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A HONEYMOON, GROWING UP AND COMING OF AGE

In the previous chapter, Rachel and Birgit have tied the knot in a civil ceremony and decide to take Paul and Tess with them on a three week honeymoon to Europe and Britain. Tess recalls that holiday and then moves forward to tell about the rest of her high school years and ends with her first love. This is also an interlinked story because I introduce Anna Hanford who we first met in The Seduction of Anna.

Copenhagen and Melbourne share top place in my list of favourite cities. Copenhagen because it’s where I met my partner and Melbourne, well if you haven’t worked out why you haven’t been reading my previous accounts! Copenhagen was the first city we visited when Paul and I flew out with mum and Birgit on their honeymoon. We flew there via Heathrow where we changed planes and flew out to Copenhagen. We actually arrived in London at three in the morning and had a three hour wait until our flight to Copenhagen so I got to see London from the air after all!

Birgit’s mum, was there with Birgit’s older sister. They greeted each other in Danish of course and then Hanne stepped forward and switched to flawless English.

“So you are my new daughter in law,” she kissed her cheek, “welcome to Denmark, we are a small country but we have big hearts.”

She stepped aside for Christina and gave Paul and I the once over.

“So now I have teenage grandchildren?” Hanne gave us both a hug, “I am Hanne and this is my other daughter, Christina.”

Some ten minutes later we were heading for the exit and I thought we were driving back to their house but instead we went down the escalator. Hanne was in front with mum and Birgit, and we were with Christina. When I asked where the car was parked, she merely laughed and told me that the airport was only fifteen minutes by train from the city centre.

“We are in Østerbro, did Birgit not tell you?”

“She probably did but I forgot, where is Østerbro?”

“To the north of the city centre.”

That night we met her father, Gustav and her younger sister, Anne-Lise. I was tired after our long flight but when I started nodding off, mum packed me off to Anne-Lise’s bed, I shared a bed with her while Paul got the sofa bed. Mum and Birgit stayed in Birgit’s old room.

I slept late and when I awoke, Anne-Lise had gone to work and I could hear voices in the living room. Birgit was downstairs with a woman she introduced as Frida, her old friend from high school. Mum was out with Hanne.

“They have gone shopping,” Birgit explained, “Frida has just dropped in on her way to work.”

My first impression of Frida was that she was polite and sophisticated. She didn’t stay long but promised to come back with her daughter tomorrow.

“I look forward to seeing her again.”

“I used to change Karin’s nappies,” Birgit explained to me as she made my breakfast, “now she is sixteen years old,” she grinned, “it makes me feel old just looking at her.”

I met Karin that following day at a café near Nytorv and in the tradition of classic love stories I thought her a bit stand offish and Paul fell hopelessly in love with her because she was nearly a whole year older than him. She seemed to pay more attention to Paul than to me, but most of the time she was teasing her Aunt Birgit. When Paul dutifully announced to all and sundry the next day that he was going to ditch his current girlfriend, Kelly in Australia for Karin, mum just stared at him with her mouth open.

“Just like that?”

“Kelly’s cool, and I love her but Karin is so much cooler and I could learn a lot from her.”

“Are you going to tell her first?” Mum asked and then noticed Birgit pinching her nose, “what are you smiling about? My son is ditching his girlfriend for a girl he just met yesterday.”

“Um, Paul,” Birgit swept her hair over her head, “I don’t know how to say this so I will be blunt. Karin likes boys but not in the way you think, she is gay.”

“Gay?” Paul blushed, “but she’s only sixteen… how long has she…?”

“A year or so, maybe more,” Birgit replied, “she has a girlfriend, Heidi. Did you not see her showing me a picture of her girlfriend on her phone?”

“Well perhaps you should hang onto Kelly for a bit longer,” mum chuckled, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

I remember snatches of the conversation that followed because I was playing chess with Hanne. She had taught me the basic moves the previous afternoon when we all went to the Bastard Café in Rådhusstræde. I’m not joking, it’s actually called that and it was filled with games of descriptions. Mum had her picture taken with Birgit outside café because the name just cracked her up, but getting back to the conversation, it was the first time I’d heard Birgit and mum explain what it was like to be gay. It was not so much a decision as a natural inclination towards your own sex, you could of course marry someone from the opposite sex and even appear normal.

“But it’s free spin like you’re forcing yourself to be something that you’re not,” mum explained, “on the outside I was married to your father but inside I was looking at other women and wishing I wasn’t married to your father. Although he was the one cheating on me,” she propped on her palm.

“It sounds complicated,” Paul responded.

“Hey,” mum nudged his foot with hers, “don’t be in such a hurry to grow up, enjoy the next few years while you’ve got them. You don’t have to pay bills or go to work, about all you have to worry about is school work and your girlfriend.”

Summing up my first impressions of Birgit’s family I was struck by the ease with which they took us into their hearts and homes. It was as if they’d been simply waiting for us to arrive for years instead of just a few months. The chemistry between Hanne and mum was the total opposite of what it had been between mum and Granny Murphy. It was the first time mum had been treated like a real daughter in law instead of a rival for her mother in law’s affections. You could see it in the way they just sat and talked or went out walking or biking and speaking of riding, I couldn’t believe how many cyclists I saw in Copenhagen. Grandpa Gustav does own a car but he rarely uses it, he prefers riding his bicycle.

***

I’m back at the computer now, I took the laptop around to Granny Hanne’s house because Karin and I were there for dinner and she read what I’ve written so far. She reminded me of that day when Karin came around and we went riding down to Nyhavn and I was like, “I was getting to that as well.”

Karin came around the second last day we were in Copenhagen, we were there for six days and we’d been to all the usual tourist spots, Amelienborg Palace, Christiansborg, the Round Tower just to mention three. But one place that had really affected me was Nyhavn because of the colourful buildings by the canal. Karin was there to say goodbye to her Auntie Birgit and in the course of the conversation mum mentioned that I’d really loved Nyhavn.

“We’d like to go back there before we leave for Paris, but we’re going to Mälmo for the day tomorrow.”

“I can take her now,” Karin offered and then looked at me, “we will ride there and be back before dinner, would you like to go?”

“Yeah,” I pushed my glasses up my nose, “can I, mum?”

“Go,” mum nodded, “be careful out there.”

“She is with me,” Karin kissed her on the forehead, “she will be safe.”

We rode all the way to Nyhavn and this time Karin was quite sociable. I felt a little awestruck at this older girl who could speak Danish, English, and Swedish with ease. The fact that she had come out when she was fifteen was even more amazing and here I have to backtrack a little to explain the other reason for my admiration. It had nothing to do with sex by the way and everything to do with what is commonly known as the sisterhood. It’s a grandiose title that’s been so abused and misused but basically it’s women being with women. We nurture relationships with women all day long, it’s the lifeblood of our existence. My girlfriends at school were my age and the older girls could be a little harder to connect with, because they were trying to attract the attention of boys and you need to cut down on the opposition because ‘it’s all about me’ to put it bluntly. It’s a perfectly natural way of doing thing, but having an older girl take you under her wing was something many of us craved because it makes us feel a little bit more grown up.

Thus, when Karin asked about my dad as we walked our bikes alongside the canal I blurted out that my father had killed himself and I mean blurted it out. I realised that it was too abrupt, almost as if I was pushing her away but Karin just stopped walking and gazed at me.

“I am sorry, I did not know,” her eyes softened.

“I never knew my father. My mother told me he is a Polish driver she met in a bar one night, she says the best thing that ever happened out of that night was me. Your father must have been in pain to take his life, but part of him lives on in his daughter I am sure.”

I swallowed and nodded.

“How long ago did he die?”

I told her everything, only this time I wasn’t blurting it out, but it came out all the same, by the time I finished we were sitting on the edge of the canal with our feet dangling over the edge drinking Coke. It was the first time I’d told a stranger everything about the assault on my mum, the ensuing fallout and the slow disintegration of my father as the consequences of his actions enveloped him. I felt drained and she kicked my heel with her foot.

“It is good to hear you talk, you will keep talking to me when you go back to Australia?”

“I’d love to,” I replied, “as long as your girlfriend doesn’t mind.”

“Why should it matter to her?” Karin chuckled, “she is my girlfriend but she does not tell me who I can talk to and I am the same with bonus veren siteler her. You are my Aunt Birgit’s stepdaughter and so you are family to me. She is not my real aunt though but she and my mother were lovers once.”

“Frida and Birgit,” I stared at her.

“It is the Danish way,” she shrugged, “you go to bed and if you like it then you are going out, if not you move on. They decided they wanted to move on but they stayed good friends. Aunt Birgit is one of my heroes and my mother is my other hero.”

With the benefit of hindsight I now know that the love between us began not with that reunion in Melbourne many years in the future, it started when an older teenage girl sat and let a younger girl pour out her heart over a can of Coke in Nyhavn.

We spent the next two weeks travelling, we saw Paris, Rome and Athens, before flying back to London for a few days and then drove up to Scotland because mum wanted to see Edinburgh and from Edinburgh we flew to Stockholm to see some of Birgit’s friends and relatives. We spent the last two days back in Copenhagen before flying back to Australia. Frida and Karin came to the airport to see us off and Karin made me promise to email her some pictures when I got back home to Melbourne.

Looking back at pictures of mum and Birgit from 2005 and comparing them to pictures of mum before that I’m struck by the look on her face. She seems more relaxed and carefree and it’s not as if she’s been a stressed out lesbian mum since then, far from it! Mum has told me since that when she said “I do” to Birgit at Lilydale Lake it was like walking out of a fog into broad daylight.

“I felt disorientated at first. I was so used to a bitch of a mother in law waiting for a chance to bring me down but Hanne became my first real mother in law. There’s not a day goes past that I regret the decision I made.”

And now I have to shut this computer down. Granny Hanne needs some help with her computer and so it’s her granddaughter to the rescue.

***

One of the first things people notice when they return from overseas is that after the excitement of telling everyone what you did and where you went things seem to settle back into a routine and that can be hard to adjust to. You have changed but life just goes on at home and before too long it’s as if you never left. For a while though it seemed as if we might be different because things did change at home and at school. For a start I had a whole lot of new friends and even the older girls would stop and talk to me because I’d been to places they’d only seen on the telly. It really brought me out of my shell in a big way because when they’re asking about the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben you have to think hard about how to describe it. Thus my oral communication skills improved and as a result my confidence grew as well. Paul did break up with Kelly and went out with Leanne for a whole two weeks but then got back together again Kelly after Leanne went back to her old boyfriend and he and Kelly stayed together until the last few months of high school. I also started emailing Karin and sent pictures of Australia and Melbourne. The emails would ebb and flow for the next few years, sometimes I’d get a lot over a few weeks and other times it would be months before we’d send emails.

On the home front the changes were much more dramatic because Birgit had left all her stuff across the road and now that she was mum’s partner we had to move everything over to our joint. It was a bit of a squeeze but Sam did have a bigger back yard and because we had less space that drove mum to do what she’d been contemplating ever since dad died, sell the house in Essendon. That decision at the end of May led to a dramatic change in our world because Granny Murphy rose from her sick bed and got hired a fancy lawyer. She’d been diagnosed with lung cancer, and had been given six months at the most to live, enough time she thought to put a stop to the sale.

However old Murphy hadn’t reckoned on Maggie, who heard about it from mum. She then got on the phone to her friend Anna Hanford one Friday afternoon and on Sunday afternoon a yellow VZ Holden Monaro pulled into our driveway. I was at the back gate with Sam and so I only got a glimpse of a blonde woman about mum’s age, a younger man with dark hair and a girl who looked to be about nine or ten. She had the same colour of hair as the woman, so she was probably her daughter, but because she had her hand draped around the wrist of the man I just assumed that he was her father. I only found out the truth when I went inside and because Sam wanted to check these people out, he skittered past me into the living room. I heard a startled, “Sam,” from mum and then a woman’s voice, when I came into the living room Sam had his head between the girl’s lap and she was running her hands over his head.

“You’ve lost Sam,” Birgit rose to go to the kitchen.

“Elvira just loves dogs,” the woman spoke up, “she’s been on at me deneme bonusu veren siteler off and on for the last year or so to get a dog,” she noticed me and smiled, “hello, how are you?”

“Good,” I perched on the edge of the couch and took them all in. The woman actually looked to be in her thirties, about the same age as the guy. He was dressed in a suit and had large briefcase at his feet. The woman looked very sophisticated judging by the clothes. She was wearing a low cut white blouse with waterfall ruffles all the way down the front, it was tucked into skin tight blue jeans, she also had on a long grey, knitted cardigan that fell to her thighs.

“That’s a pretty blouse,” I pushed my glasses up my nose and remembering what I’d heard older women say in the past I added, “where’d you buy it?”

“The House of Hanford,” she smiled crookedly, “my house, I made the whole outfit.”

It was one of those moments I recall vividly because mum and Birgit both stared at her and then at each other.

“Wow,” Birgit finally spoke, “I would never have thought that.”

“I find it’s a great conversation starter,” she replied, “and a woman like me needs something to keep her hands busy when I’m not working, I’ve found from experience that idle hands get me into more trouble than I can handle.”

“This is my daughter, Tess,” mum finally remembered I was sitting there, “and this is Anna Hanford and her assistant Darren Heywood, Darren’s going to be representing me in court.”

“G’day, how’s it going?” Darren smiled.

“Tess, honey, why don’t you take Sam and Elvira out into the backyard,” she paused, “do you want a glass of cordial, sweetie?”

“I drink milk from a dirty glass,” she drawled in a pretty good American accent.

“She’ll have cordial in a clean glass,” Anna nudged her daughter forward, “and no getting that top dirty, missy moo.”

“Me ma made this,” Elvira switched to an Irish accent.

I have no idea what was talked about inside. I was outside with Elvira throwing a ball for Sam, she seemed quite mature for her age and had an innate talent for pulling off foreign accents with ease. Anna and Darren were inside with mum for an hour or so, Birgit was there for part of the time but then she came out and sat at the outside table with a glass of wine and a magazine. Paul came back with Kelly just as they were getting back into the car and did a double take as Anna folded the front seat back after Elvira got in.

“Whoa, sick,” he exclaimed.

“Thanks,” Anna turned and held out her hand to mum, “Darren will be in touch shortly, and if you need anything else you’ve got my card.”

“Thanks, I owe you a debt of gratitude.”

“Only if we win the case,” Anna released her hand and then shook Birgit’s hand, “you two take care of each other.”

She got behind the wheel and Paul grinned as she started the car a minute or two later and backed out into the street, he was waiting for the wheel-spinning farewell but Anna drove away at a very respectable pace and he and Kelly went inside.

“Well, well, well,” mum put her arms around us, “this should put a cat among the pigeons.”

“Why’s that?” Birgit asked.

“It seems my dear departed ex husband crossed swords with her in court and then again outside the magistrates court. Karma is a bitch and she has a score to settle.”

“So, she’s going to court for you?” I asked.

“No, she does criminal law, but a few years ago she expanded her law practice to include probate and corporate law. Darren heads up the probate department.”

Karma was the right word to use because that’s exactly what happened to Granny Murphy when the case reached court. Mum was in court that day even though she didn’t have to be there but in her words, “she just sat stone faced while Darren tore the opposition apart and when it was over she started crying.” Granny Murphy died two months later but by then we’d moved into a house in Mt Evelyn three doors up from Anna and Elvira.

***

I’m back now after four days in Berlin, you didn’t even know I’d been gone did you? Karin and I decided to take a few days out and have a city break. We had a ball in Berlin and took selfies in front of part of the wall that’s still standing. I’ve been there before but because I was doing the goggle-eyed tourist thing I wasn’t looking down and I saw something I hadn’t seen before. In front of many houses are special paving stones with names of people and dates. When I pointed one out she explained it was a way of remembering the past, the names belonged to the Jews who used to live there and the last date is when they were evicted from their house. That got me thinking about our black history, which has been ridiculed by the right wing establishment in Australia or only acknowledged after intense pressure. It led from there to thinking about my own past and in particular the rest of my high school years.

A lot happened and I could probably fill a book with all the things that we did together as a family and separately so I wasn’t sure how to do this but Karin had the idea of just emphasizing the major things and summarising the blanks. She has a way of dissecting a problem to find a solution and so with that advice in mind let me begin with Anna and Elvira.

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