Feed on

“Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.” -Mary Schmich


At twenty one I’d finished my university degree and headed to Europe for the traditional coming-of-age journey so many Australians do. 

I started travelling by myself- exploring London and Paris before connecting with a group tour of young people, forging our way through seven European countries over several weeks. 


In Italy we travelled by bus to the Isle of Capri. 

I was dumbfounded, like most tourists, by the azure waters. They were a colour of blue that was so deeply, vividly haunting that it almost hurt. That it stung at your soul. 

The sting came from the knowledge that no photograph, no postcard, no words would ever capture that colour. 


It would never be yours to hold. 


We spent the afternoon exploring and then climbed onto the bus for the mountain hugging trip back to the hotel in Sorrento. On one side was rocky monolith, on the other was cliffs and sheer drops. The road was barely wide enough for two cars to pass, let alone a bus and any other vehicle, but we were carefree, sharing our experiences, talking about the food, the people and the vivid waters.

I sat in the back seat pressed against the window- part of the squash of six friends, enjoying their chatter and watching for glimpses of blue.

The bus was old, and although it creaked and groaned the driver had a lead foot, taking corners at a precarious speed.

At one point we rounded a sharp bend. We lost our seated balance, all five people tipped full bodied against me, pushing  me hard up against the window.

But it wasn’t a window at all.

It was a concealed door, an emergency exit and access to the storage underneath the bus.

The force of us swung the door open wide. I fell head first through the gap vaguely registering that someone was screaming. I felt hands, strong hands gripping me. Holding my arms, my back, caught in my hair. I watched three red balls fall out from the storage compartment below. I followed them as they hit the road in slow motion. One… and then two bounces before flying over the edge of the cliff in a graceful arc… down, down toward the blue waters. 

The driver brought the bus to a neck lurching stop. I was hauled inside and then realised so many people had held onto me. Along with my friends who had been sitting close there was one guy holding my wrist. I could have sworn he had been sitting near the middle of the bus and I couldn’t fathom how he, in particular, had gotten to me so fast. But I was grateful to them all.

At the end of our trip around the seven countries of Europe we were each given a book to commemorate our journey. These books and pens were passed around, the last two blank autograph-pages filling with jovial comments and snail-mail-addresses and “stay in touch” messages. 

When my book finished the rounds I opened up to read the commentary. My eyebrows crinkled in surprise as I saw someone had taken up nearly a whole page. What the fuck?? I thought. Someone’s written me a bloody essay. 

But it wasn’t an essay.

It was a love letter. 

A confession of feelings from afar and admiration from a guy who had rarely said a word to me the whole trip.

He was the boy who’d sat in the middle of the bus. 

He wrote that he would never act on his feelings because he knew I was already taken. He called my fella in Australia the luckiest man alive

And just like that I suddenly realised it was a joke.

I showed it to my friends chortling good naturedly. But they all looked puzzled. 

Why are you laughing? They asked.

Huh? Didn’t you know? They said.

Oh really? Are you for real? How could you not know? They sounded surprised.

Well everyone else knew… They whispered.


But I didn’t know.

I’d been totally and truly and completely oblivious.

Leave a Reply