It rained every day that we drove in Jack’s little red car down the coast of Western Australia. I had asked him what the rain was like in the winter. If it would be the same as the way I know what summer rain at home was like: quick downpours and frequent drizzles. It wasn’t either of those.
In a way, the car suited him perfectly, though it clashed with his stature. He had about a foot on me and muscles I couldn’t wrap my hands around. Determination and stubbornness. I joked that the color matched his hair. It did match his flannel.
I left the heat of New York City on July 1st to cross the world to see him. I indulge in the scorch of New York’s summer. The oppressive ardency that grips your skin. It means something about being relaxed. Or at ease. Free.
Most of my memories of this city are tube tops and five-inch white-heeled wedges. Closer to everyone else- so they could see me better. These were the kind of nights where you never took pictures, or wrote out, but remember in vivid detail. I lived different lives in the summer; ones where I let go a little more than usual. Forgot myself. Or found a distinguishable version.
Every year, my best friends get a house on the beach together for the fourth of July. It had been years since college and our lives as we were living brought us further apart. But we were important to each other. So every summer, we made time to spend together. We laughed a lot and talked about memories we’d told each other before. And then we made new ones. Timing and weddings and distance and flight costs wouldn’t have made it happen this year, anyway. I don’t remember what I did this year on that day.
It had been six months since I’d seen Jack in person and felt him next to me. Enough time to forget what makes a person real. I arrived in Perth three days after I took off from Laguardia Airport (after first arriving at JFK). I have always found a way to add stress to life. Like it means something. Like honor. Australia, as I saw with my own eyes once before, within the year, in fact, had vibrant earth in saturated colors. It was different here. A separation from any life I’d known. It felt like everything was on a larger, stranger scale all pushed together - the animals, the terrain. I’d never expected to be back so soon to a place seemingly imaginary on the other side of the planet. Maybe that made it harder. That I didn’t allow it to be real. But I indulged in pretending for a while.
It was winter, and with the season comes muted tones and hibernation, but I never felt it. One morning, we loaded up the car with a duffle bag of clothes and drove south. We’d be alone together, and a part of it scared me. That we’d run out of things to talk about, that there’d be too much time to show him who I was in smaller moments. I’d rather close a door than sit in the uncomfortability of who I was all the time. We had never once in knowing each other had those moments, and I feel bad for the girl who trusted it would change.
We camped for four or five nights and slept in a swag fit with a twin sized mattress with about two feet of clearance above the head. The trip from the beginning hadn’t started well for my body. That day, we stopped every hour or so so that I could go to the bathroom. It was a bad combination of held anxieties, too many diuretics and prune juice. And that’s life. Choices and consequences and hilarity. Eventually it settles.
Every night, we came back to bed when it got dark and watched an episode of Stranger Things downloaded to a Google Pixel. The air outside our bubble was cut with inevitable rain: heavy and inconvenient. A lot like love. We watched the episode and fell asleep in each other’s arms. Most nights, it was around 9:30. Or earlier if I gave in; or the one day we drank too much too early. He likes to go to sleep early.
My first camping trip was in Sweden on the Baltic Sea. My summer camp had a program that allowed teenagers going into sophomore year of high school to elect an abroad experience. Our counselor the summer before had told us about a romantic night where she kissed her crush in the rain on that trip. I think I’ve always been bound to the stories I daydreamed about. New York lets you do it all day every day. The conspiracy that everyone else could be and that there’s something meaningful in the sky opening and letting go.
The camp had us on a week long canoe trip. The canoes would be support and transportation and the oars and tarp our tents. We brushed our teeth in the sea and didn’t shower for six days. I never feel dirty anymore. I hate showering. We paddled through the midnight sun of summer and played through nettle patches that stung longer than you’d think.
Camping is stripped back and honest. I’ve gone a decent amount since I was 15. I’ve woken up from the cold and wind, seen the milky way and the stars bounce in circles. I’ve woken up to baby foxes a few feet away and I’ve always been surrounded by people that care about. And I loved camping with Jack. We got to feel what it would be like to be together.
He drove to each new site while I navigated and I would reach over to brush my fingers through the hair on the back of his neck like I had the night we met. Margaret River is known for their wineries, and on a tour, seven months later, told strangers the story of one night in Buenos Aires.
We kept the details. Of the bath we took because I couldn’t figure out how to work the shower. Where we talked about politics and our beliefs and our favorite books and fate. How he remembers me reaching out to him in the middle of the night. I was drawn to him even in sleep. He had always been a bit like the dreams where you wake up in the middle and want to fall back into its lightness, grab at what happens next, but it’s lost in the yellow of daybreak. Beyond control. Whatever it was, it had been lovely.
It’s hard now to not also think of the night he told me he loved me at an inn upstate two weeks later. When he rerouted his backpacking trip to see me in Brooklyn. The look in his soft hooded eyes when he admitted it. It came out slow and sincere. I kissed him and told him back. It snowed that night.
We ran through the Boranup Forest. The trees canopied the sky and belonged to a time millions of years earlier. We trekked hills through sideways rain for four hours. We didn’t see anyone on any of the trails for a long time.
We talked and told stories. Ones that make you remember the person in front of you. And I learned why I loved him again.
We also fought. Up a mountain. Because it had to be on a mountain. At times, I powered up with the hurt to fuel me, plotting response, analyzing. In it was anger. And relief. And then, he did the same ahead of me. He got to the top first. I decided he should’ve been the one to do so, anyway. After everything, it felt like acceptance.
We had both been trying to do the right thing; based in best interest and logic. The things you’re supposed to do when you’re two single people, and also in love. And we tried to understand each other. We always did.
My mom has told me a few times about the trip she took to Italy with my dad before they got married. Something about how he almost drove them off the side of a mountain, and she was so angry at him. That they’d spent so much time together. I don’t remember what she’s told me about how she felt at the time other than it tested her. They’ve been married for almost 30 years and I know what good love looks like.
While Jack drove, I referenced a book we picked up from a visitor’s center a lot for destinations to go to next. Planning is one of my favorite talking points to fill in silence. It’s comfortable and I like knowing what happens in the future. I didn’t get a SIM card, I used Jack’s hotspot if I needed to work. He let me take pictures of our food and hated it. But he let me.
We biked around an island named for the very cute oversized rat looking animals he called me as a nickname. Quokkas. If you knew me, you’d know it was true. I made a face just like they did when they saw food.
We sat near a lighthouse with my sweatshirt tied around my waist and my helmet strapped-- he wouldn’t wear one-- and talked about getting drunk later. We split oysters and french fries over wine and the ocean. There are selfies where his hair, which always fell down straight like a mop, is sticking straight up in the air. I don’t know if he owns product to keep it in place. He’d never used it while I was there, at least. The photos look fucking ridiculous and I love them.
I looked out a lot that afternoon. To focus on the trees. The deep, electricity of the surrounding waters. The man reading a paper early in the morning on vacation. Calm. I don’t remember much else of what it looked like.
On my last night, I left my phone in the car. We went fishing off the dock of a naval base and I watched the sky slowly change tincture. The weather cleared the Monday that I left, ten days later. The sky dipped into a pale blue split by the color of carnations. I wonder if it matters that carnations are the flowers of deep love. The moon glowed even before the sky changed and greyed the black of the ocean, protective and taunting. I had worn a white button-down that tied at the stomach. We were catching squid. But he had told me I looked cute. I caught the first one, and then the following three.
I watched as the lights of Perth glittered on the water. I searched an index of references in my memory to pair it with this moment. A way to remember it specifically. They looked like December. There were dark greens and reds and yellows and blues. I don’t remember if New York sparkles like that. I’m not sure it would be the same. The waves transfixed my eyes as the tide changed and the patterns grew larger, steadier. The beach to the left looked tropical, like South East Asia with its short strip of hilled sand and palm trees. I wondered if this would be a place I’d ever see again. He knew I felt that way. The way he sort of always knew what I was feeling and thinking. I told him I'd never met anyone who could see me the way he did. Maybe I’m readable. But I have a hard time listening.
I remember a lot of other small moments: the night I had really bad cramps and he let me take an edible on his couch while we watched stand-up on Netflix. And Planet Earth. And ate Chinese on the floor. He took care of me and I thanked him for that.
A close encounter with a kangaroo.
When I sang Andy Milanokis’s theme song over and over again while we play fought in the botanical gardens. It will look beautiful in the summer. When it’s time for more color.
The time he told me he loved my singing voice when I belted out Michelle Branch. Followed by Smash Mouth, Disney classics and the rest on the playlist. He sings more than I do. And it makes me want to more. I stopped a long time ago, and I really loved singing.
The time we lay on the grass as the sun set eating gelato.
The way he made me laugh when he started getting comfortable.
The questions that affirmed my convictions and gave answers to define who it is I’m becoming.
Back in New York, things were different. I was exhausted by time change and emotion. I scrolled back and forth through my images, needing them to remind me of more. There was a calmness that was in a lonely beach in pale hues. So unlike my last trip where all the memories that heat brings were strong and loud. It wasn’t any better. It was just so different.
I tried to bump the colors in editing, but it just felt like I was forcing it. And it was beautiful as it was.