Don’t give love letters Part 2

A GIRL I liked gave me a love letter when I was 13. It was the best feeling in the world. She was a primary schooler, I was a high schooler, it was a perfect match except we didn’t catch the same bus. Her foster sister gave me the letter, and so began a series of letters written on Winnie the Pooh stationary.

I’ll go to high school each day, find time to write the letter, and return it to the sister on the ride home.

I visited their house on Saturday. There might have been some hand holding, and we kissed. She refused to make her friends leave the room because she wanted them to watch.

Best kiss I ever had.

kids kissing

Mustn’t have been as good for her though. She dumped me an hour later and told me there was another guy.

He went to primary school with her. It was a perfect match, apparently.

And I suppose I tell you this because it reinforced the idea the love letter approach worked. I discovered love poetry, and when I say “discovered” I mean I enjoyed writing it without having read any of the experts. And I gave it to another girl I liked for Valentines Day.

I should have plagiarised with something safe like:

how beautiful you are, my darling!

Oh, how beautiful!

Your eyes are doves.

 I chose instead to write a love poem in Year 8 comparing the girl to various food objects. The line I do remember, as it repeated over and over, was: 

You are as nice,

as nice as pie.

You always give everything a try.

You are as great, as great as tart.

I want you to be my sweetheart.

What possessed me? Love apparently. But it’s something the shy, creative writers did when they liked a girl. We had been influenced by the rom-com movies at the time like Can’t Hardly Wait which dictated this is what a guy did to attract her attention.

The years passed, with several love interests but perhaps one brief relationship made and died at schoolies. When I joined the Order I knew little of relationships except what I discovered in my young high school days eight years before.

 There was a girl I met in the Order.

After her party I didn’t see her at all. Not for months. Not until the dreaded Christmas season.

At Order 614 Christmas is chaos. We’re warned about it all year. We collected money for the Christmas appeal at street corners and train stations across Melbourne, often with brass bands accompanying us. I heard the same songs on every shift, some I didn’t even know existed. And once we completed the four hour shifts we would return to work and work in the drop-in centre or wherever else we were rostered.

The last month in the Order was like this. It buggered me up. One morning after a early shift of collecting money I fell asleep in the drop-in centre. This was a dangerous thing to do. When the boss told me off I sneaked away into the basement and took a nap.

On top of this I was seeing Sally more. I wanted to let her know I liked her before I moved back to Qld. I suppose other interstate relationships in the Order’s history had worked. When exhausted every day all I would need for an emotional high was to see her, then I’d be smiling again.

SMILING: Christmas party with Rudolph and some friends. I'm the elf on the right.
SMILING: Christmas party with Rudolph and some friends. I’m the elf on the right.

One of the best and last infatuation highs I have had, just like the ones in high school. You just don’t get them so much in your mid 20s.

The combined mixture of all these emotions – from exhaustion to tingles – made me believe this meant something. And after a year of challenging myself to do more and be a better person I wanted to prove to myself I could ask a girl out properly. With advice from some friends I found her mobile and phoned her the day before the Order 614’s last church service of the year.

“Hi Sally, it’s Chris. The one who works at the Order?”

“Oh, hi, Chris.”

“Want to grab a coffee or something tomorrow?” When I write the question down it doesn’t seem so hard to say.

“Sure. When?”

“What? Really? Are you sure?”


We arranged to meet for coffee after church the next morning. The first thing I should have done when I saw her there was say hello. But I was too shy, I ignored eye contact, I slouched and looked busy with my other friends.

So I shouldn’t have been too surprised when she walked to me at the church lunch, smiled, and said “I’m sorry, I just realised I double-booked.”

“Okay, maybe another time maybe.”

Nope. That wasn’t what she was telling me. So that night I decided to write a love letter. The best love letter I’d written yet. It started with:

You are as nice

As nice as pie.

Only joking.

I shouldn’t have given her the letter. These emotions were a culmination of the Order, and I knew I would be saying goodbye to the building and moving interstate again. I was making her some sort of anchor.

Not another teen movie

The next day she read that stuff I meant about “how beautiful and how smart and how gorgeous” she was. The last time I heard from her she described it as “flattering.”

And I would be tempted to use this post to apologise to her (and maybe to the former love interests I added into one Facebook group they all declined to join) for my behaviour.

But this is not to be a justification to her.

If it was I would not have learned my lesson.



Don’t give love letters when you can talk to the girl instead

THE girl.

I’m not sure how to talk about her. I’m so confused I don’t even know whether to refer to her as The Girl or A Girl. The former suggests infatuation when I have barely thought of her in years. The latter seems impersonal, casual and off-hand.

I have been wondering for some weeks now whether I should write about what happened, or ignore the love letter incident entirely.

There is a small chance she would read this. And if she doesn’t, then there’s 90 per cent chance a family member or friend will. And to spare her and myself further embarrassment, I’ve wanted to ignore this entire subject.

But I’m a journalist. I write about other people, and dig up their pain, their issues, all in the name of truth. I’d be a coward and a hypocrite not to begin this. I’d rather be thought brash and awkward.

And besides, it covers the entire issue of leaving the Order, the frustration, the stress, the emotion.

But giving a girl a love letter? Who ever thought that was a good idea.

Not another teen movie

You ever meet a girl you like and want to get to know her more? Basically, I met this great girl while I volunteered in the Order.  I won’t bother attempting to describe her virtues – I’m sure I did this at length in a last letter of desperation.

It’s hard to be smooth, energetic and charming when you’re volunteering such long hours. And so when I did see “Sally” I suppose I was too shy to built rapport. I don’t think she saw me at my best and most relaxed.

She invited the Order members and I to her birthday party. I was definitely going. It was on a Friday night at a rooftop bar. And so begins the shittiest night of my year.

At that stage I’d barely been in a bar. And so after a 40 minute tram ride S-, B- and I arrived. A burly but gay bouncer asked us for I.D. I didn’t have any. My two friends walked inside and I asked them to give her my card. I went back home and searched for I.D. I couldn’t find my licence, but I did have an old uni student card. I arrived an hour late by the time I gave the card to a lady guarding the door.

“But it doesn’t say your date of birth?” she said.

I groaned. She sympathised. But wouldn’t let me in.

This is where an ordinary guy would have called it quits. But I liked this girl. And not showing up to her birthday party was not a good look. I ran home because the tram wasn’t coming fast enough. J- was at home alone watching movies. He was alarmed when he heard me shove my cupboard drawers to the ground in search for the hidden I.D. I’d almost given up when I found it.

I came back to the bar.

Ripped from
Ripped from

Both bouncers were at the door laughing, probably not knowing the other had turned me away. “I thought you’d never show up again,” they said.

“Here,” I panted.

“Good on you,” the gay bouncer said, handing it back. “Enjoy your night.”

I scoured the roof top bar and walked around it three times when I realised I had a problem. Nobody I knew was there. They had left without telling me.

“What’s wrong,” the first bouncer asked me as I was about to leave. “You just got here!”

“They left,” I said.


It was cold in Melbourne at night. I stood a few minutes wondering what I was going to do. In those days I was on no phone plan. I had a crummy Nokia and it had no credit left. I did not have Sally’s number and even if I did, it was 10.30pm.

But I had B-‘s number, and he should have still been with the group. And when you’re desperate for romance or something of the kind, you find a way. There’s a hundred 7/11’s in Melbourne CBD, or at least one on every corner. I bought credit and phoned B- hoping he would get back to me. I waited in the gutter.

“Hi, I can’t make it to the phone right now…” his answering machine began.

My voice message response was not pleasant.

And then I sent a text which began with “out of worst 10 nights of my life this would be one of them.” It’s a great way to keep friends. You should try it.

But B- was good. He texted me back shortly and said the party had moved to a nightclub. I’d never been to a club before (I was 20!) and it wasn’t in my comfort zone, but I found the place eventually, paid the $15 cover charge, and walked in.


Sally was there, welcomed me, and we tried to  talk surrounded by  loud music, as dark dressed girls swayed on miniature stages in the centre of the room . But I was in a grumpy mood and wasn’t having any fun, so she found nicer friends. I waited an hour scowling at the random couple meeting and hooking up at the corner of the bar.

And then S- wanted to go home. I walked with S- to the tram, knowing I’d screwed up.

And I’ll tell you the next part next time, I swear.


Making the closest group of friends I’ve ever had

I REMEMBER getting off the plane and landing at Tullamarine airport for the first time.  When I turned my phone on I already missed three phone calls from my new supervisor.

I took the escalator and on the way down I noticed a girl holding a piece of cardboard with my name on it. My first thought was “hello, she’s pretty.” The second thought was that she must have been one of my supervisors. But S- was actually one of the Order members. I don’t know why I thought she was older. I think it was because she was extroverted. She carried herself like one of those members of Greenpeace asking you to sign some forms in the street.

S- was talking to an elderly couple, asking them if they saw someone that matched my description. They hadn’t. I was off the escalator now and I introduced myself . Then we went to collect my bag, and waited outside for the supervisor, who parked in front of us in the Salvation Army van which was nicknamed Bertha.

We stayed at the Salvation Army training college, in Parkville. The building was opposite the park. The trees were lined across the road, the leaves turned orange and about to fall. I had never noticed autumn before. This place had a dying and ratty beauty in a ways Queensland could never be.

We lived on the eighth floor. I remember being amazed at how large an area we had. I’d expected some shoddy concrete lined refuge. The kitchen was well stocked with jams and breads and fruits. The rooms were spread out with en-suites. And the view! OMG, the view overlooked Melbourne CBD  would have set a room’s value at 50,000 alone just to see the skyscrapers.

Everyone else shared a room, but I was disappointed to learn that I was going to be on my own. It was for the best I think, because I am an introvert. I needed the isolation, it turned out, and without it I might have killed someone (not a far stretch of the imagination if you see the blog post’s last photograph).

The 11 Order members met each other that night at dinner. Back then age counted. I was only 19 at the time, and I felt like everyone else was older. However, we ranged from 18 to about 25 years. Halfway through the year, I learnt age had nothing to with maturity or necessarily guarantee a bond between someone your own age over someone a few years older. Unfortunately, when I left the Order, I discovered that many people still hadn’t learnt that lesson.

That first night we took a group photo in the hallway.

I'm the one in the centre far-back, my head hidden in the hood.

Throughout the year I would look at this picture and think, “wow, we looked so young. We didn’t know what we were in for.”

I ended up loving this group more than any other group of friends. We worked, lived, hung out together, with half of us sharing bedrooms. With the stress and long hours, we saw our worst sides. But after a while, the worst sides didn’t matter so much. We knew our friend’s weakness, and in a stressful situation, we worked around it.

carrying ourselves Order
If one of us fell, two others would carry that person even if we were grudging (which suited me just fine in this particular case).

We were a team.

I have never found a team like this before. I think for years after there was an emptiness, an attempt to chase after a social group that had as much meaning, but none came close.

Sometimes life was a party and we all got along fine.


Sunglasses party!
Sunglasses party!

Even when we worked hard sometimes we had time for a smile and a ridiculous photo.




But then there were times where we just wanted to bury our Order friends alive in a beach somewhere.

G- and I at St Kilda Beach. It's my birthday!
G- and I at St Kilda Beach. It’s my birthday!

And  times we just wanted to kill each other.

Fun and games!