First it was *Andy [January 16]
Inside the tram it smelt like wet sheep. The floor was smeared with a cocktail of Coke, coffee and winter rain. We’d all had enough and were heading home. No one looked more exhausted by the working day than the man sitting opposite me. His face was a picture of weariness.
I looked away then looked back again. The shape of the face, the colour of the eyes. Something familiar from a time when all faces were new and therefore unlike any others. Those faces can stick in your memory for decades.
Memories are often inflected by vivid colour. There’s an orange memory: sunset, 1970, daylight savings, Black Rock beach, late summer heat, no wind. Coarse sand between my toes. Kentucky Fried Chicken grease between my fingers. A laughing boy in the water who, back then, embodied joy.
Andy was my first love. We were six, he had two brothers, and our families had barbecues and beach trips together. Andy made me laugh. He was a fast runner and a good reader and we competed with each other in both those things. (Maybe that first love does set the pattern. I still fall for funny fast-moving avid-reading competitive boys.) Andy smiled a lot and when he smiled joy spread through me like the taste of a Wizz Fizz.
In grade four Andy moved to another school and we lost touch. His circles were not my circles. He became an orange-infused memory, until that night on the tram about a decade ago. I could have said hello to him. We could have reminisced about Black Rock Beach and primary school spelling bees. I could have asked about his two brothers and whether he still loved reading. But I was too shy and he seemed too tired. So I looked away again.
Last week I went to a funeral. There were speeches about a funny clever guy who was good at sports, delivered by middle-aged men who looked a lot like my memories of Andy’s dad. Except that they were his brothers.
The day after the funeral I went to Black Rock beach. The sea was frothy and brown, the sky slate-coloured, and it was drizzling. The horizon seemed closer. Everything was so much smaller than I remembered. Nothing was the same. Not even me.
Now, I thought – now I would say hello on that tram. But now it’s too late.
This column was published in The Sunday Age on January 15th 2017
*Andy’s name has been changed to protect his family’s privacy.