In Townsville the sun is as brutal as I always remembered and beneath it I am home. Alba & I stay with my mum and my little sister out in the suburbs. Days melt into each other with the heat.
Alba’s papa has a place with his new love now. A cosy home where pools of light spill over wooden floorboards, homemade dreamcatchers hang from the walls and a garden bursts to life. I notice a book I bought him for his birthday on the shelf and a shirt I got him on a summer trip to LA. It’s so surreal to see these little momentos of our past scattered in a home he shares with his present girlfriend. Not so long ago this would have been unimaginable.
Two years ago we had our own home, sweet and familiar in the mountains. Our family was whole. It could never have broken, yet it already was. Being here in this house is so intense for me I feel nauseous. They chase Alba outside to the garden where their laughter echos back to me through the open door. Back to me. Just me. A lone comet hurtling through wide open space. I wipe a tear away roughly, afraid someone might see it.
And then, a moment later it is good. So good that I find myself smiling. I find the strength to push past all of my hurt and find genuine happiness that things are coming together for them. I wanted this. I hug all of them before I go. Kindness wins. The past falls away. I begin to long for my own home, and though I find it difficult to admit, for someone to share it with.
On the surface I feel okay with the way everything is unfolding, but deeper down I am broken. I am lonely out here. Toddlerhood is a difficult stage and when I am parenting I am doing it alone. I am trying to stay present but I keep on wondering how I got here. I’m a single mama with no home, a photographer who barely photographs and a girl who many look up to with no real idea of what I am doing. The darkness pulls at me daily but I always pull myself back to light. To gratitude for the endless good that fills my life.
The dark times are necessary for me. They are the lows that pull me back and back and back like a slingshot, before launching me higher than ever.
I’m not moving so I start running. The first afternoon I feel like I am flying. I can feel my body and my breath and for the first time in a long time I know I am truly alive. The sky is bright one moment and breaking open the next. Rain slaps the hot concrete and soaks through my clothes. Instead of finding shelter I dance in it all the way home. I don’t worry what the people watching out of the car windows think, they’re only a blur of lights to me and besides, I know by now it doesn’t matter. I stop thinking and I only feel.
Alba is settled in at her Papa’s home and I fly to Sydney. It’s time to be a photographer again.
I step off the bus from the airport into heavy rain and hold my little suitcase above the flooding streets as I run toward a terrace house where a fellow purple-haired photographer named Rachela lives. We sit on her bed wet and laughing and though it is the first time we’ve ever met, she tells me she doesn’t know where she’d be without me.
It isn’t out of the ordinary for me to meet people who already know me in ways even my own family don’t, for a stranger to reference a thought I’d had one sleepless night or a memory I’ve almost forgotten myself. Somehow I’ve grown used to it. It is strange that my blog can feel so abstract but have a tangible effect in the real world.
Rachela invites me to watch her friend’s band play at the Oxford Art Factory. Once upon a time I watched a show here, pushed my way to the front to watch the band play a song about me and kissed the lead singer as he left the stage. I lived in a different world, deep within another chapter of my life. It feels like a lifetime ago.
All of her friends are our age. Among them I am struck with the realisation that they lead much different lives to mine. And yet I see parallels too. I still crave the excitement, adventure and freedom they do. For all I may be, I am still a 22 year old girl.
Everyone goes on to Rachela’s after and the house is full of smoke, music and dancing. I live through my camera because it’s the only way I can belong. At one point I sit in the hallway with the keyboardist from the band who confesses she wants a child so much it hurts. I see my past self and in some ways it frightens me. I disappear from the party and stay awake until sunrise editing the photos I’ve taken.
The next night I lay beside a boy on a river dock where the lights of the city reflect brightly in the water. It begins to rain and we watch as the raindrops hit the river and shatter the perfect little circles of light there. It looks like fireworks exploding on the water’s surface. I look at him and he kisses me. My heart is elsewhere, everything is beautiful but nothing is right. I run all the way home and crawl into bed with Rachela and tell her everything like we are sisters.
One day Rachela gives me a pair of overalls she bought in Texas. I wear my purple hair in braids. and lace underwear and red boots and a necklace my friend made from sea glass. Just like my daughter, I wear the things that make me happy with little thought to anyone else.
Sometimes I walk over an hour to get to where I am going, not because I can’t catch a bus but because I want to experience everything. I want to feel my body moving, run my hands along the fences and plants I pass and smile at strangers. When it is too far to walk I catch buses and trains and trace the engraving on the back of my ipod that reads “wherever you are, be all there” and I am, mostly.
I am shooting every day. The high rushes back. I remember why I’d thrown myself into photography with such reckless abandon. I find myself again in those ecstatic moments where my photos come together and I am shouting with glee.
One afternoon hostages are taken in a cafe not so far from where I am staying. Almost every channel on TV is covering it, with the usual hysteria of the media. I am almost too afraid to leave the house but I am meeting the director of one of my favourite films today and where I am meeting her is in the opposite direction to the seige. The normally bustling streets are now like a ghosttown and shivers roll down my spine.
Every day brings more pictures and videos of Alba from her papa. They are little bursts of light throughout my day. Her collecting eggs from the chickens, playing at the beach, eating food from the garden, picking flowers, dancing, sleeping, smiling. I talk to her on the phone and hear her excitedly recount all of her adventures. I say, “I love you so much Alba, to the moon and back, even when I’m not with you I am loving you. Look up at the moon and you can feel my love.”
Not so long ago I sat in a park and noticed some guys taking their shirts off to embrace the sun. I imagined what it’d be like to do the same. To feel the heat of the sunlight on my chest and the cool wind playing at my back. But I couldn’t, for no other reason than because I was a girl. And so I imagined instead that I was surrounded by other girls and we were all sitting around shirtless and picnicking and laughing like it was no big deal, because it shouldn’t be. My idea of the nipnic was born.
I hold the first nipnic in Gordon’s Bay, an inlet of sea enclosed by rock all around. A living postcard of summer. We spread rugs over the rocks above the ocean and share the food we’ve all brought. Somebody brings a whole tray of ripe mangoes and the flesh is bright orange beside the deep blue sea. Laura brings raw chocolate fudge so good I have to close my eyes when I’m eating it.
We are all topless, lost in our own worlds of bliss. It all feels natural and normal and not at all like breaking the law. We’re surrounded by beach-goers but no one comments or stares. Somebody says, “this is the way it should be.”
There is a flat rock jutting out from the sea so we dive into the cool, salty waves and swim to it. Our skin is cold and the rock is hot and we lay bareskinned under the sun. When the sun disappears the wind draws goosebumps all over us but we are glowing, like the sunshine has gotten under our skin.
A few of us pile into Bec‘s car. We listen to pop music loud and sing and dance like the children we still are deep down. We drive to Laura’s house where bands play music from a stage in the back of a truck. We dance shirtless among everyone else in the backyard, because we can, because we aren’t afraid to. We sit together on the grass and share all of our ideas for changing the world. We are all wildly, stupidly, overwhelmingly happy.
Jarrad flies into town for a shoot the day before I have to leave. We sit in stillness while I braid his long hair, we wander through gardens at dusk and I beat him in a round of laser tag. He’s been an almost daily part of my life for many months now, yet sometimes I look at him and feel like I’ve never met him before. It is like we are both best friends and complete strangers. Without him rekindling my love for photography, I’ m not sure I would be in Sydney at all.
I invite Laura, Claire, Rahkela and Jarrad to my last breakfast before I fly out. That very early morning is the clearest of them all. It is the morning I realise how much my friends mean to me, and how much I mean to them. My connections to others are more precious than anything else I could ever have. All else pales in the face of love.
My journal is stolen on the plane ride home. It’s on my seat when I go to the bathroom and when I get back it’s gone. It is my little companion that helps me collect my thoughts, my little garden where my ideas begin to grow. It is a piece of my heart but instead of being devastated I just accept that it’s gone. I’m surprised by how easy it is to let go. I wonder who took it and what they’ll take away from my thoughts.
I am home with Alba and she captivates me from the moment I see her. I forgot about how perfect she feels in my arms, how sweetly she skips when she runs and how mesmerising her voice is as she tells me stories. We walk hand in hand to the store and all the while I am full with love for her. She smells flowers, picks up rubbish and narrates the world around us and I think, this here is my daughter and I could not be any luckier.
We take the ferry to Magnetic Island with my family. I hold Alba as we watch the waves. We stay in rooms by the beach. I keep finding beauty in the smallest things. The soft fuzz on Alba’s back, the way my Mum’s forehead creases when I say something deliberately inappropriate, the smell of the clean sheets and the taste of salt in my hair.
I let myself feel everything. The caress of the sun, the hug of the wind, the whispers of the trees. The cold, the longing, the heartache, the uncertainty, the love, the gratitude, the boundless potential of everything like some swelling bursting star. Once, not so long ago, I feared I was condemned to numbness. Afraid I’d already felt too much and could never feel so much again. But now, alone, I am learning how to feel again.
I sit in the still sea at sunset with my sister and I think of him. I imagine him sitting behind me wrapping me up in his arms. Hot blood under skin as soft as silk, keeping me warm. I close my eyes and I am kissing his shoulders, his neck, his lips. I open my eyes and there is only the pastel colours of the sky as the sun dips beneath the ocean, the distant city lights and the smoke pouring from my sister’s lips like there is a fire in her soul. No, not only, that is enough, it is more than enough. I am exactly where I am and everything is perfect.
One day my sister Pixie comes home in tears and in the misery of the moment I am overwhelmed by how beautiful she is. Her eyes are electric blue and her eyeliner bleeds down her cheek. She laughs in between sobbing, like she finds it ridiculous that she is crying. I see myself in the way she loves. Wholly, recklessly, selflessly. I see all the heartache I’ve ever suffered, but all the bliss too.
Before I know it, as it always goes, I am leaving again. My girl runs happily into her papa’s house and blows me kisses as I shout out declarations of my love. I am heavy but I refuse to be sad tonight. I pass a field on my way home and I take off my bag and shoes and I dance and dance and dance until all my thoughts have disappeared. It’s New Years Eve and I have a flight to catch to Melbourne. Tonight isn’t an ending, it’s a birth. It’s in the air, like the whole world knows it.