July 1, 5:57 am.
I roll over, body pressed between blanket and doona. The darkness is crowded – confused, I lift my head, and 23 girls start singing – happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you …
The room is crammed with people, hanging off beds and squished into corners, bed-hair and dressing gowns and giggling to fill the gaps in the song. Paige and Em crawl into my top-bunk afterwards, stroking my hair and tucking themselves in beside me. They press letters into my hand and kisses to my cheek.
Emerge for breakfast, sweat-shirt and too-long pyjama pants. I keep tripping over. Socks and thongs, two-day old plait. Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday. I smile into sultanas and yoghurt and fumble over cards and envelopes.
Bags packed, floors swept, walls wiped. Em mops the hallway; I trail behind her, scooting back and forth on a towel. We hang out of a window in a room crammed with luggage, feet cold on the windowsill, disposable camera pressed to my face. 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. I run out of photos and can’t pick a moment perfect enough to use my last one on.
Pink sunrise this morning. Sky coated in fairy-floss. We sign our names in the ice on the windows. Water drips from our words.
Sitting on the edges of chairs, like we’re ready to take off. The morning drags on, deadline looming, hours to fill but my fingers are cold and this doesn’t feel like home right now.
Colours and sound flicker on the screen. Ten weeks doesn’t feel long when you’re at the end, and all that’s left is enough photos and videos to fill several memory sticks and an SD card. I cry into Em’s shoulder – hiccuping, gasping, ugly crying. They throw open the doors while I’m wiping at my mascara, and I give up.
My family’s here. I feel out of place.
I’ve been folded in the arms of every person I’ve ever loved here. People wave from car windows with arms still damp from my tears.
This home is empty. It echoes. I’m the very last person, wandering through the shed, checking for lost luggage. Will’s left his bag – I grab it and dial his number. Straight to voicemail.
But it’s not my home, now. It’s a building I love, but the people are gone and the rooms are empty and my car door is open, waiting.
Today, I turned 15, and I finished my first and only term of boarding school.
15. It tastes weird on my tongue. I’m still figuring out if I can swear around my parents yet. Sometimes I glance over the kids menu and forget. When I’m asked how old I am I pause for a second too long.
I sit outside, toes cold, balancing on rocks, phone pressed to my ear. Talking with an old friend, haven’t spoken in months, can’t quite picture her face. She feels lost with her new friends and we make plans for Monday (they fell through). My phone goes flat but I don’t move, staring across the road. Cars flash past, the sky is a pale, dusty blue.
I hear a door bang behind me, and like it’s a signal I stand and leave.
Tonight the whole world feels bright. I film myself twirling under street-lamps and play absent-mindedly with a silver necklace (a birthday gift – I didn’t like it much at first, but now I adore it). Fairy-lights glitter in the city, mid-winter festival. We eat thai-food and I tell every story I can think of, even the ones I shouldn’t. The more I talk, the closer it feels.
Peanut sauce and rice, notifications bright on my screen. I film blurry close ups of my menu. Long black dress, dirty black converse. Unbrushed hair, makeup smudged from crying all morning. A thin plait hangs loosely near my ear.
I screenshot instagram stories that are all movie credits and discarded jeans. It won’t make sense in the morning, but right now it feels like everything. We forget to stop for ice-cream on the way home and I slip a t-shirt over my dress.
I know I’ll forget the details in years to come. I’ll remember the food and the tears and the car-ride, but I won’t remember the conversation or the waitress with the pink hair or the name appearing on my screen that made me smile.
I’m sitting at a tiny, plastic table in a caravan, typing this. There’s a small TV playing re-runs of Two and a Half Men, and my sister’s asleep on the couch. I’m about to run out of data and I’ve eaten too much bread.
I’ve grown to hate birthdays. It always ends up like this, somehow. A few minutes left, and I feel the same. I feel odd. Out of place. 2017 has been weird. Like a flickering, silent movie, cut up and sewn together in the wrong places. I see bright colours and odd strains of 2009 music. I’m still finding sand in my clothes and it’s mid-winter.
Thanks for sticking with me. Nearly five weeks ago, I stood thigh-deep in a foaming sea, and I thought of you. Maybe this place – Seafoam, my home, my little corner – isn’t much, but it’s everything to me.
Here’s to 15. Here’s to unanswered questions and dirty t-shirts and sweet smelling hills. Here’s to home, and everything it is and isn’t. Here’s to saltwater and star-gazing and overflowing passion, to words scraping at throats and thoughts lost between laughter. Here’s to everything left unsaid, unheard and undiscovered, and everything to come.
Here’s to July 1. Here’s to now.
[ Illustrated by the lovely Isobel ]