i was once twenty-two


but not in the same way.

Some weeks ago, I met a twenty-two year old who expressed great surprise at my age (i’m turning thirty-six late this year) and promptly said in the most wide-eyed and enthusiastic fashion,

“Wow, that’s pretty old! What have you done with your life?”

She didnt mean for her question to throw me into an existential crisis. She asked it because her life was full of possibilities and she could only imagine great things ahead of her and so obviously that extended to everyone else. Because I’d lived longer, she expected to be told a story of my achievements, to be impressed and perhaps to be re-assured that that was what life is like, that all of one’s dreams will be realised.

I looked at her and said,

“That’s a pretty challenging question, y’know.”

She blinked a couple of times and the beginnings of pity began to come over her youthful completely unguarded face.

Well, it’s one thing to feel that you’ve done nothing worthwhile, it’s quite another thing to have someone else think that.

So I told her the usual tales, about how I’d riden up to Darwin along the east coast around the time of the Hanson anti-asian phenomenon, how I’d negotiated the various little rural Australian towns, journeyed into what I’d imagined was the dark (or maybe bleached-bone) heart of the anglo-Australian psyche and in the northern wet season written a novel about it. I told her about how I’d come to terms with my family, spent some time in South East Asia looking at it through the eyes of a stranger, a tourist and then a troubled returnee and how my feelings were still ambivalent. I told her about how I’d lived through three relationships, each of which had broken and then transformed me.

She listened with a focus that I found flattering. And after I’d finished, I could see that it wasnt the kind of life she wanted for herself, but it satisfied her that I’d lived one, that I’d done something. It was clear that in a way, she was impressed.

But then, I didnt tell her all the things that I’d wanted to do, had never done and am now coming to realise will never do.