A Reminder That You Are Loved

We were a few days away from leaving Qatar for our return to Australia when I received a message from my girlfriend Kristina. She wanted to know if she could pick us up from the airport. This is vintage Kristina. With two incredibly busy children, a career, and a million things to do she’s the one who somehow arrives with a casserole and a copy of an article or a story she thought you might enjoy. With a 5 am arrival time I immediately responded with a definitive no. Not only would she be getting up in darkness, she’d then have to make a 45 km drive out of the city with my jet lagged and fetid family. “We’ll have way too many suitcases to fit in your car, and it’s waaaaaaay to early. Why don’t you come out a little later in the day?” I knew she’d ask again at least once more before we landed – just to be sure. She did. I read the message as we were driving out of our desert compound, G at the wheel, kids in the back. I smiled as I heard her voice through the keystrokes and turned to the children “If I could wish anything for you guys, I wish you a Kristina in your life.”

I didn’t meet G until I was 29 which meant that before we set off overseas into a world of new friends, new locations, new kitchens, and yet another set of new bath towels – there was the old life. A handful of friends from my hometown. A large yet tight-nit group of friends from those early days out of school. A collection of people in the randomness that is house sharing, university life, young work colleagues, and the dress up party where I’d spectacularly passed out by 8.30 and spent most of the night on the front lawn in my princess dress while the guests walked past on their way in and out. Over 25 years ago and my cheeks burn crimson at the keyboard. The old memories of the person you were, a different vocabulary, hair colour, or diluted political view. The nights that will remain epic, nostalgia turning small moments into lengendary events. A naked friend on the roof singing opera, the “borrowing” of traffic diversion lights to decorate a friend’s bedroom in the middle of the night. At annual catch ups, birthday parties and re-unions these are the stories that inevitably get the belly laugh.

I find myself on these extended trips home revisiting old times through the eyes and faces of friends. A break away from an old connection means there is no gradual process, here I am at 32, 35, 41 and 46. A few more lines, an extra kilo, crinkles in my neck. That five year old I arrived with a couple of years ago is now fifteen, each visit provides a different life stage. Our relationships may struggle for the investment of time through busy work and life schedules but the intensity and ease remains the same. I picked up my friend Darien yesterday for a trip to the radiologist. We’d spent time talking about footy on the phone earlier that morning, both congratulating ourselves for picking St Kilda in the tips, he agrees with me that Ollie Wines’ disposals aren’t effective. I’m considering his opinion that it was Sanderson who worked out how to beat my beloved Port Adelaide which was the start of their demise. In the car on the way to the hospital he explains the mapping procedure, today they’ll mark his body, decide exactly how he will lay while he receives his radiation. The children sit in the back of the car listening to every word, they know that Darien has had 75% of his liver removed, it is now referred to as his “bastard liver” on the group calendar we use to co-ordinate driving him to and from appointments. My job at the radiology appointment is to listen, if there’s any questions I don’t think he’s asked I should jump in. While the technician describes what will happen I find myself staring at her mouth, these words are part of her everyday, she’s kind and I like her but it’s all too surreal. I look over towards Darien who looks exactly the same to me – charmingly dishevelled, the wardrobe of a university student. He’s the same Darien I met at 17, the same Darien I shared a house with, the same Darien who put me in a taxi when required. The same Darien who waited with the loyalty of a labrador outside of a darkened about to close pub after I’d fallen asleep in the toilet. I watch him attempt to crack a few jokes with the technician while his entire life has been thrown into the cancer kaleidoscope. Everything changes with a scan or a doctors visit: where he lives, his work, his relationships.

“It’s a really humbling experience” he says as we sit shoulder to shoulder in the waiting room. “I’ve been single for a few years now so when something like this happens it’s a reminder that you are loved”.

A casserole, a drop in visit, a bunch of flowers on arrival or an article that’s been carefully cut from the newspaper. Simple reminders that we are loved – the privilege of old friends. The privilege of getting old.

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