A few weeks ago, my youngest daughter and I decided to skip over to Stradbroke Island for the day. Although we live close by, it’s not a common event for us as my eldest has claimed Straddie as her spiritual home and she never really wants us tagging along.
On a day when the conditions were perfect, the eldest was spending Christmas money at Westfield and the rain had stopped, we set off. It’s a half-hour ferry trip and then a 20-minute bus ride to the beach.
The ferry leaves at five minutes to the hour, every hour. We cut it fine tearing into the car-park as the whistle was blowing and the line dwindling. I sometimes wonder how I manage to be late when I get up at 5 am. My daughter was dawdling telling me not to run as we were going to miss it. Not only do I not like being told what to do, I am also stubborn as a mule, so I sprinted to the cashier booth, with my thongs snapping and my boobs flapping around in unsupportive swimwear. My handbag was giving me body blows on one side, and with the other arm I was making mad furious beckoning motions for her to hurry up. It was 33 degrees and stinking hot at 9 am. I was swear muttering in my head and handed my credit card to the lady paying for one adult and one petulant 12-year-old child. She wandered along to join the end of the queue, eye-rolling as the last eskies and surfboards were being loaded.
The only seats left were outside, but it was a glorious day and so long as I didn’t speak or laugh too loudly, I was permitted to sit by her side. That teetering age between childhood and adulthood is a tough place for her to be. She needs me to take her places, but would prefer me not to be there. She didn’t want me touching her or making sensible suggestions about sunscreen or hats. I put on a long sleeve shirt mortifying her, but it was too hard to explain linen and breathable fibre and coverage because that would involve words. I enjoyed the view of the retreating shoreline, yachts, the splashing white foam of the wake, and imagined I was in the Whitsundays with islands and headlands in the distance. She slid a solid bottom distance away from me – pretending to be an orphan, so I could completely surrender to my FNQ fantasy, without children.
Once we arrived at Amity, there were hundreds of us and only two buses, we lined up in the sun, patiently, then were directed to the bus behind. As much as I didn’t want to board an overcrowded bus, there was no other option and no shade. I held onto a yellow strap above my head and suggested she hold the pole. I also asked her if she wanted to put her backpack on the rack with my bag. Seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. She firmly held on to her phone and backpack, ignoring me by looking out the window. When the bus started it bounced and she bumped into the lady beside her, I noticed her little hand crept up and quickly held onto the pole. “This is like the tube in London,” I remarked too loudly, as she inched away from me. “I always ended up being too short and with my head under someone’s armpit,” I said this mostly out of nostalgia but looked like a mad person talking to herself. We continued the trip in silence with bushfire scorched trees rushing by the window to a shrill cicada soundtrack.
The moment she leaned into my shoulder, I felt such happiness and love I wrapped my arm around her. My next thought was “This is weird,” considering how much effort she made to avoid me. I whispered into her hair. “Are you okay?” and that was when I felt her slump. She slumped and started shaking and twitching. She still held on to her phone and bag. I said to her firmly, “Drop the bag, drop the bag,” but it had already fallen to the floor with her phone. I was holding her full weight thinking she was having a heart attack or a seizure. The bus kept rolling on. I called out to a girl behind me saying “Can she please sit down?” the girl immediately jumped up, but my daughter was still lifeless and a lady was trying to hand me the backpack and phone and all I could do was look blankly at her because I was holding my child who may have fainted or died. I didn’t want to scream or panic. I quietly backed into the empty seat pulling her into my lap like a baby. I asked her to take some breaths. I pulled out my water bottle and put some water on the back of her neck. She was white. I kept asking her to breathe then she nodded and said “When do we get off?” I surprised myself as I calmly told her “It’s the next stop darling, take some deep breaths, you’ve just fainted.” Fucking hurry up and get there, driver.
We got off and although it was still hot, the fresh air and momentum of walking, slowly worked its magic and she started to feel better. We went straight to the beach for a swim. It wasn’t the plan but I needed to cool her down and hoped the water would revive her. We swam for a bit, but the current was strong, so we decided to have an early lunch. I realised the girl on the bus said, “Has she eaten?” and remembered making a fruit salad hours earlier, but she had only nibbled on two grapes before telling me she was full. Somehow, she now had room for fish and chips.
It wasn’t until we were sitting down, did I realise how full of adrenaline and relief I was. She was happily dipping her chips in aioli – she doesn’t like to scoop, and I blurted out “Shit, you scared me,” She started laughing and dismissed me for being so worried and silly about it, saying “Well, it’s not like I fainted.” We discussed what constitutes fainting and she decided it was falling backwards. I agreed that it could be, but there wasn’t room for her to do that. “Darling, you couldn’t fall because I was holding you.” She didn’t remember, she didn’t know I was talking to her she didn’t realise she had dropped her bag and phone or anything except for a whooshing sound in her ears and her eyes getting blurry.
“Oh yep, that’s a faint.” I said, scooping my chip into the sauce and watching her frown. I told her about the time I fainted at a passing out parade, (of course) and how I fell forward first, but bumped into someone in the line in front and then fell back. The Platoon leader told us later, standing in the sun in a full army uniform with boots, could induce fainting. He said wriggling the toes helped. This was entirely useless advice, post faint. I also once fainted after cutting my finger in a short-lived kitchen hand stint. I knew about the water on the neck because a quick-thinking chef applied a wet tea towel and sat me down. I decided it was important to look for cues. I realised soon after she put her head on my shoulder, when she hadn’t wanted to hug me in weeks, that was a cue.
After lunch we walked around the headland, then had one last swim before going home early, it was still screeching hot and Straddie involves lots of walking as the buses only come on the hour to meet the ferry. I noticed my thongs were starting to wear thin as I could feel rocks from the edge of the road poking through. I figured it would have been a good idea to wear sneakers and maybe a backpack would have been more practical than a big handbag with all the walking between beaches, cafes, and bus-stops. An unhelpful thought, but one I figured might help me prepare better next time.
We saw a pod of dolphins, surfing the waves, she spotted a large turtle as we rounded the bend and headed towards Main beach. The water was a deep turquoise blue with a few swimmers bobbing about in the gentle waves. The track down to the beach was steep and the sand scorching hot. I was laughing and shrieking at how hot it was to some people coming up the beach high stepping, when my foot turned on its side my thong snapped. (Let’s just clarify this here and now, by calling them flip-flops for the UK readers or Jandals for my Kiwi friends – so you know it wasn’t an undergarment malfunction). The base of the rubber footwear had split and the strap and plug came free. I picked up both thongs, squealed and ran, or as my Dad would say I “hot-footed it,” down the beach, stopping only when I reached the wet sand.
As much as it was beautiful bobbing about in the water, and my daughter had recovered, I started thinking about how I would get from the beach to the bus-stop, then limp from the bus-stop to the ferry, and struggle at the final leg from carpark to the few hundred metres where I had parked the car. It was having a good time physically, but mentally I began to panic. The sand wasn’t going to cool down, it was midday. We were sunburned already and now I had no shoes. I cursed myself for buying $5 bargain footwear from a factory outlet. Why didn’t I wear decent shoes? I started beating myself up for being an idiot with cheap shoes and nothing could be done.
As soon as we were out of the water, I looked up towards the road. It was about 30 meters up to a narrow track then a scooch up a steep little hill, then the stairs. I quickly psyched myself up, put my head down and ran. I did not look behind me or care about my child. It was hot and I had to move fast. I was tearing along the sand when my feet hit something. Under the sand were a pair of discarded shoes. I looked around, saw no one and slipped them on. Pink leopard print slides, too big and I didn’t care. I skidded up the sand, the hill and the timber steps to the road in my borrowed shoes. When my daughter caught up, she looked at me, then down at my feet. “Where did you get those from?” she asked incredulously. I slipped the shoes off and left them at the top of the stairs. “God sent them to me,” I said, striding up the grassy hill barefoot.
We managed to make it home, me limping on the damaged thongs to the bus, then the ferry, wishing I packed emergency gaff tape, or another pair of shoes, knowing it was futile thinking. We overcame adversity and we made it, with some kind strangers and miraculous shoes, everything turned out fine. I sat on the ferry home and put my arm around my kid. She didn’t pull away. She didn’t die and neither did I. We were salty, sun-soaked, and serene. I was grateful for the goddess who left the leopard print slides behind and the girl who surrendered her bus seat. I was happy with the kindness and unexpected miracles of the world.
When I reflect on this, I see two things, cues and shoes. The cues are the things that indicate something may go wrong, and the shoes are the supports we can put in place in case we need them. Now I know she is a fainter, I will be aware that the combination of a hot day, crowded space, and no food, are some indicators that things could go badly for her. They are the cues I need to look for. I think about the work I do, the importance of asking for help, the kindness of strangers, and looking for cues.
This week, I have worked with two families who have been impacted by suicide and have been left behind devastated. I’ve spoken with another who wanted to leave. I’m now aware of the need to watch for clues, any small indicators to know our friends or family are not okay, the small hints they may give, by withdrawing, giving away personal items, losing or gaining weight, changes in mood or sleep, or any behaviour that doesn’t seem normal for them. Please check in with friends, family, and loved ones, be the shoulder to lean on, the emotional support they need, or the pink leopard print slides, because once they go, we are the ones left behind, holding all that useless love.
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Rachel Wilkinson is a holistic counsellor, massage therapist, reiki master and a kids’ yoga teacher. She is currently a masters student but most importantly a mother and a friend.