I devote this month to my music. I’ve held this passion close since I was a child but never given it much attention. I wasn’t born with an incredible voice, I struggle with learning guitar and I’m very shy; so I never let myself take it seriously. What would be the point?
But then life went on teaching me lessons and it taught me that these things don’t matter as much as I thought they did. What matters more is the high that rushes in when I play. What matters is being brave. What matters are my stories.
The day I begin is reminiscent of my first day of year five. When I changed schools, My Mum and the school decided I could skip year four entirely. I remember staring in horror at a test that first day. The mathematical signs and science terms I’d never learned were like a foreign language to me. I felt stupid and afraid they’d change their minds and send me back. The sound of the other kids scribbling their answers was deafening against the silence of my pencil. I couldn’t stop my tears rolling onto the paper.
And now here I am staring at software I’ve never used, trying desperately to understand a hundred terms I’ve never heard and produce a song from nothing. Everyone believes in me and I’m already a failure. Even once I figure out the microphone and recording my guitar track, I can’t sing and I’m so close to crying from frustration I can’t write a single thing. “I give up!” I shout dramatically after three hours.
Bee finds me upset and when I tell him I expect to produce a song every day I can tell he thinks I’m insane but he doesn’t say so. He just holds me and asks me what I like about making music. I try to describe the feeling I get when the music comes.
So then it’s just me and my guitar. I write songs as I play but it’s still all wrong, everything is all wrong. I can call photography, sometimes call writing, but music refuses to be called; it comes only when it wants to.
I try to write instead. I rewrite a single paragraph eight times before I realise it is no better than the first. Time keeps on passing as I am slowly crushed under the weight of my own expectations while all around me everyone is doing everything and I am doing nothing.
I lay on the floor just to breathe. Breathing out this obsession I’ve developed of always having to be productive. I lay there until I realise failing is productive. Laying on this floor thinking is productive. It all counts for something, if only living.
One morning I wake up and the first words I speak are the lyrics from a song I was writing in a dream. I run around the park and a melody wanders into my mind. I finish my first song. The music comes.
More and more often I look at Bee without that manic consuming love. Often I look at him and he’s just Bee and I’m just me. Stripped of magic, stripped of electricity. These ordinary moments hurt me now and then, they seem to highlight the way love changes. I write.
“This is the part where your touch becomes so familiar that I forget where I end and you begin. Where I begin to talk to myself out loud because even though you’re right beside me it feels like I’m all alone. Where I stop wearing make-up, wear ugly old shirts all day, leave the dishes piled up by the sink and sing songs I can’t sing well. Where I’m cooking pancakes naked and you don’t bat an eyelid. Where I lament the fireworks of the beginning and romanticise the excitement of singledom. Where you tell me my soup is too salty and I tell you I hate that song you love. Seriously, I really hate it.
But this is the part where I don’t need to tell you why I’m crying, you already know why and you know all the right things to say. Where we work silently on our projects for hours on end without getting distracted by each other. Where we know each other’s bodies so well that sex is divine. Where you know just how I like my avocado toast (so much lemon) and I know just how hot you like your tea. Inside jokes, all the inside jokes. This is where you know all the characters in my stories and I know the narrative of your life as though it’s my favourite novel. This is where all games end and our flawed, messy, marvellous true selves begin.
This is the part where love whispers instead of shouts and even though it’s quieter now, it’s stronger than it ever was.”
Alba’s conversations wander from how much she loves ponies to the inevitability of everyone we love dying. When she wakes in the night from nightmares I rub her back and sleepily soothe her. “Imagine fairy princesses riding rainbow unicorns through glitter skies eating strawberry ice-cream in long sparkly dresses.” And she smiles that smile I love and drifts back into sweeter dreams. She is both girly and morbid, and I like that about her.
I’m cooking dinner when I am seized with anxiety. Bee is at work, Alba is being clingy and the day’s plans have all fallen apart. The rain beats at the roof as if to reflect the chaos of my mind. But will I look back to this day and only remember the calming sound of the heavy rain, the warmth of the bath I shared with Alba and the familiar smell of pumpkin soup simmering away on the stove?
This thought stays with me. How often do I daydream about those ‘perfect’ days when Alba was a baby or the idyllic days of my youth? How often do I hold my raw present reality up against my romanticised past or future and long to be there? The truth is life is never perfect and one day I’ll be nostalgically longing for now so I might as well embrace it.
We’re staying at Bee’s Dad’s home while he’s in New York. He owns an advertising agency and lives in a big house near the beach. Bee’s childhood dog Crunchie lives here; a sweet golden labrador who falls in love with Alba. As we swim in the pool he waits for us by the gate.
My friend Mary asks if she can take styled wedding pictures of us. I’m dressed in white lace dress, holding a bouquet of native flowers and kissing Bee, when I realise I’d really like to do this for real with him. I’ve never seriously considered that with anyone before.
My friend Zal gets us tickets to a festival where he is playing. Zal, the boy who will do anything for anyone without expecting a thing in return. He is Indian with long curly hair and we cook dahl together from his mother’s recipe. At the festival he plays in a chapel and the whole place is full of people and I am smiling at him between songs as if to say, “I’m so proud of you.”
Elle Graham is playing here too. She wrote a lullaby album for Alba when she was just a baby. We’ve never met in person but when I hug her it’s as though we grew up together. In a way, we did. We grew up in the same small hometown and chased our creativity while the world around us told us to be ‘realistic’. I watch her play from one of the couches strewn across the grass. Her hair is braided down the middle of her head and she is like an elven princess up there. I drink coconuts and eat crêpes and get tipsy and I love everyone.
For the first time in my life I throw Christmas. This is possibly the most grown-up thing I’ve ever done. It is made especially difficult by the fact I am doing it plant-based and our families are keen meat eaters. Once I brought a kale slaw over to my grandparent’s and my grandfather refused to eat it because he didn’t eat ’seaweed’. I tie my hair back; this is my kind of challenge.
I’m preparing every day until Christmas morning. I am sweating and stressing and everything that could be failing feels like it’s failing. I’m cooking too many things at once and suddenly the mushrooms are burnt and the picked fennel tastes weird and I forgot some vital ingredients. I’m biting my cheek raw when Jasper grabs me and tells me to chill out in the nicest possible way. It’s hard not to listen to Jasper.
And it’s fine. Not perfect, but fine. My aunt’s husband eats my raw cashew cake and says, “This actually isn’t too bad,” to which I shoot Bee a look to say, ‘did he need to say that?’ And the day ends with my little family in the pool under the beat of the sun, laughing and happy.
Jasper is over most days and he gets along with Alba so well we joke he is our nanny. The first time I ever met him I didn’t think I liked him. He seemed so quiet and serious. He looked like someone who might beat you up if you said the wrong thing. Now I love him. I can cuddle him and he knows exactly what I mean by it. I know he fights demons and I think our positive little family is a kind of medicine for him.
Alba’s Papa books a one way ticket to the other side of Australia for a job and momentarily my world tips upside down. Before I know it she is seeing him for the last time in a long time and I am making peace with a lot of confusion and hurt.
Then my girl is back in these arms she’s always known. I brush the knots from her hair, trim her nails, rub coconut oil on her skin, braid her hair. I dress her in clean pyjamas that smell like lavender and sun. I make her hot chocolate in her favourite cup. These simple things are delights I’ve always dreamed of and I feel blessed to do them. Blessed to make sacrifices for her and to struggle sometimes. Blessed to stay.
New Years sweeps in and as 2015 take its final breaths I think of myself at this time last year. A single girl in Melbourne watching fireworks explode outside of a moving tram. Yet to face her fear of public speaking. Yet to have her heart shattered. Yet to tour across America with her favourite band. Yet to meet the boy she’d been dreaming about. Yet to find her way home.