I watch him pack Georgie into the car. He throws her into the air once, twice. She shrieks with joy. He leans down, puts her into the seat. All that’s available to me is a glimpse; a stray foot, the corner of a shirt, the hand of one of my children.
With nothing left to remain there for, I turn away. Waves of hysteria flood me. I simply cannot believe this is my life, that I am actually here. I want to claw my way out of my own insides, but there is nowhere for me to go. I walk inside and crumple onto Ella’s bed, pressing my face into her pillow as a noise escapes me I can’t even recognise. Over and over and over and over, until there is nothing left but the quiet.
I sit on a boat. The Sydney harbour bridge sparkles to the left, people dance to the right. I watch them and I don’t understand how they can be out there, shouting “she’s a slice of heaven”, while their arms wave about and they spill beer from their carefree hands, knocking each other and apologizing afterwards in that overly accepting way drunk people do. I turn away and stare out at the black water. It laps at the side of the boat like a lonely lover. I wonder if I’ll ever be happy again.
“I’ve been reading up,” my sister in law had messaged the week earlier. “I think you’re at the bargaining stage of grief,” she wrote. “The next stage is depression.” I had laughed when I read it, cynically, with a bitterness I hated having. “I guess it’s mildly comforting to know it’s just a stage?”, she wrote. I remember putting my phone down and looking out to the sky from the home I was about to sell. A lone bird had flown across the horizon. Oh how I wished I could be that bird. I wondered if it felt free. My phone went off again. “A gratitude journal helps,” she writes. “That’s what the articles are saying. You should be journalling.” I look up again. The bird is gone. Maybe I should be journalling, but all I eventually decide is that gratitude journals can go fuck themselves. I’ve read every cliche’ thing that exists about the benefit of pain and crisis but when grief grips your throat that tightly, nobody gives a shit about getting better. Nobody is pleased they get a chance at self-development; a shot at growth. They’re only trying not to die.
A friend sits down beside me, interrupting my thoughts. His wife sits down next to him. People are still dancing. The bridge is still sparkling. The water is still black and lapping. We start talking about their business, how it’s thriving, how they’re going. They run a food delivery service and it had suddenly had a massive boom in demands; they were treading water trying to keep up. His wife was detailing the stresses involved with staff increase, higher product volume. My friend eventually looked at me and said, “When you’re growing, it feels like you’re going to die.” His wife nodded. “But then – I don’t know – you just adjust.” I stare back, half-smile, nod, aware that, for me, we weren’t talking about their business anymore. Eventually they move on, other people to talk to, other conversations to be had. I’m alone again with the bridge and the water. I turn to look at the dancefloor. A couple kiss. A circle of women have their hands in the air, heads tilted back, singing. Another friend walks past and catches my eye. “You good?” he says. “I’m good,” I say back. Because even though I wasn’t, I knew that I would be.
Eventually I peel myself from Ella’s bed. How much time has passed? Am I hungry? I can’t tell. I walk out, plop down on my couch, take in my empty house, like I’ve done so many times before. The silence is like an old friend I had missed. I pull out my phone and message my sister in law:
1. Grateful my kids aren’t dead.
2. Grateful I’m not dead.
I get up and pour myself a glass of wine, just one. I pick up my phone.
3. Grateful I might get to experience love again one day.
I hit send and walk over to my children’s bedroom. There are stray pillows on the floor, half made beds, traces of where they once were. I sit down on the floor, lean against the wall and I drink a mouthful of wine. Eventually nighttime will come, and eventually I will turn off the fairy lights that hang by their window. I will note that the emptiness of their beds will be both good and bad, like everything hard seems to be. I will have no idea what is next, what will tumble out of the life I have ahead of me, but I will pick up my wine glass, I will walk out of their room and I will remember that despite all the heartache, love gets the final say.