March, 2015 – Part I
The photo tour begins in Brisbane. It’s only me again and I feel like I can take on the whole world. I spend my first days in cafes organising the chaos to come. The calm before the storm.
At sunrise I wade through the ocean in my overalls photographing a model with horses. At midday Lauren (who is assisting me) dances with me in the middle of a field. In the afternoon I am chasing the sun with Jack Carty and his girlfriend Natasha in return for the logo she illustrated me. Then the sun is gone and I am laughing like mad in the car with all of them. I cannot believe this is my job.
The next day I shoot The Jungle Giants. They all live together in this magical big bohemian house that I get lost in. I am shooting a few shoots every day and sleeping very little. I’m thriving.
Sometimes when I am talking to Alba over the phone we argue, saying “I love you more,” “No, I love YOU more” endlessly and insistently and I know she’s smiling while she says so, just like I am. I’ve recorded videos of me reading her favourite books and telling her how much I love her so she can watch them whenever I’m away.
My friends Sophie & Maddison told me tales about the ways they manifested their loves and I’m curious, so one night I write my own. I write things like: tall, long hair, adventurous, paternal, kind, silly, creative, spontaneous, optimistic, passionate… I close my laptop and lay out on the couch where I’m sleeping and imagine him. ‘I wish I could know you now,’ I think, ‘I wish you could tell me about the way it will all work out.’
In Melbourne I stay in the same house I started the year in. I walk the same streets I walked so many times with Laura, wondering how those days were anything more than a dream.
I’m on the tram to the Palais Theatre, listening to First Aid Kit‘s newest album and grinning. I’ve hardly slept all week but I’ve never felt more awake. Tonight I see them play, but it’s more than that. Klara (the lead singer) emailed me herself asking me to come, telling me she’s been reading my blog for five years now, for as long as I’ve been loving her music.
I am in another world watching them play. Songs that have been a soundtrack to precious moments in my life become real. It is the most wonderful show I’ve ever seen and it ends too soon. Suddenly I am part of the crowd being pushed out onto the street. I want to hug the sisters, to say, “It felt like a dream come true watching you play tonight.” But as I stand out there in the cold dark night I accept I won’t get the chance to.
My phone lights up and it’s an international number calling. When I answer it is Klara. “Come to the side gate,” she says, “I will send someone down to bring you in.” A security guard pulls me through the fans waiting for autographs and into a door leading into darkness. At the top of winding stairs stands Klara and she catches me in a hug. Moments ago I was just a tiny part of a sea of faces watching them play and now she is staring at me saying, “I can’t believe it’s really you.”
I sit cross-legged on the floor and drink champagne with the rest of the crew. I tell stories about the time I was in a gang before I have to go because there’s a boy picking me up on a motorcycle. Klara asks if I’ll join them at the festival they’re playing tomorrow. I say yes, of course.
I am buzzing like never before. My friend Jason is standing by his motorbike on the street below and I am grinning to my ears as I run to him. I throw my arms up in the air and I yell out into the night. I have all this energy; this wild, untamed electricity running through me. Life feels immense. I’d just been drinking champagne backstage with one of my favourite bands. “I must be dreaming!” I say, like the huge dork I am, totally beyond playing it cool. “They really liked me!”
I ride on the back of his bike through the big city. I see it all like I am seeing it for the first time. Skyscrapers reaching the stars, bright lights blurring into a haze all around me, a thousand faces with a thousand stories I’ll never know. We weave through the traffic and my heart beats like crazy in my chest. He drops me home and I curl up like a cat in my bed. My heart slows down just enough to let me sleep.
The next day I am wandering the Golden Plains festival with Klara and Johanna. They are stopped for photos so often that we disappear backstage instead. I am on the stage with them the moment before they step out and in those few fleeting seconds there is a change in the air. Suddenly Klara and Johanna are in tune, like the rest of the world has fallen away for them. Beyond the heavy curtains the grounds are flooded with people. I imagine what it must be like to be out there.
I watch them play from the side stage. It is such a different feeling watching them play as a fan the night before to watching them play as friends now. When the show is over I braid their hair, humming under my breath. “You should come on tour with us in the states,” Klara says, and then I am dreaming of summertime festivals, life on the road and cities I’ve never seen.
We lean against each other on the drive home. We stop at a petrol station and get out to stretch. I take off my shoes to run and then Klara and Johanna do too. We run around the car park after one another; flying, skipping and dancing. The rest of the band watch on amused, all grown men. “It would be sweet to have another girl around when we tour,” Johanna says.
I get home around midnight and discover my key isn’t working to open the gate. I try all I can think of before my fingers grow numb from the cold. The fence is impossible to scale, the family are away camping and my phone is about to die. With my last 1% I send a text to Jason, not sure if it will send or if he will come. I hug my knees to my chest and I wait. My suitcase is in the house and I am flying to Adelaide in the morning, this is bad.
After an hour Jason’s car pulls up and he is my saviour. He says for now there’s nothing we can do but I can sleep at his house and we’ll work it out in the morning. I feel so grateful for the kindness of this boy I didn’t even know yesterday. But I can’t sleep, I’m too worried.
Morning comes and I should be at the airport but I’m not. The family call me. “Silly Nirrimi,” they say, “You didn’t need a key, there’s a latch on the gate.” I’d lived there for three weeks and opened that gate every day and yet I’d completely forgotten and missed a flight, a job and picnic I was hosting. It is so typically hopeless of me that there is nothing I can do but laugh.
I fly into Adelaide later that afternoon and someone waits for me on the other end, holding a bouquet of wildflowers. Her name is Ashleigh and she is a writer. Since this is my first trip to Adelaide she tells me all about this sleepy city while we drive to her home. We drink tea and talk in her overgrown backyard and then settle into bed.
Ashleigh wakes me before sunrise and we sleepily get dressed, packed and into her car. I bring a pillow with me, something I haven’t done since I was a child. We get into the car and begin to drive, a sunrise shoot that begins like any other. We are shooting by the ocean.
The music I am playing is mellow and making us sleepy so I say I’ll put on something more upbeat. I play “Pina Colada” by Jack Johnson, not knowing it’s the last time I will be able to hear it without flashbacks. Very suddenly a 4WD slams into the right side of the car. It seems to happen both in slow motion and all at once. I can feel everything, like it is slamming against me. Reality shifts completely and then when it settles again I realise I can’t breathe. My body isn’t mine anymore. That happy summer song is still playing from my speaker and it sounds morbid. It doesn’t belong here. I am so desperate to turn it off.
Ash is as white as a ghost, her hands still clutching the wheel. “It’s a story,” I tell her. “What?” she asks in disbelief. I continue, “When bad things happen I just think of them as a story and then they’re okay.” She begins to sob and I keep feeling like I shouldn’t be okay. People come and people go from the window and I keep insisting, “I’m okay, I’m okay.” But time doesn’t exist and I don’t exist either. There’s glass in my feet and the blood is bright, the seatbelt has left deep bruises I will feel for weeks, but I feel that I’m okay. The pillow is still at my side, if I didn’t bring it I would have been thrown against the door.
I don’t know how long we wait for the ambulance, it feels like seconds but it isn’t. Firemen cut off the car door. Ash is put in a neck brace and a stretcher and I wish it could have been me injured, not her. There is some weird sense inside me, some curious and unreasonable delight at the idea of coming so close to death and surviving.
At the hospital I become conscious of the fact I’m not really okay. I’m not in a hospital bed but something has shifted in my mind and body. I feel this energy rushing up past my chest and I have to hold my face in my hands and let my body shake, sobbing but not crying. A few times I feel the crash happening all over again and realise how deeply my body aches. I hold Ash’s hand while she cries but I find no words. Her family comes and thankfully she will be okay.
I catch my reflection in a window and I’m startled by myself. It is like seeing someone I really love after a long time apart. I see that I am young and beautiful and very much alive. The crash stripped away my identity and now it’s rushing back.
I call Alba to tell her I love her and when she tells me she loves me back it is like hearing it for the very first time. How sweet and pure she is, how incredible that she exists. I was almost gone today. My life feels as though it has been split in two. The time before the crash and the time after.