MEMOIR: HOWLING AT THE MOON (UPDATED)
We were in Mandurah one night several years ago, a warm clear night full of stars and the smell of the sea. We were eating at an outdoor restaurant with a view of the famous Mandurah Estuary, enjoying the food, and enjoying each other’s company, as always. It was as perfect a moment as it’s possible to have in this life.
Mandurah is a place I’ve felt close to all my life. It was a big part of my childhood and growing up during my dad’s “messing around with boats” period. It feels to me now like we were always down there, and I was always paddling around in the Estuary, getting terribly sunburned, or walking around town dressed only in my underwear because I was too clueless to know better, while Dad laboured away on some bastard’s expensive boat. When Michelle and I got married, we had our honeymoon in Mandurah, and the place still had at least some of the old seaside salty magic. We’ve gone back there every chance we’ve had ever since, and on this particular night we’d just arrived at the beginning of our stay.
“Excuse me,” a woman was suddenly standing up a few metres away, at another table, looking at me. She looked about my age, brownish hair, possibly hazel eyes.
It developed that she wanted to speak to me. “You’re Adrian Bedford, aren’t you?”
Ah, I thought. She must be someone who’s read one of my books. This sometimes happened, though usually readers know me as K.A. Bedford. “Yes. That’s me. Can I help you?” I smiled a blank sort of smile.
Then she smiled all warmly and said she was (as I’ll call her) Jenny Ross,” she said, and explained that we were at high school together.
This was as astonishing as encountering an actual space alien while eating one’s dinner.
I said hello, and hi, and we both stood there, at our respective tables, and it was getting a bit awkward. Because, as much as she explained, I only very vaguely remembered her. I did not know what to say. I never expected to run into anyone from “that life” ever again. Even to this day, I retain only one friend from high school, who lives in New York; we hang out on Facebook.
We asked after each other, and we both said we were doing okay, that we were doing all right, that life was pretty good, and that it was nice to see each other, and I still had no blessed idea who this nice lady was who had bobbed up out of the sea of time, and whom I never saw again.
But ever since, all these years later, drifting along on the surface of the sea of time, I think about Jenny Ross a lot, gnawing on the mystery of her. Who was she? Why did she remember me so much, and so fondly that she was happy to see me years later–when so many girls in my own recollection of that time regarded me as the worst sort of filth? Not all, by any means, but you don’t need every single individual to make an impression. There were, in those days, some girls who were at least neutral towards me, who would chat. There was even one girl, Valetta, a pretty English girl with strawberry blonde hair, who was so nice she tried to help me learn to ice skate one time during a school excursion to a dilapidated old ice rink, but I kept slipping, self-conscious, clumsy, humiliated, on my cold, wet, arse. The sight of her soft, warm, pale hand was terrifying. How could I tell her how utterly grateful I was for her graciousness towards me? I couldn’t. I felt loathsome. I felt that my loathsomeness was contagious. She reached out to take my hand, to guide me round the rink, and all I could think, looking at her winning smile and pale hand, was that what was wrong with me would rub off on her perfection. This is psychosis. It affects the way you see the world, and the way you see yourself–without your being aware there’s any problem, that what you see is the truth, that you truly are monstrous.
For a couple of years I subscribed to LinkedIn. One day I got a hello from another woman from high school—this time one I did remember, whom I’ll call Sharon.
One time, around Year 10, there was a school dance. There were usually two or three of these each year, and I avoided them. Because who would go with the likes of me? But this one time I thought, Screw it, let’s try it! There was this girl I liked, so I screwed up every last iota of courage I could muster, and managed to mumble out an invitation to her—and she accepted!
This acceptance was possibly more stressful than a rejection would have been!
On the night we did go together, in the same car. I forget whether it was her dad or my dad driving. Sharon looked lovely! I was dressed as well as my mum could possibly make me. I was terrified. I remember we didn’t talk much in the car.
I could not believe what was happening. We were going to a school dance. It was like we were going to the Moon! The entire thing was impossible!
And it was, too.
We arrived at the school, and got out of the car. Already you could hear the dull thump of the music playing in the gym.
We really looked nice. I was so excited.
She dumped me as soon as we got in the door of the gym.
She peeled away from me without a word, without a look back, and was soon lost in the thumping, jumping, swirling crowd.
But, years later, there she was pinging me on Linkedin.
I deleted the request.
I don’t remember how I got home that night. I’d walked the distance often enough in daylight so I probably did that. I wasn’t so self-possessed that I could shake off such a development and dance the night away. I couldn’t dance, for one thing.
I remember seeing couples tucked away in corners “pashing on”, and I burned with teenage adolescent envy. I might as well go outside and howl at the Moon.
It was a long way home that night.