friendship

Ejo #104 – LOVE!

This month, I’m keeping things simple. Talking about simple things. In particular, I’d like to talk about love. Not romantic love, but the more general kind. Platonic love, sisterly love, love for humanity. Which, though it might sound like some poor, distant cousin of the love you feel in your loins, can be just as intense, just as unconditional and just as rewarding, if not more so.

But let’s start with my first love. Yes, the romantic kind. Allister was someone I went to high school with. Someone I had an intense crush on for several years. Yep, I was crazy about him. I’d spend hours staring at him in class, daydreaming about him, writing about him in my diary, concocting reasons to talk to him. But he never requited my feelings, and after graduation we went our separate ways for a couple of years, until… a chance encounter at a milk bar (which shows you how long ago this happened). We talked for a bit and then he drove me home in his Datsun 240Z. And in those few minutes, all the feelings I’d harboured for him for so many years erupted, enveloping me in a delicious frisson. Love!!! He must have felt something too because he asked if he could see me again and of course I said yes. And thus began a beautiful three year romance, my first real adult relationship.

The feelings I’d had for Allister in high school may have started as infatuation, but when we became a couple they very quickly turned into real love. And here rests my (long winded, and rather indulgent) point. I was 20 years old. I was truly, madly, deeply in love. But I simply couldn’t bring myself to say it. After a couple of months together we both knew it was love, but neither of us wanted to say the words. As though saying, “I love you” was some kind of weakness. Like it might expose some kind of vulnerability that needed protecting. Why were these three words so excruciatingly difficult to utter?

I grew up in a very loving and expressive family, but even from a young age I was always very reserved. I figured I was just born stoic, and that Allister was too. The word “love” just seemed too heavy for us. Too laden with responsibility and heft to bandy around willy nilly. The word needed metering out. Pacing, like some precious, finite commodity. It needed saving for a rainy day. What I didn’t know then, probably because of my youth and inexperience, is that love is actually a boundless wellspring. That love expands, infinitely, to meet its demand. And that love experienced within, is a fraction of the same love experienced outside of oneself. Unshared love is finite, because the vessel that holds it is finite. Love expressed, love shown, love shared is infinite.

So, I grew up keeping my feelings hidden away and private, and that worked just fine for 32 years. But when my father died, all the feelings were suddenly way too much to contain. The things I felt during the ten months of my father’s illness and devastating decline, the emotions I’d somehow managed to compress, crush and dehydrate in order for them to take up as little room inside of me as possible, suddenly became impossible to restrain anymore. Years of pent up shit just rent asunder, like a nuclear explosion inside my body. Suddenly I had no choice but to show the world exactly how I felt. And I felt like absolute crap, so… hey, it was a hell of a lesson in learning how to express myself. It wasn’t fun, but it taught me that I actually had nothing to fear by showing my hand. The floodgates I’d spent my whole life barricading just burst wide open, and it was OK.

I was once (somewhat accurately) described as an island. Part of me was actually proud of that for a long time. But when my Dad died, I decided that I wanted to build some bridges connecting me to the people I truly cared about. I didn’t want to be alone with my emotions anymore. The burden of love unshared – it’s too much. I used to be afraid of loving, but I’m not anymore. Getting older, losing a loved one, moving away from everyone you care about for a huge chunk of your life – these things distill the fact that the only important thing in life is to love. This might sound a bit airy-fairy, a bit icky, a bit touchy-feely. I’m sorry if you feel that way. I’ve decided that, for me, a life dedicated to love is an excellent life indeed. I spent so many years agonising over what my purpose in life should be, never finding an answer that filled the hole I was trying to plug. I had to hit rock bottom, hating everything and everyone (including myself) after moving to Dubai, to figure shit out. I was so lucky to find an amazing therapist who helped me realise  that my purpose in life is simply to love. That’s it kids. Simple, yes. But not necessarily easy. It’s a purpose that I wrangle with every single day, and one that may never be fulfilled. But in trying, I’ve found that the hole has shrunk, just a little.

I met my friend Natasha in 1999, when we moved into the same share house after my year abroad as an au pair. Let me tell you guys, Natasha is a magnificent ray of sunshine. A gorgeous blue-eyed, blonde-haired, Slovenian goddess with an enormous heart of gold. The kind of girl you would totally expect to be intimidated by, except for the fact that she bends over backwards to make sure you’re OK. She’s self-deprecating to a fault, raucous, hilarious, kind and extremely loving. And I’ve had a massive girl crush on her for the last 19 years. The children of immigrants, we’ve both always shared a loud passion for music, art, travel, laughter, food and wine. We revel in each other’s company, and I’m always delighted when I can spend time with her. This month Natasha was diagnosed with very aggressive, stage 4, stomach and ovarian cancer. I tell you what, friends, news like that freezes everything. Your heart… it just stops. In that moment you realise just how much you can love. And also, just how much you can lose. And here’s where I’m going to get all mushy again – you’ve been warned. I believe that the opposite of love is not hate at all, but fear. I believe that in every moment of every day we have the choice between acting out of fear or acting out of love. And I choose love for Natasha. Sure, I’m scared for her. I’m fucking terrified. She has, literally, the battle of a lifetime ahead of her. But she inspires, and has always inspired, pure love in me and that is what I choose for her now. I choose love.

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So, Natasha and I have this thing (which, of course, is hilarious) where she’s Amy Poehler and I’m Tina Fey – coz it makes total sense (don’t question it). And for a recent gathering at her house, just before Natasha’s first session of chemo, I sent along a cardboard cutout of “myself” to reprazent (totally over-dressed of course)!

I’d like to talk about another friend of mine, my au pair “mother” Kate – a woman who has been (during the 20 years I’ve known her) my surrogate mother, my sister, my master, my daughter, my nemesis, my beloved friend. There is no relationship on earth that exists like the one I have with this woman. It’s almost irrelevant to say that we would do anything for each other, but it’s true. On Sunday, 19th August, against a backdrop of majestic natural beauty, Kate married a beautiful soul called Sheldon, in a ceremony that brought tears of joy to many eyes. And I was lucky enough to be invited, to feel like I was actually an important part of Kate’s special day. It was such an honour to spend the four days leading up to the ceremony with the beautiful couple and my gorgeous kids, Daniel and Holly. It was a love fest of epic proportions because Kate has always loved fiercely and unabashedly. She taught her children (and me) to do the same and I am so grateful that all those years ago I was lucky enough to be placed with her family. I have grown as a person because of her and I will always love her.

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The love was tangible. What an amazing, and gorgeous, couple.*

 

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I find it difficult to express, in words, the love I feel for these three people. *

Not that long ago, I promised I’d move mountains to attend the future weddings of every single member of my second family. I certainly didn’t expect to be called out on that promise so soon, but hey – a promise is a goddamn promise. And I keep my promises. Why? It’s love, folks. I would give everything up for the people that I love, and fuck it, I’d be richer for it. Loving doesn’t deplete me. It strengthens me. My Mum and Dad, my sisters, my husband, my “kids”, my friends, my neighbours, my fellow human beings. I love you all. Hell, sometimes I look in the mirror and can honestly say I even love myself. And isn’t that the greatest love of all?

 

 

 

 

*Photos by https://www.nicoledreon.com

Ejo #71 – Friendship

Lately I’ve been unfriending people on Facebook.  It started with this email that I received a few months ago from someone I’ve known for many years:

I’ve got you on Facebook.  Confession: I don’t read the ejo’s these days, but I don’t read anyone’s blogs, sites and posts – so no hard feelings! Hope you are great. Message me on FB anytime.

Now, I know I can’t interest all of you every single time. I tend to write about a pretty large range of topics. I also know that my ejo’s tend to be long (and, OK, sometimes long-winded) and of course sometimes you’re just too busy. That’s cool.  I wasn’t in the least upset by the fact that she doesn’t read my ejo’s.  But the message still struck me as weird.  And then I realised that the reason the email was weird is because it was from someone I don’t even consider a friend.  Sure I’ve known her for about sixteen years, but only because for the majority of that time she was married to someone that I do consider a friend.  When they broke up she just kind of lingered in the background of my Facebook feed.  Her email reminded me that I would never have chosen to be her friend.  I silently wished her well, removed her from my ejo list, and chose to unfriend her from Facebook.  And just like that she was gone.  And I haven’t missed her since.  That was in February.

I have a policy of only being Facebook friends with people that I would have coffee or a beer with.  But the thing about people you would have a drink with is that they don’t always stay that way.  In real life, friends that naturally slough away do so quietly.  You lose interest and then you lose touch.  The problem with Facebook is that those people stick around a lot longer than they otherwise would.  And that’s what happened to the “friend” that confessed to me that she wasn’t reading my ejo’s.  Since then, I’ve been carefully and selectively culling people from my friend list.  I used to be worried about offending people by unfriending them.  But the fact is, if we haven’t interacted in any way for over a year, chances are you don’t really give a shit if you’re my Facebook friend or not.  Right?  Also: you’re probably not reading this ejo anyway!  😉

Obviously the whole online social media phenomenon has changed the way friendships are defined.  I know some people who collect friends on Facebook, numbering in the thousands, most of whom they’ve never even met.  I actually like to only befriend people on social media that I consider to be my friends in real life, the reason being that I live so far away from my real friends that Facebook is the easiest way to keep in touch with them.  I want Facebook to be a true representation of my friendship situation.

It’s no secret that I haven’t made many friends in Dubai.  My inability to connect with people here upset me for a long time.  I beat myself up about it and my self-esteem plummeted.  I regressed to my 14 year old self.  At high school I was an outsider.  I never felt like I belonged to any group and as a result my formative years were spent feeling rejected and socially isolated.  And when we first moved to Dubai, there I was, 38 years of age, feeling the same way.

But before you start feeling sorry for me, let’s talk about what happened between high school and moving to Dubai.  Magic, is what happened.  I discovered “my people”.  I went to university and I instantly started making friends.  People who I am still close to today.  Friendship became easy.  It was natural and extremely fulfilling.  My twenties were spent with a group of people that formed at uni but which evolved into living, eating, holidaying, sleeping and working together.  We became a huge, nebulous, loving family.  It was intense, it was wonderful, it was safe and fun and crazy and my people ended up defining who I was.

My people: One friend and I drove to the shops one scorching hot day and turned the heater on in the car to full blast with all the windows up until we almost passed out.  Why?  Why not? And one friend jumped off St. Kilda pier with me in the middle of the night fully clothed because our other mates dared us to do it for twenty bucks.  We split the money.  One wonderful friend drove to a hospital emergency room and persuasively begged the nurse for painkillers when I’d torn the ligaments in my knee skiing (and yes, the nurse gave him some, while I waited in the car writhing in pain).  I played the card game Hearts with a group of friends when we moved in together to determine who did the chores.  Another friend called in sick for me when I was too hungover to go to work (and I did the same for her).  My friends helped me make an (outrageously bad) audition tape when I applied to get into the Victorian College of the Arts film department.  They comforted me when I wasn’t accepted.  And then they stormed into my darkened room on day three of my self-indulgent pity party and told me to get the hell out of bed and stop feeling sorry for myself.  They cared for me.  They were my world.  They still are.

Over the years, of course, the intensity has faded as people got married, moved away and had children.  But the ease with which we interact has never faded.  We see each other less but the love is still there.  And the experiences we share now are more important than ever, because of their scarcity.  The night in Spain a few of us got drunk on Cocksucking Cowboys and went skinny dipping in the freezing pool while the children slept soundly inside.  Spending time with my newest friends in London, dressing up in each other’s clothes competing for the most ridiculous outfit.  Stripping off my clothes and riding a bicycle around the Nevada desert completely naked with another friend (yes, there is a theme emerging here, I see it).  Hanging out with my sisters, drinking red wine and watching blaxploitation films.  Laughing and savouring the moment because I only get to do it once a year.

After moving to Dubai I naïvely assumed I’d continue to be able to make friends easily.  I was wrong.  But now I’m OK with not having a social group here.  I wish I did, but I’m at peace with the fact that I don’t and I compensate for it by enjoying the hell out of the friends that I do have when I see them.  And I’m lucky enough to have mates all over the world – old friends and new (see, I’ve still got it!!).  The value of these friendships has skyrocketed because of my situation.  My appreciation of them, and my gratitude for them is infinite.  My friends, who defined me in my youth, define me now from a distance.  I love them more than ever.  More than they probably know.

Like everyone else, I have a friendship sphere, with my closest friends in the middle and acquaintances at the outer edge.  It’s a dynamic sphere and over time you might find yourself moving between the layers.  My closest friend right now (the one who used to call my boss to say I had a migraine while she held my hair back as I vomited last night’s booze into the toilet) went from the centre of the circle to about three or four layers out for a few years.  There was no big drama that caused that to happen, we just drifted apart for a while.  Somehow over the last decade or so, she’s managed to wriggle her way back into the middle (of the sphere, and my heart).  And the funny thing is that she probably doesn’t even know it.  I see her once a year, when we visit Melbourne.  We never call or skype each other.  We send occasional texts and hang out on Facebook a little.  But she means more to me than anyone right now because she’s been there for twenty long, glorious years and I still hang off every word she says.  She’s still the most interesting person in the room to me.  And it fills me with so much joy that after all these years, after all these ups and downs, after all these life events and separations (emotional and geographical), she still likes me back.