My Word: Thick as Thieves

4 June 2013 Adam Curley

My Word: Thick as Thieves

Adam Curley and his cousin, Trish, share an uncommon closeness.

Ed#390, September 2011

They called us ‘Trish’n’Ad’, rolling our names together the way you hope people don’t, or wish they wouldn’t, when you’re in a long-term relationship. We liked it, though. We were cousins, both six years old, and my family had just uprooted from a mango farm in North Queensland and moved to Brisbane to be closer to my mum’s family: a second-gen migrant Catholic brigade of seven sisters, three brothers and about 40 kids between them.

Trish and I had formed some infant bond further back than either of us could remember. There was a photo that always came out of us hugging – her in a onesie and me in mini Stubbies (I’m four months older and clearly the more sophisticated).But from the moment Brisbane became my home, we latched onto each other and rarely spent any free-time apart.

Trish’n’Ad: one a sporty but not overconfident girl, a middle child of six; the other a boy, the youngest of four, with a disposition for the quiet arts. When we were together it was just the two of us and, in hindsight, we’d use each other to test waters we’d otherwise avoid. She’d challenge me to swimming races and taught me to rollerblade (this was the 1990s) and I’d help with school assignments and encourage her to draw. We started a band to teach each other chords on the guitar: we were called Perfekt Analogy. We had a logo (the ‘A’ drawn from the stem of the ‘P’) and, in the end, we had just one song, which was a dual-yelled cover of ‘Mr Jones’ by Counting Crows. We never went public.

In our early teens we discovered rebellious streaks to explore. On family camping trips, we’d pay off local surfers to buy us bottles of bourbon, then smuggle them to the beach to talk about the romances we weren’t having and look at the stars and wonder why we felt so alone.

There wasn’t anything we couldn’t say, but that seemed normal. It was only much later I’d discover that so few people are granted the intimacy of a friendship like that, particularly in the Pimple Years.

Those conversations continued through formals and graduations. We each dated only a little, drawing from the pool of each other’s friends, and never for long. Our mothers worried we were spending too much time together, holding each other back from forming other meaningful connections. We didn’t care.

We backpacked through Europe when high school was done and continued to spend our nights looking at the stars, trying to figure out what we wanted to do with our lives and who we were.

I made some progress when we returned home and I realised I was gay. Afraid she’d think I’d changed or that I’d been hiding something, Trish was the last person I told. She was hurt. Later she came to understand my anxiety. Five years on, after I’d moved to Melbourne on a post-uni whim, I got a call from her. She was gay, too.

Some unusual questions arose. Had we been so close because we were gay, or had we somehow impacted on each other’s sexuality? Was it merely coincidence? We had no answers, but it also made perfect sense. Why wouldn’t we be the same?

As an adult, the biggest impact of our lifelong closeness has been on my view of relationships with other people. When you have a friend who’s been around your entire life, you tend to expect that unfiltered intimacy with others. It can be confusing when people aren’t adept at taking friendships to that level. Worse, it can be awful when acquaintances see your ability to share personal aspects of your life as a sign of closeness when, in your mind, you’ve merely been conversing.

Sometimes it’s taken me years to recognise a closeness with a friend simply because the more recent relationship is different from the one that’s followed me through my whole life. Even then, in the back of my mind, I occasionally sense a recklessness with the people I love. Does it matter if they leave…or if I leave? There’ll always be Trish’n’Ad.

Maybe our mothers were right, though I would never wish I’d been more cautious with my affection. I don’t think I could have been. Perhaps the strangest and most wonderful thing about it all is realising that some friendships aren’t made or even nurtured – they just are. They have to be.

Even now, living in different cities and relegated to Skype chats and condensed conversation on slotted-in visits, I think we both assume we’ll end up in the same place one day. Trish’n’Ad. I still like the way it sounds.

Adam Curley is a regular contributor to The Big Issue. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamPCurley.