North Lismore. Saturday, 9.10pm
It’s a gathering of the tribe. My town tribe.
Friends are gathered in the pleasant surrounds of a beer garden. Thanks to the lack of walls, there are no television screens or advertising posters – just trees, tables and chairs. And us. Lots of us. (There is a kids’ playground here too. One of us is rocking on a swing while sipping something colourful in a glass with an umbrella.)
It’s been a while since I’ve seen the tribe. It feels good to be here, wrapped in the friendly ambience. I sip from my glass and listen: volcanoes of laughter, sprinkles of chit-chat, rumbles of serious talk and a grunt of V8 bravado from Terania Street. Someone offers me wine. I say no. An eyebrow is raised.
I chat to a woman freed from her children for the night. I have known her many years – since she was a child, actually. Years ago, we rented an old house a few doors up the road. It was a good house; I remember being very impressed with its seriously heavy-duty screen door when inspecting the place with the real estate agent. Yes, a good house, except that strange men would turn up late at night, knocking at that heavy door.
The house used to be a brothel. The brothel business went belly-up and closed down, but some clients obviously didn’t receive the notice of closure. After a few nights of lonely men knocking at my door, I put a sign on the door indicating that the brothel had moved next door. (I never met the neighbours.)
We laugh, remembering about those times. She pours another bubbly.
In the tribe are four friends who have their birthdays in November. They decided that having one celebration in this old North Lismore beer garden would be a good idea. And it is.
We sing happy birthday. Hip, hips are hoorayed. Woo-hoos are woo-hooed. Hugs are shared. Champagne is popped. I raise my glass to them. There’s a lot of warmth in the air, and it isn’t just the summer balm.
An extended family, there is a trust and a love in the group that binds us together, despite our diversity. There are friends here I haven’t seen for ages. Too long. I feel bad about that. Tonight makes me remember just how valuable your tribe is.
But, it’s okay, I tell myself. Life sometimes separates you just as randomly as it connected you. Real friendships survive that. Enjoy this moment. No need for guilt or the old ‘Oh, we really must catch up soon’ promises. I’m here, now. That’s what matters.
Except, I’m going home.
It won’t be a late one for me. You see, I’m off the booze. (Get up. It’s just something I do occasionally.) I’m drinking lemon, lime and bitters. You cannot party on lemon, lime and bitters…
The others are definitely not drinking lemon, lime and bitters. A core group (I know who they are) will party until very late. I have done that with them myself. But not tonight.
I head for the door. I’ve really enjoyed being with my town friends, but now I want to make a quiet exit; to slip unnoticed into the night; to fly to my shack under the cliffs, where sobriety is mitigated by bed and book.
‘S! You’re not leaving are you?!’
‘Um, yeah. I gotta go. Work tomorrow and…’
‘What? But we haven’t seen you since forever!’
‘Yeah. No. I’ve been…’
‘Have a drink. It’s a party. You love parties. It’s been ages.’
‘Yeah, but I…’
‘Okay then. Love you, S.’
‘Love you too. We really must catch up soon…’