan and after they had drifted off into the dunes somewhere, James pulled me aside. I can still remember how my stomach turned when he told me that his parents were Moving to Nelson, half way across the country and he would be going with them.
I didn’t understand. I was upset. I felt lost.
After several weeks of turning the predicament over and over, inside out and upside down, we decided the only thing to do was for me to go with him, so a few days after my 18th birthday, James and I loaded up his Holden Vacationer and we headed south. The trip took up several more days than it should have. We blew up the engine of the car, then James got so drunk in Wellington one night, we missed the ferry across to the South Island the next morning, but when we made it we realized that Nelson was paradise found. I can remember that the mornings were so cold that a misty fog trailed any words you spoke. The days were fresh and crisp and clear, and the full sun would divide the blues of sky and throw light upon the tall, proud mountains that hedged us in and they wore hats of pure white, blinding snow.
But before we could even explore this new place together, I got the phone call.
The orthodontist who had been in charge of my care was telling me that my surgery had been booked, and I had less than a week to make it to Auckland city. The surgery was going to be the conclusion to the long road of braces and pulled teeth and careful planning which would hopefully leave me with a beautiful, straight smile. They were going to break my jaw, realign the bones and then reposition my chin. I would have to spend over a week in hospital with a mouth wired shut, being fed through tubes and straws, and after going home to my mother it would be months before I would achieve full recovery. We didn’t know it at the time, but that phone call would come to mean that my time with James was over.
At the airport we tip toed around the elephant in the room, making small talk. James kept trying to say things to make me laugh, or at least smile, or at least blow away the shroud of deep grief that was hanging over my head. My flight was called and we turned to hug and we both lost all composure.
Maybe we knew it was over? Maybe we had connected the dots in our own mind and just didn’t know how to bring it up? Maybe that was why we had seemed to spend the days leading up to my departure doing things together that would burn into our memories, like how we went to Rabbit Island with James’s father and found a huge pole so long and so thick that I couldn’t wrap my arms around it and then spent the afternoon digging a hole and then trying to maneuver this monstrous pole down into it so it stood up straight. We each had a theory on how to do it, and after hours we finally succeeded, and then James and I carved our name into the side of it. I remember every moment of that day as if it happened yesterday.
Yes. We knew those were our last days.
I didn’t know how to release my arms from the vice grip I had around him. I could hear the engine from the plane starting up and a final call was given. For what would be the first and only time I would ever say it, I told him I loved him, turned, and walked away.
I held myself together during the whole flight, but when I landed in Auckland and saw my Aunt who was waiting to collect me, I fell apart and spent the next 4 days at her house so heartbroken and so devastated that the only time I stopped crying was when I slept. She had never seen me like that and urged me to see a doctor. I refused.
There was nothing anyone could have said or prescribed that would make this any less painful.
Those days are a blur to me now. I can remember suddenly being in a hospital, wearing a light blue gown and waiting in a bed in a room with a single window which had no view. I remember being taken from that room and then everything is black and then suddenly an extreme pain is shooting through my mind and my brain and my eyes and my jaw but I had no voice because my mouth was held closed and I felt that in the space of one week I had gone from being happy in one of the most beautiful places in the whole world with someone who made me smile every day, to being there in a city I still hate to this day, in agony and feeling lost and hopeless and pathetic and so I sunk into a deep mood of self pity and refused to move from it.
One morning a nurse comes in with a grin on her face and a piece of paper in her hand. She hands me the paper, giggles, and then walks away. ‘What the hell….’ It was a fax and it was from James.
There were pictures. One was of a person with a bird face and beside the picture he asks me ‘Is your beak sore?’ There are other pictures too, ones too rude for this little Baptist girl to explain, but they were enough to make all the nurses at the nurses station erupt in laughter, and have me teased until my discharge.
I did eventually recover from the surgery, but I did not return to Nelson. I had decided to change my life, and had found a church, and then found my husband and then had my first son and then we moved away and whether it was right or not, or made sense or not or hurt my heart every day or not, the story of James and I concluded suddenly and was signed off with a ‘The end’
And yet, it was not the end.
In October 2010, I am living in the Gold Coast and was approaching the one-year anniversary of the day I left my ex-husband.
What happens at this point in my life had to have been orchestrated by someone, or something, because things like this don’t just happen, they are made to happen. The way it all begins is I find out about this competition. The prize? An all expenses paid trip to Perth, WA to watch the Living end on Rottnest Island.
James lives in Perth.
It had been 9 years since we had seen each other, and we had not maintained contact but I had thought of him every day and after all this time, was still missing him. I knew that if I won this competition I would have the opportunity I had always hoped I would get… To see James one more time.
When the email came notifying me that I had won, I wasn’t even surprised. I knew before I even entered that I would win it.
I emailed James.
Our first contact since we were kids. Though I had done everything in my power to win that competition just so I could see his face again, I was very coy in my email ‘Just letting you know I will be in Perth in November if you want to catch up for a beer’ He writes back ‘Do you need someone to pick you up from the airport?’
Yes, yes I do.
Time speeds up, and before I can prepare myself, I find that I am waiting in arrivals at Perth airport. I had told him my flight was due to arrive ½ an hour later than it actually did so that I would have time to organize myself in the bathroom before we met. I had not slept the night before, had just spent too many hours on a plane, and I didn’t want the first time he saw me to be when I had bloodshot eyes, ragged hair and wearing my flying pants.
After tidying myself up in the bathrooms, I found a café and waited.
I don’t know how this is possible, but I felt him enter the airport and begin to approach me before I even saw him. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end and my heart rate went through the roof and my hands began to shake. I know he’s close.
I turned in my chair and there he is, walking towards me.
Every stern word I had lectured myself with in the weeks leading up to this moment about being composed drop to the floor and scatter around my feet. I wanted to grab him and shout in his face ‘Do you know that I have thought about you every day for 9 years and I’ve missed you and I’m sorry okay! I’m sorry! But I am so thankful you came and I miss you, I miss you, I miss you’ But I am prevented from such madness when he simply smiles and hugs me. I say ‘Hello’ and he says ‘Hello’ and we turn together towards the doors and I can clearly remember taking a deep breath and closing my eyes and feeling at home again.
We load my luggage into the boot of his car, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Vacationer we drove down through New Zealand to Nelson when we were still teenagers. He starts the car, turns on the radio, tells me to put your seatbelt on please, and begins to drive.
After we get on the open road, I wind my window down, and he winds down his and the music is playing so we stop talking and he just drives and drives and drives. He takes a coastal road and there are no clouds in the sky and its warm and the breeze sprints in through the windows and makes our hair dance around our face and I was 18 again, back in the passengers side while the person I adored took me for a drive.
The music breaks the silence, which wouldn’t have been awkward anyway and the miles pass beneath the car and the ocean speeds past on our left and after the longest time he speaks ‘I am really glad you’re here’ and I smile and nod ‘I know James, so am I’
To be continued…
NOTE: All the names of the people that appear in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.