21st Birthmonth Part 2: “Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder”

One of the blessings of a “milestone birthday” away from your family and your best friends is that the people who you do have around make an extra special effort to make the day magical and memorable, and those you can’t be around tend to tell you things which they wouldn’t necessarily say if you were around them.

I was lucky enough to be able to go back to Oxford in the weekend prior to my birthday and celebrate with some of my friends there, and then with Marcus’ family the next evening.

A lovely dinner, bottle of wine and endless chatter with my friend Charlie from university started off the Oxford birthday weekend nicely, and the following night saw a group of us enjoying cocktails and some somewhat inventive dance moves out in Oxford.
 

 
Although some of my closest friends couldn’t make it, those of us who were out made sure we had a wonderful time. We seemed to have the city to ourselves and not many people were about, but all the better to make claim to the dance floor! It wasn’t a crazy night, but it was a fun one.
 

The next night Marcus and his parents took me out to a lovely Chinese restaurant where we were met by his sister Amanda and her boyfriend James. It’s an incredible thing to be on the other side of the world to your own family, yet to have another family who truly make you feel a part of them.
 

 
It was such a nice night, and saying goodbye to Mama T at the bus-stop the next day where she gave me an extra special hug I had to fight to keep the tears at bay, and a similar sensation occurred when I received a beautiful message from Amanda later that afternoon. So much love made me miss my own parents and siblings a lot, yet at the same time made me so grateful for the family I have here. Getting back to Brighton I found a bouquet of beautiful flowers waiting for me out the front of the flat. Opening the card I found they were from two of my best friends from Melbourne. Again, the tears welled up, but again I managed to keep them at bay.

On my actual birthday I woke up to open a bottle of champagne and a chocolate hamper from my Dad, Stepmum, brother and Granny, and a gorgeous signet ring from my sisters to replace one I had since childhood and lost 2 years ago. I managed an unexpected Skype chat with Dad and co. Rather cheery, I went to work and after registering delegates for the workshops we were hosting that day, I managed to take calls both from my Mum and older sister, Tennille. Following that and sitting at lunch at a nearby restaurant surrounded by the couple of hundred delegates another surprise was awaiting me. My workmates had organised a gigantic piece of cake surrounded by profiteroles and accompanied by a chocolate sauce message saying “Happy birthday Skippy”.
 

 
Needing some help to polish it off, I was very well fuelled to enjoy the rest of the day before heading home to get ready for a nice romantic dinner with the man. Once again I was greeted at the door by a beautiful bouquet of flowers, from another of my closest Melbourne friends, Gee. Beginning to wonder if we were destined to start a florist, I showered and readied and Marcus and I headed down to one of our favourite restaurants, Terre a Terre.
 

 

On the way, Marcus realised he had forgotten a gift, one he was determined I was to open over dinner, so left me to make the reservation time and ran back to the house to fetch it, and glad I am he did. Handing it over just before the mains arrived I opened it up and found a book inside. Opening up the first page I was greeted with a photo of my dear friend Rene, and a beautiful letter she had written. I saw the photo, and no longer could those sneaky tears be held at bay. Page after page followed, full of pictures, messages, wishes and some of the kindest words I have ever read. It truly made me realise that I am so very proud of the life I have created, and the friendships I have forged and so very grateful of the people who make that happen. I may have missed all of these people so very much this year, but to know that even with time and distance separating us, we are all still as close as the day I left, made me feel so very loved. It made me think, if I was back in Australia, sure, maybe I would have had a party, maybe I would have had more people around, but I doubt I would have had the same sentiment expressed as I did over here, or appreciate the book and messages inside as much as I do, so even if I could, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

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Lessons I’ve Learned from Living Across the World from People I Love.

A couple of months after my 18th birthday, I spread my wings, and flew from the nest. Getting my own pad wasn’t a big enough change for me; I left the country, leaving behind a boyfriend, parents, sisters, brother and friends all for a goal I had had since I was 13: Taking a Gap year, living abroad, exploring the world, and finding myself.

All set to Board at Sydney Airport!



Surprisingly, I wasn’t sad standing at the airport, hugging my family goodbye. Even with a 10 month chasm standing on the other side of the customs entry point, the excitement out-weighed any sad feelings for me, even with the tears in my family’s eyes.

Arriving in England was one of the best feelings I have ever had. It had been my first International flight and it hadn’t been a pleasant one, so touching down after 22 hours of being in the air with horrible motion sickness was welcome, not to mention the realisation that despite the doubts people had had over the years, I had done it! I had made it across the world where, in my eyes, my life was just about to begin.

The first realisation I had when I arrived in Oxford was that for the first time in my life, I was somewhere where no one knew who I was. Even the family I was to be working for and living with had never met me in person. This could be seen as quite a lonely situation, I, however, saw it as an opportunity: I could be anyone. I could have any backstory, act in any way, take on any identity or personality and no one would be the wiser. There were no boxes or expectations I was supposed to fit, I was free. What to do with this freedom? Who to be? I chose for the first time, to truly and honestly just be me.

Beautiful View of Oxford From the Spire of St Mary’s Cathedral



This seems like a silly thing to say, but think about it. Going through adolescence you change a lot; growing up, you change a lot. You make mistakes, you change your friendship groups, you dip your toe in lots of different pools of water to find out which one feels right to plunge right in. You suffer from rumours, you probably even start some, and when you decide the person you are, or want to be, there’s a lot of history there with the people around you, which makes that very hard. Family and friends have ideas of you based on the past, and that can be very hard to escape, and that was something I very much wanted to do. I was never that popular in school, I felt like an outsider but often tried to windle my way inside, often leading to worse consequences.

I was a high achiever, but an active class participant, making me a teachers pet along with a nerd. I was athletic, which made me a tomboy, but had a few boyfriends through high-school, which obviously made me a slut. The story here is that kids can be mean, and have this need to stick labels on things. Even when they’re not true, it can be hard to rip these labels off. When they’re gone, people still associate you with them, making it hard to move on from a past version of you even if that’s not the real you, or at least that’s how I felt.

Being free of these labels was incredibly liberating. I still changed, I still made mistakes, I still dipped my toe into different pools of water, but I did all that with no one judging, or labelling me, telling me who I was or who I could or couldn’t be. I believe it’s because of that freedom, because of learning from those mistakes that I could finally make that plunge and find out who I wanted to be.

Exploring Seville, Spain. My First Time Travelling Solo


That year was an incredibly happy year for me. I travelled through multiple countries and cultures in groups and alone, I made some amazing friends from around the world who I’m still friends with today, and I met Marcus, who became my boyfriend who would move back to Australia with me and who I would follow once again back to England.

I didn’t get home sick that year. Sure, I missed my family, but I felt a lot closer to them on the other side of the world than if we were all under the same roof. We didn’t fight, or get angry at each other. When we talked it was about relevant and important things, and we would be honest and say the lovely things you wouldn’t be driven to say to someone you see every day.

Marcus and I on top of the Ridgeway, Oxfordshire.


Distance made me realise that the relationship I had left in Australia would not have worked out, a truth that we were blinded to at the time by the very fact that our time was limited. The memory of that relationship is wonderful, and won’t be tarnished by memories of a bitter breakup or fighting; simply a teenage romance destined to stay just that.

I realised how very few of my “friends” from high school made the effort to keep in touch, but that that was okay because it made me realise who my true friends were, and that it’s the quality of a friendship, not the quantity of them that matters.

I had a good friend and one of my sisters come and stay with me throughout the year, which made me realise that when it comes to people you love unconditionally, time is irrelevant, and with true friends, and family, seeing them after a year is like seeing them after yesterday.

I realised that home isn’t where you grow up and it’s not always where the people you love are. For me, home is where I feel I can be myself, and be loved and appreciated for that person. Oxford was home for me. Travelling Europe was home for me. Taking my solo trip to Spain was home for me. Meeting Marcus, and spending time with him, wherever that would be, would be home for me.

My Farewell in Oxford, 2011


Leaving Oxford was tough. I wasn’t excited to go back to my old life in Australia, in Newcastle. It was like a boomerang I had let go of and forgotten, only to be whacked in the head by its return. I was excited to see friends and family, was excited to ride my bike to the beach and run through the golden sand to the welcoming blue sea, but I was scared. I was scared that if I left England, I would lose everything I had achieved in those 10 months. I was almost right.

I touched down in Sydney with tears in my eyes. I felt empty, like a light inside of me had been switched off. I found my Mum and Stepdad at a café in the airport and, although so glad to see them, instantly felt like something was being taken from me. I sat in the car for the two hour journey home fighting tears only to get into bed at the end of it and break down. Mum thought I missed Marcus, she was wrong, I missed the last year of my life. I missed me.

The next two months were the toughest I think I have ever had. I felt like I had changed so much in the last year, and that nothing had changed with me. I didn’t feel like I fit in with the people I used to, I constantly felt on the outside, and only felt like people understood me when I could get time to spend with good friends one on one. I filled my days with work at my old job, coffee dates to catch up with people I hadn’t yet seen, visiting and spending time with family, and getting some alone time riding my bike to the beach.

I felt sick a lot, I looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognise who I saw, I was tired at 8pm and wanted to go to bed, and would then cry myself to sleep. I had days where I enjoyed myself and the company I was with, but most of the time I felt like I was in the wrong place, I felt absolutely lost.

Christmas morning visit to Granny K’s


Christmas was a welcome change. I used to spend Christmas juggling between various family obligations, but this year I decided to wake up at Dad’s, quickly visit Grandma, and be back at Mum’s in time to make everyone breakfast and enjoy the rest of the day. My sister and her boyfriend were down from Brisbane, and my Aunt was staying with us too. Some of Mum’s friends came around and the day was filled with laughter, good food and drink, presents and fun. For that one day everything was perfect.

Christmas Day


In the middle of January, Marcus arrived to Sydney. I surprised him at the airport with his Aunt and Uncle. The feeling of having him back was indescribable. I couldn’t help the tears as we lay there that night. I guess I didn’t believe everything could be okay again until he got there, at which point I had someone who wasn’t from my past, but from my present and my future to remind me that everything I had done was real, and that it could be again.

In front of Sydney Opera House


Marcus found the next month quite tough. He was seeing me in a way he hadn’t expected, a person very different to the girl he had met in England. Luckily, moving down to Melbourne was the fresh slate I needed to find that girl again. Once again I was somewhere where no one knew me. I was with Marcus, and had a whole city to explore, people to meet, and life to create. Once again, I found myself happy. I found incredible people to call my friends, excelled in University, was offered fantastic opportunities from my Professors, took a trip with Marcus to Fiji, and was accepted into a Student Exchange program meaning I could follow Marcus back to England the following year. I did just that.

Snorkelling in Fiji


I left Melbourne in early December, after a last fleeting trip to Newcastle for a friend’s wedding which enabled me to say goodbye to family while I was there. I said goodbye to my family house, which was sold and the last time I would go home to it before my Mum and Stepdad moved down to Tasmania. I managed to quickly see a few close friends in Newcastle and then left back for Melbourne where a few weeks later two good friends took me to the Airport, and once again I was London bound.

I’ve been back in the UK for eight months now. When I landed, I felt euphoric. Marcus was waiting with his Dad at the gate and I soon felt, as in Newcastle, as if I’d never left. However this time, it was in the best way possible.

I view Marcus’ family like my own, and I feel like they view me the same, which means so much to me. My first Winter Christmas was spent with them, and it couldn’t have been better. Catching up with my Oxford friends and the family I had lived with 2 years earlier reminded me of how proud of myself I am to have created this opportunity to create this life, and how happy I am to be living it.

Christmas with Marcus’ Family, 2012


Marcus and I moved down to Brighton where I would be studying, and I have continued to excel in studies and have secured a fantastic job in the industry I’m studying, working with great people.

Learning the lesson about friendship has made me more selective of the friends I make, and less worried about how many of them there are. All the friends I made in Melbourne last year I still consider some of my best friends in the world, and last semester I met some amazing girls who were on the program with me from America. Unfortunately, they left a few months ago so I am very much looking forward to starting Uni again in October to meet some more great people.

My Housemates and some of my amazing Melbourne Pals


A lot of the time I feel lonely here, especially after being surrounded by such amazing people in Melbourne, but we’ll be back in Melbourne next year and I know it will feel like no time has passed when I see them all again.
I have learnt that being away from the people you love doesn’t change the love you have for them. It makes you realise who is important, and makes you cherish that person. I’ve spent months away from Marcus, I’ve spent longer away from friends, and even longer away from my parents and family. Despite the miles, they’re all still there for me, I’m still here for them, and nothing beats the air-tight squeeze hug and the excited smile at seeing one of them for the first time in a long time.

My best friend visiting us in Brighton



Marcus and I realised early in our relationship that distance is a great reminder of what you have, and I am constantly reminded of my amazing Mother, Father, Stepdad and Stepmum who have shown nothing but love and support for me, and who I all miss dearly. I am reminded of my sisters and brother, who are themselves located around various points of Australia and the World, and who I still talk with as often as when I was in Melbourne and am super excited to catch up with as soon as I can. I am reminded of my friends, from Newcastle, Melbourne, Oxford and all around the world, some of whom have or are planning on visiting, and all of whom are always there to catch up, talk or listen if I need a friend. I am reminded of how lucky I am, to have all these amazing people, on all four corners of the globe, who love me, for me, making almost everywhere in the world, my home.

Image courtesy of Evan Leeson