Evan, Megan, Rob
As a kid, Evan charged his classmates eucalyptus leaves to go down the school slide, loved spending time in his uncle’s strange and wonderful workshop, and was afraid of bats.
In high school, he and his best friend (”we were the biggest dorks”) made dangerous concoctions with flammable liquids; not to light or sniff or anything like that—just mixing them was thrilling enough.
I didn’t know him then. The Evan I’m interviewing is a tall, relaxed guy with dark stubble and a wide smile. I ask if he really was a dork. “Yeah, definitely, I was for sure. I was the biggest nerd.”
Let’s assume he was, because this is a story about a guy who chases a girl around the world in a way that some would call romantic, and others would call stalking, and if we cast Evan as nerdy and insecure rather than tall and handsome, well, it’ll be a whole lot more interesting.
* * *
At uni, Evan majored in sociology and political science, and did honours in political science. He was accepted as a PhD candidate but when he missed out on a scholarship, he decided to focus on work.
It was a government job, as a child protection worker, that he’d already started part-time. He worked in an area called “response”.
“It was going out to families where there were concerns about their kids; trying to assess whether the kids were safe, and if they weren’t, taking steps to make sure they were.”
I ask him if he felt equipped for that kind of work straight out of uni.
“To be honest, I don’t think I thought about it, really. I enjoyed it because at the time—and my work should never be like this—but at the time there was a lot of adrenaline and a lot of decision-making on the run, and clearly that’s not what you should be doing with children’s lives or families’ lives but that’s how it was at the time and I kind of liked it for that reason.”
There were only a few males working there back then, so he was often called on to help with potentially volatile situations.
Evan liked being needed, and considered himself pretty bulletproof, but does remember seeing some really hard stuff and thinking, “that’s not okay for me to see”.
He says those early days have influenced how he works today. He no longer likes being relied on in those kinds of circumstances, or making decisions on the run—he’s seen the consequences.
Since becoming a parent he’s also gained a deeper understanding of the parent–child relationship. Now he thinks about how he’d feel if someone took his son out of his care; of the weight of it all.
“Also, you see the intergenerational nature of the work; you see children become parents and you realise some kids—some parents—don’t have much of a chance because of the environment they grew up in.”
I ask if he means that, despite all of their failings, some of them are actually trying—are genuinely doing the best they can. He nods.
“Just because they’re doing their best doesn’t mean that’s okay,” he notes, “but it gives you much more context… you understand a few more things.”
These days, the department does a lot more analysis before decisions are made, and these days, Evan prefers that. “The agency is much better at that, and I’m much better at that,” he says.
“Drew, I forgot to shut the door. I thought the door was shut, I forgot to check when Mum brought Patch here, so she got into the chook pen straight away. Now I can’t find Clucky. ‘Probably dead?’, thanks Drew. Well, I can’t find a body, and I’ve been to the next-door neighbour and she wasn’t home, so I went through the back yard and she’s not there, went along the back fence, talked to someone down the back over the other way, he hasn’t seen the chook either but he’ll keep an eye out, so I’m not letting her out, because if Clucky’s gone to ground somewhere here… When I went running out I’m sure I saw a flash of Clucky-coloured feathers running somewhere…. Oh, I feel sad if we’ve lost Clucky… she’s one of the friendliest…”
* * *
Megan asks Drew to take Patch for a walk, and we talk about lemon trees. I can’t seem to keep them alive, Megan can’t seem to get them to fruit, and we’ve both had problems with scale.
“I popped all the scale,” Megan says. “You’ll probably find it gross but it’s so satisfying, you just pop them with your finger, they just go, ‘pop-pop-pop-pop’. It’s so satisfying—so disgusting, but it’s like wounds, it’s like fixing up wounds—so gross and so satisfying.”
I ask whether fixing up wounds is what Megan likes most about nursing. “I do like it, I really like it,” she says, but in paediatrics, chronic wounds aren’t all that common.
Despite the problematic lack of hideously disgusting wounds, Megan loves working in paeds.
“I love how quickly kids get better. I don’t like how quickly they get sick; that’s scary. But you tend to have really good teams in paediatrics… and that makes all the difference, even if you’re working in a really high-stress environment. It makes it doable, and it actually makes it enjoyable.”
I ask whether she’s formed many attachments over the years. “I’m kind of awkward around kids, even though I like them,” she says. Sometimes she develops a good rapport with a patient and really enjoys nursing them, but rarely will she get too close.
“You just can’t. You dwell on it and you just… it will destroy you in how shitty some things actually are. So you have to just focus on doing a good job and making it less shitty.
“Of course there are ones that, you know, they get to you, and something bad happens and you feel like your stomach’s falling through the floor… and yeah, you sometimes come home and cry, but the next day there’s something else to do…
“Not that I’m doing that any more—I’m not working in any areas like that any more.”
Rob has dark hair and light freckles and looks nothing like a vampire. He and Ellie drop round on a Saturday morning. I promised to bake and I proudly present them with a chocolate stout cake. While I’m making Rob a short black, I realise I have sandwiched a layer of grease-proof paper in the middle of the cake, and burn his coffee while fixing it. We are off to a smooth start.
I begin by trying to confirm a suspicion of mine—that he works pretty much all the time. Rob once told me that his company used to have an unlimited leave policy which was scrapped, not because people were exploiting it, but because they weren’t taking enough leave.
Who are these people and what’s wrong with them?!
Rob tries to explain. He’s part of a team of thirty-something people who work remotely across multiple timezones. He does “kind of try” to work “roughly” nine to five, but because he looks after servers, he’s often on call in case they go down. There are also regular out-of-hours meetings, and though he tries to make up for it by having a longer lunch here and an early finish there, it’s not always easy.
The other thing is, the team is tight. If someone’s away it’s like a piece of the puzzle is missing; it messes with “the flow of the whole place”. And then, when you return, there can be lots of catching up to do.
Rob drops the most compelling reason towards the end of his explanation. He really, really likes his job. It’s like a hobby he gets paid for.
“Because it’s a hobby and because you like to be there all the time, and they’re doing things that are interesting, and you’re also aware of what other people in your team are working on that might be interesting to you… If you go on leave you’re missing out on progress,” he says.
To cut a long story short, the unlimited leave policy has since been replaced with a minimum leave policy. Now the company is trying to force its employees to take at least four weeks off a year. Whether they can handle that remains to be seen.
* * *
I didn’t know Rob in high school. I didn’t know he had hair so terrible he now cringes just thinking about it, or that people called his group of smart, funny, odd-ball friends “the goof troop”, or that he spent the money he earned working at McDonald’s on orthodontic fangs and contact lenses with flames on them.
He wasn’t a goth, though he did wear a lot of black, and he wasn’t trying to scare people. He was just interested in that subculture and enjoyed the liberation of wearing a mask. “I was attempting to put up a barrier, so I could see what that was like, I suppose.”
Later that evening I tell my husband about Vampire Rob. I want to know if he’s as surprised as me. “There’s nothing about Rob that surprises me,” he says.
* * *
Rob had a clubbing phase too—don’t tell me you’re surprised. It was after college and lasted for about six months. He was living in a share house that was dangerously close to Club Surreal, and started going there three nights a week.
I hate pretty much everything about nightclubs, so the thing I really want to know is, did he actually enjoy it?
“I don’t know if I liked it or not, but I liked hanging out with the group of friends that I was doing it with,” he says.
I ask Rob, who I’ve never seen dance, if he "had the moves". He says he’s thankful they didn’t have camera phones back then.
Because the dancing was “quite energetic”, he looked on it as a kind of workout session, he adds. Thanks to my mum’s old fitness videos, this conjures up some pretty hilarious mental images.
“You always feel like you’re killing it when you’re doing it, but… no, I wouldn’t say I had good dance moves,” he says.
Evan met Penny at uni. He liked her straight away but was “a very, very nervous kind of guy” back then, incapable of making the first move, or any moves.
“She was the girl you’d sit next to in lectures, and it would be nice,” he says. “It never went any further than that really because I was too terrified to do anything.”
In their honours year he started seeing someone else, then Penny went to Japan where she worked teaching English, and he started working at child protection.
Penny’s mum happened to work there too, and when they realised the connection, she gave him her daughter’s email address.
“We started emailing each other and then my relationship broke down,” he says. They continued emailing each other. “I started to realise, ‘Wow, this girl’s amazingly hilarious, and she’s got a heart of gold, and she’s intelligent, and just so different to anyone else that I’ve ever met’… I just wanted to get to know her more.”
At some point, Penny started planning a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. “I decided I had some money and wanted to go away; I decided to go to Vietnam at the same time.”
I ask Evan whether he pretended it was a coincidence or openly asked to tag along.
“Look, I probably asked, ‘Can I come too?’ and there was no response from Penny and then I think I pretended that I was just going by myself, ‘Oh! Let’s catch up!’.”
They “caught up”, as planned, in Vietnam. Penny knew by now—and probably way earlier—that Evan liked her. She’d been back to Hobart for a visit and he’d finally mustered up the courage to tell her.
“I think I told her that I liked her; I probably told her that I loved her or something, and she was like, ‘Well I’m in Japan; that’s not going to work, because I’m in Japan and you’re here.’ I told her the same in Vietnam and, same response,” he says.
* * *
Some time after that, Evan went overseas for a longer trip. “I decided to do a side trip to Japan on the way through, so went to stay with Penny in Japan for a week.” It was, in a word, “awkward”.
But it was nice to see her, too. He “kind of told her again” how he felt, and she told him again that they were in the wrong countries for it to work.
I interrupt. Didn’t he ever try asking, “What if we weren’t?”
Evan says he doubts he was “smart enough or mature enough” to say something like that. I guess it had taken this “very, very, nervous kind of guy” so much courage to speak at all, that to plead his case would have felt impossible.
“That was in February of 2008 I think, and I spent the next year travelling overseas and Penny went back to Australia in July or August of that year and I didn’t come back until January or February of the next year.”
When he finally returned to Tassie, they “agreed to catch up, and kept catching up”.
Now they were living in the same place there was—geographically at least—nothing to keep them apart.
* * *
I met Penny at uni too. We had some mutual friends, and both worked at the refectory. Slaving over the bain-marie was never exactly fun, but it was a lot less painful, and there were a lot more laughs, when Penny was working too.
I don’t remember the name “Evan”, but I do remember her occasionally mentioning a kind of nice, kind of weird guy who sort of had a thing for her, and being pretty surprised when he travelled overseas to see her.
The thing that surprised me most was when I met him—he wasn’t dorky at all. He just didn’t realise it.
When Megan first told me about Drew, she described him as “a genius musician, about thirty, possibly mad”. She was twenty-five, he was thirty-four, and although they’d noticed each other at church, they hadn’t yet met.
The night before she left for Bolivia, they found themselves at a cafe with mutual friends.
“Drew didn’t talk much but, I don’t know, it was one of those, you know, some people make an impression on you and, I don’t know, there was something there.”
When Megan returned to Melbourne, she saw him playing the grand piano in a musical. Even though Megan hates musicals, she went twice.
“I’m pretty shameless when I like someone,” she says. “So no, I was pretty shameless in orchestrating to get him to come out.” She asked one of her friends to invite him somewhere with a group, then got a friend of his to arrange a coffee date.
The three of them met for coffee, but the mutual friend was quick to escape. Beforehand, Drew had admitted to Paul that he was “obsessed” with Megan, so he probably figured his work was done. After the cafe, Megan and Drew ended up at a community garden down the road, watching the chickens.
“I think after that it was only a couple more days til we were together, because I think he’s the same. He’s very forward if he thinks he likes someone, he doesn’t really see the point in being all shy and silly about it, so with two people who are like that there wasn’t a lot of mucking around, which is nice cos I don’t like all of that stuff, it’s just annoying, it’s just painful.”
They were engaged within eight weeks.
“I think within the first couple of days of going out we both went, yeah, we think this is it. Which was very unusual and not something that I’d experienced before; it did feel different. And it was just very easy. I think that’s kind of nice when just being around someone is just so easy and there’s no second guessing,” Megan says.
“I like the fact that he’s very up front and he doesn’t get complicated—I mean, everyone gets complicated about certain things but we’ve always been able to be very blunt and up-front and honest with each other.”
Sometimes this honesty isn’t so great, Megan adds. “Sometimes you think, ‘I didn’t need to know that about you!’ But I’d prefer to err on that side than the other side, and I think that’s how we both just felt really comfortable with one another.”
* * *
I ask Megan whether she’s ever thought, “I’d never marry someone who…”.
“Yes! Who is so friggin’ stuck in his ways, who loves routine, and would have happily lived in the same flat in Melbourne for the rest of his life and never gone anywhere,” she says without hesitation.
“I was never really the sort of person to go, ‘Oh, this is the man of my dreams!’ … I just don’t think that way, but I guess if someone had sat me down and gone, ‘Who would you think would be the person you’d like to marry?’ it would not have been Drew.
“We often joke that we kind of lied to each other,” she says. “He lied that he likes going bushwalking and is motivated to do that all the time, and I lied that I like going out and listening to music.”
* * *
Megan says she’s not always a good judge of character. I already have all the evidence I need because she didn’t instantly love me the first time we met. It was more than ten years ago now, and we were sharing a lift somewhere with a mutual friend.
Her first impression? That I was “a snob” and that we’d have nothing in common. “You had your cool glasses on… I just thought you were just like this really beautiful snobby person from Collegiate or something… obviously that broke down within about half an hour of being in the car together and we ended up being really good friends.”
Rob was the kind of kid who asked “why” all the time. We have one of those, so I feel for his parents.
He initially wanted to be a forensic psychologist but was good with computers, and got a traineeship in IT instead. When he started a uni degree later on, he got “super disenchanted” because what he was learning was out-dated and irrelevant.
Rob always wanted to travel, and now he gets paid to. University qualifications are something his current employer couldn’t care less about. The company not only pays him well and forces him to take holidays (well, tries to), it flies him all over the world. My husband, who was recently in Lithuania for work, has a similar deal. Perhaps I should ask their employers to chat with my boss about how much more productive people are when team meetings take place in Europe…
One of Rob’s colleagues is a kind of “serial traveller” who doesn’t call anywhere home. Rob’s clearly taken with the idea. “If someone says, ‘What’s the address I can send this to?’ he’s like, ‘There isn’t one, there isn’t one at all. There’s not even a place I’m going to go back and pick stuff up from’,” Rob says.
This lifestyle would be “completely impractical” with kids, Rob says, but practicalities aside, it’s how he’d love to live.
* * *
Rob is interested in most things, and will try his hand at almost anything. He’s the kind of person who will mention, in passing, that he’s “trying to build an AI at the moment”—no big deal, “just something to do”.
Rob’s intense but unsustainable passions have included fermentation, bonsai, whisky, smart home electronics, turkish coffee, soap carving, aquaponics and Chinese tea.
“Some of them last longer than others and some of them come back, like the second wind later, but I would definitely say they are brief interests; they’re brief, but deep.”
Whatever you do, don’t ask him about absinthe.
“People have a particular impression of absinthe which I discovered is not correct, it’s based on propaganda from the wine industry. So I read up heaps and heaps about that.
“Often people will go, ‘I heard you like absinthe, can you tell me a bit about it?’ and I’m like, ‘Dude, you do not know what you’re getting into’.”
* * *
Later, I ask Ellie about Rob’s many and varied hobbies. I use his recent interest in “that plant thing in bowls” (”terrariums”, apparently) as an example.
“That’s my passion!” Ellie says outraged. “Rob steals my passions! He is a passion thief! He has his own; he does not need more; but then he goes, ‘That’s really interesting what you’re doing, tell me more…’.”
I ask Ellie what she thinks when the doorbell rings, because I think I know the answer—and I’m right.
“What has Rob ordered now?”
* * *
I don’t hear Rob use the phrase “cloud architect” until after I interview him, when he is talking to my husband in the kitchen. I feel cheated. He told me he looked after servers; I had no idea a job could have such a romantic title.
“Cloud Architect,” I think. “Cloud. Architect.” It sounds a bit like a god.Next →