Ana Reinhardt has spent the last few years living alone, working as a medical receptionist at a local clinic, and getting back on her feet after dropping out of university and watching her family move to the other side of the world without her. She thinks she has moved beyond it all, beyond the depression and everything that followed it, but she still doesn’t believe in love. When she begins dating one of the doctors she works with, she realises that maybe she does deserve a chance at a real relationship, and maybe her life doesn’t have to be so lonely. With four close friends who think the world of her, she discovers that family comes in many forms, and while running away across the globe is a good short-term solution to dealing with pain, in the long run you have to find something bigger to hold onto in your heart or else it will all fall apart very quickly.
The Almond Tree (page i)
I will share a personal truth with you; darkness is not so intimidating once you’ve resided within its confines. I’m not talking evil, but a blackness that can dwell in your soul, lurking in suspicion and toying with your heart. It’s a state of mind, a place where you view the world within its context. It leaves a mark on you that is as permanent as any scar and as deep as any wound. It crawls beneath your skin, indulges in pain, and scrambles reasonable judgment into chaos. I am not shy of it. I adopt it as any other part of the human experience, and I am not ashamed to call on it for inspiration. It is, after all, a component of my character. I would not be complete without it and so it is sewn into my life with a fragile Zen-like thread.
I admit, the scars on my flesh aren’t charming to anyone, but they’re emblems of my life’s narrative. You stare at them perplexed, but as I gaze at them they unveil realms of my imagination. Once excruciating and torturous, they’ve matured and become the source of much enlightenment. It was not self-deception but unrelenting honesty that cut through the nerves of my skin into the blood in my veins, setting in motion a new path.
It was far from a desire for attention. This pain was more like a hunger, not far from the label of addiction. A prison to you, but an arena to my own misunderstood contemplations and afflictions. You may not have been able to perceive it, but it was there serving as solace to me and the unrest of my mind. I had affection for this antagonism, which was like an uncompromising friend testing my mortality and strength. I am wiser now because of it and it has become the architect of my unique perspective. No, this darkness is not as sinister as it sounds.
Chapter One Excerpt (pages 3-5)
I couldn’t love. No wait, it’s more truthful to say that I believed the words I love you were hollow syllables people said to fake their way through relationships. I had stopped saying the words to almost anyone except in jest. It was this vain attempt to mask my inability to connect that I completely lost the ability to say them with meaning.
It isn’t true to say that I was unable to love at all, as there were people in my life I had great affection for. No, the truth was I had never truly known what the words had meant to begin with. I had looked at them too objectively and they had lost their magic. I hadn’t seen anyone my age end up in an honest, healthy relationship and, detached from my family on the other side of the world, I had wrongly believed that people were constantly lying to each other to justify staying together so they didn’t have to face being alone. What I didn’t know was that there were just as many people lying to themselves for fear of letting anyone in – and I was one of them.
It is disturbing to think what you do to yourself when you lose the meaning of love. Without it, you become an autonomous soul following social prompts to make it through the day, coming and going in people’s lives as if your presence doesn’t have any bearing on them. It is a state beyond self-loathing. You become a detached entity living in a realm where it is easy to misunderstand what other people feel towards you because you can’t feel it yourself. You become numb to your own self-worth and it is not long before you miss the point of everything. Everything.
When I look back, it’s clear to me how smaller events can snowball into bigger ones. How things in your past that are not dealt with eventually bubble to the surface and scream to be recognised. It is strange to think that the biggest drama yet to come might be facing those things we wouldn’t let ourselves acknowledge. It can start with simple things and from slow beginnings and before you know it, what you had buried so deeply finally comes to the surface, raw and fresh. Sometimes you can pinpoint the day that a particular path was put into motion, and it’s not always the day you expect. It’s often very unassuming.
On January 26 the rain poured down as a prelude to one of those moody thunderstorms we all expect on balmy Queensland days. I sat upright on the maroon vinyl of the clinical bed and shifted my dangling feet from side to side above the drab grey carpet. I stared at the cream coloured paint on the wall. The rain pelted down outside on the aluminium roofing and I tried to rub away the goose bumps on my arms from the air-conditioning that was working hard to expel the humidity.
‘Ana, it’s not broken so stop fidgeting,’ said Declan, my boss. He was one of two doctors who ran The Clinic where I worked as a receptionist. I had worked beside him for the past five years. I conceded, refrained from jittering and pulled myself together as he stood in front of me. ‘Much better.’
Declan was taller than my five foot nine inches by two inches. He had short hair that stood upright in its own dark-rusty-red way. He swore to me he never used products but I remained suspicious. His hair was too stylish to simply be wash and dry. He was often unshaven, almost scruffy, which matched his roughly ironed shirts and well-worn boots. His voice was deep but comforting, a trait I’m certain most of his patients appreciated.
‘Holy shit. Damn Dec, that hurt!’ I winced, as he pressed his thumb against the back of my hand, curled his long fingers around mine and pushed back slightly.
‘Sorry. Just testing.’ I could have sworn that for a second I had caught him smirking.
Outside, the entire country was preparing for various Australia Day celebrations while here I sat at work on the bed in Declan’s consulting room cursing him as he shaped my hand into strange forms like a piece of children’s moulding clay. Each time the pain shot through my hand, my heels clicked together involuntarily, as if I were Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.
‘How did you do this anyway?’ The skin around Declan’s blue-grey eyes wrinkled as he squinted and blindly fiddled around in the drawer next to the bed. I squinted myself, examining the few greys that had popped up in his hair over the past year.
‘Ana?’ He was trying to get my attention back to him. I tried to think of an answer.