leah mcfall

Sixteen hours af­ter leav­ing home I was in a bar, be­ing served gin cock­tails by a a body­pop­ping Mil­len­nial in cut-off dun­ga­rees.

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Not quite 18 months ago, when Emily-the-edi­tor of­fered me this job, I re­mem­ber say­ing weakly, “But I barely leave the house.” You can write about the house, Emily replied. “Just make sure you open a win­dow.”

Re­cently, I flung that win­dow open wide and climbed out with my heels in my hand. I was off to a glammy party in Auck­land, and would stay the whole week­end. We had a babysit­ter, air tick­ets, a ho­tel room. They can take our lives, as Wil­liam Wal­lace once said of mar­riage, the sub­urbs and chil­dren, but they’ll never take our free­dom!

Sixteen hours af­ter leav­ing home I was sit­ting in a club on a ban­quette which was vi­brat­ing to a pound­ing bass, be­ing served gin cock­tails by a body-pop­ping Mil­len­nial in cut-off dun­ga­rees.

The room milled with par­ty­go­ers. The 50-some­things seemed to form a knot, prob­a­bly talk­ing about how much things change, how things stay the same; the 20-some­things were glee­ful on the dance floor and the 40-some­things were just pleased to be awake.

“It’s one o’clock in the morn­ing!” Ness yelled at me, over the mu­sic. Later: “It’s two o’clock in the morn­ing!” The next day we’d agree the speak­ers were far too loud.

Ooh, I was en­joy­ing my­self! Four sparkling wines had loos­ened my tongue. “I’m dead from the neck down,” I shouted at my neigh­bour.

We were talk­ing about how at­trac­tive other peo­ple seemed to find us, in mid­dle-age. I had very lit­tle to con­trib­ute to the con­ver­sa­tion, as it’s been a long time since any­one ap­proached me in the li­brary and asked me out for a drink (1997, if you must know).

I put this down to liv­ing in Welling­ton. Auck­lan­ders seem to get hit on all the time, which con­firms my the­ory that if you live in the south it’s not your fault you’re al­ways sin­gle; it’s your post­code.

Here we were, us 40-some­things; drink­ing too much, think­ing about the sex we might all be hav­ing if we weren’t 40-some­thing!

This made me feel tri­umphant. See? It isn’t over for women like me (44, un­waxed)! We’re sort of still in the game. They can take our hot­ness, as Wil­liam Wal­lace said of mar­riage, the sub­urbs and chil­dren, but they can’t take the mem­ory of our hot­ness!

I looked at my hus­band, talk­ing an­i­mat­edly to Ness. We’d had to spend some­where in the re­gion of $600 for this night out. Strictly speak­ing it was a work event for me, but we’d seized on this din­ner as an op­por­tu­nity to leave the kids be­hind, get our nails done (me) and miss the Hur­ri­canes play­ing at home (him). What do the Amer­i­cans call it? Date night.

I can’t stand this ex­pres­sion. It’s so cutesy. It’s sex­less, in fact, as most date nights prob­a­bly are. I ob­ject to it, but then, here I was, on one.

We’d done it tough, my hus­band and me. Since hav­ing kids we hardly ever went out to­gether but so­cialised like a re­lay team, hand­ing the ba­ton to each other on the odd Fri­day or Satur­day and pound­ing the track alone. For ex­am­ple, only last Satur­day he stayed in while I went to see the Whitney Hous­ton doc­u­men­tary at the movies.

As the cred­its rolled and Whitney’s life and tal­ent burned out like a sud­denly ex­plod­ing star, I couldn’t have been hap­pier; the evening was only half done and it was time to eat. Welling­ton was a buf­fet din­ner, and I had an empty plate. This was liv­ing!

I sup­pose I avoided nights out or week­ends away in case I dis­cov­ered that I wouldn’t want to come home af­ter­wards. Isn’t this a sub­con­scious fear of all par­ents? Go­ing out, un­fet­tered by re­spon­si­bil­ity, is like step­ping briefly into the past.

For a few hours, you can fan­ta­sise not that you’re young again – I’ve never wanted to be any­thing other than the age I am – but that no­body else’s hap­pi­ness de­pends on you. Imag­ine the light­ness of that!

But, as a par­ent, you’ve gained weight: the bur­den of love you carry around, even when your chil­dren are at kindy, school or be­ing minded by some­one who loves them. You can’t re­move this knowl­edge; you can’t ever lose this weight. You ac­cepted these terms, even though no­body in their right mind would sign an agree­ment sur­ren­der­ing their free will, and their heart, for the term of their nat­u­ral life. But you did.

You see, I later ex­plain to the phan­tasm of Wil­liam Wal­lace as we wipe off our war paint in the ho­tel, the older you get, the less free­dom you have. Ev­ery­body’s got to have some­thing to tie them to the Earth, or we’d just ex­plode like dy­ing stars. Free­dom is one thing worth hav­ing, but there are other things.

Two evenings later I came home and closed the win­dows.

“You see,” I say to the Wil­liam Wal­lace phan­tasm as we wipe off our war paint, “the older you get the less free­dom you have.”

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