My Uncle Art liked a bet on the ponies. He lived in a flat near Randwick Racecourse and I remember thinking he was the coolest because his name was Art, but also being scared of him because he was really old. My Aunt in Canada changed her name from Charity to Cherry. I don’t know why and I’ve never met her to ask, but it strikes me as a curious, delicious, choice. My Uncle John had a fight with my mum a few years ago and now I refuse to talk to him. No one likes to be patronised, John. My Aunty Mavis lived in Sawtell and used to bring out a massive tray of lollies every time Mum took us to visit. I miss Aunty Mavis most.
Fear. Anger. Hunger. They all sit, Gollum-like, in the pit of your stomach, clawing at the sides and hissing bile. Wretched, debilitating and nauseating, each selfishly demands the resolute attention of your senses, cells and synapses. Combine the three and you’re basically a hyena. And they all make you do stupid, regrettable things. Like punching someone, or eating a whole box of uncooked dry spaghetti, or weeping quietly and uncontrollably on the bus. In fairness, the dastardly trio can also inspire greatness in their victims: resourcefulness, momentum and mettle.
I remember crying as I watched my dad’s figure grow smaller out the window of the coach that took us from his home back to my mum’s. Even if I hadn’t grasped how long it might be until I saw him again, or exactly how nauseating the coach ride would be, or that my brother would vomit (Fanta and a vegetable pastie) on my feet in the last twenty minutes of the journey – seeing the tears in his eyes was enough to set me off. Years later, at the airport as he moved to the other side of the world with his new children, I had to swallow hard to keep my heart and anger down. I couldn’t bear to see them excited at their new life without me, or the tears in my dad’s eyes. Again. So I tossed a ‘bye’ over my shoulder as I walked away. The first time I fell in love I told him in the dark, so I wouldn’t have to see the look in his eyes. He didn’t say it back to me but I said it again anyway, because I knew that I did and had faith that he would. Months later, at the airport saying bon voyage, I hugged him on tippy toes and said ‘I love you’ again, this time into his neck. He squeezed me tighter and repeated the same three words back, for the first time, then went away for three months. Years later, at Ashfield BBQ Korean Restaurant, over bibimbap (me) and sizzling spicy chicken (him), I can look him square in the eye, like with no other person in the world. The bibimbap is a fine balance of its components – garlicky marinated beef, sesame-scented bean sprouts, gochujang, carrot, shitake mushrooms and zucchini, all with a sunnyside egg hat, over white rice. I feebly attempt to pick up every last grain with my chopsticks before reverting to the strangely oversized, and accordingly efficient, spoon. The spicy chicken is the same he orders every visit; the routine gives me confidence that it is good. We sit and eat, picking over the complimentary kimchi and other fermented sides. I want to remind him of the three words he’s said thousands of times in our years together; freely, happily, sweetly and earnestly. I want to hear them again now, and see them in his eyes. I want to whisper them to him with the same faith I had the first time. I want to visit Ashfield BBQ Korean Restaurant with the same regularity he does, but sharing a meal isn’t regular anymore. K-Pop enthusiastically sings and dances its way across the wall-mounted TV set, songs that seem familiar but are in Korean and never could be. Being forced to say goodbye to someone you love is not fair. But maybe it’s a blessing that the soundtrack to my heart breaking is in a language that I don’t understand and won’t remember.