Ellis & Barnes: Serious Mothers!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Wonder Years

Sydney, Australia 1983: I was 15 and all swoony over a boy named Matt who was my first kiss, one of my best friends and (briefly) my first boyfriend. What made me even swoonier was his Specials t-shirt (man, how I coveted that shirt.) This is us at his Black and White themed 14th birthday party. Matt was (and still is) one of the most stand-up people I've ever met. Artistically gifted and smart, he'd stop and make sure you were okay if you were a stranger and he saw you faint across the street - he's that type of guy. He could also play anything by ear on any instrument. He is now living in Adelaide, South Australia with a beautiful family (with a daughter) and working as a still photographer for The Movies. (If you've ever looked up a picture of Hot Fuzz for example, he's the man who took it. He just wrapped Where the Wild Things Are with Spike Jonze. Very cool job.)

What is really super aces about this is that last week Matt and a whole gang of old friends from Sydney got back in touch with me completely out of the blue. I had been wondering for years what happened to a handful of people I deeply cared about from the Mosman High crowd, and nearly everyone who were in my thoughts and heart over the years were the very ones to say 'Hi'. It's been pure comfort and joy to catch up. I feel like I just talked to these people last week instead of last 25 years.

What is astounding is that everyone (everyone!) is happy and doing what they love to do and also they are practically all artists in one way or another.

(I can't get over all the talented people in my life. Really. There are many.)

The day I got about ten e-mails all at once from Australia with names attached who I thought I might never ever see again, I was reading through smiling, giggling and so thankful that the Aussie life I left behind was found again. It's not easy to be a very awkward girl in the 10th grade, told that you'll be moving across the ocean in a few weeks and will have to get used to a whole new set of friends and lifestyle. It was terrifying. It made me feel the way math does.

When our family moved to the States, I had no idea what to expect. Born in California and whisked away to Sydney at five years old, I did all the formative stuff in Oz. The idea of American high school repulsed me at the time and I seriously didn't know if the first day at school would involve a gunfight or everyone bursting out into song and dance. Would it be 'Grease' or 'The Warriors'? There was really no way to know until I walked through the quad for the first time with my head down and bottom lip trembling. I had just become comfortable (as much as I could be; I had zero confidence) and now we were moving? To America? Where people shoot each other from their cars?

Everything turned out alright, but that first year was brutal. That first day, San Rafael high was the polar opposite of Mosman. Everyone could've been a giraffe for all I knew. I spent a good portion of that time being homesick and afraid. I missed Sydney so much that something like hearing INXS on the radio would put a lump in my throat and INXS have never been my favorite to begin with. I was obsessed with the mailbox. Letters from friends filled with party stories came the first few months and then disappeared as they grew taller, a little older and busy. It happens. To tell you the truth, I wasn't a dazzler in the letter writing department myself. I developed a few bravado tactics in the form of eccentricities in order to have a 'personality' to try to offset my volcanic acne and frizzy hair which looked like an electrified poodle at best. (As far as my clothes, on most days I looked like I was dressed by a seeing-eye monkey.) I decided that my 'thing' would be to carry a briefcase. Then I was just That Weird Australian Girl With the Briefcase. I made friends with exchange students and flew under the radar. I learned a lot about holiday customs from around the world.

The 12th grade was a lot easier, making friends with art and drama nerds. It was the first time in ages that I felt comfortable and that I had something in common with anyone. I ditched the briefcase, stopped pining so much for the smell of salt water breezes and opened up my mind to allowing people to get close. I still had no confidence, but that life-long battle wouldn't be won until my late 20's.

This past weekend I went to my 20th high school reunion in San Francisco. Along with the Mosman crowd, I've been lucky enough to get back in contact with my weirdos from Marin County. And I mean that with such affection and love it's not even funny. Quite a few people didn't know who I was at first. Some remembered, but the difference is that I didn't try to hide my face behind my hair. I smiled big and felt fabulous. It was a good night for both my hair and skin - which are now soft and clear these days. I danced barefoot with my best girlfriend Maria (who I'm back in touch with for good this time) and stayed at Mark and Nysa's house; a place straight out of Dwell magazine except not intimidating. Paige their six year-old daughter entertained us. She's the coolest six year-old I've ever met. (I'm not even kidding. I begged Mark and Nysa if I could be Paige's Sirius Black) Joining us were Scott (who lives here and builds tiny robots - he's also the biggest Tubes fan in the world) and Anne (the lovely Oregonian he married.) We laughed, we lounged, and enjoyed one of the most stress-free two days I've had in years. It was definitely a most perfect weekend etched in the brain.

As we were driving to the actual reunion racing across the Golden Gate bridge, the final sun made everything look like that happy, sultry California 1970's lighting. The visual equivalent of any Eagles song. I thought about that miserable first day of school in the States and it hit me that San Francisco and Sydney are actually official Sister Cities.

The journey through adolescence was pure hell, but I was very lucky. Oh boy, do I know this now more than ever. I had it great. An opportunity to live in two countries? In two of the most beautiful cities on the entire planet? Come on. I know. My selfish teen aged head just didn't know it at the time. Here I was in a limousine sipping champagne with people who loved me warts and all back then, and who still love me now.

I'm just so glad I got rid of that fucking briefcase.



At 4:03 PM, Blogger Biz and/or Jordi said...

Hooray! That sounds lovely!

At 10:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No fucking Eagles!!!

-The Dude


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