I’m Carmela. This year, I packed up my life and moved back to London for the second time. I’ve also spent numerous weekends in Brighton, traveled to Dublin with my two besties, been to Ibiza for a wedding, spent a long weekend in Cyprus, celebrated a birthday with an old friend in Berlin, eaten every kind of gelato in Florence, did that weird pose next to that tower in Pisa, indulged in too much pasta while checking out the Cinqua Terra, drank Chianti dry, swanned around in Paris, pretended to be Mariah Carey in Capri and had way too much fun in Positano. I just came back from Prague and I’ll be in Copenhagen before Christmas. Yes, I’ll admit it, I’m obsessed with the ‘socials’. All my escapades are thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly) documented on every social platform: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Friends in Australia are constantly messaging me with curiosity ‘do you have a job yet?’ as it would seem all I’ve done since I left was exchange currency and plane hop from country to country. Friends I’ve made in London are constantly saying “If I have to see one more photo on Facebook” or “Of course you’re going on holiday again”.
This made me start to evaluate the kinds of things I was putting out into the big-bad-world-of-web and whether it was reflective of what my day-to-day life was like since I had put everything I owned into two suitcases and made my way to this cold, dark city.
The answer: obviously not.
On one hand, I wasn’t ashamed of the things I had accomplished and I guess ‘boasted about’ on social media this year. This was a result of (as a 31 year old) spending the previous year back in my hometown, in my parents’ home, in my old bedroom (which was shared with my 2-year-old nephew whenever he would sleep over) and it definitely took its toll.
To give you some background, this exercise was so I could secure an Italian passport (as my working visa had come to an end) but mostly it was to save enough money so I could return to the UK this time round and not find myself broke, job-to-job, miserable and a little lost. But considering everything I’ve ‘posted’ about since I landed back in London, how could anyone possibly know that?
How could they possibly know that in some sense I was here because I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere anymore? How could they know that maybe I was sadly and selfishly reveling in the fact that I had no one to be accountable for: no partner, no children, no mortgage, so it was easy yet somewhat necessary to make this choice? I wasn’t showing that aspect of my life on social media now, was I?
To think of it, was I really showing anything that was going on in my world? Maybe not. Maybe, it was just highly-filtered travel pics and funny hashtags. Maybe, it was lacking of the struggle to be alone, the struggle to find somewhere to live, the struggle to find work and the constant struggle with money.
The moment that really hit me was when I received a phone call at 2am from my Mother on a Thursday. I was living with Carly. I answered thinking Mum, the silly woman, had gotten the time-difference wrong. A minute into the conversation I could see she was in a car and looking pale (still oblivious to what that could mean). She continued on about how my Uncle Tony was taken to hospital earlier that day and even at that point I didn’t register that something could be wrong. I thought that my Aunty’s brothers and sisters were just on their way to the hospital because it was a close call. That’s how wonderfully naive I was in that moment.
It’d been 15 years since we had lost anyone in our family, so I was out of action when it came to thinking the worst in these situations. I remember saying “So he’s ok right?” Mum broke down in tears and started to shake her head “No, he’s gone” (actually, I don’t know if that’s what she said, but it was something of that nature). Immediately, whether it was the shock or the sudden sadness, I started crying and screaming, waking Carly up in the process.
“Carmela, what’s going on?” She shouted. “My Uncle just died” I replied.
With those 4 words it was like time froze. Did those words just come out of my mouth? My Uncle? My favourite Uncle? The one that would always ask me, never if I had a boyfriend but how work was going? Or how life in Sydney with his son was?
Carly and I lived in an open space, our bedrooms were like cabins on a cruise ship but with no doors. I spent the next 3 hours in the bathroom crying, trying to not to wake her. I dreaded the next morning, worried of how this would feel in the light and how I would even broach the subject with my Aunty and cousins (one cousin in particular that had become like a brother to me). It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t feel real.
Carly and I have had numerous conversations in the past about what we saw on social media but mostly, about what we didn’t see. Was it a mask? Was it a lie? Was it just the shiny stuff? Or was sharing about the difficult things just too hard and portals like Facebook an escape?
I was apprehensive about sharing my Uncle’s story on social media. Thoughts of it being cheap and cruel ran through my head. But this was my life. This possibly was the real story of my life since I returned to London. It was clear now, that it was never about overseas travel, disposable cash, copious amounts of alcohol and naked dancing. It was about something more. There were lessons to be learnt here.
I had to hear about the news of my Uncle passing via FaceTime. I went to work the next day, puffy faced and red-eyed because I had just started a new job but most importantly, I desperately needed the money. I had missed out on grieving with my family. I missed out on being at my Uncle’s funeral. So yes, this was the real story of leaving your old life and moving overseas. This was what it was really like to be away from home. Suddenly, my passport wasn’t shining so bright anymore, the days felt long and the nights even longer.
So these days, whenever my Mum calls me at an ungodly hour, my heart skips a beat, it’s almost like I can’t breathe. Phone calls at 2am from now on will never be the same.
I still catch myself crying in the most ridiculous places because they remind me of my Uncle (a deli section of a supermarket) because I haven’t dealt with this properly yet. And the truth is I may never. Because I wasn’t there. I’m going to have to live with that forever.
I read his eulogy over a pint in a London pub. I called my cousins after the wake. I message my Aunty most days to see how she is. It sucks.
So, I’m Carmela. This year I moved back to London from Australia for the second time. I’ve traveled numerous parts of Europe and it’s been amazing but it’s also been fucking hard too. I’m not sure if my social footprint reflects this. I’m not even sure if it should or if it has to. I just know if you asked me you’d always get the truth and so maybe I need to continue telling my truth on here too.
Introducing Carmela Contarino, the #PowerKween behind ‘So The Fairy Tales Lied…’ 👸🏻♥️✨
Carmela is an Aussie in London with wanderlust. A TV/Radio rebel. Fierce feminist. Loud laugh-er. Emotional eat-er. Pop culture cat. Red wine wooer and karaoke kween. She hopes that her experiences are just like yours, funny, warm, loud, raw and that maybe you can figure out this thing called ‘life’ together. #YasssKween 🙌🏼