September – 2015
I’m talking to Alba’s Papa. The intense relationship we used to have now feels like a dream I’ve almost forgotten. I’m telling him about my longing for home. For family, for the Queensland sun, for tropical fruit, for rainforests. “Let’s do it,” he says excitedly.
I call across to Bee, who is playing with Alba. “Do you want to move to the Sunshine Coast next year?” I shout. He shrugs and grins, “Why not!”
I am so happy in the knowledge that we’re moving to the place I always longed to raise my children. Days pass by so sweetly. I feel like a good Mama, a good lover, a good artist. The future spills over with light. One of those rare times where everything feels almost just like I dreamt it would.
The more I experience in life, the more I begin to see signs. The moon is full when I’m filled to the brim, a friend calls just as I’m thinking about them, I get a gig just when I’m worrying how I’ll make ends meet.
I’ve found myself becoming superstitious after years of being a skeptic of anything I couldn’t prove. But what is the point, even if it isn’t scientifically true, of taking the magic out of life? I’m returning to the way I used to think as a child.
It seems to me that as tragic as my move to this city felt when it happened, it was meant to happen to meet Bee. To me, his very existence proves my kind of magic exists.
I’m going on my last photo tour for a long time. We fly to Melbourne and rent a little car. We drive under grey skies and heavy rain. Ready for the madness. We stay at the same house where my year began, a spectacular mansion in Fitzroy where we watch the water running down the window panes. Crossed fingers. Rain, rain go away.
I realise that this entire trip is a puzzle for Bee to put together piece by piece. As he puts it together my stories will have colour and detail they never had before. They will tangle with his own stories with the characters and places from mine.
Somewhere between our first shoots we’re driving to a location we’ve just discovered is closed for the day, the weather is terrible and Bee is panicking. I may be playing up my hopelessness for dramatic effect. “This is mad!” He says, “is this what touring is always like for you?!”
I shoot in the forest surrounding the closed gardens and the portraits are beautiful, light softened by menacing clouds and only a little rain. On the drive back Bee says, “you know what you’re doing, huh.” And I give him a look to say, I’ve been playing this game for ten years now.
I’ve organised vegetarian picnics in every city we’re passing. The first is on a friend’s balcony, sheltered from the rain. On the ride some of my friends are in the back of our car giggling and I’m fretting that no one will come. I am wrong.
The balcony is lit by countless candles and fairy lights, there are people stretched out on couches and cushions and there is a table covered in delicious homemade food. I fall into some kind of vegan brownie high. It’s 1am before we’re home, alarms set for a sunrise shoot, sharing gratefuls like every single night.
It’s a ten hour drive to Sydney. Perhaps it would seem intimidating to drive it in a day but after having a toddler it seems like a piece of cake on our own. While Bee drives I sit in the back and work on the talk and workshop I am giving next month in the US. I stop often because it makes me feel carsick but I can’t stop, I have so much to do and it feels like time is slipping through my fingers like water. I’m not ready.
I stop on a street corner in Manly, Sydney. “This is where I spoke to you on the phone and you asked me about a hundred questions about my childhood, remember?” I stop in the middle of a supermarket, “This is where you called me on your big road trip and I accidentally bought millet instead of rice because I was so distracted.” Piece by piece.
We have a shoot in the Blue Mountains. There’s a moment where I’m not shooting, where I’m watching Bee put my lens back into my camera bag and I am struck down with gratitude. He didn’t have to come on this tour with me; to drive ridiculous hours, spend his free time doing my selects and running around after me on every shoot. But he does without a single shade of complaint or expectation. It is who he is.
On the drive back I point out the train I used to catch when I was pregnant and the fruit market where I’d shop with Alba & her Papa. That’s another thing I’m grateful for. While I can’t bear to hear about his past romances, he loves my love stories.
I have my next picnic in a Newtown Park. A little city of rugs and yummy food and laughing people. Bee whispers to me, “You looks so lovely Nirrimi Joy, honestly. If I didn’t know you I’d be flirting with you like crazy right now.”
Laura joins us and I’m so glad to have her fiery self making us laugh from the backseat. We all drive to Wollongong to visit my family. From their house on the hill we watch the sky change from colours to stars. “This is where I spoke to you every night, just after we’d met.” It feels so long ago now.
There’s a big fire and we all tell stories into the night. Laura tells us the story of her cousin who was kidnapped and murdered, whose murderer joined the search party when she was declared missing. My skin crawls. Nicky tells us the story of her little brother’s tenth birthday party, where he drove his mother’s car with his friends and crashed it. Their mother was passed out drunk and Nicky had to explain to furious parents why their children were injured. Bee tells us stories of his travels. I drink up all the tales; collecting them like I used to collect shells.
11 hours to Byron Bay. It’s past midnight when we arrive. Another sunrise shoot. Breakfast at a cafe by the beach. A text from Nicky that says she loves Bee and the way his eyes light up when he talks about Alba. Such joy. Bookstores. Another whole day driving to Brisbane, binging on podcasts.
We have dinner with my grandparents and all the time I can see how nervous Bee is. All those silly questions like what do you do and what did you study, but his goodness shines through the stream of formalities.
In the Sunshine Coast we sleep in the truck I used to call home. On the bed is a basket full of more chocolate than I can possibly eat and a belated birthday card from Georgia and Laura. We spend the morning with our toes dipped in an icy creek. The kids hang off Bee and when it’s time to leave Theo cries for him all the way home.
Little things go wrong sometimes – for one thing we’re constantly getting lost – but mostly life is too full and busy and easy to be sad.
I am sitting in a motel pool at Golden Beach with my cousins swimming around me. I run my fingers through their hair as they cuddle up to me. Sommer looks just like I used to. Will I ever feel like the grown up I’m supposed to be? Or a mother? I miss my girl. Bee does too. When we speak to her on the phone we savour everything she says.
In Brisbane we have the best pizza of our lives. We wander down an alleyway and get so swept up in a bustling night market we nearly miss our flight. Next year this place will be a little roadtrip away, what a wonderful thought.
As the plane touches down in my hometown the pilot announces passionately over the loudspeaker, “The Cowboys won!” And a moment later the plane is in uproar, people yelping and applauding. It’s like the very plane is shaking. “Welcome to Townsville,” I tell Bee, as he stares at me in disbelief.
In the taxi we pass my public high school. I tell stories of the days I walked these streets late at night with a gang of other kids, looking for fights or playing spin the bottle in the dim light of somebody’s garage. We pass the shopping centre where I’d walk aimlessly with boyfriends or eat McDonalds with my best friend each Thursday night. Worlds away.
At my mum’s house my little brother leads me through the hallway and shows me a baby sleeping in my sister’s bed. “I’ve had a baby since I saw you last,” he tells me, stone-faced. “You have not,” I say, “where’s the mother?”
“I’m a single dad, she couldn’t handle it.” I’m asking my sister and my mum where the mother is and they just shake their heads, trying to keep straight faces. The baby stirs and as Zake soothes her just like a father would he tells me it’s his housemate’s baby, she’s a young single mum and he spends a lot of time looking after her baby.
The loving way he holds her makes me proud. Just years ago he was little more than a ghost, without the slightest hint of empathy for another human. I’d walk into his bedroom and try to speak to him and it was like I didn’t exist. For years we lived in the same house and I didn’t even know him. I don’t think he knew himself. But that’s a story for another time.
And so, that’s how we ended up with an unrelated baby on our family holiday to Magnetic Island. Sun shining, ocean calling. Surrounded by my nearest family and my love. My sister played her guitar and sung on the beach and I pretended not to pay attention to how beautiful she sounded. We challenged my mum to bananagrams and lost devastatingly every time. I forget all deadlines and expectations and I’m simply there.
On the flight home I look over at Bee fast asleep, he is so familiar to me now. I realise how profoundly my idea of love has changed since he came into my life. I long to go back in time and tell my young self that love doesn’t need to suffocate. I long to go back to tell my mother and my aunts they deserve more. I long to tell every woman in every painful relationship that it doesn’t need to hurt. That love can be good and they deserve good love that nourishes them, not poisons them. We all do.