The moment I knew: my brother’s voice was so clear in my head – ‘This is the man you’re going to marry’

My brother Matthew was the closest person in my world when I was 16 years old. He was 17 and we were part of the same social group, always off having adventures. He was incredibly wise for someone so young and he used to solve the problems of the world for me as we played one-on-one basketball together after school.

“You worry too much,” he’d often say as we’d walk home and watch the sunset. “Just enjoy living in this great country, Australia, and family and friends and stuff, you know?” We were like two halves of a whole.

Then one night he was killed in an accident. I never thought I’d get over it, and the relationships I had afterwards carried too much emotion for teenage boys to bear.

“Don’t talk about it,” they’d say awkwardly. Oh, how that made me miss Matt even more; not having a soulmate to talk to.

But then, two years later, along came Anthony.

It was 1987 and I’d seen him on the footy field as he went to school with my older brother James. I also knew his taste in music as he and James often swapped tapes and went to see bands – Aussie pub rock mostly. I thought he was very good-looking but I certainly didn’t think he’d ever be interested in me.

I was three years younger at 18. But when he walked in the door at James’s 21st birthday party there was definitely a spark, with looks across the room. We ended up in the corner and he kissed me … and the strangest thing happened. It was a voice in my head, so clearly telling me: “This is the man you are going to marry.” I drew away, shocked. It was Matt, and he was definite about it. Then my dad walked in and turned the lights on. Anthony asked me out and we swapped numbers.

Our first date was seeing a band (Spy vs Spy – Aussie pub rock at its best!) and we kissed all the way through the show. Then we went out and talked and talked – well, I did, mostly, but I felt so comfortable with him. It felt as though I recognised him, that I’d been looking for him all this time.

Then I mentioned Matt, who I knew he had met at school in passing and of course he knew what had happened. I choked on my words and stopped mid-sentence. He wouldn’t like me if I got emotional – surely he’d tell me not to talk about it. But instead, he took my hand.

“Tell me everything,” he said.

That was the moment I just knew. This was the man I was going to marry.

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Mary-Anne O’Connor and Anthony in the late 80s … ‘I know Matt sent him to me – and I know he and Anthony would have been mates’

We’ve been together 37 years and, even though he tells me I worry too much, he still takes my hand when I need him to and I tell him everything.

We’re in our 50s now, living on the edge of the Australian bush, and we watch the sunset every day. We’ve travelled all over and have two sons who are as tight as brothers can be – James “Jimmy” Matthew, our adventurous eldest, and our very sweet Jack. Anthony and my brother James remain good friends and still listen to Aussie pub rock.

Jack, Mary-Anne, Anthony and James at home

I know Matt sent Anthony to me – and I know they would have been mates, which breaks my heart a little. Yet it’s a comfort too.

Matthew never seems far away. Sometimes I want to reach back through time to that 16-year-old girl as she stood wondering how she’d ever go on as one part of a whole. I wish I could tell her that you do find a way – well, love finds it for you. Especially if your brother sends you a new soulmate. Yes, especially then.

Mary-Anne O’Connor’s novel At the Going Down of the Sun is out now through Penguin Random House (RRP$34.99)

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