What a life we've had so far. At fifteen, I didn't think it could get any worse. Epilepsy, more medication than you could poke a stick at, anxiety and depression running rampant through your body, and then Nan dying; all the while you drastically lost weight. Too much weight. Oh, I wish you knew yourself now. You didn't believe in yourself enough, you let your mind win, you didn't think you'd make it.
But you did.
You fell in and out of love. You won your battles with depression, and kicked epilepsy's ass. You thought no one believed in you, but they did. And those same people are the ones that still believe in you today. Never once did they leave you.
You graduated high school at the top of your English class and partied the night away at the formal, winning your high heeled bet and regretting it the next day. You aren't made for high heels, and you certainly aren't made for doing the nut bush in them.
It all came tumbling down after that magical night.
You got your final results back, and they're not what you wanted. They're not what you worked for. They don't show how hard you worked, how many nights you didn't sleep in order to nail that essay, how many days you fought to stay awake to achieve the results you needed.
That's fine. There's other ways. We found other ways.
You started uni.
You made friends like the ones you read about in novels, the ones that stand by you through thick and thin, for better or for worse, and know that no matter what happens, no matter where life takes you, they will always be by your side.
You celebrate fantastic first semester results with a long weekend in Port Stephens and go swimming despite it being June, and your teeth chatter and your lips turn blue and you feel alive.
We're nineteen now. Second year of uni- distinctions all round, and a new job. It's a temporary job, only twelve months, but that's twelve months worth of adventures and you're her first best friend and the two of you have formed a forever bond. She won't forget, and you won't either. And in a few years, you'll be the one she tells her secrets too, secrets that she can't share with anyone else. It's you two against the world, and the only way she wants it to be.
You get a new job in October, almost immediately. She is four months old with fluffy red hair that quickly turned blonde and chunky thighs and a smile that lights up the room and you can't help but think about all the adventures you'll have together.
You bond immediately, and it's beautiful. You're soon considered one of the family, and she looks at you like you hung the stars in the sky just for her, and your heart explodes with a love you didn't know you could have.
And then you meet him. Its Christmas time- your favourite time of the year- and his eyes are shining under the red and green lights. He has big blue eyes and shaggy brown hair and he towers over you, and a smile that stretches across his entire face and he smells like home. You're wary though, because you've been hurt before. Oh no, you're not going to fall for the guy with blue eyes again. No sir.
Until you do.
And it's wonderful. He treats you with respect, and cares for you, and genuinely cares wants to know the answer he asks how your day is. He laughs at the toaster jokes, and gets along with your parents and brothers and he's so sweet you think your heart will explode. He is gentle and kind and never forces you to do anything you don't want to do. He texts you just to see what's happening, even though he knows that you'll be home soon. He doesn't like musicals, but he takes you anyway, because he knows you love them.
He's a Cockroach and hates the Cane Toads as much as you do, so he's a winner in the eyes of the family. He's even invited to watch the game, despite originally hailing from Adelaide.
(On your six month anniversary- because you end up being one of those couples who celebrated half anniversaries- you think that you could marry this boy, and the feeling makes you shiver.)
Thomas, your first nephew, was born on June 10th. He shares a birthday with Nan and you can't help but think that means something special. He didn't meet Nan, he came along years after she passed. But he looks like her, and he looks like you, and he is the sweetest, chubbiest baby you've ever seen.
You celebrate turning twenty one with all your favourite people, and then some. Pop drives down from the farm and presents you with Nan's peals- the pearls that you admired when you were little, without knowing they'd be yours one day- and you put them on with tears running down your face, even though you're wearing shorts and a singlet. You wear them with your treble clef, and make sure to point them out to every newcomer at the party. Dad and Uncle Ben make speeches and you protest and cry because they're the worst, but they're the best. She makes a slideshow and you wonder how life could get any better. You drink too much cheap wine and swim until the very early hours of the morning and fall asleep in the pool room surrounded by your very favourite people in the world. Twenty one would be a good one, you knew it. We were so sure of it.
And it was.
You're coughing, which is fine. We've had coughs before, and it's been fine. Your immune system is tip top, the doctor said so himself. You were, by some small miracle, the only one not wiped out by the great death flu of 2007.
Until you're not.
It gets so hard to breathe, and you are constantly short of breath, and walking up the stairs is like running a marathon. You thought it was just the flu, but oh no, we never do things by halves.
At twenty one, we had a stroke. And it was a hard six weeks because you didn't know what was happening; we didn't know how long we'd be around. You were hooked up to oxygen tubes and heart rate monitors and blood pressure machines and you're twenty one and it's terrifying. You were full of steroids and antibiotics and pain medication, trying to kill it before it killed you, and then your kidney started failing, and you cried because you weren't going to see the birth of your nephew, you weren't going to be around for your Henry. You cried because you were in pain and wanted to be with Nan, you needed Nan to take the pain away, and the one time- the single time- you said that out loud Nathan broke down crying because you're his baby sister, his fucking baby sister god damn it and he was supposed to protect you and he couldn't protect you from this. And your brothers were in shock because you were the healthy kid, you only ever got a cold if you got sick at all, and if their sister was gone who were they going to torture? And your boss arrives with tears in her eyes and flowers and toddler craft in her arm and tells you that you need to get better, you have to get better, because in eight months there will be another mini-you to corrupt, just like you have her older sister, and she shows you that first blurry ultrasound photo, so early you can't even tell what you're looking at. And your parents cried when they thought you were asleep, because their only daughter was dying, and no one had any answers and they needed fucking answers, damn it, why couldn't anyone give them any answers?
And you fight and you fight and you fight and just when you thought you had no more fight to give, you make it.
You're a survivor.
Darling, we made it. We made it through hell and back, stronger than ever.
You made it through. You go back to work and watch as your boss's belly grows with your new partner in crime. Another little girl, a perfect pink little girl, just like the big sister running rings around you.
You learn that her middle name will be Grace, just like yours, and you're so honoured you cry all the tears.
You have another birthday party, to celebrate turning twenty two. A survival party- no, a survival soiree, Dad calls it. And you invite all your dance girls and your uni friends, and your babies help you blow out the candles on the cake she makes for you, and what a night.
You spend the summer at the beach, your happy place, digging your toes into the hot sand and paddling in the ocean pools and sleeping in the sun, everything you had done when you were a child that you'd forgotten.
Your little sidekick is born in March, when you're at her big sister's ballet lesson. She has big blue eyes and masses of fluffy blonde hair and her middle name is Grace, just like yours. You cry because she is so beautiful, and just like that, there were two.
He takes you to Melbourne. He hates the theatre, and then takes you to three shows. You're so deliriously happy and can't shake that niggling feeling that maybe this, this'll be the weekend that he asks you to marry him. You deny it when asked, but you'd say yes without a second thought.
And then he doesn't. But that's okay, because the timing isn't right. It's all about the timing.
And then he breaks up with you. You didn't see that one coming, no not at all. You stayed strong, you didn't break down. You didn't let him see you cry. And then you get in the shower and break, because oh God your heart and it hurts, it fucking hurts, and why doesn't he love you anymore? What went wrong? And you cry for so hard and for so long that your brother- your little brother, the one you're supposed to protect- spends the night in the hallway outside your bedroom, like a nervous new father, just waiting for something to go wrong.
But you're fine. You're fine, you're totally fine.
Until you're not fine. And you hole up in your bed, with your best friend, the only person who's never left, drinking cheap wine and eating ice cream and crying, and oh God how can so many tears flood from one person there is only so much water the human body can make.
You've had your heart broken before but God, it had never hurt like that.
But sweetheart, you're stronger than that. You're allowed to cry, but you will stand stronger.
You keep the days quiet. You hold your girls tight and smell the top of their little blonde heads- breathing in the distinctly different but very similar toddler and infant smells- and their cuddles help your heart heal. It won't ever be the same, but it'll be pretty close.
You're learning to love yourself again- you're not really sure when you stopped.
You stop seeing yourself as boring. Stupid. Fat. Embarrassing.
And you start seeing yourself as the one you used to know. The girl with sparkles in her eyes and a shine in her hair, and a smile so big her face could break any moment.
You're learning to go to bed early and wake up late, and take the time out of your weekend to go and see the show, to go and grin at the colours of the theatre stage and tap your feet along to the music, and immerse yourself in a different world for a few hours.
And for the first time in a long time, you're told how happy you look.
We're twenty three now, and standing taller than ever.
Because darling, we're a survivor.