Tuesday, October 5, 2004 at 09:37 AM

When I was 17 I started working at the Natural Gas Corporation in Bell Block, New Plymouth. That's where I met Greg. We used to call him "Pug" - a play on his surname. He used to come into the Drawing Office where I worked, throw me over his shoulder and jog around the first floor - me protesting the entire way. Eventually, he used to come visit the flat where I lived. I thought it was because a) it was close to his and b) he liked my flat mate. Til one night while we were mucking around in the lounge, he kissed me and I thought well, maybe he liked me afterall. He was 26 at the time and I was 18.

We dated for a while - he was my first "proper" boyfriend. He would drive down from Morrinsville where he was working on the gas pipeline and take me out for dinner. Proper dinners in restaurants. He was different from the type of guy I usually attracted: old drunks (4), potential rapists (2), stalkers (1) and married men (1). That'd been my experience of men until I met Greg. He was sweet, and funny, and really really smart.

The weekend we got engaged was probably our worst weekend ever. It may have been our first "proper" fight, too. I was a model in the hairdressing competitions in Auckland and we'd travelled up from New Plymouth for the weekend on the bus with the other hairdressers. Greg had come with me, but had got off the bus on the motorway to stay with his parents rather than stay with me at the Hotel. I was a bit miffed, but understood that he was going to buy a car and had things to do. He pretty much ignored me all weekend. I didn't hear from him except for a phonecall to find out where we were going to dinner on Saturday night. After dinner he left me again returning to his parents house. He was late to the competitions and almost missed them completely. I was excruitatingly nervous and really wanted to see him. By the time he showed up I was already on stage. Afterwards, we drove home to New Plymouth in his new car. The nervous excitement of the modeling-in-front-of-all-those-people thing and the leaving-me-all-alone thing, along with having had little sleep and having missed him all weekend, I was really *really* grumpy.

I sat in stoney, arms tightly crossed silence until we got to Otorohonga [2 hours into a 4 hour drive] where we stopped at a closed petrol station to have a cup of tea from the thermos his mother had packed for him. He said God-knows-what and then it all came pouring out. I am not sure if i'd done it before but he got both barrels of unhappy Michelle, which is unnerving at the best of times and is always a shock the first time. He probably tried to defend himself but there was no defence against the wall of words coming from the passenger seat of his new car.

We drove the rest of the way home in silence. Sulky and door-slammingly sullen I stomped into his flat and into bed. He climbed in behind me and said something about his mother which set another big bubble of unhappy come up in a flood of sharp words and he was getting another earful. He raised his voice this time too [very rare with me] and we were now arguing about his mother and all the hurtful things she had said to me about stealing him away and "living in sin" and how in "her day" people waited til they were "married" and then suddenly he said "well why don't we then" and I was a bit taken aback and said.. "what?" and he said again, "why don't we get married then?" and I said.. "well, okay!". I was still really angry and rolled over and grumped off to sleep.

Romantic huh?

Turned out he'd spent all of the weekend trying to find the best way to tell his parents he was going to ask me to marry him, and wanted to ask me at the closed service station over the thermos tea but I'd kind of ruined the mood with my banshee-like behaviour. His memory tells him that's in fact where he asked me to marry him and I let him think that.

We had our ups and downs, and he never did learn to find my temper charming. We divorced in 1999 after a 2 year separation. Many people remark that it's one of the most amicable divorces in history but they didn't see the pain predating the decision. Divorce isn't easy, I don't care what people say.

Today we are the close friends we never achieved being married to each other. He's a good man who still drives me up.the.wall and who can manage to get the dark angry Michelle out by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time - you'd think he'dve learned by now considering he still doesn't find it charming. He's also the man I call when I'm in trouble, or hear good news, or when I need a random coffee in the weekends.

Happy Birthday, Greg.