In My Own Backyard

It was time to go away again. Just past New Years I woke to a text from Mickey. It was short and simple.
Run away with me to Byron Bay?
Of course, I replied, not even knowing that he really meant it. But he did. So by evening, we were sitting in his house by the sea listening to records and pouring over flights and places to stay. He wanted to go surfing and see his favourite band. I just wanted to get on a plane again. It didn’t matter so much where to. But I had brief memories of a trip at twelve years old to see family, of tropical weather in the middle of winter, of beaches and lighthouses and strawberry ice cream and untouched sand. They were blurry, but ticked all the boxes. I needed somewhere to recharge for a while, a reward for standing – knees locked – while the last six months crashed into me again and again like waves I had no idea how to ride yet. It had been impossible in ways only my closest friends knew about, but I found myself again at the end of it, still squinting into the sun. Surely that, if anything, warranted a little lazing around on the beach for no reason.
It didn’t even matter that I’d probably seen Mickey, like, all of three times in the year I’d been home. Born ten days apart, we’d always been strangely connected in a way that you can never explain but only know. Always, there had been sentences said in unison. Things we seemed to go through simultaneously without consulting the other about it first. First there was our Richard Dawkins phase at fifteen, when we both discovered atheism and spent hours discussing it with sweeping gestures and lit-up eyes. Later, this gave way to a fascination with the mind. The strange powers we knew it kept like secrets. Years went by and we capitalised the U in Universe, we marvelled in synchronicity, we sent messages across the oceans even after I went away and found our stories were still being written from the same notes, just set in different worlds. Our lives had traced gentle parallels for years, and I’d always thought that if I truly had to have a twin, it might as well be him. So when his housemate drove us to the airport, it felt like we’d done it all before.
But it was so long ago now. The days have mummified and left crumbs in my mind, so nothing I write now can be trusted. This is more a story about a story than a firsthand account. But I do remember this: heat so hot that my skin (Irish by nature if not by memory) turned red within hours. Then, days later, bronze. We woke up each morning drenched in sweat. Crashed into the ocean before nine without fail. Like clockwork. Mickey was an early riser and it forced me to step out of myself a little, yield in my nocturnal ways to meet him. I always stayed out later into the night. But I was still up at the first smell of surfboard wax and ready to hop out the door. In the afternoons, I’d go off on my own. Walk through the streets in something worn and drifty. Floppy hat. Jewels bought on the side of the road. I walked into New Agey stores and ran my fingers over the spines of a hundred books I’d never read, because touch is memory and sometimes you remember things that haven’t happened yet. Shop clerks complimented me on my energy more than my appearance. Then, as magnets do, I’d meet Mickey somewhere without even organising it first and watch him slice through the waves while the sun faded down. More than once I fell asleep, beer in hand, waiting for him on the shore.
I saw glimpses of a different life there, one I could step into and claim as my own easily. One in which I was some other person, hanging out the passenger seat of a near stranger’s car in bathers. Soaked, still salty. Rolling flavoured tobacco in the sunshine and only wearing shoes to the bars, where the pints weren’t Coopers and people smiled when you told them where you lived, because on the coast, there’s something so small-town-charming about a place like Adelaide. Or perhaps I was walking through the tent sea again, some hours after dark, not sure what I was looking for, but knowing in some way, I’d find it. Sitting in all those groups by all those campfires. Running onto the beach too many gins deep and forgetting to take off my sneakers but it didn’t matter, I remembered just where the waves started licking the shore that I wasn’t meant to jump in. I met so many incredible people from corners of the world I’ve only dreamt of visiting, and hopefully one day will. We spoke through the small hours of the night, leaning off balconies and gazing into the moon. One night there were thunderstorms. I’d met some people and been out for drinks, and we walked home at 3am as lightening flashed across the sky, hollowing out the cavities in our chests. We found shelter near our rooms and stayed there for an hour, all rugged up. Gasping liberally at the view. It didn’t take many heartfelt conversations to realise we were all there for similar reasons. People have the same dreams. A camper van full of books and cameras, a mattress in the back. A ballpoint pen or two. Enough clothes to last a couple of months, and someone to call on their way home from wherever, if only to say 'I'll be there soon'.
All my latest beer chinked conversations have had the same theme; people telling me I seem to have changed out of nowhere. That I'm not nearly the same as I was six months ago. They say that a girl who changes her hair is about to change her life, but I had my platinum blonde dyed dark because I didn't want to feel like I was walking around in the same skin anymore. My bones felt new, all sandpapered up. Why not the rest of me? As within, so without. And almost immediately I felt like myself again, all ashy brown hair on pale skin, unmistakeably my mother’s daughter. But mostly, the girl I might have been if I stayed. But I'm not her, because she didn't know calm the way I do now. Maybe it was the salt water. The palm trees. The way I befriended my rubble then fashioned new armour out of it. It takes time to realise that sometimes the things you're chasing won’t be caught, that maybe once you borrowed a life from someone with a Londoner twang and silver hair who wanted European countries and foreign lovers and a life only romanticised so heavily because it took place elsewhere. But now I've found warmth in my own backyard. And here, everything feels like home.
Like today. I woke up in the darkness and got on my bike as the sun was rising. Normally, I only catch those early hours a bottle of red wine deep as the taxis hover outside my house and I say the same things to different drivers. That felt like living for a long time. But it wasn't. Last year, I was at the point where there were no good days. This year there are no bad ones. Not really. Because ‘bad’, like everything, only exists on a scale of your own invention. And once you’ve found your tipping point, the little scuffs and stumbles on the way seem painted all in gold. The sun is awake when I arrive in the city, though I barely am. I scan my pass and stretch out on my mat, adjusting slowly to the heat. What I didn’t know at fifteen is that we all worship something, and often the art of getting on is simply a matter of replacing one altar with another. So that is my project for the year. Making little changes, because dominos are little, but when lined up neatly in a row it only takes one flick to knock a city down.
These days I pass out well before midnight. Set up camp in library corners. I watch my skin rearranging, and marvel at how it feels to move around the world in a vehicle that I don't feel at war with anymore. My legs are strong. My roots are deep. And something fearless has cracked open in me that seems able to give, and give, and give without draining me completely. It takes time, all this surrender. Though I never doubt that it's worth it these days. With eyes filled with eyesight and rooms smudged with sage, I always try to remember that we are just little animals running around the earth temporarily until we return to it. We are all godly. But humility is the most divine. Since taking up yoga my body feels different. More flexible, more powerful. And since I am a woman, and 'womanness' (though not always defined by biology) seems to be so jailed by the physical at times, I feel a sense of freshness, like that of newlyweds walking slack-jawed around a new house. But what's with flesh being compared to buildings all the time? Your body is not a temple, that idea puts lines on a map where there aren't any. The world is a temple, with mosaics instead of countries. The sun and sky are stained glass windows. Your body is a tile.





4 comments

  1. This is perfect. Please, never stop writing.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! You're so kind, as always. I pinky promise I won't.

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  2. You are a gifted and talented writer Katherine. Beautiful, poetic prose.

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  3. I love each and every post of yours, they make me feel even more restless.

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