I came back because of them.
Them, the women who have known and loved me for years.
Loved me long before I was a mother, long before I was The Leonie Dawson.
There’s the one who loved me when I was a teenager, greeting me on my first day of boarding school. I was mildly terrified at what this new world of boxes would bear, but I saw her open face and kind eyes and wide open smile, and knew I was safe with her.
There’s the one who had purple hair when I first met her, who talked loudly about her womb in an elevator filled with stiff public servants. I saw her and knew I wanted to be just like her. She was the one who led me by hand into my first women’s circle, to that moment I knew I was home, to that knowing I’d been walking to a women’s circle for all the moments before.
There’s the tiny, wild haired woman who was sitting in that circle, loving openly with her big brave heart. We’ve walked kindred journeys into motherhood and that tough, knee-skinning initiation. She is grace and courage and warmth.
There’s the one who I sat beside at cubicle desks for 7 years. She was apparently my boss, but most of all she was my comrade, my sister, my co-conspirator in mischief and glee. A mutual friend once remarked: “You two were the most unlikely love story on Level 11. Complete opposites who fit together like puzzle pieces.” She, the fastidious, elegantly dressed Virgo who willingly talks about her discomfort about all things hippy and spiritual, and her love of all things shallow. Me, the wild haired messy Scorpio who is a 24/7 channel for hippy, spiritual and deep. Together: unconditional love and mutual adoration.
These are the women I came back for.
I’ve had many glorious adventures in the past eight years. Trolloped all over the country. Two years in the Whitsundays in a tiny old wooden cottage my grandmother had lived in, spending our days by the beach, watching eagles in the backyard, listening to the sounds of the sugar mill heaving at the end of our street. A few months in Cairns, in that wild hot tropics, living in that treehouse, marvelling at the magic and the mould, visiting every white-sanded beach around. A couple of years on an acreage in the rainforest that I had hoped would be our forever home, but was too wild and unsettled for us. I still miss that timber home with vaulted ceilings and pademelons out the back and kookaburras that flew through our lounge room. That hippy village with its markets weaving down the hills and rainforest. Six months in Tasmania, that isolated island at the bottom of isolated island of Australia. Daily walks on a cold, brilliant blue beach, gazing up at the great snow-capped mountain each day. Being woken by him, as excited as a boy, at 5am. Get up, get up, it’s fucking SNOWING! It fulfilled my husband’s teenage wish to return there. My husband said six months there was worth thousands of dollars in therapy sessions.
And then one night after I’d fallen and hurt my foot badly, an injury that would take another 18 months to recover from, I was overcome with homesickness for my Canberra people. My foot was swollen and I couldn’t sleep. The Antartic wind hurtled around our house on the hill at midnight. I was tired of feeling alone, tired of being the new girl in town, tired of feeling like we had no one to call on.
I was faced with a sliding doors moment.
I knew if I woke my husband and told him, he would agree to move.
If I didn’t, we would stay, on that out of the way island that was at equal turns fiercely cold and stunningly beautiful.
In a moment that I would come to regret more than any other decision I’ve made in my life, I woke him.
Five days later, we had bought a nice suburban house online, and one month later we were landing back in Canberra.
At first I was giddy to feel so comfortable, so at ease, so at home.
I adored seeing my old friends so dearly. It felt deliciously safe to have them just around the corner from me.
It was a gift to have that time to be together, to see our own kids become friends too.
But within a few months, I was begging Chris to let me remake that decision, to go back to that midnight moment. The alpine suburban life felt like the saddest, beigest outcome after all our dreams of wild adventures and acreages. We felt like rainbow rainforest parrots caged, colours fading fast.
I was afraid of leaving too: I didn’t want to make the wrong decision. Didn’t want to find myself lonely again. Scared of losing the support I had outside my husband and kids.
To our excruciating surprise, it took almost two and a half more years to leave. We kept trying in earnest, and feeling utterly trapped and stuck. We’d discuss for months a new place we could move to, only to visit and feel repelled, uneasy.
I flew across the country by myself to visit a stunningly beautiful hippy town that is adored the world over, one with sky high mortgages and celebrities aplenty… a place that on paper looked perfect for us… only to feel instantly and profoundly repelled on landing and actually experiencing it. I returned home feeling like I’d just walked through energetic dog shit, and we crossed that one firmly off the list too.
We couldn’t go back to places we’d been before for various reasons: my Tasmania-loving husband didn’t want to be off the mainland again so he could be more available for his ageing parents. The other places we’d lived were beautiful in their own ways, but were shoes that didn’t quite fit.
Again and again, I tried to give up on my dreams.
Tried to contain myself to the life, the house, the land that didn’t fit.
I wondered if I was too greedy. Why I couldn’t just settle already, dammit. Why everyone else seemed so happy, so content, so unquestioning with their lives. I became convinced I was fucking up everything. I was sure I’d never find the right place for us, that we would be doomed to be restless, bereft of a sense of home. I began to worship at the altar of Nothing Will Ever Be Okay Ever Again.
This story is intrinsically woven with my cliff fall into depression.
Where the wanderlust worries became a crisis of chemistry. They are tied together, and it is hard to tell them apart, except that the worry was painful, the depression was seismic.
Still, it woke me and my husband up in a way we needed.
After it was over, and I was no longer comatose with sadness, my husband sat me down and said:
I need to tell you something. I couldn’t tell you when you were lost in depression. I just needed to be there for you. But I need you to know when you were down so far, I was worried. I worried that you might be broken, and I wasn’t sure how to fix you. And I knew I needed to look after you, and look after the kids. And so I decided I needed to take you home. The thing is, since we left the tropics, you’ve been losing your spark, the thing that you’ve always had, the thing that makes you Leonie. And the depression felt like you’d lost it all together.
So I need to take you back home, because you’re alive there, and your spark is so bright. I think we need to move to the Sunshine Coast. It’s not your home town, but it’s your home state, and it’s got the things we need there: the beach and the warmth and educational options for the kids. And you can see your Dad more often, and we can visit those places if we want to. But mostly, I just need to take you to the ocean and be in the sun again so you can get your spark back.
And I sobbed.
I felt so deeply seen.
I responded simply:
It all became so abundantly, searingly clear.
More cautious than ever, we decided to send me on a scouting mission.
Send the sensitive canary down the mine, see if she steps in energetic dog shit.
I called him that afternoon, hair curling in the humidity, barefoot and sandy.
I think I might like this quite a bit, I tell him. The air is so very sweet here. I can smell the ocean and the trees.
The next day I call him again, watching children ride through the village, joyous and free.
I think we might be happy here.
The next day I call him late at night. I’d just spent the day on a friend-bender visiting mates I’d met in every other place we’d lived who’d all moved here. I’d played with horses and alpacas by the mountain with one friend, waded through an ocean lake with another, laughed in a rainforest acreage with another, had dinner by the crashing surf with another. Just give me land and animals and outside wilderness, and I’m happy as a pig in fucking mud.
This has been the best day I’ve had in a long, long time.
In order to say yes again, I had to let go.
I had to let go of judging myself so deeply about all the moving we’ve done, all the choices we’ve made and unmade. I had to let go of that stranglehold of a need to get THIS decision right.
Instead, I had to become gentle and fluid, graceful and forgiving of myself. I decided to choose a grateful heart instead of a festering one.
I’m so glad we’ve had all these adventures. We are so very lucky. We’ve learned and experienced so much from each place. And even if this one isn’t the right place forever, that’s okay too. I can choose, and choose again. It’s okay if other people think I’m crazy, it’s okay if my friends won’t understand. I know myself and I know why we are doing this.
And we chose to move again. Put half our old house into storage. Find a smaller house near the sea that we could use as a hub to explore this gold blue green coastline, maybe find an acreage eventually.
Find some wings again after feeling stuck for so very long.
Stuck is our nemesis, our kryptonite. Have to keep moving forward, evolving, choosing what is right for us next.
I don’t know what I thought my dear friends would say when I told them we were leaving. I was so sad to be leaving them, but I couldn’t remain. I didn’t know how I could explain it without sounding ungrateful, crazy, a loose cannon.
I didn’t expect to be met with so much understanding.
We were sitting in a gravel car park at sunset. It was my final night out with my dear sisterfriends.
I’m so sorry I’m leaving, I tell her.
Oh honey, it’s okay. I knew we couldn’t keep you here. You’re a mermaid out of water, you need to be back by the sea. We didn’t think you’d even last this long! We will come visit.
I squeeze back the tears. Oh to be so understood. That she knew all along. That she still loved me anyway.
We walk down the path in the darkening air. There is a labyrinth by the lake, one I have visited and walked so many times over the years. We meet another friend there, and we begin walking it silently, one by one.
It is icily cold, and I shrug my hands deep into my pockets. Around and around, goes the labyrinth. This way, then a sharp turn that way. The trail is long, confusing, hard to follow. Just as you think you are getting closer to the centre, you curl back out. The labyrinth is life, of course. The path takes you every fucking direction under the sun. You question whether you are on the right path and doing the right thing often. And just when you can barely stay with it any longer, you emerge into the blessed centre.
In the centre of this particular labyrinth is a gnarled old tree that hold prayers and offerings. Beside it is a large slab of ancient rock from the desert of Australia, so powerful you can touch it and find yourself connected to the beginning of this land. One of my dearests is sitting on the rock already. The wind blows colder, and like a heat-seeking missile, I sit down and press my back against her.
We sit there for a long while, meditating alone together. It struck me how perfect it was: this one has always had my back. The bell tower, for the first time I’ve experienced it, is in full song. Melodies ripple out from it across the lake, bells singing together. I don’t know why, but it is a miracle I tuck into my pocket.
I look up, watch the bare wavering tree limbs over us. Squint my eyes, the stars are jewelstrewn across evening’s velvet blouse now. I smile as I watch one friend still making her labyrinth journey. Smile as the warmth from my back buddy seeps into my jacket. Smile as I think of our other friends joining us later at the restaurant.
Suddenly, a wave washes over me, and I hear the words:
You are loved. You are infinitely loveable. This has all been a gift to teach you this.
Tears well in my eyes. I had no idea I was holding onto any idea that I was unlovable, unadored.
But there it was, and it had just been healed.
I soak in the warm wash of love.
If I had to go through all of this just to know this, that’s okay. I can carry this love with me wherever I go.
And I do go.
Go to the restaurant, and laugh, and tell stories, and listen. Look around at the faces of these women who love me just as I am.
Go home and kiss my husband and my children, give thanks for that cosy nest of love we’re building together, stick by stick, moss mound by moss mound. Our family is our home, no matter what state we’re in.
Finish loading the car, drive out of Canberra early one morning.
Point our car’s nose north, and head off towards the sun.