Bella calls out “where are you going?” as I run downstairs to the lounge and snatch my phone. I pause for a moment. Faint blue light is slipping into our dark flat. This house is a prison, Bella always says, but some of my favorite and most ridiculous memories have happened here. I realise with a start that I can hear bird song outside. It makes me feel euphoric but also a bit sick. I start work at 8.30. I run back upstairs and leap into Isla’s bed. While Isla is brushing her teeth, Noah turns to me. “We’re going to fall asleep here, aren’t we?” he whispers. I nod, grinning, and show him my phone with my 8am alarm set. The three of us sink into Bella’s bed like it’s a black hole. I twirl my fingers through Noah’s hair, but first I tell him that I give my mum head massages all the time. I’m trying to reassure him it’s platonic. We all laugh because it comes off as a random thing to say. But it’s okay because it’s on-brand for me. When you say weird things all the time, words don’t matter as much. It means you can hide secrets in plain sight, even from yourself.
In the morning I realise with relief and sadness that my pupils are back to normal. The juxtaposition of feelings reminds me of the year after high-school. Endless wonder and breaking down in hostel bathrooms. That year the same lyrics ricocheted over and over in my head; a year like this/passes so strangely/somewhere between/sorrow and bliss. It feels like another one of those years. We’ve been learning about climate change at uni. We’ve all been tipped upside down and shaken by it. Future plans we held in our pockets clattering to a cold concrete floor. During a wellbeing session, we write down what we’re most scared of. For me it’s the water and food scarcity. I know that I’m the luckiest of the lucky. But even with all my privilege I won’t be able to escape it, eventually. It’s a bit funny, a bit ironic, all the hours battling diet culture. But when the world ends, I want to look hot!
We’re driving home from the supermarket when Noah checks his phone and makes a funny sound. Lockdown. Isla runs out to pick up the leftover food from the cafe and Noah goes to pick up pizza for us. They’re gone for over an hour. The streets are clogged. When the world ends, everyone fights for themselves. I’d almost forgotten how everything could close up again like a swollen throat. Get comfortable with uncertainty, our tutors say. My period is a month late. My period doesn’t like uncertainty.
That night we stayed up until 4am again, our hands in each other’s hair, taking turns picking songs. When you learn water safety as a kid, they teach you to grab onto each other’s lifejackets as tightly as you can, pulling each other close. It keeps you warm and it keeps you afloat. In the morning we drifted back to our own bubbles. What’s the closest you’ve ever been to drowning?
I call my oldest friend Mia. The line keeps cutting out. In between the rain and crackling and gusts of wind she tells me that my phone call has made her depressed. We’re 24 and we’ve realised that our hands have been covered in blood our whole lives. “I wish I didn’t know,” she says. I decide to get a tattoo of St Jude going hunting in a storm. I decide that I’m going to learn how to hunt.
I message Noah and Bella. Bella says things like is he hot? Or does he just drink oat milk? and it’s not our fault everyone wants to fuck us. Noah and I have furious debates over how hot Adam Sandler is. But when they’re gone again I sink a little lower.
I’m too dependant on you guys, I text Bella.
You say that a lot, she replies.
For my birthday, I spend hours alone in the rain, tracking down an old bunker. When I was 15, my friend Chloe and I discovered it. She was my first girl crush, though I didn’t know it at the time. We ran down sandy biking tracks and rested at a hidden beach. When a storm rolled in over the ocean we screamed in elation, headfirst into it. I remember the goosebumps on our bare arms as we sprinted the whole way home. I found the bunker. The vibrant graffiti had been painted over with a camo green. The only way to make a colour like green look lifeless is to paint it as a war colour. But the path still felt alive with 15 year old energy, with that magic you have when you are so absorbed in your own life that every storm feels like fate – like a gift specifically for you.
When I get to the beach I take out my half eaten toasted sandwich and watch the waves smash the rocks. The wind lifts my hair away from my ears and whispers a message: utopia has started rumbling.
Breanna Ward is a 25 year old from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She has been living in Ōtautahi for the past three years completing a bachelor of Sustainability and Outdoor Education. She is currently working as an Outdoor Instructor in Lewis Pass. ‘Trouble in Paradise’ is her first publication.