I wasn’t prepared for winter when it came. I was confused, living with more questions than answers, and didn’t own nearly enough jumpers. I went to the psychic in April. Her office was on King St (a Sydney street that can only be described as alive, all hours of the day), up a set of stairs, warm. I knocked my knees on the low table between us, upsetting the cards, and she apologised. The session was recorded for posterity, and because I knew eventually I’d want to compare notes. It was an expensive half hour, but it got me out of my house, and once I was out of my house, it got me out of the rain.
“There’s nothing light about this energy at all,” she said. “But why does it need to be? I think you’re feeling a lot more deeply than you ever have before… and with that comes an awareness that this is a strange place to inhabit.”
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Art by Siobhan Schmidt
Before I left home, I had to have an x-ray. I have a crick in between my ribs, on my left side. Every time I breathe I feel it there. All I wanted was for it to crack, the same way my spine does when I anchor myself on a doorframe and twist. I had to wear a gown and hug myself. Stare at the wall. Listen for the click. My doctor looks younger than he is, and bulk bills me no matter how many times I turn up in his office with questions. He tells me all my bones are where they should be, just one of those things—sit up straight, do some jumping jacks, maybe it will go away—and in passing notes the size of my heart. Small, he says. That’s a good thing.
This is all in an afternoon. The next time I go to the doctors it’s the width of the country away on Hercules St, which I walk down most days. Every time I pass the bakery right before the traffic lights, I look to my left and spot the donut with pink icing that’s always there, wondering when I’ll finally buy it and why. I’m always walking at a pace by then. No time for donuts. A few steps more and I pass a shop with fresh seafood, another with what I assume is duck hanging in the window. Let’s pretend it’s a weekend. I think I like myself better on weekends, when I belong to myself and not the world. I get to leave my street and forget that I’m seen, stuck in my own loop of thoughts instead: choruses, grocery lists, arguments. Mornings are spent with Nat Geo or the radio, a healthy dose of pretention after sunrise. I don’t have to pay attention to the headlines or Twitter. I get to walk down Hercules St, and from there I can go anywhere I like.
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This one time I got a three-minute Uber there, to the house just off the roundabout on Gallipoli St. I misjudged the distance from the train station to my friends’ house, too embarrassed to say anything when the man showed up and pointed out the length of my journey. Their dog—a Rottweiler named Xena, who stands as tall as my hip, and who has a tendency to knock over objects with her tail—greets me at the other side of the flywire door. Her wet nose presses against the mesh. Most of the house has the same wooden floors. The boards creak all the way from the front door to the lounge room to the kitchen, in the same places every time. I lean against the kitchen bench while R— makes tea or T— does the dishes. The room doesn’t get much light, but the window above the sink lets in a hue of green from the overgrown grass claiming the backyard. When Xena goes outside she’s almost invisible. She leaves tracks in the grass behind her; I wonder if her paths can be seen from a plane. A very low-lying, perceptive plane. I remember peeling sweet potato in that room, watching T— and P— cook a saucepan-sized batch of noodles. P— eats Mi Goreng with mayonnaise. The day I found this out I turned to R—, like, you are dating a man who eats his noodles with mayonnaise. Then I ate my noodles with mayonnaise, and my life was unfortunately and irreversibly changed. We would sit on the mismatched couches with our bowls and our condiments, watching The Purge: Anarchy or some strange bootleg of a foreign thriller, until we realise it doesn’t have subtitles. I wonder how these three roommates have made something so temporary look so permanent. It takes time to accumulate clutter on a mantelpiece. There sits the green hat P— stole, drunk on St Patrick’s Day. The next time I visit after some time away, there’s a second hat. It’s the same, only bigger. I joke that every year he’ll have to steal increasingly larger green hats. The tradition has been set in motion. The house will one day become a museum, open especially late on March 17. We lean over each other for handfuls of the bitter, organic chocolate that R— collects in glass jars. We put T— in charge of the music and the movies—which, at the best of times, we ignore just to talk. One night, all night until morning, we yelled at each other about Fermi’s Paradox. The Where is Everybody? paradox. If the universe is so big, Where is Everybody? T— sat on the corner couch listening to our arguments until four in the morning, like a trooper. R— and I are to this day in agreement that the possibility of being alone in the universe is scary and isolating and not at all nice to think about. P— thinks otherwise, and thinks it loud enough for the neighbours to hear. But he’s wrong! I’ll keep yelling so until the sun rises! Look at this house, these people. What gives me comfort is knowing that all kinds of places can feel like home, and plenty of people can feel like family. No one wants to be alone in the universe, and I reserve my right to wallow if it’s ever proven true.
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I sat on my bed watching old videos until the sun went down yesterday, over and over until it was dark. My spine digging into the windowsill above my bed, cross-legged on crumpled doonas, I watched shaky footage from back home. I’m standing on a hill, the sky deep blue, the clouds sparse. The Australian bush is beautiful with perspective—far away and up close, but you have to pay attention to see it. It’s right there, in the dip of the hillside. My home city, so small, with only a few skyscrapers standing out as identifiers.
Home is all skies. There are too many to count, sunrises and sunsets, but also blue skies so deep everything is made better by the colour. I imagine what it will be like to be there again. Sitting here in a different city, scanning through memories, all sorted neatly into 2014… 2015… 2016… now. I’m having a hard time figuring out if I miss those people or if I miss those times, and I’m warning myself against nostalgia—I know I shouldn’t, but against my better judgement, I fall into it anyway.
Every time the seasons changed, a garbage bag full of second-hand clothes was dumped in the middle of our living room. It was the mid-2000s, time of the bedazzled camisole and as-seen-on-Lizzie-McGuire muscle tee, and my sister and I got the pick of the lot.
The hand-me-downs were always at the heart of a preteen struggle between excitement and pride. I hesitated to wear the clothes of the long-lost cousins and little-known family friends who had come before me. Choosing which clothes to wear was supposed to be practice in building an identity, but when the clothes were pulled from a formerly unwanted wardrobe, my identity felt borrowed and worn.
A: Did you ever get anything material passed down?
B: I got this ring from my great grandmother, Alice—and that’s why my middle name is Alice. She passed away a year after I was born. Everyone in my family says I’m like Alice… My family’s quite curvy, and then there’s me, tiny, little blonde stick figure. But my nana Alice was a really short, Irish redhead.
Sometimes I’d cut the clothes into pieces, trying, with limited sewing experience, to make the clothes just unfamiliar enough to be mine again. It’s textbook. Teen thrashes against expectations, taking perfectly good clothes down with her, leaving a trail of loose thread in her wake. I never wore these disasters in public, but when I was young I took scissors to t-shirts whenever I felt too familiar to myself—whenever I felt too comfortable, too expectable. I was finding distance. I was trying to put space between other people and me, one DIY halter top at a time.
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Illustration by Benedict Leader
For the last three years my world has been structured by deadlines: self-imposed, handed down by lecturers and editors, given to me by well-meaning friends and mentors. Throughout university I’ve learned to wrestle with them, coexist with them, do housework and unnecessary vacuuming to avoid them. Despite fighting them, they’ll continue to pepper my life like landmines—and, every now and then, one will explode and throw me into a different life. Those are the dangerous ones, the deadlines that approach with an omen-like inevitability: finishing university, moving out, starting a new job in a new city. The ones you count down to and wait for, wholly unsure of how you’re supposed to approach them. The ones I’m looking at now, slotted between everyday chores in my Google calendar. Return library books and Last class EVER and Major project due and Move to Sydney???
They’re catalysts for nostalgia, which I’ve been dealing with in almost sickening amounts—the feeling that, looking back, everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve done and felt is more precious and fragile than it ever was before.
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Illustration by Mariel Abbene
Do you ever have those moments where your breathing mutates? Because it happens to me a lot. My breathing turns from a handy automatic function to a process I’m aware of—instead of just breathing, I’m inhaling and exhaling and inhaling and exhaling. My lungs don’t work on their own. I have to force them. If I don’t I’ll collapse. Fall into a heap. But inhaling and exhaling stretches past my lungs, my intercostal muscles, my ribs, and my diaphragm. Wherever I am: brain, nervous system, eyes, nose, ears, mouth, tongue, hands—and whoever I am: human, girl, idiot—that person, trapped in a tangle of matter and limbs, needs to breathe too. I need to inhale the world around me and exhale my own reality.
Sometimes I can breathe OUT a whole heap of stuff, like art, fun science facts, short stories, and point of views, but other times what I really need is to breathe IN. And something what I need to breathe in, is this: Elle Woods strutting into Harvard, kicking butt, and being herself. What I need to breathe in is Legally Blonde.
At the right time Legally Blonde can be like oxygen to me—where oxygen atoms are made up of protons, electrons, and neutrons, Legally Blonde is made of uncompromised belief, unassailable femininity, and one of the best darn example of onscreen Shine Theory—the “I don’t shine if you don’t shine” approach to female friendship—to come out of the early 2000s. For a human-girl-idiot, it’s life-giving.
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