Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Love Letter to an Old Friend


Listen to this story in the spirit of Michelle Shocked's Anchorage, Alaska. Because I am thinking, as I lean against the old Ford in a lay-by on the dry, summer highway between Albany and Perth, that this state of Western Australia is just like Alaska, only bigger, drier and - now that the the cooling fan has just wobbled off and sheared its way through the radiator and the water pump - lonelier than that whole, lonely state of American myth.

I visited you in the city, my friend. It was an airport junket really, driving four hundred kilometres to pick someone up. Staying the night with you, after the white-knuckle highway and too long with my own troubles, is a rare joy. Then, the long drive home.

Do you remember?

When our babies were babies, talking everyday about teething and art and sleep and writing? Never being able to finish or focus on anything? When the days stretched into stupid domestics with musician fathers, glorious white sand beaches, car problems, the dive of sharp pins into nappy cloth, riverside picnics?
Of course you do.

We bought ancient combi vans and grovelled constantly for someone to fix them, so we could cart home children, chook wheat and food. We painted (and finger painted). We made play dough. We patched up broken children-egos-split ends-trust-relationships-bones. We were both in love with and appalled by our strength and fragility as mothers.

You taught me how to make nori rolls and deep fried dace in black bean sauce with rice noodles. You cut off all my heavy hair with blunt scissors on a hot January day.
You laughed your head off at my vanity, when I tried to squeeze a tit out the arm holes of my brand new dress to breastfeed.
You showed me your paintings. Phantom Rape - just a female hand, clutching at sheets. London - a series of theatrical masks.

Fifteen years later, I'm on the baking highway, looking at sheep, feeding water to the dog straight from the bottle and fielding questions from an anxious teen: "What are we gonna do, Mum?"
"We either camp here, or someone nice who likes big bull mastiff dogs will give us a ride home." I feel quite philosophical about the whole thing. A complete cooling system overhaul will take days anyway. It's a bit like Wake in Fright. We are that stuck.

The time before when I visited you was to play door bitch for your latest exhibition. There was a guy dressed in a gimp suit helping me out. I was a cowgirl/bordello queen, dripping in gold and door-bitchiness. An exotic dancer performed with her python (she was worried because it was mid winter and she thought he may have had a cold).

The next morning, your friend walked me to the train station. When I told her about my recent battles with the law, she decided to take the long way. She said, "This is my retirement plan. When I get old enough, I'm gonna take out all those people who've been charged but not convicted of crimes against children. I've been inside the system for long enough now to know who they are. Once I've done that (this narrative is minus the violent bits), I will go to gaol, maybe for the rest of my life. That is my healthcare plan, my pension, my novel and my sense of justice - sorted."
I missed my bus back to Albany that day.

Standing on the highway and wondering what to do ... there's the kid, the car, the dog, our gear ... and I'm still thinking about my last visit to see you.

You showed me your latest work, the one being currently chased by agents and publishers. It's on the kitchen table, in unglorified stacks. Eventually we retire to the the shed; free from dogs, teenagers and television. The shed is a good place: like men, you and I can work freely here. You read my latest thesis. You call up your friends. "Come and have a look at this!"

You are still living in a rental house, having recognised that the Australian Dream only works so far as practicalities allow. You pay an alien amount of rent every week, to keep your kids in the same school they started in, to stay in the same neighbourhood where your community lives. You work hard. You work hard enough to pay that rent, deal with traffic lights and keep painting.

Sometimes I wish you were back down south, where the beaches are whiter and the Karris shade over anything too businesslike.

You, my old friend , driving to work along the Canning freeway, negotiating the traffic lights and, like everyone else, you take those stalled moments to send text messages.
Then there's the country folk like me. I'm going back to the Karri forests and white beaches. But right now, I'm still leaning against a car on that dried out highway, trying to figure out a way home.

Love, Sarah


  1. That was so heartfelt, moving and beautiful Sarah. It made me think of the moments in my own life when I think like this, when I have a rant in my own head about someone, like I have suddenly remembered and stopped long enough to distil all that they have given me.

  2. I remain forever in awe, Sarah. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Thanks Barbara, we had a great international women's day, breakfast and exhibition of Janet Pine's memorabilia from the women's movement, today.
    It felt fitting that I'd written this letter only days before.

  4. sorry that this comment has nothing to do with this (lovely, heartfelt, and beautiful) blog entry.
    i'm just passing on blog awards, and i wanted you to have one:

  5. While I reading your post , Unsent Letter by Machinegunfellatio was playing in the background , have a listen to it , makes a perfect soundtrack for your story

  6. Thanks Vencora. And Woy woy Steve, those unsent letters make the best stories hey?