I want to tell a story from before the days of digital photography. Can I keep your attention without pictures? It was before the days of mobile phones and Facebook, and sharing photos of what you ate for lunch. (Sorry, I still don't get that!) Back when we soaked up every moment, ever present, rather than seeing it through the lens of our camera phone.
Ten years ago today, my not-yet-husband surprised me for my birthday, turning up at my door step in a tiny rural town where I was a youth worker at the local high school. We were just friends back then, good ones. And there'd always been a bit of something more, maybe, since I'd met him 3 years earlier. But he was over three years younger than me. And he'd just moved back home with his folks to start a band with his brother. And neither of those things struck me as someone who was going somewhere.
We filled the weekend with exploring the local area and introducing him to the local people and staying up really late drinking tea and doing jigsaw puzzles. And maybe I wasn't very good at keeping my feelings at bay. Maybe I flirted, just a little. At at the end of the weekend, he asked me if I wanted to pursue things further.
I kind of did. But I said I didn't.
"Not ever? Or just not now?"
I felt like saying not now was still committing myself. So I said not ever.
I lied to him, "I'm sorry if I've given you the wrong impression. Please don't read into my actions as anything more than friendship."
He left early the next morning.
The following year, his musical hopes dashed, he moved out of home again to go to uni. He was enrolled in a Bachelor of Micro-Electronic Engineering. I remember discovering that it was about speakers and audio and amplifiers and things, and thinking that he was really from another planet. I had made the right choice, really. I was after someone who was interested in saving the world like me.
I moved to Dubbo, a bigger town, not far from where I was, to study further with Cornerstone Community, the organisation we work with now here in Newcastle. That year was the very tiny beginning of learning to listen to my heart and longings, rather than the strict list of rules and plans I had written for myself as a teenager, I think as a reaction against the pain and chaos of those years. I started to take Tim's calls, and return them. I started to listen to his stories and share my own. I started to give myself permission to fall for him, and not yet think about where it might lead.
But I also knew I was slightly stuck. I had made myself clear. No matter how much I talked or giggled or batted my eyes at him. He was under strict instructions not to read into anything. As much as I loved the idea of him coming to sweep me away, I'd told him not to. I'd told him to stay away. The ball was in my court.
I found out he was going to be in Sydney for his cousin's wedding. My parents lived in Sydney, so I travelled the six hour bus ride east to meet him there. I managed to pry him away from his family and we ate the most terrible, greasy fish and chips under the Harbour Bridge. After dinner, I took a deep breath, mustered up all my courage and said,
"So, I was wondering if your earlier offer was still open?"
He looked at me, teasing, "Offer for what?"
Oh, you bugger. You want to make this hard for me, don't you?
"Umm. For a relationship?" I felt like such an idiot.
He smiled. "Jo, I want you to know that whatever happens, I think you're a really cool chic."
What! What does that even MEAN?
"Yeah, I think it could work well. Come on, let's go get ice-cream."
Work well?? Ice-cream?? I rolled my eyes at him. And we went and got ice-cream.
A year later, we were hiking through the Blue Mountains together, and having reached one of those quintessential mountain cliff views, Tim turned suddenly, dropped to one knee and proposed.
I paused. I so wanted to get him back for that night under the Harbour Bridge. But he started to look worried and I chickened out. I said Yes.
Suddenly, he turned and climbed up this massive boulder. He said,
"So, a year ago, under the bridge, I was pretty restrained because I wanted to allow things to grow slowly, but this is what I wanted to say..."
He threw his arms in the air and yelled out across the valley,
That's better, I smiled.
Well, I'm 33 today, and Tim has less hair and I have more lines on my face. And I've never managed to shed that baby weight, but I like myself a whole lot more than I did back then. And the more I've learnt to like myself, the more I've filled my life with things I like. Like studying history at Uni just because I wanted to, and having kids and sewing and deciding not to work or have a mortgage. There is less sleep in the 30s. Less emotional highs and lows. Less poetry and friendships and feeling like you're achieving something. And there's a whole lot more washing. Settledness is something that terrified me in my twenties. But now I bathe in it. I like it's solidness, the space it gives to master things, to finish a quilt, to try another, to plant fruit trees, and know (as much as one can) that we'll be here to eat the fruit.Yes, I'm going to enjoy 33, Tim. And I think it's mostly because you're here to shape it with me.