Heaven is old friends
My cup is full: Four perfect sunny winter days in a row, spent at our local Byron Bay writers Fest, then on a long walk by the sea. All this with three of my oldest women friends, visiting from Victoria.
Deb and I calculated that it was almost forty years ago we met at a party in first year university, a very posh party with marquees set up on a tennis court and a Rolls Royce in an air conditioned garage. We two were the only barefooted hippy girls among the preppy bottle blondes. Neither of us can remember the names or faces of our dates. No idea whose party it was.
I met Laura not long after this, also through university, at a Women's Lib Consciousness Raising Group. Seems so quaint now, felt so bold at the time. We sat around in a circle each week earnestly discussing ...what? I can’t remember. I think we read Germaine Greer and Kate Millet. Nowadays she's Dr Laura, professor of anthropology.
My father, already dead by the era of our CR group, used to say that it was nice for a woman to be intelligent - but a smart girl should always pretend to be just a bit dumber than she really was, and never quite as smart as the man she was with. Naturally, this caused eighteen year old me to embrace feminism.
The three of us - Deb, Laura and I - travelled through Asia for several months over the uni summer break of 1976. Not entirely harmoniously. In fact half way through our drug-addled trip we all went in different directions. Laura was cross with me for not being a good enough feminist: I was still shaving my legs and eyeing off boys. Debbie was in a bit of a dream and barely able to see because she’d broken her glasses almost as soon as we got off the plane in Denpasar. I was irritable with her for trailing along while we did the hard slog with maps and train timetables and ‘South East Asia On A Shoestring’
Thirty five years later it’s all fodder for much hilarity as we recall getting way too stoned one night in Sumatra, and the perilously overloaded boat to the island, and how the local kids running our bamboo-hut accommodation brazenly stole our dope and our thongs and our clothes off the washing line. We gave them stern lectures (‘Stealing is wrong’ etc.) Unrepentant, they continued to wear our thongs and tee shirts.
We wallow in nostalgia. ‘I was terribly unhappy then’, reflects L. Her parents had just divorced and the girls she was sharing a house with, she tells me, were all into self harming, cutting themselves. All these years later, I am still shocked. Those nice brainy young women, who I was rather in awe of.
Minutes later we are back in the now, sitting in the winter sunshine between writers fest sessions, showing eachother photos on our iPhones, of children and grandchildren and agreeing that Alex Miller is a bit of a bore and Michael Kirby is adorable.
Marriages have been and gone, hearts broken and healed, children grown, careers had, or not. So much that once felt so burning, so intense, so painful is now just an another story about the past. The abusive husband ( “God, he hated you two. Can I thank you right now for being there for me?”), the depressed and and obsessive husband, the unfaithful lover ( "Oh alright, I was just as bad as him, young and silly" ). All water under the bridge.
Janet and I I met a year or two later than the other two. We were at teachers’ college together, training in media studies - film and photography. We both had affairs with our lecturers. She married hers, but it didn’t work out long term and the night she finally left him she turned up on my doorstep with a suitcase.
Ten years later our roles were reversed - I was devastated after my big relationship bust up and she offered me refuge. Both times we ended up finding ourselves rather domestically compatible, chatting and laughing over the washing up.
In all these friendships there have been fractures, interruptions at times for several years. Because I just couldn’t stand the bloke she was with, or how many drugs she was taking, or how self-important she’s gotten. But all that is just dusty old history now too.
Over dinner we all say ‘Should I?’ before indulging in one glass of wine. We congratulate eachother on how great we look in our late fifties. We are happy for eachother, things have turned out well in many ways. We are all with well-loved men, have nice children.
How extraordinarily familiar these dear women are to me. How intimately I know them. Their body language, the way Deb shrugs her shoulders, and Laura tilts her chin and Janet waves her hand around. As well as their youthful foolishnesses, I know their handwriting and their laughter and the shapes of their bodies, as they know mine.
We give eachother back fragments of memories: They knew my Mother, who’s been dead twenty years now. Laura reminds me of the day we three bought our tickets for that trip, how my mother cracked a bottle of champagne with us in the courtyard of her art gallery down in Johnston street. Her generosity, and the way she treated us as adults. Yes.
Janet drove me to the airport before dawn, when I got the call that Mum was dieing.
Sitting up on at the lookout on a perfect Byron Bay day, watching the whales cavorting in delicious blue-ness, Laura ( always known for her directness) says “I suppose we will be at eachothers funerals one day” We all tut-tut and say she is morbid. But really, what I hear her saying is, “ Isn’t it great to share the journey of life with old companions?”