22 November 2006. I was 21. I was in a new and exciting country, visiting my sister who had been doing volunteer work for almost a year. She’d convinced me to come along to one of her friends’ farewell barbecue celebration. I was reluctant. Frankly, I wasn’t in the mood for small talk and meeting new people. But I went anyway. Heck, I like my sister’s company and I was only there for a few more days so didn’t want to miss out on precious time together.
We arrived. I did the smiles, the hand shakes, the spiel about what I “did” and how long I was staying; a spiel which I’d perfected due to repeating it so many times, and the “yes, we don’t look alike at all, you’re right!” And repeat.
I have to say, I met a lot of cool people. One of them was a golden-haired, aqua-eyed fella with a sense of humour and impeccable taste in music. Once he started playing the album Things Fall Apart by The Roots, he caught my attention, as did the fact that when we arrived, he was, being the Australian-raised man that he is, expertly putting the proverbial shrimp on the barbie (I think it was actually lamb chops this time, but hey).
This guy can cook, appreciates good hip hop and to top it off, he completely skipped small talk altogether and made me laugh. Who is this guy?
Truthfully though, at that point in my life, I wasn’t remotely close to even thinking about dating, relationships, love, any of that mushy stuff. I’d finished an intense year at law school and wanted to enjoy my summer break by visiting far-off lands and spending quality time with my family.
So while I appreciated this guy’s existence, my mind was focused on other things.
We crossed paths a few more times during my trip (I found out later that my sister orchestrated much of this), and a week or so later, became Facebook friends (or was it MySpace? I can’t remember, to be honest), largely due to my sister’s suggestion that we do so. Or maybe I had him totally smitten and he just didn’t show it. I’m not sure. He played it pretty goshdarn cool.
So we went our separate ways and life went on. New academic year, he went back to Australia to finish his degree, I to New Zealand, and things resumed in their normal fashion.
I expected nothing to come of that acquaintance.
I certainly didn’t expect that nine years later, I would see his face in my daughter’s. Our daughter’s. That her smile would be a carbon copy of his. That he’d be the guy carrying my daughter on his back on our way to go grocery shopping while he willingly held her baby doll in front of him because she insisted that he do so.
It’s funny, isn’t it? How one chance meeting with a total stranger can set in motion the rest of your life. How exciting is it, really, that the first time you meet someone, you won’t know that they’re going to become someone you can’t live without?
We have photos of that night. And you can see that amongst the large group of people that were at that fateful barbecue, neither of us was particularly struck by Cupid’s bow. We were just doing our own thing, occasionally making eye contact, sharing a funny one-liner or two, totally unaware that almost a decade later, we’d be making enormous life decisions together. How to raise our children, where to live, what the next step of our life together would be.
We had no clue that over 9 years, we would experience an evolution of love that no one can really prepare you for – one that you have to go through yourselves. Living through the adjustment of combining your life with another person’s; the excitement of the “honeymoon” period; the realisation that you’re both imperfect human beings that can drive each other crazy, but that it’s still possible to love that imperfect person in a way that consumes your entire being; the relief of having that person to keep you standing when you feel like your world is literally crumbling beneath your feet; and the unimaginable joy of bringing in new life to this world, together. To witness, together, the way a helpless, tiny newborn evolves into an individual with their own preferences, their own qualities and their own talents. To see elements of each other manifested in that little person for whom you both, without a shadow of a doubt, would do anything and everything.
Some of my favourite moments now are when we go back to the little things that made us notice each other in the first place. Like when he discovers a new artist that he has to share with me, and we both sit back and appreciate one of their songs. Or when we’re seemingly fresh out of anything edible in the house and he uses what I am convinced are his superhuman culinary skills to whip up something that looks like it belongs in a Michelin-star restaurant. Or when our daughter can’t stop belly-laughing at how funny he is. And truth be told, I usually join in because the guy is funny.
He probably didn’t expect that exactly nine years later, he’d be waking up at 7.30am on a Sunday, of his own volition, to attend to his daughter while his very pregnant wife slept in just a little bit longer. Or that the charming girl with an afro at the barbecue that night would drive him crazy with her micro-management tendencies (which she’s trying to tone down, I promise) and incessant requests for pancakes.
Next year, on this date, we’re planning to be back in the exact same place where we met on that night. There probably won’t be any hip hop blasting, or lamb chops grilling, or the thrill of the promise of a new romance. But there will be two little girls, with their Mama and Papa, listening to stories about the time Papa made Mama laugh, cooked her (and 20 other people) dinner, little to Mama and Papa’s knowledge that this was the start of the rest of their lives.
To another 9 years, and many, many more.