Since we Loved
© EM. Lipski 2005-2014
Tam’s in her final year of high school, and is getting over the death of her sister, the year before. At school, she is drawn to the new guy, Jake, and he to her. She even auditions for a local production of The Sound of Music because she knows he’s auditioning. Her father, a doctor, and he mother, a university lecturer, absolutely do not want her to audition but Tam and Jake get into the show. But she still has no intention of telling him about her sister …who died. She thought she’d win the role of Liesl but she ends up being cast as Louisa von Trapp. And Jake is Rolf. They fall in love. Hard. Because of a pull-out Tam is upgraded to Liesl and things are so good, and so sweet until Jake gets cancer. He has come out of remission from lymphoma, something he kept from her. Tam is distraught. Her parents find her a shrink who Tam reluctantly agrees to see. After a few visits, Margaret, the psychiatrist, introduces Tam to Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Things start to be said. Things start to make sense. And Tam learns how to weave meaning into her waking hours. The story ends on a hopeful note.
‘Since We Loved' is a beautiful book. Liz kindly (thanks, Liz!) let meread it in an early form and, as someone who's been a kid's specialist bookseller for (ahem) 20 years or so, it's one of my faves. Set in Melbourne, gorgeous characters to fall in love with - Since We Loved's got it all. C'mon publishers of the world - this is a real gem, just waiting to be discovered.’
‘I LOVED Liz's book "Since We Loved". Her character "Tam" drew me into her hidden turmoil and I found it difficult to put this book down - and I'm not a great reader. Liz portrayed her characters in such a realistic and believable way that I was able to relate and learn from what they went through - how grief affects us, how we deal or don't deal with it. Liz especially and brilliantly sees from a young adult’s point of view. It is an excellent read that I would recommend to everyone, especially young adults but also adults could learn a lot about what their teenagers are dealing with. Very insightful read!!!!!’
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
You can tend to cry a lot after losing someone close. A lot. Often. It’s sort of a crying without crying thing, and these tears can turn up at the weirdest times. Some people aren't comfortable with all your crying, and look like they want to shake you and tell you to snap out of it…but they don’t know what you've gone through…what you’re going through. You do heal, eventually, when other things start to take on more meaning, but you can’t avoid the grieving process. You have to go through it - because you can’t go round it.
I open my eyes and wait for my breathing to slow.
My hand brushes trails of wetness from my cheeks.
The first light of day.
Where reality rushes back in.
I fear her...I miss her.
A soft tap at the door signals it’s time to rise.
By 6.00 am, my father and I are pounding our runners down Wattletree Road toward the park. By 6.55 am we are stretching our hamstrings on the back porch and parking our runners. Our running is one thing that seems to have survived intact.
We eat our cereal in silence – as we do every day, now. As we have for some time. And, as if to complete the ritual, my mother drags herself into the kitchen, at her usual time of 7.25 am. A wisp of worn, white towelling. Drawn. Hollow.
We sit. We chew.
Suddenly, the air is pierced by a wail; it has come from behind the kitchen bar. I hold onto my breath, my spoon suspended in mid-air. My father and I exchange glances…and then he is up – hurrying to assist my mother in her paroxysms of non-coping, as my brother puts it. I release my breath and stare at my plate. Suddenly, I'm not hungry, anymore. I push back my chair and slip out of the room.
By the time I have brushed my teeth and organised my school stuff my mother has pulled herself together. And my father has pulled me into a conspiratorial huddle, informing me that an ant invasion in the saucepan drawer was the cause of my mother’s distress. I am relieved to skim over the real reason. So too, it seems, is my father.
I lift my key from its place by the door and I am gone. It is 7.45 am.
Lunchtime – or halfway through it. There’s a rash of noise in the Common Room so we have draped ourselves against a rather pathetic looking tree out on the field – the only one left by the time we got outside.
I watch my best friend, a Chupa bulging out her cheek, as she tries desperately to finish her English Lit homework at the last minute. She taps the keyboard furiously. Her plan was to have the draft completed by 12.40 pm, slip into the library and print. That was the plan, anyway.
I close my eyes. It’s hot. At least thirty-five. And humid as. I don't want to move.
Pippa’s key-tapping is getting furiouser and furiouser.
‘I don’t understand this bloody play.’
‘Let’s have a look.’ I sit up and take a look. ‘That’s fine.’
‘But I really don’t have a clue what it means.’
‘Don’t worry about it. Ned says nobody does, really. Go print it.’
I lay back against the tree and join my lids again.
Pip clears her throat. ‘Ahem.’
‘You-know-who at four o’clock,’ she whispers loudly.
I open my eyes a millimetre. ‘Shit.’
The long, tall shadow is approaching. I rise. ‘I’m going in.’
Pippa looks up at me. ‘Why? He’s auditioning, you know.’
I stop. ‘Where’d you hear that?’
‘Chalmers. And, like, she’s usually right. So, you have to now, don’t you?’
I don’t answer. I am up, and backpacked and starting my getaway.
But my heart starts to beat a little faster, as the long, tall shadow comes closer. I stop.
‘Hi,’ it says.
‘Hi.’ I stare down at grass that wishes it could grow.
‘Hi Jake,’ Pippa calls out, but I barely hear her. Hot boy’s too close.
‘You sing, don’t you?’ he inquires.
I turn, eyes still down, and murmur a reply. He repeats the question.
Pippa answers for me – that I do. Fabulously.
I want to shoot her a warning look but I am being majorly distracted. All I can see in my peripheral vision is a body that I want to get incredibly close to.
He asks me if I know that Caulfield Repertory is doing The Sound of Music.
I tell him yes.
‘Were you planning to audition?’ he asks.
Pippa informs him I haven’t made my mind up yet.
I want to poke her sharply, but I am currently on the receiving end of a piercing smile and can’t move. Can hardly breathe.
‘Well, I hope you do audition.’
My cheeks are burning and my backpack is slipping off my shoulder.
‘Do you know who’s directing it?’ he asks, almost suggestively.
Pip smiles. ‘Trevor Walker!’
‘Not anymore.’ He folds his arms. ‘He’s had to pull out.’
My curiosity is piqued.
He smiles and informs us that Trevor Walker’s replacement is Mark Parsons.
Pip and I look at each other and then at Jake Renton.
‘No way!’ Pippa’s just about jumping up and down.
‘Yep.’ Jake Renton counters. Quietly. Confidently.
I ask him how he knows this.
He leans forward, smiling, smelling so good, and tells me he has his contacts.
‘So? Are you auditioning?’ he murmurs.
I mumble something about Year 12 and all the work required.
‘But if you did audition,’ he persists, ‘what role would you go for?’
‘Why,’ I ask. ‘Are you auditioning?’
‘Uh huh. Rolf.’
Rolf and Liesl. Liesl and Rolf. Rolf and Liesl.
‘I’ll see...um, dunno. I’ll see.’
I haul my bag onto one shoulder and announce to both of them that I’m going inside; that I need cool. I start walking and don’t look back.
After school, Pip catches me up on what I missed.
‘I heard that Miranda Chalmers is, like, definitely auditioning for Liesl so you have to audition, now! And…a certain hottie really likes you. Like, really.’
I ask her how she can tell.
She tells me she knows these things.
‘And Mark Parsons!’ she adds, eyes alight. ‘Like, hello? A TV star! At Caulfield Repertory! You just have to audition!’
Yeah. Dunno. Maybe.
I re-enter the house as late as I can. And go to leave it again as soon as I can. My mother is sitting by the phone – perfectly accessorised. Book club, she tells me, has just been cancelled due to illness.
Dad’s working late. Finn is God knows where.
I should stay…
The tram is stifling when I board it. I get one of the Melbourne trams which only cool down the driver. I hear a passenger announce that it's thirty degrees, still. Nights like this I wish my uncle had a pool. But houses in St Kilda are long and skinny, with not a lot of room for much else. Pity.
The tram clacks forward. I gaze out the window. This part of the Princess Highway used to be all mansions when I was little. Majestic and beautiful. So much redevelopment has taken over. Nothing seems beautiful any more.
After get I off the No.5, I wait for the lights to change. The sight of someone walking ahead of me is the only prompt that spurs me to start walking myself. As I make my way along Hotham Street every thought has Jake Renton’s name on it. He’s auditioning. Maybe I should, too? But I don’t really feel like it. But he might fall for Chalmers; can’t see her not breaking her record...Hell, if I don’t audition he might lose interest in me completely. Jeez, I don’t know what to do.
I step over Ned’s threshold. ‘Smells good.’ I’m making my way down the long hallway into the back section of the house when Ned calls back from the kitchen.
‘Just a bit of penne, with a mushroom cream sauce, and a hint of white wine, sweet girl.’
‘Great,’ I call back, secretly pleased he’s cooked one of my favourites. ‘What's the catch?’
‘You clean the kitchen from top to bottom.’
‘Get stuffed. I’ll load the dishwasher.’
‘Done.’ Ned appears, rubber-gloved with a tea towel over his shoulder.
‘O.M.G., you have hair. How long has it been?’
He laughs. ‘A month. Yes, I have hair.’
‘What did you use? Blood and bone?’
‘Ha, ha, very funny! How’re you doing, doll? Missed you.’
‘Yeah. Me too,’ I let him envelop me with his long arms.
Halfway through dinner I hit him with my little dilemma.
‘Can I run something by you?’
Ned looks at me. ‘Sure.’
‘Well…I've been thinking...I might…oh, look, it doesn't matter. Just forget it.’
‘Tam?’ Ned’s voice slides.
‘Well’…I toy with my penne. ‘I’ve been thinking I might audition for this, um, musical.’
‘Yeah?’ Ned’s giving nothing away.
‘What is it?’
‘Um…Sound of Music,’ I mumble.
‘The Sound of Music? You hate The Sound of Music!’
I sit up. ‘I don’t hate it. ‘It was just that one production we saw I thought was crap.’
‘And so did you, by the way! ‘I just’ – breathe out. ‘Just forget it.’
I look up. He’s looking at me.
‘You don’t approve?’ I ask.
‘Actually, that’s not it at all. I was thinking considering you’ve given up just about every other extracurricular activity this year, that the idea has its merits.’
‘I've only dropped choir and orchestra....what merits?’
‘Well, I think it’d be good for you.’
‘It’s a big ask. Do feel ready, Tam?’
I know where he’s heading and I don’t want to go there. Anywhere near there.
‘Look, I probably won’t audition, anyway. I was only thinking about it.’
‘What do Meg and Phil say about it?’
‘No point in telling them until I actually do it. Actually get in. Don’t need Mother to have a cow unnecessarily...Look, I don’t even know if I have the energy for all that rehearsing. Let’s talk about something else.’
A pause drifts by. Ned pours himself another chardonnay.
I place another cream-coated penne in my mouth and chew silently.
‘Have you thought any more about what we talked about before I went away?’
‘I’m not having nightmares anymore, Ned. I don’t need to see any more head shrinkers.’ ‘May I?’ I help myself to a very rare glass of chardonnay.
‘It doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist, Tam. What about counselling? If it comes to that, we could all do with a bit of counselling.’
‘Just because you’re a psych nurse now you think everybody needs their head examined!’
‘Could we please change the subject? How was your holiday?’
Ned takes a sip from his wineglass, smiling secretively.
‘Oh. That good, was it?’
His smile broadens.
‘You scored, obviously.’
‘Don’t say that! I met someone. OK?’
His lips curve into a smile. ‘Could be.’
‘Uh huh.’ He taps his wineglass against his teeth.
‘So? When do I meet him?’
‘Oh, you’ll meet him, don’t worry. Anyway, how’s your love life, girly-girl?’
Shall I, or shan’t I?
‘Well, there is this boy.’
Ned’s eyebrows rise. ‘Oh my God! Has the drought finally broken?’
I would usually whack my uncle for this sort of comment. Tonight, I just sit there.
‘Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie.’ Ned reaches for my hand. ‘So, tell me all about him!’
‘Just a boy at school. In Year 12.’
‘He’s new, this year.’ I look straight ahead.
‘What does he look like?’
‘Dark hair…the most beautiful eyes…I really like him.’
When I come out of my daydream, Ned is leaning back in his chair. He has crossed his arms and he’s smiling.
‘Do not tell a single soul,’ I warn. ‘If Finn ever finds out–’
‘My lips are sealed,’ Ned informs me. ‘I’m happy for you, Tim Tammy. I hope it goes somewhere.’
‘Yeah, well…it probably won’t.’
‘Don’t say that. Why do you say that?’ Ned pleads.
‘Oh, I don’t know. Let’s talk about something else, please. Your love life – your holiday. How was your holiday? Your conference thingy?’
Ned proceeds to tell me what he did on his summer holiday, part of which included a conference on something to do with mental health, and that this new guy was one of the speakers.
‘What’s his name, and what does he do, and where does he live?’
‘His name’s Jack. And he’s a consultant psychologist and he lives in St Kilda. Three streets from here, actually.’
‘How handy. You can literally walk to each other’s beds.’
Ned frowns. ‘Mmm…What?’
‘Nothing – I’ll do the dishes.’
I leave Ned smiling at the table while I ferry dishes and start rinsing. As I fill the bucket in the sink, I can’t help thinking how happy Ned looks.
‘Tea?’ I call from the kitchen.
‘Please,’ comes the answer. And then he is behind me, his hands resting lightly on my shoulders. And I know what’s coming.
‘Want to do some singing before you go? I just had the piano tuned. I mean, for when you start singing again.’
‘Aw, come on,’ he schmoozes. ‘I’ve missed your stunning, wonderful voice. You go look for something to sing and I’ll clean up in here.’
‘No, Ned, you cooked – I’ll clean up.’
‘It’s fine, girly-girl. Now go!’ He makes stop signs with his hands. ‘Come on, go, go, go, go!’
‘Ned, no!’ I grip the edge of the sink bench.
He lets his hands drop.
Silence. Then, ‘OK. Bad idea. No singing then. That’s cool.’
I release a breath. ‘Sorry.’
‘No, I shouldn’t have pushed. I’m sorry, darl.’
‘I’d better go home.’
I am just untying the apron when the doorbell rings.
I glance at my watch. 8.30pm. Who could this be? Ned goes to answer the door and stays at the door for longer than he would for a stranger. Muted strains of mumbles filter up the hallway. And then, there is Ned, bringing someone into the dining area. Blond. Hawaiian shirt. Shorts. Thongs. And - yes? Hmm. A ponytail.
‘Jack, this is Tam, Tam Jack.’
This – is a consultant psychologist?
‘Pleased to meet you, Tam,’ Jack says, holding out his hand. A firm handshake. Smiling eyes.
‘Yeah. You too,’ I tell him.
‘Jack finished up his work early,’ Ned pipes up.
‘Look, I was just going. I want to catch Country Road before it closes. Nice to meet you, Jack. I start to walk into the hallway.’
Ned follows me. When we are a significant distance from the kitchen he draws me aside. ‘So, what do you think?’
‘He seems nice.’ What else do you want me to say?
‘Yeah. He is.’
I step onto the porch. ‘I have to go, Ned.’
I call past Ned, to the blond in the kitchen. ‘Nice to meet you, Jack.’
‘Are you sure you’re OK?’ Ned asks.
‘I’m fine,’ I say. ‘Sorry about my little – eruption – before.’
‘Don’t mention it.’ His volume level drops to a murmur as he nods toward the kitchen. ‘Hey, um, don’t say anything to Meg yet about – you know. Yet. OK?’
‘I won’t tell if you won’t.’
Ned frowns. ‘Huh? Oh, right.’
I decide to give shopping a miss. Wrong end of the allowance fortnight, anyway. Walking along Featherston Street I make a bet with myself that by the time I get home Dad will be asleep in front of the TV, Mum will have gone to bed with a headache and Finn, only other remaining sibling, will be God knows where, as is usual, of late.
I slip inside the front door and immediately have an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.
I hang my keys up by the door, step over Coco, and head for the stairs.
Halfway up one of the photos on the wall claims my peripheral vision.
Hello, I say. Almost because I feel I have to. That if I didn't, something awful would happen to me. Then I continue on up without stopping.
It is 3.27am. I don’t want to go back to sleep. I can’t.
I pull myself upright. My bedside lamp throws a dim, dull blanket of light on the room. But not light enough.
As my breathing returns to normal, my eyelids and body start to sink again. I don’t particularly want to fall back to sleep, but I can’t help it.
Six hours later I awake to sun and noise streaming into my bedroom. The children next door sound like they’re about to kill each other. Go ahead, my mind bellows. I pull my pillow over my head.
When I finally present myself at the breakfast table, it's deserted. Only the dregs of condiments and cold exchanges remain.
I am relieved that I don't have to engage in conversation with anyone. But my solitude is short-lived.
‘Clean all that up and stack the dishwasher, please Tamsin.’
My mother is pristine. Clean, crisp, whites and twenty-two carat accessories. Jeez, Mother, it’s only tennis.
‘I stacked the dishwasher yesterday. It's Finn's turn,’ I intone, filling a bowl with corn flakes.
My mother takes a deep breath before launching into her usual diatribe.
‘This isn't a request, Tamsin,’ she starts. On her second serve she orders me to take Coco for a run, this morning.
I hit back with a ‘Why didn't Finn do it last night?’ as I pile a generous serve of white sugar to my bowl. But she isn't listening. She has disappeared into the laundry. But within 10 seconds she has re-entered the room.
‘Anyway, Finn stacked the dishwasher last night, while you were at Ned's,’ comes her next serve.
‘Besides,’ she adds, ‘he's studying.’
‘How do you know he's studying, Mother? He's got half of Coles’ lolly department in his wardrobe - did you know that? How do you know he's not stuffing his face and reading porno!’
This makes her stop. As I knew it would. But her response is far from original.
‘This is a very important year for your brother.’
‘And hello? Like, VCE isn’t?’
My mother raises her eyebrows. ‘He has almost three times the number of subjects that you have, if you’ll remember. I hardly think there’s a comparison. Anyway, I don't see you studying.’
‘I only just got up! I'm having my breakfast, as it happens,’ I enunciate.
She looks pointedly at her watch, which is her way of telling me that coming to the breakfast table long after everyone else has left it is not exactly acceptable in this house.
‘Besides, you bred a genius. Had you forgotten?’ I add.
She pauses – gives me a look – then disappears.
As the front door shuts firmly behind her, I dance my cornflakes round my bowl and wonder at our speed: from hello to I hate you, in ten easy seconds.
I've breakfasted, showered, dressed, and stacked the dishwasher – I’m exhausted. I’m listening to music because there’s absolutely nothing else to do when my phone rings. It's Pippa.
‘Whatcha doin’?’ she asks.
‘Nothing. How was your lesson?’
‘OK. Hey, meet me down at the Coppin Street end of the park in 10 minutes.’
‘It's a surprise.’
‘Nah. No surprises, Pippi. Just tell me.’
‘OK...Mark Parson's down at Caulfield Rep right now.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because – duh? I saw him going into the theatre with another guy, like, not less than five minutes ago, so get your butt down here right now, girl.’
I subside. ‘Nah. I’m too tired.’
‘Hello? Earth to Tam? This is Mark Parsons from “Saint Bede’s” we’re talking about here!’
Well… ‘Oh, all right. Give me fifteen minutes.’
‘Whatever. Just hurry.’
I think about dressing up. But that fantasy lasts all of five seconds. The energy it would take to decide what to wear, let alone put it all together, is too much. So I throw some jeans on and not much else, gather my millions of curls into an elastic, grab the lead and Coco, and leave.
Pippa looks at her watch as Coco and I flounce toward her.
‘Record time! And you’re hardly puffing, you bitch,’ she says, grinning.
‘You should take up running, Pippi.’ I give her ample chin a quick stroke.
She looks at me. ‘Yeah, right. Hello Coco, you boodiful thing.’
I can feel Pip’s eyes transfer to me. ‘Like, what are you wearing?’
‘What do you mean?’
She points to the stretchy PJs top I still have on. ‘Don’t you sleep in that?’
‘Yeah? So? It looks like a top. Chill. You only gave me ten minutes. What’d you expect?’
Pip folds her arms. ‘Fifteen.’
‘Fifteen. You insisted on fifteen. And then you ran!’
‘Yeah, yeah. Whatever.’
Coco’s in a big mood to run, I’m in a so-so mood to run, and Pip’s in a mood to walk. So we walk. We end up dawdling along the rest of Burke Road. And finally we’re there.
Outside Caulfield Repertory Theatre. I stop and stare at the front of the building and the huge audition sign in the window. Auditions: The Sound of Music. It does very little for me. I was curious to find out if it would stir something within me. But it hasn't. It isn’t. Dunno why. Yes, it’s Mark Parsons, TV star, and yes, a boy who is majorly hot is auditioning…I just don’t know if…I can be bothered.
We settle on the lawn in front of the building but after five minutes I’m antsy as.
I stand up. ‘OK. Let’s go.’
‘What?’ Pip exclaims. ‘We only just got here.’
‘Well, he’s nowhere in sight, Pippa. I mean, are we just going to sit here and wait for him to come out?’
She looks at me funny. And I know I’m not acting like flavour of the month. I just…
She gives me a look. ‘What is it with you? Have you changed your mind? Is that it? Well, I wish you had told me before I sweated buckets hurrying up here!’
‘You walked, Pippa! And hello? It’s not like I definitely said I would.’
‘Crap.’ She’s focussing right on me.
Her arm comes around my shoulder and the soft tones start and I know that this much kindness could very easily make me cry which I’m stuffed if I’m going to do in the middle of Burke Road.
I shrug her away. ‘I’m fine, I’m fine. Pre-menstrual, or something.’
We wait. In the heat. He doesn’t come out. Not in the next ten minutes, and not in the ten after that.
I haul myself up. ‘I’m going. Are you coming?’
‘But he could still come out. You haven’t given him enough time!’
‘Oh – all right!’ she grumbles. ‘Oh. My. God.’
She scrambles up. ‘Behind you. Across the road!’
Pip turns me back to her with a fierce, ‘Don’t look!’
Is it him? Could it be him?
Pip’s grinning widely. Yep. Must be him. G-reat. I’m in my bloody PJs.
‘Is it him?’ I ask, through gritted teeth.
‘Uh huh…Oh my God, he’s seen us. He’s coming over.’
Pip and I stand, murmuring bits of gritted nothing to each other as we wait. We don’t have to wait long. I smell him before I see him.
‘Hi girls.’ His voice is full of blue-eyed smiles.
I turn slowly, trying to calm myself as I do so. But the sight that greets me when I do turn works against my calming. He’s been to tennis practice it seems and is still in his white shorts, all sweaty and beautiful. He downs six thousand mouthfuls of water, then wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.
‘Hi,’ I hear myself say.
He indicates The Sound of Music signage. ‘Doing a recon, huh?’
‘Yeah, something like that.’ God forbid he should ever find out that we came down here as groupies.
I must be unconsciously casting my eyes down his body because suddenly he’s excusing himself for the way he’s dressed. I jerk back to reality and wave it off with a ‘No problem.’
Then there is a silence. It’s like we’re frozen in time except that this time I’m acutely aware of the fact that I didn't bother putting a bra on before I left the house. Now his eyes are casting downward.
‘So! When’s your audition, Jake?’ Pip asks.
I clamp my arms tightly against my chest.
‘Hers is at two,’ Pip informs him.
I could kill her. I haven’t totally decided, and now she’s made it sound official.
Jake is intensifying his look at me. ‘Really? Perhaps we could get together before the auditions and practice?’
You smell so good… ‘What? Yeah. Maybe.’
‘So…What’s your number?’ He’s very close now. Very…
And then: What am I doing? I can’t do this. I can’t audition, my parents would have a cow, and I certainly can’t get into a relationship. I just can’t. Bad, bad idea. ‘Come on, Coco. Pip, I have to go.’
I turn and run, leaving somewhere in the trail behind me a promise that I’ll call Pip. Leaving the other just watching. All the way to Wattletree Road Coco and I run. And now tears are running down my cheeks and I don’t really know why, except that I’m getting used to them turning up unannounced. Oh God I’m so confused, I hate this feeling. I hate it!