This afternoon, a start date for a trans-Tasman bubble is likely to be announced. Australia-born Emily Writes, who used to hop across the ditch to see her family regularly, explains the dull ache of a year apart.
This post was first published on Emily Writes Weekly.
If I close my eyes and try to think of my earliest memory it’s of sand beneath my feet. I was born at a hospital that no longer exists. When I was born the masses of apartments like a sore on the water line didn’t exist. They have replaced the small hospital, a growth of development that has made the coast less golden with every passing year.
I see my mother, heavy with my brother’s life inside her belly, big sunglasses and a hat over her curls. My sister’s long hair plaited, the colour of the sun. My father’s hair always wet from the beach, sand on his jandals, sand on his knees. The smell of eucalyptus everywhere; we broke the leaves and rubbed it on our hands so we’d smell like summer all day.
I remember waves and salt thick in the air, my father pushing me out past the breaks, pushing me on, imploring me to have a little courage but I never had much of that.
I preferred the safety of the shore, sand on my feet, sand on my knees. The monstrous waves simply scared me, even as I craved the cool of the sea.
I remember my sister’s lap better than I remember the country I grew up in. Better than the tussocks and sand dunes that there are scores of in my new home away from her.
Even with oceans in between us we didn’t feel so far from each other. I stopped interrogating whether that big red country was home or not a long time ago. It felt unneeded to consider it when I could simply call her and feel the space between us shrink into nothingness, as if we could hold each other through the phone.
This land called me and I answered and now I know it’s where I was always meant to be.
I was lucky enough to visit my birth country, the country I grew up in, fairly regularly. Even with children we made an effort to be together, hop-stepping the kilometres between us with relative ease. I know that’s a privilege not many have.
We saw each other in December 2019. The fires were already there then. The children held their t-shirts over their mouths and we didn’t know the fires would get worse even than that. The cousins cuddled in a sweaty pile, the heat rising from their half-naked bodies as they refused to uncoil from each other even for a moment. It was like they knew they needed to hold this time together in their bones.
We sat, my sister and I, legs touching on the couch, and clinked our glasses into the evening. We laughed and squeezed each other – I don’t think we knew then that months later we would be closing our eyes and trying to feel that closeness.
When we came home the fires got worse and I called her sometimes two or three times a day. And then the country did as it does and it just stretched on, unstoppable. New growth seemingly unrestrained, unbothered by scorched Earth. Australia is a country that just keeps living whether you like it or not.
Then the virus came and I felt it for the first time – that 2,225 kilometres. We have run to each other over the last 20-odd years we’ve been apart. Left the coffee in the pot to get to the airport, always said “I’m just a few hours away”.
And then we weren’t. And it was paralysing. The taking for granted of it all was a physical pain. I started to dream I would run into the water and somehow each step would be buoyant and I would get to her and my precious babies she brought into the world. The names for them – niece, nephew, nibling – they’re not enough.
When I first held her firstborn he felt like home. All three babies live under my skin and I feel their weight in my arms even when they’re not here. They’re just so far away now. I close my eyes and see their dimples but I can’t conjure their smell.
We’re not just a few hours away any more and I can’t run through the sea to get to her shores. I can’t rest my head on her shoulder. Can’t climb into the bed of my oldest boy and measure our arms against each other. Can’t love them so hard my arms ache from the hold. Can’t smell the sea in their hair and feel the sand on their feet and their knees.
It’s so far. We try not to talk about the bubble, my sister and me. Sometimes fantasise about moving but we’re both home. My home is here now, hers has always been there. We sometimes cry in bursts on the phone. We imagine holding each other.
We fantasise a lot – when we are together we will… And we try not to get our hopes up but we do. As we age we need each other in a way that is new and urgent. I can understand now sisters who retire together. Sisters who yearn for that easy silence in their older age. Our blood is the most comfortable with each other. We share a black-as-night humour that shocks our husbands.
Covid-19 has stolen memories and the chance to make new ones. We are lucky that we haven’t faced tragedy in the last year, not the way others have at least.
Ours is just the mundane sadness we have all become used to. We just really miss each other. That’s it. We just miss each other.
We miss each other in the mornings, in the afternoons, in the evenings. We miss each other through the phone. We miss each other.
We all miss each other.
I know now home isn’t a big red country. Isn’t the smell of the sea. Isn’t a crushed eucalyptus summer.
It’s my sister’s lap, her arms around me, our tears of laughter mixing into that perfect alchemy. Our babies in a pile of salt sweat by the fan. My sister, my blood, my home. Our bubble.