I remember you.
You intruded with your hippy music, weird food, your big orange pots and harem pants. We had each other’s measure. Enemies at the gate.
You were thin and pale with way too much hair, not like my dad. I wanted to blow you away, out of our house, down our street, back across the river where you came from. I waged a long campaign to drive you out.
The stand off over my cat which you wanted to give away before you moved in, burning sticks from the fire offered as sweet treats, with smiles that didn’t mean it, while we stared the other down. Lining the pockets of my dressing gown with paper towel before dinner, so I could squirrel my food away for later after I’d provoked you into sending me to my room. The shameful lies I told my mum about your children breaking my stuff so she wouldn’t like them. How much it hurt when she knew I was lying and took their side.
So did the cat.
I don’t remember when we became friends, how we picked our way through the spiky path of mutual antipathy and found a way to love. Neither of us were good at it. We both recognised that much at least. Maybe that’s how.
I remember your kitchen and the food you made, nothing like the food I knew before. Ratatouille, coarse brown bread we had to slice ourselves, made into chunky croutons fried in olive oil when the bread got stale. I remember your aubergines and avocados, the beer you brewed in big brown bottles that were stacked in the pantry. The white parcels of bacon scraps we bought from Watsonia on High Street for five dollars and had with eggs and mushrooms on Sundays round the table, all together. I remember your stance on the evils of soft drink, which you demonstrated with a dirty silver 5 cent piece in a glass of coke on the fridge. The coin came out sparkling clean after a few days. I got the point but I still really wanted to drink the coke.
I remember your music that filled our house. Your record player with the good speakers, the real diamond needle and the blue velvet cleaner in its rectangle box. The shelves of albums in their covers with the plastic sleeves intact because you were careful about that sort of thing. Side by side, all in a row, their colours like a painting. We would play them every night at dinner, and all weekend. We’d play them on Saturdays while we cleaned the house, each taking turns with a room, week round. Mine was the kitchen which meant scrubbing your big wooden chopping board with the round cut-out for scraping food into pans and putting your knives back into their right place in the block. Or the lounge-room which meant dusting mum’s ornaments, chopping the wood and filling the wood basket for open fires on cold nights.
I remember you.
That time you and mum smashed the plaster off the wall along one side of the hallway and into the lounge, leaving the limestone bare. You had t shirts wrapped round your head for the dust. You used sledgehammers to break up the concrete out the front as well. I walked past with my friend from school and pretended it was not where I lived and you and mum were not my family. We weren’t like other families. Not like my old family.
I knew to my great concern you grew dope plants out the back near the chicken run and smoked it with your friends. I disapproved deeply. I did not know that elaborate glass contraption you kept on a shelf was bonafide smoking paraphernalia so I used it to water the plants and didn’t know why you thought that was funny. I left the anti-drug leaflets they gave us at school all over the house hoping you would see them and fix your ways. You wondered aloud where mum found me and whose child I really was.
You’d surprise me now and again by getting me completely, even if you thought I was ridiculous. You’d smile at me with your pale blue eyes and I loved the light in them. I loved the way you laughed with your whole face.
That time you and mum pretended to be normal just for a night. You did that for me because you knew how much I wanted it. I had started at a different school and brought new friends home. I planned the event for days. I took great care to manufacture a scene from the family I thought I wished I had, and what it might look like. You on the couch with your newspaper, mum at the stove stirring the spaghetti sauce, looking for all the world like she had cooked it and not you. My friends round the dinner table, with a tablecloth and napkins, making conversation. You sat so well with your paper and your proper shoes and jeans instead of the harem pants you liked to wear around the house. Your friend with the wild eyes, wooly hair and bushy beard wrecked our efforts, when he burst in shouting for me to roll him a joint, he was joking of course but my fragile fiction was broken. I cried all night in the garden and you didn’t laugh at me then. You understood. And as it turned out, my friends didn’t mind and my life wasn’t over. And I loved your friend with the wild eyes, wooly hair and bushy beard, and love him still.
I longed for a mum and a step dad who went to parents’ night. I wished we had an iron and our school shirts were white and pressed like the other kids. I wished we did not dig up the hills hoist and use daisy shrubs we planted in its place to dry our clothes instead. But on weekends we’d do something magical like fill the car with helium balloons and release them from the tallest hill in town and then have fish and chips.
I loved our Christmas where you would dress up in mum’s red caftan and the house was strewn with tinsel and we had a real tree with prickles that smelt like a story book Christmas. I loved our family dinners where everyone was welcome, and there was always enough, whoever arrived. You would talk to us sisters, all four of us like adults and we would discuss real things like music and news of the day. You made me want to be smart, and informed and a good conversationalist. I didn’t tell you I was frightened Reagan would push the button and worried we’d all die from ruining the atmosphere with chlorofluorocarbons. I still enjoyed the chats. You taught me to play chess and card games like Find the Lady and Euchre.
You gave me the playlist of my life with your music. Songs I can’t hear without being with you still. I’m glad we have that, and it can’t be taken.
Sleep well. I’ll remember you.
John Lennon: Imagine.
Murray Head: Say It Ain’t So Joe.
The Eagles: Hotel California.
The Beatles: All of them, but mostly Sergeant Pepper and The White Album.
Supertramp: Crime of the Century.
Bob Dylan: Masterpieces.
J.J Cale: Naturally.
Cat Stevens: Tea for the Tillerman.