Perth chills me to my bones the moment I step off the plane. It’s made much colder by Bee’s absence. At his house I trace his words on the love letter left behind on the desk. I think of how he was right here in this very chair only days ago writing it. By now he is many towns away, making his way across Australia. I water his plants and I curl up in the empty bed. I can’t get warm. This is what I get for dating a landscape photographer.
Dread finds me and it lays itself over me like a thick blanket. I get Alba back tomorrow. I miss Alba but I don’t have a home for us yet. I can’t stay here while Bee is gone. I feel so unsettled and lost. I’m longing to talk to Bee but when he adventures he rarely has reception. I call Alba’s Papa. As I explain how hopeless I feel I begin to cry. He calms me and says I can stay at his house while he stays with a friend. By the time I hang up things are okay.
IT HASN’T BEEN SO LONG BUT I NOTICE NEW FRECKLES FORMING ACROSS HER NOSE AND HER GOLDEN CURLS TAKING ON A LIFE OF THEIR OWN, JUST LIKE MINE USED TO.
His place is small but it’s a home and it’s right by the heart of Fremantle. Alba is so happy to have me back, she’s running around showing me and telling me all kinds of things with this big contagious smile on her face. It hasn’t been so long but I notice new freckles forming across her nose and her golden curls taking on a life of their own, just like mine used to.
This will be the hardest bit, I think. I just have to get through these weeks and then the next time I have her I’ll have a home and we’ll have Bee and we’ll feel settled.
Sometimes raising a toddler is wonderful. While I’m showering Alba kisses me through the glass door, time stands still as her little lips press against mine on the other side. She says “I love you,” and tells me I’m beautiful often and out of nowhere. She is a cat meowing and crawling through the grocery store. She is a princess collecting flowers for a party. She is a dragon hiding in her cave beneath the sheets.
Often, after bedtime stories are finished and we’re cuddling in bed she’ll apologizes. “I’m sorry for being grumpy at you today,” she’ll say, or, “I’m sorry for breaking the glass.” And I’ll hug her extra tightly and tell her I understand that she feels a lot, because I feel a lot too. It must be hard to be three.
But sometimes it is challenging. One day we go the markets. She is being so sweet and mamahood feels just the way I’d imagined. I tell Alba she can choose anything she likes for lunch and she chooses a salad. But when she takes the first bite she realizes it’s spicy. She reacts by pushing it away and it falls from the table across the ground. She is screaming and crying in my arms and the market is packed. I’m trying to get her to drink some water but she pushes that away too and it spills across me.
I IMAGINE THEY ARE JUDGING MY YOUTH AND MY MOTHERING AND MY DAUGHTER AND I’M TRYING NOT TO CRY BUT SUDDENLY I CAN’T HELP IT. SO THERE I AM IN THE MIDDLE OF A BUSY MARKET IN TEARS WITH MY TODDLER SCREAMING AT MY FEET.
I’m trying to calm her and everyone is staring at us. Alba is so loud and it’s just me and if only someone would help but no one ever does and I feel their eyes on me. I imagine they are judging my youth and my mothering and my daughter and I’m trying not to cry but suddenly I can’t help it. So there I am in the middle of a busy market in tears with my toddler screaming at my feet. This isn’t how I imagined it.
On the bus ride home she lays over my lap. “I love you to the moon and back,” I tell her, as I often do. She says, “You too Mama.” The tough moments always highlight the quiet loving moments that follow.
On the walk home from the bus stop we pass some barking dogs. Alba tells me they are talking to her and she stops to bark back. My arms are full of groceries and all I want to do is get home. I’m about to move her along but then decide against it. I let her bark to her heart’s content and when she comes back to hold my hand and tells me what the dogs were saying I realize with regret how often I stop her from being her.
That night Bee drives through the night to find a town big enough to have reception. He’s been exploring Tasmania all alone and he’s not enjoying it as much as he usually does. He’s never had anyone to miss before.
“How would you feel about me flying you and Alba to Tasmania? I could rent us a little place for a few days until you have to leave for America?” I laugh at the insanity of flying all the way there and back for just a few days, but mostly I laugh because he’s the one who is supposed to have it all together and I’m supposed to be the dramatic one.
My baseline every day is joy. I wake up to the sun shining and Alba sleeping beside me. I think of the love in my life. I’m not as afraid as I was and Bee is never entirely gone. I carry him close in the love that fills me, the love that is his and is him. Every night that comes, my last thought is not of wanting him but of being glad to have him.
We stay with my friend Emily who is another young single mama. During the day our toddlers play together and at night we stay up late talking about mamahood and eating too much chocolate. It feels so right to be here. It makes me long for a home even more.
“How about this,” Bee says, “My Mother lives by herself in this big house and she wants to rent out a room. She’s travelling most of the time. It’d just be a little home for you and Alba until we find a home for us?” I think about it.
“It’s weird isn’t it?” he asks. “Yes,” I say, “But I like weird and I really like your Mum. Will you visit?” “All the time, until you’re sick of me.” And just like that I feel better, I have a plan.
I AM SUDDENLY STRUCK BY THE REALIZATION THAT I DON’T HAVE A COMMUNITY AND THAT I DON’T FEEL LIKE A PARENT. IT’S LIKE I’M ONLY PRETENDING AND SOMEONE WILL FIND OUT ANY MOMENT THAT I DON’T ACTUALLY BELONG HERE.
Emily takes me to a friend’s sons’ birthday party. There are parents and children everywhere. I am suddenly struck by the realization that I don’t have a community and that I don’t feel like a parent. It’s like I’m only pretending and someone will find out any moment that I don’t actually belong here. I’m in the shadows writing in my journal or on my phone, hiding out of shyness, out of the feeling of not belonging.
The nights leading up to leaving Alba are hard. Once she’s fast asleep I find myself tracing her skin and memorizing her features. I’m so conscious of her. The sound of her voice, the smell of her hair, the weight of her body and her stories; all of her stories.
I’m grateful Alba isn’t sad when it’s time to swap over. But... though it is hard to admit, there is a small selfish part of me that is hurt by that too. I miss her before she’s even left my sight. My tiny, beautiful girl. How can I ever explain how hard it is to not be there every time she falls over, or to laugh at her jokes, or to braid her hair, or to cook her healthy meals with everything she needs. My greatest job of all is taking care of her and I can’t always be there to do it. But luckily her Papa is, and he does it with just as much love.
Before I leave for the airport I go to Bee’s house and cover his bedroom wall with post-it notes, each with something I love about him. I sit on his bed and I read them one after the other.
I’m leaving for the airport and I am just Nirrimi again. I’m going on tour with my favorite band for nearly three weeks across America. I sling my backpack across my back, it’s all I need, and I’m gone. Off to chase another dream.