I lay on my stomach on the bow of the boat, my hands dipping into the cool water when it surges. I am riding the gentle waves of the lake and all feels perfect. The sun is hot on my back and Alba is fast asleep. The patterns of the waves put me into a trance. I am smiling at everything.
The lake house where we are staying is a mansion of a cabin. Our bedroom window overlooks the woods and as I lay with Alba I watch for grizzly bears. The backyard dips down into the lake, reflecting the bright blue of the sky. It is cleansing after the last few days of smog in LA, and the stressful flight from Australia before that.
Alba runs across the lawn after a butterfly. She is quick on her feet now, I watch her and I see flashes of the little girl she is becoming. She pulls me into a hug and my eyes close tightly as our faces touch. All of her unexpected affection reminds me to be deserving and good. I know I am not always deserving. Doing this trip alone seemed a small thing back at home, but I’m quickly realising I was wrong.
It’s strange to think that I am here because of my passion. Because a young actress in Hollywood fell in love with my photographs when I was still in highschool and her Mama flew me over to visit. Now that glowing girl is Alba’s Sunmother and her family are like my own family. The luxury of this lifestyle is a contrast against the world of my upbringing, and I can appreciate both worlds.
I spend a lot of time watching the chefs cook. They are a beautiful pair who make the most beautiful food. There are always delicious dishes in excess for every meal and I give my appreciation in excess too, because I understand the hard work that goes into creating it. I eat slowly, savouring everything, remembering where it came from. The bags of organic produce from the markets on the counter, the berries being washed gently beneath the tap, the kale being massaged, the radicchio being peeled layer by layer, the dough being kneaded.
Nick and Alba dote on one another here and I am thankful for it. Alba traces the colourful tattoos on his arms, asking “drawing?” and he says “yes baby, drawing”. When she falls over he scoops her up and kisses her better and tells her he loves her. One afternoon she falls asleep on his chest on the trampoline on the lake and the moment is bursting with tenderness. He leaves earlier than the rest of us, and that day she runs to his cabin and stands outside his door calling “Nih” over and over but he’s already flying home to LA.
Alba takes a while to warm to everyone. I can understand her shyness, everyone and everything is new. But I still long for her to be trusting. To have my own space to breathe. Thankfully, at the end of the week she is completely at home, running around making everyone laugh, picking flowers to give away and talking in her own language to her new friends.
She’s learning new words every day, like strawberry and drawing and boat and cuddle and water, and it is amazing to hear her speak. When we skype with her Papa she spends the whole time covering the screen in kisses meant for him. How can it be that she is only one? It feels like she has been with us for so many years.
We take canoes out on the water. From the middle of the lake I take pictures and as I watch my friends through the lens I realise how important they are. They are so different to me in many ways, but I love them. I feel accepted here. I wish I could have a circle of friends this strong with me always, but instead they are scattered all over the planet.
One night I am particularly lonely. Alba is asleep and I am sitting on the grass by the water. It is late, the air is cold and my skin is goosebumped beneath my jacket. I am surrounded by beauty but I am too overcome with longing to notice. I miss my love and parenting alone has been tough.
Whenever I am feeling down I remind myself that I have the power to change it. So I run inside and see if anyone wants to go swimming with me. Most think I’m crazy, but two boys and Zelda’s Mum say they’ll come. We run down the dock and strip off. I throw myself into the cold air and then the icy water hits me hard, chews me and swallows me.
The water is so cold it feels incredible. I can’t stop giggling. I swim out in the blackness, laughing and feeling totally alive. After a while everyone gets out and I swim to the trampoline on the lake and jump into the night sky. When I join the others in the spa afterwards my teeth are still chattering but all my sadness is gone.
Everything is always so peaceful at the lake house, just like I remember. In the evenings Marsha is doing puzzles on the deck, the chefs are busy making dinner, music is playing and my friends are talking around the fire with glasses of wine. Being around them reminds me that I am 20, that the yearning for experience and connection is still unsettled in my chest. I am the youngest here and it’s strange how I can feel like a Mother and a child at the same time.
I hug Marsha for a long time when we leave. I can’t find the right words for how grateful I am to her so I try to put it all into my embrace. I don’t want to say goodbye so I tell everyone I will see them again soon. Alba kisses her tiny palm and blows a kiss goodbye.
We fly back to LA, sunkissed and happy-hearted, with more adventure to come.