Cracks In Everything

The car is packed for a great adventure. Meals meticulously planned and organised. Clothes washed and folded. Tent, bedding, camping stove, water, towels. A box full of lego. Blank journals and books we’ve been meaning to read. We’re excited. We haven’t been on a road trip since we drove all the way here from the other side of the country.

The trip is a two week voyage down to the beach with the whitest sands in the world, with ten or so friends. The morning we’re set to leave Bee and I wake with fevers. We’re desperate not to call off the trip so I curl up in the passenger seat and Bee pushes on.

It’s just Al in his combi van when we arrive at the first campground. He sees how sick we are and insists we rest in his van. He makes us tea and plays lego with Alba on a rug outside the door. We feel horribly sick, but we figure it’ll pass in a day or so. We’ve been looking forward to this for so long.

Everyone arrives and cooks pizza in a wood fired oven, smoke curling in the sky and the endless stream of happy conversation we’re too sick to take part in. We toss and turn in our tent.

We drive on the next day to a big house by a forest for New Year’s. The bright energy feels so discordant with how dark we feel. We watch our friends climb the hill to watch the last sunset of the year. Our bodies ache to join them.

We crawl into our tent early, the music is too loud and it’s too nice out there. Great webs of fairy lights are strung through the eucalyptus trees and they glitter in the last light. Alba is fast asleep while Bee and I listen to the people counting in the year. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Ecstatic yelps and laughter. How you spend New Year’s is how you’ll spend the next year, my mother once told me.

Someone unzips our tent. Al and Nathan have laid out a picnic rug and strung some lights over the sapling outside. “It’s really not fun without you guys,” they say. We’re wrapped up in blankets watching the stars and I think, maybe this coming year won’t be so bad. We might be sick right now but we are loved always.

I’m writhing with fever in the van the next day when Bee says, “We can’t keep doing this. We have to go home.” My heart breaks. I’d argue with him but I worry that Alba will fall sick too. We pack the car. There isn’t much to pack, most if it is still packed for the adventure we’ll never go on. We say our goodbyes. I hate goodbyes. We drive home mostly in silence.

We spend a week sick in bed. Then one morning our bodies don’t ache. The sun is hot and bright. We go to the beach and dive into the ocean. The water is as crisp as biting into a cold apple. The ocean is like that on the west coast, not like the warm sea that I grew up with on the east. It feels incredible to just be outside and moving and well.

Al has his birthday party on a carpark roof in the middle of the city. The sun sets over the buildings and I am reminded of the roof of the apartment I lived in when I was sixteen. I remember feeling so hopeless and afraid that at times I felt like jumping from the edge. It felt like I’d never escape. It feels strange to remember. Sad. Grateful I did escape.

I get a tattoo of a giant moth across my ribs. It has crescent moons on its wings and a fat furry body. Heather puts Howl’s Moving Castle on for Alba and I melt into the feeling of her needle on my skin. It’s sharp in a way that demands my attention and pulls the focus from my thoughts. I like it.

There are reasons behind my moth. A few days after my little brother died a giant moth with thick furry legs landed on my chest and just sat there. When it finally flew away I felt changed. Like it’d been sent to me.

When I was a child, my father would tell me dreamtime stories. In the dreamtime the wings of moths were as colourful as butterflies, but the land beneath was grey. One day a kind and selfless moth sacrificed her own colours to the land below, so that the flowers and the plants and the earth could be filled with colour. That was always my favourite story.

It’s always strange leaving a home. Our worldly belongings are packed into boxes and suitcases and our home is a shell, soon to be knocked to the earth and rebuilt again. At the last moment we’re sure we’ve found somewhere to go next. An old house by the beach. I ask Bee to pass it one night and I press my palms into the house and I make my plea. “Please be our home. We will love you so well. Please.”

The day before we leave they tell us it is not ours. I’d felt so sure. Our things end up all over, in friend’s garages and family’s spare rooms. First grade is about to begin for Alba and she turns six the day our lease ends. We stay with our friend Jess in the city for a little while. Our children play together and we send them off on their first day of school. My girl is getting so big.

We struggle in the unknown. We’re not sure when we’ll find a place to call home, or where to go next. My relationship with Bee fills with fractures. I lived through a series of fiery relationships before Bee and was so proud of the way we never argued. Now we slip into silly little arguments when Alba isn’t around.

The want for another baby overwhelms me. I see them everywhere I go. I dream of them and wake up holding their ghosts. I think of my little brother, of the hole that is left behind by his absence. I long to give Alba a sibling that will understand her like mine did.

Bee isn’t ready for a baby. We don’t have enough time, enough money and what about our dreams? The state of the world? He’s fuelled by logic and I’m fuelled by instinct. We argue in circles. We say stupid things and push each other away.

Sometimes I look over at Bee and the distance between us is written all over his face and my heart is heavy like it’s filled with water, like my whole body is heavy with water. I want to be close. I reach out my arms and give loving words like white flags of surrender. Then I’m triggered and I take them back and we’re strangers again.

It’s 4am and I can’t sleep. I’m curled up in bed reading about babies, about partners who don’t want babies, about sibling age gaps. It strikes me that if I keep holding this against Bee I will lose him. It’s okay that he isn’t ready. Maybe in some ways I feel the same. Having children is often thankless and selfless and hard and I can understand.

He’s fast asleep but I bury my head into his warm body and I breathe out. I let go. I stop bringing up babies. I still dream of them. I still see them everywhere. But I start focusing more on what I do have. The gap between us closes again. Love fills in the cracks.

Clear Skies

 

The sun chases away the cold. We pile into the car and drive to the beach before school most mornings. The sea is still cool from spring. Diving in strips away all thought and leaves me in my body, just another living creature beneath the water. Life feels simple. Little white butterflies float above the sea around me. The water is so clear and calm I can see the sand beneath my feet.

Alba runs from gentle waves squealing and says hello to passing dogs. Bee wraps his arms around me, cool wet skin with fire burning underneath. His neck is salty when I kiss it. I sit on the sand and I watch my little family play in the water and I don’t think about work or dishes or tomorrow. I think, this is what it’s like to live a good life.

We play music in the car with the windows down and my hands dance. Alba puts her uniform on when we get to school; checkered dress, flower underwear, white socks, pink shoes. Our hair is wet and we’re still in our swimmers as we kiss her goodbye at the classroom door. A little late, usually.

Then blank open space, an empty page waiting to be filled. Backpacks are packed with laptops and planners and pens. Our favourite place to work is a place called the Raw Kitchen. There’s a boy who works there who is our friend and there’s a table within a shipping container full of fairy lights that becomes our spot. Bee works away at his camera store, I work away at my projects. I hold his hand across the table and try not to interrupt him with my running thoughts.

Sometimes the hard work comes easy. Sometimes it doesn’t and I decide not to battle the resistance. I do easier things instead; answer emails, edit images, make plans. I’ve been writing for a long time now and I know when to push and when to pause.

3pm always comes so soon. I try to catch a glimpse of Alba through the classroom window before she sees me, curious about this other life she lives apart from me. She tells me Clancy wants to marry her and Zahara wants to have a playdate and a boy called the teacher mum. She is getting so big now, she can talk and talk and talk about anything.

Bee gets a new job at a restaurant. He ties his hair back into a bun, tucks in his shirt and wears a linen apron. I like hearing stories of entitled customers and grumpy chefs and his Brazilian coworker, even though they are mundane to him. I’ve never worked a regular job like that.

Now and then I’ll be hit with anxiety. I feel it in my chest first. It’s like giant hands squeeze my upper body and my mind buzzes, not just with thoughts but something else too. I fold my arms across my chest and tap my shoulders with my hands, a butterfly hug, something my mother taught me. But the anxiety only comes from something, not nothing like it did before.

The sun browns my skin and paints me in freckles. Alba too, her nose is the tiniest and most wonderful constellation of freckles I’ve ever seen. She lays beside me and we just look at each other’s faces. She calls it eye time. She always filled our days with declarations of love and gratitude. Each time I overhear her telling Bee how much she loves him, I wrap it up and tuck it safely in my heart.

Sometimes she’s happy and sings under her breath as she plays. Sometimes she is grumpy, arms crossed tightly and eyes narrowed to everything I suggest. I’m learning not take on her frustration or to try to make her happy all the time.

I imagine I can float above the bad feelings. An empathetic, safe presence. Sometimes she just needs to cry, to scream “I hate you!” and “you’re so mean!” and kick the ground. I tell her, “You must be feeling really mad right now, I’m sorry, I’m here whenever you need a cuddle.”

She often ends up curled in my lap crying until it’s all out and then she is okay. She needs this outlet, emotions are hard to process when you’re five. Emotions are still hard for me to process at twenty five.

Later we talk through what happened and she apologises for the things she says. She says with great awareness that she only said them because she was upset. There are so many lessons hidden in the daily challenges of parenting. These meltdowns have taught me how to find calm in chaos and how to also have empathy for myself when I’m struggling.

There are so many cool things happening. I run an exhibition in The Corner Gallery where several artists spend the night painting over my photographs while everyone watches. Demon Days play a set, and then Pow Negro. Sweet people come up to tell me how long they’ve been following my work. Friends stream in to support me. I walk around in a daze.

There’s this thing called Yardstock. Local bands play in people’s backyards and no one knows where until the day. At the end of each set the band announces the next address and everyone walks there together. The sun is warm and our friends brought sangria and Alba draws tattoos on anyone who asks nicely.

Every weekend is filled with music gigs and playdates and friends. When have I ever had this? When have I ever been surrounded by so much love, with friends who just pop by for tea? I’m in love with the town. I love the way that in a few minutes we are by the sea, or in our favourite coffee shop, or at Alba’s school. This is the best place I’ve ever lived.

I miss my little brother. I miss the way he loved me. I miss the way he listened intently to each word I spoke like every idea carried so much weight. I miss feeling understood. The way he always called me sister. The way we knew it was us against the rest of the world. How we’d never be alone in the ways we were fucked up because we had each other. Identical invisible scars.

We never spoke about it enough. The violence from our stepfather, the chaos of childhood, the abuse from men we trusted to take care of us. I want to spend all night long telling him how much he means to me. I want to hug him so long he has to laugh and tell me to let him go. I want to tell him it’s going to be okay, that I will make sure it’s okay. That I will never ever ever let him go again. But I can’t. Not anymore. Not ever.

Sometimes the pain buckles me. Makes me cry in public. Makes me disappear into myself until the rest of the world is nothing. I don’t want to explain to anyone. I can’t. How could I ever explain how much he meant to me, how much he made me laugh, how lost I have felt since he left this world.

I’m supposed to be shooting outside when it starts to rain. I think of my new friend Al and his house in the trees with windows that stretch up to the ceiling. He says I can shoot there and I do. Then my model leaves and it’s just us on his rug drinking peppermint tea.

Six months to the day before my brother killed himself, Al’s brother killed himself too. We wear the bracelets our brother’s wore that day. We look at the full moon and we think of them. When he speaks of his brother he could be speaking of mine. So many parallels.

The walls we both so carefully and masterfully constructed get torn down around each other. It’s painful and it’s terrifying; but it’s beautiful too. There is so much power in simply being understood.

I am learning that I am not my emotions. I am not my anxiety or my sadness or my fear; I am not my joy or my passion either. I’m a sky and my feelings are the weather. They come and they go. I embrace clear skies and I know that the storms will pass.

I have some wild weather patterns, that’s just how I’m wired. But I’m beginning to unravel the dark threads of brokenness that I have sewn my identity together with. I’m learning to step outside of my emotions and notice the way I’m feeding them or responding unhealthily to situations. To note negative patterns even when it painfully highlights how far I am from who I want to be. But that’s the point of all of this, isn’t it? To keep on growing.

The way I feel is important, but it doesn’t have to be my compass any more. I can let weather pass without being broken by it, without letting it rule my life. At least I can keep trying to.

 

Alone in a Crowd

 

I’m on my own at a festival that I’ve been so excited for and yet now I’ve arrived I don’t feel I belong. Everyone seems to know everyone, or at least someone, and then there’s just me. I sit cross legged on the wet grass reading and a few people accidentally step on me, like I’m invisible. The new kid at a school camp.

I know I shouldn’t feel this way. That I should be open and brave. I should comment on that boy’s rainbow teeshirt and ask that girl if she needs help with her tent. I can be good at that. But instead I’m shutting down, curling into my shell like a snail.

I walk through the festival. It is so much smaller and more grassroots than the festivals I toured in the states. Strangers smile at me, revelling in the excitement of everything to come and I harbour a guilty wish to be elsewhere. I sit by the lake and make myself match each negative thought with a positive one. It helps.

I drink rosé from a camping mug covered in pictures of dandelions. It is cold out and it warms my bones and begins to pull me from my shell. I follow the sound of the music. I see a good friend in the crowd, Zal, a glimmer of light. He introduces me to a new friend, a tall freckly boy named Al. Weeks later we will sit on his living room floor crying for the brothers we both recently lost to suicide. For now I just know from the kindness of his eyes that he is a good human.

Then Bee’s best friend Honzik comes out from nowhere, lifts me off my feet and swings me in circles. The dark feelings seem ridiculous now. It grows colder as night washes over. There are bonfires dotted across the festival and hands stretched out over the flames. It rains and I huddle under a shelter with Zal and Al, hugging them both to keep warm. A little tipsy, very happy.

I walk alone to the bathrooms and a girl asks me for a hug so I open my arms. She nuzzles her head into my shoulder and I kiss the top of her head like she’s a close friend. There is an air of easy intimacy here, like we are all already friends.

We weave through crowds with her boyfriend, her fingers threaded through mine. We stop at bonfires to connect to more strangers, all of us linked by the simple fact that we’re alive. We find Honzik and when he hears her apologising to me for being so affectionate he laughs and tells her she couldn’t have found a more loving person here. That makes me happy.

It gets late. We lose each other. Rain falls harder. I feel my chest growing tight and I try to push away my anxiety but it pushes back harder. As I walk to my tent I pass Zal alone by a fire. He knows my anxiety, has answered so many of my anxious phone calls late at night. He listens as I tell him how terrified I am of it getting worse. How out of control I feel. He doesn’t offer advice, he just listens and loves and it makes it a little easier to breathe.

I bury myself in my sleeping bag but even with my warmest clothes on it is too cold. My shivers start out small, little things I can consciously stop by imagining I am warm, but they get stronger until I am shaking. I curl up tightly and long to call Bee but there is no reception out here. For hours the festival is loud and beckoning and I am alone and shivering.

Eventually Honzik whispers my name outside the tent. “Please come in here and keep me warm”, I beg. He emanates warmth like he’s made of fire and I defrost beside him. We talk until he falls asleep in the middle of a sentence and a moment later I am fast asleep too.

The next day begins just fine. One of Bee’s friends cooks me porridge and I eat it from my mug. I walk into the festival and sit beside Zal as a panel of women tell stories of times they were taken advantage of by men. The parallels open old scars. Things I like to forget.

I sit in a circle of strangers and I am telling my own story. The way I hoped the hits would leave bruises so he would be sorry and love me. The way I thought I deserved it. The way I protected not only him, but the story I told myself that everything was fine.

I thought that it was okay to share this but it doesn’t feel okay. It’s not like writing. It’s stark and ineloquent and uncomfortable. Eyes burn into me, my nails cut into my palms and people I don’t know ask me impossible questions. The circle moves on and there is a deafening ringing in my ears. I can’t stay and so I leave abruptly and run through the mud all the way back to my tent.

I curl up in my sleeping bag and I cry. I feel raw. I feel ashamed for the story I told. Did it seem like I was trying to be impressive? To shock? To elicit sympathy? Was I? Honesty and vulnerability is supposed to be my thing. I did it because I thought it was me. Then why does it feel so painful?

The festival rolls on happily outside, oblivious to my tears. My period decides it is a good time to come and my belly is tight with cramps. I am desperate to contact Bee, my mum, my friends but I can’t. I do the only thing I can do, I take my journal and write Bee a letter. My right hand is injured and wrapped tightly in a bandage but I write through the pain of that too, it’s my only outlet.

I resolve that I won’t leave this tent; not today, not tonight. Like a stubborn child. Resolute to my sadness. Feeding the hurt with more and more hopeless thoughts. Longing to be home and safe in my bed with a hot water bottle on my belly and my family beside me. Desperate to not be the girl crying alone in her tent at a festival, ashamed that I am.

Honzik climbs into the tent and sits in front of me with that kind, perpetual grin on his face. I don’t pretend to be okay. I tell him about the circle, about feeling alone, about my worsening anxiety. I don’t remember what he says but I remember how it feels when he hugs me. Like he loves me.

He asks if I want to draw a mandala with him. So we draw and we draw, beautiful patterns spiralling out of control, until the anxiety passes. “Should we go see who’s playing?” He asks me gently, and I know that even if I say no, he will still stay. Still choose to keep me company in this cramped tent instead of joining his friends at the festival.

I lace up my doc martins and he wraps his warmest jacket around me. It’s about five sizes too big but it keeps away the rain and the cold. We eat vegan nachos and listen to bands play. The night stretches on like some great adventure.

The rain comes and goes. We dance. We watch an outdoor film about the invasion and I feel ashamed for my white ancestors and furious for my indigenous ancestors. A girl paints my cheeks with glitter. We find friends and warm ourselves by the fire. I feel like I’m floating in a warm sea, totally at peace.

It’s easy to forget that I am a mother and imagine I’m just like the others here in their early twenties. I enjoy telling people about Alba, I pull out my phone and show them the photo of her I’ve set as my background. It’s the one where she’s bursting into laughter while she’s pretending to meditate.

It’s late when we climb into our tent. Honzik is still grinning in the torch light. I feel grateful that Bee chooses friends with such good hearts. Maybe I would have gone home if it hadn’t been for Honzik. We say we’ll stay awake cuddling and talking but we don’t, sleep pulls us so quickly. When the sun warms the tent and wakes us, the music is still going and people are still dancing.

The drive home is glorious. We pass fields of wildflowers, herds of sheep and small towns. I curate a playlist where every song feels longer and fuller than usual. I wind the window down and feel the gentle heat of the sun on my arm. I keep thinking of all the people who cared that I was hurting and how wrong I was that I was all alone. I keep thinking of Alba and Bee waiting for me back home.

Alba wraps her arms around my waist at the front door and professes her love in the incredibly sweet way she does. Like she’s a little doll that’s been programmed to say the sweetest sentences possible. “I missed you so much mama, I hope you had a good time, I was so good, you look so beautiful, I love you mama!”

Bee is in the kitchen and Honzik and I burst in with our stories, interrupting each other to fill in the blanks. I explain that I had struggled at times and Bee says, lovingly, “I was waiting to hear what went wrong, you couldn’t go away for a few days and come home telling me you just had a nice, uncomplicated time.” Now I’m home it’s easy to laugh about.

The stories continue when it’s just us. The tiny, insignificant details only interesting to the person who loves me most. The exact lines of banter from Boat Show, the state of the toilets, what every food truck was serving, the number of hours I slept. He soaks it all in. Eager for new stories after years of hearing them all.

I like that Bee doesn’t fret over me. I like that he doesn’t wish he’d known I was hurting so he could drive hours to get me and that he doesn’t promise to never let me go anywhere alone again. There is a sense that while he knows that things go wrong for me often, I am always okay in the end. He’s not fighting the dragon and rescuing me from the tower, he’s handing me the sword and telling me, “I’m here for you, but you’ve got this.”

This used to bother me more. I like being rescued. I like the sympathy and the cosiness of being wrapped in cotton wool. Others I’ve dated wanted to be needed, and I thought it was normal, even romantic, to need my partner. But Bee doesn’t want to be needed and it’s showing me, slowly, what it’s like to be okay on my own.

Here & There

Within a week of arriving in Fremantle we’ve found a sweet little school for Alba and a home within the catchment. It’s an old house that I’m not sure of at first but it grows on me. The wooden floorboards creak, the taps get stuck and there are cracks in the walls; but it feels like us. Imperfect, cosy, humble.

Alba has her own bedroom with a teepee in the corner that she disappears into when she needs space. We have a fireplace in the living room. We fill our home with colourful rugs and growing plants and glowing lamps.

I turn 25 here. I wake up and Bee has made a treasure hunt through the house with rhyming clues and hidden gifts. It’s a quiet birthday but it’s the best birthday I can imagine because here we are in our new home in one of my favourite places in the world.

Winter fades and spring blooms. There are flowers everywhere and we pick them to fill jars on our dining table and to tuck into our hair. I love doing the washing. The smell of the wet clean clothes and later taking them down still warm from the sun. The laundry has become a darkroom, chemicals sit on the window sill and film is strung up to dry.

I like the sound of the cars driving over wet road when it rains at night and the caw of the crows in the trees. Alba falls asleep in her bed at night and ends up in ours by morning. Her school is small in the nicest way. She settles in like she’s always been there. She complains to me that too many people want to be her best friend and gushes that she wants to marry a boy named Angus.

I’m not aways happy, anxiety waits like a beast for the smallest crack to crawl through into my head, but mostly I am very happy.

Before I am really ready for it, Bee is leaving to Java for a few weeks to hike volcanoes and climb mountains and take photos. I want to be excited for him. I naïvely imagine I can wave him goodbye and kiss his forehead and wish him luck. But I can’t. I can only disappear into bed with a childish stubbornness.

I harbour this fear of abandonment and when my bruises get pushed I disappear into myself. I build walls out of my hurt, but I am still there behind them. I can still see how unfair and how unhelpful I am being by shutting him out. I just can’t seem to help it. If I don’t hide away I’ll say hurtful things.

I’m curled up tight and he kisses and cuddles me and his ride is almost here and time is disappearing cruelly and quickly. Then he’s gone and everything goes very quiet.

The morning after Bee has left the house feels empty. Leaving bed seems like a terrible idea, but then there’s Alba pulling me into the everyday chores of parenthood. I cook the porridge, I pack the lunch, I braid the hair and find the socks. These little routines pull me out of the dark a little, just a little.

On the walk to school we pass a mulberry tree. The sun is shining and there are hundreds of big fat black mulberries hanging off the branches. We pick them until our fingers and lips are stained red with juice. Birds call out to each other and flowers grow out from gardens onto the sidewalk. We live in a beautiful place. When I’m home I crawl back into my bed until school ends.

The next morning I ride my pink bicycle, with Alba riding alongside me on her scooter. She squeals as she rides downhill and it is such a perfect joyful sound. I continue on from school, up hills and down hills and into town, to sit in a cafe full of old couches to write these words. Why do I have to learn again and again that I’m okay on my own? That it’s when I feel most like myself? Why am I so afraid of this?

Late one night I am in bed with Alba fast asleep beside me when someone knocks loudly on the door. I freeze, it’s past midnight, no one would visit this late. They knock louder. I can’t breathe. They try to open the door and it rattles in its frame. I fumble around for my phone and then I hear them leave in a car. I am shaking. I hug Alba tightly. I want Bee home so badly I cry.

I hear phantom footsteps in the house every night. This old house seems filled with ghosts. When I close my eyes to wash my face I am terrified something or someone will be there when I open them again. When I haven’t heard from Bee in days I imagine he has fallen from a mountain or crashed his scooter or been killed. Death seems so close at hand since my brother left. I wonder why I’ve ended up with a boy for whom adventuring in remote places is so vital. Maybe all the reasons it’s hard are reasons it’s important for me to be with him.

I’m frightened that even on a good day, when I have so much to be grateful for, I can still feel the dark filling in the empty spaces. I wonder if I have always been this way. If anxiety is a kind of default for me. I feel it has grown worse. Like my anxiety really is a beast inside me getting fatter on my fear and insecurity with each passing day.

I feel a sense of meaninglessness. As though I can’t figure out why I do any of this, why anyone does. Days feel repetitive. Routines a curse. Every day I clean and every day I cook and every day I do school runs and every day I do bedtime routines. I beat myself mercilessly for not doing enough work. For not being excited to create. For being alive with so many privileges and blessings, and not finding it to be enough.

When I’m deep in those dark places they feel endless and inescapable. But I do escape them and I think of my little brother who did not.

The first week he is gone goes forever. The second goes by quickly. Friends from overseas come to visit. I learn to fill my days with working dates at cafes and friends and phone calls at night. Alba and I have long conversations about kindness and vegetarianism and growing up. The house doesn’t feel so empty.

Bee coming home is like falling in love all over again. Alba and I make a board full of things we love about him and fill a basket with gifts and a cookbook I’ve written just for him. From the moment he walks through the door I can’t stop kissing his beautiful face and reaching out just to check he’s really real.

Before long I’m hugging my family goodbye at the airport gates. It’s easier being the one going than the one staying behind. With my backpack on and my passport clutched in my hand I am the me I remember. The one who talks to strangers and sits in parks in the sun writing and navigates foreign cities alone.

I wish I could tell you this story properly, without the fear of hurting others. I’ve written it so many times over in my head. I wish you could understand how hard my heart was broken this trip. How the pain of losing a best friend felt so similar to the grief I felt when I lost my little brother. Instead I will just share a small part.

I felt used in ways I never imagined I could from someone I loved. Somehow I found the courage to stand up for myself and I was yelled at in a room full of strangers. I was tiny, smaller than an ant. So ashamed. She met my crying with a coldness I didn’t recognise. I worked for free even as tears still ran down my neck, even as I knew most people would have left. I loved her, what was I supposed to do?

There are speeches and I can feel the tears coming again but I hold them back until I can’t anymore. I’m alone in the bathroom. The tiles are cold and I am warm from champagne. I sit on the floor and I sob. The laughter from the crowd echoes from the walls. Happy and broken sounds all tangled up in a confusing mess. I cry in the way you do when you’re alone and the sadness is so much bigger than you are.

A cruel little film plays in my mind. I see the first time we met, I feel our hands held as we fell asleep together so many nights, I hear our constant laughter and our tears over the phone. I remember the cities we explored and the terrible secrets we shared and the future we saw so clearly in our minds. All of it shattering and collapsing in on itself. All of it lost.

I see my face burning in the mirror. I let the tap run over my hands and throw cold water across my face and I breathe deeply. I stop thinking enough to stop crying. Out there she is beautiful and unfaltering. I am heartbroken and confused. I light a cigarette from a candle flame and smoke on the lawn alone. I drink more champagne. Everyone plays pretend and I’m a coward. I’m such a coward.

I look out at the moon on the drive home and I think of her and I can almost understand. I have this humiliating sense that she has been outgrowing me for a long time now and even though I wish I’d never come, it would have happened some other way. I tell myself that everything happens for a reason, and the moon silently agrees, as always.

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.