I’m in Perth and it’s the last place on earth I want to be. The only person I know here is the one person I can’t see. I’m supposed to be letting go of this love but where is it supposed to disappear to? I have been carrying it for most of the past year now, growing used to the weight.
I am sleeping on stranger’s couches where I wake from nightmares forgetting what city or whose house I’m in. I’m going through the motions of life without really feeling any of it. Alba’s Papa has moved to this isolated city now. I will too, for Alba, but I feel so far away from everything and everyone I know.
I go to the sea. As I dive into the waves I am stripped of all weight. I am nothing but now. I remember what it is to feel whole, to not be sad. I swim out far enough that no one can hear me. “Why the hell are you being like this?” I demand of myself, “There is so much more to life than him. Look at how incredible this world is. You’re alive and healthy and tomorrow you’ll see Alba. Stop wasting life being sad when there’s so much to be happy about.”
I’m wrapped in a towel watching dolphins jump through the same waters that had just held me. There are birds in the trees above drowning the world in song. Everything is bathed in the pink, orange and purple of the setting sun. This city doesn’t seem so bad right now. For the afternoon, everything is just fine.
I wake up to a hopelessness so great I can hardly leave the bed. I don’t want to feel like this but the misery seems so much bigger than I am. I am supposed to meet this landscape photographer, Chris Beecroft, for ice cream today. I found him on instagram when a photographer I follow posted that he was Perth’s hidden gem and I knew he had to be special. But I cancel and say I’m too heartbroken. He offers to cheer me up but he’s a stranger to me and I just want to be alone.
When I was a child I used to do spells. Just little rituals I made up. I write down my wish to feel happy again and for my heart to heal. I burn it along with a sacrifice; a special page from my journal.
I am sitting in the backyard and the wind is throwing the trees to and fro. The paper is slowly eaten up by the fire. It feels like something immense is happening. My gut tells me it will take 3 days to work. 3 is my lucky number.
My skepticism battles with the faith I’ve put in the spell but my faith wins because it feels better to believe something might change. The heaviness has lifted. And besides, could I be miserable when Alba is the most brilliant little girl I’ve ever known? Not in the way that I am her Mama and I have to think so, but genuinely. She tells stories all day long, lost in imaginary worlds. Even when she’s wild I have to admire her spirit.
Then the third day comes to a close uneventfully and I realise I’ve been naive to think something would happen. That my heartache would just magically disappear because I’ve burned some paper. I feel like an idiot. A child discovering magic isn’t real after all. As the shadows threaten to close in on me again I say to the girls I am staying with, “Let’s do something. Let’s go somewhere.” I am running away before I’m swallowed up again.
We catch the bus to a place called Little Creatures. We get dinner and drink cider. Alba is playing with her newfound friends and I’m smiling as she coerces them into playing animals on the floor. I’m forgetting all about my heart beating broken in my chest or the spell I burned days ago, in fact it all seems rather dramatic and silly now.
I check my phone and I have a message from Chris (I’ll call him Bee from here-on in, it became his nickname in the beginning and it’s how I know him). I barely know anything about him but I have the sudden urge to meet him. I figure I should make friends here if I’m going to call this city home. He says he’ll come. My friends are going to the city to play a gig and they leave as he arrives.
So often it’s the unexpected beauty that hits me the hardest. Like watching a black bird lift its wings to take flight and seeing the brightest red feathers flash beneath them, or seeing a single flower growing amongst tangles of weeds, or glancing up at a glittering night sky in the middle of nowhere after months of blank city skies.
This is what happens when I see Bee. His beauty doesn’t seem suddenly or conventionally obvious but it does hit me. There is this brightness in his eyes, this wild and curious spark that says the child inside him has never grown up. He has messy blonde hair to his shoulders and he dresses like no one I’ve ever met. His voice is deep, part Australian and a little British.
He asks me a million questions. The kind of questions your best friend asks you at 2am. Questions ordinary people don’t bother with. He listens to each of my answers like I am the only person in the world. Then he speaks about his projects just like I do, fervently, like every word can’t come soon enough.
Alba’s sleepy and so I say I’d better get home to put her to bed. Bee walks me to the bus stop while I carry her. I tell him about my heartbreak quite seriously and the moment he makes me laugh about the whole sorry situation I think, who the heck is this boy that can make me laugh more in one night than I have in weeks? We are talking and laughing so much we miss the street and then my bus.
“Let me drive you home,” Bee says. There’s a carseat in his car that belongs to his nephew. He speaks about him so affectionately it has my thoughts running away from me. While we drive I get a text from the girl I am staying with letting me know I can’t stay the next night. It’s our last night in Perth before we visit family in Sydney. I’m worried and I say so and Bee says, “Stay with me, I live in a big house with two sweet Jazz musicians, you will love them. I’ll set up a room for you and Alba.”
When I get home and tuck Alba into bed I am glowing. That is the only word for it. I can’t stop smiling. This connection seems so sudden and unexpected. No one in my life makes me feel the way he does and I barely know him yet. I fall asleep as day three comes to a close and I don’t even realise that my wish has been answered. Coincidence or not.
His house is old with wooden floorboards and a big botanical illustration on the wall. He’s borrowed a box of toys for Alba to play with and we all make music together. I think about how if it wasn’t for missing that bus the night before I wouldn’t be here. How so many little things lead to big things.
Bee speaks like he is caught in the wrong decade. All ‘shall’ and ‘nonsense’ and ‘rather’ and words I’ve never heard anyone say aloud before. His roots are in England but he’s spent half of his life here. I keep watching him when he isn’t looking. He’s got a red mark across his nose where it’s broken and his cheeks flush in the cold. I think he’s beautiful.
Bee has a big collection of film cameras and when Alba sees them her eyes light up. She announces to us all that she has a camera shop. Bee’s friends come over and she sells each of us cameras. She calls herself the camera lady and she is very serious about her business. Everyone is laughing.
I put Alba to bed and we all play board games. Midnight arrives and they leave. I sit on his couch feeling small. I am longing to know how warm his skin is, what he smells like, what goes through his mind late at night. I want to hear all of his stories, even the terrible ones. I like him, but I’m not sure if he likes me. I worry that maybe he’s just friendly or maybe he won’t think of me like that because I am a mama.
I am quiet, just sitting there, but my mind is frantic because it’s getting late and if I don’t say something soon the moment will be lost. I’m not usually this nervous. Then he’s going to bed and my moment is gone. I’m about to leave too when he asks me where I’d like to sleep and I know just what he means and I play it cool but oh, inside I am grinning like a maniac.
One side of his room is just keyboards and music equipment. It smells like my favourite incense. He has lots of plants. Being close to him like this must be the best thing there is. His eyes hold little blue galaxies and his smile reaches the edges of his face. He makes me laugh so much I have to laugh into the pillow so I don’t wake his housemates. I feel so lucky to be there, hearing him whisper into the dark, feeling his fingers draw across my skin.
He tells me about the time he made animations every day as a child, the time he made his living playing drums in a cover band, the time he studied architecture, the time he made a business out of drawing chalk murals and how he funds his photography adventures with odd jobs like delivering pizzas and graphic design. I tell him I’ll never see pizza boys the same way. He tells me a story about the time he almost died on the peak of a snowy mountain in New Zealand because he hiked up wearing very little and I tell him he’s stupid but I’m laughing.
I kiss his eyelids, his broken nose, his cheeks and then he holds my face and kisses me back. An ocean rolls over me. The sun begins to rise. I crawl into bed with Alba. In my journal I write: “I want a lifetime of sleepless nights with you. Yesterday you were a stranger, tonight you were my world.”
He takes Alba & I out for gelato before our flight. Alba picks flowers as we walk, as she often does. She hands one to me and one to Bee. He’s different with her than people normally are. He doesn’t treat her like a child or try to make her like him, he treats her like a friend.
When we’re walking through the airport I imagine we are actually going somewhere exciting together rather than parting ways just hours after connecting like this. It feels unfair but I don’t say so, I don’t know yet if this is anything more than just a night.
I replay last night over and over during our flight and our train trip. My niece picks us up from the station. It’s a steep, rocky drive through the bush and I like being thrown around. We get out at her house at the top of the hill and it is so peaceful. The air is so clean I could drink it. Around us is green forest, a miniature city and an ocean disappearing off the edge of the world.
Every night in this peaceful place is the same. Alba falls asleep to me reading to her and I slide out of bed into the cold night, slip on my jacket and make my way out the back door. I stand on the dewy grass of the hill outside, under the stars so sharp and bright out here in the bush, and I call Bee. Those first few rings always drip with anticipation. “Good evening Nirrimi Joy,” he says, in the loveliest voice I’ve ever heard and I disappear for hours.
We ask each other question after question as though we’re studying one another. The more I learn about this boy, the harder I fall for him. This distance and the taste of our one night together makes our connection seem almost unreal.
“I think I might have a crush on you,” I eventually tell him, holding my breath.
“Well I have a crush on you too.” he laughs, as though it doesn’t need to be said at all. My heart skips like highschool all over again.
Bee is driving north to a place called the Bungle Bungles. The journey will take him weeks and for many days at a time he won’t have reception. We talk all through the night before he goes, both of us already feeling the weight of the silent days to come.
Alba spends most of her day playing with her second cousin Seth and I’m editing image after image by the fire. The tour and campaign left me with mountains of editing work and tight deadlines. Sometimes I look at my to-do list and feel ill. When I finally finish I scoop Alba up into the air and we dance in celebration.
We visit a waterfall and Alba sits on my lap as we watch. It is the same water that fills her bath each night. We see ponies in a nearby field and she reaches out a timid hand to stroke their noses. Every day she reminds me that the world is still full of wonder.
My family talk about building a cabin up here where me and Alba can live and I’m touched by their love. But our home is already decided. I watch the flames dancing in the bonfire late at night and my soul is still, more still than I can remember. I can feel all the good to come and it fills me up with hope. Heartbreak feels distant now.