Broadside

So my ex is getting married. Anyone who knows both of us will already know this, it’s not an announcement. More just a… huh. What the fuck? I was glad to be the last to know – I had figured finding out anything about her relationship/s would not really add to the lustre of my travel experience, so I cut off any information from that quarter while I was away. Praise Harry the Bloody Dancing Fish God, no-one breached the cone of silence. But the truth, like Ricky Martin, was always going to come out in the end.

Actually, it was no great surprise. I already had an inkling after talking online with my sister a while back, in the closest thing to a cone-breach. The conversation went a bit like:


“So…are you guys still in contact?”

“No. Not at all. I’m trying to avoid hearing anything about her.”

“Right. Cos… you know I’m still friends with her on Facebook, right?”

“Yep. That’s great. But I don’t want to know anything about what she’s doing.”

“And I see things.”

“I don’t care. I don’t want to know.”

“Well…maybe there are things you should know.”

“I. Don’t. Want. To. Know.”

“I mean, there are things that might be better coming from me than somewhere else.”

“OH DEAR GOD SHUT UP JUST FREAKING SHUT UP RIGHT NOW.”

“I would want to know.”

“IF YOU DON’T STOP RIGHT NOW I SWEAR TO GOD I WILL COME UP THERE AND TAKE YOUR TYPING FINGERS.”

[Long pause.]

“Ok.”

“Fuck. With all that build-up, that can only mean she’s either pregnant or engaged. Either of which would really ruin my week. Can you just tell me it’s neither of those things?”

[Long pause.]

“It’s neither of those things. I just wanted to tell you that she won the final round on MasterChef.”


Smooth. So I went on my happy way, and only got official confirmation once I got home. It’s incredibly odd, because this situation is something I’ve imagined quite extensively. Not in relation to this case specifically, but as one of the momentous things that a person might have to pass through in life. The same way you imagine how you might react to being told you have cancer, or to your best friend dying, or your girlfriend saying she’s pregnant. One of those things that happens to people every day but hasn’t happened to you, so you give yourself little rehearsals, part preparation and part apprehension. How would it feel, I’d imagined a lot of times, when someone you had thought you might spend your life with ended up signing on with someone else?

And here it is. It actually went down a lot better than I’d expected. At first it was that numb feeling you get when you hear any kind of difficult news. Then it was like being punched in the gut at five-minute intervals for the next 24 hours – kind of nauseous and short of breath, but still functional. That wasn’t unexpected: it’s the emotional version of my knee injury. You hit the floor, you feel something snap, and you just know that there’s serious damage. But you can’t feel anything much yet, so you say, we’re just gonna have to wait for that to kick in. But this time, the meltdown I was budgeting for never actually arrived. I kicked around, kept getting shit done, and waited for the other shoe to drop.

But it never quite fell. Or hasn’t yet – maybe it’s on a really long delay. It feels crap, but just there and thereabouts. I mean, by now I was expecting to have had a couple of those cathartic bawling sessions that feel like someone’s just torn a whole wad of barbed wire through you from arse to throat and hollowed you out. I was expecting to be sitting there drinking straight whisky with a couple of helpful friends, feeling it scrape down my chest while our raw spirit-shredded vocal cords belted out The Dropkick Murphys:


So you say you fell in love, and you’re gonna get married,
Raise yourself a family, how simple life can be.
Somewhere it all went wrong, and your plans just fell apart
And you ain’t got the heart to finish what you started…


But – no bottles of spirits. No fiery rage. No climbing glass-studded walls. No howl. Something much more dull and insistent drumming once a minute behind the temples. At the very least, out of married or pregnant, in this day and age the former feels a whole lot less permanent. In theory there’s no reason why it should bother you at all. Your relationship has been done and dusted a long time, and it’s not like this makes you any more separated. And yet, even the fact that I’d been imagining versions of this event indicates that it’s socially known to be a big deal, for a lot of people, and hard for them to take.

Now that it’s happened, I can see why. It hurts because it seems so patently unfair. Here’s the thing that you failed at; here’s someone else sailing to success on the same track. You imagine the couple – if they’re getting married, they must have a perfect, idyllic existence together. They must be always happy, beautiful and well-groomed, living in a lovely house, serving each other breakfast in bed on alternate days, laughing gently in soft focus. It’s easy to dismiss what you know about how unhappy so many married couples are, how less than half of them last the distance, how half the ones who do just end up crushingly bored with each other. I thought about proposing a bunch of times. Actually bought a ring once, before quietly abandoning the idea. If I hadn’t, she may even have said yes. It wouldn’t have made us any more functional.

But that reality can’t penetrate this kind of funk, not right away. It’s just so impossibly galling, like the universe has played you for a chump. You work yourself up into this righteous huff. You try your guts out for two and a half years, says your indignant brain. You get broken down into component parts, built up, and demolished again. You put in everything you have, you wear yourself down to windowsill grit, and it still, still doesn’t work, none of it, ever. So eventually you give up. You have no choice. You suck it up, and you ditch the dream, and you leave. And then the second you walk away, some douchebag just rocks up and gets thrown the keys to the Jag.

But those feelings circle around like any others. The other day, the incomparable Snorkel asked if I wanted to feel better. I did. She said when her relationship of five and a half years ended, the guy waited three weeks before announcing he was seeing someone. Three months later they got married. In the house that he and Snorkel had bought together. Snorkel went to the wedding. Holy motherfucking shit, is what the fly-catching expression on my face was saying when I heard this story. I could not believe this remarkable woman was so calmly telling me this, and smiling throughout as she always seems to do. As the wise-before-his-time Ben Jenkins opined, sometimes our own apparent suffering is just a wheel in the machine of someone else’s far more awful unhappiness. We struggle to look beyond our own perspective, but if we can, the view is illuminating.

And there have been plenty of good parts to the recent view as well. There was the Eastment Street Billycart Derby, and possibly the most fun I’ve had watching other people be stupid. There was the drinking and cheering and the fashions in the field. There was the brilliant hosting (“Give him the clap!”). There was dancing in the rain as the day fell to dark and the whole thing devolved into a random street party. There were Tabasco-laced shots in the bar, and O’Neil’s debonair hat, and a brassy girl taking me home to drink whisky, no Dropkick Murphys required. There was a morning free of hangover and awkwardness and housemate interactions. There was an hourly bus that came two minutes after I got to the stop. There was my car staying five hours in a one-hour spot and remaining ticket free. There was a sunny day and a temperamental CD player that didn’t skip. There was having sunglasses for more than 24 hours without losing them. There was somehow arriving home with one sock fewer than when I’d left, and deciding that was a fair price to pay.

So… here’s hoping life remains possible. The downs always complement the ups, but with luck the standard deviation will settle closer to the mean. Of course, newly arrived, there is always going to be debris to kick through, the random heartpunch of old associations. Driving past her old place for the first time the other day, the one that we painted together after I first helped her move in. Finding bits and pieces of hers in the boxes I’m gradually unpacking. Presents that she gave me. Running across her name in books and magazines, seeing poems and stories that I saw her write. Ghosts don’t hover, they stick like half-chewed taffy across all the objects in your life.

I can remember this from the first time I got seriously heartbroken, at the tender age of 20. Dutchie, who was wise before his years (and still is wise, before slightly fewer of them), sat with me in the KFC on Swanston St while I stared blankly at the traffic. “The fuckin’ radio, man,” I said at one point. “It’s killing me.”

“Yep,” he nodded. “You never realised before, but for the next six months, you’re gonna find that every song you hear was actually written about her.” The bitch of it was, he was dead right.

And songs always do it worse than anything else. I had a corker in Sydney recently, courtesy of The Broadside Push. This is Benezra’s dirty-blues band, one of my favourite writers who did a number of kick-arse spoken word sets for us at Wordplay back in the day (listen to one here). I can even remember him playing ‘Silverwater Run’ there on acoustic guitar in our first year. I saw the band play not long before I went away, seemingly just getting their act together. In the intervening year they’ve tightened up immeasurably, and now they’re dark and complex and… I don’t know, have this kind of 19th century vibe, with their early colonial tales of bluestone alleyways and characters on the run. Double bass and mandolin and harmonica, and over it all this growly storyteller’s voice. And they can make you dance, man, a tavern jig or a Scottish reel. They are fucking glorious. You should find them, live or on their website – there are songs there to listen to.

So I’m in a pub in Annandale, watching them play, and it’s exactly one day shy of a year since I left Melbourne, left the country, left her behind. 364 days since we spent our last night together. On that day I had been about to head to the airport to get to Sydney and meet my flight out. I dropped her off at a suburban train station, and we both cried like a film crew was shooting, and had one of those endless hugs where no-one wants to break away, clinging on like we were each the other’s life raft. I can’t explain how awful a moment like that is, when you do the last thing that either of you really wants, but you force it down like some bitter fucking medicine that you know is supposed to be good for you in the long run. She wrote to me later. “I think we ended it rather admirably. And poetically – let’s be honest. He went to Argentina and she bought a book on birds.

And I’m thinking about the fact that it’s one day short of a year, and I’m thinking about that day, and everything that has happened in the meantime, when Ben says, “This song is called ‘Almost a Year.’” And before I can even think ‘what the fuck’, they start to play. Every song is actually written about her.

Let me give you a little context. In this scenario, I’ve just been in contact with her for the first time in months. She’s just moved house. The new guy is presumably a feature of this arrangement. There were cardboard boxes marked for her left at my folks’ place when I left. She had previously lived in a little flat, the place I mentioned earlier. The back door didn’t lock, so I used to let myself in. I would work late and come around in the early hours of the morning. She didn’t wait up, or leave a light on. It was all about moving softly through the dark. (I liked that, though.) Now I was on the move, preparing to go south. We always used to stay up late when I was there, that little high-up flat. Replace ‘Genevieve’ with a similar-sounding three-syllable name, and you may start to see why this kind of punched me in the chest. For the full effect, click the title to listen to the song as well.


Almost a Year

It’s good to hear your voice, it sure has been a while.
You said you found a little flat behind that pub with the yellow tiles.
And your bedroom window locks, but only from the outside.
What was in that cardboard box you left at my parents’ house?
I came around last night just to see if you’ve settled in,
but you left the light on for him.

I only made it just as far as your welcome mat.
You never used to wait up late for me like that.
But I guess that it’s been almost a year, Genevieve.
And it’s been almost a year, Genevieve.

I’m also moving house, I’m skipping on the lease.
I’ll probably head down south; I know I can’t live on the east.
I came around last night just to let my fires dim,
but you left the light on for him.

I only made it just as far as your welcome mat.
You never used to wait up late for me like that.
But I guess that it’s been almost a year, Genevieve.
And it’s been almost a year, Genevieve.

It’s good to hear your voice, it sure has been a while.
Maybe we can meet up for drink at that pub with the yellow tiles.
And reaching like a limb, your light is shining free.
Maybe it’s for him. Who knows? Maybe it’s for me.

And maybe I can make it past your welcome mat.
I remember staying up late with you like that.
And I guess that it’s been almost a year, Genevieve.
And it’s been almost a year, Genevieve.


This will be the last time I write about her, I hope. It seemed relevant when I was away, because all that stuff was part of the mental landscape, part of the reason for being there in the first place. Leaving it out would have been like writing Moby Dick without the whale. But now is very much the next stage, the natural point for some kind of conclusion. With the news I’ve just heard, doing anything different would be a bit weird, like some guy who keeps a shrine to his dead wife. It’s not easy, but nor is it Robinson Crusoe on that score. At the bottom of it all, I wanted her to be happy. And I was surprised to find I really mean it when I think, if this is what it takes, then I wish it well. (Just please Oh God please don’t ever let me see her middle name on a wedding invitation. That would be all it took to bring me down.)

In a strange way, despite the difficulty, it’s affirmation too. That the decisions and the instincts were right, that the initial hurt was worth it. It’s weird to only really be confronting this now, when to everyone else it’s ancient history. This was the mixed blessing of running away, and the cone of silence. It helped me get through the toughest bit, but it meant everything stayed in stasis inside my head. When I said recently I didn’t want a relationship for a long while, one of my friends shot back “Maybe that’s because you’re still mentally in one.” Maybe she’s right. It’s easy to get stuck with a static image and substitute that for reality. But people are not static. They shift and morph and wander off into the desert. Coming home, then, means suddenly trying to catch up. Everyone else has long since adjusted. A new reality to me is established and normal to them. As much as it stings, this is the way the world has turned out. That love has receded from view. Things have moved on. And I guess it’s been almost a year now, Josephine.

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13 Responses to Broadside

  1. sage says:

    love this…

  2. Randall says:

    ‎”sometimes our own apparent suffering is just a wheel in the machine of someone else’s far more awful unhappiness. We struggle to look beyond our own perspective, but if we can, the view is illuminating.” I found this with my big break up, you’d cast out your sad story and net bigger ones for your trouble. What can I say from this side of the 30-ranges, it’s a rite of passsage amigo, sometimes we can do it nobly, more often it’s just destructive and messy. We all go through it, and get through it.

  3. Julien says:

    Thanks Geoff. An excellent read.

  4. Matt says:

    the more we cry, the better. good blog, geoff, and pretty gutsy, i think, too…personally i recommend laughter (“does anybody remember LAUGHTER?”) or various superb musickings (dylan’s ‘blood on the tracks’, ‘time out of mind’, followed by ‘love and theft’ for perspective, or the many and various sad sookings around. then there’s always funk n jazz n punk n rock to get you UP.) must admit, i’ve also got some damn fine sad/bad love poems out of my own heartbreak…

  5. Clemenceau says:

    Beautifully poetic, dramatic and shit.

  6. AC says:

    “This will be the last time I write about her”

    Something like this:
    http://www.onlylyrics.com/hits.php?grid=5&id=1024129

    • geoff says:

      Yes, something very much like that indeed. Good choice.

      Remarkable that you should bring Frightened Rabbit into it, actually. ‘Good Arms vs Bad Arms’ was the other song I wanted to work into this article along with Dropkicks and The Broadside Push, the other one you listen to at times like this and it seems to channel exactly what you’re thinking. “I don’t want you back / but I want to kill him,” for the angry part. And “your naked flesh / under your favourite dress” just kills me from sadness when I hear it. Great heartbreak music, if you want to amplify the feeling.

      In the end I decided there were references enough. But well spotted, all the same.

      • AC says:

        Well, about half that album would be incredibly appropriate – my odds were pretty good on a random selection. But somehow that one seemed most apt…

  7. fluffy says:

    Well done mate

  8. Corch says:

    its a pretty raw and gutsy piece mate, must feel good to get it off your chest.

  9. Greg says:

    Great work Geoff. What a read!

  10. Nat says:

    Thanks for posting this link Geoff, I had no idea you wrote a blog and am now thoroughly addicted to reading it! Really brilliant work dude, and broadside had me tearing up on the train. Thanks for sharing it, and I hope things get that little bit easier each day or week for you. Now back to reading I go!😉

  11. Jess says:

    thankyou for this post. I’ve only just discovered your blog through the climate articles and while scanning your archives stumbled on this. In a similar situation myself and you managed to put so much of how I am feeling into words. “In a strange way, despite the difficulty, it’s affirmation too. That the decisions and the instincts were right, that the initial hurt was worth it. It’s weird to only really be confronting this now, when to everyone else it’s ancient history.”
    We all deal with things in our own way and I hope that you have continued to move onto happier times now🙂
    Thanks for all your excellent posts, i’ll be coming back regularly for more🙂

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