Butterflies in Bali
She’s quick with a grin, dishing them out generously as she bubbles over with stories about her “perfect” life, her love, her family and friends. She’s wildly cheeky in a way that makes you want to dance on the tables and the carefree joy in her blue eyes reveals nothing of her tragic past.
She stretches out her tanned legs. There’s a tattoo down the side of her right foot, reaching for her little toe: Mummy.
“I got it few weeks before (what would have been) Mum’s 50th birthday,” she smiles, running her fingers over the pink and blue butterfly resting on the Y.
At her mother’s funeral, ten years ago, Kristie Webster, now 25, and her sister Brianna, 27, released a box of butterflies. When they fluttered into the sky, one remained behind, sitting stubbornly on Kristie’s finger. The sisters leant forward, kissing Kristie’s hand: goodbye. Suddenly, the butterfly took flight.
Kristie’s mum, Robyn Webster was killed on October 12th 2002 in Bali. Kristie and Robyn, 44, were in Kuta Beach’s Sari Club, when two car bombs were detonated, killing 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Robyn had spent the first half of 2002 caring for her eldest daughter Brianna, who was battling bone cancer. When Brianna went into remission, Robyn wanted to make up some lost time with her youngest, Kristie, who was 15. They chose Australia’s playground, Bali and took off for two weeks of girlie bliss with family friends Debbie Borgia, 45 and her daughter Abbey, 13.
After 15 days of shopping, sun-baking and massages, the girls spent one last night at the popular Sari Club.
Kristie bumped into a school friend, Chloe Byron, and they hit the dance floor. After a while Robyn appeared at Kristie’s side. One more drink and then they were leaving. She held up her right hand… 5 minutes she mouthed and went back to their table at the front of the club.
Moments later, Robyn Webster, Debbie and Abbey Borgia, and Chloe Byron were all dead. Kristie found herself buried beneath the roof of the club.
“All I could hear was screaming and cries for help and the crackling of fire,” she recalls. “I wasn’t scared or in pain, I was just thinking ‘get me out of here’”.
She has no recollection of how she freed herself from the rubble: only running towards the rear of the club. When she made it to the back wall, a ball of fire hit Kristie.
“I remember looking back and seeing this flame engulf my back,” she says. Pure adrenaline moved her forward.
Kristie was hauled up the brick wall by the arms of strangers. She ran, barefoot, across the roof of the imploded club to a side alley. She jumped 3 metres into the darkness below.
Perth brothers, Michael and Anthony Brain, saw a young girl, bloodied and terrified, running down the streets of Kuta screaming for her mother.
Michael, 32, swept Kristie up onto his shoulder and she passed out instantly.
The blast had split Kristie’s top lip in two - the left side was barely attached to her face – so Michael and Anthony took her to a police medical centre out of town: all the hospitals were full.
“They stitched up my lip with a rusty needle,” she says, tracing the faded scar. “I remember feeling it go in”.
The two brothers never left Kristie’s side. She was a stranger to them, but they cared for her like their little sister; treating her burns, arranging her paperwork and working hard to make sure she was on the very first evacuation flight out of Bali.
It was days later, still being treated for her burns at St. George Hospital, that Kristie realised her mum wasn’t coming home.
Kristie still grieves for her mum. She always will. But from day one, she has surprised her friends and family with her positive attitude - it was one of her mother’s most memorable traits.
“One minute she was there, and the next, she was gone,” says Kristie. “I do cry, when I’m alone, but Mum was such a happy person, it’s important to keep smiling and be grateful for what I have.”
“Sometimes I wake up, and think ‘Oh my goodness’, but I look outside and see it’s a beautiful day” she says.
“There are people who don’t have legs or arms, or can’t hear or see and here I am feeling sorry for myself”.
“I think, ‘wake up to yourself Kristie’. There’s so much more to live for.”
Kristie still lives with her dad Brian, who struggled through losing his wife and then had to learn how to care for two teenage girls. After some hiccups, Kristie says Brian came to juggle the role of mum and dad brilliantly.
Kristie and her Dad are devoted to each other; a love strengthened by the raw awareness of what family means. It hurts her when she sees her friends disrespect their parents.
“You have no idea how much I’d love to have my mum back,” she says. “It’s not until they’re gone that you realise how much they mean to you.”
“I make sure I tell Dad every day how much I love him.”
Sadly, no one can ever replace her mum. And there will be days that hurt more than others.
Kristie will marry her boyfriend Michael in February next year.
“I always think how my wedding day might be,” she says quietly. “Not having my mum there to tell me I look beautiful.”
“I was always a daddy’s girl” says Kristie. “But Mum was my best friend.”
Today, the aftermath still makes itself felt. She suffers from claustrophobia and loud bangs still make her jump. But this young woman knows that life is about looking forward, not back. Right now, she’s planning her dream wedding. Her life is an adventure, and her mum will be with her every step of the way.
“I know she’s with me,” says Kristie touching her tattoo. “She’s saying ‘You did a good job, I’m still watching you, you’re going to be ok.’”