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.