To my crazy, beautiful friend. I know you’ll hear this and I know as spirit there will be peace for you. I know your faith helped you and held you so many times, and may you be held now.
Of course, you being in our lives is a crazy story, so I’m going to tell it because there is no way any of this is by chance. Even this bit, where you would get me to write on a Monday morning when I normally would not make the space to write.
Our friend Renee met you on a train. She was leaving Townsville after being one of the birth support people at the home birth of my biggest girl, April. There’s a back story to the back story, but that’s not really my story to tell. She told me she’d met a pregnant girl with a little boy on the train who might end up in Townsville and was interested in home birth and might be in touch. We only had landline telephones in 1996 but she gave you the number and you rang when you arrived in Townsville. Strangely enough (another backstory) April (then 6 weeks old) and I were on a road trip to Darwin 2500km away with my fine friend Fraser, to visit some of Uni friends who had moved to Darwin for work. I had purple hair. We took the baby with us to an outdoor festival watched TISM play.
My housemate Andy called me to say that a you had called and needed somewhere to stay, and I said it would be cool if you and you son stayed in my room. I’m not sure what Andy thought, but your huge personality and belly and laugh had filled our house by the time I arrived home a week or so later. We arrived home on my 22nd birthday after about a 14-hour drive and my baby cried non-stop. I had to sleep in Andy’s wardrobe (a small spare room off his bedroom) for another week or so (or even more??) while you found a house and connected with the home-birth midwives and prepared for your second child to be born. You were so strong and brave and crazy and I could never get the whole back story to your back story. But your 4-year-old son made me play dinosaurs with him constantly and somehow, along with a friend you knew from earlier times, we delivered your daughter at home about 6 weeks later. My job, as well as trying to keep you calm during the contractions and tell you that we would not call an ambulance unless there was a medical emergency, was to make sure your son was OK. He had spent time with April and at 3 months old she was chubby and cute – olive skinned and dark eyed. To help him understand we kept telling him soon he’d have a baby like April, and he seemed happy enough with that. April (who you called Aprillilo always) slept in the lounge with my dog Daisy, and you laboured in the birth pool in another room. You swore a lot. And bellowed a lot. And every contraction screamed that you wanted to go to hospital. And in between every contraction made us promise we would not send you to hospital. And then, with me holding your son we watched as your daughter came into the world, up out of the water – covered in vernix, her tiny face screwed up tight, slightly blue – and I saw her through his eyes (even in the magic of the moment) and he said, “that’s not like April”. We left the room for a while talked about how his sister was so tiny, and how hard it was to get born and soon he was holding her all swaddled up. And you – you cried and laughed and just got on living this crazy life where you meet a friend of a friend on a train and birthed a baby with them.
Not long later April’s dad came to live in Townsville again, to spend time with her, and I broke my heart over him all over again. And you, and my beautiful housemate Andy, without judgement or “I told you so” just let me cry some more, eat ice-cream and watch movies in the day. And you made me play dinosaurs with your son a lot. He made me play. He reminded me what playing was.
Before April and I left Townsville I sold you my little yellow Datsun Bluebird, and brought an ex-ambulance – which I drove home across Australia with my Dad. You stayed in Townsville, with a boy and a baby girl and went back to Uni to study Law and other huge and brainy things and rode your bike a lot with a baby in the baby seat and boy attached to the back. I came back to Townsville a few years later and we stayed in your house, it was so hot we all slept in the one air-conditioned bedroom. Eventually the Bluebird ended her days when you backed out in a hurry before your son has closed the door and the door ripped off. You met someone new and had another baby girl, and occasionally we would speak – these crazy conversations few and far between. You seemed happy in your house, with your family – making creative things and working hard and doing too much always.
Somehow lots of years passed – more babies and life and jobs and Uni. We spoke only occasionally, and then more big life changes happened and around the time my first marriage ended you made a reappearance in my world. In 2010 you decided to move from Queensland to Western Australia with your 3 children, in your ‘truck’. And the next thing you ended up in Geraldton. It was like the merging of two lives for me – you were this force to be reckoned with and called your family the Boisterous Behan’s. You first lived around the corner from my girls’ Dad, near the beach, and you helped out with them a lot while and he and I navigated shared parenting and the complicated, early stage of separation with kids. I think you finally felt like you could look after me a bit, even with your own three kids and single-mumming it with the best of us. It was always tumultuous, houses and jobs and too many pets and men who would break your big heart. But you called my girls the “Shickens” and your life force was far too much for those with not enough. You got an awesome job, always had rabbits and cats and dogs and kids galore and then you met a guy and it seemed like things were finally working out. And then your heart got broken because you’d go in with everything every time (which I admired always) and things got dark and one day in the midst of that you pushed every boundary I had. I was so hurt and so angry (but you were more hurt – not by me but by life I think) and it took us a while to work our way back. The next day though I rang the man who was my mentor and told him I wanted to become a life coach, because I knew I was meant to help people (even or especially at their worst) and I wanted to know how to do it well, without getting hurt or angry. You inspired me to do that, and would you believe I told that story to some of the women I am currently working with on the day you passed away? Of course, you would. Because life was like that with us. You were at the start of the start of the becoming for me. Thank you.
Things got murky here, so you moved to Perth – enough distance to try start fresh, even though life didn’t stop the challenges and the distractions and addictions couldn’t make the pain go away. But you fought always – for justice, for your kids, for the orangutans, for your heart – and you lived with a rescue rabbit with overgrown teeth and a weepy eye, a rescue greyhound and an obese beagle. You renovated houses and I recall a walk-through of one of the first ones the day before the first home open. It was truly transformed. The ultimate of reinventions.
Once, my 4 girls and I plus our au pair and her friend from the US got waylaid in Perth in winter on the way to Bali. We had suitcases full of bathing suits and I had just enough spending money for us to eat $4 nasi goreng and not much else. Volcanic ash in Bali meant we would not fly, so after checking in, getting through customs and waiting for 3 hours, we had to find a place to stay for 7 people at 10.30pm. I’d left my car at your house, and in a flash you were back with it, picked us all up and took us home. You farmed out daughter number 2, and somehow managed to squish us all in your house, with a massive cat called Garfield and a free ranging rabbit or two – who had managed to leave fur on every surface. We were stuck in Perth for 3 days, and although you were determined to have us all the whole time, I was determined to get us some space so your own daughter could come home. Your generosity knew no bounds, but always included animal fur.
When I finally got my shit together and met my love, you wanted so much to meet him. We came to visit you for lunch, and you had completely stressed yourself out trying to get all the food and make the house look respectable, even though the food was amazing and the house was a mess. You know I didn’t ever give a fuck about that (and you know your house was always a mess), but you always apologised way too many times. Your joy at my joy was the best bit though, and I know more than anything you wanted that kind of love for you. When you thought you’d found it, and then it wasn’t that I cried with you too. I wanted that for you, and I always imagine how big a heart he would have to hold yours.
Let it be held now, in the hugeness of the heavens.
I last saw you in real, actual person on the day of our engagement party and have your wall-hanging on our veranda. Hearts with bells on. Of course.
I don’t know what happened babe. You got really lost 2 years ago, but last time we spoke you sounded good. Together. Going back to Uni to do your Masters in something huge and brainy like International Relations and just keeping a low profile so you could get better. You didn’t reply to my messages. In truth, life got busy and I didn’t send that many. I thought if I didn’t hear from you that maybe things weren’t good, or maybe they were, and your life had gotten busy too. I’m sorry I didn’t send more, but I also heard a determined self-reliance in your voice when we last spoke. As though the thing you’d found was in you all along.
I thought of you often and spoke of you a lot – especially every time we clipped our rabbit’s teeth and every time I told the story about me becoming a life coach. I will never see a beagle without thinking of you – how many times can one dog escape in her lifetime? You wore your parents and your heart in the massive butterfly tattoos on your forearms and reinvented yourself and your life so many times. Your laugh was loud and infectious. And your hugs real and true (even though you only came up to my boobs). Thanks for sharing some of those crazy times with us. May you live on in your three beautiful children and all those you touched.
You, lady, were the epitome of hearts with bells on. See you next time x