Meeting Chris was not a meet-cute or a sweet story. It started with a swipe of our fingers and "it's a match!" when people asked me for months after how we met I'd either laugh nervously or make up an exuberant story about we met saving an entire in orphanage from a fire and then our eyes met through the flames. Now I just say it simply.
I wasn't on tinder for love. Or to date. Or for anything. My mum was very sick and my days were taken up by hospitals and cancer. I wanted something away from that life, I wanted to flirt with boys and be silly and for a moment not have this dark shadow hanging over me.
Then there was Chris.
Unlike most conversations I had experienced, there were no lines, no awkward pauses or days of not messaging one another. I was stuck to my phone like a giggly teenager, talking to this boy from Queensland, who had moved to Spain and then come to Melbourne for a fresh start.
I remember first seeing him and noticing the fire behind his eyes, this life that came in waves and made you warm on the inside. He had tussled hair, dark eyes and freckles – and I remember noticing how animated his voice was as we drove to have breakfast together.
We spoke deeply about life. About most things many would shy away from on first meeting. Chris and I agree on everything and we talk and talk, I find myself smiling and laughing and the hospital beds for a moment melt away.
We first kiss on our second meeting. He had wanted to all night but feared scaring me away. When we finally do, we are at my car. Anticipation hangs in the air as we say our goodbyes, and then there he is, lips making me fall away from myself. I’m smiling when we pull away and it stays a tattoo on my face for hours.
‘I love you,’ first came from my mouth. He was lying in bed with messy hair and my heart was beating and I say it. He says he does too and I hide behind my hands and laugh.
Later, he asks if he can meet my mother, and I hesitate. She is only seeing immediate family and I think of her, bright cheeks and toned body now pale and skinny, her moments of consciousness becoming farther apart and I tell him the memories I want him to have are those I paint in stories, and not what she is now.
Not long after, she dies, and a part of me dies too. I spend my days just trying to figure out how to be human. How was it that I breathed, again? What is feeling? Am I even alive anymore?
The funeral is made of blurry faces and names. People give their condolences and I feel so numb I can't feel it when they hug me.
Chris comes to the funeral and watches me tremble through my speech. Her coffin is in the middle of the room – I can’t stop looking at it but all I want to do is run away from it, run until my lungs ache and I don’t see it etched behind my eyelids anymore.
When I am no longer around, Chris goes to the coffin and tells her he’ll take care of me.
A couple weeks later, I am sleeping on my uncle’s couch, my life is packed in boxes and I don't know where to go. I almost thank the shock for not letting me feel everything.
I start hunting for a place to stay, and Chris watches me struggle. He suggests we move in together and I look at him as if it is a joke but he is staring at me wide-eyed. He’s serious. I tell him he’s crazy.
But the idea of having this light in my life every day, of waking up to his warm body next to mine. I say okay. And we do. We move to a tiny unit with just us, and it feels like the simplest thing in the world.
Everything else is difficult – waking up is difficult, eating is difficult, breathing is difficult. I wake every morning drenched in sweat, I’m cleaning dishes and then I’m crying into them. The drama of my family is too much to handle and my anxiety rears its ugly head and makes my heart beat, my lungs constrict and my throat clog in both calm moments and crazy ones. I’m sitting and then I’m choking. I’m editing and then I’m curled in a ball on the bathroom floor.
‘Why are you with me,’ I ask. ‘How do you put up with this, I was expecting you to run away because of how hard it’s getting’
‘Well if this is as hard as it gets, then we don’t have a problem.’
I begin to take things a day at a time. I don’t think to the past, or the future, but I think of that moment and what I am doing, what I need to accomplish and how to go about it.
And slowly, slowly, I begin to feel normal again. Things are brighter and more colourful and the love I feel burns deep in my chest.
Chris comes home and tells stories on how he made someone laugh that day. He grabs me around the waist and dips me for a kiss. He makes me tea (half a sugar and a little bit of milk) as I stay up late editing. His puns are out of control, but sometimes so quick and clever that I admit that it was wonderful, which he sees as a personal achievement.
We marvel at the universe and our existence, that we are both alive now and the insane evolution of our species. We ask each other deep questions, and sometimes very silly ones (if you could have one mythical creature be real, what would it be?) And he makes me laugh so hard it turns silent.
These little things heal me, and our little home becomes a safe haven filled with us.
Our love changes. It is more contented now, I have memorised his freckles, his fears, his habits. He puts up with my morning grumpiness and I his moments of self doubt – neither of us are perfect, but we are perfectly imperfect together.
a picture taken a couple months into our relationship