Men/Women. The Difference & the Great Divide, we learn from an early age.
I was about 10, before I realised the Difference ~ not the Divide yet ; the Difference. The Divide came later.
It was at Peter Warman's birthday party, sitting next to Linda Bicknell, not at a table, on a couch. That Linda & some other girls were even there is testament to our innocence. I'd loved Linda since she helped me out of a sticky situation in Kindergarten, but her proximity that day was different. I remember my arm behind her on the couch, & touch, & that's all I remember. That was enough. Game on.
The Divide came about a couple of years later when after a ( slightly ) covert meeting with Louise Kerrigan after school, under a willow tree by the river, & I was walking home, she ran up behind me, gave me a bracelet ( ? ), kissed me on the cheek & ran back home. George was with me ; we both looked at the bracelet. I think, looking back, it was my first wtf ? moment.
There was my mother, of course, & aunts ; 2 older sisters, Mrs Cameron on the uphill side ; a couple of girls on the downhill side & a Mysterious redheaded lady who lived there too ; cousin Primrose down the road, & Ann across the street ~ she was the mother of my 3 mates.
Things began to change fairly quickly. My mother became preoccupied with the lady on the downhill side, with good reason. The aunts ... they didn't change much, that I could see, but they were childless ( except for Primrose's mom ) & I was the youngest in my family ... they were kind. Distant but kind.
Ann across the street introduced another woman into the mix, who became her life-partner. Probably Ann was formative, for me. She introduced classical music, Buddhism, yoga, oil painting, Scientology ( briefly, tin-can e-meters etc ) Judaism, nudity, cottage crafts, lesbianism & philosophy to our young minds in rapid succession. Her boys & I didn't know if we were coming or going. Nor did Tony, her calm mechanically-minded, Packard-restorer husband. He gave us chemistry sets, & we passed him the wrench.
I continued to mow the lawn for Mrs Cameron, the retired Math teacher on the uphill side, but between spin-the-bottle with the girls on the downhill side, & Louise, & what was happening across the street, seismic shifts of a sexual nature were taking place. I was 13.
Sydney lies on a coastal plain. The Pacific Ocean to the East, & The Great Dividing Range rising up 20 miles to our West. Beyond the range, the Rest of Australia : country towns, sheep, wheat, cattle, desert ... Uluru in the middle ... then more desert, goldfields & iron-ore, a brief Ningaloo Reef, the Indian Ocean ... then Africa.
The Great Divide separates us from The Great Unknown. Very few Sydneysiders venture West. Sure, on week-ends we might picnic up in the temperate rainforests of the Blue Mountains, as we call them, but by Sunday we're back home, watching cricket or mowing lawns. We didn't go 'all the way' ; only to that high vantage point where you can glimpse plains reaching out into dry distances so vast we gave it the name : Outback. You needed equipment, you needed knowledge, to go out there.
So by 13 I felt ~ I guess every 13 year-old boy feels ~ this nascent rising awareness, this dawning realisation, of the Other. Not that I knew how to get there, or even whether I was fully equipped to try, but it was there. I don't know how curious I was about my sisters, who in the early 60's were engaged ( consumed ? ) in 'dating' rituals, or my brother who by then must have been engaged several times at least. Or my parents, in their own 'dance' around the redheaded lady next door. All I knew was that there were Beatles & Rolling Stones & there was something about sex going on.
I didn't find out about sex until I was seventeen. The middle years were confusion. Eric Burdon, Donovan, Dylan, the Beach Boys, Melanie Safka & Fracio Santillan ( Flutes of the Andes ? who knew ? ) Maybe Harry Belafonte & Odetta, some Ravi Shankar, some Tchaikovsky helped me through. Then it was sex, then it was Jim Morrison & Tim Buckley & that dirty, dirty Lou Reed & co. But there was the Cat, too. Cat Stevens.
We got into a truck & went Outback. At 19 it was Riders On The Storm & monsoonal highways in the nutso North. I've said all that. What I came back to, was a series of 'serious' relationships ( though they all were ) & 2 grown up girls. Women, now. They came by on Sunday. A. read on the bed ; G. drew by the window ; I painted ; we talked & laughed. I feel easy with these people. I feel an overflowing love. Around their mother too. It hasn't always been good ~ there was a divorce years ago ~ & I still don't know what the balance is, now they've grown ; how close to get or how free to leave them alone.
They love Anna ; I love Anna ... which is how, or why this post began. I'd love to think, at almost-sixty, that I've got this sussed. That after a lifetime with women, I'd know what to say next ... but you know, sometimes I feel like the guy watching cricket, or mowing the lawn, & there's a whole, vast landscape I have yet to explore, but I don't have the words, as if somehow ... I'm still not fully equipped ...
^ pic. folksinger.com.au