Two women in face masks posing for the camera

“Do you want to stop at the lighthouse?”

We were driving along the Great Ocean Road. We’d been dating for just over a month and this was our first road trip. If we hadn’t already known each other for two years, such a high pressure mini-break may have been ridiculous.

I was at the wheel of my new car, which I purchased on the day of Tilly’s and my first kiss. In my head Tilly, the car and my obsession with lighthouses are all connected.

At the time I had a casual job at Cape Schanck lighthouse, working as a tour guide assistant. My duties were selling tickets, making cups of tea and writing notes. Tilly encouraged me to take the job, saying I could romanticise my life like a Wes Anderson character. It turned out to be less exciting than Tilly’s pitch but it sparked an enduring love of lighthouses.

There was a lot of driving in my relationship with Tilly. Back and forth to each other’s houses every weekend, a trip from east to west across Melbourne’s curving West Gate Bridge. Driving to new places always made me anxious. But, with Tilly beside me, DJing a playlist of cheesy pop hits, I was calm.

“Yeah,” I said, already flicking the indicator. “Let’s stop at the lighthouse.”

Tilly and Danielle on their trip between the lockdowns of 2021

Our trip lasted five days in early 2021. We stuffed it into the sweet spot between successive lockdowns. We stayed two nights in Apollo Bay and two in Warrnambool. Along the way we visited five lighthouses. On our first night in Warrnambool we watched Pride, a film about queer activists who raised funds during the British miners’ strike of 1984. In the months that followed, whenever Tilly and I found ourselves showing public affection, we’d mimic Gethin, one of the characters: “I’m home. And I’m gay. And I’m Welsh!” (Neither of us are Welsh.) There was just something so joyful about being home, gay and with the girl of your dreams.

Tilly stands in front of a sign that reads 'The Twelve Apostles: Made And Loved By Jesus'
‘Driving to new places was something that always made me anxious. But with Tilly beside me, DJing a playlist of cheesy pop hits, I was calm.’ Photograph: Danielle Scrimshaw

Later, Tilly told me that during our stay in Warrnambool the words “I love you” crossed her mind for the first time. She didn’t say them then and wouldn’t for another month. But the feeling was there. Illuminating.

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It was the same way for me. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when my feelings turned from like to love. Perhaps it was during the drenching rain that caught us at Griffiths Island lighthouse, or as we drove back to the hotel, wrapped in towels. Perhaps it was when we stopped at McDonald’s on the way. We were dazed after that trip, and wished we’d had more time. A month later, at Tilly’s 22nd birthday party, we sang Only the Good Die Young together on a hired karaoke machine.

I had to leave her party early to make the morning shift at my second job bagging groceries at Woolies. She walked me to my car and waved as I drove away. I gripped the steering wheel and said to myself, “I love her, I love her, I love her.”

It would be a cliche to call my girlfriend a lighthouse, but she is. We still live on opposite ends of the West Gate Bridge but I drive to her, wherever she is. A sweet, gentle light across the bay, guiding me home.

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