The day I met the man who would be my husband, I was sitting in Marcello’s café in Chatswood (long gone) sipping a hot chocolate, smoking a cigarette (back when I didn’t think it was a disgusting habit) and writing in my notepad.
I can’t remember what I was writing – probably the beginning of yet another novel which I’d already imagined would be a bestseller and which, 800 words in, would be discarded and forgotten in some dusty drawer – but I do remember that Marcello’s hot chocolates were a tall glass of the thickest, most decadent, Belgian choc, slowly melted and stirred into steaming milk – about 15 billion calories of sweet, liquid indulgence.
I can also remember (how could I forget?) the man who delivered my drink order: all sparkly blue-green eyes and mischievous dimples, set in the most perfectly round, smooth head (read: bald as a badger. Which is a stupid cliché, because anyone who has ever seen a badger knows that they’re not bald, but furry. And vicious, I’ve heard. They’d eat a small child – or a large one – given the chance.)
Here he is. My husband: the man who makes me laugh the most, who makes a mean dark chocolate creme brûlée without having to follow a recipe and who knows how to work a vacuum cleaner (not a euphemism).
I don’t know what it was. Ordering a hot chocolate is nothing out of the ordinary. But as it landed on my table, I was suddenly struck by the most overwhelming waiter-crush and a small voice in my head that really, truly said, “Yep, you’re going to marry that one!” It seems ridiculous looking back, even now. After all, I didn’t know him from a bar of soap (another stupid cliché. I mean who ever really gets to know a bar of soap? They’re not exactly good conversationalists).
A rare sunny day in London.
And so began a couple of months of harmless, infatuated stalking. By which I mean that I started frequenting the café… by which I mean I’d have up to five cappuccinos a day, on my most desperate, stalkerish days, while I sussed out the situation and watched my completely oblivious husband-to-be with mist in my eyes.
At Kenwood House, Hampstead, London
It’s probably a good time to mention that back then I wasn’t a coffee drinker. I didn’t even really like the taste – but to my 20-year-old mind, drinking hot chocolates all day just didn’t seem, well, sophisticated enough. The chocolate was out – the coffee was in. The anxiety disorder didn’t really appreciate it, to be honest (jitters, much?), but who was I to care? I had a man to impress (and apparently, coming across as a crazed, café-obsessed caffeine-fiend was the way to do it).
Prague, 2007. We missed our flight because we drank too much the night before, and directed our taxi to the wrong airport. When we finally arrived, we realised in our inebriated state, we’d packed our suitcase so stupidly, Matty only had one pair of pointy dress shoes to wear, and pointy shoes + endless exploring + cobbled streets = ruptured achilles tendon.
It’s impossible not to build a rapport with someone when every day you drink insane amounts of hot beverages at their place of employment. So my waiter (who I discovered was a 23-year-old backpacker from London) and I started chatting. Just a bit of small talk here, a little bit of banter there.
Three years ago, the day I turned 30.
I’m going to cut this very long story short now and tell you that I eventually asked him out on a date. Not a real one, mind you. Just a casual ‘I’m-going-to-Home-nightclub-with-my-friends-on-Saturday do-ya-wanna-come?’ It wasn’t very romantic. He even left with his friends, without saying goodbye. But the following week, he asked me out and we went for dinner and danced and chatted all night and discovered that beyond his ability to make coffee – and mine to drink it – we had a lot in common. And the night after that, I came home to a gigantic bunch of flowers (a completely quirky, spiky mix of native Australian blooms) and I remember standing at the front door and holding my flowers in my arms and having a little weep because no man had ever sent me flowers before and it was so lovely.
So young, so fresh-faced. Standing in our flat in Golders Green, London where you can’t see the threadbare green carpet, the paint peeling off the walls from the damp, nor hear the mouse scurrying through the kitchen cupboard.
We were inseparable from then on. Well, for the next three months, because then his working holiday visa expired, which meant he had to go back to London… which meant he tried to make his life easier by repeatedly trying to dump me. Trying being the operative word. Every time he suggested parting ways I brought out my very best histrionics and pitiful tears and desperately sad eyes and most wonderful, romance-novel-worthy heartstring-tugging lines until he relented.
Just got engaged, April 2008. I’m not sure I look happy enough.
And when he did have to leave, which was one of the saddest days of my life, I cried all day. Until he arrived in London, and we spoke on the phone – and we resolved to speak every day after that. And somehow, we managed to keep it together and have a Sydney-to-London long distance romance for almost 18 months, with only short visits (and expensive phone calls, and packages in the mail) in between.
It’s worth noting that THIS is my engagement ring. Yep, I definitely married the man of my dreams. And my reality. (Apologies if you require a vom bucket about now).
A month after finishing my Creative Arts degree at Uni, I moved to London. We were there for almost six years together before he proposed and we decided to get married and settle back in Australia. It’s now 13 years since I drank that first hot chocolate. I still prefer chocolate to coffee.
And the rest, as they say, is history.