Ears, Nose, Throat.

Sisters of mercy, we are not forgotten or gone… – Leonard Cohen.

I’d meaning to make the phone call for a week when I finally did. It had little to do with working up the courage or thinking about what to say– it was more an issue of time. I didn’t want to steal five or ten minutes here or there. I didn’t want it to be loud. And I wanted my battery to be fully charged. For conditions to be perfect. No interruptions. No distractions. No time frame. This was my want.

Then so today, I finally made the call.

No biggy really, not for me anyway– I was raised this way. And I’ve come to grow this way. Through experience, I have learned, the most important thing to do when you learn that someone you know and care about is unwell– is to call– right away– no hesitation– Just call. Touch base. Leave a funny message. Leave an awkward message. Just call and leave a fucking message of some persuasion. It helps. I reckon. In my experience.

So I called.

I didn’t plan much in my head, I didn’t want to. Just be natural Lex, be yourself. Be a friend.

I poured myself a glass of sparkling Chardonnay pinot noir– propped myself up comfortably on my bed and dialled his number. Smoking a cigarette before the fact, rather than during–

“Hey. Am I still in your phone?”

Of course, he recognised my voice right away.

“Yeah, you come up as ‘Coffey.’ One word.”

“Nice. Like Madonna. Famous already.”

He laughed.

We talked over the top of each other for a bit– excited, intrigued,–I suppose. I to learn of his well-being. It’s all in the voice, after all. And he, I guess, as to the nature of my call.

“It’s uncanny that you’re phoning. I’m just packing boxes,” he said.

“You moving?”

“Ar, kinda… Packing up… The shop, a few other things, anyway, darling, why are you calling?”

“Well, I spoke to mum last week and she mentioned you in conversation.”

“Ar, so you’ve phoned to hear it from the horses mouth?”

“No. I’ve phoned to touch base. See how you’re doing… How you doing?”

“I’m glad you called. I’ve just been sifting through a bucket of things you sent me actually, once upon a time.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Well, maybe you don’t remember, but you used to send me things– Letters, cards, mixed tapes, loads of things. You were always good at that. Caring.”

“And so what have you unearthed?”

“Loads of things. It’s nice to re-read. Remember, you know, how far you’ve come, how well you knew someone, once.”

I’m cautious not to talk over the top of him. Not to butt in. To listen. To notice. To pay attention.

“So what’s the prognosis?”

“Ar well…” He sighed a bit, uncrossed and recrossed his legs, like he’s always done, I could tell he was, even over the phone… “Do you want the edited version or the long, detailed traumatic one?”

“Ar man, I’ve got a day off work. Give me the most detailed version you can muster. I’m in no hurry. I’d like to know.”

He told me of his blocked nose, and subsequent cancer diagnosis. Of the surgery– scheduled tomorrow in fact– to remove an eye, half his nose, part of his jaw and palate, all of his lymph nodes… Some 12 hours of surgery. How close the cancer had spread to his brain. The three week recovery period. His fear of being ugly. His decision to chose life over life as he knows it. He talked a lot. As I just listened. A lot.

Because it’s a lot. This news. A lot.

For anyone.

Anywhere.

It’s a really big deal.

And it’s curious in ways– how you come to know what you know– The Epistemology of Grief. Discuss:

“Are you scared?” I asked.

“Yeah…”

It felt oddly wonderful to be discussing such a thing with a grown adult. To be discussing anything really, with a fully fledged human. I’ve not been privy to much of that of late. Everyone around me seems to be spilling their guts, our their drink, or their bile ducts– No one seems to know how to cope. But he’s a man. He always was. I should know. We were lovers once upon a time…

I was 17 and he, 24 years my senior– which went down, as you can imagine, a real treat in our community, and within my nuclear family. Every man and his dog had a thing or two to say about our union. Funny really, at the time of course, but even now in retrospect– No one ever asked me why or how or what for… they just judged. Came in thick and fast with all their fucking knowledge– opinions–judgements– None of which mattered much to us. We knew what we were doing. We both still do. I reckon.

When I learned of his diagnosis– and subsequent prognosis a week ago– my mind clicked in to gear. I spent most of that week recalling the time we spent together while I was completing my final two years of high school. What he meant to me. Why we chose each other, because we all do, each and everyone of us, we chose our lovers. On some kinetic/pheromonal level– the choice is ours– and we make it. Each and every time.

So once upon a time, over a decade ago now, we chose each other. For better or worse. And for a time. ‘Cause it didn’t last. Whatever that means.

I grew wide eyed and nostalgic has I recalled the specifics of evenings spent at his place– He taught me a lot about a lot– which was a far cry from the guitar flailing, acne clad premature ejaculating folk I was supposed to be socialising with– You know, kids my own age– Which has never been my bag, ever. I don’t know why anyone thought it would be any different for me romantically, but they did– and they didn’t like it– and they let it be known. Often.

Romeo + Juliet.

None of this matters now though– which is ironic– a big, fat metaphor for life– Go your own way– Always. As if anyone’s going to remember much about much after the fact. Ya know? Who cares? Really. It’s a life, not a month or a year. A whole life. It can take ages…

So there I was, speaking to a friend the other night about this affair, between he and I, and about the phone call I was yet to make. She’s a A good friend whom seems to enjoy an Alex Has Had A Few Drinks, And It’s Been Making Her Think anecdote. So I told her the story, from woo to go, all of it. And she listened intently the entire time. Except at one point, when she needed to pee, which is fair enough.

In relaying to her I was reminded of something else– of all the discussions he and I had– over that two year period– one stands out acutely.

I’d been workshopping my NIDA audition pieces with him one night over Indonesian noodles and Semillon. I was all of 18 at the time and he cut me off mid-solliloquey to ask me something bold.

“What do you actually want to do with your life?”

“isn’t it obvious? I want to write and act and live in London and work in theatre and change the world.”

“Right. In London? You want to do all that in London?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Mate, if you want to write, you’re never going to learn anything in London. You may as well stay here, in Newcastle.”

The thought infuriated me and I said as much, at the time. I grew angry, right away, which was what I did a lot of back then. Automatic rage. Too much testosterone, not enough stimuli.

“If you really want to write, and really want to write well, don’t go to London. Go somewhere you’ve never even imagined before. Go somewhere you don’t understand. Go somewhere you can’t quite explain. Go there. Not London.”

I was furious.

I left that night in a huff. I drove home at 100 clicks an hour in a 60km/hr zone. I didn’t care. I was mad. Outraged. Who was this man!? And how had he managed to infuriate me so…

This was actually to be, the very first time I was to ever catch myself feeling really fucking pissed about something– only to consider– really– and ultimately– why?

Why had his argument made my blood boil?

Why was he pissing on my dream? Was he jealous? Was he stupid? Unlikely.

And after a few days of stewing it occurred to me that the reason I was so pissed off by his proposition was because he was right.

Everyone goes to London.

Everyone in Australia, anyway.

He was right.

And unlike the majority of my peers– or even my family to some extent– he’d been workshopping my dreams. We’d been sharing. A lot. We’d been intimate. My stories were a part of his vocabulary, not some ill-hatched vicarious dream, nor a jealous exercise in Tall Poppy Syndrome. He had my back. I phoned him the moment I realised all of this. I headed over to his place, fixed us some lovely dinner and set a beautiful table, an offering of sorts– of the peace persuasion. Fully circle. He’d taught me something. Something hard. Something valuable. I wanted to thank him.

I didn’t get in to NIDA. They didn’t like me. But I did get in to life. Made some money, got my VISA and relocated my entire trajectory to Tokyo within 12 months of having that conversation.

Up, up and away!

Oh, All The Places You’ll Go.

We kept in touch over the years, and I remained close friends with his eldest son, whom I continue to share a year of birth with.

It ebbs and it flows, how well we know one another– but here’s the thing.

It doesn’t matter.

How we met or what we did or what people thought. There was an entirely organic exchange. He showed me something. Something that ultimately shaped my entire life. Relocating to Tokyo was the making of me. And I had learned, by the time I left the airport the day I first landed in that fair city that not only was I there to do something remarkable– but that I’d also write a book about it. It took me four, long years to understand what was really going on beneath the surface of that city, that culture. And though at times, I’ve often wondered how I might’ve cut a few corners by moving to England instead of Japan, that’s all by the by now– What’s most important is that we learn what we learn and remember to touch base with the people whom inspired us along the way.

That’s it.

That’s all.

Our phone conversation today took an entire 22:38 minutes in entirety.

That’s it.

That”s all.

Time enough to let someone know you’re thinking of them, ne?

Time enough to remember how far you’ve come–

“I’ve been where you’re hanging
I think I can see how you’re pinned–“

x.


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Comments
6 Responses to “Ears, Nose, Throat.”
  1. RL says:

    Have been reading your blog for a little while now, and this post, particularly the last couple of sentences have had me thinking all day. In a good way.
    Just a message of appreciation.

  2. Kylie says:

    Hi Alex, a sweet story about a first love. Times haven’t changed..people are still not accepting of large age gaps. The guy I met is 12 years younger than me, and his nan called me a paedophile. Told me I was using him and ruining his life. So sad that they can’t see happiness.
    x

    • Increasingly I care less and less what people think… Everything is a projection. I find it’s also easier to comment on the behavior of others than it is to monitor and analyse your own. You know what I mean? Most people are overly concerned with looking good. Looking the part. Keeping face. This kind of preoccuption bores me witless. How it feels baby, not how it looks. Leave the rules and regulations to the religious fanatics I say. Love comes in various shapes and sizes and never ends but rather evolves over the course of time. Good for you, I see. If he’s a good man that respects you and your children fuck what the papers say! x.

      • Kylie says:

        He is a good man, a wonderful man infact. The age gap means nothing to me and nor him. We are having the time of our lives. Is it something that can last forever? Who knows!! I am not going to die wondering though, I’ll tell you that. I hope you friend made it through surgery ok. xx

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