The Ghost of Timor – Ch.13 – Patience

I sat there with Sally,
We sat there we two
And I said, how I wish we had something to do.”

Dr Seuss

We were still wired from the cola and sex so Sally and I took hours before we finally got to sleep. We used that time to continue make out and to enjoy each other but Sally also filled me in on her three-year mission to bed me.

I had begun working in that Canberra office where I eventually met Sally in early 1996 when I was still living with Liz. Liz and I been dating behind the scenes since ’92 but we had kept it to ourselves until we completed our officer training and then we moved in together.

I try not to be too harsh in my judgement of Liz -we all have our issues- but I have to say that I have never encountered the same type friction in any relationship since her. I’ve had my share of weird lovers; two revenge fucks, three affairs, one alcoholic who barely spoke English, another who let her cat and it’s fleas sleep in the bed with us, a kids book author and ship’s officer. But none of them tried to win the relationship has much as Liz did.

I think the problem was that Liz had developed an image of who I was before we started dating and when I didn’t measure up to her fantasy, she passive-aggressively tried to wreak the relationship. She even went so far as to sleep with another man after one of our many disagreements. I forgave her but a smarter me should have ended it then.

So it was in that light that I first met Sally in 1997. I’d been in that office for almost a year and as the sands from my relationship with Liz were almost fully spent, Sally arrived in Canberra from her previous posting in Adelaide.

As Sally told it, she took an immediate shine to me, even though I wasn’t available. I had my doubts about the timing of her interest in me the first time she told me because she wasn’t even married at that stage. But I began to believe her when she described her marriage. She had met her husband, John, when they had been at the Australian Defence Force’s language training centre (Langs) in Victoria. He had been a confident guy and they hit it off and started dating. Sally said that he had proposed to her when she was 23, not young by 1990’s standards, and she had said yes only because she wanted to know what it was like to be married.

That seemed like a stupid reason to be married to me, but I didn’t say so. Sally admitted that she now knew she should have said no, or waited, but either decision would have doomed the relationship. So, she agreed, and they got married in Canberra not long after they had arrived but after she met me. She said that the wedding had been a blast but even on her wedding night she was having doubts about whether it would last. Not about his commitment but about hers. She knew then that she was already doubting her will to just stay with one man forever.

She had started to obsess about me at work even though we hadn’t spoken before she wed. She also knew that Liz and I were together but, in her estimation, we were doomed. I’ve seen it in other couples myself so I don’t pretend that it wasn’t true, even if at the time I didn’t think it would end.

So it was in that light that Sally first began to think about me. She was about to get married, but she wasn’t that into him. She saw me and knew that it was only a matter of time before I broke up with Liz and an opportunity for her. It may have stayed that way, even if I had eventually broken up with Liz, but then the world turned in her favour. The real game changer happened when Sally and I started working together.

It was just good luck and timing I suppose that just a week Sally returned from her honeymoon that I joined her team. The job that I had been doing was probably redundant before I commenced in it and it’s previous occupant had left under similar circumstances. It seems that my employer had a track record of hiring people and under employing them until they got fed up and asked for more responsibility. Then we would get shifted into a more challenging position but they could still pay us at the same low rate.

That is how I got to sit next to Sally. Fed up with my do nothing job I asked for a transfer and moved three seats over to Sally’s team which had a vacancy. We immediately hit it off, but Sally was such a fun person that it would have been hard not to. The rest of the team was good value as well and we had an enjoyable time most days.

I didn’t have any romantic feelings for Sally, but she had by now developed them for me. She could see that my relationship was over, and she began to get conflicted about her wedding vows. She had intended to keep them when she uttered them but now she was not so sure. She said that it kept her awake at night.

The first indication I should have got that anything was up was the day that Sally told me that she had had a dream about me the night before. I was having coffee on the front steps of our building, as did so many others did, and Sally had come with me to keep me company – she didn’t drink it – when she dropped her truth bomb.

She now told me that the second that she had said that she wanted to slap herself for being so stupid but that having sex dreams about me had been eating her up for weeks. I now learned that she hadn’t had just one dream about me, there had been a few, and if it wasn’t dreams it, was daydreams.

I’d hadn’t encouraged her and I had no idea she was into me. We just got along, and I treated her like a friend. And that was the maddening thing, Sally told me. She was into me but as I hadn’t the wit to see all the signs and reciprocate, she didn’t get an opportunity to rebuke me. She supposed then that that would have stiffened her resolve to keep her wedding vows but in hindsight she knew, even then, that they were a lost cause.

And that is how it may have stayed, Sally wanting me but not being able to pull the trigger, and me just thinking that we were good friends. But then the world got turned on it’s head.

It all came to a head in the winter of 1997 when I left Canberra while I was still living with Liz and came back two weeks later with Alison. It’s long story but to summerise, I went to Queensland on an Army Reserve training camp with fifty other soldiers. While I was there Liz used my absence as an opportunity to split up with me and move out. Not knowing that I thought I was still in a relationship, some of the female soldiers became interested in me and openly discussed amongst themselves hooking up with me before then end of the camp. Alison was the only one to try anything and as I was by that stage single, I was interested. We exchanged numbers at the last minute but never had a chance to hook up. The next day I returned to Canberra, I called her immediately, and we made plans to meet up the next weekend.

When I told her Sally was both relived and crushed. She had tried so hard, for months, to get me interested in her and not cross the line herself and now I was in the throes of an entirely new relationship. She had wanted to scream that she would have been only days away from being able swoop in and pick up the pieces of my shattered relationship when Alison came out of the blue and done exactly that. She’d been completely ambushed by someone she didn’t even know taking the thing she wasn’t allowed to have.

It made her sick to her stomach that she had missed out but also that she had been thinking about an affair so soon after she was married. Thinking about an affair at all. But there was a silver-lining. Now that I was with Alison there was no way they she would break her vows. Fate had intervened and saved her from herself.

So, for the next six months Sally threw herself into being the supportive friend. Egging me on from the sidelines as Alison and my love grew but also supportive as Liz began to become more and more unhinged. She passed on all the gossip of my love life to John who, understandably enough, didn’t care a jot about the love life of two people he didn’t know. That has been a lesson I’ve recognized in myself in later years, in that, when I show interest in someone else’s relationship is it a sign that I am no longer interested in mine?

Then, as suddenly has it had begun, it was over. Alison broke up with me on Christmas day ’97 to pursue her career bringing my world down on top of me. Sandy was supportive again and if she still had had secret desires, she made no show of it. But in her heart she began to become conflicted again.

There was nothing wrong with her marriage per se. John was as good a match for Sally as any and they a long list mutual friends that they got on well with. But if Sally had only gotten married just so she could know what it was like she had fast discovered that it was dull.

They had no plans for family or the future other than to take holidays and consume. Their incomes weren’t poor, but they weren’t impressive either. They could holiday in exotic locals and dream about sports cars, but they would be doing on a budget, forever.

The other wrinkle in their relationship was their jobs. As both serving members, they could be sent to different bases every few years, even if they could reasonably expect to be sent to the same city due to their marriage. It hadn’t happened yet, but it was a possibility. However, the next thing that did happen was that John got sent to sea.

As a sailor this was an occupational hazard. Soldiers and airmen got sent to bases. Sailors were sent to ports and then to sea as well. And that is what happened in January 1998. John got sent to sea for six months just as I was entering the depths of my depression following Alison’s departure. Sally had known he was leaving and told herself they she would be faithful. But only a week after his leaving she was fit to burst with lust and confusion. She had planned to invite me over “as a friend” who was concerned about my well-being. She hated herself for thinking of cheating, but she could stop thinking about it. But before she had the chance to act I left too.

I hadn’t perked up at the thought of moving to Sydney, it was poison chalice now, but it did take my mind off my predicament for a while. My whole life was up-rooted to Sydney in a matter of weeks and before Sally knew it, I was gone.

Sally took my departure as a sign that she should put away any foolish notions of extra martial action once and for all. She had been lucky, she told herself. Even thinking about it had been a bad move. So, she got on with her life, but I was never entirely out of mind. I was just an outpost of our larger agency, and she was at headquarters. The only way we could lose touch was if one of us wanted to and neither of us did. So, for the next year or so we chatted via email and the occasional phone call, swapping jokes and gossip.

The stars began to align in mid-1999 when the Government began to prepare for the worst in Timor. Ships were leased, equipment upgraded, and plans made. A critical deficiency that was identified was the lack of Tetum speakers in Australia. Due to the secrecy of the build-up, a regular request for interest in language training couldn’t be broadcast across the whole nation. Added to that was the drawback that these fresh linguists would be expected to go into a war zone. That meant only one thing; those recruits would have to come from the Defence Force and preferably ones who had shown a skill for languages before. Enter Sally.

So unbeknownst to me, Sally was sent off to Langs in early 1999 to do a crash course in Tetum. I say crash course because it was. There was no option for failure and no chance to go in-country to confirm their training. Their first time in Timor would be in their translator’s baptism of fire.

During her training I lost contact with Sally for six months until she showed up on my doorstep in Timor in December. My email system was only connected back to HQ in Canberra, but Langs was in Melbourne. However, she knew where I was and now learned that she had been the one responsible for sending all the care packages that I been receiving. Of course, it all made sense now. The tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, the subtle flirting and innuendo. It was her modus operandi to a tee.

She had not wanted to come to Timor but once she found out I was there she threw herself into training, determined to pass and get an opportunity to see me again. She had a few contacts in the Task Force and word of what I had been doing for everyone had gotten back to her. She also learned of my private office and planned to seduce me here.

“I would have preferred to make it more romantic. Candles and music etc but they were hard to come by,” Sally mused. “So, I just brought a bottle and no underwear and hoped you wouldn’t be too disappointed.”

Of course, I wasn’t disappointed, and her self-deprecating sense of humour only made me smile. “If you think I’m disappointed then why do you think I’m smiling?”

Sally looked at me and smiled, but I could see that she was holding back tears. Quickly changing tac, Sally’s persona reasserted itself and she grinned. She kissed me then threw back the blanket, taking me in gently in her hand and kissing.

“I dunno,” she said, “but I’ll give you another reason now.”

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