After school I moved from Armidale to the Gold Coast to live with my brother and sister, along with a guy named Troy who was perpetually stoned and ate my food, and Sharon, who was my favourite person in the world for my whole 10-or-so months there. Sharon was from Wolverhampton and she adopted me as her little sister/partner-in-crime almost immediately. The two of us worked in a tiny office together and she used to chain smoke while making jokes about our company’s clients, employees and boss. We spent an awful lot of time together – less after she moved out with her boyfriend once our apartment started bursting at the seams – but I never tired of her company. I visited her and her family on our overlapping holidays in England at the end of that year, and I missed her terribly when I first moved to Sydney, but we never did well at talking on the phone and we soon lost touch. I haven’t spoken to her now for over 10 years. She’s probably given me lung cancer.
Throughout uni I lived with Owen, a friend of my then-boyfriend’s, and with his awful cat, Polly, who actually wasn’t Owen’s but belonged to his ex-girlfriend who he was still completely in love with though daring to suggest such a thing would most certainly NOT GO DOWN WELL. At first Polly lived with us because Bec (the ex) was overseas for a couple of years, and then, when Bec returned, Polly continued to live with us because Bec moved in somewhere that didn’t allow cats (I swear she made this up). I did not like that cat. I did like Owen, though; he was silly and kind and reminded me a lot of my brother. Plus he worked most nights and slept most days, had his own bathroom, and ate out often, so we were out of each others’ way most of the time. If it wasn’t for Polly, it would have been the flatmate match made in heaven – I only remember having one argument with him in the few years we lived together, and it was about that wretched cat.
I avoided the cat as much as possible. All of her things were in his room to make it clear that Polly wasn’t my responsibility, however this also meant that I was unaware of when or whether she got fed. Despite my lack of love for the creature, I did feel a twang of concern when she started jumping off our fourth floor balcony; whether she’d originally thought to commit suicide but accidentally landed on the balcony below and then realised there was cat food there, or whether she’d been eyeing off the food for days and decided it was worth the risk, I’ll never know. If it didn’t start as the latter, it certainly ended up that way; she made the jump at least a few times before our neighbours downstairs indicated their unhappiness with the situation and Owen started doing a better job of keeping her bowls regularly stocked.
(This reminds me of another terrible pet story from my Gold Coast sharehouse; I’d been the only one home for a few days before deciding to head off to see family for the weekend. While I was away I received a call from Sharon, who’d returned home earlier that day; our conversation went something like this:
S: BELLE! We’ve killed Jed’s bird!
B: We’ve killed what?
S: Jed’s bird! It’s dead!
B: Jed has a bird?!
S: Had a bird. HAD A BIRD!
This is why when you assume your flatmates know about all pets and will feed them when necessary, you make an ass out of u, me, and your poor budgerigar.*)
Unfortunately Owen started a new job in Newcastle, and so he and Polly had to move. He called me a few times on his last day in Sydney, though I ignored him because I was certain he wanted to organise taking my (FINE, it was his) fridge away (I’d been hanging on to it while he checked whether Bec wanted it, and he’d given the impression he’d only call if she did; in my defence, I was a very broke uni student with no idea how to survive without a fridge). When I chatted to him a few days later I found out he’d been calling to offer me his incredibly soft and gorgeous and wonderful Bay Swiss couch because it wouldn’t fit on the truck and he didn’t want to leave it on the side of the road. Alas, I hadn’t answered his call, and he’d left it on the side of the road. This is one of the big regrets of my life. After that call I visited him once in Newcastle, and then, a few years later, I ran into him briefly in Armidale. That’s the extent of our contact post-flatting.
I’m not entirely sure what inspired my memory of these past flatmates, or why sentences and paragraphs about them suddenly began forming during a shower last week, or why I felt so compelled to capture these words before they evaporated like so many before them. I’ve been sitting on this post, trying to think up an introduction and conclusion, and for a while added this to the end:
…these stories have had me reflecting on the different relationships that come and go across a lifetime; there are some people who are so there during one season (or more), and then so not there when life moves on. And then there are those who turn up and build homes in your heart and stay forever, although it takes the passing of many years and the changing of many seasons to realise that’s what’s happened.
But it’s so wanky, and my reflections were probably caused more by the fact that I was searching for a beginning and end to my blog post to make sense of the fact that I’d felt a random urge to write exactly what’s here; nothing more, nothing less. If the un-tethered-ness annoys you, think of it as an excerpt from my memoir, The Not-Particularly-Fascinating Life Story of Belle. And be thankful I currently have no more of it to write.
* I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a budgerigar, although I never actually saw the bird, alive or dead. It was a choice between ‘budgerigar’, ‘cockatiel’ or ‘parrot’ (these are the only types of pet bird I know), and I decided the first sounded the most amusing.