Most dreams are forgotten somewhere in those few hours after we wake up, but then there are those dreams which you can still remember years later.
I have dreams that I dreamed as early as 5 years old which I can still remember, but the memory of a dream is different to the memory of something that really happened in your waking world. With the memory of a dream, there are parts that you remember with crystal clarity, and then other parts that are scattered and foggy.
Dream recall can often seem like watching a movie in which odd parts have been edited out, so you may find yourself in a field in one moment, and then all of a sudden you are in that house you used to live in when you were 10 years old and there is no bridge in your memory to connect the field to that house. It chops and changes and sometimes makes no sense at all…
I spent 5 days in Perth and the memory of it is not like that of a real life event, but rather, I remember it as one remembers a dream.
There are parts which I remember with such perfect accuracy that if I close my eyes I can feel the breeze on my face again, or smell the cooking of that meal again or feel his fingers weave into mine again.
I can see Ben Merito perched on that stool with the guitar in his hands and that beautiful voice passing by his lips on that Thursday night at the Paddington Ale House, and James is sitting beside me, our legs are touching…he is wearing light blue jeans…he is smiling…I am drinking lemonade and the girl who served me has added a slice of lemon and it keeps touching my lips while I drink…I am meeting James’s friends, one, a girl who is a hairdresser and has to work in the morning, the other a woman with curly hair who is sleeping with his room mate….
I remember the day James took me into the city and held my hand while he showed me around Perth. There were cobbled streets and big, old churches with grand steeples and the I could feel my back burning in the hot sun because I had no sunscreen on. We find a candy store where we buy rocky road and a candy necklace and a candy watch, which I refuse to eat and took home as a sweet souvenir and kept for weeks until the candy melted one hot summers day and got all over the things in my drawer.
There was the moment where we were relaxing at his place and triple J radio is playing and a man is singing about missing his girl. ‘Ohhhhh Ohhhhh, i’ve been missing you all these months. Ohhhhh, ohhhhh’ and James is walking from the kitchen to where I am on the couch and he turns to the radio and says ‘Months? Try 9 years mannnn!’ And this makes me smile a lot, even though its a sad thing.
Other parts are foggy. If I close my eyes I can’t feel the moments anymore. Did that conversation happen at the beach that day?
No, it was in the car after dinner… was it?
The time I cried to him, was it the first night we spent together? Or was it the night before I flew away again?
The bridge between one clear memory and the next is wearing with time and so as I tell the rest of this story, it may seem broken, but this is only because my memory is broken and I dare not write a single letter of this story which I am not sure of. And so, with that, the rest of this story begins…
We get back to his house which he shares with another kiwi who wears a mustache and if you didn’t know his name and you had to guess, you would say he looked like a ‘Hamish’ and you would think that perhaps he is a caretaker, or that he likes plants. James introduces me to his chickens and shows me the spider which lives in the kitchen and has a name. I notice that he has taken my luggage out of the car and bought it inside, so I go and put it back in the car again. After looking around outside, I come in to see my luggage sitting right back in the living room again. I guess i’m staying then. There was no mention of the 9 years we had lost, we were just content on being found and with that we fell back into step with one another and it was as if there were no years lost at all, but that we had been together the whole time. I say I am tired and he points me to his room and sleep finds me within seconds and then everything is black.
Something moves beside me. Something brushes against my little finger. Something steals me from sleep and then I am awake.
He is beside me and the only part of him touching me is the outside of his little finger which is resting against the outside of my little finger and I cant open my eyes, I suddenly can’t breathe. Don’t move.
2 years after I had left him behind in Nelson that day, I had begun having these strange dreams. They only came once or twice a year but it was always the same dream and I know it off by heart. I am walking along a road and it is either the very end of the day, or the very beginning because the light is soft and the colour of apple juice and I can hear the gravel crunching under my feet as I take a step, and then another and then another. Even now as I am writing I can hear it, those small rocks moving under the soles of my shoes….
Suddenly I am aware that someone is walking beside me and I don’t have to turn my head, I know its him. We walk and walk until we reach a small hill covered in green grass and overshadowed by a large tree, the leaves of which hang down like a curtain.
That is where we sit, in the cool of the shade and nothing is said. Not for a long time.
We both stare straight ahead and I don’t know what is going on in his mind, but for me I know I feel at peace because he is there. I am breathing again, I am happy….I am safe.
Finally he speaks “Are you okay Vanessa?” And I say “I’ll be okay James. I’ll be Okay”
And then I wake up.
My bottom lip begins to tremble. Do you have a blunt knife? Because you could cut the tension in the air with it. His finger. My finger. Shhhhhh
Without thinking about it or making any informed choice about it, I open my eyes, turn, and throw my arms around his body and rest my head on his chest. Home sweet home.
This is where it gets foggy. I know we lay there for a few hours. I know that at one point the flatmate with the mustache popped his head in the door and said hello, and then there is more blur until the crystal clear comes back and he is lying on my stomach and the silence is broken with a question.
Vanessa, why did your marriage fall apart?
I had to think about this.
Only a handful of people in my life know why the marriage actually fell apart and I have never spoken of it publicly.
It is my little secret.
But I decided to just be honest with him, and in this moment I choose to be honest with you too.
Deep breaths Vanessa…
It didn’t fall apart because we just couldn’t make it work. It wasn’t because our business fell apart after his accident. It wasn’t because we were too young when we married…..
“It was an abusive marriage James…It was abusive”
This is the part I remember clearly, because it hurts.
It hurt then, and it still hurts now, because it hurt him.
He responds to what I have just said by closing he eyes and sort of…growling.
I feel ashamed.
How can I look him in the eye knowing that I chose not to return to him after the surgery, after I chose not to return after my recovery?
James, who had never made me cry, who had only ever been kind, who made me smile every day.
But I didn’t return to him because I had met Anthony, who gave me his last name in exchange for 8 years of my life and two sons, but who had used those years to crush me and break me. I hid what I was enduring behind those closed doors from everyone… even my closest friends. No one knew.
After he growls he clenches his fists and rearranges his face in such an anger and frustration and fury, and then grabs me, put his head into my chest and cries.
Nothing more is said for the longest time. Finally, he looks up and tells me that he has thought about me me every single day for nine years and I tell him I have too, and then I tell him about those damn dreams…
You see, I would have those dreams when things got really bad, you know, behind those closed doors with that scary person who no one knew existed.
Things were bad a lot… more often than not… but when things got really scary and I would submit to sleep only after weighing up whether to take those 30 pills with that liter of spirits in the hope of an escape, that was when I would have those dreams. Always the same dream. Always that same hill. Always that same question. “Are you okay Vanessa?”
“I’ll be Okay James…..I’ll be okay”
Then the fog comes back. My memory is failing even more now.
There is a dinner that was had, I remember that.
James, his flatmate with the mustache, and myself. We all get dressed up and go out to this place they swear by, and the food was perfect and I took too many free mints from the bowl by the cash register before we leave…
I then remember that I am actually in Perth because I have won a competition, and I need to be on an island the next day to let The living end and Gyroscope rock my heart and rock my soul while I dig my feet deep in the sand and drink freely from the open bar only afforded to the musicians themselves, and Cat and I.
Oh yes. Cat. I haven’t told you about her…
The prize was not just for one all expenses paid trip to watch rock and roll on an island in Western Australia…. but for two. And so I sat back and thought ‘I need to take someone who I am going to have a heck-load of fun with, so who is the craziest, most insane person I know?…..”
….Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Cat.
I knew that if I took Cat to W.A, that I would have one hell of a time, and I wasn’t wrong.
James and I pick her up from the airport and before we know it we are on that boat headed for Rottnest Island.
When Cat and I arrived on Rottnest it was like we had arrived in a tropical Paradise.
There were no clouds in the sky. Not even one. The temperature was that high that even the wind that blew in off the sea had a warmth to it.
We stepped off the boat and before we could even take in the beauty of this paradise we had cameras pointing in our face and questions being thrown toward us and so Cat and I talked about the dancing in the sand we planned on doing and the chaos in the crowd we planned on enduring and then excused ourselves and headed toward the bar where we stocked up on ‘refreshments’ and enjoyed them while exploring the sand with our toes.
As the sun began to lose her strength and the nighttime took his turn, the empty waters surrounding this lost island began to fill.
I recall that Cat and I were lying on towels near the high tide mark enjoying the sounds of the rock and roll bouncing off the sun and the blue and the water and the sand. But then the boats came.
Not one, or two, or three or four. But many.
Waves suddenly began crashing upon the shoreline and it was the noise of the breaking of the waves that caused Cat and I to open our eyes and look out to sea and see them coming. So many boats.
Before long the clear, shallow waters were occupied with small boats, big boats, white boats, tin boats. All from the mainland. All carrying people who just wanted to party. And party they did. Dancing on the boats, dancing in the water, dancing to the music that was being played only meters from them. It looked like the scene from a music video.
We afforded more time to the camera crew, before fetching more alcohol and spending some time with The Living End backstage. Cat and I had no questions for the band members, we just shared some drinks, cracked some jokes and told them to have a great time on stage and we left them to it. My next memory is of Cat and I pushing our way to the very front of the stage where we, for lack of any other words, went totally insane.
The event organisers would later tell us that one minute we were standing before them in an interview, and the next we were missing, then one of them spots us on the shoulders of somebody or another, being thrown about and cheering so loud that our voices travelled across the whole crowd to backstage where they were watching on.
Yes, Cat was the right person to bring to W.A.
I don’t know how we didn’t notice the music stop, or the band pack up, and I don’t know how it got by us that alllll the people on the island suddenly disappeared, but at one point late in the evening, Cat and I are both standing on the deserted beach and she puts her hands on her hips and says ‘You know what….?’ and I say ‘What?’ And she says ‘All the people are gone’ And I say ‘Yeah’ and the says ‘You know what?’ and I say ‘What?’ and she says ‘I think we’ve missed the boat’
When Cat suggested we just swim back, I knew we were probably both very, very drunk and that if I didn’t come up with a plan B, then Cat would probably be quite happy to stick with plan A: Swim
Plan B came in the form of Scott Owen (Double Bassist of The Living End) who found us wandering around like lost lambs and invited us to join him and the band on their boat back to the mainland. Yes thanks Scott, that would be just peachy.
The memory of the next 2 hours involves a 25 minute boat ride with a famous rock band, a long walk through the city of Perth where Cat rides a red, plastic dog and then gets told off by the police for dancing down the middle of the street. We are then deciding we are lost and don’t know where to find our hotel, and then we are somehow in the hotel room and then blackness and my next memory is being woken up by a headache which was trying to bludgeon me to death.
The hangover wasn’t the worst thing that the bright, Sunday morning delivered to me however. No, the worst thing was the realisation that I had less than 24 hours left in Perth, and I didn’t know what to do about James…
I try to dodge the issue all morning, but when I opened a door it is waiting for me ‘What are you going to do about James Vanessa?’ when I shut the door and turned around it was standing there too. ‘What are you going to do about James Vanessa?’ At breakfast it is there again, peering over my shoulder as I eat ‘What are you going to do about James Vanessa?’
By the time Cat and I pack up our belongings, check out of our hotel, catch our bus which takes us to our train I am going so crazy from that damn question that just wouldn’t let up that I grab my phone and send him a message telling him that I can’t see him again. ‘I leave tomorrow morning’ I tell him ‘Lets not make this any harder than it has to be and just let this go now’
He doesn’t reply.
Later that day, as the sun is beginning to fall from the sky, he writes to me. He asks me out to dinner, tells me he knows of this place in the city that he wants to take me to and would I please just give us one more night. ‘Please Vanessa, Please’ And my heart changes its mind and I tell him I will go and he tells me he will pick me up soon. I fly through the house looking for something beautiful to wear. We find a black chiffon cocktail dress which I wear with black heels. I throw the curling iron through my hair, and makeup on my face and its when I am trying to put my mascara on that I realise my hands are trembling. What would you do if you knew you only had one more night with the one person you can’t forget…..
I suppose it was dawning on me that sand in the hourglass only flows one way and it was all about to run out…
I hear a knock at the door and someone opens it and he is there. I haven’t finished putting my makeup on and so I tell him i’m nearly done and he waits outside. Long after I returned to the Gold Coast my friend would tell me that when I stepped out the door and walked down the steps that he beamed. ‘He looked like the proudest man in the world when he saw you’
Knowing that this was one of the last drives we would ever take together he makes it fun for me and drifts around the corners to make me squeal. Thinking back now, I suppose this means I owe him $2….
The restaurant is Japanese. I love Japanese. James orders nearly everything on the menu and before long our table is so crowded by dishes of beautiful looking food that we barely have room for our plates. We discuss the food and how I still can’t use chopsticks and i’m hoping to get through the whole night without having to discuss the fact that this won’t ever happen again because i’m leaving him in the morning.
But James foils my plans.
James very rarely speaks in a serious manner. He is always smiling, and his conversation is always cheerful and bright, but he will sidestep a serious matter for as long as he can, so when his smile disappeared and he looked straight at me and asked me what was going to happen after I left, I was taken by surprise.
‘When I leave it will be over James.’
‘It doesn’t have to be over’
‘We live thousands of miles apart, and I am about to start a 3 year Degree and I have 2 young children.’
‘I think we can make it work’
And thats how the conversation goes. Me trying to point out all the things that will make being together impossible, and him telling me we can get around it, that we can fix it, that we will figure it out, but that I can’t just leave and end it all… not again.
After our date we go back to his house and watch a movie. He stretches out on the couch and I lie down with my head on his chest and its so warm. The movie is a good one, though I can’t remember the name. With a few minutes of the movie left to go, something breaks inside me. Was it a scene in the movie that set me off? I don’t know, but without any warning at all I suddenly sit up, curl up into a ball and just burst into tears. I can’t stop, my whole chest is heaving in and out and i’m shaking. James grabs me, puts his arms around me and just holds me and lets me cry. After my tears have run out, he picks me up and takes me to his room and lies me down on his bed. He gives me a kiss and tells me that I need to sleep and holds me until I do.
We are awake again before the sun. My luggage is loaded into the car and we take that last drive. Why can’t I remember it? Out of all the things I can’t remember, why does that last drive have to be one of them? But its foggy again. My memory fails me. The last memory I have of him is when he is standing before me and my face, which is soaked with tears, is in his hands. His hands are big and he is holding me with a firm grip and he is speaking right at me ‘Don’t get on that plane and just forget about us Vanessa, okay? Are you hearing me? Listen to me! Don’t shut me out again, don’t do it. Because we can make this work okay? Okay?’ I am nodding, and then he kisses me and then I turn around and walk towards the door and go inside without looking back.
I wish I could write a different ending to this story. I wish I could tell you that when I flew home I didn’t shut him out, that I didn’t break my promise, but I can’t. Because that is not what happened at all.
We rang each other several times but the phone calls were few and the conversations short. I had come to believe that he mustn’t of believed in us anymore because he wouldn’t say it. He is so cagey with how he feels most of the time that I was beginning to doubt everything we had shared in Perth. I thought he must have weighed it all up and decided it really was too hard after all and perhaps it is better that we just let it go.
New Years Eve. I am at a party and I meet someone. We get along, and I like him and he wants to see more of me.
But what about James….
So I write to him. ‘James, I’ve met someone, and I don’t know what to do. I haven’t heard from you in so long and I don’t know how you feel about me. If you still believe we have a chance to make it work then you have to tell me now. Please, just tell me.’
And he writes back ‘Just do what you feel is right’
I am furious. Why cant he just TALK to me for once in his life and tell me how he feels! Why does he have to be so OKAY abut everything, why didn’t he just tell me to wait for him if thats what he wanted me to do!
I went on and on and then did some crying and then just…. let it go.
We didn’t speak after that. It was over.
4 months later I get an email from him. Its long and in it are all the things he had been wanting to tell me but hadn’t been able to. He said he was sorry, that he was crushed when I had told him I had met someone, but that he didn’t know what to say about it at the time. He apologised for taking too long to tell me these things and that Perth had meant more to him than I knew. He said he still had my picture beside my bed and thought of me every day. He hoped I was happy, and then it was the end.
This year will mark 11 years since we met. Those 5 days together in Perth unfolded nearly 2 years ago.
We have not kept in contact.
James is a kind, funny, intelligent and loyal person. The memories I have of him are only good. He never did me wrong, he was a good partner and a great friend. The time we shared together when we were kids, and then all those years later in Perth is precious to me. He is precious to me.
I have cried many times while I wrote out this story, even now…. and yet I don’t regret what happened, and I am not sad about it.
This is life. I have said in the past that I don’t believe one can say that they have truly lived unless they have had one great adventure, one great grief, been heartbroken, confronted a fear, gone on one big road trip and can talk about ‘the one that got away’.
He was one of my great adventures, He took my on that great big road trip when I was only 18. He is my one that got away.
Do I still think about him? Yes, nearly every day. Do I think we are meant to be together? No. No I don’t.
I believe that things happened just the way that they were supposed to happen and just because we didn’t end up together, it doesn’t mean something went wrong. You can’t play around with what ifs. ‘Should’ve, Could’ve, Would’ve’ will drive you insane if you entertain them. Sometimes you just have to let things go and be content to live with the unspoiled memory of something beautiful that happened in your life.
I sure do miss those drives though.