I watch them through my viewfinder. He stands there unable to speak, lifts his glasses, wipes his eyes. It’s so stunning I can barely watch it, like I’m looking directly into the sun. That ever familiar lump forms in my throat and I swallow it down because I don’t know these people and I have a job to do here. We all wait.
“I didn’t know what love was” – he pauses, his voice breaks – “until I met you.” She begins to cry. I click on the shutter like it’s a reflex I don’t even need to think about anymore. I get my shot. And then it flashes across my mind; a memory, the ache, always resting just below the surface of everything I do. I quickly shut it out. I turn back to the groom. “You are the love of my life,” he says, looking at her while his eyes crumple at the sides and tears spill from the edges.
It blinds me so severely I take my camera down from my eyes and turn to the back of the room. I position myself in a corner so nobody can see me cry. He continues, and I capture his speech with an envy I hate having before quietly slipping out.
The night air hits me in the face, the city lights glisten like stars that are too close. From where I’ve just been, a couple are having the best night of their lives, to the right of me somewhere, someone has just received a diagnosis, to the left, a child has died, another one has been born. Life swirls in all directions around me, and I stand there in the middle of it, watching cars driving over the bridge, wondering where they are going and who is inside them, and where exactly it is that I am headed.
A Sold sticker clings like a bleeding arm on the For Sale sign at the front of my house. The sign itself seems unnecessarily large, like some arrogant guy trying to prove his point. Inside my home, the heights of my children that we once scribbled across our walls over the years has been painted over, furniture has been sold, and as I pack things into boxes, there is a moment I curl into a ball on the kitchen floor and sob with exhaustion. Where limits were once a place I occasionally reached, they were now the place I lived, and like I’d done so many times before, I let the waves of grief crash over me, allowing myself to cry for all the things I lost when I made the excruciating decision to end a marriage that was hurting me.
Behind me, I hear the band start up, I watch wedding guests mingle. In the distance, children run by, up way past their bedtime. I reach into my pocket and pull out my phone. Without thinking, I scroll Instagram, I check Facebook, I open my inbox to check my emails. There’s one that catches my eye. It’s from a clairvoyant I saw when I was pregnant with Ella, when I was terrified and lost. I haven’t been in contact with her for about five years. My pulse quickens, my mind races, I can’t open it up fast enough.
“Rach,” she writes. I hold my breath. “I can feel these waves of emotion you are riding, and I just wanted you to know that you made the right choice.”
Her sentence knocks the wind out of me. Hits me like a speeding car. A sob instantly escapes me; a wild, untamed kind of thing, like a shock of relief to the responsibility I hadn’t fully realised I was burdening myself with. I walk further away from the venue, pulling the phone closer to my face, not wanting to miss a single word that she had written to me.
“The kids will keep being more than fine,” she writes. “They are held in such a strong circle of love.” Tears cloud my vision, I wipe them away.
“And you, you deserve love. A love you understand, and trust, and that takes your breath away. I promise it will find you, once you’ve emptied out your grief and you’re ready.”
Involuntarily, I cover my eyes with my hands and sob, lowering myself to the grass. And in it seeps, the memory of the recurring dream I used to have every couple of months towards the end of my marriage; the one where I would lie in the arms of a man whose face I could never see, only how it felt to be there— an overwhelming sensation of safety, of home. The only thing I would know when I woke was that that man was not the one I was married to.
I look down at my phone again. “Keep feeling your way through,” she writes. “Use your emotions to fuel your art, and know it will get better and better.” I read the entire email again, and a third time, and once I feel as though I’ve scrutinised every word, memorised every sentence, I look up again at the city lights and the cars on the bridge, stunned that just like that, the next little bread crumb had appeared on this otherwise long and treacherous path to a new kind of normal.
I pull the wheelie bins out to the curb for collection. Kids’ voices bubble out from inside, a laugh, heavy footsteps running along the floorboards. I think of the bills that are due and the boxes to pack and the house I need to find to move to and the money I don’t have. I wonder if I should see the doctor about the stress rash that has broken out all over my body or if really, I just need to hold out for a week’s holiday when all of this is over. I make my way up the front stairs, thinking that these are the last few weeks that I’ll climb them, that I’ll walk through that front door, that I’ll call this place my home. Ella’s voice gets closer. She’s counting down from 10. I walk through the front door, catching glimpses of where Georgie and Billy are hiding, as if behind a dining chair would ever disguise them. I smile. Wink. Let them know their secret is safe with me before I hear a little voice behind me shriek, “Ready or not! Here I come!”. And as I watch her, a sudden streak of hope rips through my bloodstream as I think: Me too, honey. Me too.