For the ones who had a notion
A notion deep inside
That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive
I wanna find one face that ain’t looking through me
I wanna find one place
I wanna spit in the face of these Badlands.
So why her, what does she have that’s so special? What makes it all worth the long separations, the heartache, and the not inconsiderable expense?
These are questions I’ve honestly never bothered to ask myself, not – as you may think – for fear of what might lay coiled within the answers, but because those answers have always been self-evident. No one else has ever made me feel this way and no one else has ever taken the time to really know me.
I’ve experienced loving relationships, but no other love has come as close to me – the real me – as this Jersey girl. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been waiting for someone to really see me, not just the projection of their own ideal; me.
Almost immediately, I could tell I’d found what I’d been searching for. No matter what I revealed about myself, she always got it. There was never a need for convoluted explanations or long winded justifications. She heard me clearly and, through her insights, even lent context to events from my past that gave me a new understanding of my own life’s journey.
That’s the key, I think. Where the connection runs both ways, you each learn about yourselves even as you are learning about the other. Perhaps none of this would be all that important to a lot of people, but for us it was paramount; essential.
Through all those marathon Skype sessions, we penetrated the hidden layers beneath the outer skin; all we’d ever allowed others to see. We peeled each other down to our raw emotions the way physical lovers peel away each other’s clothes in the heat of passion. It was reckless and at times frantic.
And it was glorious.
Connection like that becomes something like an addiction. After a lifetime of lesser relationships, we were both over-ripe fruit ready to be plucked, unafraid of the bruises that might ensue. Along the way, we discovered some things about ourselves and each other that were truly shocking. When you dig deep, long-forgotten secrets get uncovered.
No matter how deep or dark things became, however, we never veered from the course we were on. It was all or nothing now and neither of us had any intention of blinking.
And that’s why she’s the one; the girl I’m going to marry.
Yeah, I know, those lyrics are Lou’s ode to heroin, but they still feel appropriate. Every song Lou Reed ever wrote was about New York (ok, some were about Berlin) and I’m about to write about my and Jersey girl’s perfect day in New York, so…
Back in the day, I’d always said I had no real interest in visiting the US, but…I would love to see New York. That metropolis endlessly fascinated me. In a strange way, I’d always seen it as somehow separate from the rest of the country (I suspect that’s how New Yorkers see themselves too). Occasionally, a friend would make the pilgrimage to the Big Apple and I would always find myself feeling just a little jealous.
I don’t think I ever thought I’d ever actually get there, though.
Then I found myself in New Jersey and there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to see the gleaming spires of my dreams. Not when they were so close.
And so, on a warm late June day, my girl and I caught the N J Transit loco into the centre of the greatest city on Earth. My heart was pounding as we detrained, but that was nothing compared to the excitement I felt as we popped up out of Penn Station and into the frenetic throb of 7th Avenue.
New York hits you square in the face. The size and power of the place is immediately apparent. It has its own sounds, its own smells and a frequency and pitch that even Hong Kong can’t match. I fell in love instantly.
We decided to head north towards the park, but I had a few stops I wanted to make first. My favourite building in the world is the Empire State. I’ve loved her since I was a child, I don’t even know why.
We got to the corner of 7th Avenue and 33rd Street (looked right) and there she was, looming over the skyline in all her magnificence.
A few minutes later we were in the lobby waiting to go up. I was aware that New Yorkers can be a bit contemptuous of people who do the predictable tourist thing, but I didn’t care. There was not a snowball’s chance in hell that I was coming all this way and missing out on that view.
The security in the building was Airport level overkill, but that wasn’t going to ruin my buzz. As we stepped out onto the observation deck, everything came into perspective. The vastness and the scale were almost enough to close down my brain. I’ll never forget the moment I spotted the Flatiron building (another favourite, of course) and realised I was looking at it from the top of the Empire State!
To be doing this with the woman I loved was such an incredible thrill. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been this happy with my life.
Our next stop on the mental list I’d compiled was Ben’s Delicatessen. You cannot visit this town without experiencing a real Jewish deli. Ben’s was one I’d selected from internet reviews and it was spectacular, from its art deco décor to its sassy staff (we had a waitress who kept calling us babies, can I get you babies anything else?) it was such a trip. I ordered the corned beef on rye sandwich and it was nuts.
Jersey girl had turkey and swiss and, by the time we got out of there, we were both pretty stuffed (the huge bowl of pickles that came with the meal may have had something to do with that). Fortunately, we’d decided we were going to do all our travelling on foot, so we worked it all off tout de suite.
Our route to Central Park took us through another iconic area, Times Square. The Square was always a freak show and, though Giuliani cleaned up the hookers and the peeps, it’s now just a different kind of freak show. I loved it, but it made Jersey girl nervous; too many people in one place for her.
We moved on and I just kept being blown away by the quality and variety of the architecture. Everywhere you look in the city, there is some new fascination. We passed Carnegie Hall on the corner of 7th Avenue and 53rd Street. I thought of all the greats who’d played there. This was where Warhol saw the Ziggy show in ’72, where people such as Patti Smith, Marah, Pete Yorn and The Hold Steady paid tribute to Springsteen. Judy Garland, Benny Goodman, Bill Haley, The Beatles all played here and a thousand others besides; amazing.
On 58th Street, we spied the insanely decorous Alwyn Court building. The facade of this building has to be seen to be believed. It is so Gothic (technically French Renaissance) it was the inspiration for the apartment building in the novel Rosemary’s baby. In Polanski’s movie, The Dakota Building was used instead, which is oddly relevant to our story.
At 59th Street, we hit the park. Once we were in, we found a spot to sit and just soaked up some sun for a few minutes. I simply couldn’t believe where I was. This was Central Park! All the movies of my youth came flooding back. I’d been seeing this place since I was a kid. Now I could touch the grass and gaze at the skyline. And right beside me was my heart’s desire.
The sun was catching her hair as we sat and I looked at her with such a sense of wonder. I still had trouble believing she was real somehow. When we first began to write, I certainly had no idea we’d end up sitting together on a little hill in Central Park. That possibility had simply never occurred to me.
She smiled at me then and I almost lost it. This was no time to get sappy, though, I had something important I felt I needed to do.
“I want to see the place where John Lennon died,” I told her.
She was surprised; it wasn’t one of the things we’d talked about doing. “Do you know the address?” She asked me, not unreasonably. “No,” I admitted. “I just know it’s the Dakota building”.
We set out on our quixotic quest, pausing at the famous fountain (I call it the Godspell fountain since I have no idea what it’s actually called and watching that movie was the first time I ever saw it).
Despite, having no clue where it was, we actually did find the Dakota, and I was able to spend some time in quiet contemplation of a loss I’ve felt deeply since that December day almost exactly 35 years ago (as I write). It was a very moving experience, which I’ve carried with me ever since. It meant a lot to be sharing it with this extraordinary woman.
By then we’d hit mid-afternoon and we knew we were running out of time. We decided that we’d cross the park and visit the Metropolitan. This was a very good decision. I’ve visited some impressive galleries in my time, but the Met was really something else.
We wandered around the antiquities collections and artworks like a couple of kids in a candy store (if the ‘kids’ were actually drug addicts and the ‘candy’ was crack). There was so much to see and so little time to cover it. We took in as much as we could without it being a pointless run-through and vowed that we’d come back and do it properly someday.
I’d like to say the highlight of that part of our day was seeing a seriously great piece of art or some exquisite artefact, but it was something quite different. As we walked amongst the relics of ancient Greece, we found ourselves alone for the first time since entering the building. On an impulse, I took her in my arms and we kissed. It was long and languorous and took both our breaths away.
The few moments after that were confusion. I’m sure there were lots of interesting things in the cases we walked past, but who the hell knows?
Too soon, they announced the museum was closing, so reluctantly, we headed for the street. We’d been planning to walk straight back to Penn and catch a train home, but we realised we’d hit rush hour and, with zero desire to deal with the commuter hordes of New York (a large proportion of whom live in Jersey) we hit upon an alternative plan.
About twenty minutes later we’d settled into a convivial enough little Irish pub and were ordering up a round of ales. Now, I just want to say this for the benefit of the unwary traveller. When in a foreign land and an unfamiliar city, always check the alcohol content of the beer you order.
By the time we left the pub, an hour or so later, I was rolling. I couldn’t understand it, we’d gone drink for drink and Jersey was fine. Here’s the thing, though, we weren’t drinking the same beer; rookie mistake.
It wasn’t a problem, I’m a fairly merry drunk and I really wasn’t that intoxicated. It did mean I found almost everything either AMAZING or HILARIOUS. The New York slice we had at a little pizzeria was AMAZING (actually, it was pretty amazing). The poorly costumed superheroes and Naked Cowboy imitators in Times Square were HILARIOUS; poor Jersey.
Despite my slightly inebriated state, we made it back to Penn Station unscathed and got the train home. It had been one hell of a day. And, at the risk of stretching the addiction metaphor a tad too far, I knew as I sat beside her in that rattling carriage, I was hooked… forever. There was just no way back from this.
I’m happy, hope you’re happy too
I’ve loved all, I’ve needed love
sordid details following
~ Bowie, Ashes to ashes.
And so, for close to a month, I lived in her home. At the time, she had a house in High Bridge, a pretty little hamlet on the Raritan river, surrounded by heavily forested hills and valleys. We’d take her two dogs for long walks along the trails. And I have to tell you, you didn’t have to walk for very long before you felt time reversing. Though the town itself was only founded around 1871, there are houses in the area that stood when Washington was fighting for the life of an as yet unborn Republic.
It was all so amazing to me. I’m a bit of a student of history and to walk through woods the Delaware tribe once called home was quite a thrill. And, of course, the company was superb. Just as we had during all those Skype calls, we filled the air with our conversations. What a relief to discover that, though we were now face to face, nothing had really changed; except that I could now reach out and touch my Jersey girl’s face, anytime I pleased…that was new.
And how we revelled in that closeness. We’d both been starving for this kind of connection for far too long. We devoured the moments in each others company, all too aware of their bittersweet finiteness. The fact that our days were literally numbered only served to make them more precious. To our credit, we didn’t just gorge ourselves on each other but took the time to enjoy the smallest of things.
Because from those small things, two people can grow a life.
That was the tone for our little month of domestic bliss; easy conversation, lingering displays of affection, and…
I know you’re dying to ask the obvious question here, so I’ll be kind and put an end to your curiosity. The answer is yes, the physical chemistry was all we’d hoped and much, much more. Sorry, there will be no further details forthcoming. My name is not Major Tom.
That first visit feels like a beautiful dream to me now. It was summer in Jersey; the days hot and humid. So many memories flood in like a tide just thinking about those precious four weeks. The thing that always strikes me is how comfortable, how familiar we were with each other. All the getting to know you stuff had already been taken care of in the many months of intense communication before I arrived.
Now we were just living in the beat of each moment. We luxuriated in each other’s company the way cats luxuriate in a patch of sun. The sheer physicality of proximity lent every instant an electricity neither of us had ever before experienced.
One of the first things we did together was drive down to Wildwood and Cape May at the southernmost tip of New Jersey. We stayed for a couple of days at a sprawling old bed and breakfast in Wildwood and Jersey girl took me sightseeing around the ridiculously picturesque Cape.
Imagine a seaside town, consisting almost entirely of life-sized doll houses and you’ll get a bit of an idea of what Cape May is all about. I don’t want to use the hoary phrase it was magical, but well, it was pretty frickin’ magical.
That is until the car broke down just as we set off to go home.
We were in traffic and approaching an intersection when the car suddenly became unresponsive and then stalled out. She got it to turn over again, but it was pretty obvious something was very wrong. We limped to a nearby car park and called for a tow. While we were waiting for the tow truck to arrive, we sat at some picnic tables by a junior league baseball diamond and enjoyed the stillness the moment provided.
This was a revelation to Jersey girl. In her previous relationship, she told me later, a situation like this would have had her ex ranting and cursing impotently. My relatively calm reaction to what was, in the scheme of things, a minor crisis was outside of the realm of her experience.
We spent the rest of the day in some service centre waiting for the car’s alternator to be replaced. It would have been deadly dull except for the fact that we were doing it together. That’s what it’s like with her; every moment has import, even the unimportant ones.
I realise now that through all this she was watching me; weighing my responses to the everyday challenges of ordinary life. I guess, even with the easy familiarity we were experiencing, she’d been let down enough times in the past that it was hard to believe someone could ever be exactly what she’d hoped; or even close to that.
I was happy and so grateful not to disappoint her.
As I walked towards her, all my rejection neuroses were in full play. After all, her first real sight of me was coming hard on the heels of a thirty-six hour flight from the other side of the planet. I was dehydrated, exhausted and, well, gross, just gross.
She on the other hand, despite her own sleepless night, was a vision. What’s that Springsteen song, Girls in their summer clothes? Not a favourite, but I know what he was getting at. She was wearing one of those summer frock numbers that leave little to the imagination, her hair a shock of very blond, blond. On some people that might conceivably make for a trashy combo; not on her, Jersey girl is class all the way.
I dropped my bags and we embraced. I couldn’t believe I was holding her after so many months. We were saying things to one another which neither of us were really aware of. It was a beautiful confusion. So I just kissed her.
I’d like to tell you she kissed me back, but she was almost paralysed with fear. To be honest, in those first moments I thought all my worst terrors were coming true. Holy shit, she thinks I’m hideous. Oh my god, I’m here for three weeks and she hates me… You know the kind of thing.
We still had the room until ten am and I was in desperate need of a shower and a bed for an hour or two before the drive to Jersey. We walked arm in arm to the hotel and, if anything, she seemed even more withdrawn than before. I was almost convinced now that she hated everything about my physical self.
* * *
Three hours later the world looked very different (in every way in my case). I had shed the grime of travel and caught a little shut-eye. Now we were driving through Jersey on a beautiful summer’s day and I was seeing sights my eyes had never before beheld. I always love that feeling of everything being brand new. I was sitting beside my true love and all that tension and fear was gone; just blown away. There was only the knowledge that I would be spending the next three weeks* with this amazing woman.
We chatted and laughed all the way back to her place. Now that the initial terror had faded, it all felt as easy and natural as it always had in our hours long conversations on Skype. Can you imagine what it’s like to be with your love for the very first time and yet know them so fully? I was sitting beside my best friend in the world; the only person who has ever truly known the real me, and yet, I was still exploring the planes of her face as we drove, still discovering the way her body moved as she talked.
My smile was a mile wide.
*Due to a plane crash at San Fran Airport on the day I was scheduled to depart, it ended up being closer to four weeks.
Arrivals and departures
Yeah, we know them so well
Oh, from sleeping and dreaming
On the baggage carousel
We know every step and every crack
Every scene leading to the final act
Every comic trick
Circling back, back, back….
~ Something for Kate, Washed Out to Sea
The course of true love never runs smooth. This came home to me upon my arrival at San Francisco International Airport. I had not been in the US more than ninety minutes and already my trip was to be delayed by ten interminably long hours.
From the moment my journey had begun, I was beset by delays. The late arrival of my flight from Melbourne in to Sydney had delayed the departure of the international leg by just long enough that, by the time I’d passed through the excruciating immigration checks at San Fran, I had missed my connection to Philly. The earliest replacement flight the airline could get me on was not until late evening and it was currently ten in the morning; groan.
My planned arrival at Philadelphia Airport, where Jersey girl was waiting for me, had been around ten pm on Friday night. Now I was going to be touching down around five am on Saturday.
Fortunately, we’d booked a hotel room at the airport as we’d suspected neither of us would probably sleep a wink before our big moment – true in both our cases as it transpired – so at least she had somewhere comfortable to wait (or restlessly pace).
I, on the other, hand spent those lost hours wandering aimlessly around the alien environment of San Fran Airport (I’m exhausted just thinking about it now). I should probably mention I don’t sleep on planes…at all. By the time I shuffled down the concourse at Philly towards those doors of no return, I’d been awake for over thirty-six hours (longer if you count the near sleepless night I’d had before setting off).
Anyway, in due course, I did indeed step through those doors (the ones with the sign that literally reads “you cannot return through these doors”) and there she was …n’t?
I found myself in another corridor – devoid of life – and no Jersey girl. Hmm. Nonplussed, I decided to track down the baggage carousel. Perhaps she was waiting for me there?
No, as it turned out, but my bag popped up on cue and so, feeling lost, but frankly too exhausted to get a real panic going, I schlepped, zombie-like, back to the corridor I’d originally expected to find her in.
Now some may wanna die young man
young and gloriously
Get it straight now mister
hey buddy that ain’t me
‘Cause I got something on my mind
that sets me straight and walkin’ proud
And I want all the time
all that heaven will allow
I’d thought my days of globe-trotting were behind me. I travelled quite a lot in my youth (even did the Australia to England trip by ocean liner when I was a child), but it had been years since I’d left Australian shores. Then she came along.
If you can judge how much you love someone by how far you’ll go just to touch their skin, then I think it’s fair to say I was deep in it. We began to speak of meeting almost from the very start. It was going to have to be me who made the trip, she had three kids still in school while my son was nearly an adult and pretty self-reliant with it.
And so that first grand odyssey (very Homeric it felt to me) was willed into being. I lined up three weeks of my vacation time and booked the tickets. It was going to happen. That’s when the real fear kicked in for both of us. It was actually and undeniably goingto happen.
You have to understand, we’d had over a year of intense communication, every single day. We felt like we knew everything there was to know about each other, but there was still a huge elephant in the room. Would the physical chemistry be there? It wasn’t so much about sex, it was more basic than that.
Human attraction has very little to do with what we say or how we look. Sure, looks play their part, and personalities need to gel, but when two people are in each other’s proximity there are a million other forms of seduction going on. A smile, a blush, a dilation of the pupils, even the way a person stands whilst talking; all are signals to be received and processed.
Then there are the scents and pheromones that weave and entwine in the air between two bodies. And somehow, in all that amorphous mess of nonverbal contact, declarations are made, agreements are reached and relationships are born.
We’d skipped that part entirely. Now we were going to have to do the make-up test.