Beach Walker – Chapter 2
I met Geoff through work. Our workplace was a correctional centre in country New South Wales. It wasn’t an auspicious situation for romance.
I was a nervous young probation services officer doing her first stint in a male prison. I’d been warned about the us-versus-them culture among the prison staff.
Our programme was designed to build offenders’ job skills. By improving their employment prospects on release we aimed to reduce their likelihood of reoffending and returning to the system.
By a ‘logic’ which made sense only to the officers concerned, we were classed as ‘them’. My female sex and youth, my dark skin and curly black hair made me even less ‘us’ and even more ‘them’ apparently. Some did everything they could, short of outright obstruction, to undermine my work.
Still, one sandy-haired, pale-skinned fellow seemed nicer than the rest. After a couple of weeks of shy smiles and pleasantries, we found ourselves ending our shift at the same time. I gladly accepted the offer of a drink in town.
First impressions were correct for a change.
Geoff might not have been much older than me, but his experience seemed to multiply the years which lay between us. Drafted to Vietnam as a teenager, he had become a career soldier, serving as a UN observer in Kashmir and the Middle East. He left the army to retrain for the prison service at the age of thirty.
This shy, kind, rather formal man proved a sweet boyfriend, a diligent if unimaginative lover and, in the fullness of time, a good, dependable husband. He was a wonderful father to our three sons.
We had a happy, busy, unexceptional life in sunbaked country New South Wales, west of the Blue Mountains. The boys grew, became men. Headed for retirement, involved in charities, sports clubs and volunteer associations, Geoff and I seemed destined to become venerable pillars of the community.
Then, just a year ago, at the age of sixty-seven, pancreatic cancer snatched him away from us. It was brutally, mercifully quick. Just three months from diagnosis to death. Three short months to come to terms with the situation, get our affairs in order, say our goodbyes.
Afterwards, I felt guilty for not grieving enough.
I had a troubling epiphany: I had never really, truly, loved Geoff. Not as he deserved. Deep in my heart, I know with awful certainty that I ‘settled’ for this good, kind, boring man.
I’m equally certain that he knew all along that I was settling, yet loved me none the less for it.
And so – after my husband of thirty-two years had died, and the exhausting flurry of ‘arrangements’ had ended – I felt free. It shames me, but I won’t deny it.
I couldn’t bear the sympathy in the eyes of our friends and acquaintances. I felt such a fraud. It’s that, more than anything, which drove me away from Wagga Wagga and the Riverina, down to the Victorian coast. I needed a clean break, a fresh start.
As in all things, Geoff had been diligent in his payments into our life insurance fund. This, combined with his superannuation and the sale of our substantial family home, left me in a good financial position. I could afford a modest house in a quiet court in the pricey seaside town of Ocean Grove, not far from the beach.
I’d always yearned to live by the sea, ever since the trips from my childhood home in Canberra to Bateman’s Bay. Geoff, on the other hand, loathed and feared the ocean, and was too prudent with our finances to contemplate the extravagance of a holiday beach house.
I’m sure he never meant to deny me anything, and to be fair, I never pushed, but things that Geoff was unenthusiastic about had a way of not happening. It was just inertia.
Yet here I was. Sixty years of age, fancy free – and finally where I wanted to be.
Next week in Beach Walker:
Chapter 3: Them Ol’ Beachwalkin’ Blues
Grace has an unpleasant encounter on the beach and needs help.