Wriggling on my back, I finally shed the blanket of body parts and rubble that had anchored me to the floor of the Sari Club and all I could see was fire. As I stumbled in bare feet towards a hole blasted through a wall at the back of the room, I felt neither pain nor confusion, and knew exactly what I had to achieve. Whatever it took – and it ended up taking superhuman strength and endurance – I had to live.
The next morning, as a nurse plucked shrapnel from my fractured skull, all I could think about was Mum, roast lamb dinners at her house and my dog. All the things that meant nothing on my way to Bali 24 hours earlier, now meant everything. When I left Australia on October 12, 2002, I had planned, before the holiday was over, to take my own life.
My journey to this dark place began in another nightclub eight years earlier. I was 24 and newly separated from my husband, when my best friend Jodi, a colleague at the Sydney recruitment firm I managed, insisted I join her and a bunch of friends at a bar in Cronulla. One of those friends was a guy named Greg and there was instant chemistry.
Though Greg was struggling with the end of his own marriage, we had an incredible connection and, several months later, we moved in together. If I said it was easy, I’d be lying – he was torn between the loss of his old life and the promise of this new one – but we settled into a great relationship. Greg was strong, direct, funny and exciting. I ate, lived, slept and breathed for him. We bought a dilapidated old house and planned our future. It included a brand-new home where this old one stood and, once I had stepped away from my 15-hours-a-day job, a baby. Until that day, we inhaled our freedom, spending weekends with our huge group of friends, always organised and led by Jodi.
At the end of May 2001 – we’d been together seven years – Greg came home after an eight-week stint interstate and he’d changed. He started going out every night with mates, coming home at 1am and 2am. He said he was confused. Finally, after about 12 weeks, he asked me to move in to Jodi’s place because he needed space. I was devastated.
A month or so later, with Greg still unable to commit, Jodi and I decided to take a trip to Fiji. Jodi was always there for me, no matter what happened. When one of us felt something, the other one felt it as well. When I told Greg about my plans, he was frantic; desperate for me not to go away. He felt that I’d have an affair. I told him that wouldn’t happen, but I had to be honest as well. I told him I’d begun confiding in another guy to get some direction from a male perspective. I will never forget the look on his face. It was like I lost him there.
The following night, Greg took his own life. It was October 14, 2001.
Greg had called me, but my phone battery had gone flat during the night. In his message, he said he couldn’t believe I had found someone else. He thanked me for all that I had done for him and promised to always watch over me. Jodi and I jumped in the car and raced to the house, as I punched and punched out his phone number. When we pulled into the driveway, the police were already there. As gently as they could, they told me Greg was dead. Then I passed out.
When I came to, I sat on the ground and said to myself: “You did this. This is your fault. He’s done this because of you. You will pay.” I didn’t know it then – in fact, I didn’t know until I miscarried shortly afterwards – but I was pregnant.
The months that followed are a blur. I spent my days holed up in Jodi’s unit trying to find a reason to live. I detested waking up, I detested opening my eyes, I detested the thought of what I’d done. I slept a lot. But mostly, I considered ending my life. The guilt was overwhelming.
As the anniversary of Greg’s death approached, Jodi, her friend Charmaine and I decided we’d go to Bali. Two days before we left, I sat by Greg’s grave and wrote letters to him. I decided then that the only way to relieve my pain, and my family’s pain, was to take my own life and be back in my rightful place with him. My family would understand, I told myself; they would feel relief. Having made the decision, it was like the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders. I was way too numb to comprehend the sorrow I’d be inflicting on those who loved me. I just wanted an end to my suffering.
After checking into the Legian Beach Hotel, Jodi, Charmaine and I went for a swim, then back to our room to frock-up for the night – me in a black pencil skirt, a lemon-and-white striped halter-neck top, and flattish heels. We had a bite to eat, then went straight to the Sari Club.
It was a beautiful, balmy, Bali evening. The club was full of Australian footballers, the music was loud and the atmosphere just electric. Everybody was having so much fun – including me – but nothing was going to get in the way of my plan. On October 15, I would leave my friends behind, travel to beautiful Ubud in the mountains, and end my life.
About 11.30pm, three hours after we arrived, the three of us were huddled together at a bar at the front of the club trying to talk over the music. Suddenly, I felt a column of air slam into me. I thought that somebody had punched me. A guy with big, brown, afro-type hair walked past and I grabbed him by the arm, thinking he was the culprit. He turned me around so that my back was facing the dancefloor and he said: “Hey you, there’s no need to be so...”
The next thing I knew, I was opening my eyes to a scene of utter devastation.Everyone ran screaming to the blasted out wall at the back of the burning club. A young Australian male had taken charge, holding back the men, allowing girls to escape first. I squirmed through the cavity and into another room, but that was alight, too. The only way out was through the flames and I could hear my skin sizzling, but I was more lucid than I’ve been in my entire life. I felt like I could move mountains.
I could have saved the world that night.
Once I was out of that section, I fell into ditches, climbed back to street level holding on to electrical cables, and scaled a brick wall that must have been three-metres tall. It was sheer chaos. I jumped off the wall and landed with one leg in a wooden crate. I was trapped, my leg was bleeding, torn by the timber panels, as people ran past in a panic.
The flames were right behind me, so, realising that nobody was coming to my aid, I reached into the pine box and tore it apart with my bare hands, like it was made from cardboard.
Finally, I made it to the street where the injured huddled moaning in bars and shops. My left eye felt heavy and people were staring at my head, but I still felt completely together and strong. At one point I looked back at where I’d come from and I said to myself: “I didn’t do this one; this wasn’t my fault. I didn’t kill these people.”
It was around then that a Balinese local grabbed me and pulled me into his four-wheel-drive car. There was a Swedish couple already in there.
The man was fully dressed, but his partner’s clothing was burnt off. Suddenly, I looked out and Balinese people on the street seemed to be running for their lives. I thought whatever happened at the club had happened again and we were stuck in traffic.
I asked to get out, but the driver didn’t understand me, so I planted my foot in the centre of the tailgate door and broke the lock. Grabbing the Swedish couple, I fled up a side alley, out of the line of fire – whatever that was.
We ran and ran until, finally, an Australian man called Jeff, who lived in Bali, pulled up in front of us. “Darl,” he said me, “you need to get on the back of the moped. You’ve got to get to a hospital.” I still didn’t know there was anything wrong with me. Jeff drove like a madman. The streets were lined with Balinese, and as we sped past they kept looking at me aghast. I still felt incredible, but I reached up to my head and felt something very foreign sticking out of it. It was a shard of bone sticking out at right angles. I knew then I might be in trouble, but I had to stay in control and, most importantly, stay alive.
There were dead and injured people everywhere at the medical centre. One holidaying American doctor was trying to see everybody – obviously the worst cases first. I sat on the floor, begging Jeff not to leave me. By the time the doctor got to me four hours later, I was sitting in a pool of my own blood. On the table, medical staff put a total of six drips in my arm and cut all my clothes off to check for hidden injuries. The doctor cleaned my head wound, and drove 28 staples in, with no anaesthetic. I didn’t feel a thing.
I was wrapped in a sheet and taken by ambulance to a private hospital where nurses cleaned me up, cut my hair where the staples had gone in, and got to work extracting the shrapnel and glass from my head. I’d hear it clinking into the kidney dish and they must have replaced it four or five times. My neck, my head, the pillow and sheets were awash with blood. A nurse was crying. “What you think of Bali now?” one asked. I looked at her, puzzled. “Terrorist attack, terrorist attack,” she said. Then I realised what had happened. I thought there had been an earthquake.
After a CT scan, the doctor delivered some devastating news of his own. My skull had been crushed and bone fragments were pressing down on the brain. Without immediate surgery, I would be dead in six hours. I didn’t know if he was right or wrong, but having come this far, there was no way I was going to risk an operation in these conditions. I had to get home to my family. My whole existence became about staying alive. At 10.30pm, nearly nine hours after they said I’d be dead, I was boarding a flight to Sydney. If I died on the plane, I died on the plane, but I was on my way home.
My mum had arranged for an ambulance to meet me on the tarmac and I went straight to Royal North Shore Hospital for the operation. Three days later, my sister sat on my hospital bed and broke the worst possible news. Jodi and Charmaine were not coming home. They had died instantly in the bomb blast. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had assured Jodi’s brother she was fine, that I could hear her in the corridors of the hospital, that I heard her footsteps. “She’s just out there trying to find me,” I told him.
As it turned out, when the guy with the afro turned me around, I had my back to the dancefloor so I was blown into a vacant space. Jodi and Charmaine would have been blown onto the bar. There were big gas cylinders behind it, which then exploded after the first blast. I delivered Jodi’s eulogy and, again, the guilt and responsibility I felt was crushing. She was in my skin and I was in hers. She’d been my soulmate.
As depressed as I got, I had made a decision that suicide was not going to be an option for me again because I had reconnected with my family and friends. I could now feel the pain of what it would mean for them. But I did struggle.
In 2004, again in a downward spiral, I checked myself into a health retreat on the Gold Coast and, while I was there, I caught up with Matt, a guy I’d met through friends after Bali. He was an incredible support for me and I moved to Queensland to be with him.
A few years later, I decided it was time to heal. I had to do something with my experiences, to show people there is life after suffering, to give the loss of Greg and Jodi and Charmaine some meaning. Through my personal development business, Quantum Leadership Group, I deliver this message worldwide. I believe everything in life happens for a purpose and, unfortunately, I had to get blown up to realise that life matters and we can make a difference. I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose, like I’m doing what I was put here to do.
My autobiography, Soul Survivor, will be released in October. The process of writing about my life and experiences was incredibly cathartic and helped me to finally forgive myself for what I believed I had done. It also helped me to see the beauty of the partner that I have in Matt – what an incredible source of strength and support he’s been.
When I ran through the flames in Bali, the only burns I got were two identically circular mandarin-sized burn marks on my shoulder blades. When my sister saw them, she had the only explanation that made sense. “You know,” she said, “that’s where the angels plugged your wings in.”If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.