Last year was one of the hardest I’ve ever had, you get those sorts of years, and I’ve been lucky in the main. But in amongst some wonderful stuff there was some utter dire things too (yet again, you get that too).
But one of the highlights (other than selling a new Death Works story, and Day Boy) was getting to read at the Men of Letters. Men of Letters is the occasional off-shoot of Women of Letters run by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire. The letters are funny, heartfelt, raw, and always moving. Usually if you’re invited to read you get a month to prepare. I had three days.
But, like most writers, there’s always something you want to say. And I was privileged enough to get a chance to read this to a person who has been my life for nearly twenty years.
That’s kind of how I want to start 2014 and end 2013. So, please indulge me.
Diana, my life has been a constant letter to you since I was twenty-three, and fell in love.
I know precisely the moment I fell in love with you.
You’d come back to my place after work, to lend me the Weezer Blue album, and we’d messed around in the house that would become a brothel the year after I moved out. The house that had holes punched in the walls, and a rather unsettling satanic symbol drawn on a dirty old wall in the vestibule. The house that was built on stilts and that would shake when we fucked.
Not that we’d fucked just yet. This was still all dance, and quick feels copped, and kisses as sweet and frustrating as passion pop.
You’d said your goodbyes. I’d walked you to the front, past that satanic symbol, all weird angles and upside down crucifixes. I was about as pent up as you can be pent up, we’d kissed and all, but I was definitely going back inside to have a quick wank (I was twenty three, there was more cum to me than blood).
I was full of you, high on the curve of your legs, the soft space between your jaw and throat, the freckles that you hated, but I thought were so cute. My heart was beating a million miles an hour, and you smiled, got into your parent’s car, and reversed it into the telephone pole.
I loved you from that moment.
To be honest, I don’t remember if you actually hit the pole, but it was close, and your face was red, and you jerked the car into gear, and you got out of there, hoping I hadn’t noticed, but I’d noticed.
Perfection isn’t attractive. It’s the flaws and the ridges that are the draw, the clumsy moments that soften the heart. Success is wonderful, sure, but failure is beautiful.
My flatmate was sitting on the porch, he was the dad of my other flatmate, his pants were a bit gapey, he was scratching himself, and I was seeing too much old man cock and pube.
He nodded at me, grinned, and said. “She’s a keeper.”
And he was right.
You were a keeper.
We wrote a lot.
A lot. Everyday, back and forth. It was the early nineties no-one had an email account.
Every letter was a seduction, a little argument that went: I’m hooked on you. I want to fuck you. I want you to love me. See how clever I am?
Words have bite; letters are the great cajolers, the excuse makers, the possibility machines. They’re love in the abstract.
Have you ever noticed how letters, meander, Diana? Well, mine do, because that’s the way I think. I run away, drift in this direction and that: over qualify and under-detail. And you’ve always put up with my missteps and oversteps, even while it bemuses you, this jolting, juddering way I move on and off topic. You can be short tempered and impatient, but who wouldn’t be. You made me understand how my brain works.
You see it in the way I eat corn. It’s like this: there’s really only two ways people eat corn, vertically or horizontally, neat, sequential, row by row. Me I take bites everywhere. It’s how I write novels, out of order, all over the place, piecing them together at the end, it’s how I work, and it’s how I live, in uneven non-sequential bites. And you judge me for it, and it amuses you, and you see it as a strength.
You have the biggest scar I have ever seen. Dudes dig scars. It slashes your belly in two, it’s a great upside down T of a thing that erupted stitches for a decade after you received it. You had a transplant a year before we met. Scars are stories, and that scar says you survived. I love that you once told a kid who asked you about it, that it was a shark bite. You told another kid that a Salt Water Croc had had a go at you. I love that you’re a better storyteller than me.
I love that you can be so strong.
People that write and talk out of order don’t tell good stories. But you are orderly, your stories are effortless, your stories have teeth.
We stopped writing letters when we moved in together.
But I was always writing stories, in my weird eating corn way. And they were to you. So I didn’t stop, not really. You (well, it wasn’t you, but it was) were mostly sick in them and dying. I feared your death more than anything. My stories were filled with people chasing after the lost, clocks ticking down, illness undone, love that broke itself against the wall of death, and love that broke through.
But my fears changed over the years as depression took you.
See, I’m managing some order here. Telling this sort of in the right way. Some scars are internal and rise up out of you like those stitches. Transplants heal, but they can also fuck you up. I realised that there are worse things to fear than death, and that there really are other ways you can lose someone, in little strips of sanity, torn away. OCD, anxiety, pain.
And it happened so slowly that I didn’t notice at first, years of unseeing, until you wanted to kill yourself and you were gone from me, and we were admitting you into the Psych Ward at Royal Brisbane.
When they put you in the little bus, that would take you from Emergency, up the steep hill to the ward, and you looked back at me, and you were so broken and so sad, I was broken too.
But I didn’t stop loving you. I watched that bus drive out of sight, and then your sister (a woman as strong and kind as everyone in your family) drove me home, and I walked inside, shut the door behind me, and I dropped to my knees and I cried.
You’ve battled depression these past fifteen years. You’ve had courses of Electroconvulsive Therapy. You’ve had parts of your past stripped away: and rebuilt yourself. You’ve always been a fighter; you’ve always pulled through.
And you’ve always been the brave one. The one that’s pushed me when I am fearful, the one that makes me take risks, who kicks me when I’ve given up. You’ve taught me over and over that failure is beautiful, and failure comes from trying.
I’ve not always coped. But who does?
You always put up with my shit, except when you don’t. And who wants someone to always put up with their shit anyway? You’re the dreamer and the sensible one.
And this year, when I woke one morning, down in Lismore, (because we’d been visiting our folks) 14 days after I’d turned 40, and two days before we went to see Weezer perform their Blue Album and realised that half my face was paralysed, it was you that told me it was probably not a good idea to do pushups to check if it wasn’t stroke, and you held my hand when I was waiting for the Doctor, scared shitless because I couldn’t move half my face.
And it was you that kept me smiling, lopsidedly, when I discovered that I had Bells Palsy. And you never made me feel foolish, and you never even looked at me funny.
We look after each other. We always have.
And I’ve always written to you in my stories, and written to escape what you were going through. I wrote about dark clouds consuming a world, I wrote about a man who performs an Orpheus Maneuver, a boy who loves a girl that is snatched away by vampires.
I wrote about a man whose wife hunts down his memory, as I sat in the ward waiting for you to finish your tri weekly sessions of ECT, nearly ten years ago, and you would come out crying and asking me why we were here?
A course of ECT, it sounds like a meal of forgetting, and it is, but I’ve never forgotten. Those stories never let me forget. And I wouldn’t want to.
I’ve escaped by running at my fears and fictionalizing them, and I’ve written them to tell you that you will be all right. And that is a hard thing to tell the person in your life who is your bravery.
The last book I had published ended on the word hope. And there was a reason why. And it was just for you.
You’ve never lost hope, my love. And I know you never will.
I’ve loved you since that moment you backed your parents car into that pole out the front of the place on stilts that became a brothel on Keen St in Lismore, and that would shake when we fucked, and must shake a hell of a lot now.
I’ve loved you, Diana, for your glorious successes, and I’ve adored you for your beautiful failures, and you’ve changed my life a thousand times over. You’ve made me a better person.
I can only hope I’ve failed as beautifully for you.