I stand in my tiny kitchen. It’s so small that if I stretch my arms out from one side to the other I can touch both.
Hot wet tears are rolling off my face so fast they’re bypassing my cheeks and hitting my freshly drycleaned shirt. I’ve just come back to my apartment after a meeting and I realise it’s now got mascara on all over it. Shit.
I wander around, putting dishes away, mentally calculating whether I need to pay the speeding fine on the fridge now, or whether it can wait till another client pays me later in the week. If they pay me later in the week. On the shelf above the dishes there’s a tiny Boab nut from Kununurra, decorated by one of the Waringarri women artists. I bought it when I was there working, and one for mum too. She grew up in Derby and has happy memories of the ‘Miss Boab’ festival they held there each year. I was there to gauge community sentiment on an initiative being rolled out by the Federal Government.
No use though. Distracted only for a moment, I remember one of our first conversations. That shelf had fallen on the clean dishes, straight off the wall. It was 11.30 at night and we were chatting on WhatsApp (or what’s up, as he called it). I think we’d had two dates at that stage. The first was in the John Forrest National Park where I sought to impress him by hiking the Eagle View Trail in record speed (surprised?). We had already talked about doing the Cape to Cape, and I wanted him to see I was up for it. I did this by racing around as quickly as I could, and was confused when he didn’t seem to be impressed. It’s amazing how much can change in four months. I’m learning to breathe.
Months later he tells me I am more beautiful than I was the first time we met. I was suffocating: stressful job, financial pressure, head all over the shop. Doing things like working all day then eating a tub of Connoisseur icecream for dinner probably didn’t help. I'd put on a very brave face and had a genuinely wonderful time on that first date but I was not in a good place.
We’d hiked and drank beer and watched kangaroos. We took selfies and ate burgers and drove back to my house in West Perth, and I remember my stomach flipping, hoping he would kiss me - and not just for my ego. I knew I liked him right then. It was his energy, his quiet confidence, his humility, his ribbing and the way he laughed when I took him seriously. Which was all the time.
The thing about speaking English as a second language is that there’s a fair degree of ambiguity in what you’re saying sometimes. Some days I was exhausted just from performing the mental gymnastics required to properly communicate: translate, interpret, guess, second guess? When he turned to me in the car and said ‘I’m going to kiss you now’ it was like he was pretending it was a question. But we both knew it wasn’t, and I didn’t want it to be. It was the first time I let him take the lead, and it wasn’t the last.
Two weeks later, I was gone from that job.
We met again, in Kings Park. Despite having spent about six months living in Italy I somehow forgot that ‘go for a walk’, or ‘fare una passegiata’, was less of a sporting activity and more of a social one. I wore leggings. He wore jeans. When I lived in the suburbs in Florence wandering around in the nearby streets watching families and couples out for an evening stroll was one of my favourite things to do. Same in Venice. The back streets, getting lost, listening to people talk about their days in bars, hang out their washing, where life happens. And I dressed properly for it.
‘Guarda la tua citta,’ he said, standing behind me, looking down at Perth under a full moon. I knew he loved and missed the mountains, but it was the way he said it that was my first clue just how much.
Still in the kitchen, I remember the first time he cooked for me. He practically dwarfed that tiny kitchen when he was in there.
‘Do you know how to make pasta?’ he asked, but I didn’t have to do the mental gymnastics to realise he meant ‘do you even know how to make pasta?’ He taught me to save the starchy water the pasta is cooked in, and add it back in to the sauce to help the pasta bind to it, making it creamier and more delicious. Looking back, that was the beginning of me truly healing my relationship with food. He would never let me give him credit for it and I would never try, but it was time and he was there. He showed me what it meant to live simply and fully, by example and in practice. He cooked - even just for himself - with integrity, with care and with joy. Less ingredients meant more.
I protested at pasta, at bread, at carbs. He persevered. ‘Pasta will not kill you. Plus, I’m Italian. What else are we going to eat?’ Weeks (and loaves of ciabatta and packets of penne) later when he came back from a trip to southeast Asia, I quietly grinned on the inside when he suggested we have salad for dinner.
We would sit on the couch and slowly eat the pasta until the bowl was empty. He always finished eating first though, and he would kiss me straight away while I still had a mouth full of food, like he couldn’t even wait till I finished chewing. For him, cooking, eating, and by extension what we’d call ‘self-care’ but he’d probably term ‘living’, were fundamental planks of existence, not optional extras.
Today he is in Shark Bay. It’s cloudless and sunny in Perth, which gives me pause to imagine how glorious it must be up there. My bones ache with longing to be pressed up against him; to have my head on his chest and hear his heart beat. I think of my lips against his and my mouth waters. I finish my coffee, wipe my face, take out the rubbish, leave the speeding fine to pay later in the week and get changed to go and teach my barre classes.
We have been on parallel journeys: since I was 16 and visited his home town. Since I worked at a writers retreat ten minutes down the road from his nonno's house a decade ago; since he saw his first picture of this wide brown land as a teenager and dreamed of traversing it one day. Since I spent three months in Florence learning Italian and he three years in Scotland perfecting his English. Our paths have finally converged but this pilgrimage is his. I can only bide my time and pray he finishes that loop around Australia and comes back here to me.