Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Shutting Leo Out

Over the week or so I'd stayed at Kathy and Gary's, Leo and I grew close. We took trips together, worked together, and seemed to enjoy an intuitive bond. Naturally, we had discussed how wonderful it's been. We pondered our age difference, over 20 years, and the way we each see our individual futures, our hopes and plans and wondered if we could converge our paths and attempt to build a relationship. In fact, the seafood dinner at the harbour restaurant was the perfect opportunity for Leo to put his cards on the table, and find out whether I was game.

In spite of, or perhaps as result of, the strange pull we experienced towards each other, I hesitated to run with it. There was awkwardness, as, try as I might, I couldn't bring myself to see through the fog of fear and uncertainty. I kept thinking of how romantic taking this path with him would be, how wild and entirely the way I pictured the true life I should be leading to be - untethered, in harmony with the moment, off the grid. With a person I am in synch with, with whom I experience mutual empathy and love. But the truth, as I had to admit it to myself later on, was, that although I felt love for him, I had not fallen in love with him. Not as yet, anyway - from experience, it takes me more than just one week. And perhaps that indicated some great deficiency in my emotional makeup, a failure to engage my feelings. Perhaps I could've overridden this temporary, trivial and superficial resistance. Or perhaps in the back of my mind I was preoccupied with thoughts of home, my sister, my parents, and the uncertainty of when I'll be needed. Still, I couldn't help it, and it stood against my character to try and fake it.

Leo was understanding, as men who possess the mature capacity for empathy, and an appreciation of the complexities of life, tend to do. We left it be, for now.

The Gordon-Franklin river cruise is a beautiful, serene ride, once the extremely touristy bellowing loudspeaker announcements of 'and you can purchase one of those at….' touting souvenir tat subsides. Still, I suppose it is part and parcel of taking this sort of cruise. The boat manoeuvred out the harbour through Hells Gates - for us, an exciting feat, as we'd seen it from the Macquarie Head beach angle, and now got to experience just how narrow it was, and the cause for many a shipwreck. Once through, a massive rock lobster was waved at us from shore by a couple of successful fishermen, returning from their early morning run. We then careened towards the Gordon river as the boat glided into the silent forest.

The Gordon-Franklin river

The photo which changed the course of a river (or, rather, kept it)
It was lovely, especially since I'd taken my precautionary sickness pill, and was in a borderline-psychedelic, dreamlike state. It was, however, frustrating to see, but not be allowed to actually walk through the dense forest. This was a preservation requirement, of course, as these areas are untouched by human hand nor trampled by its foot. Having already had a chance to walk through some Tasmanian rainforest, I couldn't help but feel slightly short-changed – to see but not touch. In fact, when we did dock for a rapid ten minute trot around a decked path within the forest, we were sternly warned not to touch anything. It was a little too much nannying for our liking, the place was too beautiful not to connect with its inhabitants physically. And after all, as far I was aware - according to my hippy wannabe guru, Susan of Wilmot - trees like being hugged. This was all too contrived, too artificially constructed as a plastic bubble within a world of wonder. At one point our attention was even directed at what was purported to be the hide of a tiger snake, but the guide oddly seemed to know it was going to be there before we got to the spot. I knew snakes are territorial, and therefore easy to monitor by a wildlife expert, but Leo and I narrowed our eyes in suspicion. Could a faux-snakeskin have been left on the log as a permanent photo-op? Who could tell.

Having been herded back onto the boat, it then carried on to Sarah Island, upon which - could it be?... - who awaited to guide us through the site, but those same actors from the Ship That Never Was production! Understandable, as the play is the story of an attempted escape from the island. This was truly a conglomerate, a labyrinth of tourist traps from which there was no escape. We were permitted, though, this time, to walk through the island unaided, free to fondle the flora to our heart's content. We wafted from ruin to ruin, hut remain to hut remain, taking in the feel of the place and catching a passing hammed-up anecdote from the thespians, as they waxed lyrical about life on the Island, bringing it all back to life as if we'd been transported back in time.

Described as a "living hell", the British penal settlement was nigh impossible to escape, due to its location, making boat access very tricky. The unruly labour force was used in turning the place into a profitable pine logging and shipbuilding enterprise. A means to discipline and control the uncontrollable, conditions on the island were, as to be expected, extremely harsh, particularly as supplies were short and difficult to transport across from the mainland. Lasting only eleven years, the place was practically a fully functioning village, attempting to utilise any of the inmates' skills to keep it going. However the challenging access forced its closure in its penal capacity, later on to be used as an occasional pine logging resource only.
Sarah Island 1822-1833
Once the island has been sufficiently explored, the actors were popped back into their boxes, and us ignorant uncouth masses were hoiked back on the boat for a hearty lunch - mounds of smoked salmon, although oddly nothing from the local rainbow trout farms we had pointed out to us on the way. The boat then lulled gently back to the Strahan harbour.
On our return, Gary was having a late afternoon nap, which meant we were jobless. This was to be my final evening here, and I took it upon myself to prepare dinner. When he awoke, Gary brought out a bottle of wine 'for my last night', and we supped on my rather delicious borscht. With Kathy being veggie (and on a diet of no sugar, salt, yeast or fun), Gary often reminded me of a ravenous dog forced to live on lettuce leaves. I asked Leo about it and he said that they had a BBQ one night, and despite the meat being extremely sinewy, Gary scoffed the lot, gnawing on the bones and leaving absolutely nothing for the distraught cat. I saw that as a sign of deep commitment - an enthusiastic bone gnawer voluntarily opting for an exclusively leafy lifestyle.
After dinner, the wine, the stories, Leo and I took a long sunset walk along the harbour, ruminating how amazing life can be when you just allow it to happen. It was a beautiful evening.
The next day I got up early to make up for yesterday's laziness and got to work on the carrots in the garden. Gary took pity on me about midday and sent me off to cook lunch for us three, Kathy having gone to work. I came through again with a hearty veggie curry, although suddenly realised I might've taken this rare opportunity to throw some animal protein on the hob for the flesh-yearning guys. Thankfully, whatever disappointment they were experiencing was not evident, and Gary fell into a chatty mood again, embarking on a talking spree. This time, unfortunately, I was forced to stop him mid-flow, as I had to rush for the bus headed to Margate - a tiny town near Hobart - Tassie's capital - to meet my next host.

This all meant a hurried goodbye with Leo, who drove me to the bus stop. The stress of rushing, my conflicted heart, the anger at Leo for wanting more and not having the opportunity to search my own feelings further, caused a less than adequate parting, with me practically storming off - frustrated at my inadequacy at a final tender moment. This was the last I saw of him. 

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