This week Pedestrian has the pleasure of publishing an entire chapter from Marieke Hardy’s new book, “You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead”. The first installment of said chapter can be found here (along with a fantastic interview by Elmo Keep), part two here, part three here, part four here and the fifth and final installment below. A special thanks to our pals at Allen and Unwin for affording us this very special honour.
We fell back onto his bed, Joey writhing clumsily in what was presumably the throes of childish passion and me frozen in a state of blind panic.
‘Kiss me!’ he whispered wetly into my forehead.
The only kissing I had done so far was underwater with my neighbour Jono Andrews when we were both five and ‘practising breathing’. I had imagined softness and sweetness and the scent of freshly washed laundry. And yet here I was with the boy of my dreams licking at my face like an overexcited Labrador. He meant well-by which I mean he was being in no way rapey-and was giggling in a friendly, high-pitched fashion like Ben Mendelsohn in The Year My Voice Broke. I giggled too, hysterically-I was utterly terrified by this point-and playfully attempted to slip from his grasp.
‘Hee hee!’ I screamed shrilly. ‘Let’s probably not do that anymore!!!’
Joey got the message and slumped back on to his pillows, instantly bored again. It was obvious he had no idea of what use I may be to him. I was a poor conversationalist, I hadn’t appreciated his brilliant musicianship. And I wouldn’t even make the afternoon lively by indulging in a little light petting. Why I’d bothered to visit in the first place seemed utterly beyond him.
There was a long and terse silence while I adjusted my Sportsgirl windcheater.
‘Well . . . I better do some drum practice.’
I made my way carefully down to the kitchen again and spent a not entirely comfortable forty minutes eating a tray of biscuits and listening to the distant sounds of Joey taking out his aggression on a presumably terrified snare drum. I was dazed. Mrs Dee seemed apologetic for her son’s pressing percussive schedule cutting our visit short.
‘Joe’s a busy boy,’ she said softly.
‘That’s okay, Mrs Dee! I’ve had a great time! Really! Thank you so much for having me!’ I managed brightly, hoping that my parents would show up before I started crying.
Nobody could get anything out of me about my visit. My parents were surprised by my uncharacteristic silence, and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t in a hurry to see Susan. She, too, seemed hurt by my standoffishness. When I eventually saw her I played down the visit as ‘stupid’ and tried to encourage a cooling off from Joey Dee (‘I think I like River Phoenix better anyway’), which she found mystifying. It was the first real wedge driven between us, and it indelibly bruised us both.
Despite our best intentions we ended up at different high schools and no matter how much we swore never to let that change things, it did. I fell in with a simpering crowd of private school hair flickers who bullied me mercilessly and Susan seemed to breeze through with new loud-talking Camberwell High classmates and invitations to pool parties. We called each other every night, and then a few times a week, and eventually only every now and then. I became ashamed of our childish love for Young Talent Time and wanted it to remain secret. I couldn’t admit the Joey Dee obsession to the sophisticated new set I was desperate to be accepted by. In the light of their eyes it seemed freakish. We were too old for such things. Susan became a problematic emblem of a past from which I was trying to wrestle myself free.
On the rare occasions we saw each other I felt like she came from a distant planet I’d long ago visited and I would look at the face that I’d known and loved so well and her new, more adult, glasses and I couldn’t think of anything to say.
‘I wonder what Joey Dee would be up to these days,’ I’d try out in a jokey voice, but it sounded as trite as I suspected it would and we both fell silent.
Strange how I remember all these Young Talent Time adventures now. Fragments of them, anyway. The rest I piece together, or make up to suit whatever crowd I’m attempting to impress with tales of my childhood.
‘Did I ever tell you,’ I start, ‘about the time I ran a fan club for Joey Dee from Young Talent Time?’ and everybody obligingly screeches with mocking laughter.
Susan became less and less a part of these retellings, and with passing years I edited her from our story altogether. Then twenty years on, the Facebook message arrives, and a jolt back to feeling everything anew.
I’m hoping you may be able to solve one of the greatest mysteries of my lifetime so far.
When I finally pluck up the courage to call her she has the sunny, tired, motherly voice of someone always interrupting a conversation with the words ‘for god’s sake put that down’ and tells me she’s so sorry to bother me.
‘I know you’re busy,’ she says. ‘I’ve read about you in the paper.’
Hardly a comforting beginning. The last time I appeared in the paper I was being slapped across the wrist for daring to suggest that simpering Liberal politician Christopher Pyne was perhaps not the most likeable chap on the face of the earth.
‘Still making an unbridled idiot of myself,’ I rue aloud and she laughs, and it’s suddenly so familiar and two decades disappear in blessed moments. She calls herself ‘Sue’ these days, something I can’t get used to. We talk about Joey Dee (‘I hear he’s a hairdresser now,’ I enjoy telling her, listening to her scandalised gasps) and her parents (both well), her husband and her child.
‘This is going to sound stupid . . .’ she starts off with an apologetic chuckle, then launches into the real purpose for her making contact.
She wants answers to a long ago conundrum, and she has come to me. This will not go well. The doors of my memory are closing in the most terrifying of ways, slamming shut with clanging finality behind me like the credits of Get Smart. There are gaping holes where there should be anecdotes and pain and remorse. The lines between truth and fiction are so smeared I sometimes can’t remember if I was actually friends with the Goonies or whether they were just characters in a movie.
I argue with an old male friend about whether we slept together or not when we were teenagers. He insists we didn’t. I insist we did. He laughs, appalled.
‘You think I wouldn’t remember if we’d had sex?’ he bellows so loudly that a nearby mother places protective palms over her fascinated child’s ears.
I run into ex-beaus, offer them friendly, hail-fellow-well-met smiles, and can’t understand why they coolly dismiss me and walk away. I must have done something dreadful. Lord knows I’m capable of it. But what? I can’t remember. I have blocked it from my mind and replaced it with something pop-culture-ish and fatuous like the name of the lead singer from Soul Asylum (Dave Pirner) or various Beastie Boys -lyrics. It’s as though there’s no room for important memories when there’s so much vapid information clamouring to be let in. ‘Bad break-ups? Infidelity? Hurtful arguments? We won’t be needing those anymore,’ I imagine my brain deciding with cheery insistence, like an efficient mother preparing for a garage sale. ‘Let’s just memorise the names of Gwyneth Paltrow’s ex-boyfriends in order instead!’
Over coffee one day, Gen mentions a Japanese restaurant in the city we’d visited a while ago. I don’t remember it.
‘Oh, you know,’ she says with a bored insistence. ‘It’s that noisy place in the laneway where we had that fight.’
Fight? Gen is one of my dearest friends. We have minor irritations with each other, emotional scuffles solved hours later with a texting pun-war and wine-soaked embrace at Joe’s Shoe Store. We don’t fight.
She looks at me as if I am joking. I half smile back at her, suspecting like any decent dementia sufferer that I’m being played for a fool.
‘Ha! There was no fight,’ I say triumphantly. ‘You’re making it up!’
Gen looks even more aghast now. My smile fades.
‘Marieke, there was a fight. You got really mad at me and we practically didn’t speak for two months.’
I don’t think she’s joking. But then I can’t believe she’s serious. I have utterly no recollection of this event and am convinced that I would remember something as important as fighting with a best pal and cutting off communication for eight weeks. Perhaps Gen has gone insane and this is the first warning signal.
‘You really don’t remember that? It was huge. We never not speak.’
There’s an explanation required now. Something so drastic should not be forgotten. This is an important mark on our friendship. It is a hurt we should be able to call on lest it ever occur again. That I have obviously pressed on in life without giving it a second thought says a lot about my shallow personality.
‘I’ve probably pushed it from my mind,’ I make up on the spot, ‘because it takes me to a dark place.’
Gen is unconvinced.
‘I just find it strange. That you would forget something like that.’
‘Gen,’ I try to catch her eye now. My tone drops to a confidential hum. ‘I think there’s something really wrong. With my memory.’
When my spelling starts going too I know I’m in trouble. I find myself staring in bewilderment at my mobile telephone, too stubborn and confused and proud to use predictive text (‘I prefer doing my own spelling,’ I regularly and loftily inform uninterested friends), and wondering exactly when it was I forgot how to spell the word ‘grateful’.
It’s probably the liquor and the music festivals. I glumly recall the year I staggered around Meredith at nine in the morning offering people free shots of vodka and think another precious memory down the drain. My primary-school friend Megan Bennett also once threw a cricket ball in my face at full speed, something she swears to this day was an accident but I suspect was merely revenge for scribbling on her Puffin Club membership certificate. Perhaps that’s responsible too. Bit by bit I am erasing all the elements of my past that make up my story. By the time I am eighty I’ll have nothing left but New Weekly crossword clues and a habit of politely asking people if they perhaps know what my name might be.
I sense a future where I’m perched at one of those bus stops they set up at old people’s homes so Alzheimers sufferers have a hobby outside of smearing their bedroom walls with shit and calling their daughter ‘Douglas’. Far from being worrying, I find something intensely comforting about the prospect. What happens when you are wrapped up in the space where memory can no longer reach you? Does it feel safe and blank and fuzzy like that moment where a Valium kicks in and everything around you turns to dust?
Susan tells me she remembers a time, not long after high school, where she hadn’t heard from me for a while and called up wanting to say hello.
‘And you wouldn’t speak to me. You told me you didn’t want to be friends anymore. And I just wanted . . . well, I guess I just wanted to know why,’ she asks quietly. ‘I know it sounds dumb, but it’s been sitting with me for all this time. Did I do something wrong?’
Horrified doesn’t even come close. She is speaking of a significant moment in our friendship-the end of our friendship-and I can’t remember. I have no idea what she’s talking about. I have coloured that moment of our past over with vague ideas of separate high schools and growing apart. I have reinvented our demise to suit my nefarious purposes. Worst of all, I have attempted to absolve myself of any responsibility over callously hurting the feelings of someone I once adored.
‘Oh that,’ I try out, laughing shakily. ‘Really? That was . . . god, it was so long ago.’
‘I know. It was just so . . . sudden. I thought I must have done something terrible to make you so upset.’
‘No no no no,’ I insist. ‘It was nothing like that.’
I pause. What would be worse? Making something up? Or telling her that I’d thoughtlessly erased the entire episode and was sorry she’d wasted so much time worrying about it?
‘I’m . . . kind of in the middle of something at work right now,’ I lie. ‘Can I give you a call back?’
I don’t ever phone Susan back. I do exactly as I did to her in 1988 and disappear into the ether. The shame is too great. This petulant, self-absorbed slice of time I carelessly flung away has remained with her for twenty years. I feel like a war criminal, a thief. I think of her, happy with children and occasionally puzzling over why I never responded to her plea for help.
I’m hoping you may be able to solve one of the greatest mysteries of my lifetime so far.
Her friend request is still lingering on Facebook. I am too bitterly ashamed to befriend her, and too laden with guilt to turn her away. After a small amount of detective work I find Joey Dee on Facebook too. He looks old and happy and is still making music. His Myspace page showcases him singing a cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’.
I’m so sorry, Susan. I wanted to solve your mystery. But I have too many of my own. There’s something wrong with my memory. I’m sorry, Susan. I’m sorry.
Subject: Re: Okay, so
Date: 20 November 2010 4:23:58 PM
To: Marieke Hardy
I love all the memories, even the ones we’d rather forget( despite the gist of this piece).
I’m not sure which bits are part of your poetic licence . . . I mean, you don’t really feel that bad, do you? I would hate to think that you have felt so poorly.
Was I sad when we went our separate ways Yes. Did I hate you for it No, not at all. I knew in my heart that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I guessed that it was simply the way life goes. High school happens. People grow and change.
If it makes you feel any better, I too turned my back on someone I loved at a poignant time in my life . . . It’s a coping mechanism with bad ethics.
All in all, I thank you for responding so honestly. It’s more than I could have hoped for. Now go and accept the bloody friend request and be done with it! You can see my cherub and I’ll see God knows what!
Take care old friend
Suddenly Sincerely Sue
This is the final part of an edited five-part extract from “You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead” by Marieke Hardy (Allen & Unwin, $29.99, available at all good bookstores from August 29).