Home sweet home, there’s no place like it! This isn’t going to be the post where I talk about how many different things ‘home’ can mean, in so many ways, to different people. It’s just going to be the post where I am grateful for being in my own home and what that means to me.
I’ve been away. Daughter Number Two and I have been travelling, across the country but also across time. Journeying over land and sea; through hearts and minds as well, even if just our own. On the second day after arriving on the other side of the country I took a walk down memory lane via Google.
It is a walk I take regularly, if not often. Usually not garnering me more than a taste; a glimpse into lives I am no longer part of. Lives of those who still hold fast to a place in my heart. I’ll let that sound how it sounds. A cursory search is enough, usually, to let me let go again. They look good. They are still living. Until they aren’t. And this time one of them wasn’t, and not even twenty years old. I looked at my screen and felt the push and pull of denial and acceptance, imagination and reality, then and now. Like a slingshot, giving me vertigo.
On the opposite side of the country I have a storage shed that I pay for by the week. Over the years it has cost me thousands of dollars, probably more in total than it would have to actually move it all across the country, if I had ever had that much money at the one time. It is full of things I cannot let go of. Although I have become a fan of travelling light over the years there are certain things I will not part with. Books, momentos, photos… SO MANY PHOTOS. I have always loved photography. In the BEFORE. In the NOW. Back before digital cameras and online albums, when photos were printed hard copies we had to wait for but could hold in our hands and we had as many blurred, shitty photos as we did decent ones because film has no mercy and we couldn’t just press delete. Consequently I have a lot of photos. Boxes of them. Thousands of them. And I will never, NEVER be sorry for that or stop paying the shed fees.
So it happened that I had literally hundreds of photos of the young person lost, with their family. Photos I had always thought I would find a way to pass on to them. And I kept them in my shed. Kept them safe. Which meant that a good portion of my time on the other side of the country was spent sorting and packing the photos, before making sure they found their way home.
I feel very deeply the need to witness, to document in words and pictures, to preserve these memories, stories, histories. For my children and children I have loved as my own. Whether estranged by circumstance or stolen by death, pieces of those we love remain and it seems to me to be such a precious honour to have; to be able to pass on something tangible. Or equally important in my eyes, to leave behind something tangible for loved ones. Like crumbs that they can use to either find their way home to whomever they have lost, or if they are wandering, to find their way home to themselves.
There was beauty in the innocence of the images and in the memories of the moments. There was beauty in the fact I had saved all those photos for all those years. There was beauty in having the time to find the photos in my shed and get them to where they needed to be, and being on the side of the country that enabled me to do so. And maybe that’s a thing. Maybe being in the right place at the right time doesn’t always mean being in the right place or right time FOR YOU. Because it certainly wasn’t comfortable or easy for me. To be honest, on top of everything else it was too much to bear. It’s only now, when I am home, that I can see the beauty through my tears. But I never doubted it was right.
There’s a part of me that wistfully wishes sometimes that Daughter Number One had the opportunity to leave more of a digital footprint. She was just on the cusp of this internet age, with dial up and MSN Messenger with the little blob men who spun around as you signed in. I have treasured print outs of some of her Messenger conversations, that her friends were generous enough to share with me. And I have many photos I took over her excrutiatingly short lifetime. Some professional photos plus school photos, and a few candids taken by friends. But never enough, because how could there ever be enough when they are all I have? So I think about the what if’s. What if she had Facebook or Instagram? Imagine! But she didn’t and she won’t. And then I think about how utterly relentless the media were when Daughter Number One died and how much that would have been magnified by the cannabalistic caricature that passes for journalism these days. Even if you want to, you can’t go back.
When I visit my shed it is like being an archeologist sifting through layers of my lifetime. It is emotionally extremely heavy going. But I try to bring as many treasures home with me as I can. This time around I was lucky enough to bring home DVD footage of Daughter Number One. On the night we got home I sat on my bed and watched. As I watched her Sister walked in. Daughter Number Two sat and watched with me and for the first time in her living memory listened to her Sister’s voice and heard her laughter.
There have been several times in the last six months that I have or almost have called Daughter Number Two her Sister’s name. I have covered as best I can but it has left me feeling so guilty. I never want Daughter Number Two to think I see her in any way, as anyone other than herself or would ever want her to be. Watching the video footage though, highlighted how similar in mannerisms and passions they are. These Sister’s who never got to meet or know each other. That it’s not just my grief or imagination. The likeness is startling. When I was relaying this to My Beautiful Friend she said “Kate. EVERY mother in the world calls their child by the name of their sibling at some stage. More often than not. Often they get Bill, Ben, Dick OHHH what’s your name?! Stop! That’s normal. Completely and utterly normal. And just because Daughter Number One isn’t earthside, doesn’t mean she is any less your daughter. So her name will forever be ingrained in your vocabulary.” She’s right, of course. I have clever friends. I will try to beat myself up a little less.
Earlier this week the long list for the Fremantle International Portrait Prize was announced. This year my goal was simply to enter. I love taking photos and portraits are my passion. Getting my shit together enough to enter = BIG FUCKING DEAL! I entered one image in each category; mobile phone and camera. When they released the long list my name was on it. My mobile phone image of Daughter Number Two has made it through to the next round of judging. Against photographers from around the world, many professionals, my image has been judged as being in the top 30% of over 1800 entries. Which is a pretty sweet homecoming gift in itself.
Safe onward travel x