It has occurred to me that my step-father is now little more then a thirty-year old memory, and that those things I can recall are vague. I remember that he dropped me off at my first day of school, though that memory competes with the discovery that I was able to order fish and chips for lunch (at the time a miraculous finding). I also remember he and my mother standing in a kitchen of the flat in which we lived, holding one another, and kissing very gently.
Other than this, Johnny is a ghost in my past, his presence continual for a time but now faded, long erased from the corners of the self-centred viewpoint of a child. I can see the places we lived while he and my mother were together, and I can remember some of my own actions, but he himself is little more than an object transferred to pictures that reference those places, as though he were added independently of me.
This takes me again to the strangeness of my own past, where a figure so fundamental to my childhood should be transient within it. Johnny passed through our lives in as little as 6 years, but his effect on my mother and her own future was profound. She loved him very, very deeply, and her attempt to secure him a return to New Zealand after our failed emigration to Greece was to to underlay all her actions for a number of years.
And to this day I wonder who the man really was. I will admit that my younger self never trusted him. He was Greek, and had been working on the ships, and somehow met my mother in Tauranga. How has never really been clarified, but must have begun living together in 1975 or very early 76, and married shortly before my youngest brother was born in 1978. Other than this lack of trust I have no real feeling for him, which is, as I say, an admission, and I am shocked to hear myself confess it to you. But with this length of time having passed, and myself having outlived him, I think I am entitled.
I will also admit that there is only really one association I strongly bear with Johnny. Drugs. Johnny’s main income after settling in New Zealand was their import and sale . Exactly what type I do not know, having only a series of second-hand stories, but have a fair idea. What I do know is that, once again, the idealism of the late 60s had settled into the naive consumption and good times of the 70s, and Johnny was well-involved with what my mother must have seen as the glamorous world of conspiracy and danger the drug trade represented.
My childhood memory from this time is full of anecdotes about types of drugs, drug use, and drug abuse. And in a further confession, it angers me. But, as the older me is bound to do, I excuse this with the thought that alcoholism could well have been worse. Johnny did not mistreat us. I do not ever remember being beaten (wooden spoon administered by mum being the exception), nor do I remember my mother being ‘mishandled’, two types of memory common to peoples whose parents were drunks. The anger is reserved for the sequence of events, and the knowledge that all too many people are drawn into the same world of shame and tragedy we were.