Kim’s teenage self knew what she would become.
Visually, like Kristin Scott-Thomas, with a blue Lotus and a wardrobe crammed
with Karen Walker. She would top her creative writing class at Oberlin, then
start an agency in Malibu. She would grow up in Wellington, do her undergrad in
DC but never take a job in the public sector, let alone in (blergh) policy.
There would be no children or husband but a long term partner with plenty of
American teeth and hair and a last name for a first name like ‘Blaine’ or ‘Blake’;
a Bradley Cooper doppelgänger who runs operations at, let’s say, Oxfam North
Kim: This Will Be Your
Life. When asked, she’ll say she feels lucky, that good parents and
genes (whiteness) and privilege handed her life on a plate. This pretending
that she didn’t make her own luck will be her only conceit.
As with literally every
other part of her teen worldview, Kim was wrong about her future, which ruined
her plan (20 years in the making) for her return to Wellington: the compliant
prodigal coming back for Kelburn School’s centenary celebration. A day on
school grounds, jaundiced photo albums (rayon, tie dye, bowl cuts, side pony,
Reebok Pumps), the cute, positive badness of the school orchestra, the
buildings in miniature and clanging against her pre-teen memories of
massiveness. She even imagined the moment she would correct herself with the
good news that the school grounds were, obviously, the same size as 1994:
tangible proof she and her worldview had enlarged.
In her dream centenary,
that evening would bring room temperature drinks and teacher peck-on-cheeking
in the school hall. There are classmates but no social anxiety because Kim
would have met or exceeded the promise of her early adolescence. There would be
no one to whom her 1994 persona was accountable, no one to judge her. No
judgment, at a reunion: the dreamiest of dreams.
And then the dream’s
climax: leaving. Dusky twilight, walking down Upland Road and toward Alex
Delaney’s, the afterparty holder. Alex, like Kim, would have fulfilled his
destiny. He would have made money in merchant banking before buying in
Wellington to remotely manage the business he started in Zurich. It had to be
Switzerland because Kim did not anticipate the internet and redundancy of place
in global eCommerce. Alex could’ve done what he did from Kawakawa, but who
cares − Zürich is a romantic backdrop for a dream. Alex’s wife is a
teutonically blonde architect. She has strong cheek and collarbones, a woman
built with a setsquare, a Nazi visage that belongs on a recruitment poster for
Hitler Youth. Like everything else in the dream, Alex’s wife is someone’s idea
The sense of time
passing stops when Kim walks into Alex’s house. Old friends are there and,
despite twenty years, immediately recognisable. Everyone is visibly older but
only in life-affirming ways: no balding or crow’s feet or fatness or bad
clothes − immaculate aging in the manner of Sigourney Weaver or Temuera
Morrison. Everyone’s drinking is an ironic 90s throwback − the men have Double
Brown, the women $20-a-slab RTDs. Smash Mouth is playing loudly, as it did,
always, in 1994. No one speaks but everyone knows that everyone else has become
A Success. There are no exceptions: in her dream, they have all arrived at the
resting place of their earliest aspirations.
Kim loved creative
writing at school, at Kelburn School. It was the subject with the fewest rules,
the main one being to not end with the finisher: ‘she woke up and it was all a
dream’. She took this seriously, crafting elaborate and wakeful twists into the
final paragraphs of her 200-word essays.
But as she got older
the need to articulate her dream demanded an outlet, so she committed her
mental life to the idea that she would one day do enough to feel like she
belonged. Kim became an objectively successful adult (career, health, money,
lover, loved) who felt always that she was falling short, fucking up,
drowning close to shore.
Which is why her actual
return to Wellington felt like a wretched capitulation. She cried hot,
nostalgic tears as the Civic (worth the price of a Lotus’ cupholder) turned
down and out of Ngauranga Gorge and into the toy-town panorama of harbour, Mt
Vic, Thorndon. She loved this town so much it made her sick, but this was not
She had been offered
job relocation from Auckland and jumped at it on the pretence of wanting to
create space between her and Jeff. The truth was that he’d been all but erased
from memory the moment he took his blender from the kitchen and the Van Halen poster
off her living room wall. He’d driven off into the sunset, swiping right,
probably, before he’d changed out of first. To Kim, Jeff was a failed project,
evocative of nothing, now as he’d always been.
Kim’s parents had a
granny flat attached to their Brooklyn quarter acre ex-State house. For now, it
was hers, the fit-out untouched since 1975, the centrepiece of the studio being
a pistachio two-seater covered in tesselating, faded hyacinth velour. The rooms
looked like she felt: staid, withered, belonging to another era. Overall, it
seemed like the speculative fit-out of a psychopath trying to think and
decorate like a Normal Person. She dubbed the flat the Murder Box.
On this day, Saturday,
she sat on the hyacinths, in the Box, drinking Red Ribbon Roast, looking across
Aro Valley, riveted by her view of Boyd Wilson Park. In 2002 that field was a
swamp that offered nothing but looming subsidence to drag the neighbouring
university off the side of the hill. Now it was neat, astroturfed, floodlit, manicured.
Fit teens and twenty-somethings played there with ludicrous intensity − energy
that required formal organisation to burn off. An excess of energy:
On this day, Kim
carries her mug outside, down Ohiro Road and onto Aro Street. The Valley is
overcast but energised, crackling with the pent up mid-life crises of public
servants loosed on their macchiatos and mountain bikes. The air is warm. There
is a brewery in place of the Shell Station. Odd. She climbs Devon Street,
that zig-zagging goattrack prick with a personality that wants to kill you. She
crests and is down the other side, through the Uni Quad and down onto Boyd
Wilson. It’s too early for the sports-uniformed hardouts, but there are people
on the field. She sits, watches.
A dollar bag of kooks
and weirdoes. Varying ages. Ill-fitting trackies, men (8), woman (1), short and
tall, white and brown, office-worker arms, laughing, respiring, hollering
middle-age-spreaders in waiting, running unathletically in defence/attack on
(hard to say) an electric lavender Nerf ball. Touch, perhaps, or gridiron, or
their own brand of balls-driven mayhem. Their most striking feature is this:
they are emphatically not this park’s target market, their presence and joy a
happy, incidental contempt.
‘What, me? No. Thank you, no. I −’
on. You’re already in uniform, so…’
looked at the others on the field then down at her hoodie, her Betty Boop
pyjama twinset and knew he was right. The man addressing her was perfectly
nondescript, a human gray tie, 180 cms, 45, tired eyes, shapeless brown hair,
crows feet that extended down to his jaw, round features, sweaty in context.
suppose.’ She laughed nervously. ‘It’s been a while since I’ve done, well,
anything.’ This was closer to the literal truth than she wanted him to know.
‘…I mean, anything exercise-wise.’
smiled. ‘Don’t let that hold you back − we’re all useless.’
I mean, ah, that it’s nice that you’re out here.’
keeps us off the crack. C’mon.’
stood with his back turned halfway back toward the field, waiting and knowing
she would comply.
Kim complied. At first
just standing, watching as the Nerf buzzed and flipped out of reach. Without
knowing how it ought it to be thrown, she knew their rotating pie-lobs did not
fully exploit the Nerf’s physics.
Then the Nerf dribbled
near her feet. She scooped it up, the other woman semaphored at her to throw,
which she did. Beginner’s luck occurred: the ball rotated neatly on its
horizontal axis, moving in a tight, flat arc into the woman’s mitt. There
was a celebration, a point scored. Kim felt immortal in that moment, then
ashamed because shame is hers and womankind’s most abundant emotional commodity
and surely, surely it’s forbidden to feel joy that basic and unedited.
But she made it a
On Saturdays Kim walked
down and up the Valley at 8:30 with cold, thawing limbs for 40 minutes of
Nerflex before the kids took over the park. She learned the kooks’ names and
the games’ rules − a hybrid of seemingly every ball sport invented. Afterward
they went back to the Quad to drink $2 vending machine coffee and talk about
their jobs in the spirit of employerly disinterest. They did not work
together, they were not related but they cohered. To Kim, their easy friendship
felt strong and tribal and very un-Western. She did not ask what caused it in
case she broke the spell.
On her ninth week, she
woke to horizontal rain sleeting at her thin bedroom windows. She walked
anyway, arriving to the same group who had greeted her for the last two months.
She played Nerflex, as per, running asymmetrical zig zags across Boyd Wilson,
aiming that tatty missile toward the In-Zone whenever she could. Time was
called. The real, lo-fat sportpeople started to show up. She rested, hands on
knees, breathless but luxuriating in her covering of rainy sweat cocktail. Kim
was comprehensively clean, as if mere exercise and wetness had the power to
scrub pessimism from her sense of self.
might like to know, Kim,’ said Gray Tie as they walked toward the Quad, ‘that
you’re the first addition to Nerflex Club since 2014.’
smiled and made a gently mocking fist pump gesture. ‘Well, that really is
an honour. You do all seem, well, tight knit.’
are. We needed to be insular, for a time, for our rehabilitation. But I
remembered you from school and knew you’d fit in fine.’
know each other?’
last name is Cullinan. Tim Cullinan. From Kelburn School. I’m younger than you
but my sister was in your year.’
Moana Cullinan well. Like her brother, she was noteworthy for being so
non-descript: average looker, middling student, a predestined wallflower.
remember. She was a nice person.’ They continued walking. ‘I’m sorry, but did
you say you were younger -’
Yes. I know: I look old. I feel old, as in decrepit and exhausted. This really
is my, our rehab, because gyms are shit and walking is too quittable, but
you’ve got to keep moving. I’ve had….’ He paused, stopping to look into the
middle distance. ‘…It’s been a hard ten years, Kim.’
I’m sure.’ She wanted to punch herself in the face for sounding so trite. They
continued to walk the gentle slope toward the quad, trailing the others.
will you go to the Centenary next week? Are you curious to see how you turned
out? I mean – ’
know exactly what you meant. “Turning out” is a relative term, isn’t it.’
said Kim. ‘I suppose so.’
need to see everyone and calibrate my life accordingly.’ He laughed. ‘Thank you
for helping me make up my mind − I’m there. Are you going?’
I’d given it some thought.’ This enormity of the understatement managed, of
course, to pass Tim by. They kept walking.
give it some more thought.’ said Kim.
‘Cool,’ said Tim. ‘It might be good.’
‘Yeah. It might be good.’
By day Nicolas Buck is a head-hunter at the HR and recruitment company Sheffield. Outside work hours Nick is a writer. The Aro Valley resident has been blogging since 2012 and is working on a short novel. Nick, who holds a Bachelor of Laws from Victoria University of Wellington, also enjoys indulging his podcast addiction and playing with his lovable pug, Frances.