Taking a deep breath – but not too deep in case I asphyxiated on the dust dancing off the suitcase – I unbuckled, unzipped and peeked inside. What did I find? A lot of trash, and just enough treasure to make the journey worthwhile.
There was the note, on a hastily torn out sheet of lecture pad, written by the only red-haired man I ever desired. I met him one night at a Uni college. We spent the night lying on the dewy grass, in the middle of a rugby oval, under a blanket of stars, talking about life, the universe and everything. I was 18, he was 22 and engaged to be married.
The sun came up, we returned to our rooms and, much later, I found the hastily scribbled note shoved under my door. I still owe him a kiss.
There was a letter from my brother TICH. Only he wasn’t an Inner City Hipster. He was eight or nine, had just had his stitches removed and wanted to know if I knew anything about deserts. He signed his name with impossibly curlicued majesty.
There was a mint copy of the May 1991 edition of Countdown magazine, in which I, cadet journalist in floral frock, socks and lace-up brogues, interviewed James Reyne in all his dishevelled, denim-clad glory. It begins: “I once stood around for five hours in the pouring rain just to see Australian Crawl play…”.
It contains the answers to such hard-hitting questions as “Do people recognise you in the street?” (answer: Yep), “What would you be doing if you weren’t making hit records?” (answer: I don’t know) and “Do you live in a mansion and drive an expensive sports car?” (answer: No, I don’t own a car).
I’m beginning to see why Rolling Stone never called.
What else? A letter from the shearer who was the great unrequited love of my late teen years. Gen Y may have come up with the cute term ‘Friends with Benefits’ but they sure didn’t invent the concept. I also unearthed the truly appalling poetry that spilled onto my page during that time. I would burn it, but I’m fascinated by how neat my handwriting was in those days. Now I could challenge a doctor to a Duel of Ultimate Indecipherability. Back then, I was practically copperplate.
I blame journalism. For that, and the swearing I can’t seem to lose.
Invitations to weddings (some of the resulting marriages are long over), invitations to birthday celebrations (my own) I can’t remember attending, tickets to Geoff Lawson’s Testimonial Dinner (go figure).
And, of course, the photos. So many pictures of so many faces that were so important to me at that time. Some of them I looked at and wondered why we’d lost touch. The beautiful redhead who inhaled life and dragged me along with her. The bohemian brunette with the curly hair, the flashing eyes and the Doc Martens who lived around the corner and was always up for an adventure. The flatmate I loved but lost in the ‘property settlement’ when my longterm relationship broke up. She knew him first.
Some of them I looked at and struggled to remember their names. Endless snaps of young men in tuxedos, mugging for the camera. Countless shots of gorgeous young women with big hair, big earrings, big smiles.
Then there was the inexplicable. Why would I have ever imagined I’d need the 1990 Sydney University timetable again in this lifetime? There must have been a reason, right?
Yes, there were letters from [insert name of former boyfriend], but only two and not the ones I was dreading. I was right in thinking I’d destroyed those. The two I read made me smile. More travelogue than sonnet, they described in detail a Contiki tour he’d taken, right down to the percentages of nationalities on the bus. They reminded me why I’d liked him so much in the first place – sweet and down-to-earth. I read them, then recycled them.
So now the suitcase is empty. Much of what it contained went straight into the bin. The rest is now tucked away, in a box, to be forgotten about for another 20 years. By that stage, I won’t recognise even myself in those pictures.