OK, time to come clean. I am back in Australia. Have been for a little while, was just maintaining the illusion of being in Afghanistan still for artistic purposes. More on that later.
I want to be careful how I write this.
I visited an old friend recently.
He has several disorders and difficulties. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, diabetes, and some others. I first got to know him when working as a church outreach worker back in 1994. He rang the church office (where I lived) at 4.00am to complain about the CIA bugging him, and that the bomb squad had been to visit him, following a threat he had made on then Premier Richard Court. We struck up a friendship, and over the years it has persisted. My friend, G. has made some serious mistakes over that time, errors of judgement and foolish decisions. He has moved house (conservatively) 30 times (I have helped with about 20 of those moves, Steven Daly has helped with probably more), he has lost his licence several times, he went off to Kalgoorlie and nearly to jail. He’s done other things too, things I never though he was capable of: gone to England on a month long holiday, he bought a house (and sold it for almost as much as he paid), he moved to Adelaide, he’s held down a job. In recent years, he’s learned to apologise and he has said sorry to me for various things (I have needed to apologise to him too, probably more often).
Life has been hard on him. He’s been abused in many ways, he’s been threatened, beaten, held up with a gun (fake, but he didn’t know that). He’s been to court on dangerous driving charges, fought with banks and credit companies, with landlords and neighbours. And in the meanwhile, he has bought and sold hundreds of CDs, CD players, DVDs, cars, TVs and computers, gadgets and gizmos. He is quite an astute business man, and while sometimes foolish, is not dumb. He’s tried to strangle me twice, abused me times that I can remember, abused my wife too, hung up, walked out, walked in and generally occupied my time and thoughts quite consistently.
I hadn’t seen him for a while, following an argument we had, but a week or so back, Elijah and I went to visit. G. struggles with his OCD, and while he often keeps it under control, on my recent visit I was shocked. It was not under control. G. admitted this, he knows what is going on, he is self aware. He was embarrassed about it, the state of his house, of himself.
[Elijah at G’s house; some of G’s CDs and video junk; G’s washing waiting to be done]
We had a good time together. Julie had cooked a chocolate cake for him, and I helped him with some documents he needed for a credit battle he is having, we had a cup of tea and shared some stories. Elijah watched ‘Wind in the Willows’ and G. enjoyed it too. It is his birthday coming up, and he wants to do something together and hopefully, we will. As we said goodbye, he went around to Elijah’s window, and Elijah put his arms up to give G. a hug and a kiss. G. was nearly overcome. His whole manner changed, he became soft and hugged Elijah back and I thought I saw a tear in his eye.
I wanted to write about him. Not to show him off, or to show me off. There’s more that’s shameful in my behaviour than his.
I wanted to try to show a bit of G’s good side, his character and sweetness. That sounds very trite, but it is less obvious than my good side or my positive traits. G doesn’t present well. And so he often gets treated as a idiot, or a dangerous man, or a sick person. He is none of those. He is hard to get on with. But he doesn’t get much of the love and care that I get either, and people reflect what they receive. I suspect if I had suffered like him, I might be the one who had made foolish choices, who was struggling to hold it all together, who was living in a mess.
As Elijah and I waved, and drove away, I wondered how much physical affection G. ever gets. When people touch G, it is to push him away, to arrest him or to strike him. Most people recoil from even approaching him.
But Elijah had just gone in, said hello and shook his hand and sat down on the filthy chair. And when we left, he had hugged G and kissed his unshaven cheek. Who feels at home in G’s place like Elijah did? Who touches him like Elijah did, unselfconsciously, not seeing the grime and the stain, not smelling the unwashed sweat? Who holds his hand?