Some stills I captured while directing a little film today with Ella, & collaborating with a new friend Jarrad.
I’ve realised that the more honest and open we are, especially with the raw parts of ourselves that we normally hide, the more we all realise we are not alone. That we’re all flawed and fighting battles and none of us really know what we’re doing and that is okay. Deep down we’re all the same. We just have to keep on growing. And so I find myself sharing my own journey again. My joy and my struggles.
Life is always more lucid when we’re moving. My sweet-hearted Niece was getting married in Wollongong so we decided it was time to pack up our little car and hit the road again.
We went to Byron Bay the first day and saw the morning markets, heard the street music, tasted ice creams on the beach and felt three pairs of tangled legs on clean hotel bedsheets. Alba was wide-eyed and soaking in the world. I was skipping like I was 5 years old again, excited to be exploring a new town. After dinner we were walking through the streets when I heard a voice that took my breath away. As I watched this musician sing I felt myself falling in love, as I often do with total strangers. Just before I had to leave I caught his eye and our connection hung in the air.
The next night we stopped by a beach. The moon was full above the ocean and the sunset hung like a painting in the sky. We filled an inflatable mattress in our car to sleep on. Alba and I giggled in our funny, cosy home and we listened to the sound of the sea crash on the shore all night. In the morning we watched the sun rising over the Earth from our bed and we were all so happy.
When we arrived in Wollongong my Father was there, he had come to Australia earlier for his son’s funeral. I hadn’t seen him in seven years and I was beside myself with excitement. He was filming the wedding and when I saw him my heart leapt in my chest. Sometimes me and my brother had wondered if he was even real or just some crazy character in a film, but here he was in the flesh. “It’s Dad!” I told my Mum excitedly, but I didn’t interrupt him. Even my Mum couldn’t help smiling in his presence.
Then a magical thing happened. Alba picked up some flowers petals the flower girls had thrown and wandered over to my Dad. She looked up at him with her big blue eyes and held out the handful of petals. He stopped filming and saw his granddaughter for the first time, his eyes brimming over with kindness and warmth, shining with tears.
“Thank you so much Alba” he said gently as he took the petals. Normally Alba is very shy with strangers, but somehow she chose my Father from the crowd and looked at him lovingly as if she had always known him.
Then of course he saw me and my heart leapt again. His hug swallowed me whole and I was safe. That night we sat by the dancing fire and he held my hand and told me stories, pausing in between sentences to tell me he loved me. I felt like curling up in his lap and closing my eyes. Drifting in the warm, slow river of his words and letting his stories come to life in my mind. “I can’t tell you just how proud I am of you,” he told me sincerely, and I couldn’t stop smiling.
We only had a few special days with him and then he had to return to England. He left me with a old suitcase full of memories. Hundreds of clippings from newspapers and magazines that had featured him, poems he’d written, letters from my Mother when they’d first met, photographs of his adventures, films he’d written and directed, awards for all kinds of things and momentos from my childhood. Our last hug lasted forever but ended too soon.
I shot a campaign for a clothing label in Sydney and then it was time for the long drive back home. Home now was with my Auntie Megan and her three girls, with our ambling veggie garden and our roaming chickens. Alba played happily with the girls outside all day long. I fed all of us from the plants we grew in our yard and the food I bought from the markets. Every Tuesday we’d get six loaves of organic sourdough from a local bakery and I’d slice into the fresh bread right away. Such joy in little things. Sometimes we’d have a fire and talk late into the night, kids snuggled up in our laps.
Then we found ourselves on the other side of the country, driving up the west coast in M’s Father’s car. I stood at a cliff and let the beauty of the red land and blue sea consume me. Thinking as I often do, that I could never appreciate this enough. We stayed by a cove where dolphins visited every day. I stood knee deep in the crystal waters with Alba on my hip and called out to dolphins in my thoughts. Soon a Mama dolphin and a baby dolphin swam up to meet us, as though they had heard my call. The moment was magic and I knew then I would never forget it.
Then we went to Bali, where I had rented a twelve bedroom villa to live with creative friends from all over the world. For a while, it was truly and utterly blissful there. I found myself in a new loving family of young artists and every day was an adventure. One of the girls I’d invited was Kelsey, a fashion designer from New Zealand. Within a day it was like we had been best friends our entire lives. She was pure sunshine and together we giggled all day long.
Sometimes it is strange being with people who know me already from my blog, they know my most personal thoughts and have their own ideas of who I am. But I never am who they think I am. People expect someone serious and insightful, but in reality I am so silly and goofy. Constantly making bad jokes and being childish. I am just real, no more special than anyone else.
This time is all a haze now but as my mind wanders backwards I grasp at feelings and they fill me again. The painful memories feel the strongest, but each time I remember the pain is less, and eventually it is just a dull ache in the pit of my belly.
I was torn apart by heartbreak last November. The future that had built up around me, like a bridge built on dreams and love and hope, was destroyed. The ground was pulled from beneath my feet and I was hurtling through the unknown. It took a lot of heartache before I could realise I didn’t have to fall, I could fly and that what was torn down could be built up even better than before.
M and I ended. I was a broken girl, trying to hold myself together during the day to be a good parent and falling apart at night. I was so afraid of being a single Mama, of being lost, unloved and alone. The jealousy burned and I made myself suffer. One moment I felt everything and the next I was numb, living on auto pilot. Speaking my lines from the script just right.
Those nights were some of the hardest of my life. Over eight years we’d collected enough memories to keep me up all night reliving them. I had failed, I had lost, I was nothing.
I found solace in the arms and loving words of the girls around me. I hadn’t had many friends when I was in a relationship, we had unhealthily poured all of our energy into each other. Now I was learning how important it was to have their perspectives and support. I knew it was only the beginning of the lessons I would learn on my own.
After a while I stopped romanticising our past and began to see things clearly. We weren’t the same people we were in the beginning and our love had changed along with us. I stopped fighting the situation. I accepted it, and I even started to see how this was all for the better. It was something I had known would happen deep down before we had fallen apart.
It felt like a lifetime before he was back. I wore an invisible coat of armour. We flew home to Australia and continued to live together. I was wounded but I would always love him. He was my best friend and my family. For now we would be co parents.
Sometimes things were beautiful, sometimes we were even happier than we were before. We’d have moments with the three of us in bed playing monsters in hysterics. We’d still eat dinner with my family and laugh at each other’s terrible jokes. We’d share our immense pride in all of Alba’s accomplishments and reminisce about special times. But things weren’t always easy.
One day my Mother called me in tears. My little brother Zake had tried to kill himself. It wasn’t his first attempt. Of all my family, he is the one I hold dearest. He is the coolest, sweetest, most inspiring person I know and I couldn’t imagine a world without him.
I had plans to road trip with Kelsey but I knew I needed to cancel, that I needed to be with him. And so we flew to my hometown. When I arrived I pulled my brother into a big hug. Of nine siblings, he is my only full sibling. We share our smile and so much of our perspective. Sometimes when we were younger it felt like it was us two against the world.
The night he had tried to jump off a bridge he had unintentionally broken the nose of a policewoman trying to sedate him. My Brother has Aspergers, and being held down terrifies him. One day he stood in the hallway and told me: “If the court case goes badly, I am definitely going to kill myself.”
I scrambled desperately for the right words but all I could say was “I love you.”
“You can’t change my mind.” He replied and I recognised his stubbornness as my own. Please, please, please don’t die, my thoughts cried.
It was Alba that ended up doing him the most good. When they were together they both glowed with joy. When Zake left the house, Alba would cry for him at the door and he couldn’t bear to leave her. They were almost inseparable. One sleepy night she nuzzled into me, smiling, whispering “my Ake….” and I knew she loved him and that pure love was healing him.
A long time ago M told me he felt I had been a little bird and he had clipped my wings. Now I could feel them finally growing back. I was finding myself. I had gone from being two halves of a whole, to being a half and now I was learning to be whole again on my own. Things were going to be okay.
(Images by myself & Alba’s Papa)
When I imagined this moment I always dreamed I’d jump forward into the open air and soar through the sky like a bird set free. But now I am here the emptiness looms below me unknown and I am shaking. I will myself to jump but my body stays where it is, here. On this familiar path lined with bright flowers that nourished me and kept me breathing and safe since the beginning of the history of my life. I stay still but one cannot stay still for long and soon the wind has caught me in powerful palms and pushes me.
The dirt scrambles beneath my feet and I am stumbling. I catch hold of the grass with my small hands but it is uprooted by my fall, I hold onto the edge of the cliff but the soil crumbles away to dust and then I am holding nothing and then I am falling. Just a child like any other, not special enough to stay. Tears sting my eyes, this isn’t how I wanted to go, I wasn’t ready but I am gone.
Not flying, falling. Angrily, wildly, painfully, wonderfully. Tumbling ungracefully through the air, with no place in this world. As I fall I grow breasts and hair in secret places. I taste the bitterness of alcohol, the powder of lipstick and the burn of cigarettes. My hair flows like a waterfall of changing colors and scars burn on my thighs, carved from sadness. And while I fall I fall in love. I see their handsome faces flash before my eyes and for a moment they are my world. I feel the warmth of their lips and the softness of their loving words and for a second my heart is so swollen it bursts and I think I will die but I keep on living and falling and loving again.
The wind is cold so I wrap my arms around myself tightly. I carry the burden of a thousand worries and it makes me fall faster. I hear the laughter of friends and the hollowness of death and the passion of my art in my mind and for a moment I forget I am even falling. I feel everything and sometimes when I feel nothing I feel the most of all. I put myself together as I fall from old pieces of myself and new pieces I collect along the way. I see many different places as I fall and I breathe them in to become a part of me too. I am imperfect. I make one hundred mistakes and then one hundred more, and through them I grow.
Out of nowhere a crow joins me. He is as black as the sea at night and has hard yellow eyes filled with bitterness. But I am lonely, so I talk to him.
“Am I beautiful?” I ask.
“Your teeth are crooked, your nose is too big, you have spots on your skin and you are not so skinny any more, how could you be beautiful?” He caws, and I can see he is right, I am not beautiful.
“Will I be okay?” I ask, with tears making trails down my cheeks.
“You are only a girl. You are clumsy and lost and you cry too easily and you are afraid. Maybe if you had a boy to look after you you would be okay, but not alone, alone you are nothing.” and I could feel he was right, that I had been naive.
“What is happening to me?” I ask, frightened.
“You’re becoming a woman. Soon you won’t be young and your art won’t be special any longer. Age will numb you, the world will lose its wonder and you will never feel this much again.”
And now I cry out into the emptiness for my mother but there is no mother to hold me, just biting wind and the feeling that I am slowly dying.
When he flies away his words make a nest in my mind and settle there.
Nothing else joins me, no more birds or airplanes or clouds, just flashes of feeling and lucidity. Sometimes music plays in the air around me and gets me high, letting me escape for a while. I wonder if I will fall forever. In some ways I begin to enjoy the fall, to channel the energy into passion. I recognise it for what it is, the beautiful chaos that is life.
Then before I know it I am not falling any longer. I am back on the earth and at my feet is a little yellow flower. I lay curled around the flower for many hours and feel the warm rush of familiarity, grateful for the stillness and the way outside of my own mind.
I know I cannot stay here but I cannot bear to leave the flower that ties me to my childhood. So I whisper an apology and very gently pick it. I press it tenderly to my chest and it is gone. I walk changed through the graveyard of ended childhoods and feel a stirring within and I know my child self has survived the fall. She is there, breathing into my thoughts. As I leave I wear both a softness that lets me love purely and a hardness born from difficult times.
I walk and I see many roads ahead of me, but I do not walk down them. Instead I make my way through a magnificent forest. Sometimes I get lost and frightened and stumble as I pave a path through the wilderness, but I see such extraordinary things that take my breath away. Things that make me believe in magic again. Sometimes people cross my path and I give them special thoughts to keep them dreaming. When it is quiet, I long to be falling. I am forever learning, endlessly transforming.
Here I meet a prince who holds my hand as we walk and from our love a little child with strawberry curls is born. I am a mama now and somehow I am both different and the same. Still a child, but with pockets filled with life lessons.
In my daughter I can see the wonder of the place left long behind me, I can see it but I cannot walk it. I can kiss the bruises on her knees from little falls, wipe the tears from her eyes and hold her close but a time will come where I will not be there to keep her from falling. So I will give her strength and when the crow comes I will tell her:
“You are infinitely beautiful. Your eyes are bright with all the magic you have seen, your skin is warm from years of embracing the sun, your mouth is soft with a thousand loving words and kisses to come. You glow with life, with the immense beauty of the thoughts in your head and the fire in your soul. This body is yours and it will take you to places you can only dream of now. Yes, my dear girl, you are beautiful, but you are so much more.”
“You are growing and as you grow the world will open itself to you. You will swim in the ocean of possibilities. Childhood is sweet, but womanhood holds power. Power to make dreams come true, to find your calling, to shine your light into the world, to create life and to find freedom.”
“You are enough, more than enough. You are already stronger and more capable than you could ever imagine. You are a little universe, brimming with potential. You are alive and you can change the world.”
And these thoughts will be her wings.
There are parts of me that would love to unravel the entire story of that intense, life-altering month, but for now you’ll have to forgive my silence and let the photographs do the story-telling. I left my camera untouched, but thankfully I was surrounded by talented photographer friends.
I will leave you with just one of my favourite memories.
It was in the beginning of Camp Bliss. I was always giggling, europhic and in disbelief at the way everything had come together. Here I was surrounded by new friends in paradise and our days together felt like a dream.
This starry night we decided to go skinny dipping in the pool. Music played and crickets chirped as we snacked on fresh papaya and watched the night sky. Warm water slipped and swam around our bare skin.
A sense of awe was shared by us all. Us wide-eyed children. Together we spoke of the immense beauty that surrounded us, of being good humans and artists, of being alive. Our words felt powerful, as though they were more than words. We put our arms around the shoulders of those beside us and we spun laughing in circles. When we stopped the stars were still spinning.
We were all more grateful than we could put to words that night.
By Bella Kotak
By Jess Hay