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.
// If you love Fire & Joy you can support it on Patreon here, this is the very last month before I’m shutting Patreon down and diving into new things. //
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.