I was running about half an hour late for this date, which I myself had instigated, for the simple fact I had decided to take a late-in-the-day nap. He was running late himself so he pushed the meeting time back and I was snuggling in bed like I had all the time in the world up until the very moment I realised I didn’t, so I quickly changed and headed out into the dark. I was waiting for the tram on Sydney Road, at the corner of Albion, when he texted to apologise for the mess around and to say that he actually prides himself on his punctuality and as such had managed to find a way to get to the city at the time originally planned, leaving me not only late but very late and with really no other choice but to call on the services of a gentleman driving a yellow car to whom I paid not much more than I would have spent on a tram fare (which I had had no intention of paying since there is no Myki service near to the stop at that hour and to top up my card would have been to go entirely out of my way and I prefer to prove the point of what a failed public transport system Melburnians have found themselves with, the fact of which grows more and more apparent with every trip you take, which I could go on lamenting but, as I say, I had a date to get to and I probably said as much to the driver who dropped me at the corner of Elizabeth and Collins, just out the front of the Block Arcade, and by this point I really should close off with a right bracket but I’ve meandered on far beyond the initial parenthetical statement and so to free myself I will simply have to stop). I walked up to the crossing in front of Australia on Collins, where in my more youthful years I’d done stints working at both Crabtree & Evelyn (where I learned the art of gift-wrapping) and TieRack (where I learned the art of saying sexually inappropriate things behind men’s back), and idled down Manchester Lane, where Shebeen is located. It had been my date’s choice, though we agreed later that neither of us liked it very much for its unbearably pretentious staff – ‘How can you be that rude when you’re wearing tracksuit pants at work?’ I asked him after buying the third round – and also for the $15 eftpos minimum about which we spent a good twenty or thirty minutes exchanging stories that demonstrated how increasingly enraged we both were by not being able to put a four dollar coffee on your card in the basically cashless society in which we found ourselves living. We both sighed, sat back in our uncomfortable but aesthetically appropriate chairs and took a sip from our $13 beers, the profits of which would go to a certain worthy overseas cause, though the bar staff disgruntledly said not to ask them which.
I was at my brother’s house, sitting in his spot on the living room couch, which he insists isn’t his spot but which I’m sure is for the exact reason I gravitate there: it provides the best vantage point in the room. He’d made me a whiskey and water, the preparation of which I was able to watch from where I was seated, after I’d insisted I needed and wanted and desired one last drink, but once I’d taken my first sip I set it down and left it there. We’d been that evening at Neighbourhood Wine, a favourite of mine in Fitzroy North, where we sat at a reserved spot for three at the bar. The third spot was occupied by my very good friend with whom I’d spent the day wining, dining and, at day’s end, literally dancing around my apartment, strewn with yet to be packed mess, while wearing our respective wedding attire and listening to Janet Jackson. We were already a bottle of champagne and a few ciders down by the time we got to the restaurant where we spent much of the evening behaving inappropriately towards the sommelier who had, in my opinion, sexy casual swagger, appropriately aided by the number of his shirt buttons undone – a number that would be deemed far too many under other circumstances. But I liked his hairy chest, and we were all – we were all – attempting to flirt with him during the very brief moments it was possible. We drank a carafe of prosecco, my celebratory drink of choice, because it did indeed feel like a celebration, and ate several delicious dishes for which we sent compliments to the chef, who, incidentally, was the wife of the gentleman we were borderline sexually harassing (though we did not know this at the time). As the night drew to a close and the bill was paid, I sent my yawning friend home, to Richmond and her fiancé, and went with M, who also never knows when to call it quits, into the adjoining bar, surprisingly busy, where we were told we could have one last drink. While waiting to be served, I alerted M to the fact I was just briefly moving over towards the window to pass wind, which I did, and upon my return he alerted me to the fact the window was – hadn’t I noticed? – closed, though this had already become apparent. At this point the bar staff told us that the till was closed for the evening, no surprise really, the time being close to 1am and our geographical location being Melbourne, the city that only ever sleeps (and brunches and watches films outdoors). I cried foul play anyway and left the bar, without the need for brute force, but not before popping my head back into the restaurant to bid the sommelier, to whom I tipped three whole dollars, a very good evening. A we descended the stairs onto the street we met the golden lights of Nicholson Street and it momentarily felt as though it was only 1pm. We walked the several blocks back to Carlton North, to M’s house, without taking in my suggested detour of one last drink at the Great North (which would have most certainly been closed) instead reaching the point, at which I began this story, where we sat on M’s dated, midnight blue lounge suite, drinking or not drinking whiskey and waters talking about all kinds of things, serious and not serious, including the text I’d sent a few days earlier to someone on Tinder, a text which I had thought was very funny, and so did M, but which had been left replyless under very awkward circumstances, of which I won’t bother to disclose. So this was where we had been and what we had done when I said,
On my way to the tram stop, after meeting a friend at Melbourne uni, I watch a blonde-haired guy drop to his haunches and wrap his arms around his head just as two low-flying crows pass above him. He rises hesitantly after a moment, by which time I’ve come closer towards him, and I laugh and ask if he is okay.
‘I’m really fucking scared of birds,’ he says seriously. ‘They think my hair is straw.’
He pulls his short ponytail around to his front, for proof of the fact. His face has a T-shaped scar that runs across his brow and down and around his nose, as though it had not that long ago been ripped off then very poorly stuck back down. I make a quick assumption that his fear of birds and the horrific scar are together a product of a severe bird attack. I hold my breath and wait for him to tell me so much is true. But he doesn’t.
I had been sure that I was doing the right thing, in leaving for a while, in going and doing something that is going to make me uncomfortable, rather than continuing to exist in its opposite. I had been sure. I had been sure when I emailed Barry Plant to say I wanted to end my lease. I had been sure when the truck came to take my meagre stock of belongings back to my mum’s house in Mildura. And still I had been sure as I slowly said goodbye to my friends, as though those goodbyes were permanent. Since the moment I booked my flight, I had been sure it was the right decision. It all just felt right. Until, that is, the day before my flight.
Fear doesn’t always have to find you. Run! Run! Run faster! Don’t look back. Don’t pause. Don’t reconsider. Nothing is behind you. Everything is ahead. Run! Just run!
The water was moving me back and forth with a rapidity I had not expected nor had a I ever experienced. I didn’t know what do. I felt that if I didn’t resist it, I would be swept away from the group. I grabbed onto dead coral but it sliced and shred my fingertips. Eventually, exhausted, and using too much air, I signalled to the dive instructor that I was stressed. He reached out and grabbed my hand. With his free hand he pointed up; my gaze followed. Manta rays were circling above, it was majestic. When we got back on the boat I lay on its rooftop, pulling off my wetsuit, breathing deeply, looking at my bleeding fingers, thinking about his strong hand clutching mine. When I got back to my room I cried under the shower.
Nusa Lembongan, Bali 2013
I awoke at 2am with the immediate need to go to the toilet. I climbed down from the top bunk and made my way through the dark hallways to the bathroom. What came out was like water, and when I looked between my legs into the bowl, it was tomato red. I wiped and inspected the tissue. Blood diarrhea? Had I caught some perhistoric bacteria on Machu Picchu? It continued all night. The next day I was fatigued beyond anything I’d ever known. I asked at the front desk about the cost of seeing an English-speaking doctor. The man said it would cost $50. Instead I went to the farmacia and took whatever it was they gave me. I shifted dorm rooms later that day and when the guy at the front desk offered to carry my bag up the flight of stairs I didn’t refuse. I said, Por favor. Gracias.
Cusco, Peru 2010
We were sitting on his couch in Lima and he was telling me I take goodbyes too literally. Though I wanted desperately to leave, to never see him again, to jump off the emotional roller coaster that had been my time with him, I still wanted him to want me to stay. I wanted it to have meant something. We kissed through the closed security door, my hands on the bars, his on mine. I looked back as I bounded down the stairs. I knew he would be watching me, but I looked back anyway.
Lima, Peru 2010
I was coughing, and it was relentless. All night, all day. Lying down, sitting up. You are very sick, he said. You could die, he said. I told him I was okay, that it would pass in a couple of days. He made me a cup of tea and sat down across from me. He asked me why I was by myself and whether I get lonely when I travel alone. I said I didn’t. But I went upstairs and cried, because I was more lonely than I had ever been. I was so lonely I had to leave Melbourne, to get away. But it had followed me. I couldn’t escape.
Luang Prabang, Laos, 2014
She was wearing loose-fit, light denim jeans, a singlet and sandals and she had Argentine swagger. When she passed us on Avenida Santa Fe, a chill went up my side and my stomach dropped. I turned to my friend: Did you see her? I asked. Her mouth was ajar. It was Ann-Marie, she said.
Buenos Aires, Argentina 2010
I opened my Hotmail account and found an email from him. He’d baked a chocolate cake and put on it the number 2 candle from my birthday the previous year and held three fingers up next to it. Happy 23rd Birthday, he said. I cried. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could ever love me more than he did.
Bogota, Colombia 2009
She asked me to go to brunch with her and her girlfriend. I couldn’t speak Japanese and she and her friends had only a few words of English between them. I accepted the offer. It was beautiful kindest. I arrived in Kanazawa later that afternoon, in the midst of a typhoon. I sheltered under a carport, sitting on my backpack, drinking a vending machine soft drink. The hostel manager arrived a couple of hours later: Gabby-san, Gabby-san, come inside!
Takayama, Japan 2012
Towards the end of Year 5, when I was not quite 11, I told my mum I thought I had a urinary tract infection. I’d had a UTI earlier that year and could come to no other reasonable conclusion for the cause of the curious dark-brown-red stain on my knickers. But shortly after I’d shared my discovery, my mum presented me with a pack of Libra Wings and a copy of What’s Happening to Me. Apparently puberty had arrived, apparently I was menstruating. I was not surprised, simply because I hadn’t been expecting it. I was more dismayed: What, a period? Not a urinary tract infection? Are you sure?
That night I got into bed with the book and flicked through its square pages. Its cartoon sketches of changing bodies annoyed me. My brother did frequent nudie runs through the house so I knew what a ‘doodle’ looked like. And the fat mum and dad having sex with a purring cat on the bedspread annoyed me even more. It felt very childish. Since I was at that weird child-adolescent phase – kind of like a merman – wasn’t I entitled to real-deal photographs? Alas, at the time, the personal computer’s main virtue was Piccadilly Pairs so cartoons and this one resource would have to do. I buried the book in my bottom drawer and referred to it from time to time over the following years. At school the next day, while standing next to the monkey bars, wood-chips underfoot, I told my friend I had my period. She told me that her older sister had her pyramid too.
It was Labor Day 2012. I was meant to be meeting a friend at the Standard in Fitzroy. The weather was glorious and I was experimenting with a new outfit for the benefit of a barman I’d been weirdly flirting with over the summer. I’d calculated that from where I was staying with my friend in Hawthorn it would take at least an hour to get there on the tram, and I was running late, for no other reason other than the fact I was taking so long to do everything and, also, I was finding it difficult to leave. It took several times of going back inside to check this or that other thing – ridiculous things that didn’t require checking like whether I’d got my period in the few minutes since I’d last been to the toilet – before I actually made it out the door and on my way.
By the time I walked around St James Reserve and made it to the tram stop on Burwood Road, my heart was racing and I could feel my pulse in my wrists, and by the time I made it onto the tram and we were trundling down Bridge Road, my mind could focus on nothing other than the possibility I’d left the iron on. I imagined the iron falling over, singing the carpet until it caught alight, causing a fire that would burn to cinders my friend’s apartment and the entire block. By the time the tram pulled up alongside the dirty Vine at the corner of Church Street and Bridge, I was so convinced that this was going to happen I got off the tram, crossed over the road to the corner diagonal and waited for the tram that would take me back to where I’d come from.