John Marsden Writing Topic #267
The good soldier**
How We Got Here
Chapter 1: Michael
Congratulations to you and Travis, it’s been a long wait but you both finally got here. Writing these letters was Gwen’s idea, she thought it would be a nice gift to show you and Travis how much you mean to all of us.
I think we’ve both had the longest journey out of everyone. As the oldest, I feel I know you more than the others and we have a stronger bond. Being the oldest certainly wasn’t easy—there are so many of us, I never had my own space, most of what I remember growing up was the sound of babies crying that didn’t seem to end until I was 16. I thought it was all hard at 16, but we both know that’s when the real hard work began.
It felt like my life was over when dad died, I never thought I would lose one of my parents so young and with Aunt Elizabeth gone and you overwhelmed with grief, I didn’t know what would happen to us. I remember the day after the funeral I tried to wake you up, I knew you were already awake and you said you’d get up in a few minutes, but we both knew that wasn’t going to happen. I went into the kitchen and made lunch for all the others, helped them pack their bags and sent them on the bus, I called your work and said you wouldn’t be in—that was the day I took over as the man of the house.
I remember dad constantly joking about the fact that he was the man of the house, but I knew that you were really the one in charge, but we both know he stepped up or put his foot down when he really needed to. I always saw the both of you as a team and you both kept the house running like a well-oiled machine, with ten kids, you needed to. With dad gone and you falling apart, I knew I had to step up too, especially for the little ones.
It wasn’t easy being charge of everyone, Lucas, Gwen, Cassie, Christi and Carrie helped me whenever they could, but they had their own grief to deal with. The little ones were confused and constantly yelled at me ‘you can’t tell me what to do!’ Being 16, stressed out and full of hormones, I didn’t have as many qualms about putting my foot down as dad used to. I remember Scott and I really getting into it because I couldn’t take him to training and I yelled at him. Gwen was shocked, not only because of how I was talking to Scott, but because apparently I sounded exactly like dad was on the rare occasions he was angry. I knew at that point that being an aggressive father figure wasn’t going to work and I had to deal with my own grief and I couldn’t do that if you weren’t dealing with yours.
About three weeks after the funeral, I remember having the most important conversation with you in my life. For the first time, I really had to man up, stand up for myself and I saw you for the first time as a human being instead of ‘just my mum’. I was completely honest about how much I was struggling and that I needed you to be my mum again—get out of bed, make lunches, get back to work. I remember you tried your hardest to be the firm, but calming influence you always have been without breaking down. I agreed to continue helping out for as long as you needed and you called work and told them that you would be coming back the next day.
We made a good team, I could tell that not only you appreciated my efforts but that you felt guilty for taking my help and I think a part of you still does. I know I told you this over the years, but the guilt isn’t necessary. I love you, I love dad and I love all of my brothers and sisters (as much of a pain in the arse as some of them were at the time), and you all needed me.
I know I wasn’t always the best father figure. I treated Lucas horribly when he came out, it wasn’t because I was homophobic, it was just a shock and after four years of being a father figure, I was starting to get over being shocked all the time. Looking back on it, it wasn’t really a surprise, but I was worried about him, he was bullied so much in school and maybe the other kids in school picked up on it, but if school really knocked him down, what would society do? It turns how I didn’t have to worry, coming out ultimately made him stronger and lead him to meet the man of his dreams.
Gwen gave me a shock too when she told me about Stuart, of all the men she could have fallen in love with, why her lecturer? I could see the controversy coming from a mile away, but they didn’t deserve to be treated the way they were but I’m glad that they made it through. Living happily ever after came at a cost to them, but clearly it was worth it, I’m looking forward to their arrival of their first child, my niece. Gwen and I have made a bet on whose child will arrive first. Our relationship was always a solid one, I think it was because she was the oldest girl and took on the maternal role to help me out.
One sibling relationship that still needs work is the one I have with Bethie. She’s only ever known me as a father figure instead of an older brother. I know she’s an adult but sometimes it’s hard for me to see her as anything more than the helpless little girl who didn’t know where her daddy went. Hopefully our relationship will improve as we get older, just like it did with the others.
One shock I really didn’t see coming was meeting Suzanne. I wasn’t expecting or looking for love when I met her at uni, but as soon as I saw at the Melbourne School of Medicine’s O-Week lunch, I knew she was something special. Considering how fast yours & dad’s relationship was and the size of our family, I didn’t want to rush things, we both wanted to enjoy being in our early twenties, study and developing our careers. Suzanne has always wanted to be a dentist ever since she had to undergo extensive dental work after her childhood car accident. As for me, we both know my weird joy from eye tests led to my love of optometry. I can’t wait for our son to come into the world and I do want to be a father, but after having to be a father figure for nine siblings, I only have it in me to be a father to one child.
When Travis came into our lives, I was territorial. I’ve only ever known you as my mum and Mrs Ramieres and I had never seen you pay attention to any man other than dad. It was also because I didn’t want the others to get hurt if he decided to bolt at the sight of ten children and it took us those four years to get ourselves back together. I became more territorial as the relationship progressed as I wondered how much of a fatherly influence/power Travis expected or wanted to be. I knew he wasn’t trying to replace dad, but I also knew as time progressed that him becoming my, our stepfather was a real possibility. I liked him right away, but I was trying to think and do what was best for all of us kids.
Over time, I learnt that Travis is a great man and is a great stepfather and for me, he took the weight off my shoulders and took over the fatherly role at the right time. He enabled me to live my life as a normal then-20-year-old man, to go to uni and meet the love of my life and for all of those things and more, I’ll be forever grateful.
I hope talking so much about dad doesn’t upset you, I just wanted you to see how far you and Travis have come as a couple, as well as how far we’ve all come as a family, over the last 12 years to finally get to this day.
I never imagined that you’d be getting married again, let alone that I’d be walking you down the aisle. However it’s an honour for me to do so, because I also wasn’t sure if you’d find happiness again after losing dad.
I love you and I’ll see you at the aisle.
**Reference: Marsden J 1998, Everything I Know About Writing, Pan Macmillan, Australia.