Coast to Coast

I sit on the grass, knees pulled up against my chest. Behind me is the little shack I’ve been calling home. Before me is my dear friend’s house. I can see our children playing together through the open doors. I feel a lot of emotions, I don’t have words for all of them.

We walk down to the beach one final time. It’s almost unbearable because I know it’s a goodbye and I’d rather do nothing than have some beautiful last adventure together.

The kids jump from rock to rock. Alba calls them her siblings and right now they are. The children follow Bee like puppies. He makes sandcastles with them, gives them rides on his shoulders and teaches them how to build cairns out of rocks. Whenever Georgia talks to me I want to run away, the weight in these last conversations is too heavy, even when the words are light.

The sun sets pinks and blues and purples as we walk home. A truck comes to pick up the rest of our things. The shack is empty and the car is packed for a great adventure.

It’s difficult to leave, but this is the next step forward. I feel it in that quiet place inside that shows me the way. Perhaps we needed to move all the way across the country just to recognise it wasn’t home, at least not now. Maybe if we hadn’t, I’d have spent years longing and wondering.

In Brisbane we stay with a friend in a house full of rescue cats. I’m working this trip. I shoot portraits of strangers in forests, on beaches, in botanical gardens. It’s a humbling job to capture other’s love because love is all that really matters.

On the road my anxiety loosens its grip. Life becomes about simple things. Boiling water for tea. Choosing albums to play on the long drives. Finding bathrooms and petrol stations. Stumbling on places to pitch our tent and grocery stores that sell rice milk. Watching the landscape slowly change.

In Sydney we stay with Laura, my red-haired fiercely passionate filmmaking friend whose heart was recently shattered. She tells me she’s seeing Lorde play and I want to go badly, we’ve been listening to her album so often this trip. But there’s no way to buy tickets. I know Lorde follows my instagram so I message her there.

She gets us tickets for the show and tells me she’s been reading my blog since Alba was born. What a bewildering feeling. Such a simple act, writing and sharing my life here, that has opened all these doors with all kinds of wonderful people waiting behind them.

We wait on the Opera house steps, Alba singing Lorde songs under her breath. This a big moment for her. She’s never been to a concert before. The sun is setting in this glorious way and it’s enough to catch my breath. It is hard to believe the world around us is real, that we haven’t just stepped into a novel. I like those moments in life.

We catch a speedboat with people from the record label over to Cockatoo Island. The world outside is dark now, the lights burn like fire from the city we leave behind. I talk to Alba about dreams.

This island was once a prison. We walk through the old tunnels with hundreds of strangers, Alba swinging between us, the only child around. In the audience she sits on Bee’s shoulders so she can see. Her eyes are wide and she looks so serious that I ask her if she’s having fun. She looks down at me and she grins.

I dance with Laura to these songs that encapsulate heartbreak and we feel it because we’ve felt it. When Lorde leaves the stage, I realise she never sung Alba’s favourite song and I hold Alba’s hand and I tell her I’m sorry she didn’t hear it this time. The crowd is loud. Screaming and whistling for an encore. And on she comes, beautiful Ella in a sparkling dress all alone, to sing Alba’s favourite.

I hold Alba high in my arms this time and as we both sing along I cry a little at her joy, which is always mine too.

I take Alba to the Blue Mountains, the place where I brought her into the world. We visit the rock at the end of our old street that overlooks the mountains, painted blue by the oil in the air from the eucalyptus trees. It’s still so peaceful.

We visit our old home for the first time since we left. I stand on those steps for a long time lost in memories. I didn’t really think about coming here, didn’t think about the old bruises this place would press. When Alba tries to talk to me I can’t find words to respond so Bee distracts her with a game.

I remember walking up these stairs so many times; the day I discovered I was pregnant and later with a heavy belly and then with a tiny newborn. I hurt for that girl. I hurt for that time. If you’d asked me then if I was happy I’d have told you yes. I thought that time was so pure and perfect. I imagined I’d spend a lifetime longing for it. But I don’t. All I was blind to then has become painfully clear since. Standing here now I see everything I didn’t see.

I feel a thousand miles away from that girl now. As though she is a friend I used to know. I feel sad but I also feel proud. I alone walked those thousand miles and it wasn’t always easy.

It feels strange to peel myself away from that place, that other world I once knew. Alba is happy to have seen the place she was born, and I am happy for her so I leave those strange feelings behind in the mountains.

Alba is content while we travel. We all are. Our little family was made for adventures. The absence of my anxiety becomes so ordinary I forget I ever have it. We stay in all kinds of places. On cliffs that violently fall away to the ocean. In fields where sheep and kangaroo graze. By the sides of busy highways.

It’s the middle of winter and the world is numbingly cold. Bee often fights icy wind and rain to pitch our tent, telling us to stay warm in the car. It’s one of my favourite traits of his, the way he always puts us first.

When the tent is up and the bed made, Bee carries Alba inside and I crawl in with them both. We weren’t prepared enough for this winter but we keep each other warm beneath the blankets. It feels like a safe space. The wind can howl and the birds can cry and the rain can beat in patterns on the roof, but we are safe in here, together.

Camping is often grimy. Sometimes we brush our teeth in petrol station bathrooms and wear dirty clothes and wash our faces with baby wipes and pee behind bushes. But there is something nice in not caring about these things.

Alba falls sick with a flu. She’s weak and fevery. When I lift her she feels like a doll in my arms. We drive on to my niece’s home in the hills, where there is a room all set up for us. Candles lit, warm cosy blankets, home cooked food. I love this about my family, they always have space for us.

I tuck her in, rub peppermint balm on her tiny chest and place a cool wet cloth on her forehead. She is still my baby.

I hardly sleep that night. She seems so fragile. There’s a saying that a child is your heart outside of your body and I feel that very literally. Like she is a vital organ that has been removed from me and somehow I am still functioning, so long as she is.

When morning comes she feels better. The great weight is lifted. She plays with the dogs in the sunshine and collects chicken eggs with my niece. Then the flu hits Bee and I, and it is ugly.

I feel so sick I want to cry out of the pain and the frustration and the inability to move or speak or eat. It’s so easy to forget how terrible it feels to be really sick when you’re healthy. Bee and I lay beside each other burning hot and cold. In the moments I can think I am grateful for the hand in mine, belonging to the kind boy suffering alongside me.

The sickness lingers on but we have to move, I have to shoot in Melbourne. We stop by a pharmacy, walking the aisles like zombies. We buy flu tablets, those little magic pills that make us forget how sick we really are so we can keep on going.

At the beginning of that first shoot I hold the camera in my hands and feel confused. It is as though my ability to take photographs is a switch that has been switched off by my sickness.

I look through the viewfinder unsure of what I’m supposed to do, unsure of the directions I’m supposed to give. I panic. I point to a spot on the far side of the beach and say we should begin there. As I walk it all rushes back. Little switch back on.

The flu passes. I meet my friend Beau Taplin at a cafe where he tells me he’s just signed a book contract with Harper Collins. He’s always inspired me, this boy who writes poetry from his bedroom. He mentions the books I’ll one day write as though they’re already here, waiting patiently for me to write them.

We stay with a family. Their little girl is getting better after being sick. I worry a little, but it seems okay. A few days later Alba falls asleep in my arms at dinner. It’s strange. We wonder if she’s sick, but decide surely not, what terrible luck it would be to get sick again.

She is sick again. As we make our way to the bottom of Australia I hold a bag beneath her as she vomits in the car. It’s gastro. It’s messy and heartbreaking and we just want to get to Adelaide quickly so we can get her into a clean bed and clean clothes.

We drive along the Great Ocean Road. To our left is wild blue seas and to our right is jagged rock. We pass tiny towns and great expanses of nothingness. Tumbleweeds roll over the long empty roads like we’re caught in some cheesy western film.

In Adelaide I shoot while Bee stays home taking care of Alba. We make her a bed on the couch so she can watch television and suck on electrolyte icy poles. Just like my mum did when I was a kid. I wash everything. Twice. Other than to work I never leave that house and Alba’s side. Not even to go to the vegan bakery with the amazing donuts.

It’s time to leave. It’s still a long way to Perth. This new sickness catches up to me first. There are never enough roadside bathrooms. When we stop I come and go from the tent into the freezing cold all night long. There are no toilets around, just cold bare dirt. I lay in the tent in the dark wishing for a real bed and Bee asks how I am going and I just cry that I want to sleep.

I curl up in the car the next day, my stomach furiously rumbling and nausea waiting impatiently below the surface. We watch the dirt turn from brown to red. We see all kinds of roadkill, mostly kangaroos but once a wild camel.

I’m always staring out of the car window. One moment it’s blue skies and desert trees and the next an enormous rock comes into view, like a small red mountain. It reminds me of Uluru and it’s so magnificent my heart stops. Bee tells us we are staying here tonight.

I am shaky when I stand but I walk slowly over and press my palms up against the rock. I think of my indigenous ancestors, what did they make of this? I think it holds powerful magic.

I watch from the window of the tent as my family climb over it and disappear from sight. I read Harry Potter for the seventh time. They return to light a bonfire and cook pasta. I listen to the way their laughter bounces off the rock walls.

The next morning I gather all of my energy to climb it. There are clear pools of water on the top. I sit and slide my hands and feet into the water. It’s shockingly cold. Alba asks, “What are you doing Mama?” And I tell her that I think this rock has healing powers. So she names it Healing Rock.

There’s still a way to go but now Bee is sick and all we can think of is arriving. We want to drive through the night and make it by morning but Bee can’t keep going. We pull into a motel.

It’s just a middle of nowhere motel with a broken heater, mismatched artwork and an old television. But my goodness it is glorious. To have a clean bed. To have a hot shower. To have a real toilet. We could be staying in a 5 star resort in the Bahamas. We scrub the grime from our nails, wash our hair until it’s silky and crawl naked into clean sheets. It is heaven.

The next day we just drive. We drive until the bare dirt turns into fields and the fields into houses and the houses into a city, our city. How strange it is to see our baby blue honda on the west coast, all the way across this giant island.

Bee’s mother is waiting with open arms. When we broke up she told me she had a dream that felt like a premonition. She dreamt she’d visited us in Fremantle, I had a baby on my hip and we were happy. Now here we are, just like that, looking for a home in Fremantle. Feeling like we’ve been on the road for a lifetime. Ready to be home.

Come Together

There are moments in life that I know will be extraordinary before they happen. When I was a child I thought adult life was full of these firework moments but it turns out they are rare and fleeting, so I hold on tightly and breathe them in deep when they do come.

I know seeing Bee again will be one of those moments. I know this week to come will be an escape from ordinary life. Back in the city where we first fell in love, falling in love all over again. I don’t have the answers yet, but I can feel which way my heart is pulling me and I’ve lived my whole life by that pull.

It’s only been a few months since we said goodbye, but it feels like years have passed between us. When I catch sight of Bee through the glass wall at the Perth airport I am thrown by how beautiful he looks, like I am seeing him through new eyes.

His long blonde hair is tucked behind his ears, his jeans hug his long skinny legs and his curious eyes light up when he catches sight of us. We hug him hard. He kisses us. He smells just like I remember. Like home.

In the car he rests his hand on my thigh and kisses me at red lights. It’s past midnight and the streets are quiet. Alba is falling asleep. It is as though two moments exist in this one moment. Like the goodbyes are waiting just behind the hellos. I’m painfully aware that as sure as this trip is beginning, it must end too.

The bedroom is full of hanging streamers and balloons up to my knees. On the bed is a big silver box filled with gifts. There’s a 70’s film camera I wanted with a promise from Bee to develop all my film himself. There’s a replacement for my favourite (broken) mug and an Alain de Botton novel. There’s a film camera for Alba and a picture book, the next in the series he bought her when we first met. Best of all is a photo album heavy with photographs Bee has taken on our adventures, with handwritten captions.

This is the Bee I remember. Generous, fiercely optimistic, playful. I know the lost part of him was real, as much as the anxious part of me is real; but seeing him like this again is like waking up to why I fell in love in the first place.

Things instantly feel normal. Normal to have him cook us breakfast in the mornings, to hear Alba’s giggles when they play, to have his hand in mine as we walk, to make love late at night, to tangle our legs when we’re reading in bed. It’s a gentle and full kind of joy.

We walk across to our favourite gelato shop in all the world, the very same place we came to after our first kiss. We get salted caramel and dark chocolate, like always, and there is a firework moment. It just lasts a minute but it’s there. Everything is glorious.

We walk the streets of Leederville reliving memories. There’s the grocery store where we bought chocolate when my midnight cravings could not be ignored. There’s the playground where we hid with Alba on a fortress safe from dragons. There’s the bottle shop where I bought a bottle of red wine because I was falling in love and drank it in my friend’s bathtub and Bee had to look after me all night. It’s really nice to be back.

It’s easy to romanticise these kinds of trips in hindsight. So for the sake of reality, I will say it wasn’t always beautiful. I was nagged by stomach pains most days, I felt a unrelenting guilt for abandoning my work and even still I didn’t have a decision. But these things fall into the shadows of my memories.

At times I find myself feeling grateful we broke up. Grateful that it spurred me on to learn to drive and to find my feet. Grateful it showed us how seriously we love each other. For the conversations born out of catastrophe that will help us weather all the storms to come.

A few people shared this quote with me and I wrote it in my journal. “Sometimes we let people go so that they can return again.” I didn’t expect it, but I’m grateful he returned.

I could be angry at him. The petty, antagonising part of me might forever bring up him leaving me. But I don’t obsess about him leaving. Instead I remember the way he stayed by us for six months after we broke up so that he could continue driving Alba to school and make sure I was okay. How he kept on parenting and loving and helping me through my anxiety. He could have left the place he felt isolated, back to his hometown with his friends and his family, but he stayed with us instead. That means something to me.

There’s a story I haven’t shared because I was ashamed and afraid of hurting people. Over a year has passed and while the shame won’t ever go away, I want to share a terrible mistake I once made.

Bee and I have always been pretty open with our love, at least in a platonic way. Sometimes people get it. Sometimes people don’t. To be a loving person you carry a lot of responsibility; a glowing key that can unlock both good and bad. You have to be radically transparent. I made a friend, I was my ordinarily loving self and he fell for me. I should have stepped back but I didn’t.

Bee knew it was happening but when he brought up his concern I put up a wall. I was defensive and elusive. I loved this boy, in a different way to Bee but I felt protective over him and anxious to lose him.

The self serving part of my mind conjured up a thousand reasons why what I was doing was okay. My mind made it seem reasonable, even natural. Isn’t love always good? Is this really a big deal? Sometimes I felt like I was on a train that’d left the tracks and I was just pretending everything was fine.

A kiss was the chaos that ended it all. But it wasn’t just a kiss. It wasn’t just the act of a pair of lips on another. It was the weeks of telling Bee it was all okay when I knew it wasn’t. It was the things I shouldn’t have said and the things I shouldn’t have done. It was the communication I shut down and the ways I shut off to my lover who was hurting. It was the unnecessary pain that was coming for everyone because of me.

After the kiss happened I remember feeling profoundly empty. I remember walking upstairs and curling into the foetal position in bed and sobbing. I remember longing to call Bee as I did every time I was falling apart but not being able to. I remember thinking of myself as a bad person who deserved no love and no one. I remember knowing I was going to break the heart of the very best human I knew, the one who had loved me beyond anything I’d ever known.

When I told Bee he cried. His beautiful face cracked into many broken pieces. I’d shattered his trust. I broke my friend’s heart too. I can imagine the pain he felt, for himself and for Bee. Wondering too if he was a bad person. How much pain I caused and how little it was worth it.

It tore down our idea our open love and we built it back up again, piece by piece.

When I tell Bee that chapter was the worst mistake of my life, not for the first time, he holds my hand and says, “Well I left you, which was the biggest mistake of _my_ life. So let’s call it even shall we?”

On this trip Bee says we should see my friend, this friend. It’s his way of saying, I trust you fully. It makes me want to never, ever hurt him again. So we all hang out, and it’s not weird, it’s kind of nice. We’re all genuinely happy everything worked out in the end.

I rent a warehouse apartment in the heart of Fremantle, my favourite part of the West Coast. I imagine San Francisco and Berlin had a little baby city together. Historical buildings and eclectic street art; sailboats pulling up to ports and cool vegan cafes. It’s the place where I first met Bee.

We walk the streets with Alba between us, she squeals when we swing her into the air. We get sushi for dinner and buy movie snacks at the grocery store. Bee films us on his bulky VHS camera. We read Alba bedtime stories and tuck her into bed with kisses. It feels like life is back to the way it’s supposed to be. Like the break up was just a bad dream.

We’re on the couch watching some silly documentary on Netflix about a man who is a serial dater. He talks about the freedom and excitement of never settling down but, predictably, in a vulnerable moment his voice breaks as he admits to wishing he had more purpose.

I feel grateful then, for the daughter I have fast asleep in my bed and for the boyfriend holding my hand beside me. Only, he’s not my boyfriend. I leave so soon and my decision still hangs in the air. I decide to cut the strings.

I’m aware it’s not the most poetic moment to tell Bee I want to be with him, but I pause the show anyway. “So I want to tell you something big. Um. I would really like to be with you again.” He beams and hugs me for so long I have to pry him off of me, laughing.

“So, are you going to leave me again?” I ask, teasingly. “Never, I’ve tried that and it was rubbish. I want to marry you, have a baby with you and grow old with you Nirrimi Joy.” He has this proper English way of talking and it makes me laugh. Where I grew up no one spoke like him.

We tell Alba together. She throws her arms around us dramatically and says, “this is the best day of my life!” Which, to be fair, is an expression she uses often when she’s very happy. We buy her a giant cookie from the bakery next to the warehouse and she sits in the sunshine eating it happily. She packs her little backpack we bought in Stockholm and spends the night with her grandparents and her papa.

I invite my Perth friends to meet us for dinner at Little Creatures. I sit across from Bee sipping apple cider and thinking about the night we first met. He walked right through that front door and made me laugh at the time my heart was heaviest. That night I lay in bed grinning, like the sun had finally started shining again after an endless night.

On the walk home I ask a few buskers for a lighter. A tall boy with a bowl cut and a foreign accent I can’t catch asks me if I’ll swap a cigarette for a song he’s written. I say yes. He hands me the lyrics, scrawled on the back of a picture of a girl on a moon. I smile and tell him my name means ‘moonlight shining on water.’ As if on cue, the man beside him recites a haiku:

“Though it may be broken
and broken again
still it shines
the moon on the water.”

As I hear the words I know they are for me. I repeat them. I ask him to please write them down. He tells me the poem was written by an ancient samurai. Maybe I’m just a little tipsy, but I feel like I could cry at the beauty of that little haiku. At the kindness of these strangers I could have easily passed by without a thought. I want to stay with them for hours swapping stories, but my friends are beside me wanting to go.

We talk in the warehouse until late. It’s nice to be surrounded by friends. I don’t have many in the Sunshine Coast. Slowly everyone leaves but Bee’s friend Jasper. I’d mostly forgotten about Jasper when we moved away. Forgotten about the way our family seems to expand when he’s around. Forgotten how protective I feel of him because he reminds me of my little brother with his burning questions and the battles inside his head.

We spend my last night at a music gig. It begins way past our bedtime but once the music and the drinks kick in we lose track of time. We dance in a mass of happy sweaty people. I feel the music in my bones. The lights flash and the smoke rolls over our heads.

I feel Bee’s hand in mine, warm and solid. I kiss him and it’s wonderful. I’ve never felt kisses like his. I imagine them as complete circles, tidy and full. I think, thank goodness my boyfriend is a good kisser. I say I love you too many times and I don’t stop smiling.

We leave the venue out into the crisp midnight air and head to a rooftop where we look over the city. I am reminded of a time when I was sixteen years old, standing on the roof of an apartment where I was living with my boyfriend in the big city. I wish I could teach that girl all the lessons she had to learn the hard way.

We catch an uber home at 4am. Bee, Jasper and I. We cuddle on the couch sipping hot tea until we can’t keep our eyes open. We sleep deeply.

I pack my suitcase with the efficiency of having done so hundreds of times. I try not to think about leaving Bee, about the fact that we never did sit down and work out a plan. Soon these hugs and kisses will be simplified to text messages and phone calls again. For weeks? For months?

We’re late for the flight, so late we might not make it. I don’t run. In fact I hold close a guilty wish to miss our flight. To stay on with the boy who feels like home in the city that feels like home.

We make it by seconds. I check in my luggage. We get hot drinks and I am crippled by a wave of pain. “Please, I don’t want to go,” I tell Bee. “You don’t have to,” he says. I bring up the costs of flights and he waves me away. “None of that matters, just do whatever is right.”

I decide to flip a coin. If it lands on tails I’ll stay. As I hold it in my hand I think of our luggage in the belly of the plane, I think of school on Monday and the perfection of a week we couldn’t possibly match. Heads, I think. And it lands on heads.

Our goodbyes are brief. Alba leaps onto Bee and I wrap my arms around him too. We’re rushed onto the plane. “When will we see Bee again?” Alba asks, as soon as he is out of sight. “Very soon.” I promise. Bee has snuck a love letter into my backpack and once Alba is fast asleep, I savour every last word.

Portraits by my sweet, wild spirited friend Alex Cohen.

A dorky little VHS home movie Bee made on our trip. He didn’t quite finish it, but I wanted to share it anyway.

Fighting Shadows

I make a little home in a shack in my best friend’s yard. It’s a cosy space with a big bed, leafy plants, my workspace and my comfy yellow armchair. We are home here with the incense burning and Alba playing on the rug. The beach is just down the road. Alba catches the school bus with the kids in the mornings and I spend the days working.

It’s hard to focus on my work. There is an underlying feeling that things aren’t right. That someone is missing. I suppose that happens when you lose someone who was always there. I call Bee too much. We talk for hours every day and I try to act like I’m feeling a lot more settled than I am. That I never really needed him. That life is better now.

There are moments where it is better. I go grocery shopping and dance in the aisles without caring. I find myself talking to strangers. I take Alba out on dates. I smile as I walk to my favourite cafe to work, backpack on and listening to podcasts.

But nights are never better. Nights are horrible. My anxiety swings quickly from nothing to everything. Breathing is hard and sometimes I have to scream into pillows and shake my body because otherwise I might explode.

I’m grateful my anxiety waits for Alba to fall asleep before setting in. I’m grateful she has the kids to distract her and that Bee calls her every day. We miss him. I always forget how painful it is to miss someone until I do. I miss the littlest things. The way he always brought me tea and the illustrations in his journals and the drum patterns he’d absentmindedly tap on my leg.

For the anniversary of my brother’s death I throw a Deathday Party. I decorate the house with balloons and bunting and invite my family who drive three hours to make it. I naïvely hope that if I make it a celebration it won’t hurt. But night rolls around, as it does, like a black heavy blanket to suffocate me. And the hurt comes.

I leave the party to curl into a ball in my bed. My cousins cuddle me, these girls I used to mother when I was a teenager are bigger than me now. From in-between them both I call Bee in tears. He always helped me carry this grief. From the very moment Zake died. He was lousy sometimes at knowing the right things to say, but he always loved me hard through the worst waves. It all makes it even harder. Like I’ve lost the two men I love most.

I’m afraid I’ll forget Zake. I am afraid this guilt will never lift. I’m afraid it’s true that he’s gone. Maybe that sounds crazy but there is a part of me that even still refuses to believe I will never hug him again.

I don’t really sleep, instead I relive memories. Even the most beautiful are darkened by the night. I remember all the times I let him down. How cruel I was to him when we were kids. The calls I ignored because I didn’t have the patience for his philosophical rambles.

Dear god what I’d give to answer one of those calls now. He knew I loved him and I know he loved me but I wish more than anything that he never left. I am crying writing these words, remembering too vividly his gorgeously crooked smile and the way his eyes lit up when he saw me. It was me and him. Now it’s just me.

Mornings are a treasure buried in the night. I know that if I can just hold out until the sun rises it will all be okay. There’s Alba with her singsong voice, waking me up. There’s uniforms to be dressed in, breakfast to be made, lunch to be packed. The chatter of the kids in the backseat, the conversations and laughter with Georgia. The potential of blank hours waiting to be filled with meaningful work and daily errands.

One night I download a dating app. I don’t want to date anyone seriously. Not for a long time. But I want to be distracted and romance has always served as an easy distraction for me.

There’s something exciting about peeling back people’s layers and knowing their hearts. It’s hard to admit but it’s good to feel wanted too, especially after being left. You’re not supposed to need love, you’re supposed to be enough on your own. I’ve gotten better at being alone, but I’ve always needed a lot of love. It’s just another flaw that is difficult to admit.

I meet just one boy. We climb a tree together and sit high in the branches with birds all around us. We talk about our childhood and when he kisses me it’s both strange and sweet.

Later I feel terribly guilty and I call Bee about it. He pretends to not be jealous and says it’s really great that I’m moving on. I’m secretly and selfishly happy that he is jealous even though it was never my intention. The truth is I still want him to love me, of course I do.

I’m at a festival, Alba is fast asleep beside me in the tent and I’m whispering to Bee on the phone. I can tell he is nervous. That there’s something important he’s trying to say. It makes me nervous too.

Bee tells me he made a big mistake in leaving us, that he’s tried to fill every day since getting home because of his regret. He explains his headspace when we broke up, his depression and being so far from everyone he knew, feeling like it was the only choice. The way he stubbornly clung to his decision every time he doubted it. The way he romanticised going back to his friends and his freedom but how empty it feels without us.

I want to say duh, because I’d seen it all unfolding in my head before he even left but he said it all so earnestly. He says that he doesn’t expect me to forgive him but he wants to be a better lover and parent. To commit totally and weather all the storms together.

I want to scream yes, to dance around the tent, to tell everyone in the world. How many times did I stop myself from begging him if we could be together again? But I don’t scream yes. I quietly thank him for being so brave. I tell him we miss and love him as much as he does us. I say I don’t know. To give me time. And he says of course.

The tree climbing boy is here at the festival too and I like him, he’s calm and sweet. I feel like I can let my guard down with him. I know he wants to cuddle me and kiss me but I just can’t. I don’t want to hurt him but I also want to be honest. We lay on the grass and I tell him about Bee and my heart and the whole conversation is painful. He asks, “So do you think you’ll get back together?” And I just shake my head and say, “I’m just not sure.” It’s like I’m forever hurting people. But he understands.

I put Alba to bed early so she gets enough sleep. It means that once the music begins I am already in bed beside her. On the last night I lay awake for hours aching to dance, longing to be out there. I could ask Georgia to listen for her but she already has her kids to worry about. I don’t have anyone else I feel safe asking. I cry in my tent. When you are a parent you are constantly making sacrifices and sometimes they all just add up.

One night my anxiety is so terrible I call Bee and admit I’m not coping. The next morning he books tickets for Alba and I to Perth. He doesn’t tell me because they are expensive and he knows I wouldn’t have let him. I’m upset with him at first. He tells me he’s wants to help me and there isn’t much he can do from the other side of the country. I have a lot of friends in Perth and maybe I need a break.

It works. My nightly anxiety turns into anticipation. My days have this sense of waiting, that I’m just going through the motions of life until I board that plane. His texts give me butterflies. It’s like the time I was touring across America and he was road tripping across the country and we’d obsessively text and text and text. I write pros and cons lists. I ask everyone what they think, my mother could have cried of joy. And yet I’m not sure. Not yet.

I always knew I’d be happy spending my life with Bee; this goofy man who never once raised his voice toward me, who has all the time in the world for the people he loves, who lives to create. I just don’t want to get back together because it’s easy or because we miss each other.

I spent all this time convincing myself breaking up was the right thing. I created this story to move on. I focused on all the ways we didn’t work and the better man who would cross my path and all the reasons I needed to be alone right now. Now I’m unravelling all the threads, trying to uncover the right answer. But the truth is there is no right answer, there is only my answer.

I see a doctor about my anxiety. She asks if I’ve had traumatic experiences and I don’t know where to begin. I talk about my stepfather, my uncles and an ex boyfriend. The sexual, emotional and physical abuse that started in my childhood and continued into adulthood. I talk about my brother’s suicide, the call I never made and how alone I feel without him. I notice I’m clenching my fists so tightly my nails are leaving marks on my palms.

She said she was surprised I was coping with parenting and working. Surprised that I’d never seeked help. I guess I always thought it wasn’t a big deal, that I could manage it. Just having a stranger acknowledge that it is a lot is reassuring. It makes me feel less crazy for being overwhelmed by life.

She asks me what anxiety feels like and I say it’s like I’m being crushed from every direction. I can’t breathe properly and my mind is dark and loud and scary. I have compulsive thoughts about horrible things like losing Alba and even when I’m not thinking my body is tight with fear. She takes my blood and books me counselling.

‘Last night I stood beneath the sky as it stretched its arms wide above me. The moon was growing full. Stars were hand poked between moonlit clouds patterned like a cheetah’s spots on dark velvet. It caught my breath. It was magnificent and it was just there above me. Painted across everything so perfectly and so unassuming. There was no man in a suit charging me to gaze up at this giant masterpiece, no lines to wait in to see it, no crowds staring up in awe alongside me. Just me in the backyard on the wet grass with my neck craned for so long it began to hurt, willing myself to believe in the immensity of the universe. Not just believe in it but feel it, in my bones.

Today I sat in a cafe writing in my journal. My writing scrawled across the page in a secret hope my fears and flaws might hide behind the messy marks, illegible to anyone but me. But I stopped the pen and I paused the mess of my thoughts, letting them still. I wrote carefully, the ink dancing as I wrote the paragraph above about the sky. I forgot how beautiful my handwriting could be and how much loveliness there was in that very simple act. I felt the sun pierce through my jeans and the weight of my body here on the earth. I knew that the magic of everything wasn’t waiting for me somewhere in the future, it was here and it was simple. ’

My head is clear. I feel a quiet sort of happiness. I exfoliate my skin until it feels like silk and I dye my hair purple. I do yoga every day. I meet deadlines and miss deadlines and post prints all around the world. I watch the sea and I listen to the rain on the roof of the shack at night. I cuddle Alba close to my body on the coldest nights. I write and write. I count down days.

Goodbyes

We leave this place soon. I’m ready to say goodbye but I still find it hard to acknowledge I’m leaving. It’s not the house, it’s the hopes and dreams that pull at me.

I remember the day we arrived and I lay in our new bedroom on a bare mattress, staring at the blank walls with a bursting heart. We were all exhausted and sick but this was it. All those months in Perth falling deeply in love and longing for this. A home to call ours. The furniture we curated so carefully, the smell of home, the baths we shared, the memories buried in the walls of every room, our forest.

We made so many plans in the beginning. Sitting around the bonfire talking about chickens and sprawling gardens and weekly games nights with our friends. What if I’d known that in one year the boy sitting beside me would be returning to Perth and I’d be staying back. I’d never have believed it. Things were too wonderful. Our beautiful house and our hopes, all our hopes.

But as I stare at the walls now, bare once more; it’s okay. I understand it. This insect I caught in my glass jar was never mine to keep. No one is really ours to keep. I listened to a podcast about the way we project things onto those we love to make them perfect for us. We paint people with our own desires and hopes. But the paint has been peeling off for a while now and although beneath Bee is just as wonderful as I ever knew he was, he isn’t perfect. Because the truth is there is no such thing.

Sometimes this house feels like a graveyard of dreams that I can’t wait to escape. At other times whatever comes next feels so frightening that I want to pause time and sink into safety.

Alba is my constant. She is so magnificently gorgeous to me that sometimes I ask her to stay still just so I can take in her face. Her little freckles, her almond shaped bright blue eyes, the crescent dimples when she smiles. She is so tiny and delicate, like a fairy. She knows every single button to push to drive me crazy but my god she is made of honey. “Did you know,” she’ll say often, “That you are the best mama in the whole world?”

She is my only little one and I feel so protective of her. So swayed by her emotions. But I know I can’t give her everything. She tells me I’m mean sometimes and I tell her I’m her mama. Growing up all of the boundaries were blurred so I stand by mine like an empathetic warrior.

I’m packing when I find an old suitcase filled with baby things. Teeny tiny booties and onesies and slings and wooden toys. Tucked away safe for my next child. Such a distant concept now. I donate most of them, more out of my desire to not own too many things. But I do wonder if I will ever have another.

I take Alba to the school disco. The music is so loud, I feel old. Kids are walking around drinking cans of soft drink and when Alba notices she pulls me down and whispers to me in horror, “Why are those kids drinking that?” I explain that all parents have different rules for their children. Later she tells me she thought it was beer and I burst out laughing.

I feel pretty uncomfortable here. I don’t have many friends at school yet and with Bee leaving soon I feel like I’ve failed somehow. I’m already one of the youngest parents at school and now the boy who was always with me will be gone and I will be fulfilling some terrible stereotype. Maybe no one cares but I don’t know. I walk around a bit aimlessly then I think, fuck it.

I take Alba’s hand and ask her to dance. We hit the dance floor and dance like we’re at home. I’m in my orange velvet flares and she’s in a white lace dress and we’re both grinning. More parents come dancing too and I feel like maybe everything is okay. I just need to get out of my head more.

A cyclone sweeps through and we lose power and reception for four days. After the first day of disconnection I feel the wind hit my skin as I stand outside. Like I’m feeling it for the first time in months. “I feel like I’m living in the world again,” I tell Bee. “This is why I hike,” He says.

Trees lay across the road like sleeping giants and the lake laps at our street. We bathe in the sea, light tea candles around the house, read books on the balcony and watch birds in our garden. The power comes back on and I find it hard to use social media again. My phone lays mostly untouched.

Alba falls sick and she’s a little baby again in my arms. It lasts one night but hits Bee much worse. For 4 days I take care of him in-between packing up our house. His skin burns and I hold cold cloths to his forehead. I run him baths and make him icy lemonade and keep him distracted. “What are you going to do when I’m not around?”

Under the teasing I kind of mean it. I know he doesn’t need me, but I wonder how it’s going to be for him to leave. To go from our loving little family to being alone.

We leave the house for the last time and road trip to Byron Bay, the three of us sleeping in one bed at my friend’s beach house. We watch Twin Peaks obsessively, venturing out in search of treats and swinging Alba between us as we walk. Everything is almost cruelly normal. Like we’re living in some happy family montage right before it all breaks apart.

On our last full night together every ounce of love comes to the surface. We talk through our relationship from the very first moments to the last. Speaking in between kisses that feel like beginning kisses, where every nerve is awake and my body is a live wire. All our wild adventures from beginning to end.

When it’s all laid out like a story before us we don’t feel sad or nostalgic, we feel immense gratitude. Gratitude so big it’s everything. We thank each other for all of it. For changing each others lives forever.

We love and love until 4am and then we’re tangled up in bed. Bee is already asleep when I feel the anxiety come on, hard and fast and ugly. When the fears show up I imagine I am throwing a blanket over them, putting them out like fires. But they come back bigger and scarier until I’m powerless against them. My body is tense and my mind is a war zone. I feel Bee’s chest rise and fall against my chest and I desperately want to wake him but I know I have to fight these battles by myself now. The sun is shining by the time my mind finally lets me sleep.

The next night we fall asleep beside each other for the last time. At 3am Bee nudges me awake to say goodbye. I don’t want to cry. I want it to be like nothing. But it isn’t, it is a storm of “I love you’s” and tight hugs and heart-wrenching tears. I don’t go back to sleep. I cry for hours and even though Alba is fast asleep beside me I feel so alone in the world.

I fall asleep in the middle of the next day. I dream I am in a garden, our garden. Before me is a tall tree heavy with orange leaves and flowers. The world is bathed in a soft warm haze, like a dream sequence in an old film. It’s so beautiful I have to show Bee. But Bee is nowhere and suddenly I’m not in a garden, I’m in a bed. I can’t open my eyes and I can’t speak. I call for Bee frantically in my mind, urging my mouth to open and finally I whisper his name.

“It’s okay,” he soothes, sliding beside me so I can feel his warm body against mine. “I’m here.” For a moment I am safe and everything is okay. Then something is taking him away and I still can’t see or speak. I feel it happening beside me, the struggle and my rising fear as I fail to move. I know somehow that he is gone and he isn’t coming back. It wakes me and I’m crying.

But he isn’t gone forever. I call him and he is right there on the other side. He can’t hold me but he tells me loves me and he misses me and he’s still here.

I’ve wished sometimes for a normal break up, for the anger and the arguments and our ties cut clean. But I’d lose all of this love. I’d lose a friend who knows what I mean by the tone of my voice, who knows the right things to say when I’m overcome with parent guilt. I’d lose one of my best friends.

Somewhere In-between

I am lost in my life. There is a feeling that my toes just skim the surface of my reality. I’m in some kind of limbo. Here in the last weeks in our forest home, the last weeks with my love, the last weeks before some great wide expanse of unknown. I wish I had some certainty, a home we could call our own instead of a handful of maybes. I should be used to it by now, but this time Alba has school and our belongings don’t just fit into a few suitcases anymore.

I remember when my grief came in waves so close together I could barely catch my breath. They’re much further apart now, but when they come every wall I’ve built against the pain is torn down instantly. The injustice of it all makes me want to kick and scream like a child, I lost my only brother and now I mourn every single day of the future I will never have with him.

Heartbreak comes in waves too. Mostly I live in a cocoon of softness, my little family is still my little family. Then I look down at my hand in Bee’s hand and I realise the time is coming where his body won’t feel like an extension of my own any more. Where I won’t nap to the sound of Alba and Bee playing. Where I will have to face all my challenges alone again. I pray he will stay around, but how can I know? He would be forever on the road if he could and I don’t blame him.

He says things that hurt me sometimes. He says this life is too quiet for him, but this is my life. I know it’s quiet. The school drop offs and grocery runs and tidying up and bedtime routines. But it is its own little adventure in itself, the very adventure I always ached for when I was travelling across the world.

And yet I know he’ll miss it. He helps in Alba’s classroom for fun, he always needs to be there for bedtime stories even when it’s the same book 5 nights in a row and he is almost always by my side.

On nights I cannot sleep I pad through our dark house to Bee’s bedroom. His phone glows in the dark, a podcast left playing as he’s fallen asleep. I nuzzle my head into his neck and I tell him I love him and he tells me he loves me. Sometimes the memories of the beginning fill my mind, all that hope and overwhelming love. I instantly push them out just as I do with memories of my brother.

Mostly he is my best friend and I am his and that is just fine.

I don’t know how I’d manage all my big feelings without my routines. The yoga, the running, the journalling and the meditation. Without these releases my days would be lost to my emotions.

Now that Alba is at school I can work hard. I often write thousands of words in a day. I am running my Patreon, my blog, creating a course and writing a book all simultaneously. It’s the one place in my world where everything feels perfect.

School is pretty wonderful too. Alba’s best friend brings her little treasures and homemade books full of illustrations of ponies and unicorns. Alba is besotted with a boy called Angus who I am sure is trouble and her teacher is so sweet she reminds me of Miss Honey from Matilda.

Laura is directing a film in Sydney and hires me to take stills. For a weekend I’m that girl again, the one with a camera around her neck and the ability to instantly connect to strangers. Being on a set is both slow and exciting. I shoot in tiny pockets of time and wear my heart on my sleeve. The crew becomes a family.

One night I get gelato with Philippe, the lead actor from the film. We’re walking through Newtown and it begins to rain so we throw our arms out to catch the raindrops. The sky is bright purple and pink. We’re both cradling broken hearts but for a few hours we forget.

The freedom and the excitement of the big city reminds me of so many times before. It is a contrast to my settled life at home. But while my father gave up on our family to chase his dreams, and my mother gave up her dreams to take care of our family, I am determined to do both. For me and for Alba.

We’re in the car when Bee tells me he’s going to Perth when the lease ends. So far I thought he’d stay around, at least for a while. It hits me like a tidal wave of betrayal. In the pain of the moment the most bitter words form on my tongue, “you’re unbelievably selfish.”

It’s probably the meanest thing I’ve ever said to him. I am being abandoned again and I am defensive. I feel like everything means nothing at all. Like I failed.

I go running, my body is so tight it feels like someone is wringing all the joy from me. It’s hard to breathe. I make myself let go, let myself expand back into me again. Then I can see the stories. Bee doesn’t care about us, I will always be abandoned and love will never be enough.

Most importantly I can see they are just stories. That this is my challenge. It’s like the universe has taken a look at me and said, I think you need another lesson in letting go. Granted, I obviously do. My ego gets so caught up in it all.

So I hug him and I apologise and then I break down again about feeling abandoned and rejected. Face all blotchy and wet and snotty. For a long time things felt so easy that when people asked if it was hard living with Bee I’d mostly shrug and say, “Surprisingly not.” But him leaving felt so far away then, now it’s right around the corner and I’m not sure I’m ready.

My fears are so incessant at night that I cannot find the quiet to sleep. I talk to Georgia one morning. She tells me I can stay with her and that Alba can catch the bus to school with the kids until I can drive and find a home. She’s rescued me so many times she’s like my knight in shining armour. She says, “I know it’s hard and painful but you don’t need him Nirrimi.”

When I talk to my friend Alex about my fears around leaving she says, “Yeah, it’s scary but isn’t it also really exciting?” Slowly I feel that she is right. It is exciting. Who knows what life has in store for me now? Whatever is coming, I am strong and brave enough to handle it. Deep down I can feel that this is all for the very best and I am ready.

Then I’m back in that cocoon, things feel easy and I forget that they are ever hard. I know these cycles of strength and weakness will keep on going. Probably until the day I die. And that’s alright because I know it will all be okay, even at my weakest.

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