My cousin Chris is my best mate, closest friend, occasional confidant, ever reliable source of support, sharer of legends, fables and myths. How we became like this is the story of my adult life.
When I was twenty years old I was nearly killed in a motorbike accident. I lay unconscious for months in a hospital bed, connected up to tubes, getting phenomena, hovering pathetically and silently between life and death. (I've always wanted to write a sentence like that.) As I slowly emerged from my coma it became apparent that what was once a young man, before the accident, was now a young man with major problems, such as an inability to talk, walk or make it to the toilet on time.
Eventually I was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital called Coorabell. I learnt to walk (with a stick), talk (or should I say slur) and negotiate the toilet (sometimes). I was also able to go home to my parents on the weekends. Chris used to pick me up and take me to my parent's place on Friday afternoons. The poor bastard had to put up with me as I poured confused and angry scorn all over his frail seventeen year old person.
He had to put up with me who had scarring in symmetrical patterns all over the front temporal lobes of my damaged brain; me who had more rage in my body than most people experience in their whole lives. Chris was still being thoughtful, polite and kind. Something started on those long hot car rides across Sydney - a bonding that goes beyond thoughts, actions or deeds.
Later, when I had stumbled out of the hospital and was living in a flatette on my own by the harbour, not so patiently waiting for my insurance money to come through, Chris came to see me. We talked and joked and argued. Two poor boys playing in the sun by the harbour. We saw bands, drank too much and argued. I saw this boy lighten up, loosen up - share some of himself. It was still agonisingly difficult to get close, but we were getting there - weaving in and out of each other's stories.
When I moved to a share house in Redfern - where I lived with gaunt figures, junkies, sad, mad, dark people - Chris still came to see me. We sat on my balcony, drinking cask red wine, listening to Otis Redding, watching a languid full moon on humid nights. We dashed and pranced down Cleveland street. We turned and swayed in sweat soaked euphoria, in front of bands - nameless bands.
I started to go to the gym. I started a correspondence Bachelor of Arts. I started a long and painful involvement in politics. I started so much in Redfern. Chris was there, part of the texture during that sad, euphoric time.
I lived with Chris, in a big share house in Glebe. The house was full of mad young students. I was full of anger. Chris was living on love and lust for a beautiful veterinary student. They were the complete Romeo and Juliet. I felt our friendship shrink and change - we lived on memories, on habits of friendship in that house.
I sunk deeper and deeper into my study, deeper and deeper into the gym. A lonely time. While Chris and his lover made the house shake with their lust, I sulked downstairs listening to Otis bloody Redding. Eventually I got my insurance settlement which meant I could study full-time. I left Glebe for beautiful Bathurst. When the veterinary student left Chris - the heavens roared, the world stopped, floods, plague, famine - this boy's first hiccup, first hesitation, first full stop. I was there, clumsily dispensing concern. It was at that moment, in that time that I realised I loved him. I wanted to nurture him, care for him.
So this thing goes on. We have both been through divorces, bought houses, had jobs we've hated, had children we love. We still have rows, but this friendship is strong and settling. It is the pillar of my life. I dare to hope for the sadness of being old and grumpy and having had him die before me.
First published in the magazine XY: Men, Sex, Politics, 4(2), Winter 1994. XY, PO Box 26, AINSLIE, ACT, 2602, AUSTRALIA. Reprinted with permission. © Copyright 1995