The moment I knew: grief almost pushed me under but he held me to his chest and at last I exhaled

Dax and I met at a work Christmas party shortly after I lost my first love to a sudden heart attack. I’d been spending a good amount of time under the covers on my futon (it was the 90s). Even when I emerged, the fog of grief followed me every day.

After that party – and after too many bottles of red – I kissed Dax. But that drunken get-together was the beginning.

We had been dating for a year when he told me: “I’m thinking of moving to Australia.” It was 1999, a Sunday morning in London, and we were eating bacon and egg rolls, wiping grease off each other’s chins and watching the grand prix on our sofa.

It hadn’t been our sofa for long. It was really his, seeing as I had moved in during the summer. Dax was an adult with a successful career in advertising. I was a 25-year-old with no describable career path, who’d spent her postgraduate life partying, drinking, watching posh boys play rugby and getting her heart broken in the worst possible way.

Now he was telling me he was moving overseas. A surge of frustration rose in my body. I had feared loving him because my sadness was still all-consuming. And although he’d told me stories of his Australian backpacking days and I knew his best mate lived in Sydney, until that moment, I didn’t know he dreamed of life on another continent. I hadn’t planned on him leaving.

“Will you come with me?” he asked.

“Really?”

“Of course,” he said. “I’m not doing this without you.”

‘We were on this adventure together’: Maxine Fawcett and Dax travelling in Western Australia, 2000. Photograph: Supplied

We arrived in Sydney on a dark Thursday night in June 2000. I remember it was a Thursday because The Footy Show was on the TV (not the best introduction to Australian culture). Dax’s friend offered a beer, said “Cheers mate”, and we clinked bottles and laughed. Dax and I looked at each other. We were on this adventure together.

We found an apartment to rent in Manly, opposite the surf club and ocean pool where I swam every morning; Dax bought a boogie board and wetsuit. We took up beach-running, we learned to order flat whites. Sydney bubbled with excitement with the 2000 Olympic Games, Cathy Freeman’s 400m gold medal and Ian Thorpe’s domination in the pool.

When the games were over, we road-tripped through New South Wales. We walked along the crunchy sand of Booderee national park, hiked the Blue Mountains to the soundtrack of whooping whipbirds and watched kangaroos hop across paddocks at sunset. The smells of Australia gradually became more familiar: the ancient aroma of eucalyptus and myrtle but also of Aerogard and Vegemite, meat pies and sunblock.

‘We’ve learned to talk to each other – even when it feels scary’: Maxine Fawcett and Dax in 2023. Photograph: Supplied

I was immersed in this new world and fully committed to building our new life, but was also afraid to dig deeper into how I really felt about Dax. I was waiting for the anxiety I felt about falling in love – and losing it again – to pass. I was holding my breath.

A year later we lay next to each other on the grassy lookout at North Head, watching seaplanes taking off, the distant outline of the ferry heading to Circular Quay. No thunderbolt or flash of lighting announced the arrival, but we realised we’d spent the year falling in love, first with the country and finally, each other. He saved me from a deep overwhelming grief, a grief that had threatened to push me under and hold me there.

Dax held me to his chest and at last, I exhaled. I let go of the fear.

Twenty-three years later, we have two teenage boys and a spoodle. And Australia is still working its magic. Dax and I create memories for our kids on trips to the south coast, fishing from jetties and jumping off bridges.

There are the usual ups and downs of a long-term relationship. But we’ve learned to talk to each other – even when it feels scary.


Is there a moment you knew?

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