People ask me to tell them a story,
but I can’t seem to figure out where it begins, exactly. If I’m quantifying the tale as my years abroad from home then it begins on August 20, 2012 in San Francisco, my mom tearing up at the airport and holding onto me for dear life. In return, I smile and mock her fears.
“I’ll only be gone for six months, and I’ll see you even shorter than that in Bali,” I say, at the time believing it to be true.
I had traveled before. I had been seduced by people and places but after sometime away I was always seduced back to my hometown. In Los Gatos — a small, affluent community — I could have anything I ever need, really. But I guess my mom could sense in her heart that this time around the World would fully entrance me, the wandering gypsy.
That time in August my backpack was heavy upon my shoulders, pushing double the weight of my fragile body into the Earth. Every step forward I felt the discomfort. But I was brave, because joy emanates from all around us if we find the courage to walk into the unconventional lifestyle and embrace it. I was optimistic, and a human with optimism on their side can survive anything. I had the humbling opportunity to explore hidden magic in places I’d only dreamt about.
I moved starry-eyed cross countries; I was harmonious and mesmerized. I looked West and recognized that there was little I envied.
I was brave.
I was brave.
I was brave.
Until two years later when I was not brave. Until I had to say goodbye to my makeshift house, in my new home, in Melbourne, Australia.
When I arrive back to America my Dad waits to greet me. I can feel his energy before we even land and all I yearn for after hours of staring at the clouds is his warm embrace.
The plane ride is an emblem of my nomadic self. My memories of days in the sky dreaming of distant places are not so much a memory but ingrained within me. Sometimes I imagine that I am invincible up in the air, untouchable and tuned out to reality down, down, down below. The crests of the mountain ranges, the dots of cookie-cutter houses, specks of people moving about their daily routines — and me, watching from above in meditative transit.
The act of flying itself feels so routinely familiar. Gaze hazy-eyed at the magazine stands lined with unknown tabloids as I walk through stale airports. Voices overhead call out to lost passengers and gate changes. Not wanting to drink coffee so I can be cool, calm, restful on the plane. Wanting to drink coffee because I crave it; I crave the warm, dark drops against my tongue so that I am awake and invigorated.
Security moves quickly: laptop out, shoes off, passport in hand, Come through. Thank you, Miss, repack your bag.
Always a suitcase. Always repacking. Will I ever stop?
Back to the aisle seat and I can’t stop looking out of the window watching it all pass me by. I plug in; I disconnect. Where am I going?
The man at the counter forgets to ask if I’d had a nice trip. “Australia is an incredible country, you should visit,” I tiredly bark. Then I heave myself the rest of the way through customs.
My Dad hugs me and begins to tell me about his weekend: the Niners game and the California heat and the state of the draught. I want to ask him if he knows how mundane it all sounds, given that less than twenty-four hours ago ten people caravanned me to the airport and hugged me tightly as we said goodbye for the last time in a long time.
I felt empty, defeated by forthcoming prospects. This goodbye wasn’t like the one to my mother. As a nomad I knew this goodbye was permanent; I shut the door on a life I would remember fondly as a time I had once lived and loved. A life with deeply-rooted relationships and routines and traditions and favorite cafes and places that stimulated my most creative self. I left the city with regret, softened only slightly by my return to the sunshine state. “You’re going home! Think of how wonderful it will be!” They all told me.
But now I was the one holding on for dear life, or attempting to without prevail. I knew over time the traditions would subside and my memories would fade, and I feared it. Because Melbourne possesses such ever-changing uniqueness, character, innovation that we can leave even for a fleeting period of time and come back to an entirely new city. We can turn left at the same street we turn left everyday and find that a new space — a haven, an alcove—exists that profoundly intrigues us. We can climb the stairways up and up and up, following the bitter, inviting smell of a fresh roast from a speciality cafe. That coffee: that’s the coffee I crave.
Like New York or Paris, everyone makes their own Melbourne because its hidden laneways and decorated alleys make every moment feel like a personal discovery to be savored and treasured. Though we make it our own, we want to share it everyone we know.
But maybe the story doesn’t begin at the airport or up in the clouds. Maybe it starts at 19 years of age living in Paris, when I first left what I knew to be true in order to seek fulfillment from the unknown. Youthful wanderlust they call it these days. Andy Warhol always reminds me of this because his picture hangs above my desk. The World Fascinates Me, it reads. It’s the same desk where I sit and stare when the ideas fail me and the desk I honor when the words spontaneously come pouring out. At home when I close my computer and look at Mr. Warhol, I see everything that surrounds him. The objects: carefully, delicately, thoughtfully placed objects. They are the objects that found me somewhere in my life, somewhere in the world. The Argentinean mug, the Laotian cloth, the New Zealand stones, the Parisian chocolates.
But the value of these objects cannot be understood between the owner and the observer. The observer didn’t see me when I was falling in love with Paris, and also falling in love in Paris. From that chance encounter had matured one of the most fruitful and romantic of intimacies. An Australian lover in Paris: could I ever have predicted the consequences of that relationship? When we met again at that cafe in the Melbourne CBD he was just as genuine and handsome. That time he was engaged to be married and I was engaged to my transience. It all felt so obviously ironic.
Back at my desk, I am showered in the gifts of the past. Past cities, past lovers: smiling with all of myself at opportunities afforded and nestled in solitude disheartened by another lost chance. These objects keep me balanced. Remind me of the fluidness of life and place. I once read that we travel the World to find where we are happiest. I think I found that in Melbourne and I think that’s what I fear the most. Time drifting and life moving quickly and seeming aloof to it all. How do you say goodbye to a place you never wanted to leave? Where do you pick up the story and start again?