wings and things

Chapter 25: Engaged! [1992]

Sometimes I have to go back in time in order to remember the sequence of events but, after the Bill escapade, Anthony and I became engaged. I have no idea how other people’s engagement stories pan out but ours was a bit fraught.

We had told my mother and a few friends but we hadn’t yet told Anthony’s younger brother with whom he shared ownership of the farm, the brother with four gorgeous blonde-headed children, and his wife, my confidante.

I didn’t understand why Anthony felt it necessary to take a case of champagne over to J’s house to announce our engagement but my qualms were disguised by our sharing a bottle on the way. Anthony’s nervousness was palpable and it sort of leaked into my joy; I felt very confused.

We hadn’t warned them of our visit and they were just about to have lunch. And there were even some friends there. Our announcement was met with great joy and excitement and, of course, surprise, perhaps even shock but overall it was a relief to have the implicit blessing of this family who I had loved for so long. I noticed, but decided to ignore, that Anthony’s younger brother, J, had gone pale and left the house.

I am not sure if Anthony noticed his brother’s abrupt exit as we were all a bit champagned by then. But the following morning, this younger brother came over to the farm and said to Anthony:

“If you marry her, we are finished.”


Chapter 24: Melbourne [1992]

The man, Bill, who had convinced me to come from Perth to Melbourne with an extraordinary flurry of happily-ever-after promises was waiting eagerly for me at the airport. After so many years of being seemingly un-adored by Anthony, being adored by another man was pretty seductive.

This whole story may have changed route if, on the morning of the day of my flight, roses hadn’t arrived. But it wasn’t just the roses that flummoxed me; it was the rather desperate last phone-call Anthony made to me, within which there was a marriage proposal.

Maybe I should have just reneged on Bill? No, I couldn’t do that; it would have been too cruel! Also, it had been a couple of months since I had once and for all given up on Anthony with zero attempts from him to reconcile. He almost never phoned me so I found his multiple phone-calls to me, over the 24 period before going to Melbourne, bemusing, bewildering and slightly irritating.

So on that midnight flight to Melbourne I wrote everything Anthony had proclaimed to me, during all of those frantic phone-calls, on the back of a large envelope in which I had my writings to show a very interested Bill. I knew that if I didn’t write Anthony’s sentences down pronto I would never believe them.

Anthony begged me not to go to Melbourne and I said, with the tiniest bit of satisfaction, “It’s too late, Ants.”

Melbourne can be cold, even in summer.


Chapter 23: The camellia tree [1999]

Anthony had a green thumb when it came to camellias; they were dotted everywhere around the house and all of them flourished in the dairy farm-fed soil.

About 40 kilometers north of our farm, there was another country town that was home to ‘The Heavenly Gardens’ – a plant nursery specializing in camellias.

At the beginning of this little day trip, I didn’t have the slightest interest in anything green, or pink, or earthy but I humored Anthony by accompanying him. “You already have so many, so why do you need more?” I queried.

But, as our old truck bumped its way up a gravel road into the nursery, I was reluctantly impressed by the camellia-lined route and the stunning forest of camellias beyond.

A tiny, elderly woman, with a stoop way worse than Anthony’s, greeted us and welcomed us into a small shed where her workers were drinking tea. We were offered tea and accepted but, after about 15 minutes I became so bored by the camellia-laden conversation that I wandered off.

And that’s when I found her: a camellia tree planted in the ground with the most beautiful flowers I had ever seen. Each flower resembled a ballerina in full flight. I was smitten.

I ran back to the shed and asked the elderly woman if this tree might be for sale and she immediately said no. She pointed out that it would have to be dug up, that it was a rare breed, that it was unthinkable unless I was willing to pay $400. I looked at Anthony and he shook his head, no! But, against even my own will, I began to bargain and, eventually, I got the price down to $300 which was still a ridiculously enormous price to pay for a camellia tree.

As my tree was dug up and brought to our truck, the workers secretly threw in a few more inferior camellias because they thought I had been ripped off.

When we got home, Anthony planted it and it flowered prolifically for many years, until around the time he became very ill.

And then it died.


Chapter 22: The escape [1992]

Even though, by 1992, Anthony and I had been ‘together’ so to speak, for several years, I had become disillusioned by his reluctance to get married, to commit, to have who I thought of as ‘the dreamchild’, to have each other as more than weekenders.

We fought, we argued, I cried, he shouted, I left and came back, he left and came back, I gave ultimatums, he reneged, I screamed, he shut down, I sobbed, he shut down. We were living 200 kms apart in totally different worlds; he was milking cows, I had begun my PhD.

There was still that solid kernel of our original friendship in my heart when I made the decision to hate Anthony. I gathered all the years of love and screwed them into a metaphorical ball of twisted twine and started going out and about.

During one of these going-out-on-the-town episodes, I met a guy who we will call Bill. I was with one of my best friends and she was flirting with him but I somehow caught his eye. He was on holiday from Melbourne and, drunkenly, asked me to join him there the following weekend, all expenses paid.

Of course I didn’t take this at all seriously but Bill somehow got my phone number and began bombarding me with messages of instant adoration. He even sent me plane tickets to Melbourne for a soon-to-be weekend. At 32, I was still ridiculously naive! But I liked Bill and I was flattered.

The night before I was going to Melbourne, the strangest thing happened: Anthony rang me. The reason this is strange is that he almost never rang me. Due to our recent argument, and my decision to hate him, the chances of him ringing me were slim.

He was making odd sounds which I soon recognized as crying: “Where are you going, Jules?”

I lied and said I was going up north to see my friend; I didn’t want to hurt Anthony’s feelings. To this day I will never know how Anthony knew I was absolutely giving up on him and actually going to Melbourne to be with another man.

His last words on the phone to me before I flew miserably to Melbourne were a combination of sentimental greeting cards and his own version of poetry:

“I will kill him.”


Chapter 21: “It’s a boy!” [January 5th, 1994, 1am]

After what seemed like a thousand years, our scrawny little baby reluctantly emerged from the torture chamber he had created in my womb and Anthony, on seeing a penis in large proportion with the rest of our baby’s size, yelled, “It’s a boy!”

It’s difficult enough being pregnant and giving birth, without the pressure of a spouse wanting ‘it’ to be a boy. Would it have mattered? No, of course not, but still – mmm.

After the last ultrasound before Menzies/Ming was born, I pleaded with our doctor to tell me if “it” was a boy or a girl, but he wouldn’t. As the father of four daughters, our doctor told me to tell Anthony to grow up.

Well, 58-year-old first-time fathers can’t usually grow up, so to speak, because they have rather unsophisticated, almost primitive, patriarchal instincts.

If Ming had been a girl, we were going to call her either Jean (after Anthony’s mother), or Meg (after my mother), or a combination, but we only had a single name for the potential boy and that was Menzies/Ming.

I am not sure if it is the photo of Anthony cradling little Ming in his arms, or my memory of it, but it was, to use one of Anthony’s phrases, “bloody beautiful.”

After Ants went home, I stared and stared at this wonderful little baby and could hardly comprehend how he was mine. I held him close to my heart and I could feel his own new little heart beating against my chest and I felt as if the whole of my life had meaning.

And then little Ming began to cry.


Chapter 20: The other woman [1982 – 1987]

After Gar died I was obviously redundant. No longer needed to look after her, I didn’t have a role in Anthony’s life in any pragmatic way. So, once again, and again, and again, I left the situation.

I worked on a sheep station up north; I worked in London as a nanny; I began and finished a nursing qualification; I worked as a waitress at a pancake restaurant; I worked at hostels for people who had multiple disabilities; I worked in nursing homes: I worked in the hospital where I had trained; I worked as a live-in carer for the wealthy mother of an entrepreneur, Alan Bond; I worked day and night shifts at a respite house for the disabled.

And every single second of every hour of every day of all of my working life during this period of time was consumed into a vacuum of despair and hope in equal parts. My whole being was shattered by the fact that Anthony was with this other woman because, by then, he and I had become secretly romantic. At 23, I was no longer too young. I was eager, he was reticent, were both confused. Nevertheless, we started to ‘date’ on the sly.

In a sense, all of my dreams had come true. Anthony and I were now romantically entwined. But he still had the more age-appropriate girl-friend, the other woman.

It took me a few years to realize that it was me who was the other woman.


Chapter 19: The last day of the fourth August since he died [August 31, 2021]

At the beginning of this fourth August since Anthony died, I was relieved to wake up feeling normal because the last three Augusts had been filled with such an overwhelm of sadness that I could hardly function.

People like me, who have been grief-stricken, often function very well in their day-to-day lives but can then, privately, collapse emotionally when the dreaded anniversary arrives. I was fine until just a few days ago but tonight it is almost as if I can’t bear to see the end of August and, paradoxically, I can’t wait for the few hours it will take for September to arrive – spring.

My own grief at losing an 81-year-old husband seems to me to be incredibly selfish in the context of the kind of suffering other people are experiencing world-wide, especially in war zones, and I acknowledge that. When I first met Anthony and Gar my lifelong ambition was to be a social worker overseas, an evangelist even; I wanted to save the world.

I guess I had a good imagination? I decided to put my universal ambitions aside and, instead, try to save Anthony and Gar from the eternal damnation of their not-going-to-church behavior.

I remember vividly a philosophical discussion I had with Anthony late one night in which we discussed what might happen to animals when they died. As a dairy farmer who loved his cows, he wanted to know what I thought so I just said that they would go to Heaven of course.

In just a few hours it will be the end of the fourth August since my beloved husband died and the memories flood into my mind like the sounds of an orchestra practicing a strange new tune; the music is too loud.

The conductor is absent.


Chapter 18: Anthony’s 82nd birthday [February 4, 2018]

Me: Happy birthday, Ants.

Anthony: It’s not my birthday.

Me: I knew you’d say that but I am one step ahead of you. It actually IS your birthday, because this is the date you were born; it’s just that you’re not here to celebrate it.

Anthony: I don’t think I would have been up for much of a party anyway. I looked like sh**  in that bed, and dribbling from both ends! How could you stand it?

Me: Have you stopped swearing – what’s with the sh**?

Anthony: Time and place, Jules.

Me: Anyway, I’ve been thinking about how this is but isn’t your birthday, so do you want to hear the good news or the good news?

Anthony: Don’t you mean….

Me: C’mon, left hand or right hand?

Anthony: Left – no, right.

Me [under breath]: Well you always got those wrong anyway.

Anthony: I heard that. So, hurry up with the good news. The excitement is killing me.

Me: Okay well the first bit of good news is that you will never be 82 because you haven’t lived that long. Isn’t that wonderful?

Anthony: If you say so, Jules….

Me: And the second bit of news is … oh bloody hell – heck … I know I’ve written it down somewhere.

Anthony [in deep baritone sing-song voice]: Memory begins to fade in the twilight years, awakening all our fearsome fears….

Me: Oh shut up … here it is. Okay, you listening?

Anthony: Voraciously.

Me: The second bit of good news is that – oh, actually this is a bit lame but….

Anthony: Go on.

Me: Well, it’s that I won’t have to watch you suffer and die a long, slow, cruel death.

Anthony: Good point, good point. I actually have some good news for you too, Jules.

Me: Am I going to win lotto?

Anthony: I don’t know.

Me: Well, what’s the point of being dead and omniscient?

Anthony: My good news is this countdown thing they have here. It’s a bit complicated but ….

Me: Let me guess, you go backwards in time, right?

Anthony: Sort of.

Me: What a lot of rubbish!

Anthony: Wow, you sound like me!

Me: Well, you sound like me!

Anthony: It’s probably just that you’re getting our voices mixed up with each other in your head.

Me [Sighing]: Probably. This has evolved into quite a complex creative writing exercise. I mean writing to you, talking to you, makes sense, psychologically, but re-capturing your voice is surreal because it’s as if it really is you speaking.

Anthony: Don’t overthink it Jules – just go with the flow. But I’d rather be referred to as a voice, not a bloody creative writing exercise.

Me: Aha! You swore. Well thank God for that. You sound like you again, birthday boy. I miss you.

Anthony: I know. But you are going to flourish.

Me: See this is what is so disconcerting; I have never heard you use a word like “flourish”!

Anthony: It’s mentioned in Ming’s psychology diploma manual, on page 27. Actually the term “flourish” is repeated repeatedly throughout the course….

Me: Yes, I know, and it’s not a bad concept – much better than just surviving. Oh, I love talking about this kind of stuff with you, Ants.

Anthony: You are so sweet, Jules.

Me: So do I keep on chatting with you like this until the grief subsides or what?

Anthony: Do whatever you want, Jules. Play it by ear.

Me: I am so relieved I didn’t have another meltdown today.

Anthony: Why would you have a meltdown?

Me: Because it’s your birthday, and you’re dead, and I’m grief-stricken, you beautiful idiot!

Anthony: Steady on … that’s right, but we’ve already realised that there are at least three things that are good about me not being there for the occasion. I’ll talk to the countdown people and get back to you but in the meantime you could think of this as my 82nd unbirthday ….

Me: …. for want of a better ….

Anthony: Yes, and Jules?

Me: Yes, Ants?

Anthony: You mentioned lotto earlier ….

Me [excitedly]: YES?

Anthony: Money isn’t everything.

Me: [groaning with chagrin] OMG I can’t believe I’ve ended up married to some sort of weird angel/ghost/imaginary friend hybrid!

Anthony: And one with such exquisite musculature.

[Note: Not long after Anthony died I began to write a series of imagined conversations with him on my blog and this is one of them.]


Chapter 17: Mistaken identity (2005?)

Blood-stained urine is never a good sign so when this happened to Anthony we went straight to our doctor of course who referred us to a urologist. The diagnosis wasn’t good: prostate cancer too far advanced to operate so Anthony was put on Zolodex, a regular injectable implant, to keep the cancer at bay.

During our first appointment with the urologist, Anthony and I were very frightened because we knew we were going to get his test results. We entered the office and Anthony sat down in the small waiting room as I approached the reception desk and stood there tongue-tied while the receptionist finished a phone-call. Then, abruptly, she said to me, “Usually people say their name.” Shocked at her rudeness, I said Anthony’s name then went to sit next to him and whispered to him “What a bitch!” This made him smile.

A little while later, the urologist ushered us into his office and I remember thinking he looked a bit like a giant penis with his bald head and incredibly hairy hands. Of course the image didn’t make any sense but I was very anxious and my thoughts were a bit scrambled.

Once we had sat down, the urologist’s first question was directed at me for some reason and he asked how my father generally was in terms of health. Nonplussed, I nearly said that my father was still dead with no improvement because it took me a few seconds to realize that Anthony and I had been mistaken for father and daughter. I didn’t want to embarrass the urologist by correcting him, so I just answered all of his questions as if Anthony were my father.

When the diagnosis and poor prognosis were outlined to us, I wanted to wrap my arms around Anthony, and kiss him on the lips, and proclaim my undying love for him but I couldn’t do any of that because that’s not what daughters do. So I just reached out and squeezed Anthony’s hand.

One of the most difficult things about hearing bad news in a specialist’s office is that you still have to go out to reception and pay the bill and the rude receptionist didn’t make that any easier. It was probably my imagination at the time but it seemed as if she deliberately kept us waiting long enough for Anthony to have to sit down again in the waiting room with a whole lot of equally sick-looking men.

Once, when I was a kid, I got a horrible attack of the giggles in church one Sunday morning and, unfortunately, as soon as we were out of the urologist’s office, it happened again in the hallway. I quickly suppressed this odd reaction and at the lifts we bumped into a friend and her husband; he, too, had been diagnosed with a different kind of cancer by a different specialist so my giggles didn’t come back that day. My friend’s husband was, of course, much younger than Anthony, but his prognosis was worse. I have never forgotten that chance meeting and, even though I don’t see that friend very often, my heart still aches for her loss of her husband many years before my loss of mine.

Anthony and I continued to see the urologist for nearly a year, with each appointment consolidating Anthony’s worsening condition, and my daughterhood. It became impossible for me to reveal to the urologist that I was actually Anthony’s wife. It was a dilemma that, after each appointment, put me in yet another state of uncontrollable giggles until finally I decided to tell our doctor about the mistaken identity issue. He reassured me that he would write a note to the urologist.

So, at our subsequent appointment, I thought the urologist might issue an apology but he didn’t, which is fair enough. Instead, he asked a rather confronting question:

“How is your husband’s sexual performance?”


Chapter 16: Unrequited love, phases 1 & 2 [1978-1979-]

There is something particularly agonizing about being in unrequited love with someone when you know, without a tidbit of doubt, that you haven’t made a mistake.

After I returned from Sydney, I resumed working for Anthony’s mother, filled with the certainty that the special relationship Anthony and I had formed, platonically, would soon transform to romance. I didn’t mind waiting and in the meantime I thoroughly enjoyed our deepening friendship. He was like the best big brother anyone could wish for, and while Gar handed the risky reigns of cooking to me, Anthony taught me to drive and took me to my driver’s license test, which I passed.

He also started going out at night with the local lads, most of whom adored and looked up to him as the older ‘lad’. On those evenings I would stay the night because Gar was terrified of being alone at night. After putting Gar to bed and lying down next to her on the floor until I was sure she was asleep, I would get up and go into the spare room to the single bed by the window that had become mine. There, I would read, and think, and wait for Anthony to get home.

The first time I stayed with Gar so that Anthony could go out, I was unprepared for the 1am knock on the spare room window. I raised the blinds to see a very merry-looking Anthony, who loudly whispered, “Jules, can you let me in? I forgot my keys.” Now it would be dishonest for me not to admit that a frisson of adventure raced up my spine.

I got up and hurried to the back door to let Anthony in and he laughed so loudly at my flannelette nightgown that I cringed with embarrassment until he said, “You look so sweet! Put the kettle on.”

Despite the fact that I had become accustomed to the 5pm after-milking drinks ritual before dinner, I had never seen Anthony inebriated and I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I had come to know him as a rather moody day-time person, gruff and always in a hurry, busy, often tired and quite silent.

This night-time Anthony was brand new; he was fun, mischievous, sometimes even flirtatious. These occasional nights out followed a similar pattern with a common occurrence being me trying to coax Anthony into lowering his voice in case he woke Gar. The other thing that would happen is that we would stand, shoulder to shoulder in front of the Aga, waiting for the kettle to boil. These moments were, for me, confirmation.

One evening Anthony brought the local lads back and, to my alarm, I heard multiple loud voices emanating from the back veranda. I crept into Gar’s bedroom to make sure she was asleep but she wasn’t. “Get rid of those boys,” she commanded.

So I ventured into the kitchen to peek through the window to the back veranda, wondering what I should do but Anthony spotted me. He staggered into the kitchen, grinning. “You okay, Jules? he shouted.

“Yes, but your mother told me to tell you to get rid of them and she’s really angry.

Anthony saluted me and banished the small throng. The noise of car engines, as a group of around six young men left, was a great relief, but I was worried that Anthony would be angry with either his mother or me.

He wasn’t angry, he wasn’t really expressing anything. But we were once again standing, shoulder-to-shoulder, our backs warm against the Aga.

“My sisters think I should marry you,” he said, reaching for my hand and squeezing it. “You’re too young, Jules – I respect you too much!” Yeah, I realise that sounds cliched but he really said that!

Once again, I was too shy to respond and, not long after this conversation, he met a woman more his age and that was that. It was during one of those late night parties on the back veranda that I overheard one of the local lads say something vulgar about Anthony and the woman and I knew I had lost him.

To know that my unrequited love was due to Anthony’s respect for my youth, and the age difference, was one thing, but another woman? It was too unbearable so I decided to move to Perth and study nursing.

And then Gar died.