The Voyage – part two — Marital Differences Bruce McCorkill
Brian and Carol – kind of happy in the marital boat
Rashid and Samira – locked away in the refugee hostel
Brian loses his job, their finances look bad
The boat is starting to leak
As you can imagine, this certainly caused both a financial and marital predicament. I suspect their boat started to take on water after the kids left home, but this was the wave that got over the bow. It’s important to think about their background. Both came from working class families, their parents suffered the depression, and had little money. So they both had always been committed to giving their kids the best they could afford, and over many years they had been the centre of the family. Brian’s work ethic had been to earn enough to send both to private schools, despite his own lack of schooling. Carol often worked extra shifts to pay for school fees and trips. Brian had worked for three decades in a big company, was in management, which he was proud of as a boy from the backblocks of Preston. He worked hard, showed loyalty to the company and fiercely fought for promotions.
Over the years they had driven them to sports, and all sorts of social events. They had financed cars, tertiary fees and accommodation bonds, with nothing expected in return. The keen social observer would note this common pattern of a couple who in the constant treadmill of a shared purpose had in many ways lost touch with each other but without really recognising this. The kids were thoroughly nurtured, but the marriage was not. Initially when the kids left it was good, they could walk around the house naked, could have dinner at any time, had more money to eat out at the club, and could even have sex again without kids busting in.
But after a while this began to pall and the uneasy realisation took root that they did not have as much to say as they used to when it all revolved around the kids and their interests. This is despite the fact that they used to look forward to when both kids would be off their hands and they would have more time to do things together. But when this happened the reality set in that they had lost the imagination and desire to do this. Brian started to spend more time at work and spent most of the weekends bowling after Friday night at the RSL. Carol on her days off from her nursing job started to undertake more activities and courses and started doing volunteer work at the migrant education centre in Footscray. This seemed to work because they could subconsciously avoid confronting the issue of a lack of interests and communication.
Brian sometimes wondered why Carol didn’t seem interested in coming down to dinner at the club and Carol sometimes thought she should take Brian for coffee to some of her cute little cafes. So they were both extremely busy at work and play, avoiding each other, with the underlying suspicion that something was not quite right. Carol was more aware about this. When talking about Brian to her friends she would invariably start by saying “well, he is a good man,” which translated in female terms means yes, certainly good but really boring and dull as dogshit and not what I hoped from a marriage a long time ago. At the RSL Brian could only describe Carol as a “great little missus and a bloody great cook,” and after a few beers would add – “and she’s still got a great little arse.” But he had no understanding of her new interests.
I’m painting a situation here which is definitely not paradise, but it’s not actually hell, and I reckon it’s workable and life could be worse. The two of them are at different ends of the boat, but at least they are still paddling in the same direction, and that’s forward. I just have to try to get them stroking at the same rate.
The problem is how to reconcile their differences. Brian was a typical Aussie bloke, lost in the 60’s – loving beer, football, big steaks, drinking and yarning about army days in Vietnam. Like his mates, he didn’t like or understand anything non Australian, particularly migrants from the Middle East. He coped with the Italians and Greeks and Vietnamese, because they had been around for yonks and were hard workers in his factory, but these Arabs and Muslims were a different kettle of fish. According to the Herald Sun and the radio jocks, they only seemed to want to fight, destroy America and blow up people. He couldn’t understand why the women walking down the street had to wear the heebyjeeby things which made them look really spooky. Carol, on the other hand, as I have been at pains to point out, had moved on a long time ago into wider interests, particularly in the area of working with refugees. She compared their lives to hers and felt grateful and humbled and wondered how she would cope in their situation. She tried to discuss this with Brian, but his response was that they should be bloody grateful for living in a great place like Australia. She coped by reminding herself that Brian was still a good man, albeit now a grumpy old man. While dreaming of a different life she just got on with hers.
That is until the job losses. Carol wasn’t too worried; she had more time to spend at the migrant resource centre. But Brian took his job loss badly. To make it worse, his company had been taken over by a foreign consortium and his job had been given to some younger Arab man. At first he was not too worried because he was confident in gaining another good job. But as the weeks went on and he applied for jobs unsuccessfully, he sadly realised that he was not going to get a similar job. He was just too old. Another thing that affected his self esteem was that he realised his friendships at the bowling club and socially had been largely based on work. Going out with workmates for dinners, lunches and conferences had been great, but the conversation always revolved around work. He tried catching up with his workmates, but it wasn’t the same. He couldn’t contribute much and he felt their pity. He didn’t have the money to spend on drink and fine steaks, and he almost envied the older guys when they ordered their senior’s meals.
Then another problem for Carol arose. Brian was now continually home. He was morose and unhappy and hung around Carol like a lost dog. Also, he started having his sweaty nightmares again, waking up screaming, which he wouldn’t talk about. Predictably, this began to irritate Carol. She had her own routine, but he always wanted to have morning tea or teach her bowling. Infuriatingly this seemed to occur just as she was on the way to the migrant resource centre to meet Rashid for morning tea, and more importantly intelligent conversation with an attractive articulate man. She did not relish the new situation at home.
In fact neither do I. This combination of sad boring Brian, Carol craving for new outlets, and the interesting sounding Rashid may drag the vessel onto the rocks. I was expecting Carol’s discontent, but her sudden interest in Rashid is an unexpected swirl. And what’s going on with Brian’s nightmares? Another bit of flotsam to deal with. But don’t worry, even if the boat sinks, Carol holds a lifebuoy in the form of the Refugee Residential Housing Scheme.