25 March 2016

I'm Joe From Wellington!

By Joe Wareham

It was around Christmas 2015 when my sister, who lives in the States, sent me the link to Lissa’s blog. My first reaction was embarrassment. I'm a fairly private person, have always avoided social media like Facebook. Even with my friends I'd often deflect when they ask how I'm doing and what I've been doing— send the question right back to them to change the subject.

Hearing someone I hadn't seen for 18 years had been maintaining a blog for two years talking about me, sharing pictures of me- was quite a shock. I wasn't angry with Lissa; even though I hadn't seen her for a long time I knew she was a good person with no ill intent. Of course I thought about writing her right then but after reading some of her blog: the car chases through the city and the taps on stranger’s shoulders, the more sentimental side of me hoped we'd just bump into each other one day soon. I live on Oriental Parade opposite the city’s most popular beach. Everyone ends up outside my house at some point in a Wellington summer.

Oriental Bay, where Joe lives
photo courtesy newzealand.com

Six weeks later on a February Wednesday night, a good friend of mine texted me (and all my other friends) telling us about the article on Stuff, the online version of the newspaper. Again, I wasn't upset, just a little embarrassed and unsure what to do. The next morning, seeing my picture on the front page of the paper with the headline: "Do you know Joe?" well, I just couldn't stop laughing. And I was still pretty embarrassed.  When my parents saw the paper, they noted the "don't ask" look on my face and just laughed and stayed quiet, knowing I didn't want to talk about it.

It was obvious any sentimental notions I had of bumping into Lissa on the beach would have to be laid to rest and that I was actually going to have to do something.  So I finally wrote her, told her I wanted to meet. And honestly, after we agreed to that, even knowing the reporter from the paper and a photographer would be there, I wasn't nervous at all.

I chose to meet on top of Mount Victoria. To me, Lissa’s blog is about this wonderful city, her journey to the bottom of the world and her adventure here. Nowhere else gives you a better view of this city then the summit of Mt Vic. I've spent around 30 of my 39 years living on its Western slopes. From the summit you look south and see the hospital where I was born, look north and see the elementary school where I spent most of the 1980s. Look west and you see almost every house I've lived in. And look east and see the airport that brings people here and takes them away.

On Friday morning, 5th of February, I drove to the top of Mt Vic to meet Lissa and her husband, Aaron. I was only a little nervous until I arrived, started walking up the steps to the summit and saw the Dominion Post photographer at the top snapping away at me already. Oh god, what have I got myself in to? But it was too late to turn back and I didn't want to let Lissa down so I put my head down and soldiered on.

February 2016 atop Mt Vic
photo Aaron Carlino

As soon as I saw Lissa my nerves melted away. I gave her a hug and knew I'd done the right thing. I only feel bad that it took me so long to hear about the blog, and then another couple of months to do anything about it. What Lissa and Aaron have done- moving to this little city at the bottom of the world- must be very daunting and at times rather lonely. I wish I'd bumped into Lissa back at the start, been available to help her and Aaron settle in while they make a life here.

Reconnecting with Lissa and getting to meet Aaron and their son has been wonderful.  Seeing her again after all these years brought back a lot of memories of that time in San Francisco and Minnesota all those years ago. To be honest, it's been a long time since I made any new friends or reconnected with any old ones. I have my small group, people I've been close with for 20 years but don't really make much effort to meet new people.

Aaron & Lissa Carlino with Joe Wareham
Oriental Bay, NZ February 2016

This whole experience has taught me two things: I realize now I've been far too private a person. Ending up on Stuff and seeing my picture on the front page of the paper made me realize I hold back too much, aren't open enough with people. Reconnecting with Lissa and making a new friend in Aaron, it's just been lovely. I only hope they'll stay here and we can all become even closer. I know other old friends from my high school and college years would like to reconnect with me like that but it's something I've always avoided. I realize now how wrong that was of me.

Who knows I might even make a Facebook account.... one day.