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The moment I knew: by night’s end he said he loved me – but a few years later he was gone | Australian lifestyle

I first met Stu in 2010. He worked at a friend’s bar, we went to the same parties and had the same mates. He was just another person in the crowd – I didn’t consider him anything more than that for a long time.

But all that changed in late 2014 when his brother invited me, along with a couple of other friends, to the family property in southern New South Wales for a camping trip. Stu just happened to be visiting the homestead at the time.

He was never loud or even particularly noticeable in the city but back in nature, where he was from, there was this whole other vibe about Stu. He was in his element and I saw him in a totally different light. More at peace, more in control, more himself. Out of the city, his quiet confidence shone through.

We didn’t spend much time together over those few days but one night, as the group of us was collecting firewood, we got chatting. I started to feel something. It didn’t feel strictly sexual or romantic; it was just a pull, a connection.

That night Stu made a huge fire with the wood we had gathered. He was an artistic guy and he channelled a lot of creativity into building it. I took a photo of the raging inferno and used it as my profile picture on my socials for years. Later he told me he was trying to impress me and I can’t lie, it worked.

I returned to Melbourne for a New Year’s Eve party, but I just couldn’t get him out of my mind. I left the party before the countdown – I was too distracted.

I didn’t know what I was feeling or what I wanted from him, but I knew I had to figure it out.

As soon as I knew he was back in town I showed up at his bar on the pretence of helping him pack up for the night. Really I just wanted to see him as soon as possible.

A few days later I invited him over to my house, and as soon as he walked in he gave me the longest hug. I didn’t know what the energy was between us, but it was intense. I said, “This feels like family”; he replied, “It feels like home”. By the end of the night he told me he loved me.

It sounds crazy but something happened on that trip to the country. Our souls got entangled. I had never felt anything like it. It wasn’t even a matter of deciding to be together, it just felt inevitable.

I found out I was pregnant on Boxing Day 2017, exactly three years after that surreal camping trip. Things were good.

But a month before our daughter was born, Stu was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. The doctors delayed his treatment for a week so he could be there for her birth. He fought incredibly hard to be here for our daughter as long as he could, but three years later, he was gone.

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‘He fought incredibly hard to be here for our daughter as long as he could’: Salamawit Meckonen and Stu with their daughter. Photograph: Salamawit Meckonen

I can’t begin to reconcile how he came and went like this, but it isn’t the first time fate has changed my path and forced me to love at a distance.

When I was two my family fled as refugees from the war in Eritrea to Sudan. After five years my twin sister and I were adopted by an English teacher and brought to Australia. We had no contact with our parents or siblings for nearly 10 years.

Being separated from my mother, and my whole family, was excruciating, but keeping the connection alive across space and time, with no way to see or touch someone, is something I learned to do.

That level of missing someone, and it not being fair, isn’t new to me. You just get to a point where all the negative feelings are such a burden that you have to find a new way.

Some people will say you gotta feel the feelings, but in some ways I don’t even have to miss Stu because I really feel like he’s still always with me. He left me with this beautiful daughter and a love that transcends the hand we were dealt.

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