As we set off, eyes bleary and heads aching, in the cold dewy peanut car, the dark has barely begun to fade into dawn; only a pale stripe of blueish orange across the eastern sky marks the impending day. I’m driving. We drop in at Tyco, dad’s work, where I mumble an exhausted hello to Willy, and then we swap over for the first few hundred kilometres, driving through Hamilton and on into the chilly creeping dawn. Somehow, I manage to snatch half an hour or so of sleep, there in the peanut car with the passenger seat cranked right back. When I wake up, it’s tentatively light and we’re climbing through glorious King country, its unforgiving slopes golden in the morning sun. We pull over for petrol in a small, drowsy town which hasn’t yet shaken its frontier feel, and then I take the wheel for the long drive down to Taranaki.
If I claimed to remember that drive at all clearly, I’d be lying, but I do know it was one of the most breathtaking journeys I’ve ever done. It took us through steaming, primeval, bushy gorges and across wide rivers, past whitebait rushes and over craggy mountains, all hazy and tender in the delicate morning sun. It was incredible. Most of the time I felt as if I was dreaming, and some of the time I was: I fell asleep at the wheel at least three times (Two nights without sleep, remember?). But as long as I live I will never quite shake the moment I rounded a rocky point by the western sea and saw Mount Taranaki rearing resplendent and snow-capped towards the pale blue sky, wreathed in pearly cloud and tinged pink with morning. I nearly drove off the road. Fuuuuuuck.
‘Thaswhere we’re going’ mumbles dad, half asleep in the passenger seat. Ok. Wow.
By the time we’re on the long straight road to New Plymouth, I’m falling asleep every ten seconds or so; I beg Dad to take the wheel for a while, but he responds by snoring and turning over, so I struggle on alone. I swear the peanut car is doing most of the work; I keep thinking I’m awake, and that I’m watching the road, and then realising with a jolt that my eyes are shut, and have been for some time, and the road I’m looking at isn’t the one in front of me at all. Somehow, though, we avoid catastrophe, even through the busy, pleasant streets of New Plymouth, and manage to come out of the other side unscathed. Very soon we’re in Taranaki, Dad’s woken up, and we’re trying to work out where we’re going. The sea is incredibly blue to the right of us and the mountain is rearing dizzyingly to the left. We find the house, I pull haphazardly up onto the grass, and dad jumps out.
‘Come on’ he says, striding towards the house.
‘Mlirgh’ I say, attempting to follow, but somehow my jacket’s stuck on the handbrake and my legs can’t move and what? Head hits the passenger seat and mmm and nothing.
Some time later, I become aware of laughing voices somewhere above me. I have no idea where I am. One of the voices might be dad.
‘Shh’ it says, sounding amused. ‘Look.’
I open my eyes and see a bit of seat, and grass, and two pairs of feet. Two of the feet are my dad’s, and the other two are pale and small and delicate, with slightly crooked big toes.... I know those feet.
‘YOU!’ I yell, and, tiredness forgotten, tumble headfirst out onto the grass, stumble to my feet and throw myself violently at Damis, who’s standing there next to dad smiling in his nervous, heartwarming, Damis way. I just about manage not to knock him over, hug most of the breath out of him, and then let him go, so I can have a look at what the years have done to him. He does look different. There are a few more crinkles around his eyes, he’s grown himself some sandy face-fuzz that doesn’t suit him, and he doesn’t look quite as healthy as Barrier Damis did, but it’s still him under there. Awesome.
‘We’ve found you a place to sleep’ says one of them, so I follow them inside, feeling huge, smelly, clumsy and terrified. There are various women inside doing preparation-y type things, and I wonder which is Billie, Damis’s soon-to-be wife? I nearly crash into one of them in the doorway; the poor little thing looks terrified. They lead me down a corridor and into a dark room with mattresses on the floor. I’ve never seen anywhere so welcome in my life. There’s some guy sleeping on one of them, but I don’t even care about being abandoned in a dark room with some strange bloke if it means I get to sleep. As I drop my stuff and stagger towards one of the mattresses, he turns over and opens his eyes.
‘Oh’ I say, laughing, because...of course, it would be. ‘Hullo Groggus. How are ya?’
His hideous ‘tache is gone, and he’s sleeping under a spiderman duvet. I find this adorable. I’m really pleased to see him. I’m even more pleased to see a pillow, though....
I sleep for an hour or two, and ease gradually back into wakefulness a while later, just dozing and chatting sleepily to Grogs. Eventually we get up and go to investigate what’s going on, and when the wedding is. And where, come to that. And who the people involved actually are. Dad’s busy prepping the meat with herbs and wine, so I help him out with that, and gradually meet people. I feel quite awake now, that little bit of sleep helped. The house is nice, and has a garden round the back with tents and kids in it, and a wide deck facing the sea. Most of the people I meet are barrierites, people who live minutes away from me but who I haven’t met yet. There are a lovely old couple called John and Mary, a middle-aged daughter of theirs who I think is called Sarah, and a similarly aged son called Harry who reminds me of a much more cheerful Bob. He’s running around with his shirt off playing cricket with the kids and drinking copious amounts of beer. Then there are some nice girls, dark haired Roslyn and blonde Anwyn, and a bunch of boys who sit in a row with their beers, all taking swigs at the same time. I’m introduced, and remember them as follows:
Willy and Ads – Burly Maori-ish rugby player types, friendly.
Benny – Blonde dreds.
Bo – Blonde surfer-type.
Manu – Scruffy dark hair, wearing an awesome top hat with a blue feather in it, sulky expression.
There may have been a few more, I can’t remember. Actually I’m not entirely sure Bo was even there. Fuck, how am I so behind? Grargh. I also meet Billie; she’s the terrified-looking one I nearly ran over earlier. She’s got a short brown bob of hair, bones as small and delicate as a sparrows, a pretty, humorous face and beautiful blueish-green eyes that look like paua shells. I don’t know anything about this kind of thing, but she seems perfect for him. She seems kind of intimidated by dad and me, but she’s friendly and I instantly warm to her. I help dad with the meat, trying not to trash the kitchen too badly, as all around me wedding preparations/panic get underway for real. It’s not too bad, everyone’s pretty relaxed, but there is the unavoidable air of impending doom that haunts all weddings. I try to stay out of the way, feeling very fat, dirty, clumsy and disproportionately large. Damis, Dad and some others disappear down to the beach for a swim and a pre-wedding freakout, and I plaster on sunblock and talk to the lovely girls on the deck. Then, bored, I get a ride down to the beach with Groggus to see what they’re all up to down there.
The beach is brilliant, scorching, driftwood-strewn black sand and deep blue water. There’s a deep channel of water cutting across the beach to the river, in which the guys are swimming, and across which I wade, wishing I’d brought swimming things. The sun is so bright and the sea is so blue that it all feels a bit unreal, especially with the Disney-esque mountain rearing up behind us. Damis is having a very modest pre-wedding freakout, but his heart doesn’t seem to be in it, really, and soon we all troop cheerfully back up to the house to get on with it. Back at the house, someone, Dad or Grogs I think, has the idea of wearing their sunglasses upside down; before long everyone has their sunnies perched upside down on their sunblocked noses, even the old ladies. Hilarious. The best men, dad and Grogs, are nobly attempting to climb into the cream shorts and shirts that Billie wants them to wear, with much stifled laughter and mutters of ‘Why do I have to dress up like a fuckin’ homo’ etc, while all the girls fight over the bathroom. I manage to dive in there and pull on my black dress and waistcoat, although I don’t have any shoes or a hairbrush. (Shoes in the sea at schooner bay, hairbrush....who knows.) Annwyn and the girls all look great, in fact everyone does. Eventually we all pile into various vehicles and head down to the beach, where the ceremony is being performed. It’s a different beach this time, more in the town, so to get to it we roll down wide sunny streets, lined with colourful houses, park in the shade at the end of the grassy, flax-bordered seafront, and climb down onto the brilliant sand to wait for Billie to arrive.
The first problem becomes apparent right away. The sand is scorching and a lot of people aren’t wearing shoes; everyone’s hopping from one foot to another, wincing, grimacing and laughing, attempting to strap bits of flax to their feet, sharing shoes, standing on whatever bits of clothing they can shed, running into the glass-clear sea and out again, and generally being in pain. Eventually we find that the best way is to dig a pit, down into the cool wet sand, and stand in that, so before long we’re all standing ankle deep in black pits, and the whole wedding plays out against a backdrop of scratching, shuffling people digging away at the ground with their feet like ravenous chickens. We all mill around a bit trying to work out where we’re supposed to be standing, and eventually divide into a kind of half-moon around the celebrant, the groom and the groomsmen, with an aisle through the thickest part for Billie to walk down. Which she presently does, giggling nervously, wearing a pink dress and roses in her hair, and looking beautiful. The ceremony goes well; the celebrant, a pink-lipsticked, middle –aged lady in a kaftan, seems to love the sound of her own voice and goes on and on and on about love and trees and souls and that kind of thing, as well as telling a misty-eyed, gushing and largely untrue version of how Billie and Damis met, which has us all giggling helplessly into our sleeves. Poor Billie is grimacing and contorting her face into all sorts of shapes in her attempts not to laugh, and Damis is staring at the ground, the sea, people’s feet, trying not to catch her eye. They will be ok, I think. Anyway, it takes ages, and the poor kid who was charged with looking after the rings loses one of them into the sand, so they have to make do with one, which was actually ok but must have been mortifying for the poor boy.
And then suddenly it’s all over and they’ve signed the register and taken pictures and that’s it, they’re married. This morning they weren’t, and now they are. It’s very weird and confusing, and I’m hot and burnt and befuddled and slightly drunk, and find myself hugging Billie almost tearfully and going ‘I know I only jus’ met you but....I think your great an...I really want you to...pleash, live happily ever after?’ Which is a bit embarrassing, but I think she knows I mean well. We all pile into cars and go back up to the house to eat the huge amounts of food we’ve been preparing all morning, drink the huge amounts of beer that are....here....and generally partay. Dad and Grogs are in charge of the barbeque so I mainly loiter around them, not really knowing many of the other people although they’re all becoming more familiar. Damis’s brother Chiltern comes running up to me, looking exactly the same, and I hug him, grinning; I’d actually forgotten his existence until just now, and his sudden appearance has brought back so many memories. He’s got kids! I never knew that. Awesome. I haven’t spoken to Damis or caught his eye since the wedding, and I want to say something to somehow express how incredibly happy for him I am. Because I really am, so much I might burst; she really does seem perfect, kind of exactly the girl I’d imagined for him, and I want to somehow tell him that but I can’t find the words and the longer I don’t speak to him the more awkward I feel.
I should explain about Damis. I love Damis. Kits and I met him when we came out in the summer of 04/05 to stay with dad; we were just picked up at the wharf by this smiling, shy, blue-eyed little guy with golden corkscrew curls, a tea-towel in his back pocket, and no shoes, radiating welcome from every fold of his baggy, worn old clothes, and it turned out he lived with Dad and Lucy in the shack. When we asked things like who he was, how old he was, where he’d come from etc, Dad just said ‘he’s my little brother’ and left us to figure out the rest. (He was 27, I’m still not sure where he came from.) Over that summer Kitty and I tormented and tortured him mercilessly at every opportunity- stole all his clothes so he had to wear the same crusty trousers for a month, bothered him when he was trying to sleep, followed him around asking stupid questions, deliberately played music he hated, nagged him, insulted him, called him Shorty, toilet papered the house so he couldn’t get to his bed, attempted to set him on fire, asked him why he always had a tea-towel about 237209834 times a minute, and, all told, were as irritating as bratty 14-year-olds can be. He bore it all without ever getting annoyed with us or hitting us in the face with his surfboard, as I’m sure he was tempted to do; on the contrary, he was endlessly lovely to us, looked after us and was far nicer than Dad ever was. He made us flax bracelets, always had time for us even if he didn’t, brought us back crystals and bits of driftwood, told us ghost stories, snuck us booze, gave us ideas, let us draw him, snuck us more booze, got drunk and cried about his mother, came and rescued us on his surfboard when we were drowning, talked to us like adults instead of being horribly patronising like most people, was cheerful when Dad was in a mood, mushed on about sunsets and fireflies and glow worms and was generally an adorable little hippy hobbit who made everything better. We got him a rock for Christmas, with a tea-towel on it. (Grogs got one with a bottle on it.) He never told us why he always wore one. He doesn’t any more.
So that’s Damis (Damien, as everyone seems to call him now, which is weird) and I’m kind of ducking around avoiding him and trying to keep out of the way and feeling huge and conspicuous again, and just when I think I’ve done it and I won’t have to talk to him until it’s night and we’re all pissed I bowl round a corner in the narrow corridor and nearly knock him over coming out of a door.
‘Hey’ he says quietly. ‘Where’s my hug?’
I wrap him up into the biggest hug I’ve got, and now it’s all ok.
Later, Willy, Ads, Benny, Manu and Uncle Harry initiate me into the game of Bull. They swear me in very solemnly, warning me about the seriousness of the commitment I’m making, (‘for life’ says Willy urgently) and explain the rules. Basically you can only drink with your left hand, although you can hold your drink in your right; if someone else who’s sworn in catches you drinking with your right, they call ‘Bull’ and you have to skull the whole drink, straight away, and then get yourself another one. It’s basically a way of forcing everyone to get very drunk very fast, because of course the more you drink the worse you are at it. It sounds easy, and it seems easy at first, until you absent-mindedly bring your fresh beer to your lips as you walk away from the fridge, someone bulls you, and you have to down an entire pint, turn round, and repeat the whole process. Everyone is caught out. Frequently. The afternoon wears on. For some reason, the food is taking ages; Dad and grogs have piles of barbequed meat ready, smelling (and tasting; I’m stealing bits) amazing, but the go-ahead has not yet been given to eat. There are speeches and champagne first; almost everyone makes a speech, including dad who is so incredibly wasted by this point – we’ve had a couple of joints and hit the champers, by now – that he can barely speak; he stumbles around the stage gibbering and cackling with laughter, which is a shame, because he could have made everyone cry with one of his sentimental brotherhood speeches, but also quite funny. Almost everyone makes a speech, and they’re all lovely, although I feel a bit sorry for Billie because they’re all about how wonderful Damis is, and she doesn’t get as much of a mention. I almost want to make one myself. I think about what I would have said, if I did. I think I would have said something like this.
‘I don’t really think there’s anything I can say that hasn’t already been said, or that everyone here isn’t thinking themselves. Most of you don’t know who I am anyway, so I’ll make it quick. All I want to say is that when I met Damis five years ago, I instantly realised he was one of the most kind, lovely, beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime people I’d ever met or ever would meet. (Pause for agreeing-type murmurs.)
But I always thought there was something missing, an emptiness to him somewhere. (Apologetic grimace at Damis.) And now when I look at him, that emptiness seems to have gone. And I can only think of one reason for that, and that would be this beautiful girl standing next to him now. So Billie; I’ve only just met you, but I hope that Damis is everything you need, because you seem to be everything he deserves. Damis and Billie.’ (Drinking).
Yeah, I’m glad I didn’t do that.
So we drank horrible (fantastic) amounts of champagne, ate the food which was ridiculously good – I stuffed myself like a Christmas fecking turkey – everyone got emotional and hugged each other a lot, no-one had any fights, everyone was lovely and I liked them all, and before we know it it’s midnight, everyone’s pleasantly pissed, the night is warm, there’s still food left (the desserts were ridiculously good, someone in that family is an AMAZING cook) there’s still beer left, and I’m over it. I’ve had enough. I just want to go home. I’m looking out at the beautiful view of the ocean and I want to go back to the island. I say this to Monique, the European lady from the island who’s there as well, and she agrees. I miss looking at the lights on the water and knowing who’s lit them. I miss there not being streetlights or roadsigns or any of that crap. I miss the waves breaking on Millers. I miss knowing where the tide is just by the sound of it. I miss knowing cars by their engines; I miss knowing that statistically, every fifth truck is TT. I really like Taranaki, it’s a beautiful, friendly, unspoilt little town with a stunning beach/mountain combo going on, and I want. To go. Home. I think actually, all the islanders here feel the same. But I can’t go home just yet, so I just smoosh in next to Grogs for warmth and sit out on the deck as everyone chats. I talk to a girl – I’ve forgotten her name, but she was really nice – who is a set designer for movies. She worked on King Kong. She met Peter Jackson. She is going to be working on the Hobbit. OAIFNOAIHDFOAUDHFSDLKASJDFO:GJHELAKJDASL
In the morning, Grogs and I are woken by Dad crashing cheerfully in on us to ‘check if we’re awake’. We tell him grumpily that no, we are not, and would he kindly piss off? He does, but after about half an hour’s doze we realise that we’re awake now anyway, so we might as well get up now anyway. Not much has changed since last night. Everyone’s still mainly drinking, smoking, eating leftover food. Mmm. We do this for a while, and I listen to tales of what happened after I went to bed; apparently Grogs and a bunch of the boys went to a pub and a club looking for girls, and got thrown out of both. Haha. At about eleven people start leaving; I wave Anwyn, Roslyn and the boys off seething with jealousy; they’re on the plane today. After a couple of hours Dad, Grogs and I decide to head off as well, hugging the best kind of goodbyes, the ones where you know you’ll see them again soon; John, Billie’s granddad, is having his 70th on the island on Saturday and we’re all invited, plus Monique bought Billie and Damis a honeymoon on the island, so they’ll be over for the weekend too. Could life be any better? Well, yes, it could, if I was heading back now; as it is I’ll have to wait until Thursday, but that’s fine. Wheee. I hug everyone goodbye, thank everyone, we jump in the peanut and it’s over, it’s done, we’re gone.