HAPPY-SO-FAR (Updated)

The Time Traveller thinks it’s a stupidly hot day for a wedding, but he knows the groom chose today, of all days, 14 February, Valentine’s Day, less because he’s a giddy romantic fool (though he’d love to be that) than because he has a horror of being That Husband, who forgets his anniversary. And so far, the Time Traveller has never forgotten.

It’s over forty degrees out there in the hotel courtyard where the guests are sitting in a bit of afternoon shade, watching the happy couple recite their vows. The groom looks terrible, the Time Traveller thinks. The dumb kid really should have spent some more money to get a decent tux that fitted properly. For years following this day the groom will tell people that he looked like the long-lost Fourth Tenor, and the Time Traveller, watching from the shade of the hotel verandah, thinks there’s something to it, except for the cling-wrap shabbiness of the outfit, and the groom’s sweatiness. The kid looks worries, but he’s not, actually. At this moment, as the secular marriage celebrant leads the groom and the bride through their vows, the groom is so happy he’s just about in tears. And Michelle, the luminous bride in her handmade lace dress, shines in the sun, the way she’s always shone in my eyes.

It’s preposterously unlikely that we met. I have thought about this a lot, trying to wrap my head around the scale of the odds against it. Because it should never have happened. To say it was a million-to-one shot is most likely understating the remoteness by orders of magnitude. You’d have to be struck by lightning, on a plane that’s crashing, during a terrorist attack, on a Tuesday, to get a sense of the true weirdness.

There was, in the 1970s and 80s a gaming supplies shop in Perth called Simulations, a place you went for your Dungeons and Dragons and wargaming and boardgaming supplies. It was a little tricky to find, the sort of place you only found out about if you knew people who went there who would take you, or give you precise directions.

You started on Hay Street Mall, and headed east, past the old Cinema City (the Time Traveller notes that Cinema City, like all the cinemas in Perth, which used to be such a haunt for me, are no longer there), then down a little arcade, up some rickety old steps, and there it was: a hot, stuffy, creaky-floored room which always seemed oppressively quiet like a library, with its array of interesting items, the busy noises of the city floating up from Hay Street below. I went there a lot, and bought many neat things, often on lay-by.

And never, ever, not once, did I stop on my way in the door to look at the notice-board hanging next to the door. It was your standard sort of board, covered over with dubious-looking business cards and flyers with what what looked like gap-toothed phone-number pull-off tags. I saw that notice-board every time I visited Simulations year after year after year, and I never looked at it. Not once.

By 1986, I had left university. The whirling instability was spinning down like a mad top running out of steam. I was spending a lot of time outdoors, walking long distances, losing lots of weight, getting fitter, starting to feel better. I was missing being with people. One thing about university: you’re surrounded with people all the time. These days, the way I am now such a recluse, how being with people fills me with such anxiety, I look back at the comfort my Past Self had with groups with shock. And that Past Self was chock-full of psychosis and all kinds of weirdness. He had serious problems, especially regarding girls, but casual groups of people were more or less okay. It was company. It was like Facebook, but in real life.

But after I left university in 1985 I very rarely saw those people anymore, and some of them not at all. I was on my own. It was a shock. In some ways a good shock. I didn’t have to maintain an illusion of being okay. I didn’t have to put up with people I didn’t like, or listen to things I wasn’t interested in. Even so, once I started to feel better, once the worst of the instability eased, I started to miss the old life, and started to feel like I’d made a giant mistake.

One day around July 1986 I was out in the city with my friend Harry. I met Harry at university, and was very close to him. He was and remains a good egg. He was my best man at the wedding. He and I spent a lot of time hanging out in the city, getting a bite to eat, wandering around, harassing Scientologists, sitting chatting about everything, watching endless Chuck Norris movies, and enjoying each other’s inestimable company. And one of the things we liked to do was to visit Simulations.

And on this one particular occasion, for no reason whatever, as were going in, I saw the fluttering papers and cards pinned to the notice-board, and, on a mad whim, I decided to stop and have “a quick squizz”.

This was another bank vault door moment around which my whole life pivoted. If I had never looked at that notice-board, my life since then, and to this day, would be unrecognisable.

In amongst the flyers on the board was one promoting a gaming club operating in a community centre in Girrawheen.

The Girrawheen where I was living with my parents, and feeling so lonely and isolated.

The community centre was one I knew well. It was within easy walking distance of my house.

I could feel the wind of fate blasting against my face that day, you could say.

That night, I made a phone call. The following Saturday, nervous as hell, jittery, agitated, probably overdressed, not at all sure how to approach the whole thing, even based on the information I’d been given by the club president, I turned up, all teeth and hands and elbows.

They, the members of the Northern Area Gaming Association (NAGA) made me feel welcome. There were about twenty people, mostly younger than I was, and mostly guys, but there were some girls as well.

Michelle was one of the girls.

I was assigned to a roleplaying game, a system called SpaceMaster, a clunky, unwieldy beast of a thing with loads of cumbersome dice-rolling and chart-consultation in order to decide anything. The genre was gaudy space opera, and the scenario playing out at the table that Saturday was hard to fathom. But a bunch of guys on one side of the table seemed to have run off with the comedy-action-violence of the piece, and Michelle’s brother Neil, who was running the game, seemed inclined to indulge them.

That left Michelle and I on our side of the table to talk. Michelle was 18 (I was 23), bright, funny, attractive, and, as we talked between incidents of high-tech ultra-violence from the other side of the table, and chipping in our own contributions, I learned that Michelle had an interesting background, was studying some fascinating stuff at university, and we just got on.

It was simple. We could talk without any trouble or confusion. It’s still like that, all these years later. We don’t really fight or argue about things. We just talk things out. I have always loved this about Michelle, that we talk so easily. Even when things have been hard, we have talked.

Recently, Michelle told me that for the past few years she has felt she’s had to work hard to keep her head above water, to “keep on swimming”. As she saw me getting sicker and sicker (when in 2015, and we were visiting Sydney for a concert, and I couldn’t get out of bed before 3-4pm each day, she knew something was wrong), when I had my “meat section incident” in Mandurah Woolworths, and so many more similar indications, she felt she had to work hard to provide practical and emotional support for me.

But since I left hospital last year, and especially over the past few months, as my health has stabilised, as I’ve started writing every day, as I’ve been doing exercise more often, and my medication has started working pretty well (sags in the testosterone cycle notwithstanding), things in general have greatly improved. I’ve been working hard on my so-called “recovery KPI’s”, those indicators of my mental health and how I’m doing (read at least one chapter of a book, or short story; write at least one piece for website; go for Thinking Walk or other exercise; do all maintenance jobs around home; and do at least one Korean language lesson (yes, Michelle and are learning Korean language)) that are good benchmarks. If I can get all five done in a day, it makes me feel content.

And it makes Michelle feel, as she said, that at last, she doesn’t have to paddle quite so hard.

It burned me to hear about how hard she’d been working while I’d been so ill. I knew she was doing it tough. I knew that very well, and it was one of the things I hated most about the entire experience. One of my greatest, most excruciating fears last year, during the full-blown depressive cycle that happened after the withdrawal of my Clomipramine and the clinical failure of the Zyban, was that Michelle might leave me. That I might be simply too much trouble, too much bother. I worried about this day and night. It kept me awake at night. Long nights.

These days, I don’t worry about that any more. Things are better between us now (touch wood) than they have been in a long time. All is well, or at least well enough. In some ways, things now are better than they have ever been, which is astonishing. I have had an upgrade, you might say.

I am skeptical of “happy-ever-after” as a story-telling device. I don’t know that life ever really works out that way, as it does in stories, though I suppose it depends on what you count as “happy”. But for us, at the moment, I will accept “happy-so-far”.

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