Dear teenage girls that I work with in the town that I live in,
I’ve asked you to tell your stories about the worst mistakes you never made, and to be vulnerable and strong and real. It seems fair that I do the same. It seems right to do it today, on this exact same date, October 28, ten years ago today, that I had to start making the biggest decision I’ve ever made.
I was a teenager, but a couple of years older than you guys. I was 19 and travelling alone in Sicily. I had been travelling around Europe for 3 months already.
That morning I had climbed a volcano and written my initials in the snow on the way up. Underneath the initials of my boyfriend. Then I drew a circle around us, because, y’know, hearts break but circles never end. I know, right, lame! The volcano was called Mount Etna and the very top was covered in grey ash and sulphuric smoke.
We had been together for nearly 2 years. He was taller, older and cooler. He had a bright red mohawk and black fingernails. I had a terrible hair cut I gave myself and always wore baggy shorts. I can’t remember when we met but I was still in high school. He used to direct musicals that I would choreograph. Sometimes we’d make eye contact across the rehearsal room and give a secret grin. Sometimes we held each other when one of us cried.
Even though we both thought Valentines Day was a commercial pile of crap one year he had a dozen red roses delivered to my work. For his birthday I ordered a pair of custom made bowling shoes with flames up the side. Sometimes we’d have dinner together then he’d go do the night shift in the emergency department of the hospital.
He was into punk and I was kinda in to ska, which is like punk but with trumpets. I know, totally daggy but trust me in ten years you’ll look at Taylor Swift and be like, srsly wtf were we thinking? I was more into Ben Folds Five and Britney Spears but I was into it because he was I guess. We said our bridal waltz would be Jet’s ‘Are You Gunna Be My Girl?’ and at the start he’d peel off my big white bridal dress and underneath would be black and white checked skirt and skate shoes and we’d skank around the dance floor. After I got back from Europe I was going to move towns to go to uni and study theatre and media. He looked up the hospital in that town, and found a street called Brilliant Street. We said we’d live there, on that street.
Of course we were only joking. About the waltz and the house. Of course.
The night before I flew overseas he told me he wanted to wait for me until I got back, that he wanted us to be together. He gave me his iPod loaded up with my favourite songs.
I arrived at the airport in Warsaw at 9pm. I had Lonely Planet maps but the street signs in Polish didn’t seem to match up. Hauling my backpack, I made my way to the youth hostel in the dark. It felt fucking awesome – I was totally invincible – like I could now do anything. I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
I volunteered with a theatre company in Gdansk, living in a hall with ten other volunteers from all over the world. Every morning a Serbian girl would play the Amelie soundtrack to wake us up. We hid from a ticket inspector on the train to a party on a beach where people danced in the water. We visited concentration camps. We worked in schools in poor rural areas where a teacher offered me a job. I visited my uncle in London and cried in his lounge room, overwhelmed by all the opportunities that existed in the world. I sent my boyfriend back home lots of photos and long emails.
In Turkey I wore a wedding ring because Lonely Planet told me men wouldn’t hassle me and women would respect me. I liked wearing the wedding ring. I’d play with it in my fingers whenever I was lonely or scared. Other Aussie tourists just seemed to be getting drunk and being rude. I went to a mosque with a guide who told me the stories of that place and answered my questions. I went to the markets and explored the city on my own. I got on a ten hour bus to the middle of the country, to Cappadocia. For the 6 months I’d worked as a receptionist to save up money for my trip I’d kept a photo of Cappadocia on my desk at work. When I got there I rode a horse bareback at sunset in the desert where people made churches in caves and watched dervishes whirl.
I called my boyfriend on a payphone, he cried and then my phone card ran out.
I got on a boat over to Italy and I wrote him a long letter telling him that I missed him so much it ached, and that this ache was a stronger feeling than anything I’d ever felt before. I told him that I thought that ache was love. It was a big word. We’d never used it before, but I used it then. When I got to Sicily I posted that letter.
The next day was October 28, 2005. I’d written our initials in the snow on the way up Mount Etna. I’d climbed down and was checking my emails in an internet café. I got an email from my best friend.
I can’t remember how I met my best friend either. We lived next door to each other and our parents still do. We went to the same school, were in the same grade and caught the same bus. We went to the same dance school on the weekends and to the same scout troop after school. At scouts we tried to smoke rolled up tea bags and she sat with me one time as I scratched at my wrists with an alfoil pie dish. Before I flew overseas she drew me a picture of me as a pirate dressed in polkadots.
The email said that she’d been at my boyfriend’s house. They’d both been talking about how much they missed me. They’d both been drinking tequila. She was sorry. They had slept together.
I decided to weep openly in that internet café. The kind stranger next to me asked me if I was ok, or they might have offered me a tissue, or perhaps a glass of water, I can’t remember, but they were nice to me. I decided to tell that kind stranger why I was crying. The next morning I wrote an email to my best friend and my boyfriend, saying they could send me one email to explain what had happened, then I didn’t want to hear from either of them for two weeks. I decided to get on a boat with a bunch of kind strangers. For a week we got boats to other islands that were volcanoes and we climbed up them. One of the volcanoes, the island of Stromboli, took all day to climb through green forests. At the top we stood in the dark and listened to it rumble and watched it explode, shooting ash and lava high above us then bubble down the side. We climbed down in the dark alongside a river of lava.
As we left that volcano island I stood at the back of the boat. I watched the little waves the boat was forming glowing in the moonlight. I took off the wedding ring. My skin had tanned around it, leaving a white ring on my skin. I thought about throwing the ring off the back of the boat, then put it in my pocket.
To be continued