It’s also about the people who surround a relationship, about having the respect and strength to value each other’s connectedness through links to these people, it’s about the way in which this can sustain and keep strong even the finest filament of friendship.
We met through friends while studying at Monash University in 1968 – I was studying Economics and Politics on a teaching studentship which entailed my completing the Diploma of Education after my degree then teaching for at least three years in the country before marrying. He was studying Zoology.
Two high school friends were studying Zoology with him and I often visited their lab. One was an enormously warm person who had wonderful skills in connecting people and managing group events such as camping at Wilson’s Promontory. Our friendship group grew and gathered often, enjoying just being together, sometimes playing cards in the ‘Science Caf’, or at the Notting Hill pub or on camping trips whenever we had the opportunity.
We gradually came together as a couple. I could write about our sensitively established then increasingly lusty romantic life, about the impact of geographical separation as I taught in the country for three years, about relationship highs and lows as I struggled to overcome trust issues (he once asked ‘why can’t we have the pleasure without the pain?’), but this is now so long in the past. It just failed.
We separated as saddened friends. We did not fight verbally or physically, there was nothing to be bitter about – we were just sad. We had a shared friendship network and had both enjoyed each other’s families. We had shared many life events together as brothers and sisters reached adulthood, married and had children; as beloved grandparents aged.
My wonderfully eccentric uncle, a farmer in the Tiger Hills area outside Benalla, became a father figure to him. We visited my uncle often while we were together, and when our relationship ended, I felt so strongly that just because we were breaking up, this didn’t mean that he must stop visiting my uncle. I told him.
His mother, a warm and loving nurse with an adventurous spirit, had become a friend to me. Tentatively at first, I visited her and it was so clear that we had a happy time together that we kept in touch and would often take holiday breaks together.
He married. I continued teaching, travelled and had the odd affair or two
For over 35 years we had regular news of one another and very occasionally happened upon one another – either physically or on the phone. This was always a respectful connecting up – perhaps with some defensive humour – yet it always moved me. Our parents aged. Brothers and sisters moved from first to second marriages, became grandparents. We retired. We always had news of one another.
We met up briefly at my uncle’s funeral where he was a pallbearer. He still stays at the farm on Tiger Hill at times. My sister and her husband live there and told him that just because our uncle has passed away, he doesn’t need to stop visiting the farm. They have become close friends.
I was having cancer treatment when his mother died, but I shared with him the ‘eulogy’ to his mother I wrote as I couldn’t be at her funeral. He now has a copy for the records he is collecting of her life. He sent me a copy of her funeral service.
Most recently, we met up again while he was staying at my uncle’s farm. I took my little grandnephews over to see him - he intrigued them by peeling them each a fresh orange in a continuous circle and then helped them to get oranges from the tree. Reconnecting immediately – as with all good friends we always have lots to talk about, even if our meetings are rare--we once again caught up quickly on the news, laughed together and bid each other good bye with good wishes.
How would our relationship be described? In the early years his mother would describe me to her friends as his ‘girlfriend from university’, but then as years passed would introduce me as his ‘friend from university’.
I recently introduced him to my grandnephews as my ‘friend from university’.
He is now and will always be - my ‘friend from university’.