(the following is a piece I wrote back in 2008. I have reduxed it here because I liked it).
The new phone directory arrived on the doorstep the other day. It was all fresh and new, no dog eared pages, the cover fresh and vibrant, it smelled great. The arrival of the new phone directory is always cool, if for no other reason than I get a chance to ditch the crappy old and bask in the glory of a brand new one before it gets thoroughly trashed.
The phone directory is society.
It's more than just names on a page or a means to find a business or service. In it are hundreds, thousands of stories. Individual stories, family stories, success stories and stories of failure...of heart ache. It is a microcosm of the world in which we live and it more than any other piece of literature has the ability to connect people.
Do you ever scan through the pages of peoples name on your search for that one person you are looking for and wonder just who these people are? I do, but I'm kinda screwy in that way...
So the phone directory came the other day and, like previous years, I brought it in and set it down on the kitchen table. Each year when it arrives I do the same thing, bring it into the house, set it down on the table then I go about my business. I try to go about my business...but there is always a question, a ghost if you will, that returns each to foment in my mind and persist in tugging at my conscience no matter how much I try to ignore it.
Is she still there?
I'll go outside, mow the lawn, tinker in the shed, weed the garden, wash the car. But the question lingers. It won't leave me alone. Each time I go in the house and walk by the table, there it is...and the question lingers.
I put the directory away in the cupboard, to get it out of my sight...yet the question still lingers.
Is she still there?
The past for me holds failed love and loss. Though time has moved on and I have moved with it, sometimes, ghosts from the past pull me back to remind me of those failures. It is not fair to my family now that I continue to be haunted by the past. It seems, to me, to be a sort of betrayal - yet I love my now serioso and I love my son and I would never give up on them. But the ghost of my failings still haunt me.
Though I tried so hard to fix those things that were broken, I was cut off at the knees. Things happened, decisions were made that I had no control over, no choice but to accept. I was forced to give up everything and to move on. Then...when I did move on, when I tried to rebuild a shattered life there were changes of heart, she changed her mind.
I can't live without you...We could keep it a secret...I was wrong about us.!!...please don't leave me!!!
There are still so many things that I don't understand about that time and, as a result, there is still a residual grief. There are, still, so many questions - questions that I will, probably, never know the answers to. That is one part of my story, though it's one that will never be hinted at through the phone directory because I chose along time ago not to have my name listed in there.
Every year, when the new directory arrives I do the same thing. I dance around it for a while, try to ignore it while the question taunts me, then I give in. I sit down and I look. And, there she is...in the same place she was last year. In a bizarre way I take comfort in that. What is that? Is it some sort of holding on to the past?
Just by seeing her name on the page, I feel a sense of comfort. But it's wrong...way wrong...Isn't it?This year it was different. When I finally relented and hurriedly flipped through to where the entry should have been...
She was gone...
No longer there...
I was at once stunned and then sad. Why would that make me feel this way? So empty? That it was a last connection to an old life perhaps? A reminder that I had lived before? A reminder of my failings?
We tend to seek solace in grief sometimes. It is a curious notion that I have increasingly found truth in. I have found a sense of solace in grief, a sense of comfort. I have no idea why that is so but seeing her name there, knowing she was still there in her own consequence, was a comfort. Her name is gone from the phone directory now and, for a moment, I felt awful. And I feel stupid because I felt awful. Now - I just feel empty...
What does that mean?
This week, I shall say goodbye to an old friend. A friend I have known for three short years, a friend who is one of the important souls I have ever met. Together we have shared the most wonderful and enriching conversations......yet we have never spoken to one another.
Together we have been on the longest walks...
...but my friend has never moved from the one place. This friend greets me every morning as I leave for work and again when I return home in the evening...
...yet my friend has never stepped inside my home.
My friend lives on a tranquil hillside that overlooks the township, in a meadow where cows graze and kangaroos sometimes pass through. I'm rather envious because the vista up there is beautiful and peaceful. There is an uninterrupted view across the valley. I shouldn't complain though, because I have an uninterrupted view of the hillside from my loungeroom window and my friend is always the centerpiece of it.
I guess my friend has lived there for maybe 60 or 70 years? I don't really know because he looks as youthful as ever. Always healthy, always straight and tall, limbs strong.
Our best conversations are usually on a Saturday morning when I sit out on the porch with a cup of coffee and the paper. It's ironic actually that one of our first conversations/debates was about a hurricane in North America and the government's response to it and, this week, our last will be about another hurricane threatening the exact same peace of coast line. How the government responds to it this time is yet to become clear but, no doubt, he'll have little to say on the subject...again.
There were a few other significant events we shared. The day I brought home my newborn son there was a sunrise over the hill unlike no other that I can remember that I could have sworn he'd had a hand in. When the was more than a few significant domestic rows within the house it was his counsel that I sought out more than anyone else's. I'm sure he recommended more than a few of the apologies I went back to offer. The day one of my heroes, the journalist Matt Price, died he consoled me for a time as I shed a quiet tear for a man whose articles I had religiously though I had never met him.
This week I will farewell the tree that's sits alone, on the hillside above my house. And I will shed a tear again because I don't think I will ever meet someone quite like him again. The friendship we shared healed me, it sustained me and it enriched me. Saying goodbye to that tree will be harder than saying goodbye to my house, for while I love my little country cottage it is still youthful and new. It has yet to sit for the years that tree has sat and experience the comings and goings of people.
Where will I turn to now?
Whose counsel will ever be as qualitative as that of the tree above my house in the Hills?
The roots of that tree hold onto the soil of a place, the only place where I feel I have truly belonged.
This morning, as I was emptying out a wardrobe I happened across an old newspaper my grandfather gave me a long time ago. God, it was something like 23 years ago! My grandparents were moving house at the time and I found this old newspaper in a shed outside their house that was full of all sorts of odds and ends. My grandfather was a bower bird - he collected everything!
Including a complete issue on the Melbourne Sun newspaper dated July, 1948.
I took it home and kept it. I took it out every so often and had a look through it, I'd show friends, I'd marvel at how times have changed.
I was a weird kid.
The crossword had been done. Pa was a crossword fanatic. He had a tattered old thesaurus which used to sit on the table with him every morning and I'd sneak a look through it sometimes and wonder how a thesaurus used to function as opposed to a dictionary. It took a few years before the penny dropped...
Like I said, I was a weird kid...
I can't quite believe that I still have that old newspaper. And I find that it usually comes out when I'm preparing to move - it's like a bloody talisman for moving. Russia was creating a bit of trouble for the Allies in post war Berlin - the first seeds of the Cold War. The Australian cricketer Donald Bradman was playing a golf tournament somewhere. That was the year he retired from International Cricket. Joe Lewis beat the crap out of someone whose name escapes me right now. I don't have the paper in front of me right now, so forgive my lax recollection. It's been carefully boxed away for the move. It is a time capsule of a time I had no part in - hell my parents weren't even born yet. But it is a tangible link to my grandfather who I was fortunate enough to have known for twenty years of my life.
It is yellowing now, it's pages are increasingly flimsy and tattered at the edges but I won't ever part with it...well I won't as long as I can help it. Maybe I could get it to it's one hundredth year and present it to the Melbourne offices of the Herald Sun. I'll be an old man by then, if I'm still around at all.
I was numb the day my grandfather died though I did not weep then. In fact, it was a good three or four months before his death hit me. And it came late one night when I was driving home from university. I was tired, so tired. And it just hit me that he was no longer around. I sobbed so hard that I had to pull over and just sit and let it out.
It seems that there are ghosts everywhere lately. I can't work out if that is a good thing or not...