A letter to the woman who changed my life
This letter was originally read out live on stage at The Zoo in Brisbane on Sunday 10 November 2013 as part of a Men of Letters event.
It is now published as part of a collection of letters by Women of Letters, called ‘From The Heart‘, released December 2015. All proceeds from the book are donated to Edgar’s Mission, an animal rescue shelter in Victoria.
I want you to know that I didn’t choose you as the recipient of this letter by default, simply because you are my wife. I didn’t choose you just to be nice, or because it seemed like the husbandly thing to do. I chose you purely on merit. I’ve had many amazing women in my life, but when I say ‘had’, I don’t mean like Don Juan. The truth is I’ve often felt more comfortable around women than men. So when I started thinking about reading this letter today, and whom I would write it to, I remembered all the women who changed my life in some way, and I want you to know that there was some stiff competition.
The first important woman in my life was my Mum. That’s a pretty huge opponent, right there. Not in stature—she’s tiny—but in terms of changing my life. Sometimes you remind me of her. Don’t worry, not in a Freudian way, I don’t want this letter to start getting creepy. You see, when I was growing up, Mum was the person who always told me that anything was possible. She encouraged me to follow my strengths and talents and the things I was passionate about. She was the voice of absolute optimism—she believed that I could do whatever I set my heart to, because that’s how life worked. She had faith in me. She changed my life, but this didn’t feel like the right letter to write to Mum—perhaps a more appropriate letter would be ‘to the woman who gave me life’.
The second important woman in my life was my sister—again, a pretty decent rival, wouldn’t you say? Georgie and I were born ten years apart and for a large part of our lives lived continents apart, but it never mattered whether we were in the same room or on opposite sides of the world, we’ve always had a really strong connection. Throughout my life, Georgie has been the person I could talk to about anything. And we’d talk for hours. You remind me of her sometimes too, Meg. Because when Georgie and I would talk, it was as if the world made sense for a few brief moments. Sometimes I was convinced that the universe had given me a sister like Georgie so that I could survive this life—so it was bearable—like a cosmic trade-off for all the really difficult parts. In my early twenties, when I had a lot of anxiety and depression, she would call me every fortnight or so from London to see how I was going. She was the only person besides my therapist that I felt like I could be completely open and honest with—like I can be with you. She changed my life, too, but this didn’t feel like the right letter to write to Georgie either—a more appropriate letter might be ‘to the woman that helped make life livable’.
Of course, this letter wasn’t a competition—like some messed-up, incestuous version of the reality TV show, The Bachelor. In the end, this letter could only be written to one person—you, Meg.
We met in August 2005 at Ric’s Café—which is just so Brisbane it’s ridiculous. It wasn’t like some of the other times I’d ‘met’ people in my 20s: a booze-filled night that ended with us staggering into a cab and heading home to have awkward, drunk, semi-stranger sex. You know the kind, where there’s always that element of fear and doubt that the person you’ve picked up might stab you once you take your clothes off, or have some really weird sex fetish. And the less time you’ve known the person, the greater the fear, because there’s less chance to screen them for serial killer traits. That wasn’t us—we met on a balmy Sunday afternoon in winter. You approached me at the DJ booth and asked me to play a better song, basically. I knew as soon as I met you that I’d met someone different, someone special. It was beyond the normal realm of meeting someone for the first time. There was a deeper attraction—as if I’d somehow found my magnetic opposite. (I know, such a romantic metaphor—magnets!). In some strange and intangible way, when I was around you I felt balanced. And balance was not a word I had ever used to describe myself. It wasn’t until years later that I understood: this is what it felt like to come home, to find somewhere you belong and someone you belong to.
On the day we met I wasn’t looking for love, or a relationship or sex. I wasn’t looking for anything at all. I was still in a grief-induced daze, somewhere between sadness, confusion and anger. About a month before I met you, the drummer in my band had committed suicide. Nic was another woman that changed my life, but in a startlingly different way. An apt letter to her might be ‘to the woman who taught me that life could end in an instant’. It was one of the worst times in my life. I had to face death for the first time, like really eye-ball it. In a sense, though, I’m thankful to her for that, because for the first time in my life I wasn’t afraid of anything. The longest relationship I’d had to that point was three months, but after Nic died I was ready to take a risk with love and the terrifying prospect of completely opening myself up to someone else. The fear of rejection was met with the possibility that, maybe, someone could love me—all of me.
Meg, you changed the direction of my life, the look of my life, the feel of my life—everything, forever. It was an extreme makeover, but without the Botox or either of us ending up looking like the cat-faced woman, Jocelyn Wildenstein. But more than anything else in my life, you changed me. And not by trying to change me, or by pointing out things that were wrong with me that I needed to fix: you changed me by showing me that I was someone who was worthy of being loved. You changed me by seeing every single part of the real me, and loving me anyway. And in doing this, you helped me to love myself. You showed me that I was good enough, exactly as I was.
You even told me I was masculine. I laughed: I don’t think anyone had ever called me that before. But you insisted that I was ‘strong in all the ways that counted’, not in the gym-bunny, football-playing way, but that I had an inner strength. You also loved me for my feminine side: you said I was caring and sensitive, and a bit camp. You accepted that my dating history hadn’t always stuck to the straight-and-narrow. Let’s face it: sometimes it wasn’t that straight at all. You loved and accepted things about me well before I did. You allowed me to just be; you never tried to turn me into something I wasn’t. You gave me absolute freedom to be myself. And over the last eight years, as your boyfriend and husband, I have felt unconditional love and acceptance that I never imagined possible from someone that wasn’t family. I mean, my Mum and my sister pretty much had to love me, right? But you, you had a choice—and you chose me. At first I had no idea why. When we met I was an unemployed musician—two words people love to hear on a first date. But you showed me that it wasn’t what I did that mattered, it was who I was. And over time you’ve helped me to value myself and know my own worth. I even began to understand why you chose me: because I’m pretty awesome. You see, you also taught me a healthy dose of cockiness. You taught me to believe in myself, to have confidence in myself, to stand up to other people and say what I’m feeling.
I may never have the superpowers you have. I don’t imagine I’ll ever be able to read books at the speed of light, or write with your breathtakingly beautiful turn of phrase, or step into any room and just own it. I don’t know if I could have walked away from my music industry career and business, like you did, after years of building it up, to prioritise having a family. Or how I would have coped with years of IVF treatment—with my body being invaded by doctors on a regular basis and treated like a baby-making theme park. And even if I could transform myself into a woman, I don’t think I’d ever be able to go through spinal surgery whilst pregnant, with such courage and poise. Or deal with not being able to walk for months, with nothing but Panadol for the intense sciatic nerve pain. I’ll certainly never be able to communicate with cats in their native language. Or smile like you do. (There’s this thing that happens at the moment when your smile breaks into a laugh: your eyes get crushed as your smile pushes your whole face upwards and makes you look Asian. That’s a pure, unadulterated smile.) I also doubt that I’ll ever be able to perform acts of hypnotism on security guards. I still remember the night my band, Iron On, supported Eskimo Joe at Seagulls Club in Tweed Heads. My band mates had tried to convince the security guard to let us take the life-sized cardboard cut-out of David Copperfield—discarded in the basement since his tour in the 1980s—to Eskimo Joe’s dressing room. Just when we’d given up, you walked straight up to the security guard and said something, which I can only assume was, ‘look into my eyes … look into my eyes’, and came back carrying David Copperfield under one arm. Not only that, the security guard then escorted you to Eskimo Joe’s dressing room to help facilitate said hijinks. I may never have any of these abilities, but that’s OK—I’m happy enough being a spectator to all your talents. And I’m so glad that I get to share this life with you.
I wrote this letter to you because you have changed my life so profoundly, but also because I wanted to return a favour—to give you something that you gave me. I hope, now, that you too can see your value in being, not in doing—just like you showed me when I was an unemployed musician. Because you didn’t change my life by doing anything, you changed it by simply being you: beautiful, honest, open, loving, imperfect—you.
All my love