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.
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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When I was a child magic was dragons and mermaids and giants. It was a genuine belief that my letter to Hogwarts could arrive any day or I’d accidentally find out I had superpowers.
I spent so many nights imagining my own worlds into existence. Worlds where I was heroic and special. Where there were no abusive stepfathers or bullies, just monsters I fought and won.
Magical things seemed to happen around me. One rainy afternoon I told my sister I could make the rain stop so she asked me to prove it. I closed my eyes and asked the sky very kindly to stop raining and it stopped abruptly. It made me cry.
I saw many things that didn’t exist, heard voices in my head and had dreams that came true. I made potions and cast spells and I felt like the universe really listened to me. I kept praying long after I ditched Christianity.
Reality set in as I grew. It’s not so cool to believe in Narnia when you’re a teenager. Instead I believed in tangible things; like coincidences, boy bands and kissing. I was a self proclaimed skeptic who still had a soft spot for old gruesome fairytales. If something couldn’t be explained, I didn’t believe in it. Ghosts, yeah right. Chakras, weird. Magic, no way.
But the more I experienced the world the more I saw that magic was real. Magic was the patterns in an insect’s fragile wings, the taste of summer mangoes, the feeling of new love. Magic was a world full of wonderful creatures, many of them even more exotic than mythical creatures.
Magic was liquid that turned your hair purple, pills that made you sleep, devices that let you freeze single moments in time, birdlike machines that could take you up into the clouds and down into different worlds. Magic was here, we just understood it so well that it lost its mystery.
That was my conclusion. Magic was subjective, like love.
Then one day in the midst of great heartache I reached a breaking point. In desperation I cast a spell the way I did when I was a child. I burned a note that begged for my heart to be healed.
As I held that burning note a powerful feeling flooded through me. I’ve felt it before; in the flow of writing, of photography, of parenting. It’s a feeling of purpose.
Somehow I knew it would take three days and so for three days all the weight was lifted. I trusted even though it made no rational sense to trust. On the third day I expected a call from the boy I was in love with, confessing he’d made a mistake. But as the third day began to come to an uneventful close the heartbreak swept me up again. How could I have let my guard down and believed in something so unbelievable? How could I have been such a child?
Late that very same night I met Bee, who went on to heal even more than my heart. He healed deep scars I wore from past relationships and he taught me a life changing lesson: Love doesn’t have to be painful to be real.
As soon as it happened my skeptical mind kicked in to remind me of coincidences and rational explanations but for the first time I didn’t listen. Even if it could all be explained away scientifically, I didn’t care. I wanted to exist in a world with ritual and mystery. And to be completely honest, it felt pretty damn magical.
I’ve only ever experienced life the way it is now. With sky scrapers, Netflix, commercialised holidays, grocery stores and 9-5’s. Switching from device to device in a endless hunt for distraction and instant gratification. But for the vast majority of our existence, life has been much different for us.
Ritual was an integral part of our ancestor’s lives. We were connected to the sacred and to the Earth in ways we can no longer understand. But it’s still there inside us. We’re hardwired to respond to ritual. The first time I cast that spell I wondered if that impulsive feeling came from my ancestry. Like a switch had been turned on.
I remember being the weird kid at school. The 9 year old who shaved her head to eschew feminine stereotypes, genuinely believed she was a mermaid in a past life and invented her own mythologies. Then I lost my magic, I hid it all inside myself so I could fit in. Now I’m slowly finding it again.
I think of spells as a little helping hand. You still have to do the work to make your life better, but once you put it out there you might find you get some extra help. As someone with anxiety issues, it is life-changing to have a ritual where I can let go of my worries and leave them in the hands of the world.
My spell is made up. Every ritual in history has been made up by a human just like you, so feel free to make up your own and believe in it just as much.
I usually do mine on full moons. Here is how I do mine.
A small piece of paper
A bowl of water
Optional: an offering
Spend time focusing on something that is really pressing you right now. Most of my spells focus on things I’m worried about. Finding a new home, coping with my anxiety, being able to feed my family. Sometimes they are for people I love when I know they need it. Some months I have nothing to ask for.
Note: Understand that you can’t know exactly what is best for you or others. We can’t see the whole picture. Something that feels like the end of the world might be the best thing that’s ever happened. Someone who seems perfect might be completely wrong for you.
Write your wish down on a piece of paper. It can be just a few words or you can fill the page. I use positive, open wording and express my trust in whatever happens. I fold it carefully; it’s sacred.
I will sometimes add a little offering. When I was casting a spell for my trip to Europe I found an old airline ticket. Sometimes I find flowers or tear out symbolic journal pages. When I burn my spell, I burn these too (often tucked in my folded spell). You might want to collect other things that feel magic to you just to keep around. I have this wand of quartz that was used in my brother’s funeral ceremony that is special to me.
I often wear this black floaty poncho that feels witchy, but you can wear anything. Bring your spell, your bowl of water, your lit candle and anything else and sit somewhere outside where you’re not going to be self conscious about anyone seeing you. I like being in sight of the moon.
Read through your note slowly, imagine the good that is coming and feel what that feels like. If any bad thoughts drift into your mind just gently push them away and think positively again. Once you’re really clear on what you’re asking for, burn your spell.
Watch it burn and focus intently on your request. Fill yourself up with trust and excitement. It’ll probably feel a bit awkward if you’ve never done anything like it before, but let go of the weirdness and just be present. When the flames grow too close to your fingertips, drop your spell into the bowl of water. I sit for a while in the glow that follows and trust that everything will work out.
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There was a softness to the beginning of the year. A hopeful naivety. Within our little family everything felt truly good. We were invincible in our optimism. There was no hint of how the year would unfurl. No hint of the ways it was yet to break me open and the ways I’d stitch myself back together again, never quite the same as before.
It began in Perth. Candles flickering around warm baths. A chapter from The Never Ending Story read aloud each night. Chocolate smoothies and beach mornings and games nights with friends. An easiness broken up only by little things. A tantrum here and a sad day there.
One night we went to the arcade on the harbour. I was on a ride high in the air. Down below I could see the neon lights splashed over the water and my sweet little family waving up at me. My little family. I was almost knocked out of that ride by the love that swept over me. That love could have made me fly.
We went on a big camping trip for Alba’s 4th birthday, sleeping in a different national park each night. Bee took us to a beach he’d discovered on one of his adventures. We clambered over giant rocks slapped by waves, navigated thin paths hugging the bare faces of cliffs and came down onto an untouched beach.
I cooked pesto pasta on a gas cooker as they played in the water. I watched them in silence, my body warm with their joy. Then I took off all my clothes and I joined them in the water. The moon was full and for an evening everything in our world was perfect.
That beach had me dreaming of sun-soaked weeks spent by the sea so later we took a short flight to Indonesia, then a boat to a little island called Gili Meno.
But instead of sunshine and snorkelling, it stormed. Every day it poured and every day we trudged through deep mud; our repellent failing and our skin red with the itchy constellations of insect bites. Our money was stolen, we lost the dream house we’d applied for, working felt impossible and not being able to run around made Alba restless. So many tantrums. We all just wanted to go home.
I lay squished between Alba and Bee once Alba had finally fallen asleep and said something like, “This is okay. Life isn’t always easy. When it’s hard, we grow. If we can just stay positive we’ll be stronger for it.” So we embraced the rain, the mud, the chaos; mostly.
The sun came out to taunt us the day we left the island and we finally waded out into the water. We caught a boat to Lombok. Bee’s friend joined us and we travelled by scooter between crystal clear beaches, made even more paradisiacal by the rainy days that preluded them.
We ate vegetarian nasi campur and drank from fresh coconuts on the sand. I made the children on the beach laugh with my questionable Indonesian and Alba splashed with them by the edge of the sea. We lay on clean white sheets with salty skin and sandy hair and worn out happy bodies.
Seven years I’ve been coming to Bali. Seven years I’ve seen it change. Some of the changes are hard to bear because they are caused by tourism. Though I may be respectful and treat Bali like my second home, I had to pause when Bee asked if I’d be coming back anytime soon.
Bee was turning 24 so I organised a surprise party for him. When I apologised profusely for not organising anything (so he wouldn’t be suspicious) he replied, “That’s okay. Imagine if you’d thrown a surprise party, I’d hate that.” Oops.
I rented a beautiful apartment in the heart of Fremantle and I told him I had a photoshoot to go to. Instead I left to fill the apartment with the cheesiest party decorations I could find and all of his favourite people. When he came to get me, I welcomed him and Alba inside and as we all shouted, “surprise!” his smile was so big it reached his ears. He changed his mind about surprise parties after that.
We all had dinner at Little Creatures, where we first met. The days that followed were the kind of days I would like to press pause on and live forever. The kind of memories that were painfully sweet to recall in the months that followed. They seemed to mark a time when everything before us seemed only bright and filled with good.
When all of our belongings were packed into suitcases we left for Queensland. We were still without a home so we stayed in a jumble of cities and houses, from Kilcoy to Mount Tambourine to Brisbane to Toowoomba. We bought a car, a happy blue car that was old in a nice kind of way.
Then one day someone who read my blog told me her sister was renting out two houses on four acres of forest. We decided to live there with Jess and Raph. I didn’t know Jess very well, but she took lovely photographs and Raph was as sweet as she was so we followed our gut and decided they’d make great neighbours. They did.
Soon after applying it was ours. In the beginning all the furniture we had was a mattress. We were all sick but I remember laying on that bare mattress with my hand across Alba’s chest staring at the walls in complete euphoria. It’d been years since I had a real home and it felt incredible.
Our house floated in a sea of trees. During the day kookaburras laughed on our balcony railing. At night the stars were sharp white and the air loud with crickets. It was only a short drive to my favourite markets and a little further to Alba’s future school. We’d go to the local pub on Sunday nights with Jess and Raph. There was this big tree growing in the courtyard and fairylights strung through the air.
Bee would walk down to the creek whenever he could. He’d build shelters and teepees and make bonfires. Whenever he came up I’d wrap my arms around him, close my eyes and breathe in the smell of woodsmoke, forest and him. I’d watch him weave palm fronds on our lawn. His long hair spun into a messy bun, his bright eyes focused intently.
I’d never seen Alba so happy and settled. I felt pretty damn happy too. Like the luckiest girl in the whole world. Then shortly after moving in my little brother killed himself and everything fell to pieces. I wrote a whole story about that time here.
He was my only full sibling. The only one on earth that I felt really got me. Losing him was like losing a part of myself. I’d never known grief like that. My anxiety grew, suddenly death was only a breath away. Suddenly I had no idea how long I had with anyone I loved.
In turn it made me love deeper and take less for granted. His death changed me as much as his life did. Zake was the kind of person you never forgot, even if you only met him for a moment. I got to be his sister for twenty-two years. Maybe I am the luckiest.
I want to pause here to say there are often things I cannot tell you about my life. Things so wrapped up in others they cannot be untangled. This is a challenging aspect to writing so honestly about my life, not every story is mine to tell. No matter how important or how deeply they affect me.
We were flown to Europe for a photography gig. Two months road tripping across European cities shooting every day.
It began in London, I was visiting my father. My feelings towards my father have swung between idolisation and betrayal throughout my life. It’s hard to forgive a parent for never being there when you needed them.
But I wanted to forgive him. I could feel his regret as heavy as if it were a weight he held in his hands every day. He’d had a hard life. He’d watched his brother drown, his wife commit suicide and lost three of his children. Perhaps I couldn’t fully forgive him, but I could see he was human, he was sorry and he loved me.
I began shooting with Mary, the writer who’d hired me and my camera. A girl with long blonde hair, so tall her head was forever in the clouds. We were catching a bus to shoot in Oxford. I remember that bus ride, music in my ears and a blooming feeling in my chest for all the travel to come. I’ve always found such joy on buses and trains and planes just daydreaming.
We’d been out late and so I messaged Bee to say goodnight but he’d fallen asleep without replying. We always said goodnight to each other. Such a simple, silly little thing but it felt somehow momentous. A sign that things weren’t okay. I spent the bus ride home crying softly, my face toward the window so no one could see. That’s it, I thought dramatically, things aren’t going to work out. It was intuition I think.
Slipping that camera around my neck was like calling out the side of me that was fearless. Putting on the eyes that saw every detail, every light, every colour. The familiar ache travelled down my back, all the way to my wrist. My camera was my other limb again.
While I spent most of the day shooting, Bee would take care of Alba. Sometimes they had hard days. Sometimes I got home and they were spilling over with stories of adventure. Each time I returned, no matter how unfamiliar the city or the apartment, beside them I felt truly home.
Instead of stories, I have handfuls of moments from Europe. Those moments that remained like pebbles in my palms when the rest slipped through my fingers like sand.
The buttery croissants in Paris. The rain shining from the cobblestones in Lyon. Alba’s bright hungry eyes at Disneyland. Platform 9 and 3/4. Watching ‘Captain Fantastic’ in that cinema in Prague that smelled of old beer. Castles and tolling bells that made me dream of gone times. The bar I left early because I was afraid I was going to cry. Alleyways to get lost in and four scoops of gelato a day in Venice. Laura riding her bicycle to our apartment in Copenhagen with brownies for my birthday. Sitting on a swing in the sky in the oldest amusement park in the world, Vienna spread out like a painting lit by the full moon below us. Alba refusing to use the bathroom and wetting herself in an Austrian museum. Crying of joy eating pizza in Milan. Finally meeting Pauline on that rooftop bar in Berlin and almost bursting in tears when we had to part. Collecting ‘thank you’s’ in many languages. The new friend who dived into a lake and emerged saying, “You know when you’re so happy you can’t bear it?”
Unpacking, packing, unpacking, packing. The hours and hours of walking and driving. Alba and Bee standing at the door to whatever apartment we were staying in, waving and calling out “I love you!” until I was completely out of sight. A heart full of guilt and excitement and longing and wonder.
How beautiful it all seemed from the outside. How I smiled and laughed and skipped through the streets. Sometimes I thought I was a wonderful painting that was dark and ugly one layer beneath. If I only scratched the surface, perhaps in the dead of night or in a weak moment, it would all crack away and I was grieving and afraid and exhausted and anxious.
But at least Alba was content. We’d be in these magnificent places steeped in history and she’d be enchanted by all the littlest things. The ginger cat that slinked across the castle wall, the blue stone she found in the grass, a trinket she’d seen in a souvenir shop. I liked being able to see Europe through her eyes.
Bee told me she’d fallen in love with a toy pony from a gigantic toy store they’d visited in Prague so I went there myself and I bought it for her. When I came home from work that night I held it behind my back saying, “A little friend came home with me today.” When I placed it in her hands she shook with excitement and it was one of the happiest moments of my entire trip.
I’d host big picnics and sometimes so many people would come that I’d never get the chance to speak to them all. Sometimes picnics happened on days where I couldn’t be as loving and bright and joyful as I wanted to be. I beat myself up for those days. People travelled from other countries just to hug me. I was so grateful for them I wished I could give them more than just a hug back.
My Swedish blood has always left me with a quiet longing to visit Sweden. So when we’d crossed the border and Mary stopped for petrol I couldn’t help myself. I swung the door out and stepped onto the nearest patch of grass. As I stood there in silence I felt I was finally coming home after 24 years.
We were in Stockholm and I was most excited to see Klara. With her I felt like I was floating, like she took all the heavy things from my back. Even as I worked she was always by my side, holding my hand and reminiscing about touring across America. She’d lift Alba giggling onto her shoulders and make up silly songs as she walked. I saw her family again and I remembered they were my family too. It was painful in a way, we are all so far apart.
The last stop was Ölsdalen, Sweden. A red barn next to a green forest behind a blue lake. There was an old piano in the living room where Alba sat and played, her eyes closed and her fingers dancing. Klara caught a train and joined us. She played that piano too, her voice filling the room and my body. Leaving her was the hardest of all.
But in many ways, it was truly time to go back home.
THE SUNSHINE COAST
After arriving home Europe felt like a dream we could only recall the very edges of, like we’d been living someone else’s life. Our tiny town seemed small and silent after the loud bustling cities but it felt more real. The smells and the colours and the people. For a while we just breathed out and sunk in.
Alba started kindy two days a week. It was a beautiful Steiner kindy I couldn’t have afforded on my own so Bee helped us. The first time we dropped Alba off I cried on the drive home, worrying and worrying. But by the time we picked her up I realised I’d never needed to worry. She’s always been happiest surrounded by other children. I poured those precious free hours into my work and she came home with stories of friendships and birthdays and baking.
Bee got a new job. He’d leave in the evening and return in the morning. He’d curl up in Alba’s playroom to sleep so he wouldn’t wake us. A few hours later I’d wake him with kisses so he could drive Alba to kindy with me. The work was hard and he was sleep deprived.
I’d had this idea that Bee was invincible; this boy who hiked mountains in canvas shoes, whose favourite memories were working crappy jobs and sleeping in the dirt. But this was different. His eyes lost their spark. His silliness disappeared. He stopped building and photographing. He grew depressed.
I felt him becoming distant. His hands would stop reaching for me. He’d always break away from my kisses. I stopped feeling loved and no matter how hard I tried to communicate, no love came. It scared me, all the little things crept across my heart like strangling vines but I thought it would be all okay. I was used to big fights and drama within relationships, so surely this wasn’t so bad.
Then he told me he thought this life wasn’t the right life for him. It was like the time I was in that little car and that big car came out of nowhere and slammed right into us, sending us spinning. I didn’t see it coming. I was spinning between confusion and terror.
How pathetic it felt to plead. To try to explain it away. It’s the job, it’s the move, it’s my brother dying, it’s the chaos of Europe. He agreed he’d try and within a few days he said he was sorry, it wasn’t working and then the break in my heart broke all the way to the bottom.
My anxiety was consuming. How wide time stretches when you’re waiting to feel okay again. Waiting for a morning where you wake up and the weight doesn’t land upon your chest the moment you remember. Waiting for a time when you can think about the past without recoiling.
The hardest part was the beginning. My mind kept catching on all the beautiful things. I don’t know why I read those old love letters, it was like I was stabbing myself again and again in the place where it hurt the most. I got tired of crying. So much of the year was spent crying.
The world outside our home was full of white moths. Thousands of them. They swooped in and out of the trees everywhere I looked. I love moths, I can relate to moths. They are not immediately beautiful, they lack the splendid colours of butterflies but up close they are even more beautiful to me. My father used to tell me a dreamtime story about a moth who sacrificed all of her colours to a bleak snowy mountain so that wildflowers could grow.
One day a giant yellow moth landed on my chest, it had thick furry legs and glowed like the moon. I was at a cafe and it seemed every eye was on that golden winged creature. It had chosen me and I was a child again witnessing real magic. When it finally left I knew it’d changed something within me.
The full moon came and I decided to do a spell. I knew it wasn’t my place to ask for us to be together again, I can’t pretend to ever know what is best. So I asked instead for it to all work out for the very best. For us to stay close. As I asked I listened as if the moon could speak to me, which it has for as long as I can remember. It promised me it was all going to be okay. I let go. I told Bee that I trusted him.
The world outside became full with dragonflies soon after that. Strong, sure dragonflies darting here and there. I watched them from my deck and felt an unwavering trust in the universe. That this twist in my story was leading me right to where I was meant to be.
The prospect of being alone meant facing my fear of driving. One I’ve held for a long time, since I was a child and forbidden to ride the go-cart because I was prone to accidents. Even as an adult the idea of me driving was a joke to my friends and family. Our home was on a hill far from any buses so if I didn’t learn, I couldn’t get Alba to school.
I left my first driving lesson in tears. Not once did he tell me I shouldn’t be driving or that I was too clumsy to be behind the wheel. He told me I’d done well and perhaps he told everyone that, but he made me believe it. It was scary but I breathed deep and spoke to myself a lot. Bee was patient and gentle with me as I slowly got better and better.
Bee left for Tasmania for two weeks. I was terrified about this trip once. About being in our big house all alone. But in the days before he left it excited me. Georgia came to stay so I wasn’t alone. While we worked our children ran off playing and once they were tucked in bed we ate naughty delicious things and sat talking on the deck.
Some nights I shook beneath my covers. Some days breathing was a struggle. But mostly I felt this strength rush in. I felt myself step forward. It was like the universe had orchestrated the most badass single mama ever to be put on my path. Georgia didn’t make me feel like it’d all be okay, she made me feel like it’d all be great.
By the day Bee was coming home I was worlds stronger. I made up the spare bedroom for him, with a basket full of gifts and his favourite craft beer. I hung bunting outside our front door that read, ‘We missed you,’ and made raw snickers slice, his favourite. I was pushing Alba from the swing that hung from the tree in our yard when he got home. He was standing on the back of Raph’s ute, grinning and waving.
He hugged us tight for a long time. When we got to his room he said “family cuddle?” so we all lay on his bed cuddling. His skin still smelled of bonfires and him. He was a little sunburnt but he looked so beautiful. He was so silly and joyful, it was like having the real him back again.
The first night he slept in his own bed he cried. I’d joked that if he got too scared in the other room he could always crawl into my bed. So later that night my door creaked open, I held my arms out and we found our familiar places beside one another again. This was hard for him too.
We drove to my grandparent’s for Zake’s birthday. I was under the impression that something was happening, that something should be happening. But by the time dinner came and went I realised with a pang that there would be no celebration. No acknowledgement. When I brought him up the conversation was changed.
I cried on my mattress on the living room floor. I wanted to be home. I wanted to be celebrating my little brother’s birthday with a big bonfire and cheap wine and party hats. I couldn’t sleep so I woke Bee to talk about it. We huddled in the kitchen and I lifted a glass of water to make a toast, “To Zake. Happy birthday brother.”
Thirty people came to Christmas lunch at my grandparent’s. Children ran about our feet and Bee chased them across the yard barefoot. He handed me an enormous card he’d spent all night and all morning painting for me and I handed him a book filled with memories, a memento of us.
But I couldn’t tell my family what was happening. Just mum. She kept hoping aloud that it was one of my terrible jokes and making wildly inappropriate comments like, “he’s a keeper.” We were still so loving, dancing together in the kitchen and holding hands on the couch. I couldn’t imagine trying to explain it to my grandparents.
On New Year’s Eve we were sitting on a rug on the sand by the sea watching fireworks explode like flowers. Alba’s little hand was curled in mine and she’d make cute little sounds of surprise each time they lit up the sky. Bee sat cross-legged beside me. We were a funny little family, really, but we were still a family.
We were all fast asleep together when midnight struck. Impatient for 2017 to finally begin.
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