I’m 24 and I don’t have a boyfriend. In the small country town where I’m from – Bendigo – this makes me a minority. Every time I go back, people ask, “Are you seeing anyone at the moment?” “Met any guys lately?” “What are the boys in Melbourne like?” Sometimes I get sympathetic looks. Sometimes I get knowing glances. She’s gay, they think. She just hasn’t realised it yet. Small towns equal small minds, right?
But the truth is, something happened four years that shook me to the core. And I can’t tell a fucking soul.
It was 2011, and I was in Bali. I’d been over once with my family a few years back, but we’d never really stepped outside the Kuta vortex. This time was different. It was my first solo overseas trip, and I wanted to explore. I flew into Denpasar because it was the cheapest option to get to Indonesia from Australia, but it wasn’t Bali that I was going to see. I wanted to trek through the jungle in Lombok, spot rhinos in Java and swim in waterfalls in Sumatra.
I told the taxi driver to take me to a cheap hotel near a surf beach. He nodded and drove for nearly an hour to a town called Bingin, and directed me to a shack of a hostel perched on the side of a cliff. From just one glance, I could tell it would be riddled with bedbugs and rats, and I couldn’t have been happier. This was the real Indonesia. This was the shit I craved – not the resorts run by white people where you pay Australian prices to get a fresh frangipani on your pillow every morning. I went to bed with a fat grin on my face, and awakened the next day still smiling.
Whilst scrounging around for places to eat in the morning, it didn’t take long for me to realise that nasi goreng was the diet staple for breakfast, lunch and dinner. With processed carbs being my favourite food and decision-making being my least favourite activity, this suited me just fine, so I entered the first warung I saw and sat down with a blank journal – the ultimate cliché.
I hadn’t even ordered when I heard my name being shouted across the café.
I looked up in shock. I was thousands of kilometres from Bendigo, but there was Dom was in all his bastardly glory. We’d gone to school together, and he was dating a girl Jamie whom I’d been pretty good friends with.
“What the fuck are you doing here?!” he asked incredulously in his broad Australian accent. He was utterly gorgeous in the most bogan way possible, with dumb tatts adorning his chest, belly and feet and mini black stretchers in his ears. Back in year 10, I’d had a massive crush on him, and had even done graphics just to be in his class despite the fact I’d be lucky to draw a straight line with a ruler. Now that I was out of my hometown and lived in the big smoke, I thought I was better than everyone I’d left behind, but seeing him in front of me made all my pretention instantly dissolve.
The next few days were a whirlwind of bliss. Dom teaching me how to ride a motorbike; Dom pushing me onto waves in an attempt to make me surf; me nursing Dom’s countless coral cuts and exhaust pipe burns; the two of us snorkelling, eating magic mushies, pointing at exotic foods at night markets to order and sleeping in a sweaty tangle of lust.
I checked out of my room at the hostel and checked into his. I pretended I didn’t hear his phone beeping throughout the night with messages from his girlfriend at home. I pretended not to hear him Skyping Jamie in the internet café across from me, whispering that he loved her and would be home soon. I pretending not to notice his refusal to be in any photos together when the friends we made along the way whipped out their cameras.
Days melted into weeks, and before I knew it I had spent nearly a month in Bingin falling madly and irrevocably in love with Dom. There had been no jungle treks, no rhinos and no waterfalls – just me and a boy from my hometown who had wholly consumed me. My big dreams for Indonesia had been replaced with childhood fantasies about Dom and I – we would travel together forever, him helping do labour with small indigenous communities where he could, and me being a world-famous travel journalist: two frontier explorers tackling the world.
But that was not reality. In fact, there would never be a reality for Dom.
On the morning of Thursday April 21, 2011, Dom rode his motorbike from Bingin to another surf beach to catch some early waves. An Italian who’d had a big night on the booze the night before crashed into him, their bikes merging into a single piece of twisted, burning metal. The Italian died later in the hospital. Dom died on the spot.
I was unaware of what had happened to him until 4pm that afternoon. Word started going around that there had been a fatal motorbike accident between two foreigners, and it didn’t take long for someone to go and view the bodies and make the connection between the mangled boy lying in the morgue and the strong, tattooed surfer from Bendigo. I don’t know who it was who performed that unthinkable task. I don’t know how they contacted his family. I don’t know how they managed to get his body home. I couldn’t have processed the information even if someone had told me.
I flew back to Melbourne two days later, my world shattered, and went straight home to my mum’s. I couldn’t fall asleep, and when I finally did, I never wanted to wake up again. I stopped eating, my phone lay uncharged and I didn’t even have the strength to shower myself. For the first two weeks, my mum was sympathetic. But by the third, I could tell she was puzzled about the extent of my grief. “Come on Anna,” she placated, “Dom was a lovely boy, but you hadn’t really seen him since school. How about you open the blinds and come and eat some soft boiled eggs?”
A memorial service was held for Dom at the same church he had been christened in. His girlfriend, Jamie, was too overcome with emotion to speak. She hugged me hard, sobbing into my collar.
“You were in Bali, too, weren’t you?” she sobbed. “Did you see him while you were there?”
I couldn’t look her in the eye. What I did notice though, was the growing baby bump that stretched her black dress taut across her tummy and pressed up against me when we embraced.
This April will mark five years since Dom’s death. I have never stopped grieving, because I have never been able to grieve properly – to mourn openly for the boy I loved and will love until I’m dead. I don’t go home very often now, but when I do, I see Jamie and her son walking hand in hand through the supermarket, him with his scruffy brown curls just like his dad used to have.
And that is why I don’t have a boyfriend.