The last girl guide
In high school, and for a while after, I dated a woman. After the breakup, she complained that I’d gotten fat in the time we dated. She didn’t say this to my face, but it got back, all the same.
Her name was Olive. We met in the orchestra pit of our high school production, ‘Big: The Musical’. She was eighteen, played bassoon, and was an adult Girl Guide. She wore a silver crucifix that swung between her breasts. We dated for two and a half years. It was true that I ballooned, although I had sizable girth to begin with. Ironically, much of the weight-gain was due to our relationship—she had a car, and twice a week we would drive to King Lake, where we ate boxes of Girl Guide biscuits and exchanged sloppy teenage kisses. It was preferable to our limp sex.
I know now that she said these things because she was angry, and rightfully so. I was a terrible boyfriend. I let texts go unanswered for days. When asked to come to her Girl Guide ceremonies, I always had an excuse—I was visiting grandparents in Shepparton, or an aunt had “died”. Many fake relatives died that year. Olive must have thought me the most bereaved boy in Eltham.
‘You poor, poor thing,’ she’d once said, taking me into a hug.
‘It has been very difficult,’ I said.
I did attend one Girl Guide ceremony, about a year and a half into the relationship. Olive, soon to be nineteen, was moving on from her position as a ‘Ranger’ to join something called the Trefoil Guild; the night was to bid her farewell and to welcome the new recruits. The event was held in a Scout Hall, which surprised me—Olive hated Scouts, their drinking and weed and “loose sexual morals”. Rows of blue plastic chairs and a small stage had been set. Something about the space reminded me of church—the stage was altar-esque, (backed by both the Australian and Girl Guide flag, hung taut), and the kitchen prepared the same unambitious foods sometimes served after Sunday service: store-bought sponge cakes, lukewarm party-pies. The night started with three women striding onto stage, where they sat in silence like a panel of judges—their expressions impartial and uniforms ironed (the shorts sharp with their pressed creases).
Olive was the second speaker. Her voice warbled with emotion as she described the troupe’s World Tour, their work in Tuscany, Bangladesh, Washington—all places I knew Olive had never visited. The woman beside me cried in suppressed hacking sobs. I sat bewildered (as Olive ambled on through the South-American leg of the tour), unable to grasp this double life and the emotional heights of it; why Olive had told me nothing. I had considered Olive’s Guiding a quirk, but in the hall, I understood it to be terribly serious. Nearly the whole audience was crying, the younger girls shaking in their chairs. My presence, there in the hall, suddenly felt like a test. ‘You don’t take me seriously,’ Olive had accused when I asked why she’d dropped out of University to take a job as a secretary. I’d protested, but sitting in that space, I could see she was right. I thought her life was ridiculous.
At end her speech, Olive asked the troupe to join her on stage. Two beaming girls wearing sombreros trounced up to hoist an enormous yellow poster with collaged photos of cities and glitter pen headings in wiggly letters. A blast of applause swelled as more girls filed onto stage, carrying felt pizzas, dot paintings, and craft paper Nón Lá’s. I understood at last what was happening: the “world-tour” was in fact, a series of (problematic) craft activities. They’d never left the hall. The women who had sat emotionlessly at the rear of the stage rose to hug Olive; one handed her a bouquet of red roses. I came empty-handed.
The night ended with The Promise. Standing, the women recited:
I promise that I will do my best,
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs.
We promise to serve God and The Queen
And live by the Guide Law.
I wanted somebody to end me right there. I was not honest, or optimistic, and did not live with courage nor strength. I was a cynical snob. In Personal Development, teachers asked us where we saw ourselves in ten years, and I would sit, clueless.
I’m not even sure I knew that I was gay. I was watching gay porn, yes, and when Olive and I slept together I thought desperately of Kadir, a tall-skinny boy from school. I desperately wanted to be heterosexual—I trained my voice into a lower register, and swore viciously. It was hopeless, Catholic Boys see through straight drag. I remember the uneasy distance boys kept in the changerooms, the suggestive comments made toward anyone unfortunate enough to be allocated a seat beside me. That I could not imagine a far-future was unsurprising: I was always waiting to be outed, for my world to end. But what was there to out? I didn’t make it with guys on the side, suck cock in the bushes. Olive allowed me to believe I was straight; she granted me safety. With her, I found a life I could weather. Nobody feared me.
Olive imagined that we’d marry by twenty and settle into a life of two kids and hitting the dirt road in our Land Rover on the weekends (pursuits since realised with her now husband). She didn’t share these plans, but they emerged when I confessed to spending a year’s savings on a $2000 keyboard—I was going on tour with my band, Inward Goods, a 70s styled prog-rock disaster. On the curb outside her house, she screamed: ‘How could I be so selfish,’ ‘she had plans for that money,’ and so on. This went on for a long time. I watched a smear of pink clouds fade into the early evening. When the screaming stopped, Olive started to sob into my shoulder. She spoke between tears in an almost childishly sweet voice; she said she’d dreamt of buying a piano for me to sit in the living room of our future home, when we moved in together. I said nothing, so she turned her damp gaze to me, seeking approval. ‘Oh,’ was about the best I could manage. As I stared into her tear-ridden face, my guts thundered with terror, the same bodily fear that climbs up my throat and seizes as I watch huntsman’s crawl over the pressed-tin ceiling of my bathroom. I knew then that the relationship was over.
When we had sex later that night, beneath the photo-board of the high school friends she no longer saw, she lay still and grinned up at me, her wet teeth glistening in the dark.
At the time of the break up, I was one-hundred and eighteen kilos at seventeen-years-old. Unable to shake my anger for Olive, and what she said about my weight, I quit carbs. I ate nothing but meat, salad, and eggs; I was always hungry. When I stood up, my vision shuddered from low blood sugar. I lost friends, because I feared events where I might break my diet. As the fat receded, strangers started to smile at me on the street, and service people engaged me in long, occasionally flirtatious, conversations. Remaining friends couldn’t help tell me just how great I looked, really! When I joined on grindr, boys messaged me. It was as if I really, truly, existed for the first time in my life.
The shame, however, of that larger body remained. If the boys who lobbed food at me from the back of the bus taught me to be scared, then dieting taught me to hate myself. When anxious, I pinched my stomach where the skin is limp and shrivelled, like a deflated balloon. In the supermarket, I study the nutritional information; I convert kilojoules to calories without a device. I tried to induce vomiting, the end of a toothbrush shoved down my throat, twitching and retch over the bowl, but the body refuses. I stand side-on to the mirror, pressing the curve of my belly straight. Coming out is so often a story of pride and liberation. This was not my story. I was small, and sad, and afraid. When I climbed into bed with men, my whole body tremored with fear.
Olive married in 2017, shortly before the plebiscite. It was around this time that I was driving across town to meet a friend for coffee. As I sat at the lights, I saw in my rear-view mirror a Land Rover approaching too fast, still coming, then skidding to a stop, just short of my car. I spun at my seat to glare at the driver, and there was Olive in an Akubra hat and quivering at her wheel. I don’t know if she saw me, or if it was her for sure—we were not there for long. Her eyes were fixed to the far-distance. When the light turned green, Olive turned on her indicator, and shot off into the neighbouring lane. She was always reckless behind the wheel.
About the author
Jack Kirne is a writer based in Melbourne. His work has appeared in various publications including Meanjin, Exposition Review and Voiceworks. He has published Discount Fabric: The Campaign, a graphic narrative with his partner, Aaron Billings.
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