The Rotunda, Monash University, Clayton. 1998
I’m eighteen, and my unpractised hand is sketching flowers in the margins of my notepad. Daisies, marigolds, and lavender (I’m trying to get the messiness of the tiny petals right, but it’s hard).
My lecturer seems to be set on turning General Linguistics into gendered linguistics and I’m not even pre-feminist yet, so I’ve tuned out in disgust. I am peak-90s, in doc martens and a long black skirt. I have one earbud in, its cord snaking through my sleeve and down my top to the discman hidden in my purple canvas bag. Jeff Buckley is singing into my left ear. It’s a bootleg CD I got off someone from the Jeff Buckley mailing list I live and breathe for. We’d met just outside of Au Go Go on Little Bourke street, and traded discs.
Seriously, peak 90s.
The heavy door groans open behind me and the vinyl-covered seats in the back rows, ancient and awful, squeak loudly as everyone turns to look. I keep my eyes on my notebook, disinterested, and continue finishing off a reasonable attempt at a sprig of lavender. Jeff’s falsetto is singing Edith Piaf in my ear, a song about a summer fair. So Frenchy, so chic. Someone brushes past me on their way down the steps, bumping my arm and ruining my lavender.
I look up, annoyed, and stop drawing as I watch her lope to a seat five or so rows in front of me. She mutters “Sorry,” in the general direction of the front of the lecture hall and hunches her shoulders as she settles into her spot, shrugging off a corduroy jacket and getting a notepad out of her bag, while the people around her squirm in their seats and mutter to each other, taking advantage of the interruption. The lecturer continues after pausing briefly to glare – she doesn’t like tardiness – but by now I’m even more disengaged. My attention has been entirely taken by this… girl? Woman?
I’m just staring at her back, at first. The lines of her shoulders, the nape of her neck. But soon someone sitting in my row sneezes, and she turns around to whisper ‘Bless you’ with a little smile, and all of a sudden all I can see is that smile and those eyes, and all I can hear is my blood rushing and Jeff Buckley singing in French in my ear, something about big eyes, and love, and always you.
I never learn her name and I never speak to her. I don’t change my tutorial time so that I can be in a tute with her, the way I had done in my American History unit the previous semester with a boy who’d caught my eye in much the same way. I don’t mention her to my best friend, or my mum, the way I always do when I like a guy. In fact, I never mention her to anybody at all.
Over time, I stop drawing lavender. I date American History guy, briefly. I finish my studies. My doc martens finally give up. I don’t listen to Jeff as much, and I never listen to Jeff singing Edith. I push her into the furthest corner of my mind, tucked away safely. Out of sight, and out of mind.
It’s easier that way. Right?
Until one day, years later, I finally, finally figure out that there have been other shes too, in amongst the hes.
And that that’s ok.
Eventually, I write a story about her. The first she. About the way I watched her in every lecture for the entire semester, and almost failed General Linguistics 110. About the way the ash blonde hair that used to escape her little ponytail curled at her neck and made my fingers itch and twitch. About her full lips, perfect pink stark against alabaster skin. About her big eyes, the ones I can still see from that first moment she turned around.
And, about how 20 years later, I still remember what song was playing when she walked in.