I actually wrote this post months ago. Then I deleted it. Then I undeleted it and showed it to a few close friends. Then I contemplated posting it. Decided against it… but today I was feeling nostalgic and I’m in a good place in my life so it felt okay….
I sat in Hellenic Club, drink in front me. I was meant to be meeting the guys here but oddly was the first to arrive. Which is a surprise, because unless it’s a wedding, I’m always late. I texted Jason an amused
“I’m on time for once and everyone else is late!” A few minutes later a guilty Jason called to say no one could make it and he’d forgotten to text me.
I took a sip out of my drink and glanced over at a very cute girl sitting at the table across from me. She glanced up from her phone and smiled at me.
Though I’ve gotten marginally better at it now, at that time even attempting to make conversation I would have completely over thought it and wussed out. However, completely uncharacteristically, I found myself saying
“Friends just totally bailed on me,” I told her. “I can only assume it’s because I’m black.”
THIS is a reoccurring joke I make. The humour being in the fact that I am actually the whitest guy ever.
The girl hadn’t heard me do this joke to death though and laughed.
“I’m Jenna,” she said “My friends bailed on me too.”
So smiling back, I walked over to her table and sat down.
I watched the movie ‘Before We Go’ the other night. Good film. At least I thought so. Had a very “Before Sunrise/Sunset” vibe to it. For those of you that haven’t seen either, which you should – maybe the latter two more so than the former as they have the best reviews – both films are about two strangers who meet randomly, spend the night wandering the city together talking.
I have a special sort of affection for these films. It’s why I sort out ‘Before We Go’ as soon as I saw the trailer. I mean, I watched Before Sunrise and Before Sunset in 2006, so I liked them before 2012. IN 2012 however, that changed… because it actually happened to me.
“I have a cousin named Jenna,” I told her. “We were close, well, okay, I was closer with her younger sister Lyndal, when we lived in Melbourne. Kinda drifted apart when we moved to Canberra. 600km and being six years old does that I guess.”
“Well I don’t have a cousin called Liam. I like the name though.”
“I’m quite fond of it myself. Could take or leave the middle name though. But it does differentiate me from the other seven other Liam Smiths in town though.”
The night went on. We talked, played the pokies, ate dinner together. We walked through the quiet Woden area at night holding hands. We sat outside the quiet Sirius Building, where I would work in multiple times in the years to come.
And at about 2am I found myself leaning to kiss her.
And her leaning in to kiss me.
“Wait,” she said suddenly, but ran her arm over mine and held it, not wanting me to move away. “I… can’t. It’s not you, you’re great… it’s just… I have a boyfriend, we had a fight and then I was meant to be meeting my friends….”
Her voice trailed off.
“And they couldn’t make it and you met me.”
We sat there silent for a moment. Foreheads still leaning against each others.
“Any other time…”
“It’s okay. We should go though.”
And so, hand in hand, I walked her back to her car. We swapped email addresses, which is when I found out her last name. I told her to look me up if things didn’t work out with her boyfriend. She got in her car and drove off.
And I never saw her again.
I have thought a lot about that night. Interestingly for someone who tells his close friends so much information, arguably at times TOO MUCH, that this night never came up. I only told two people about it since it happened, and even then I fudged a couple of details. Not JUST to protect her identity, but because I didn’t want anyone ruining it for me. I wanted to keep to myself, keep it how i remembered it, and not tarnish it with other people’s thoughts.
There’s a plotline from the old tv show Ed, about the bowling alley lawyer, in which the lovable awkward character Warren uncharacteristically has a moment of confidence and finds himself dating the most popular girl in school Jessica Martell. After one perfect date and kiss he immortalises the event by getting an infinity symbol tattoo. Unaware of this, Jessica breaks up with him the next day for unrelated reasons.
Warren’s teacher friend uses this an opportunity to teach him that the tattoo was a bad idea. Warren however, still bummed at the breakup, tells her actually he doesn’t regret the tattoo at all: for one brief moment of time the laws of the universe turned on themselves and “Warren Cheswick was with Jessica Martell.” Even though it didn’t last he will always have that tattoo of a memory of that one perfect night.
And this is why one of the reasons I never told anyone about that night. So many wouldn’t get that, evident in the fact that one of the only two people I did tell had a rather cynical reaction to the whole ordeal, which only enstilled in me further to keep it to myself. I knew how I felt about the night and didn’t want anyone to take away from me.
Because they can’t.
When I first sat down to write this I think I subconsciously hoped she would read that. Like the movies I mentioned earlier, in Before Sunset the character Jesse admits he wrote his book about their night together in the hopes she would show up to a reading. (She does, which is what kicks off the second film.) Richard Linklater who wrote the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy has hinted in interviews that he hoped the girl whom he based the first film on would show up to a screening.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t searched for her fb over the years. Not often, because it made me feel just a little bit creepy, and very little info was born was due to her high security settings. (smart girl.)
And yes, I checked the boyfriend’s profile once or twice too. We’ll call him Charlie Mallory. Charlie had his privacy settings even stronger than Jenna did. He didn’t have a profile photo. He did… however… have a mutual friend with me.
The girl, Jacqui, was a friend of mine and her boyfriend’s last name was also Mallory. So I came to what I thought was an obvious conclusion… clearly Charlie and Jacqui’s boyfriend were related.
For a few weeks upon discovering this I contemplated whether I could subtly ask this, and one Friday afternoon when it was slow at work I called Jacqui to say hi, as I often did at the time, and casually asked “So how do you know Charlie Mallory? Is he related to your boyfriend?”
I knew she would eventually ask why I was asking… and I hadn’t quite come up with a reasonable excuse, I was kind of improvising here.
“CHARLIE MALLORY?!?!” A surprised, very vocal response came from the other end of the phone. “How do YOU know CHARLIE MALLORY?” Shit. Shit. Shit. My brain went into overdrive trying to come up with something, anything, to get me out of this. “Charlie Mallory! I wasn’t expecting to hear that name. He was a guy I kind of dated for a bit. Charlie Mallory!” Shit. Shit. Shit. SHIT.
“Ummmmmmmm……” I tried thinking stretching out a word would help buy me more time, and glancing over at the co-workers who were now clearly intently listening after hearing Jacqui’s very vocal reaction from across the room. “I kind of… tried to date his girlfriend.” I stammered out.
“Wait, what?” Jacqui’s surprise continued. “Tell me the story. Now.”
Since this conversation was already going south I didn’t want that night taken from me in the moment so I mumbled “we met online… it’s a long story…”
So Jacqui proceeded to raid Charlie’s photos.
“Awwww Liam, they look happy together.” Jacqui commented. This simultaneously stabbed at me but also made me feel better. Well, wherever Jenna was, she was happy. The curiousity in me wanted to see what Charlie looked like, though in part was because I wanted to see Jenna again. I had figured the photo Jacqui would send would show the happy couple together.
It didn’t. It show Charlie. Which did absolutely nothing beyond quelling curiousity. No revelation of ‘oh my god, she choose him?’ or ‘wow, that guy is ridiculously good looking. I didn’t stand a chance.’ Nothing.
He just was.
Like I said, despite what everyone says about Canberra, it’s big enough in the years since we’ve never run into each other again.
Shortly after writing the first draft of this, and deciding not to show it, Jacqui was the one of the people I showed it to. She looked up Charlie on facebook and learned through a friend of a friend that he and Jenna were getting married.
Now, as a result of me being a marriage celebrant I follow a lot of wedding related pages and people on facebook, so it really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise as it did when I was scrolling through facebook on my phone one day and Jenna’s wedding photo appeared in my feed.
I was having a pretty bad week at the time, so it affected me more than I thought it would, but still, no matter what, it doesn’t change that night. It doesn’t take away from me. While I don’t have an infinity tattoo on my back, I still have the memories.
I currently work in that very building we sat in front of that night. I walk past the spot almost every day and still smile. Which is probably what brought about the nostalgia in me enough to post this.
I hope wherever she is she’s happy, and yes, I even hope her and Charlie live happily ever after.
No matter what, that night always happened and will always be with me.
Of course every time I go into the Hellenic Club I look around, just because. Just in case I can see her smile one more time.