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Things That Helped

I want to have children, I do. Every Friday evening, after work, I catch the two four six bus down punt road. On the bus, there is a girl my age. I’ve never see her face because she sits up the front in the priority seat, and I sit in the back. She wears her hair cut short, she listens to music, sometimes she calls her mum. Her baby sleeps in his pram slowly rocked by her hand.

I want to have children. I have conversations with friends about our futures, strong women with dreams of strong careers. They want to rent forever and have the money to buy silk dresses and keep their roots floating, forever held above the ground.

I’ve always thought I would be a good mother. I come from a long line of sensible women. Women who keep the buttons to shirts and read to their children at night and make sandwiches and place cold handtowels across hot foreheads.

At Christmas time, I get out all our old albums and I look at my childhood. My mum and dad laugh and read and dance, and when they sing, I know that they’re happy. They sing at the top of their voices. Loud, clear. I too laugh and read and dance and when I’m so happy my heart will burst I sing, loudly, clearly. But I get sad sometimes and everything slows down. Panadol softens my head, Bachs Recue Remedy spreads over my tongue and slides sweetly down my throat. The worry dolls under my pillow are so small I worry I’ll squash them. This is me, now.

I first see Jessica Friedmann’s collection of essays Things That Helped on the front book stand at the National Library Bookshop. I am sweaty and hungry after a walk around the lake with my dad and I feel out of place with my runners and old leggings gone see through. I open the book and flick through delicate pages. Jessica’s from Melbourne, but she now lives in Canberra with her husband and young son. Instantly, I connect. My family is in Canberra, and I live in Melbourne. Things That Helped is by Scribe Publishing, an independent publishing house based in Melbourne. I’ve become attracted to their smooth book covers and cream paper.  I want to read this book. I want to read about another woman’s life divorced between two places. I like the angle of her face on the front cover and the lipstick she wears.

In Melbourne, I like buying dresses from op shops, little candles that flood my room with the smell of jasmine, books to stack on my bedside table, however due to freelance work that dribbles in and out, I haven’t bought anything outside necessity in six months. But one day, I buy the book. I walk home with it in a brown paper bag tucked under my arm. I want to save it for my trip home to Canberra in the University holidays. There, I will sleep in a soft single bed, eat brie and good bread, sit in the garden to read, and get a little bit fat.

But the night I buy the book, I peel its pages open. My breath stops and slows and speeds up as Jessica writes of the birth of her son. I see it, red and raw, her breasts leaking, her stomach tearing. And I feel mine tear too even though, under my shirt, my stomach is fine, whole and mine. I read feverishly, as the clock quietly moves towards midnight. Jessica writes about her postpartum depression, time slows down. There’s this feeling of numbness. The bedroom begins to smell like skin and that grease from hair that hasn’t been washed because you haven’t moved from the curl you create in the bed. I read it and feel it.

Jessica writes of places we’ve both been, her ten years before me. Walking above the silvery Yarra, over the Hawthorn bridge under gold lamps. Through the University of Melbourne, smelling the coffee and gum leaves. She likes the same vintage style as I do, she wears dresses from the thirties and vintage head scarfs with aplomb, something I can never quite replicate, dressing up only in my mind.

After reading Things That Helped, I find Jessica on Instagram. There, blooming on the blue white screen underneath my fingers is her pale vintage face with deep lipstick. I scroll through her organised public private life. It’s full of authentic, clean, earthy images: Jessica, her son, her husband, eucalyptus and wattle blossom, her favourite blue knit jumper, selfies taken in her bedroom mirror. I see her husband come and go through the pictures and the colours change and filters change as I scroll back to older photos. Her son gets younger, her face gets fuller and there’s a constant crease between her brows, but she is smiling her lipstick smile, holding her son who stares at the camera.

As a new generation of authors come in, Instagram is the ultimate publishing platform for letting the reader into the author’s experience. In this image filled world, the “experience” of the book is becoming more prevalent for the publishing industry. Instagram gives a sneak peek into the private public lives of the author, their personal perspective to their book and their life. Things That Helped is one of the first books I’ve read in this new wave of publishing and it’s books like this one that make me want to read and want to write and want to dance and sing – books that are soft, with great feeling.

I think of what my life will be in 10 years. I will wear silk dresses in the summer. I will wear vintage scarves and lipstick. I may have a child. I will tuck worry dolls under both our pillows and dream of my youth waking to find a little piece of me, now.

Things That Helped by Jessica Friedmann is published by Scribe Publications and is available from all good book stores for $29.99.

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