This is the facial expression that I have when the first girlfriend I ever had walks into my bar after a nine year absence: my eyes are unfocused from trying to fix an old image into a present context, superimposing an alternate universe to a pre-existing one, my eyebrows are playing tug-of-war with itself, my lips are adjusting from a stationary position to that of a lazy, disbelieving grin as my mouth fills up with a million and one questions.
It can happen just like that. One moment you are watching a strange, schizophrenic couple dancing a graceful waltz to a re-mixed version of Coltrane and the next you are staring at the ghost of a past, suddenly corporeal, walking out of the rain in fact, and bulldozing her way from a time long lost and into the shambles that is today.
I'm well impressed she managed to track me down. The only "S.Heazlewood" in the phone book is a Steve, most of our old aquaintences have either moved on, been imprisoned, addicted to something or dead...maybe even all of the above and I've moved about a dozen times. And yet there she was, flesh and blood and smiles, with all the little imperfections that make us human.
Natalya and I embrace. 'So,' I ask, 'How's your almost-decade going for you so far?'
'Well you remember that after I left the Arthouse (a place that so defined the rest of our lives that I'd have to write an entire book to do it justice) to go to my grandmother's funeral in W.A. with Dorian (a Harry Potter-looking nerd that she went out with a fortnight after she dumped me on Valentine's day. Got to be honest- I was always kind of lukewarm about him. Not a bad guy...just lacking something. Let's call it chutzpah
). His friend Steve who everyone said had a crush on me and I didn't believe turned out to have a MONSTER crush on me, forbade D to even associate with me in Perth. We broke up the day he arrived. I only saw D on the day he left for England. His parting words?" I never should have broken up with you."'
'Yeah, I know. Better for him to just shut his mouth. So my parents moved house (which was when we lost contact with each other), I picked fruit for awhile, sort of became a hippy. Met a guy, fell in love, went to Scotland for a few years, moved back and eventually married the guy on a beach up north last November.'
The guy she married on the beach who has been patiently listening to his wife recap the last nine years then shakes my hand. Cormac is his name. He's a big guy, like impressively big, with a good handshake. A musician's hands as I was to find out later. 'Heard a lot about you,' he says affably,'Hon. Don't forget to tell him about the kid.'
'Kid? Oh yeah. My last boyfriend and I adopted a child for about a year.' Nat then proceeded to tell me about the trials and tribulations of adopting a little arsonist. It's riveting stuff.
What does an ex-girlfriend say about you after you've broken up? Many stories about how you hit her in the back of the head with a book as you went about your business. Or when the first time you met and someone else(Debbie), trying to make a new girl welcome, introduced you ('Haze, this is Nat!'), you turned to her slowly and just said: 'So?' She remembers odd habits you had like keeping a drawer full of cigarettes even though you're a non-smoker. She remembers how atrocious you are as a dancer. She remembers how the Arthouse cat, Molly, was doing something one day and she was so excited to tell you about it she interrupted what you were doing (obviously something important)and showed it to you. 'Nat,' you explained calmly, as if to a child, 'Molly is a cat. It's doing cat things.'
Nat says,'I once saw you a few years ago although you don't know it,'
'Oooh. Were you on a bus or something?'
'It was a bank security footage that a friend of mine taped from the news. The bank was getting robbed and you were standing outside with a little redheaded girl, embracing her.'
'Really? I don't remember'
'How could you not remember a bank holdup
I don't remember any of it. Holding on to someone, oblivious to the chaos and confusion of a robbery. Imagine that.