The Kryptonite that weakened Superman wasn’t a double edged sword. It couldn’t strengthen and weaken at the same time. In 1986 I fell under the spell of something capable of both. It will stay with me for the rest of my life. It is addictive and soul destroying….it is my drug.
It was a blind date dressed up as a dinner party. I’d been filled in on all his vital statistics. The matchmaker called me to the window to see him arriving. Down below his vintage Bentley had just pulled up. I returned to the party to blend in and look casual. Through the crowd I saw him. Charming, well spoken, deep voice and laughter that blended sophisticated confidence with the roguishness of one of the boys. He knew he was on stage. He wore a fine suit and carried red roses for the hostess.
I was twenty one. Just bought my first car. He was thirty seven, already a man of the world. Wealthy, big business. Giddy from champagne and despite competition from another female single, I held my ground. I questioned him about his car, naively pointing out my pride and joy, a crappy second hand Toyota Celica.
“Would you like to see my car?” he whispered in my ear as the crowd began thinning.
On the street he suggested I move my car up to the main road. Whichever way he might have played the game, fate stepped in. My car had a flat battery. He tried to jump start it but in the end the only thing he had managed to do was jump start my heart. He drove me home along that long dark bushy road that was to become a familiar path. Thirty years later that road was not the only thing that separated us. I chatted away confidently while he listened. I told him I loved to write and he looked away from the road to see if I was serious. I never forgot that look. As if he had noticed me for the first time. That was the moment that connected us.
Two days later he called me at work. “Would you like to come to the beach and have some dinner afterwards?”
We walked the entire length of Palm Beach. At twilight he held my face and kissed me.
“That’s just something I wanted to do the other night.” He ran into the surf with me following where we stood in the breakers kissing.
A week later…..”Would you like to come for dinner with some friends of mine?”
That night I had something else on so I declined. I never had another invitation to meet his friends again but a love affair had begun. A pattern of phone calls from him…..once a week….maybe two. Sometimes a month would go by.
Always wanting to look my best, I would choose an outfit in advance and have it hanging from the curtain rail in my bedroom…just in case he called and asked me out at the last minute. Which was always the case.
“Hello…..” his smooth deep voice would breathe through the phone.
“Oh hi!” I’d answer flippantly.
“Would you like dinner my dear?”
“Dinner….now that would be nice.”
“I’ll be leaving the office around five….what if you meet me at my place around….six thirty?”
“That would be lovely …..I’ll see you then.”
I would then proceed to go into a flurry of showering and beautifying before I left the house. I’d drive the half hour journey with my teased and sprayed eighties hair and shoulder pads, playing Carol Kings “It’s too late baby” loudly. Checking my face umpteen dozen times in the rear view mirror and mentally rehearsing the opening lines I might try on him. The lines that might open the way to finding out more about this mystery man I loved, but hardly knew. Most times he would meet me at the door either dressed in a suit or wrapped in a towel. I would protest weakly as he led me to the lounge room or the bedroom and inevitably dinner would be delayed until later. The pattern continued for years. He offered no commitment so I drifted into other relationships.
One night I had a phone call from the lady who had introduced us.
“He’s very sick dear. Meningitis. He’s a sick man.” I thanked her politely, withholding my emotions. He wasn’t mine….he never was. Something I didn’t understand. The feeling we were perfect. Fitted together even though we were poles apart. I wished I could break through. At times I did…. briefly. In his arms, music notes drifting up the white hallway, circling us. Hypnotising, seductive. Cocooned in each others embrace. I saw it in his eyes. Fleetingly. I’m sure he felt it also, before he pushed it away like he always did. The only way he knew how. Risky behaviour, to love someone.
Now he was desperately sick. With all my heart I loved him. Couldn’t be by his side. The possibility of the world without him in it….unbearable. I prayed without ceasing. Until my swollen eyes sealed up for sleep. A steady flow of grief flowed down my face into tightly squeezed tissues. Others, taken by my pain, looked on speechless. My father offered to drive me to the hospital, if only to hand deliver my message of healing to some stranger at reception. To sit somewhere close to him, felt right and comforting.
“Please God, make him better. Even if he is never in my life again….please make him better.” He resumed his life and we continued our casual affair. I met others who offered some commitment. Some form was better than none. He was always on the periphery. Standing safe. I wished he would step in…..neither of us willing to sever the unacknowledged tie.
Two live- in relationships dissolved and I wearily came to the conclusion that people simply came and went. Shared intimate details. Knew my family, my past and present…my hopes and dreams. When it was over, they carried secrets away, scattered them to the wind. Discarded and forgotten, on their way to another life. Without me.
Nobody stayed forever. I came to believe I wasn’t good enough for anyone to want to stay. Throughout, I drifted back to him. To the periphery and back. Never owing loyalty to anyone.
I became a mother….on my own. Another unsecured relationship. Late at night, the cat watched as morning sickness hung on through the long dark hours. At days end he rubbed against my swollen ankles and snuggled at night against my growing child. With my son and daughter, my unused love had found a purpose. Out of the loneliness, I had forged a loving family of three.
I forgot myself, but I never forgot him. Brief encounters spanning sixteen years. A phone call on Valentines day one year. The next year, my birthday. Mother’s day or Xmas…I’d wait in anticipation. Which one would he choose? Never letting go. Hiding myself away. From what I knew I had become. Ashamed of what he would think. Goals not reached. A far cry from who I was. Physically. Inside, I knew I was much more. Wiser, richer in spirit. Capable and strong. I called him one day. A safe mile from his house.
“I just drove past….”
“Why didn’t you come in?”
“Oh….I don’t know… I’ve put on weight. I want to look my best when I see you again……” He tells me it doesn’t matter….he would help me. Turn the car around.
I’m different, not who you remember. My clothes, car….life. I’m a mother…a frumpy mother. I yell at the kids like a fishwife, but I love them more than I love you. Something alluded me throughout all my relationships. Because you were the one I loved. I had dreams once. I’ve been dreaming all my life. Pipe dreams keep the flame burning.
Once a year, your voice is a life buoy for the drowning. A fragile thread offered. To pull me out of the mire. The offer is brief…then it’s gone. Long enough to remind me of something better. That I can be better. Connecting me to a time my soul yearns for. In your arms, listening to your hearts rhythmic beating. The touch, the feel. Your kiss. The scent of Kouros.
I watch couples with envious eyes and wonder why I missed out. I want to know what life has in store for me. It better be good. To compensate for what I’ve been through. Maybe that deal I made with God sticks…you’ll never be in my life again…. After all, you survived. When I hear your voice, I’m reminded that I can survive too. Ultimately it’s up to me..only I can save myself.
His voice transports me. I drive up the black road. Phone clamped
to my hot, sweaty ear. Automatic pilot. The kids are in the back….way back
there. I’m with him. Through space and time. In a vacuum, hearing only
his voice. The magic makes me breathless and light. He’s telling me to forget all that……come over. I know I can’t.
One day I hope to. Time to hang up…….
“I love you….” It came out…….I don’t care. It rolled out…….. and it felt right. The overwhelming truth.
His voice is saying, “Love you too…………….”
All those years gone. Would it have ever come to anything? Now I was afraid to see him. Tears rolled down my face. My chest ached. The kids noise came back.
2014. I send him a text message…
Someone like you would be sure to know a tough ass solicitor…I need a really good one. Know anyone?
The phone rings. He’s offering to help. What? He’s offering to come with me to my current solicitor. My mind races to issues of weight and clothes and hair….makeup…..eyes meeting….thoughts he’ll be thinking….my heart is racing. Think quick…..he’s offering to help. Like a knight in shining armour. What if he’s disappointed in how I look. Suddenly the legal matter seems far less important. I’m going to see….I’m actually going to see him.
A few days before I was to meet up with him at the solicitor’s office, I obsessed over all manner of issues. Should I apply fake tan….we’re supposed to look slimmer with a tan. I perused the fake tanning products at Priceline. My daughter wasn’t impressed. I was borrowing money from her in order to purchase beauty products…. to meet a man. A concept most unfamiliar to my kids. I needed an exfoliator for my face and some moisturiser. Some concealer…..extra-long lash mascara… In the end I ditched the fake tan idea. I had my daughter take photos of me in my proposed outfit and sent them to my best friend, Mare. Mare, my ninety six year old best friend.
“Tell Mum I think her rig-out looks great” I overheard Mare telling one of the kids on the phone.
I was reverting back to the old days when his random call would throw me into a spin. But today I wasn’t twenty two and slim. Today I was nearly fifty and not slim. It was also going to be 35 degrees. I had chosen a yellow blazer to wear over a long black spandex/knit dress. I had planned to arrive very early and walk up the awkward twisted staircase three flights up before settling down to relax in the office’s cool air conditioning. My plans were blown when he phoned in the morning to suggest he meet me for coffee beforehand so we could go over the paperwork. This fast forwarded my beauty prep plans as I rushed home from dropping the kids at school for their first day back after the summer holiday break. Additional to the stress of the day was the fact that my son was starting high school….first day….it was a busy morning.
I threw the hot rollers in my hair, becoming aware of the outside heat building and creeping into the house making promises that any effort I was making in the makeup department was going to be melting off my face as fast as it was applied. Thank goodness my hair went like a dream and my makeup looked good. I left the hot long sleeved jacket off until I arrived at the meeting place.
“Ok Dad….I’m off…..so much stress!”
“As if it’s not stressful enough…now I have to meet him for the first time after sixteen years….
Dad smiles and laughs
“Ok….I’ll let you know how we go….wish me luck!”
“Good management” Dad says
Good management was Dad’s default response instead of Good Luck. He didn’t believe in luck….just good management.
I parked right outside the coffee shop I had suggested we meet in. I raced up to the solicitor’s office to fix up my outstanding account. I didn’t want any embarrassing monetary exchanges in front of him. After that I wound my way back down the creaky spiral staircase wondering what it was going to be like walking back up with him next to me. I hoped he would walk up in front of me so I wouldn’t feel his eyes on my much rounder than he remembered behind.
It was almost midday and the heat of the day was at an all-time high. The dampness on my arms was beginning to stick to the polyester lining inside my jacket. Beads of perspiration were building on my upper lip and across my nose. I walked into the café and noticed the temperature inside was closer and even more distressing than the temperature on the street. I stood in the middle of the café trying to work out the best place to sit. All the chairs were uncomfortable looking and the light pouring in through the glass windows offered no intimate, darkened nook for old lovers to meet.
I sat down, stress levels rising. Perspiration had turned from small beads to rivers of liquid trickling down from under my coiffed and sprayed fringe. My whole face felt like a mirage hovering above a steaming asphalt road. My carefully applied makeup was in danger of a mudslide as I softly blotted and blotted, over and over….no stopping the slippery liquid easing portions of tan makeup from under my eyes, around my nose and chin. Even my mascara was sticking to the damp pads of skin under my eyebrows.
I stood up in panic and walked to the centre of the café. Pretending to look out at the car, considering nothing but the blind panic rising inside me. If he arrived at that moment I would rapidly fall apart before his very eyes. The heat and my state of mind was unravelling my planned cool exterior…I had to get out. I walked quickly out onto the street and began walking aimlessly up toward the highway. I didn’t have a plan, my mind was exploding. I glanced down and noticed another café….a teahouse. It was down a few stairs and under a shop. It was dark….I walked inside…it was air conditioned.
“Do you do coffee? I asked the young waitress.
“Yes, we do”
“Great…..I’ll be back soon”
I walked back to street level and stood trying to look casual. A thousand thoughts went through my mind as I pretended to be interested in the price list for the hairdressing salon next to the tea house. All I could think about was the moment he would arrive. The moment I would see him again. It had been so long. Sixteen years too long….so much had happened. So much of me had changed. Lost and gained.
“Sandy….how are you?”
It was Sandy, a slightly eccentric lady I’d known since I was in high school. Mum used to look after her two daughters.
“Don’t you look fabulous!” Sandy exclaimed in her usual dramatic manner.
“Oh….do you think so? I’m meeting the man of my dreams here any minute….I haven’t seen him for sixteen years!”
“And he will say WOW!”
“Oh thank you so much Sandy…..I must have been meant to see you today…I’m so stressed” I laugh nervously and excitedly all at the same time. Hearing her say I looked fabulous was just what I needed to hear. My nerves settled as I waved her goodbye. Thank God for Sandy.
I waited again, feeling better about myself, looking forward to my meeting. What did he look like now? Would he look much older? Would he look fantastic? Where will he appear from….will his eyes have the spark I needed to see? I desperately feared for the delicate little spark which had flickered inside me all these years. Please God, don’t let it be extinguished. Please let him look at me the same way.
A black Jeep turned left off the highway and eased itself down St James Ave. It was him. The Jeep came to a stop right in front of me and I looked in the window across the passenger seat to him. His face was smiling…a gentle….I love you kind of smile and I stepped forward with my eyes locked on his, my smile filling my whole body….an instant injection of happiness and a wholehearted feeling of being home again….of being with him…again.
“Hi……there’s parking down there.” My eyes remained locked on his…his eyes on me and I knew without a doubt that flame was still alive. I knew he looked damn fine…and he liked what he saw.
He moved off to park and I began to breathe again. We walked together with the slightly awkward but familiar affection of two people who have a connection that feels so good…like walking deliciously on air…out of this world…..floating ….moving about in the material world yet existing together in another dimension. A breathless take me in your arms and kiss me and I don’t care who is looking….the kind of love that puts everything else around us into slow motion and as they spin silently, we sit alone in our world.
He’s still fussy, I notice, as he sends the waitress back with the glass tea cup. He’s requested a proper tea cup. He’s still arrogant. I remember the butter he sent back because it was too soft…not cold enough. I remember being with him. At restaurants, in the car, in his bed. I remember the love I felt….the connection…because I’m feeling it again. His leg is leaning against mine….his knee burning against mine…his knee within the fine fabric of his suit…..is against me. It doesn’t feel odd, it feels perfect…it’s in its perfect place….I’m in my perfect place with him beside me.
“Of course I love you but you don’t love me” he says out of the blue.
I kept staring at the papers in front of him. I kept looking at his fancy pen….a Mont Blanc. I keep wondering if he actually said that…..or was I hearing voices. Was it the heat…was it my nerves….did he really say that…out of the blue while we were talking about facts and figures…boring facts…..filling him in before we met with my solicitor. He was here to help me…stick up for me against my mean ex-partner and the slack solicitor. He was there for me. He was my knight in shining armour. Was I imagining things?
He through everyone off balance when my solicitor asked how we knew each other. “We’re lovers” he announced, leaving everyone including me momentarily gobsmacked. I tried my hardest to concentrate during the meeting but I was so overwhelmed by his presence, his assertiveness….the everythingness about that day. After the meeting, we stood at the bottom of the stairs. Polite, uncertain.
“I suppose you’re off to collect the kids” he says.
“Yes….are you off back to work?”
“I’m heading back into the city”
I looked up into his face trying to read his thoughts.
“Aren’t you proud of me ….meeting up with you after all these years?”
“I think it was a matter of necessity” he replies
“Noooo….I was getting closer to seeing you though”
“Well stay close then.” And he was off. A week or so went by and I stayed in touch over the phone with details of the case. I emailed him thanking and suggesting I take him out for dinner one day when the book I’m writing became a best seller.
He replied back “Sooner rather than later….my shout”.
After a week or so we arranged to meet at his house after I mentioned I would be in his area for an author talk. I missed the talk because I spent so long getting ready. It was like the old days but with more nerves, more self-consciousness and I had two kids. I arrived at his house….not much had changed. He met me at the door and we walked into the lounge room. In a moment we were kissing. Kissing like no years had kept us apart. His familiar scent, his hands….his bedroom with the fresh white sheets. I was back in his arms and back in the familiar pattern of yesterday.
After sixteen years of yearning the ‘deadness’ I never knew I had, has lifted. The belief I would never have the urge to want, trust or need a man, sexually or otherwise was gone. My previous bad luck with men had served to prove they were all bastards. Not to be trusted. Even the ones I believed were still in love with me. The ones I thought would never get over me, let alone threaten to take me to court….like this one. And I never believed a man would be attracted to me while I was carrying excess weight.
He usually texts me late on a Friday night. He’s been out with mates…dinner….drinks. I’ve been sitting writing after a long week of carting kids to and fro. Even if I’m dead tired, somehow hearing his voice is enough to encourage me to dress and drive down that long road of yesterday. At the end of that road is the same passion. The same love. As I drive back up the deserted road at 3am, it is the same elation. After I see him I’m a happier mum. Nothing is a trouble and everything is possible. Even he and I seem possible. And then the doubts creep in and the weeks go by and I write poetry to purge myself of the feelings that pull me down.
My best friend Mare shares her wise thoughts. She tells me she thinks we will eventually get together….not until the kids have grown up….only then. Mare is very often right. It’s as if she has a sixth sense. I want to believe her. I’m not ready for anything too serious yet…I’m still a fishwife. I just want him to say he loves me…..take me out to dinner….maybe take the kids out occasionally. Mostly, I need my own space. I just need him to recharge my energy levels…keep that little flame burning bright. This man is my drug….he is my Kryptonite.