Evan, Megan, Rob
“Yeah, definitely, I was for sure. I was the biggest nerd.”
In the end, Penny made a move.
“She sent me a text message saying, ‘Oh, are you seeing anyone at the moment?’,” Evan recalls.
He typed back—probably a little too quickly—“No I’m not”.
“She said—I don’t know how it went, but it ended up being—‘well, I guess we’re a thing then’.
“It was all via text and I think we started going out but it was so awkward to begin with.”
Before long, though, it wasn’t awkward at all. They moved in together after seven or eight months, and engagement followed.
I ask if she said yes straight away, and am relieved to hear she did.
“I was so nervous. I took her overseas for her birthday, to Bali as a surprise, and I had the ring in my bag and I’d booked the restaurant, had the glasses of champagne, all that kind of stuff—and I was so nervous. We were on daybeds at this restaurant overlooking the beach and I was too nervous and I just didn’t even think of getting on my knee or anything like that so I just handed her the ring and was like, ‘Will you marry me?’ and she said ‘Yes’.”
I notice Evan used the word ‘nervous’ three times in three sentences. These were serious nerves. But why? Did he think she’d say no?
He was pretty sure it would be a yes, he says. They’d even looked at rings together—but the “minuscule possibility” of a no was enough to make him sweat.
* * *
I remember Evan and Penny’s wedding well—I was one of Penny’s bridesmaids. It was the first time in my life—my own wedding included—that I’d ever worn proper make-up. I felt like a fraud and a princess all at once. But the real princess, of course, was Penny.
I still remember the celebrant jokingly compare Evan’s courtship to stalking.
“That is kind of what I did,” he says. “I think I was infatuated with her. She was just, and she still is, so different to everyone else I know. She’s crazy and eccentric and hilarious and intelligent and caring and sweet.”
Evan used to have a friend who was always trying to set him up with people.
“I wasn’t interested… I can remember just leaving and wanting to get home so I could text Penny… it was all about that really, I remember little things in my life all fed back into having a conversation with Penny about it rather than talking to anyone else about it.”
* * *
I ask what it is, exactly, that makes Evan use words like “crazy” and “eccentric” to describe his wife.
“She’s just, there’s no control at times—certainly no volume control at times. She can be extremely loud and a bit of a pest,” he says.
“I used to love hearing her childhood stories because she’s from a big family—lots of siblings… and I can remember asking her, ‘What do you think your sisters thought of you?’ And she said, ‘I reckon they thought I was really annoying and wanted me to shut up’.
“I can remember thinking at the time, ‘That makes no sense!’, but in time, I could understand where that comes from.
“She just goes a bit crazy sometimes… But you see some of her other siblings and you see her extended family and some of them are like that as well.
“It’s just, sometimes she operates with no filter and that’s really refreshing and really nice and makes for an interesting life.”
* * *
“It’s like fixing up wounds—so gross and so satisfying”
Megan became a Christian in grade ten. She is often angry at God because she can’t see a reason for her suffering, and struggles with some of the teaching in the bible and the church, but somehow, she can’t walk away from it.
“I wish it was all nicely neatly packed up and easy but it’s not,” she says. It’s messy and some aspects make her uncomfortable, but seeing, “the graciousness and forgiveness in people that do really follow Christ”, is compelling. “It does change hearts,” she says.
I ask whether the thought of heaven is a source of comfort—of hope. “I think it probably does help… actually, it does.
“I don’t feel like everything is wasted, I guess. If this is it and then you die, then that is utterly devastating and it’s so infuriating.
“So I think, it definitely does… even though it’s not at the forefront of my mind, I think it must influence how I deal with things, especially when I’m less able.”
* * *
After Megan finished high school, she didn’t know what she wanted to do, so when a friend was heading to Romania and said she could tag along, she did.
They went with World Vision.They gave their time to some kids in orphanages, the kids gave them scabies. It was win/win.
Looking back, Megan says she feels a bit awkward about it. “There’s the whole, what are they calling it, ‘volun-tourism’ or something? Do-gooder Westerners going, and it’s tourism but it’s volunteering, so it’s ‘justifiable’ tourism.”
I ask if she thinks they did any good there. “I don’t think so… I think I was too young.” But she doesn’t think they did much damage either, which consoles her.
They also spent some time in an infectious diseases hospital, which influenced her decision to specialise in infectious diseases although, to be fair, “I was already obsessed with communicable diseases and gross things”.
Learning more about diseases like HIV was confronting, she says, but “also kind of fascinating”.
* * *
“If you go on leave you’re missing out on progress.”
Rob and Ellie met online before meeting online was a thing.
It was about thirteen years ago. A friend of his had built a site that connected people in the same friendship circles (sound familiar?), and they were both part of it.
If you know these two, you’ll know this is fitting; they still talk online, even when they’re in the same room, and delight in new technology.
So anyway, they’d met, but not in person. “Then there was something that everyone was going to, some movie opening… we’d kind of agreed online, ‘Well, I’ll go if you go’,” Rob says.
She had blue eyes and “brown-with-kind-of-a-hint-of-red-to-it hair”, and as he saw her crossing the road he thought, “Wow, she looks just like the dryads from The Chronicles of Narnia”.
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the adaptation he’s referring to. I can’t remember the dryads, but I can tell from the way he’s talking that he was impressed.
As for what she thought of him, I’d say “we won’t go there”, but we already have.
* * *
It’s hard to know who made the first move.
“I guess it depends what you call a move,” says Rob. “I feel like men and women have different interpretations of what a move is.
“I feel like a guy is sometimes like, ‘a move is where I actually put my arm around her’ or something, but I don’t know, if she’s been deliberately manoeuvring so that that’s likely to happen, I feel like that’s a move. Maybe more passive, but still a move.
“I would say she did, in that way.”
First moves aside, the feeling was mutual, and they soon became inseparable.
They’d only been together for a couple of weeks when they went to a wedding together. “Within a week of that we were like, ‘You know, I can kind of see that happening with us’,” Rob says.
* * *
Rob says Ellie’s pregnancy with Ada was probably the hardest thing he’s ever been through.
You probably know by now that Rob’s not big on feelings and emotions. If something really gets to him, however, he will debrief with Ellie. When she had pre-natal depression, and he was trying to spare her his worries on top of her own, he realised how much he missed being able to do that.
Even so, he kept his fears and his struggles to himself.
“She was so emotionally fragile, and ultimately it was her going through the physical—and associated mental—trauma,” he says.
“Whatever was going on in my head didn’t affect what needed to be done, so I just put it aside.”
Rob says he does worry about “going down that road again”.
“Obviously it won’t be the same, because we have the hindsight of having been through it once before. But still, we don’t know what effect it could have next time around.”
Evan not only got the girl, he now has a little boy, their one-year-old son, Pat.
His main ambition for this tiny person is that he’ll grow up to be kind.
“He can ‘fail’ at everything else or be a disappointment in everyone else’s eyes in so many ways,” Evan says, “but as long as he’s kind then I’ve done my job, and I don’t need or want anything else from him, really. If I can ensure he’s a kind man, a kind adult… I’ll consider that a win.”
* * *
I think about the baby they lost before Pat, and ask Evan whether he ever thinks about it.
“Not that often, to be honest. I think Penny does more but no, to me it was… I don’t know, it’s hard for dads sometimes, to have that connection to a baby that’s lost.”
Penny was only six or seven weeks pregnant when it happened, so it was “there, but not there”, and he never got to feel it or see it, he says.
“There were some times early after Pat was born that were really hard, and a time my mum was sick that was really hard.
For Evan, the miscarriage wasn’t as hard, “but it was hard seeing Penny hurting”.
* * *
Evan says he wants to live lots of different lives, but is also pretty happy with this one. He is, after all, living it with the girl of his dreams.
“One of the things I really enjoy about Penny is that I look forward to the future,” he says, and to all that they will be able to do together.
“Life wouldn’t be as enjoyable or as wonderful if I didn’t get to think about the future with Penny,” he says.
Megan has a natural, wholesome look that would suit an ad for organic cereal, or yoga. Her appearance makes her seem healthy and strong but in real life, she’s neither.
I ask whether she wants to talk about “the whole chronic fatigue thing”. It’s the reason she’s spending a Saturday sitting on her bed instead of bushwalking or rock climbing or going to the markets, and it’s why she’s only doing a few hours of admin work a week instead of working full-time in a hospital.
She says she doesn’t mind. “It’s not well understood in the community and a lot of people still just think it’s lazy yuppy flu—which makes me really angry—and so I don’t mind talking about it.”
Megan wasn’t diagnosed with ME/CFS until three or four years ago, but her symptoms stretch back to her teens. Before the diagnosis she was “pretty functional” compared to now, but knew something wasn’t right.
“I was able to work a few days a week and I was able to travel a bit and I was able to go for walks,” she says, but she’d crash a lot and sleep a lot, and at the end of the day, it felt like all she was doing was working and sleeping.
Maybe this is because that’s pretty much all she was doing. “I didn’t really have much of a social life. I wasn’t doing anything recreationally that I enjoyed because I didn’t have the energy for it.”
Her symptoms prevented her from finishing her Masters in public health. I ask her why she even attempted it. “Because I still had grandiose dreams of working in a developing setting,” she says. “Having an MPH is quite helpful in that. Not necessary, but helpful.
“And I think I always thought, ‘At some point, I’m going to get better’. I always thought, ‘I just need to be fitter or I just need to eat better or I just need to rest a bit more, and then I’ll be able to…’ so the Masters, in some ways, was just kind of biding my time as well.”
I ask Megan why she talks about the hope of recovery in the past tense.
“Yeah, I know that’s not going to happen. Full recovery, especially if you’ve been sick for a long time, is pretty rare, and I don’t see the point in trying to keep living my life in the future, waiting for something that may or may not happen.”
Waiting would mean not appreciating the things she can do now, because she’s trying to live in the future, she says. Another trap is living in the past, dwelling on all the things she could have done before her body went on strike.
Thankfully, Megan has few regrets.
“I’m pretty happy. I think I pushed myself pretty hard and travelled and did a bunch of stuff that was physically incredibly difficult—and I remember how miserable I was sometimes because I was so incredibly sick and still pushing myself to do things—but I’m kind of glad I did them now cos I couldn’t, I just couldn’t do them now. Even a flight to Melbourne is really, really physically hard.”
* * *
Megan’s pretty matter-of-fact about the way she and Drew drive each other “a little bit nuts” sometimes.
Drew (he’s back from his walk now) starts telling me about a house application they made in the lead-up to their marriage. A mistake was made. Megan wanted to just cross it out, Drew wanted to throw the lot out and start again. It drove Megan mad.
“Drew’s quite conscientious and is also a little bit scared of authority”—he nods—“whereas I’m not scared of authority, so that can actually cause quite a bit of conflict because I’m just like, ‘Yeah, whatever, they can’t hurt us,’ and he’s like, ‘They can!’.”
They still fight, but these days it’s not quite so passionate, or so often. “I think we’ve both compromised,” says Megan.
“I understand his fear, and I can also see his reasons why—sometimes—more easily now, but he’s also realising now that sometimes I am right and it’s not something he needs to worry about, that he doesn’t need to worry about every single thing, so I think it kind of works—it does work—both ways.”
Rob was raised as a Christian, but for about ten years, culminating sometime last year, he’s undergone a kind of “de-conversion”.
Now he identifies as a scientific skeptic, and is agnostic about the existence of God. “To me it’s like, you can’t know because it’s really hard to prove a negative, but I don’t see any evidence for it.
“I feel very different about life and science and the physical world and even just my place in it than I did then, and I prefer now,” Rob says.
Before, he often felt guilty about working too much and not attending a church.
“I feel heaps freer not having that anymore… I feel much freer to focus on work and life in general and I feel like that’s success and that’s my purpose… just doing the best I can in those areas, contributing to humanity overall.
“Part of me feels like, ‘Man, I wish I had come to that conclusion a lot sooner,’ but also I can see tangible benefits to my life and career and personality based on having been raised in the church,” he says.
I ask Rob about his greatest hope for his daughter. “I just want her to be able to think rationally and logically and make informed decisions,” he says.
“That’s all I would want. Whatever she decides is fine—as long as it’s an informed decision, I’m happy,” he says.
* * *
The hardest thing about being a Dad is making decisions, Rob says. “Like how to teach things that aren’t just facts… how do you teach good behaviour? How do you teach being kind?”
He tells me a cute story about how Ada doesn’t hit people, but does sometimes “bump” things.
“We taught her you don’t hit people, but if she’s really frustrated with someone to the point she wants to ‘bump’ them as she calls it, then there’s a particular cushion, and she’ll go and ‘bump’ the cushion instead.
“She needs to get it out and it’s like, ‘Well you can bump that, but you can’t bump a person’.”
As for the best thing about being a dad, that would be cuddles, he says. “Cuddles are just the best.”
* * *
Some people find the thought of their kids growing up with technology kind of scary. They worry about them having easy access to such an overwhelming mass of information and misinformation, but Rob, unsurprisingly, isn’t fazed.
“I think it’s awesome,” he says. “If you want to verify something or you want to access the latest scientific information on something, before you had to just wait for it to trickle down through the various analogue channels, whereas now you can subscribe directly to the scientific journals.
“I’m mostly excited for her. I think it’s really cool. To look at what’s happened, just in my lifetime, makes me think, what is Ada going to be messing about with when she’s my age now? I can’t even imagine what technology there’s going to be.”