As told to Ruhi Lee
Thirty years ago, Ronnie was speaking at an event in Newcastle when Aunty Kerrie first saw him. “I want that one,” she thought. He was a Tūhoe leader and “a speaker that others would be jealous of … magnificent and beautiful in his language”.
Then they met.
“Kia ora, I’m Ronnie.”
“Kia ora, I’m your next wife.”
Today, Aunty Kerrie calls out from the kitchen, “Are you happy I snagged you all those years ago at the marae?”
“How can you say no to that?!” he exclaims, his face smeared with tempura prawns and the Thousand Islands dressing she’d prepared for him.
Ronnie was diagnosed with aphasic dementia earlier this year. “He’s not really verbal anymore. It’s not only a tragedy for me and him but for his whole culture,” says Aunty Kerrie. Thinking of her husband, her sorrow quickly bubbles into giggles. “He still laughs at my jokes, so what else do you need really? He still eats my cooking. Poor bugger. That’s the one thing about dementia — he doesn’t complain about my cooking so much!”
“How do you stay so positive, Aunty Kerrie?”
“Well, I reckon our marriage will last forever. Even when we’re dead, we’ll still be married,” she shares with a laugh.
Is it possible to fall in love with birds? To experience a connection beyond mere interest or admiration? For a two-year-old, it’s possible. She’s able to distinguish between pigeons, mynas, crows and cockatoos. And when an obese magpie perches itself atop a fence, perhaps too tired to fly for the next half hour, this little girl talks to her, sings to her and even names her Daisy. Eventually, the bird flies away. Two days later, “Mummy! Daisy is back!” she squeals. Sure enough, the fat little bird has returned for more of the toddler’s love.
A care package
Salted peanuts are the preferred post-work snack. Coffee. Turkish bread. Garlic butter. He’s never had it before, but he’ll love it. Spirulina for his smoothies to build immunity. Wait, scratch that. He bought two kilos from the supermarket just before lockdown. Chocolates for his top-shelf-in-the-cupboard stash that nobody else can reach without a chair. Corn cobs, which he’ll roast over an open fire and rub with lemon and pepper. Oh, and lemons, since his lemon tree is dead. He still waters it, convinced it’s coming back to life. She can afford to leave optimism out of his Father’s Day delivery, she thinks. He has plenty of it.
Always in possession of the latest gadgets, not one iteration of the iPad was released without his knowledge. His televisions enlarged with every house move, 85 inches being the last. His youngest grandson’s smartphone had been malfunctioning and, when the 31-year-old was offered his Pa’s phone as a replacement, he sorrowfully accepted. Pa’s ability to use his phone was one of the last things to go. Who was he without his stylus?
A month later, the young man eulogised at his Pa’s funeral. Pa, they hoped, would watch on through an infinitely larger screen than those he’d owned earth-side. That gave them all comfort in his passing.
Till death do us part
Often reserved for married couples, “till death do us part” was our promise when we were 15. Now, double the age, I asked him, “Do you think we’re drifting apart?” We’d fallen out once before and it took us a year to heal. Though adulthood granted us the maturity to resolve conflict quicker this time around, playground jealousy still trumped maturity. “Whenever I think of your new friend, I find myself chanting my new mantra, ‘Fuck Kamryn.’”
“I pursued other friendships because you don’t seem to have time anymore,” he explains.
A flurry of “sorry”, “I miss you” and “you’ll always be my best friend” were exchanged.
Till death do us part.
List makers in the dark
Like fluorescent lights switching off down a long corridor, batch by batch, Melbourne was shutting down. But under the muting shroud that enveloped the city, candles were being lit.
One burned between two drummers kissing on a porch. In the blink of an eye, the flicker of a flame, they met, meshed and moved in together. Stage four restrictions left no time to date or plan.
Gigs and travel cancelled, the women wrote a list: Jazzlab. Tempo Rubato. Mataranka. Mexico. Homes of family and friends. Drumming studio.
More candles lit. More flames burning.
Blowing them out will signify the joy of milestones reached.
Many thanks to Aunty Kerry Doyle, Luc Yong, S. G., E. L. and S. A. for their stories.
Ruhi is grateful to the traditional owners of Boon Wurrung land where she writes every day. Her book, Good Indian Daughter, is coming out in 2021 with Affirm Press. You can follow her on Instagram @lee_ruhi.