Tides.

tides

My father often looked at my mother, like no one else in the world existed.

Their eyes would connect and it was as if they were communicating so much, silently, beyond anything we kids could have understood.

So many times it must have gone over our heads.

Perhaps it was simply a difference in height. Perhaps we were all too preoccupied with moving and growing beneath them as they would lock eyes on each other.

Time stopping only for the two of them, so briefly.

On summer holidays especially, I would sometimes look up and notice this rare magic between them.

I guess because indelibly, everything somehow managed to slow down. The full stretch of the Aussie golden sun over us, as we migrated to the beach, had such a relaxing effect on us all, how could it not.

One beach adventure, in particular, I can think about now like it was yesterday.

I was 8.

Hot bitumen scorched our bare feet as we piled out of the old fiat; hopping from the melted tar onto the hot peppered sand; leaving mum and dad behind, arms loaded with striped beach umbrellas, towels, hats and sunscreen.

Racing ahead only to stop and turn back around whenever Dad would yell ‘slow down.’ I can still see them walking along the track behind us; Dad, kissing mum’s forehead and reaching for her hand. The look he gave her. I didn’t think too much of it then and would only view it as a chance to take off again.

It was never the nearest beach we ventured to either, it was always some out of the way unprotected spot Dad had heard about, usually when he went to get the morning paper at first light. It was predictably one that required a good half hour of trekking through a rainforest to get to, avoiding scrub turkeys and bashing sticks together to ward off brown snakes.

This adventure was no different.

We never swam between the flags as kids. The crowds and the flags were always tiny ants to us, behind a hazy wall of heat billowing off the sand, as we set ourselves up as far away as possible.

We much preferred being kings of our beach.

Lone wolves, with plenty of space to lay down lazily beside each other. We would build castles and forts while adults read books and tanned topless. Balls were kicked to squealing happy kids, fighting to be the one to kick it back.

In this faded memory one thing sticks out; Mum and Dad took the opportunity, with aunties and uncles to watch over us, to head off and walk hand in hand along the shore. Laughing, as they goaded each other; stepping into the frothy white bubbles, from bright green rolls of the saltwater waves.

I sat on my towel, waiting for the sun to dry up the hundreds of droplets on my wet skin. Watching them intently; muscles burning, from fighting against waves moments before, dumping me against sandbars. Muscles, now burning even more, as I sat there. Fighting the urge to jump up and join them.

This was such a unique creature to study. Mum and Dad gazing into each other’s eyes as they laced fingers and walked along the water’s edge. I was so used to them being our adults; our sometimes stressed and cranky adults. They were supposed to function for us and then find all their joy in us too.  It was strange watching them like this and almost made me feel uneasy, that they could be so happy without us.

I watched, until they were ants too. Willing them to hurry up, for their shapes to grow bigger and bigger as they finally returned to me.

I was thinking about that sun ray filled morning as I rested my head against the cool of the concrete wall of the hospital corridor.

The day I found out dad had cancer. I was 35.

I found out before mum did. We all had.

‘Don’t tell your mother, until you all get here,’ we had all been told over the phone.

‘I don’t want her to know until she has you all here to help her through it.’

That was the longest 5-hour drive of my life, one I also never wanted to get to the end of at the same time.

Dad had been in a hospital bed for 3 days. He had been admitted because he had a chronic pain in his side. We thought at worst, it was a gall bladder needing to come out.
But it wasn’t his gall.
It was all over his spine and the pain he felt on his side was from a tumour rubbing against a nerve that stretched from his spine to his stomach.
Suddenly somehow,  4 months have passed by since that day and here I sit, ready to say goodbye to my dad; forever.
Instead of holding hands while splashing and wading into barrels of aqua green; my parents are sitting quietly holding hands amongst the grey and the tubes. This strange creature has me feeling more than uneasy.

We have sat in cold, sterile corridors of 3 different hospitals in the 4 months since he was first admitted.
We continue to fail at really understanding any of it.
My mother especially.
I have noticed, as much as their fingers are often laced; entwined; welded tight around each others, over the past 4 months and my mother has completely fallen into the role of caring for my father; they fail to really look at each other.

To look into each other’s eyes like they had so magically before.

I know though, mum is too scared to. Keeping her head down, busily fussing over the sheets and the meals and the bruises on dad’s legs he can no longer feel. This keeps it all from being anywhere near truth and so this also keeps dad’s anxiety at bay too.

Even today. His final day, we still believed there was hope. He could improve; get better; come back to us. His shape would move closer and closer. We foolishly did not consider any other option, despite how close the tide lapped at our feet.
I was so angry with how fast it all happened. How unfair it was that no matter what piece of hope and positivity we landed on, we were cruelly robbed of it bit by bit.

Once cancer was diagnosed, we went to the place everyone does.

‘We will fight it, you will be fine Dad and you will be up and home in no time’.

Then it was his legs, the brutal cruelness of him being told he may never walk again.

‘We can work it out Dad, as long as we get through this. Who cares about a wheelchair, we just want you to survive.’

Then, when it had reached his lungs within months and life support became another wave that dumped upon me in the story. We begged for him to make it through the night, to just get through one night. ‘Fine’ we said to whoever was listening, ‘we will take 5 more years, even 3…just please let him wake up.’

When he did wake up, we were told he was too weak and there was nothing more they could do unless he got stronger and fought and improved some.

‘OK’, we said indignantly, ‘can we move him to palliative care, so he is comfortable’.

“It is too late for that,” they quietly replied a few days later, no eye contact, heads down.

We settled on the only thing we could do for my dad, with the tiny piece of hope left; as tiny as a sea shell. We would buy him a quilt to brighten his room and make what was happening as cosy as possible, for us more than him, I now see.

So while I hurled myself down the aisle of the bedding shop so sure if I just picked the right quilt everything was going to be OK, my phone rang.

I was told to come back to the hospital, the time had come.

The universe took the last trace of hope and there was nothing left but to face what was happening. It stole it all from us and dumped us with it over and over again as we thrashed around in the nightmare that was this undertow, turning us upside down as we tried so hard to swim to the top and gasp for air.

I sit while we wait.

He now has no machines to assist him and we have to watch him like a wounded bird with rattling breath as he slowly fades before us. Cheeks no longer rosy pink.

He has been given morphine to make it as peaceful and painless as possible, but even this seems to have been robbed from us, as he struggles and fights more than he should be right now. I worry they have not given the correct dose. I worry nothing will ever be right again.

It is the hardest thing my eyes have ever had to see.  What concurrently is happening in this room, in this surreal space, is also the most beautiful.

Because once again my parents are looking at each other as if they were the only 2 people to ever exist. For the hours that drifted that day away from us, dad had his eyes locked only on my mother.

As she moved around his hospital room, his gaze did not waiver.

My Dad slowly left us, in that room, that day. Before he did though, their eyes connected, their fingers of each hand welded tight, a whisper from each other’s faces. I felt like I was having an out of body experience. Not only our whole lives and memories filling my head, but my parents and their definition here before me of true, complete love.

Eyes locked, mum was there with him as much as she could be; her gaze slowly softening the fear in his desperate eyes until they finally were no longer.

I like to think in that moment, they were both on that sparkling warm beach again.

Dad taking mums hand and kissing her on her forehead.

Waves, gently kissing their feet.

Their children’s giggles echoing behind them.

Eyes only for each other, always.

Em xx

Torn (in a Natalie Imbruglia kinda way).

I came across some old journals at the back of my closet the other day. The kind from my 20’s that had me shuddering in horror and turning bright red. Once I finished reading them I hugged them none-the-less, and carefully placed them back, like an offering to an ancient shrine.

It took me back to a time I hadn’t given a second thought to in many years. Back to someone from my past, who I used to spend a lot of my early 20’s thinking about obsessively, naively….

The first time I shrugged his irritating hand from my shoulder I was on a crowded dance floor; under flashes of coloured light. Black dress; eyes sparkling; head spinning.

A brief hostile connection, in the middle of a grungy, underground pub. What a dive.

Paint had peeled off the cracked, yellow, smoked stained walls and feet stuck to the once bright red carpet, now melted black from drunken shoes scuffing their way around sweaty, lithe bodies.

I was in my third year living in the city I had moved to.

My first year of having a job, selling travel. On my own trip of power, with a head set, red lips and dark bangs.

I don’t even know where the anger came from that night.

It felt exactly the way I imagine pots must feel as they boil.

It launched at the base and slowly bubbled its way up to my throat, before I could do nothing but glare at him with detestation and the dark bangs. I remember it as I do, because of how confused I felt with my reaction. I actually liked him a lot, maybe too much. More than I could handle.

We first met in a parallel setting months before. On a crowded dance floor; summer heat radiating off the walls and the floors. Bodies sticky with sweat once again. My girlfriend and I had taken haven under a giant industrial fan, as we sipped our drinks and checked our red lips. I didn’t even notice him approach me before he had. Suddenly he was just there.  Smiling wide, shirt loud, voice soft.

The Hawaiian Palm Trees on his shirt and the effects of the drink in my hand, had me feeling brave enough to say what did I have to lose? I ignored my girlfriend’s eyes rolling all around, upset that he had dared talk to us. I could do nothing but focus on his warm eyes and smile at his certitude. He told me he had been watching me from afar for a while. I had been noticed; admired. He had a crush, just like the movies.

The rest, as they say is history.

Not quite.

That first night ended in him throwing tiny rocks at my bedroom window yes, but our time together over the following years ended with him throwing gigantic rocks at my heart, just as determinedly.

The weeks after the window, he serenaded me with a guitar and song. He showed up in odd moonlit places, on shoes with retractable tiny wheels, like skates..not quite.

Every word, every smile, every tap on my shoulder; It was clear, he was falling. My inexperience and fear had me fighting against the magic of it all. So I pulled away. I did what all 13 year old’s trapped inside 20 year old’s bodies do.

I ran for the hills and I hid. I told him ‘no’ a million times over, while inside I was screaming ‘yes’.

I didn’t understand the complex feelings and sensations burning through my body.

The way it sizzled under my skin.

The world faded away, blurred almost whenever he appeared; like a drug. There had been other boys, but nothing quite like this.

The way I would always watch for him to enter a crowded room. It was more than just a dull butterfly’s flutter; it was electric and intense and without my headset and supervisors badge, I had no idea how to control it.

That is why suddenly, in the middle of a grungy dance floor, black dress and dark bangs.. despite wanting to yell at the top of my lungs that I wanted to run away with him and live happily ever after. I instead flicked his hand away and yelled at him to leave my shoulder and my heart alone.

Despite this latest display of my indignant efforts, inevitably, we would always end up somewhere, intertwined. A chemical reaction I could never douse.

Until, it was all gone, just as suddenly. He stopped tapping my shoulder; stopped making my skin burn.

The initial game grew mundane for him. The chase was over. The rabbit caught.

He was suddenly too busy for a relationship; too focused on work. Having me whenever he wanted me, he was able to insist on casual connections. He went from being him, to being me, and I went from being me…to being him in a cat and mouse state. The only difference being he wasn’t confused, he knew what he wanted now and it wasn’t a love story with me. I also wasn’t confused, I knew what I wanted now..and it was the love story with him.

I persisted.

I forced it to last years beyond it’s shelf life; confident I could change his mind. The game of it all consumed me and the drug of his love the ultimate reward. I tapped much harder on his shoulder each time. I longed to feel it all again and I regretted every moment I had pushed it all off the dancefloor. I was happy to take whatever scraps he wanted to throw my way…dignity dropped on the floor as quickly as our clothes.

It is such a funny thing to look back on now. How young. How foolish. How desperately in love I thought I was. I have pages and pages of Dear Diary’s to prove it.

To me it was the complete turning of the world on its axis, that I was suddenly doing all the hard yards; the chasing. I know that is so clearly what I got caught up in.

He wasn’t magic. He was smoke and mirrors.

I don’t even know why I have chosen to remember it all as I have, as I am sure it was all uglier than I now recall some 15 years later.

Oh what a lucky girl I am to have ended up here. I could still be out there roaming the streets on my matching skates searching for him, thinking I loved him.

Begging him to tap me on my shoulder in a crowded room, if I promised not to snap at his fingers.

Real romance was discovered eventually of course, as the story often goes. A complete explosion of chemistry and fireworks and happily ever after, smiles and deep love in front of fans, and on sweaty dance floors, skating around the streets holding hands. Red lipped still (always) but now drunk on proper love. The kind that gives back a million times over. With blue sparkly eyes, and a smile that melts me still.

To think back now on what I thought I knew.

If only I could see what was on it’s way, to know that a spectacular, fulfilled love life was ahead of me.

I don’t actually regret a single thing at all, as I am sure you wouldn’t either. Well ..maybe I do.

I wish I had of let things go when it was time to. Dignity still in tact.

Maybe I also wish I had of spent more time on dance floors with girlfriends; instead of under gigantic fans checking my makeup, talking to no-hopers in Hawaiian shirts.

Windmill arms and Destiny’s Child mandatory.

Em xoxo

The Bottom of the Hill.

Hills and more hills as far as the eye can see.

On the outskirts of town, they ebb and they flow. Looking like a far off distant land you could easily explore and conquer like a Burke and Wills expedition.

Why is it you feel like screaming and crying and dying as you walk up a hill, wanting to stop every breath, every step, but as soon as you stretch your whole body and reach the top, you feel like a queen; an athlete; a champion! Adrenalin pumping through all of the pulsing, hilly veins inside. Wanting to feel this way forever. Hooked.

When my mum was my age, she had birthed and mothered four children. She was in the midst of a life running a household containing a 15-year-old, a 14-year-old, a 10-year-old and a 4-year-old.

She had at 37, already lived in a shack my parents had built with their own hands as newlyweds, on the side of a hill, in the middle of nowhere.

Their first year of marriage and they had no electricity, no indoor toilet a new baby and snakes and spiders to contend with. She was 21. On the side of a hill.

They then went on and raised the rest of their brood, on a huge, flat, dusty property with a long, long dirt driveway. She handled it all bravely. The kids, the cows, the dust, the wheat crops and dad..worrying about the rain, the drought and making ends meet. Despite the flatness there she could still look out across the plains and see hills on the horizon, warily keeping an eye on them – closer then she wanted them to be. She was focused on staying strong and keeping a household running, she had no time to enjoy ups or wallow in downs so she kept charging on and planted her life firmly where it was flat.

I have wondered lately how she coped with it all? She did not have cafe dates with girlfriends, cocktails or book clubs, hiking or wine tasting weekends…or the freedom to throw a tantrum and hurl herself under a mountain of doona to Netflix and chill.

So it is her that I think about now, on the edge of that hill of hers. Her and that incredible strong will, as I face plant my bed and give up.

As I dig my way through all of my hills and tell them to all go to hell.

I am sick of the climb, sick of hurting as I scrape my skin from my legs – only getting half way up before I slide down again in the rubble and rocks and muck, sore from straining my neck to look up and see where I long to be.

I have had enough, so today I quit. I give up, resigning myself to the fact it is too hard to reach the top.

I am sick of the injections, the nausea, the headaches, the cramps, the negatives, the scans, people mourning, dying, leaving my job and trying to stay positive; more scans, more injections, turning around and pregnant bellies and newborn babies everywhere swirling around me, not knowing who I am or where I should be; up the hill, down the hill, round the hill? I am sick of the waiting. Waiting until I am suddenly told I am over the hill and it is too late.

So today I am going to just quit and surround myself with soft hills of pillows and bedding filled with feathers. Diving into doonas, hugging hot water bottles and a call to my mum today because the hill is shitty and she will tell me what to do.

Maybe next week I will feel like I can strap my hiking boots back on ready to go forth again. Maybe I will be surprised by how light those heavy boots suddenly feel.

Maybe by then I will look out across the Autumn afternoon and feel OK when I see those hills on the horizon.

Thinking about how at least I am not on the side of one of them, doing a wee in the dark.

 

Em xoxo

Treasures.

Before there was all of this and things were hard. Before I moved through life tactically and knew about pressure.

There was a large, clunky dress-up trunk, at the back of the sun-soaked kindergarten room.

It had dents in it.

Dents made from my young teacher I now suppose.

As she pulled and pushed it to do something amazingly romantic perhaps – fleeing a Budapest bedsit in the middle of the night, where a lover slept soundly.

Catching a plane, then a train to a dusty country town for a new start. A chance to disappear into something other than herself. Resting it down gently, filled with old costumes, in the midst of my class-roomed world.

 I remember the buttery warmth across the mostly brown room, like yesterday. The trunk itself was often covered with cushions and pillows and packed up tight, which made it always seem even more of a treasure trove; a mystical box that my little hands itched to dive into at all times. When all tasks were done and colours were kept in between lines, Miss Eveleigh gave me the nod I needed.

Silent indications that it was finally time for me to carefully – almost reverently, make my way to that box before anyone else thought twice about it.

A chance to disappear into something other than me.

Children around me picked up fireman hats and stethoscopes, teachers glasses and astronaut suits.

Maybe I should have to.

Instead, I reached like always for the thick, heavy faded wedding gown and fell into it. Dancing around in complete bliss.

I remember it was so scratchy on my skin and so billowy and so big, it was hard to walk in a straight line without stumbling over.

I always picked up a doll; my baby – and felt that was that; ambition recognised. The dress, the kid. I had it all. This was where things were going. Children around me pretending to be surgeons and pilots.

Perhaps I should have to.

Then maybe right now I would be able to breathe in. To not feel the weight of the pressure of a clock booming in my head. To not feel my next birthday approaching like a roaring jumbo jet inbound from Budapest. In the middle of the night, my body dented from pushing and pulling it all around to get where I need to be.

I am running out of time, I can feel myself drowning in layers and layers of white lace and billowy fabric, clutching on to imaginary babies for dear life.

To discover you only have a finite time to turn make-believe real; a hard punch to not fall down in a heap from. To realise it may not happen, makes me wish I never wanted it at all. In my head, I now have 2 years left. 2 years to find the treasure, the trunk and pull all I want from it.

What an unrealistic time frame I have managed to set myself.

What a time for wishing I could easily disappear into something other than this.

Why am I suddenly a 37-year-old pirate digging for treasure?

Em

xoxo

Push.

There is beauty lurking in strange places.

Between the dark cracks if you look hard like I do.

I love that feeling you get when you catch it, even more than finding beauty in something obvious.

Like a sunbeam caught in a glass jar. Snatched.

Observing something awkward, deceptively ugly. The immense beauty of the moment bubbles; surfaces and washes over. I could immerse myself in that feeling forever and a day.

I used to feel like a strange, little oddball as I secretly stole beauty and loveliness from something not so nice. Almost like a show just for me that no one else could see.

To stand on my tippy-toes and peak through the back fence when I was so small and watch out for much prettier things than the old drunk man next door, moonshine flowing whenever the moon was shining.

The dirt road and the train tracks and the cows mooing back at me. To find the little purple flowers shooting up from the gold hay. To see the crotchety drunk man’s wife patting his hand as they sat on the porch together, listening to music and remembering a time before there were broken, empty bottles at their feet.

To see a chime catching in the sunlight by a window even but for a moment, while yelling and hissing and hurting falls down around you.

A warm smile between the bleach and the tubes and machines and the dying of a cold grey hospital room.

I find it odd that I see these little tiny things, in moments when I shouldn’t. I also find myself looking around at everyone else to see if they see it too, excited by the notion that they must have caught at least a glimpse.

I can’t help but notice the way my husband’s eyes have flecks of green amidst the blue when he is exasperated by me. The way he has a teeny, tiny triangle-shaped wrinkle on his forehead when he is angry. It makes me want nothing more than to kiss it a thousand times over.

The plump, wrinkled lady with silvery hair, on a thick November day at the beach. Slipping and sliding all over a paddle-board to some may be funny; bulbous, and ugly. To me though it is pure poetry. Her sparkling eyes and her confidence as she decides to choose fun over vanity and learn a new trick. Steadying herself, soft tanned skin showing many years of salt and sand. Pulling herself through the crisp, cool water. Waves sparkling like her eyes in the glow of the sluggish, low afternoon sun. So much beauty in that laugh as she slaps down in the water. Complete delight and oblivion.

I have watched so much gorgeous, soft light cast across an autumn afternoon; Even more beautiful though as it lingers over a movie screen, whilst a frantic protagonist is in the midst of love leaving. Who fights and claws to stop it all falling to the ground. Doing and saying anything to not leave this space in time without her. Yanking and pulling at her as she stands rigid and numb and completely spent. With nothing left to give. That moment – so devastating to them; completely takes my breath away. And I don’t really understand why.

So here I find myself, sitting. Sunlight through the window; my husband’s wrinkled brow and flecks beside me, he is concentrating, I am not.

I see nothing beautiful in this moment and it is the most important moment for it to be.

I search for it, easily distracted by my hunt as I completely tune out to what the nurse is detailing in a monotone voice. Anything pretty and magical on the walls? On the desk? In the diagrams, she is flicking through? Only more monotone and grey. And fear.

I cannot muster any kind of romance or dreaminess from the blood tests and the injections and the uncertainty. I don’t even like the air in the room. It is like I am on a conveyor belt, a doll missing a part and I am being pushed along with different hands seeing if they can fix me in time before it is all too late and I get shoved onto the heap.

We are then pushed into another room. This time it is painted a depressing yellow – I never knew until now, how depressing yellow can be. Here surrounded by buttercup, more ugly information is fed to us both. My husband and his flecks nodding and asking all the right things as I dart my eyes around this new space. Nothing to savour here either. Robotic empathy and a nervous tick, is all I see.

Until we are pushed back out again and I close the car door with a thud and remember what we are doing this all for.

Until my husband’s hand takes mine. This is why we are together. Because he knows I long for beauty in between the cracks and he shows it to me. Pulling me along until I get to where I long to be.

As corny as it sounds, it always seems to work.

Em xoxo