My mum and sister come to visit. One night I stay up late talking to Pixie and she tells me her own stories of abuse at the hands of someone she loved. She seems so sure of herself, so strong. She tells me it doesn’t really affect her now. It didn’t for me either, at first. Maybe it’s because I’m in a safe place now that I can feel the depth of what happened.
I hold my hand over her belly, feeling my cousin kick. I love this baby and it terrifies me a little. I’m always trying to keep space between my family so the distance doesn’t hurt so much. Little Ember. I pack a bag full of baby clothes and a nice carrier for her. My heart hurts softly. These are the things I’d packed away for my next baby. I’m not sure if that will happen for me. Maybe that’s okay.
I walk through the Newtown graveyard with my mother and little sister Pixie. Mum tells us stories of her youth. I imagine her at my age as totally free in the world. Reading the books at the bookstore where she worked, writing poetry in her journal from park benches and having love affairs with all kinds of interesting people. It hurts me to think of what she faced from my father and stepfather after that, the challenge of raising my little brother in a world that didn’t understand him and then losing him.
Cracks In Everything
One day Bee and I are driving around our soon-to-be suburb when we pass a little cafe and plant store. We stop the car to look inside. I spot creative studios downstairs. I ask about them, out of curiosity really, it feels like a wild and distant dream to have my own space. “Actually, there’s someone wanting to rent a desk space out in her studio,” someone tells me. I write down my email on a piece of paper. I thank the universe.
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.
Alone in a Crowd
The sun browns my skin and paints me in freckles. Alba too, her nose is the tiniest and most wonderful constellation of freckles I’ve ever seen. She lays beside me and we just look at each other’s faces. She calls it eye time. She always filled our days with declarations of love and gratitude. Each time I overhear her telling Bee how much she loves him, I wrap it up and tuck it safely in my heart.
Here & There
The rain comes and goes. We dance. We watch an outdoor film about the invasion and I feel ashamed for my white ancestors and furious for my indigenous ancestors. A girl paints my cheeks with glitter. We find friends and warm ourselves by the fire. I feel like I’m floating in a warm sea, totally at peace.
It’s easy to forget that I am a mother and imagine I’m just like the others here in their early twenties. I enjoy telling people about Alba, I pull out my phone and show them the photo of her I’ve set as my background. It’s the one where she’s bursting into laughter while she’s pretending to meditate.
Coast to Coast
Winter fades and spring blooms. There are flowers everywhere and we pick them to fill jars on our dining table and to tuck into our hair. I love doing the washing. The smell of the wet clean clothes and later taking them down still warm from the sun. The laundry has become a darkroom, chemicals sit on the window sill and film is strung up to dry.
I dance with Laura to these songs that encapsulate heartbreak and we feel it because we’ve felt it. When Lorde leaves the stage, I realise she never sung Alba’s favourite song and I hold Alba’s hand and I tell her I’m sorry she didn’t hear it this time. The crowd is loud. Screaming and whistling for an encore. And on she comes, beautiful Ella in a sparkling dress all alone, to sing Alba’s favourite.
The bedroom is full of hanging streamers and balloons up to my knees. On the bed is a big silver box filled with gifts. There’s a 70’s film camera I wanted with a promise from Bee to develop all my film himself. There’s a replacement for my favourite (broken) mug and an Alain de Botton novel. There’s a film camera for Alba and a picture book, the next in the series he bought her when we first met. Best of all is a photo album heavy with photographs Bee has taken on our adventures, with handwritten captions.
Mornings are a treasure buried in the night. I know that if I can just hold out until the sun rises it will all be okay. There’s Alba with her singsong voice, waking me up. There’s uniforms to be dressed in, breakfast to be made, lunch to be packed. The chatter of the kids in the backseat, the conversations and laughter with Georgia. The potential of blank hours waiting to be filled with meaningful work and daily errands.
But as I stare at the walls now, bare once more; it’s okay. I understand it. This insect I caught in my glass jar was never mine to keep. No one is really ours to keep. I listened to a podcast about the way we project things onto those we love to make them perfect for us. We paint people with our own desires and hopes. But the paint has been peeling off for a while now and although beneath Bee is just as wonderful as I ever knew he was, he isn’t perfect. Because the truth is there is no such thing.
My Kind Of Magic
Laura is directing a film in Sydney and hires me to take stills. For a weekend I’m that girl again, the one with a camera around her neck and the ability to instantly connect to strangers. Being on a set is both slow and exciting. I shoot in tiny pockets of time and wear my heart on my sleeve. The crew becomes a family.
One night I get gelato with Philippe, the lead actor from the film. We’re walking through Newtown and it begins to rain so we throw our arms out to catch the raindrops. The sky is bright purple and pink. We’re both cradling broken hearts but for a few hours we forget.
Ritual was an integral part of our ancestor’s lives. We were connected to the sacred and to the Earth in ways we can no longer understand. But it’s still there inside us. We’re hardwired to respond to ritual. The first time I cast that spell I wondered if that impulsive feeling came from my ancestry. Like a switch had been turned on.
I remember being the weird kid at school. The 9 year old who shaved her head to eschew feminine stereotypes, genuinely believed she was a mermaid in a past life and invented her own mythologies. Then I lost my magic, I hid it all inside myself so I could fit in. Now I’m slowly finding it again.
Losing My Little Brother
I began shooting with Mary, the writer who’d hired me and my camera. A girl with long blonde hair, so tall her head was forever in the clouds. We were catching a bus to shoot in Oxford. I remember that bus ride, music in my ears and a blooming feeling in my chest for all the travel to come. I’ve always found such joy on buses and trains and planes just daydreaming.
Beginnings & Endings
I stand on the balcony. I can feel the cool breeze, the heat of the sun and smell the trees so clearly. Everything looks the same and yet everything is different. I have walked into a portal and stepped out into another dimension. I walk compulsively over the planks of wood on our deck, back and forth and back and forth. Careful to keep my feet between the lines.
The Weight of a Big Heart
This thought stays with me. How often do I daydream about those ‘perfect’ days when Alba was a baby or the idyllic days of my youth? How often do I hold my raw present reality up against my romanticised past or future and long to be there? The truth is life is never perfect and one day I’ll be nostalgically longing for now so I might as well embrace it.
Dancing with Fear
I recognise the fire in Alba’s eyes, I think she has more than I ever did. She’s spirited and stubborn but if she sees that I'm down she will kiss me so tenderly and sing to me until I smile. In the hard moments it can be difficult to find gratitude, but when I do, it’s all there is.
I spend a lot of time daydreaming. One of my dreams is myself on a stage (just a little one, perhaps at a bookstore or a market) wearing a white dress and velvet flares, cradling an old guitar and singing songs I have written. Maybe people stop to listen, maybe they don’t. But I am there, bare and unafraid. Another dream is passing a bookstore and seeing a book I have written in the window.