New Year’s Eve 2004, I see Amanda, hours from midnight, weeing while standing up. Her skinny sixteen-year-old body with jeans around her ankles, hands on a tree, crotch thrust forward and a steady fountain of piss.
I remember telling mum I was going to a party on Mather Road but instead followed my friends into the humid night; aimless, empty of celebration, drinking in the street.
Then I remember that blonde guy, can’t even remember his name, sitting in the gutter across the road from our High School crying for Karl.
The whole memory is in darkness except for the brightness of objects and people. It’s like they’ve been illuminated by a torch; yellow tank-tops, white jeans, pink and blue Vodka Cruisers all jumping out of the blackness.
I wore a pale denim skirt and a green singlet. My hair was streaked blonde and straightened. I looked at how Amanda’s singlet lay smoothly over her flat belly. Nothing rippled or bulged when she sat down. She could expose her hip bones so confidently and it made my spine curl in jealousy.
We were all so new to the idea of fresh beginnings and I dreamt in hollow resolutions. I would be long limbed and flat bellied come 2005. What one year meant flowing into the next was so lost on dumb pursuit.
Karl died a week or so before. His friend wrapped a car around a tree and killed him on impact. Rumour was they were stoned or drunk, had been speeding, clipped another car and lost control.
Rachel called me in the middle of the night, sobbing, “Karl’s dead, wake your mum up”. I’d never felt such an instantaneous and deep flood of tears as I stood over my sleeping parents; Maybe in moments of complexity, we find the womb. Mostly I wanted to know how I was meant to react. What specialness of connectivity belonged to me in these times. Who was Karl and had he entered my heart as a friend, I didn’t even know.
In the aftermath of death, it became embarrassingly obvious that none of us girls knew him very well. We were certainly disturbed by mortality. Suddenly the fun and the drinking and the parties and the loose regard for each other was masked by the seriousness of life and death, by parents grief, by police, by TV cameras and newspaper headlines. It was something so real, we couldn’t make-believe our grown up lives anymore.
The morning after he was killed, we went to the tree. The car was already gone and flowers lay in the same place I imagined life floating from his body in the dark balmy night. The Age, the Herald Sun and ABC News was there. They filmed a group of us girls, asked questions about Karl. My face burned, concerned with my crooked teeth and unwashed hair being screened to the nation.
The next day, the story was on the front and second page of the respective papers. One showed Casey, blotchy eyed in her tracky pants, with a caption calling her Karl’s girlfriend. They’d kissed at a couple of parties. The previous weekend he told her he loved her when he was on ecstasy and we had all laughed about it the next morning. Post-death she took it as gospel. It was hard to tell her that nobody loved each other, that even in death, love wasn’t a given.
In confused grief, her willingness to play the widow caused drama that seemed to overtake any other feelings the situation should have encouraged. In hindsight, it’s hard to blame Casey because we all wanted to attach ourselves to the sadness. Rachel and Amanda went to see his body, bloated and braces-less in his parents’ house. I wrote his name on my arse with a permanent marker. Casey saw a psychic.
His funeral was a couple of days after Christmas. I watched his parents and felt like a phoney. I was embarrassed by my friends who tried to grieve with the energy of a family member. Karl’s friends, whom we had thought to be seventeen-year-old men were finally revealed as boys; boys in suits and ties and not bothering to fight tears. In those moments I had a crush on every single one of them.
The driver of the car was a pallbearer, the weight of death crushing his pubescent face and scrawny shoulder. I wanted to feel sympathy but instead, I felt relief; thank fuck that’s not me.
At the wake, Rachel fought with Casey about calling Karl her boyfriend. Amanda took Casey’s side. When mum came to pick us up I was so mad I maniacally kicked the tyres of her car while no one was looking.
Who owned Karl’s grief was what they were really squabbling about. Who had he known the longest? Who had he kissed more times, or dry-humped or fingered or said something sweet to after ripping a bong?
I slept on the couch that night. Rachel followed after screaming down the midnight house, my dad yelling at us to shut the fuck up.
So no one threw a New Year’s party that year. It was just a few boys and us girls roaming the streets. We caught the bus into Frankston with the intention of taking the train to Melbourne. We got to the station and turned around. We walked all the way to the beach completely devoid of ideas or opportunities. Rachel kicked off at Casey again and in the darkness, I walked home alone, tears and anger. I could hear the countdown in my wake and knew safety in my loneliness.