I like to be alone
But I hate being lonely
A fleeting glance at the little piece of raised wood on the ground was enough warning for me to slide gently to the left and miss it. I let a huge sigh of relief invade my constant internal monologue. I almost utterly embarrassed myself in front of all these people.
What can I call them? My family? But I haven’t spoken to or seen them in years. I ran away a long, long time ago.
I glance around the the old ranch house and take a deep breath in. It’s all so familiar that I can feel the torn bits of the couch on my fingertips and smell the slight sent of sheep dung from the enormous yard. I can see my supposed mother cooking eggs and waking me with a smile. Her green eyes, so unlike mine, glint and glow from the light that floats in through the dusty windows.
I return to the present and see those same glinting, glowing eyes staring straight into mine. I smell her before I see the rest of her. The smell of cheap ‘Cheers’ perfume wafts over my body and into my nose, bringing with it a certain sense of warmth and comfort.
She’s dressed neatly in a flowery dress landing right above her knees. A little brown buckle rests on her waist and a tiny, yellow flower decorates her honey coloured hair.
I clear my throat as I break out of my daze and stretch my hand out for her to shake it.
“Afternoon ma’am, I’m Casey Brown.”
Not the same name that I had all those years ago. It takes a lot of self-control to keep my voice and hand steady.
“Sorry to intrude but I was asked to arrive at 3 o’clock for ‘Mrs Ashes 50th’? Do I have the correct address?”
I try to match her small smile and send it her way.
I wait. I stare at those all too familiar eyes and wait for a spark of recognition (aka my cue to run out of here as fast as I can). When it doesn’t appear, I sigh inwardly. Relief floods my body as she says,
“Yes, this is the right address! Mrs Ashes is right this way. You are the photographer, right?”
I nod gently and follow her deeper into the old house. The floorboards creek below me as I stare at the laughing faces all around me. Floral dresses, dainty sandals and colourful t-shirts flash by in a vibrant blur. The dust seems to glow and creates a dreamy atmosphere. Everything feels so unreal and distant. I am so disconnected to this place even though, as we take a sharp turn, I know exactly what I will see.
The room is unchanged. The same murky pictures sit on the old shelf. The same stuffed toys lie on the small purple bed. Nothing changed except for the young lady that was currently seated on the bed talking to who I knew to be Mrs Ashes, a sweet lady whose hair was now peppered grey. The young lady was boisterous and used her hands a lot while speaking. She wore a simple cocktail dress, unlike the floral dresses the normal guests were wearing.
“The photographer should be here any minute, mom. The caterers are currently preparing lunch and the cake is ready to be brought out. How has your day been so far? Have all your guests arrived?”
Mrs Ashes let out a great chuckle and turned to her daughter.
“Everything is quite marvellous, my dear. Thank you, now quit worrying and go out and enjoy yourself. I think you friends are in the back.”
With that, the twenty-something-year-old took a deep sigh, muttered a quick ‘Alright’, kissed her mom on the cheek and walked out, greeting my ‘mother’ and me as she passed.
My mother introduced me to Mrs Ashes and soon I began to capture pictures of the party.
It was perfect. The people and the party was so picturesque. Inside, in the dining room and lounge, old people were chattering and laughing away. They floated around the antique furniture like feathers and were set in an ambient light flooding in through the dusty windows.
Everything seemed to glow softly and the atmosphere was jubilant. In the kitchen, the caterers worked to produce food of a variety of pastel colours to match the springtime feeling. The cake was magnificent, a creamy vanilla, triple-stack cake.
Later, I was sent to the garden to capture the ‘younger generation’. I spotted Mrs Ashes’ daughter among the small crowd. They all posed and smiled, dressed in their simple cocktail dresses and suits. Daisies, hibiscus and a variety of colourful flowers (even a patch of lofty sunflowers) littered the garden. They created the perfect background and were even beautiful when stood alone. The gentle breeze tugged at strands beautiful hair and made dresses flutter. I understood now my Mrs Ashes chose my ‘parents’ house.
At one point, I sat down to take a look at the pictures. I then had the opportunity to recognise all the familiar faces. It was as if nothing in this town had changed. The only noticeable difference was the ages of people. I saw aunts and uncles with their daughters, I saw best friends still together and high-school couples now newly wed. Cousins still stuck together in lumps and the older people would gossip and sip their red wine. It was all so familiar.
That is when I noticed how much I had changed. My hair, no longer in it’s short little ponytail and constantly straight. It now cascaded down my shoulders in curls and waves which were always untouched from getting straight out of the shower. Tattoos littered my arms up until my wrists, something I would never have dreamed of as part of this family. My short, black boots had heels and I was wearing a black shorts and white tank top with a cute design on it. My skin was tanned. It was always darker than the rest of my family’s, but it had grown even darker from years at the seaside. I no longer wore the green contacts that I made me feel so good about my appearance as a teenager. They were now their natural brown. My face was thinner, I was taller. I could understand why the woman, my ‘mother’, didn’t recognise me.
My ambitions had changed. As a teenager, I was going to become a doctor. It had been my only dream and everything I considered ‘below’ it seemed ridiculous to even consider. But once I ran away, that changed. The way I walked changed. The way I talked. My visions, my dreams. I realise now how much I did not fit in. Like pieces of a puzzle, this family joined and fit together to create these beautiful pictures. I realised now how my tall physique, my dark tattoos and my lack of ‘class’ would stand out like a sore thumb. I never belonged in this family.
I was right to run away. I had contemplated it for years. But now, it was clear as day.
Even though I act like running away was the best thing that ever happened to me, because I would not have become me if I hadn’t, it wasn’t. I act like I don’t need a family, a place that feels like home, people who I am familiar with. But being back here makes me feel like such an outsider.
I act like I don’t need to fit in somewhere but I do.
My greatest accismus. I can’t imagine being surrounded by people who understand me, who know me. I’m so different from the rest of the world.
Once the party is over, I copy all the photos onto a drive for them. I get paid, say my goodbyes and leave. Leave the part of my life that I can never get back. The part I didn’t belong to in the first place. As I’m driving on the deserted road home, I pull over just to think.
I get out and turn to the tall trees on the side of the road. I’m surrounded by forest. I want to be lost right now.
I walk straight toward the trees and I’m suddenly engulfed.
I walked for a long time. It could have been hours. The sounds of the forest calmed me. The cicadas, the squawks of birds, the rustling of the leaves. The smell of the wet earth and green trees.
I took pictures. I took pictures of spider webs littered with droplets of water. I took pictures of monkeys hopping in the trees. I took pictures of colourful birds and beautiful eggs. I took pictures of snakes’ fangs and poisonous leaves. I took pictures of the trees.
I was finally beginning to feel tired. I found a small clearing and squatted down, just my feet on the floor but my backside not touching the ground. I stared up at the trees. I could the rays of the setting sun breaking through the leaves. My hair tickled my knees and I sighed.
I felt an ice cold tear roll down my cheek. I was alone in this forest. All I had was my camera. On the outside, I was enjoying it. I was able to capture stunning pictures. I was calm and at peace. My skin was glowing and my tension was gone. But inside I was empty.
I knew that, in this forest I was alone. I knew that even if I left this forest, I’d be alone.