Ode: Joys and sorrows challenge an Australian’s definition of home
"Home was having the same friends and stuff and family around me. It was watching the sun rise over the beaches of Australia and breathing in the minty, sweet smell of Eucalyptus trees."
I was about to board a ferry for a nine-day tour of the Greek islands. I just had to find my older sister. I picked my way through all the other tourists, looking for a familiar face. She’d been living in Ireland, and we’d been apart for more than a year. Our eyes met across the crowded terminal, and we ran into each other’s arms.
For a second, I forgot about my broken heart. During the first half of my trip, I’d been with my boyfriend. He was living in Sudan. I was in Australia. Greece seemed like a good place to meet. At the end of our week together, I asked him, “When am I going to see you again?” And he couldn’t tell me. So we broke up. Seeing my sister was exactly what I needed.
When we got on the ferry, we were greeted by Andy, our tour guide. As soon as he spoke, my heart sunk. He sounded Canadian. And I thought, Really? Like, where’s our gorgeous, Greek god who’s supposed to show us around the islands?
Little did I know, this adventurous, blue-eyed man would challenge my definition of home.
Andy turned out to be an American. From Iowa. I wasn’t attracted to him at first. But as the days went by, I found myself sitting next him at dinner, inching closer to him during the tours and being conscious of where he was on the dance floor.
I kissed him on the second-to-last night of the tour. Because, why not? I would probably never see him again. I went back to Sydney. He stayed in Greece. And that was it. Or so I thought.
Four months later, my heart leapt when his name appeared in my inbox. It was an email, sent out to my entire tour group. I took this as an invitation to spill my heart out. I told Andy how much I liked him and missed him. He replied with, “Do you want to meet up in Bangkok?” And I said, “Yeah, why not?”
My friends thought I was crazy. After all, tour guides have a reputation for getting around, if you know what I mean. Going against their advice, I sold my car and got rid of everything I owned, only keeping what I could fit in a backpack. I met Andy in Thailand. And we haven’t left each other ever since.
We traveled throughout Southeast Asia for three months and visited my family in Australia before moving to New Zealand. After a year together, we got engaged and married within a week in a courthouse in Queenstown. During our last two months in New Zealand, we lived in a camper-van. That’s where you really get to know someone. But the close-quarters didn’t bother us. Andy and I were in love. I would go anywhere with him.
A few days before Christmas,we moved again—this time halfway around the world to be closer to Andy’s family. I got on a plane in Tahiti and landed in Denver in a sundress.That’s where I saw snow coming down for the first time. I felt the chill of winter and realized, for the first time, that I was far away from all that was warm and familiar to me.
Andy hadn’t lived in his hometown for about 10 years. I knew he was anxious to get back to Sioux City. And despite a little culture shock, it wasn’t that hard for me to move here.
Before Andy, home was having the same friends and stuff and family around me. It was watching the sun rise over the beaches of Australia and breathing in the minty, sweet smell of Eucalyptus trees. Andy pushed me out of my comfort zone and unlocked a spirit of adventure, positive detachment, personal discovery and grace.
What made the move easier was the fact that my family had scattered around the world. My parents divorced when I was 19. They were still in Australia.But my sister married a South African, and she moved around so much that she could have been living in Africa, Dubai or India at the time. My youngest brother was in Canada, and my other brother was in England.
So, I agreed to move here, based on the agreement that we would return to Australia in five years. That’s been nearly eight years ago. But who’s counting?
During my first four months in America, I got to know my in-laws really well. We lived in their basement. Not to mention, I didn’t have a green card or a driver’s license. So I couldn’t work or go anywhere. And I didn’t have any sweaters to survive an Iowa winter. So I wore my mother-in-law’s clothes. Wherever she went, I’d go along just to get out of the house.
All I had was my love for Andy and an enduring spirit that knew, despite my deep yearning to be back in my family’s arms, they were close to my heart.
Eventually, Andy and I settled into a house of our own and had two beautiful children. I started working at a hair salon, bought a winter coat and learned how to drive on the other side of the road. I also found a wonderful yoga community, where a friend became a sister.
I knew I could make any place a home wherever my heart was nourished with love and connection. I made peace with the miles stretching between me and my family. Until my youngest brother’s depression came back.
I would never feel as far away from home as I did on November 17, 2015.
Jase knew I had once been lost in the dark recesses of my mind too. I wanted to be there for him—to let him see that part of me and to let him know that he is not alone. I wanted to show him that there is hope.
But it was so hard to convey over the phone. He could ignore my calls. Or hang up. And when you’re in a state of despair, you don’t want to be helped. He wasn’t alone. Everyone in my family was there, living in Australia again. Everyone except me.Jase was struggling. I was holding space. Thousands of miles away.
The depth of his depression became apparent on the day he ran his car off the road. He walked away from the crash, only spending three days in the hospital for observation. Afterwards, he said, “I didn’t really want to kill myself. I just didn’t want to do it anymore.”
A few months after the crash, he went missing on my sixth wedding anniversary. Mom didn’t tell me about it that day. So while Andy and I were celebrating, at least 10 family members and friends, two counties of police and a helicopter were searching for Jase in Sydney. They looked up his credit card information to track his movements. A ferry port. A train station. They couldn’t find him.
Hours later, he came home on his own. But my funny, kind, caring little brother was gone. It was like the light had gone out of his eyes. He’d lost himself for so long. He spent a month in the hospital. After he got out, Mom called him every day at 10 o’clock in the morning for a week. During one of those calls, Jase said he was fishing, and he wasn't much of a fishermen. What set her on edge was the tone of his voice.
He sounded way too happy. I called him that same time. No answer.
It was November 17, 2015—he took his own life.
When I heard from my mom, I already knew what she was going to say. Jase is dead. He was 29 years old.
I told her, “It’s okay, Mom. He’s okay.” And I really believed this. After a second of calm, agonizing numbness set in. I didn’t care if I was running to Australia—I had to be there. I booked a same-day, 21-hour flight from Omaha to Sydney.
Stepping off the plane, the scent of Eucalyptus and sandy beaches and love filled the air. I rushed into the arms of my family. I was home.
It’s been almost two years since Jase died, but like my husband Andy, Jase showed me how to live. He reminded me that home is not only a place of familiar senses and warm embraces—it is a connection that’s not always seen but always felt. It is the bond that even the distance of death cannot destroy.
Odeis a storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. It’s produced by Siouxland Public Media.
Our next show is Friday, December 1 at ISU Design West in downtown Sioux City. We’ll have live music by Jessica Zepeda, starting at 7 p.m., followed by stories about “Holiday Joy & Mayhem.”Tickets are $10 in advance; $15 day of show.