This letter was originally read out at the March 2013 Women Of Letters held at the Regal Ballroom. It was pretty confronting sharing such personal stuff with a room full of strangers, but the audience were so wonderful and kind, it was much easier than I thought it would be. Also, I had a Valium half an hour before I read this out and by the time I got up to speak, I considered not sliding off the podium and falling asleep a substantial win.
‘A letter to something I was happy to lose’
You know, I’ve been lucky enough to participate in Women of Letters a couple of times in the past, and on those occasions, finding out what the topic of the letter will be has resulted in me rocking back and forth in the foetal position, muttering “But I can’t THINK of anything, I’m going to FAIL them, I’ve got NOTHING, NOTHING!” over and over until show day, where - thankfully - I’ve somehow managed to knock something out that didn’t result on the wonderful organisers of this event turning violent.
But this time? Oh wow. This time was different. As soon as I found out our letter was going to be to something I was happy to lose, the one word that stuck out was ’lose’, and I remember thinking “Man, after last year, I am an EXPERT on the topic of losing things. Forget a letter, I’ll write a goddamn BOOK about loss”
Because, you see, Loss is the one word that perfectly encapsulates my 2012. But was I happy about any of it? Did any good come out of a year of loss? Well. Let’s go through a couple of events, and see if we can’t pinpoint exactly the thing I was happy to lose.
As much as I would love to start at the very first incident that kicked off my dreadful year - February, when my house was robbed in broad daylight the morning after I attended a thoroughly delightful Belinda Carlisle concert at an acclaimed music venue known as Donny Shoppo - due to time constraints we’ll open our story smack in the middle of the year.
It was a rainy, miserable Melbourne evening in June, and I was dressed in footy gear and driving to the final training session across town for a charity football match I was going to be playing in the following weekend. As I began my attempt to turn right at the roundabout at the Queen Vic Markets, in the middle of peak hour traffic, and amid the cars and the pounding rain, I failed to notice that despite the fact the 'WATCH FOR TRAMS’ sign hadn’t lit up like it is supposed to when a tram is approaching, what I am assured is the equivalent of thirty skateboarding rhinos was nevertheless hurtling toward my car. It made an impact as I was midway through the roundabout, and I remember it sounded like a can being crushed. The boot of my beloved wagon popped open as the tram made contact, and as the car spun around, all of my personal belongings - clothes, books, cds, camping gear, all of it, shot out the back and scattered across Peel St. Anything that was not completely sodden from the rain was crushed by the cars driving around – and through - my wreckage. Folks, I had been involved in my first car accident.
I had genuinely no idea what to do in this situation, but managed to pull my car over to a side street, swap the required details with the driver of the skateboarding rhinos, and then I think I spent a good two hours waiting for a tow truck convinced I was probably going to go to prison for damaging a tram, and began formulating a rough plan on how to become Top Dog, or at least close enough to the existing Top Dog to be protected on the inside while I serve my time. Spoiler alert: thankfully I didn’t go to prison, but my car was completely totalled. After finally getting my license at the ripe old age of 30, I only got to drive around in my own automobile like a proper grown up for a grand total of eight months, and I was completely to blame for this loss (although I will forever remain bitter at the ‘WATCH FOR TRAMS’ sign’s failure to light up like it’s supposed to).
Cut to a few months later, September. My darling friend Genevieve had been diagnosed with breast cancer almost two years earlier in November of 2010, and a couple of weeks after that initial revelation, she received the fairly devastating prognosis that the next few years would be more a matter of fighting for what they call “quality of life” rather than battling the cancer in the hope of defeating it. This news was a horrific blow to Gen, her many friends, and her beloved family. Not that this stopped our lass from putting up a grand ol’ fight. And when I got my license at the end of 2011, I was lucky enough that Gen, who’d begun staying home more and more as the illness progressed, agreed to me driving her to her medical appointments. After that, most of our quality time together was spent at the hospital as I took her in to receive her treatment.
Now, we both have incredibly dark senses of humour, so believe it or not hanging out in the oncology ward for hours on end was a lot more fun than perhaps it should have been. We’d make one bad taste joke after another, as if mocking the seriousness of cancer was the only way we could strip it a little of its terrifying power. And after a while, I did something stupid. I began to forget how sick Gen was. I mean, I knew, deep down, I’m not an idiot. But somehow her illness became just a part of our lives, something we had a handle on. A routine had been established, and I was able to ignore the inconvenient fact that this battle she was embroiled in was one she could never win, no matter what we did, no matter how hard she tried.
So. As I mentioned earlier, it is the beginning of September. Gen has been admitted to hospital, and while I know it’s not a great sign, even I am taken aback when I receive a call on the Sunday from our friend Angie, who, along with her husband, has been utterly devoted to Gen during her illness - they are two of her closest confidants. Doctors think it could be a matter of weeks, Angie warns me. Maybe less. Gen’s not up for visitors right now but if anything changes, Angie will call me and let me know. I am floored by this news.
Now at the time, there was a Mia Dyson song out called ‘When The Moment Comes’, and I’d been listening to it obsessively, as though it were an anthem for a life changing event I’d experienced, except the event hadn’t happened yet. Which is exactly what it was. In the chorus, the drums pound like a heartbeat, and Dyson repeats the line – “You will know what to do, when the moment comes, you will know what to do when the moment comes.”
And that was the song that was playing when Angie called me three days later as I was driving home from work at around 10am. She didn’t talk much, just softly said something along the lines of “It’s time, you need to hurry.” So I turned the car around and sped toward The Royal Womens, all the while in the background, the song played – “You will know what to do, when the moment comes.”
As I got to the ward but before I had a chance to enter the room to see her, Gen’s parents and sisters arrived and began preparing themselves to enter the room to say their farewells. I had no expectations of joining them, I wanted to give them the privacy they deserved for such a massive moment, but Gen’s dad came up to me, and with compassion and generosity that I will never, ever forget, told me “We know that Gen’s friends are her family too. You should be in there with her,” and he ushered me into the room. And although she wasn’t conscious by the time I sat down next to her, I got to kiss my beautiful girl on the forehead, and hold her hand, and tell her how much I loved her.
You will know what to do, when the moment comes.
We sat there, all together, Gen’s family and four of us friends, surrounding her as she lay in the hospital bed, listening as she fought for each strained breath, taking turns in telling her how loved she was, and how it was okay for her to let go now. And after two hours, she finally did.
The moment had come. But I didn’t really know what to do.
After the funeral, I kept my head down and tried to focus on work as much as possible. I didn’t go out. I didn’t want to see anyone socially because inevitably they would ask about Gen and how I was feeling, and I didn’t want to talk about it. Because to talk about it was to go back to that room, and I went back to that room every night as I struggled to get to sleep, I didn’t need to revisit it during the day. I didn’t touch alcohol, terrified that I might lose control and open a door to my grief that I wouldn’t be able to close again.
While I am a jack-of-all-trades and do many things for a crust – I DJ at parties, host trivia nights, write the occasional “piece” for assorted publications – my main job, the one I was most passionate about, was co-hosting the breakfast radio show on RRR. Working on radio means that in a way, your personality is part of what you offer to the public, and no one wants to hear someone sounding fucking miserable on their wireless every morning as they start their day, unless they’re an Alan Jones listener.
Which meant that other than choking up a little on air when I thanked listeners for their extremely kind messages expressing their condolences two days after Gen died, I worked really, really hard to keep my grief under control. Between 6 and 10 every day at the RRR offices, I did my job and shoved the intensifying sadness down, right down, the way that therapists always recommend you do because a feeling denied is a feeling unfelt! Of course, once I left the office, all bets were off. The drive home each day in my partner’s car usually involved me crying at the lights at some point, particularly if that damn Mia Dyson song came on the radio as I was heading down Royal Parade, the same route I took as I raced to say goodbye to Gen that morning after work.
It’s now December 1st - somehow I’d gotten through the year and there were only five more shows to go before a blissful six weeks holidays. A break from early mornings and having to be “on” were gonna fix me right up, I’d convinced myself. The worst of the year was over. Oh, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I’d been asked to pop by the station that Saturday morning to have a chat to the station manager, presumably to find out who would be replacing one of my dear departing co-hosts Ben in the 2013 line up. The role had been advertised publicly and I knew management had been swamped with applications, but even I was beginning to think they’d left it a bit late to settle on someone. Still! I was excited to find out whom I’d be working with.
I sat down in the boardroom, and the station manager – for it was just the two of us - produced a whole heap of resumes of people who’d applied for Ben’s job, and began asking me for feedback on each of them. I remember being surprised that they hadn’t actually made a decision yet at all. As each resume was pulled out I dutifully offered up an opinion as I’d been asked to do, but after the first couple, something happened that struck me as a bit odd. He held up a resume and said “Ah, see this guy, he could work in Ben’s role, but he could probably also easily perform the generator role too.” The generator role, as he referred to it, was my position in the team. That’s a weird thing to say, I thought to myself, as I watched him put the resume in question in what was to become a second pile – the people who could apparently effortlessly do my job. After a couple of resumes had gone into that stack, it hit me that something wasn’t right about this meeting. I wasn’t finding out the person I’d be working with next year, I was finding out all the people he thought could replace me.
In my mind, that’s a pretty cruel and unprofessional way to initiate a conversation about someone’s employment future. But hey, that’s just me. It set the tone for the way the rest of the meeting went. The long story short of what happened is that he believed there had been a bit of tension between me and the remaining cohost, a tension I was totally unaware of – not that that mattered, apparently - and it seemed the easiest way to sort out the situation was to let me go. Now it had been an undeniably long, tough year for everyone, I know that. And I can acknowledge that it’s quite possible there really were tensions within the team because of the stress we’d been under, and that I may well have been oblivious to all of it due to the distraction that was my grief. I understand all of this. But what I will never understand - and believe me, I have tried – is why I was not deserving of a little more kindness and respect and sensitivity after having spent so many years as a loyal broadcaster at the station.
In my first draft of this letter, I went into quite a bit of detail regarding the of the thoughtless and needlessly cruel things that were said to me once the purpose of that early morning meeting had made itself clear, for those quotes have been running through my head every day since. My anger and hurt at the way I was treated by someone who purports to represent the station I love so much has been crushing me for months – and the more I’ve held it in, saying nothing in fear of being viewed as someone betraying the institution I still adore, the worse the hurt got. Secrets are like that, aren’t they? So yes, I wrote out every damn thing that had slashed away at my sense of self-worth that dreadful Saturday morning, and felt better for getting it out of my system. But upon re-reading it all, and acknowledging that I am still, months on, shattered by the way that whole process was executed, I made a decision not to include those details in today’s letter. It just felt too negative. I want to start moving past it, and I may as well start today.
Let’s just sum it all up by saying that the rotting cherry on top of the moldy cake that was my own personal “Annus horribilis” was that I lost my dream job hosting breakfast radio. And to put this into some kind of perspective for you - I’ve lost my job on breakfast radio, Kyle Sandilands still has his. There is no god.
But I hear you thinking, “Isn’t this letter to the thing I was happy to lose?” In case you haven’t figured it out yet, my letter is to the Year 2012 itself, the worst year of my life, an unrelenting loss machine that left me on my knees.
“Well, that was a super fun letter, let’s all go home and listen to The Smiths and binge eat a whole lot of carbs while we sit and cry”.
Friends, you’re absolutely right - life should not be a pity party, and I’m sorry if this missive brought you down a little. Tell you what, to make it up to you, I will find SOMETHING to be happy about in each of the moments of loss I mentioned before.
Firstly, the robbery - the details of which I didn’t really go into but you’re all smart people, and understand the concept of being burgled. Yes, I lost sentimental items I’ll never be able to replace. Bummer. BUT, I also got a reply from Belinda Carlisle on Twitter when I mentioned I’d been robbed the morning after her concert! MY CHILDHOOD-SLASH-LIFETIME IDOL BELINDA CARLISLE AND I ARE TWITTER BUDDIES. That is undeniably awesome.
Secondly, the car crash. Yes, I lost a car. But I had something magical called comprehensive insurance, which is a wonderful thing and I highly recommend it. Oh, and something amazing happened that night too - and might just be the one thing that stops me from setting fire to the memory of 2012 and burning it to the ground. A stranger came to my rescue as I sat in my damaged wagon on the side of the road, and we fell head over heels in love.
Okay, Gen’s death. This is a tough one. Obviously I would give anything to undo what happened to Gen, but I can’t do that. But I will say this - as hard as it was to experience it at the time, it is an immense privilege to be with someone you love when they pass away. To have the chance to tell them you love them before they leave you. And the bond that has formed between all of us in the room that day who shared the experience of watching Gen go is so amazingly intense and strong, it is one beautiful thing I am incredibly grateful for. And I know it would have pleased Gen no end.
And as for losing my job… look, I don’t have to set my alarm for 5am anymore, so that’s pretty great? And I was utterly overwhelmed by the outpouring of public support when I announced I was leaving, even though most people didn’t know I wasn’t leaving of my own accord, so while management might not have really valued what I contributed to the station, I know my fellow broadcasters and the listeners that make up the RRR community did, and the years I got to spend at the best radio station in the world were some of the greatest of my life, regardless of how it all ended.
So there you have it. The thing I was happy to lose was the Year 2012 - but the year still taught me something important. Even in the darkest of times, there is usually something to be grateful for. And no matter what the universe throws at you, you will know what to do when the moment comes. You will breathe, and you will get through that moment. And the next moment. It’s called being alive, and it is something to treasure.
Reading this letter out at Women Of Letters was, in my head, supposed to mark an end to the run of horrible luck. The universe had other ideas. The next day, I fell sick with glandular fever. The glandular fever then triggered a super rare case of bilateral Bell’s Palsy - that’s right, MY WHOLE FACE BECAME PARALYSED. Two months later, my father had a stroke. But! Dad is absolutely okay, it seems, and my face is moving again, and I am now really, really, really hoping that’s IT as far as my misfortunes are concerned. Whatever mirror I broke, I’m sorry! I’M SORRY! LEAVE ME BE NOW!