As I drove towards the place I’d fled, with a busted-up heart, some 12 years before, I wondered what I’d find there, and what I’d feel. And, even after all these years, I wondered whether I’d see him again.
I returned to the place that was the start of everything career-wise for me, but also the scene of my greatest heartbreak last weekend. I’d passed through once or twice for work in the past decade or so but generally kept my head down and scurried away before I even knew I was there.
This time, however, it was time to catch up with old friends to spin some yarns about the days when we were fresh-faced, uber-left journalists, who thought we’d change the world – one regional town at a time.
Times sure have changed since then, but mostly in our profession. We joked that night about having to resort to making dozens of phone calls “back in the day” just to find sources for our stories because, you know, we had no internet. Indeed, the old-school electoral roll was our best friend.
We grumbled about how “easy” journalism has become (if you’re lucky enough to have a job, that is) when the world, and story leads, are literally at your fingertips. In “the old days” we said in unison, we had to hunt down our news because stories weren’t handed to us on a digital plate via press releases and Twitter, which for some unbelievable reason has become a bona fide media resource.
And so we went on. It was cathartic to reminisce and remember the days when life wasn’t so heavy and we believed, body and soul, in what we were doing. How the years unfortunately wash away such earnestness. I wish it wasn’t so.
Not only are we older – and let’s admit it, a little fatter – but even the two-hour drive there was much altered in my perception. It wasn’t as if the roads had been improved – in fact, as I drove, I passed each landmark with a familiarity that genuinely surprised me. But unlike in the early 2000s, today I have a nice car, so the drive was more comfortable, you know with air-con, and not once did I worry about conking out on the side of the road with no mobile coverage.
I also had access to thousands of songs on my iPhone versus the three cassettes I had back then – tapes which I played on high rotation during my thousands of kilometres on those lonely country roads. They were P!nk’s 2003 Try This, John Butler Trio’s 2001 Three and, oddly, The Greatest Hits of Neil Diamond – I still know every word to every one of those songs, especially his duet with Barbra Streisand, the etheral You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore.
Yet, last weekend, as I drove towards my destination, the memories that came flooding back were of the dozens of times I’d completed that journey during an era when I’d regularly escape back to the city searching for my sanity.
I remembered fleeing from that place when my relationship with a man – who sang to me (he was a musician) and told me he loved me but then pushed me away, and then repeated the process many times… and I let him – became too much for this huckleberry to bear. It wasn’t until many years later that I understood why he did that – and, unbeknownst to him, forgave him.
Back in those days, mum was a hands-on woman, so one particularly dark day when I arrived back on her door-step with tears in my eyes and fractures in my heart, she put on the CD of Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman and sang and danced with me around the kitchen. She then, randomly, took me to a mosaic class where I smashed up bits of glass (perhaps with a little too much gusto), which ultimately became a very ugly “decorative” plate that thankfully has been lost to this world forever. She also told me that sometimes when we fall in love it makes us a little crazy. These things, I now know, saved me.
And yet there I was, all these years later, all grown up, successful and independent, hoping to see him – if the truth be told (and it is) – which freaked me out since I have as much interest in dating as I do in quantum mechanics. After the breakdown of our relationship, I limped on in that town for about six months, tried to love someone else and failed, all the while he was regularly (and anonymously to everyone but him) the fodder for my newspaper column. My “Mr Big” I suppose you could say. Then I split and tried not to look back.
We never did bump into him that night but a few days later I found myself for the first time (guiltily) looking him up on Facebook. There he was, still looking the same. Still taking my breath away, which was an epiphany I must admit. He’s a single dad with two kids these days, still sings and nobly works in disability. And it like looks life has thrown him a few curve balls, too – such is the way of things if we live long enough to bear witness to it.
And so I spent about five minutes “spying” on him, contemplated sending him a message (for what purpose I wondered?) but thankfully thought better of it. He looks happy and healthy and I know I am too. I realised I have no desire to fuck up my hard-fought serenity, even though my heart still soared like a trebuchet at the sight of him. To partly quote P!nk I’ve had enough bloody trouble in my town, even if people can and do change. So I closed his profile and, possibly, finally relegated that particular story to my past.