Us and The Girls


It was one of the last jobs to be done. I was packing up the beach house in Australia to head back to Qatar; towels were washed and folded, I’d cleared out the debris from under everyone’s beds receiving the unspoken surprise monologues from my absent children *Surprise Mum! Here’s where I left all those socks you’ve been searching for, and look, while I was bored over the holiday I practiced my engraving skills on the bed head! Hope you like 5SOS as much as I do!*

The last job was to tackle the two enormous green plastic containers. They’d been purchased ten years ago at a discount store in Canada with the purpose of storing our photos until we found a better option. G and I were 30 and 27 when we we met, lives had been lived. I had album after album of life pre G, each photo had me with a drink in one hand and a ciggie in the other, bizarrely it didn’t seem to matter whether that was at the office, attending someone’s wedding, or wearing a very fetching drop waisted pink taffeta number. Our pre digital life included our wedding, first and second child. Farewell parties in Jakarta sat in the developer’s sleeves marked Kemang Raya. Pictures of our house in Kuala Lumpur, and dinner parties in Libya where we’d sat on the floor of a farmhouse with friends.

Those green bins sat under the stairs in a cold and snowy Canada until they were loaded into a truck and driven across the border into the US. They survived the humidity of Houston and were once again placed out of sight until they made their way over the sea in a cargo ship to Australia. When they came out of the truck I followed tradition, they were stacked on top of each other at the bottom of an empty closet with the same thought I’d had in our previous homes “I’ll get to that later”.  Later took five years, a small renovation of our cupboards was what had finally pushed me to do something.

The hard copies of our life seemed to finish abruptly with the acquisition of our digital camera. Opening the green boxes was an insight into the tangible, the ability to hold yet not focus and enlarge. Instead of hovering a mouse over a held certificate I now squinted to read the fine print. What have I got on my feet? Is that a boat in the background? Like miniature explosions, the locations, houses, neighbours and holidays detonated in my mind. A life pre G, a life pre children, a life as a family of 3, 4, 5 and 6.

I honed in on a shot, G and I on the Whitsunday Islands. One of our favourite holidays. The first little traveller is 2, her sister is 4 months old. We were a completely different family. Our children upon becoming plural became “the girls”. And although we had train sets and cars we were short on testosterone. I stared at us, a family of four, we’d got through our first five months in Libya, living in a guest house. The girls and I had shared our days (and living space) with a rotation of 60 men coming in and out of the desert. We hadn’t been able to find a home of our own, our shipment was delayed, I didn’t have a car, a licence, a job. G was working for a man we now refer to as the real dictator of Tripoli and his name wasn’t Ghadaffi. It will perhaps remain to be the hardest move we’ve made, but the photo in the Whitsundays was the turn around point, the first holiday, we’d made it, we could do this. We’re okay. A few weeks later I was pregnant again, but at the time that shot was taken, we were just us, and the girls.

I sat with a girlfriend at lunch today who lost her father last year. She’s trying to focus on her favourite memories of him, “I think I just need time to heal.”

“Maybe you need to make a list?” I suggested.

“I think I need photos, I think I need photos of the times we had together when it was just us.”

Sometimes looking back can make us melancholy for what was, what’s finished, or over.  But the truth is, it isn’t finished, it still exists, if feelings can be tangible, photos prove their existence: courage, strength, friendship, love, unity, family.

An insight into what was, what is, what will be.

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