The Hardest Thing about Parenthood.

I’ll tell you the hardest thing about being a parent. Or actually, what for me has been the hardest thing about being a mother. The invisibility.

There are dozens of ‘hard things’ and the hard stuff happens immediately. It begins right there when you see those two pink lines on the little white wand you just peed on and realise that you can say goodbye to soft cheese for the next 8 months (I know friends, it was a struggle for me too). You feel tired, emotional, your skin stretches and warps over your abdomen and you watch as stretch marks bloom across you. I remember one night going to sleep with perfect breasts and I woke the next morning to step in the shower and caught sight of my chest in the mirror and thought I had those strange marks from sleeping all over my breasts until I realised they were stretch marks that literally appeared overnight like magic. Across my thighs they were deep, painful looking scarlet scars as though I had been whipped. I looked down once when I could still see my calves and was fascinated by the fact I had a lone red tendril of stretch mark on my calf, far from my stomach that was the cause of all this. And that’s before we hit hyperemesis, SPD that literally crippled me (although I was fortunate enough to suffer no major lasting effects), gestational diabetes.

Then labour. The pain that comes with opening a portal to life, the panting, the pushing, the sweat, the blood.

Swollen breasts filled with milk. Cracked nipples. Post partum bleeding. Sleepless nights. The perfume of baby powder and newborn and underneath it all the faint sour smell of baby vomit on your shirt you didn’t notice until you were in the shops grabbing bread because – goddamn it, do we ALWAYS need bread in this house? Where does it go?

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The teething, the worry of SIDS, the baby check ups and doctors appointments, the growth charts and milestones: check, check, check…

Baby proofing and blending of foods and patience until you think you might explode from buried frustration. Endless on loop soundtracks of the Wiggles, or Thomas, or Strawberry Shortcake and barbie shoes that never seem to exist after the first five minutes of leaving their box.

Clothes and washing and which school is right? Are they happy? Are other kids mean? Is MY kid mean? Homework and more doctors visits and fever in the night that leaves you sleeping on the floor by the bed sponging a scalding forehead with a tepid cloth and praying the panadol kicks in soon.

Head lice and parent/teacher interviews and costumes and parties. Christmas presents and birthdays and school discos and is my child happy? Is he happy? And oh, my heart is breaking. And vomit buckets being emptied.

Football games and netball games and swimming lessons.

A thousand sandwiches.

Which high school? Should I let her wear make up? Is she too young? And teens with boyfriends and parties and leaving you and leaving you and leaving you. And you have to balance your protection with your need to see if she can fly. Will you fly? And heartbreaks and colds and doctors visits and the orthodontist and talent quests where she sang like an angel.

Bearing witness. Day in day out. Endless. A hundred things. A thousand memories and you are their keeper.

The hardest thing is the invisibility. Of knowing there is not a single time they will remember all of those thankless things you did because you loved them until they are the keeper of memories for their own children.

But writing them out just now, they didn’t feel like that much of a hardship after all.

Choosing.

Sometimes current events completely confound me because I can’t believe that in 2016 we even have to argue for some of this shit. Example, yesterday I was listening to radio and some guy was saying, “We have to be very CAREFUL with marriage equality because we are changing the face of what marriage really is.” And I can’t believe we even are having this conversation because it seems so simple to alter a few words in whatever legislation exists that may say ‘man and woman’ to ‘two people’.

Over half my friends are divorced – myself included – and they were all married to people of the opposite gender. Friends…I know exactly what that piece of paper is worth and it’s basically shit all. Partnerships happen in the heart before they ever happen in front of the nearest and dearest. I’m not going to stand here and pretend I know how to make a marriage work. I was married for 11 years and it didn’t work. But I have studied it’s demise, I have been the coroner to the death of my marriage and I can take you through the museum of it’s failures and tell you categorically what made it terminal in the first place. We just stopped choosing each other.

See, in the beginning of a relationship you choose that person all the time. Sometimes you choose them even when you know it’s probably not the smartest idea, like when you have to go to work early the next day but you stay up until 3am discussing the world because you just can’t get enough of them. You choose them every morning and you reaffirm that choice every night. And then for me, over time we just stopped doing that. I chose to go to bed instead of watching that movie with him. He chose to stay at work when I was miscarrying and asked him to come home. I chose to avoid lunch with him in favour of editing some photos. He chose to sit at his computer instead of having a conversation with me. Sometime over the last five years of our marriage instead of counting down how long until he came home, I began to count down how long until he went back. And I know he did the same.

Marriage – I think – is just waking up every morning and choosing that person. Again and again. Choosing them when they are laughing and making you feel good. Choosing them when they’re chewing too loud and you feel like you want to stab a fork in your ear to make it stop. Choosing them. And sometimes it’s not even the really good or the really bad you have to remember to choose them through. Because both those emotions are fraught with passion – even if it’s a bad passion. It’s the mundane. Someone flossing their teeth by your side for thirty years. Someone laying their head next to yours on the pillow every single night – for life, man. And you have to remember to choose them then too. And it’s hard work, this partnership thing. No one really knows if they’re going to make it. And you never ever will because a successful marriage only becomes one that lasted the distance when one of you dies and you’re still choosing each other that very morning.

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What is marriage? Hell, if I know. It’s been constantly redefined through out history. This is just the next page. I do know that no one is innately better at it simply because their partner’s gender is the opposite of theirs. That just seems absurd and I can’t really believe we are having this as a debate. I can’t imagine how furious I would be if I needed someone to hold a plebiscite to tell me if I get to choose my partner or not because my marriage might redefine theirs. If marriage is all about the choosing then gay people have been practising marriage for just as long as heterosexuals, just without the paper. And while I may feel the paper isn’t that important, I have the privilege of deciding that for me, simply because I’m a woman who happens to be in love with a man. It seems bizarre that because of that twist of fate I can go ahead and stand in front of my family and say I’m going to keep choosing him for the rest of my life and someone else’s choice goes unacknowledged.

Sometimes the world just really confuses me.

No ‘if only’.

Years ago I was both simultaneously very open and very closed. Actually that’s been almost a constant in my life. I’m a walking contradiction. I always liked that quote by Walt Whitman in Song of Myself, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

I was open because when I was a photographer I sold myself. I sold my work also, my skills and my style. But I also sold who I was as an artist. Frequently by the time a client came to me and booked in they knew my kids names, what pets I had, they had often read my old blog, they had a sense of who I was as a person. I believe it was why so many clients tried to add me on Facebook after a shoot. And most of the time I accepted that request. I was happy to have them connect with me. I was open about my life’s little bits a pieces. Funny things the kids had said or done. My fondness for Creamies – a biscuit I discovered (to my great dismay) had more calories in four of them then a large cheeseburger meal.That I slept in sweatpants in winter because while I desperately wanted to be one of those women who could do the school drop off in PJs I also feared my car would break down and I would be greeting the tow truck driver wearing pug pyjamas.

At the same time I was very closed off. I didn’t often discuss my ‘feelings’. In fact I viewed feelings as a great weakness. Love was reserved for teenagers too young to know better and one’s children. I was very uncomfortable with affection. I would hug babies and toddlers and my family on special occasions. It was widely known amongst my friends that I was not a hugger. Some would even give me warning before they hugged me, “I’m going to hug you now, okay? I know you won’t like it but I’m going to do it anyway.” And they would put their arms around me and I would stand there stiff backed and perhaps grudgingly pat them on the shoulders. Hold my partner’s hand in public? Forget it. In fact he was similar so it would have been an uncomfortable experience for both of us. I didn’t say I loved people. I could say I loved cake or dogs or the smell of lavender. But I could not tell my cousin I loved her.

Open and closed off.

Now I’m basically the opposite. I’m very careful with what information I release and to whom. My circle of people is tight. My Facebook locked down. I shut down every business because I couldn’t run them effectively or in the same way and hide. I use to put up a snap of me with the goat chewing my hair and me with the worst forehead wrinkles as I screwed my face up and not care. Now, I will rarely show my face straight on if indeed I photograph myself at all. But I am more open. I hug people. I tell people I love them. I share more intimacies. I will kiss my partner openly in public.

When my partner and I started dating I knew if this ever was going to work I had to break down those walls. The first time he kissed me in the city, in public, I was so stunned. I don’t think I even had time to feel awkward about onlookers because I was so taken with him. And afterwards I thought, isn’t there enough hate and negativity in this world? Wouldn’t this whole place be better if more people were kissing and in love and just generally being good to each other instead of giving each other bitchy looks at worst and ignoring each other at best? Wouldn’t it be nicer if I could just hug my friend? Why do I reserve my affection but happily share my experience with a shitty driver on the highway? And the thing with him was – I didn’t want to hold any part of me back from him. I wanted to lay my life at his feet and see if he would claim it. I wanted to pour myself into his hands and see if he loved what he saw just as much as I loved what I saw when I looked at him. I wanted to be as real and honest with him as I could be.

And it was fucking terrifying, if I’m honest.

How vulnerable it was to unreservedly love another person. The capacity to be hurt was so great. But if it worked… And I kind of realised that was what I had been worried about for years. I held people at arms length because I didn’t want that weakness and vulnerability. I didn’t want to be hurt.

What sort of life was that? Letting no one in because I was scared of what? Being alone? I was already alone. Because I never let anyone in. Love required vulnerability. And I wanted this so much. I had to let go. Throw caution to the wind. Tell someone I loved them with no idea whether he loved me back or if it would work. Maybe it wouldn’t work. But at least I would never live with a ‘what if’. At least I wouldn’t be lying there in ten years time wondering if I might have had a chance at something incredible and soul changing if only…if only.

You would think it would take time to dismantle walls but they came down at once. I slid into a new me as though I’d never been any different. It deepened my relationships with everyone who mattered. My children. My family. My friends. My kid’s friends. Have I been hurt? Oh, yes. Oh my, yes. Without the walls everything just ran in. I felt like I was being bathed in emotions. You know I never use to cry? I actually couldn’t. I would sometimes think a good cry might be just the thing and nothing at all could induce one. Now barely a day goes by I don’t cry over something. I cry because of sad things and happy things and people being good and people being hurtful. There is this one film clip of when this guy got his leg caught between the train platform and the train in Perth and all the commuters worked together pushing the train to the side so he could free his leg and – oh my god – I cry like a baby every time I see it. The vulnerability of being open – it can sting.

There is another part of that Song of Myself by Walt Whitman that I like where he says, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Connection is a gift you buy. The price is vulnerability. And its value is immeasurable.

No ‘if only’.

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Girl in a Yellow Dress.

For years I had sat contentedly in the country thinking about nothing at all and absolutely everything.

When I say nothing at all I mean I never desired to leave. I assumed I would never travel further than a 300km radius from that location. I didn’t long for that. Not really. The thing was I moved like a unit of seven, myself and the six children. I didn’t want to be apart from them and anything I did I wished they came with me. When the house burnt down in 2010 we got a very large sum of money. Over twice what we owed in the mortgage because when I insured it the house was so old that the person on the other end insisted the cost of replacing the house would be a large amount and I grudgingly agreed to pay the extra. We paid the mortgage out and then funnelled the rest into our new mortgage and I suggested then perhaps we take the children to Europe. It was a ludicrous plan because who in their right mind would take six children to Europe? My then husband said he didn’t want to, but to tell him how much I needed and I was welcome to take the kids on my own. Which seemed even more ludicrous because who would take six children to a foreign country on their own? In hindsight I probably should have paid a friend or family member to come along and called his bluff but I was half relieved. Because I had no desire to leave. I just felt I should.

And when I say absolutely everything I mean I would become curious about something and go on this wild bender of research. One day I’m crocheting and the next I am buying a spinning wheel. Then it’s not good enough to buy ready to spin fibre – I need to learn to process the fleece myself. I research natural dyes and mordants and dye my handspun yarn with elderflowers I harvested from my yard. Then I research elderflowers and harvest them for herbal use. Then I research more herbs. Then I research silkworms. Then I’m buying Mulberry trees and before you know it I’m learning how to build a strawbale house with an honesty window and churning my own butter and learning about crop rotations. There was no end to my curiosity about how I could do things myself.

Truthfully, I hate buying things. I want to make everything with my own hands. I was browsing rugs today on anthropologie and kept thinking, “I could probably just hook one.” I’m infuriating. It’s why I struggle with furniture. I hate mass produced and I hate modern and I want everything to be old and sturdy and quirky or handmade. I have no idea what I will do when my couches die because the thought of heading in to Harvey Norman and buying a sofa makes my soul die a little.

Anyway, for years I just contentedly sat around pleased to be in the country and an aspiring self sufficiency buff. And I couldn’t sit STILL. I was bubbling with energy, I couldn’t just read a book. I read a book while I knitted, pausing between knit and purl to turn the page. I spun yarn while I watched TV. I edited images while I sat through a movie. Even when I was sitting I was in motion. Do you know, I once fell asleep while knitting and when I woke from my doze I was still working my stitches as though nothing ever happened.

When I became single I became restless. I wanted the anonymity of the city. I wanted to walk through the bustle of the crowds and be dwarfed by buildings. I wanted botanical gardens, a splash of green between the River and the streets. I wanted art galleries. I booked a hotel room and when I went to pack I was worried I would be bored. I packed about three books, some knitting and my spindle and probably a good 100gms of fibre. Something that might have taken me a week on a spindle to turn into yarn. It was yellow. I remember that. A bright sunny colour that reminded me of the song by E, ‘Yellow Dress’….a mellow bluesy tune where you can hear all the scrappings of his chair and adjustments before he starts to sing in his low soothing voice. (I’ll link it at the bottom of the post in case you want to hear the music that was my life at that point).

I packed all this for two nights. Of course it was a bit of a rendezvous also because I was going there for a date as well. And what happened was we went upstairs to his hotel room (because we had separate hotel rooms and indeed even separate hotels) and he lay beside me on this wide couch and I was still. Hours. Time just unwound before me and through the window I watched the shadows shorten and lengthen again. I listened to the people chattering in a low hum stories below us, cars driving. The whole world continued to race past and I lay still, my head on his chest, his hands in my hair. I spent long stretches of time committing different elements of his face into my mind, etching them there in case he might disappear like smoke. I made a study of him. But I was still. I was calm. I was at peace.

It was only then when I stopped that I realised I had been using all those ‘things’ to fill the gaps in myself of what wasn’t there. As though if I kept moving I wouldn’t notice. When I stopped filling up my life with motion I could allow the stillness of love.

That was what he gave to me. Stillness. He rounded my jagged edges, soothed the tears in me…….It took me a year and a half to finish spinning that yellow yarn.

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Yellow Dress is track number 4.

Fifteen years later.

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Do you remember the worst day of your life?

My middle daughter is my rainbow baby. A rainbow baby is the child born after the loss of another. They’re the child that can never erase the pain of who you lost but remind you there is joy in the world.

The worst day of my life happened in 2001. I didn’t know when I woke up that anything would be different. In fact, I was looking forward to the day ahead because I was 15 weeks pregnant and was going for an ultrasound that day. The pregnancy was hard from the start. At 5 weeks I had begun bleeding – sure I had miscarried I already had grieved the loss of that baby. The next day I went for an ultrasound and saw a tiny bean floating unscathed. A repeat ultrasound a few weeks later after the bleeding stopped showed a flickering heart beat. The tech saw a shadow of something though and said I should go to the Royal for a better ultrasound. That was the one I was scared for. But there they waved the wand over my stomach, the gel cold on my skin and declared everything perfect. They told me to book in later for a follow up but everything seemed great. Perfect.

By 15 weeks I thought it was just a cool chance to see my baby again. I felt like it was a boy. My stomach had already begun to swell beneath my pants, I had bought the next size up and joked I would need maternity clothes soon. I could feel the faintest of butterfly wings sweeping inside me as he swam in his watery cocoon. I had picked names. I wondered what Christmas would be like this year with a tiny baby. I wondered if my daughters would be excited by their new sibling.

On the worst day of my life I lay in a thin table in a dimly lit room while my husband sat beside me anxious to see our baby. A woman I had never met squirted gel on my stomach and a smooth wand glided across the small rise of my abdomen.

I knew instantly something was wrong.

Here was my baby who was waving his arms and legs in a greeting, here was his rounded stomach and tiny face. But, oh, his head. I can never describe the quiet of that room. The silence as she repeatedly went back over his skull and viewed how misshapen it was. From the front on, he was a baby like any other. From the side, his skull stretched upwards, elongated and almost twice the length it should be. I kept wanting to say to her to please go back to the front view. I didn’t want to see what I was seeing. And I couldn’t pull my eyes away.

“Excuse me,” she said, and left the room.

The quiet between myself and my husband hung thickly in the air. What comfort could I possibly offer him at this time when I knew in my heart that something was terribly wrong? My thoughts spun out in a thousand different directions. Our baby is sick. Something is wrong. I thought of all the ways they could fix babies now, even doing in utero surgery. This was terrifying but they would fix him.

The woman came back with a man. I could walk past him in the street and never recognise him. I have no idea what he looked like. But his words are scarred into my memory. He looked a long time. And then he spoke, “What do we have here? Well, what we have here is a bad baby. A very bad baby. This baby is incompatible with life, a nurse will discuss your options.”

He left and I excused myself to the detached bathroom leaving the woman and my husband alone in the darkened room.

Incompatible with life, incompatible with life, incompatiblewithlife….

A mistake. It wasn’t. They could fix it. No they couldn’t. My son was going to die.

I didn’t want to cry. I gripped the sides of the basin in front of me and stared into my own wild eyes and whispered through gritted teeth, “Stop it! Stop. It… Don’t.”

And then all at once I broke. I keened. I sobbed raw, wretched cries, painfully aware that on the other side of the flimsy sliding door my husband and the woman stood awkwardly listening to the sound of a heart breaking.

On the worst day of my life I was ushered into a room in the antenatal clinic and spoke to a nurse about therapeutic termination. I spoke to a doctor who was efficient and kind and explained the process.

This was what was wrong with my son. He had encephalocele. A severe neural tube defect that made his skull bones fail to fuse. His brain was exposed to the amniotic fluid. He would likely not survive that much longer. He would never survive delivery. He would never take a breath.

The procedure would be a series of pessaries inserted near my cervix to begin labour. After some time I would give birth. He would be sent for autopsy. They would cremate him. His remains would be interred at the hospital. There was a service once a month for the babies like him. Babies too young to be legally recognised as babies. Babies born before 20 weeks. “You won’t have to have a funeral,” they said by way of a comfort. As though the fact that his existence could be erased so easily would be a comfort to me.

On the worst day of my life I set a date to come back. We rode home in silence, my swelling stomach a painful reminder of what we were going to lose.

When I came back to the hospital days later I laboured for 7 hours. They offered me morphine because there is no danger to taking drugs when your child will not survive. I refused because I needed to feel everything. My water broke just after 7pm. A midwife came in and delivered the tiniest fairy of a baby you have ever seen. She announced he was a boy. I couldn’t bear to look at him so she took him away. The placenta wouldn’t shift so I was wheeled to theatre. The shot me full of something that made me sleepy and calm. My face was a blank stone. Tears rolled from my eyes unchecked. A nurse opened the curtains and looked alarmed. “Are you in pain?” She asked. I shook my head, mute and stared at the ceiling. She stepped forward, laid her hand over mine, dry and warm, “Just your heart, hey?” She whispered. My eyes met hers, I gave an imperceptible nod. She gave one back.

They put me to sleep.

The next day they brought him to me. His hands and feet bore blue ink from where they had printed them. He was wrapped in a blanket. I didn’t shift it from the top of his head, not willing to look at the defect that had stolen him from me. I was scared to touch him because I knew he would be cold. I stayed with him a long time. I admired his long feet and tiny toes. Riley.

We went home. I stayed in bed for three days.

Riley would be almost 15 if he were alive today. If I look at his siblings I can almost patchwork together a picture of how he would have looked. For years after his short time on earth, spent entirely within the safety of my womb where he was nothing but completely loved and wanted, I felt his absence often. Because of who I am I wanted an answer why. I researched everything. I second guessed myself. Two years after his death I called the doctor and she patiently went back over everything with me. The hardest things to deal with is when there is no why.

I met a woman a couple of years later who had recently lost her daughter in the same way I lost Riley. She was the biggest comfort to me, someone who understood completely the Worst Day, who knew the helplessness, the agony. Who else could I explain to that even though he passed away, my sorrow was mixed with a joy, because he had also lived. That what you wanted was not always to brush him away as though he never existed but to talk about him. We passed our children’s names to each other and held them like a gift. We could speak freely of regret and sadness and love. I will love her forever for the space she gave me to talk of my son. I hope I gave her some comfort to talk of her daughter.

Now, years later we both have more children. Rainbow babies whose presence in our houses smooth over some of the cracks in our hearts. Children who yell and laugh and dance and sing and remind us that joy can be had.

You may wonder why the worst day in my life was not the day he left me, the day he was born. The worst day was when I knew I had to give him up, never the day I first saw him, a fleeting glance before the nurse took him away. I could never regret that. Seeing him was one of my best memories, however tinged with sadness.

For all the babies who we carry in our hearts, whose mothers and fathers silently sing their name. Whose place in the house is a Christmas ornament on the tree bearing their name, a statue in the garden, a photo on the wall. You were never forgotten.

City.

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Image by Hyggelig Photography – Melbourne

We were outside Starbucks in the city, people walking around us with the sunlight filtering between the buildings. The rush of the city was a shock to the system after so long. Did I really walk here? Nearby is an escalator I kissed a boy on once – a lifetime ago. Would my 15 year old energy still be floating around in the ether there somewhere?

I was nervous to see him, the last time had been in the forest alone and quiet. A private place to unlock the mysteries of his lips. Darkness creeping into the clearing as I slid my hands under his shirt. His lips softer than I expected. He had grazed his mouth slowly along my neck, his eyes closed as though he were drinking me in. His hands cradling my face as he turned it upwards…

But here in the daylight it would be different. He walked up to us and sat down, he didn’t touch me but he proximity had all my nerve endings electrified. The girls left and he asked if I would like to take a walk. When we stood up he took my hand as though he had been taking it for years. Naturally. We stopped at traffic lights and waited with a herd of people for the ‘walk’ symbol to flash green. He came around in front of me, slid his hand up my cheek until his fingers were tangled in my hair, leaned forward and out his lips to mine.

I felt hyper aware of everything. The cars in the street, the people surrounding us, the smell of him, the warmth of the sun, the feel of his lips, his tongue gliding over my lip and my sharp intake of breath…

The daylight was different, but still magical.

Spark.

Your fingers pull at the threads of my soul.  They coax words from me like coddling flames from dusty coals.  I thought I was ashes and dust. A memory of a fire long burnt out.  But the words pour from my veins.  I write on slips of paper, in coffee stained notebooks.  I write on the wind and sky.  I write.  A flame flickers to life.  The words weaving the tapestry of our love.  The fire dances.  And I write.  And I write.

The Constant.

I met him the first time through my bedroom window. It was an ordinary weekend when I was thirteen and he was one of three boys who came knocking on my window in the dark to talk to me and my best friend who was staying the night. I don’t recall why they didn’t use the front door or what we talked about or even if I truly saw his face, shadowed as it would have been by the plants outside my window. The first time I met him, the earth didn’t stop spinning and there was no indication something amazing had just happened.

After that day he would often stop by, usually using the front door after that and we would take a walk, joke or lie on my driveway and discuss the stars. He took me into an abandoned building, he drove me too fast in an unregistered car, he sneaked with me into the park near the dam after it was locked up. He never touched me until I asked him to. And that was a surprise because during my teenage years boys would try their luck wherever they could. Announcing their lust with pointed looks, whistles, touches, attempts to kiss you. But he never did that at all. One summer it was so hot I stripped off to bra and underwear and waded into the cool water but he sat on the edge and never ventured in.

I remember the day he told me he was leaving. And there was no warning at all. Why? I asked him. I tried to convince him to stay. I asked why he hadn’t told me sooner. I think when I eventually realised he was truly going I hugged him, and that was the first time we touched. I can’t imagine what he thought when he returned. I guess it was not what he expected. Maybe he thought he would come to the door and I would still be waiting. Maybe he thought he could tap on my window but it was my brother’s room now and I was suburbs away living in the garage of my boyfriend’s house, 8 months pregnant. It is really lonely when you are sixteen and pregnant. No one really talks about that. They tell you about motherhood and labour and birth but no one talks about the months before when your body stretches and scars and how you can’t find anything to say to your friends anymore. That they stop calling. That you don’t really care when they do because you no longer have patience for their teenage romances when you’re becoming the doorway to life. I was surprised when he visited me there. I am actually still shocked at his bravery because it is quite remarkable for a teenage boy to show up at the home of another boy and ask to speak to his pregnant girlfriend. He didn’t know that at the time I wasn’t actually anyone’s girlfriend because my baby’s father had told me he wasn’t ready but I had no where else to go so I had stayed. He didn’t know that for me the days had been spent crying because I had been told all the ways I was ugly now that I was carrying a child. He didn’t know that that day, when he sat on my couch was the first time I had been truly happy in months. He didn’t know, because I didn’t tell him. And after I had the baby and moved back home he would come to see me all the time and his visits were the bright spot in my days.

When he began dating someone I panicked because I realised I didn’t want him to be with anyone else. I wanted him to be with me. And it terrified me deep inside because he was my best friend and what if I was all those things I had been told? And I guess, on some level, I didn’t think I was good enough for him. What if one morning he woke up and saw me for what I really was and he just stopped coming at all? We dated anyway. And I’m going to be honest here, it was basically a disaster. Because I didn’t know how to be this boy’s girlfriend. He knew too many things about me, like that I was scared to be doubled on a bike and I hated toads and I didn’t hold my liquor real well. He had seen me half naked when we were friends so what mysteries could I possibly serve up to him? I had told him everything and prior to that in all my relationships or flirtings with boys I had maintained a clear boundary. I wasn’t the real me with them. And I couldn’t figure out how to be the girlfriend to this boy who had already seen the real me. One day we had a silly argument and he left. I wanted to run after him. But I didn’t because I was stubborn, because I was scared, because I didn’t want to give him anymore of me than he already had because it felt like he had too much of me already. I didn’t understand why he could push me out of my comfort zone when no one else could. It unnerved me. By the time he came back, my baby’s father was at the house. And he left again.

Throughout the years that followed I would marry, have children, buy a house, move to the country. And at times he would drift across my thoughts like dandelion fluff on the breeze. I guess I never really thought I would see him again. He would always show up when I belonged to someone else. He was always too easy to give me up. To think I was happier without him.

When he asked me to meet him I begged off. I made excuses because I was scared that I would see him and he would unbox all my feelings in one swift move. I was scared I would see him and he would make me happy. I was scared I would offer myself and he would disappear like smoke again. And our messages over the years, either brief or long winded and months between would always seem to dance around a point.

When I finally did agree to meet him I knew that the moment I did I would set into motion something I couldn’t take back. I knew that before I went there.

I went anyway.

We met for the second time in a hoop pine forest. It was autumn, the afternoon light was dappled through the trees, I waited for him in a blue dress with a circle skirt I had sewn myself. While I waited I turned circles like a girl, watching my skirt fly up around me. When he arrived, I stood. I didn’t know where to put my hands, I didn’t know what to say. When he hugged me hello I fit into his arms like the missing piece of a puzzle. And a little while later I would think to myself, just look at him, look into his eyes and you will know. And I did. And that time the earth stopped moving and my soul fused with his and what I saw there, in his eyes was that he loved me. I had a moment to be shocked, I thought, “Oh. After all this time? Still?” Time did not stand still but moved in all directions at once, stars were born and cities burnt to the ground in the time that look took. Everything became clean and clear and I saw that every road had always pointed to him. All my heartaches, tears, triumphs, every broken dream, every breath I had taken had been for this one moment. Somewhere inside me a voice said, “So, this is it. This is what you were waiting for.” The ink was dry.

We threw caution to the wind. We cast our fortunes in together. I knew this would work because it was always supposed to. Our love was divinely ordered. It was written in the stars.

And how silly I had been all those years ago to believe I couldn’t be in love with my best friend, I always was. Love is when he is the bright spots in your day, it is when he sees the real you, it is when his company warms your soul and comforts you. Every day with him is a gift. Love is when he will always come for you. He is my constant. I have always been his.

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