The car is packed for a great adventure. Meals meticulously planned and organised. Clothes washed and folded. Tent, bedding, camping stove, water, towels. A box full of lego. Blank journals and books we’ve been meaning to read. We’re excited. We haven’t been on a road trip since we drove all the way here from the other side of the country.
The trip is a two week voyage down to the beach with the whitest sands in the world, with ten or so friends. The morning we’re set to leave Bee and I wake with fevers. We’re desperate not to call off the trip so I curl up in the passenger seat and Bee pushes on.
It’s just Al in his combi van when we arrive at the first campground. He sees how sick we are and insists we rest in his van. He makes us tea and plays lego with Alba on a rug outside the door. We feel horribly sick, but we figure it’ll pass in a day or so. We’ve been looking forward to this for so long.
Everyone arrives and cooks pizza in a wood fired oven, smoke curling in the sky and the endless stream of happy conversation we’re too sick to take part in. We toss and turn in our tent.
We drive on the next day to a big house by a forest for New Year’s. The bright energy feels so discordant with how dark we feel. We watch our friends climb the hill to watch the last sunset of the year. Our bodies ache to join them.
We crawl into our tent early, the music is too loud and it’s too nice out there. Great webs of fairy lights are strung through the eucalyptus trees and they glitter in the last light. Alba is fast asleep while Bee and I listen to the people counting in the year. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Ecstatic yelps and laughter. How you spend New Year’s is how you’ll spend the next year, my mother once told me.
Someone unzips our tent. Al and Nathan have laid out a picnic rug and strung some lights over the sapling outside. “It’s really not fun without you guys,” they say. We’re wrapped up in blankets watching the stars and I think, maybe this coming year won’t be so bad. We might be sick right now but we are loved always.
I’m writhing with fever in the van the next day when Bee says, “We can’t keep doing this. We have to go home.” My heart breaks. I’d argue with him but I worry that Alba will fall sick too. We pack the car. There isn’t much to pack, most if it is still packed for the adventure we’ll never go on. We say our goodbyes. I hate goodbyes. We drive home mostly in silence.
We spend a week sick in bed. Then one morning our bodies don’t ache. The sun is hot and bright. We go to the beach and dive into the ocean. The water is as crisp as biting into a cold apple. The ocean is like that on the west coast, not like the warm sea that I grew up with on the east. It feels incredible to just be outside and moving and well.
Al has his birthday party on a carpark roof in the middle of the city. The sun sets over the buildings and I am reminded of the roof of the apartment I lived in when I was sixteen. I remember feeling so hopeless and afraid that at times I felt like jumping from the edge. It felt like I’d never escape. It feels strange to remember. Sad. Grateful I did escape.
I get a tattoo of a giant moth across my ribs. It has crescent moons on its wings and a fat furry body. Heather puts Howl’s Moving Castle on for Alba and I melt into the feeling of her needle on my skin. It’s sharp in a way that demands my attention and pulls the focus from my thoughts. I like it.
There are reasons behind my moth. A few days after my little brother died a giant moth with thick furry legs landed on my chest and just sat there. When it finally flew away I felt changed. Like it’d been sent to me.
When I was a child, my father would tell me dreamtime stories. In the dreamtime the wings of moths were as colourful as butterflies, but the land beneath was grey. One day a kind and selfless moth sacrificed her own colours to the land below, so that the flowers and the plants and the earth could be filled with colour. That was always my favourite story.
It’s always strange leaving a home. Our worldly belongings are packed into boxes and suitcases and our home is a shell, soon to be knocked to the earth and rebuilt again. At the last moment we’re sure we’ve found somewhere to go next. An old house by the beach. I ask Bee to pass it one night and I press my palms into the house and I make my plea. “Please be our home. We will love you so well. Please.”
The day before we leave they tell us it is not ours. I’d felt so sure. Our things end up all over, in friend’s garages and family’s spare rooms. First grade is about to begin for Alba and she turns six the day our lease ends. We stay with our friend Jess in the city for a little while. Our children play together and we send them off on their first day of school. My girl is getting so big.
We struggle in the unknown. We’re not sure when we’ll find a place to call home, or where to go next. My relationship with Bee fills with fractures. I lived through a series of fiery relationships before Bee and was so proud of the way we never argued. Now we slip into silly little arguments when Alba isn’t around.
The want for another baby overwhelms me. I see them everywhere I go. I dream of them and wake up holding their ghosts. I think of my little brother, of the hole that is left behind by his absence. I long to give Alba a sibling that will understand her like mine did.
Bee isn’t ready for a baby. We don’t have enough time, enough money and what about our dreams? The state of the world? He’s fuelled by logic and I’m fuelled by instinct. We argue in circles. We say stupid things and push each other away.
Sometimes I look over at Bee and the distance between us is written all over his face and my heart is heavy like it’s filled with water, like my whole body is heavy with water. I want to be close. I reach out my arms and give loving words like white flags of surrender. Then I’m triggered and I take them back and we’re strangers again.
It’s 4am and I can’t sleep. I’m curled up in bed reading about babies, about partners who don’t want babies, about sibling age gaps. It strikes me that if I keep holding this against Bee I will lose him. It’s okay that he isn’t ready. Maybe in some ways I feel the same. Having children is often thankless and selfless and hard and I can understand.
He’s fast asleep but I bury my head into his warm body and I breathe out. I let go. I stop bringing up babies. I still dream of them. I still see them everywhere. But I start focusing more on what I do have. The gap between us closes again. Love fills in the cracks.