I could feel it long before I arrived. Rising up from the pit of my stomach as the miles ticked over and my car kept pushing forward, almost of its own volition, towards Burkes Pass, my final destination. This undeniable feeling of destiny, whether I wanted it or not, and I couldn’t shake the fear it was a destiny not of my own choosing.
But I pressed on all the same. Maybe it was a glimmer of light, a sliver of hope that maybe I would get everything I wanted, a faint glow that struggled with all its meager strength to push back the crowding reality of darkness invading my head space.
I had holidayed here every year for the last seven years. Some years she was here. Other times she was off overseas with her family. Those years were the hardest. What should have been a holiday felt like prison. The wide open spaces just felt suffocating. I spent every waking moment wondering what she was doing and whether she was thinking of me.
I felt so alone without her there – which made the small town quaintness of Burkes Pass so much more oppressive. I desperately needed her, and the isolation of this place made it all the more painful.
In the middle of my sudden rush of angst, I did have a short moment of quiet reflection; like I was passing through the eye of this emotional storm I was bringing on myself. The odd dichotomy of feelings stirred up by small town new zealand, the type of small town one that people often only experienced as a summer holiday, escaping their regular routine back in the city. It was a place coddled by nostalgia and distorted, but mostly fond, memories.
I couldn’t deny the difficulty I was having, split down the middle, and vacillating between hate and love, pain and comfort, acceptance and denial. Under the right circumstances, small town new zealand was as soothing as a warm glass of milk and hot water bottles in the middle of winter.
It was the perfect place to hide from the world, cocooned in the warmth of the summer sun, baking on the cracked asphalt of the local tennis court, the scent of gnarly pine trees and cut grass carried gently on carefree zephyrs. It was dairies and sunbathing. School swimming pools and bike rides. Long dry grass and sheep paddocks.
It was young love, too.
Crushes. Secret smiles. Is she/isn’t she quandaries. Anticipating nights on the beach and close proximity. Wondering if anyone else has noticed. Hearts racing. Nervous anxiety about being seen with bed hair. And going down to the tennis court, hoping she’d be the only one there so you could ‘play tennis’ but really you just wanted to have the mother of all deep and meaningfuls.
But I knew there was no guarantee she’d be there this year. And without her, this place was on the verge of bringing on a panic attack. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to last a full five minutes knowing I would have to spend my whole summer holiday without even a stolen glimpse of all that hair, half hiding a come-hither smile and complementing her collection of light summer dresses.
One thing I was sure of: If she was there this year I had to tell her. I had to be straight with her. No more games. No more dancing around the elephant in the room. It was just too risky. We were getting older and I knew if I didn’t make a move then someone else might, and that was just too much to bear thinking about. It wasn’t about claiming ownership, it was about making sure that no matter the outcome, it wasn’t just a stupid lack of words spoken out loud to blame for the entire course of my life not being what it was meant to be.
Of course, there were risks in saying something too. I wasn’t being naive. But like a scratchie ticket you’ve been holding on to, untouched because as long as you didn’t, hope still existed, it was time to end this in the hope of starting something else. Now or never.
Ugh, she better be here. I mean all this internal dialog would feel like a complete waste if the leading lady of this make-believe play acting out inside my worn out brain wasn’t even around to hear my final lines, to be there to hold me while the curtain comes down and reassure me that real life will be as good as the fantasies that replay in my head most nights.
I pulled into the campground, nervous apprehension building, dust clouds swirling, the empty playground and lack of people topping up my already overflowing anxiety. I’m freaking out now. So many insecurities bearing down on me now and I can’t even think straight.
I turn the last bend and head towards the far end of the camp. I get some relief to see a scattering of tents, Joe & Mary’s caravan nearby and the Phillipo family’s behemoth of a tent next door.
My heart stops. I recognise her car. She’s here!
My stopped heart starts again, only to dive in a downward direction. She’s not alone. Who is that guy? What is going on? This isn’t in my script. Get out of my world man! I’m panicking now. I slow right down. It’s not too late to turn around – exit stage left and try the next small town to see if I can conjure a different outcome than this horror show happening before me.
But with steely resolve I didn’t know I had, I drive on, determined to face my reality, and equally determined to smash whoever decided this was how my story was going to end, squarely in the face.
I love you small town new zealand but you sure wreak havoc on my fragile emotions. Please be gentle.