A decade ago today I got on a plane. It started with a quick hop from Pearson in Toronto to JFK in New York. I remember when I arrived it was dark and pouring rain. On the shuttle between terminals, I had a hilarious and surreal conversation with the porter about bulldozers.
By the morning I was in Frankfurt, then Singapore, and finally, around 8pm a day and a half later, Sydney, NSW, Australia. It had been the first real summery day, a Thursday, and it was still nearly 30C and humid. It felt like a bath, especially since I’d just left a Canadian winter.
The heat climbed the next day, and the next, which was unfortunate, since there was a lot of running around to do, and James, my boyfriend at the time (and the main reason I was there) decided to take me sightseeing. Between the jetlag and it being about 38C, I was a zombie (and didn’t make a very good impression when I promptly passed out on the couch at his friends’ dinner party that Saturday evening).
I’ve told these and other stories a million times in the last ten years. And I’m sure when I’m an old lady in my rocking chair on my porch, I’ll still be telling them. 🙂
When I got back to Canada (my visa ended and I didn’t qualify for another one at the time), my plan was to be back there in six months. How? No idea, really. Why? Cuz my life was there now. As Sherry has noted, though, I didn’t really have anything there that I don’t here, and that’s true. By that point my relationship was technically over (long story). But the life I’d built? I was happy. Sydney? God, I love that city.
And I wasn’t coming back to much. I left because school had kinda screwed me over; I didn’t know what I wanted to be anymore; and my friends were graduating and moving and starting grown-up lives. I was totally stalled, and at 23, leaving it all and moving to the other side of the world is pretty reasonable (compared to how it would seem now).
It took me a while to build a new life back here. I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about it for one. I worked as a temp for six or seven months before getting offered a job at Descartes, where I’d been temping. I was there for four years. I didn’t date for over two years after I got back, and when I decided to try it again, the result was a series of “buddies” rather than boyfriends for almost three more years.
Needless to say I didn’t get back within six months. Or six years.
This weekend I was thinking long and hard about the hold that place (and time) has on me. And it occurred to me that of all the things I miss, the people aren’t among them. That says a lot. Looking back, James and I were laughably incompatible (he was devoutly Catholic for starters). He had a large, loud, equally devout family, and being around them just made me want to hide. (Though I went to mass with them regularly. Oy vey.)
The friends… they were mostly his friends. I’ve reconnected with a few of them on Facebook in the last year or so, but I’m not all that interested in their lives, and I doubt they’re terribly interested in mine. Plus, there’s a big hole between where we were then, and where we are now. And who ever actually gets around to having the “So what’ve you been up to the past ten years?” conversation?
So what did I have there? I made my own life, for starters. Solved my own problems, organized my own administrivia. I’d always been well taken care of, so this was big for me. It has always kind of amused and amazed me when people have accused me of so totally having my shit together.
I liked my work. Because of the nature of my visa, I had to change jobs several times, but I really liked almost all of them. I learned I was good at a lot of things, I liked working in tech, and that I could make more than enough money to support myself. (I’d been in school, then working at a coffee pub before I left Canada…)
Though my social sphere was largely adopted from James’ circle of friends, I had one. There were people to have dinner parties with and go to the movies with and play videogames with and whatnot. They were different from my friends at home, and seemed rather more grown up, which was nice at the time.
I loved Sydney, and Australia. In a lot of ways the people and culture are very similar to Canada. And yet it’s all its own. I spent two years in Toronto for university and that city and I never clicked. Still haven’t. But I would go back to Sydney. I still feel something akin to homesickness sometimes.
The main thing that eats at me sometimes, and has done for years, is that that year overseas reminds me of where I thought I’d be now. What I haven’t achieved. (Whether it’s stuff I’m supposed to end up with eventually… who knows?) For some people those thoughts and memories get triggered by a person (like an ex) or an event (like a reunion). For me, it’s a time and place.
Until six months ago it was worse, because it had been a bloody long time since I could remember having a job I really liked. I have that now, and I’m grateful. Once again I remember how it feels to know there are things I’m good at, to remember what I like about the tech biz, and to be making good money.
And I did rebuild my life. This one is better in a lot of ways. Take me away from my people now, and I would miss them like I’d miss breathing. Take me away from Waterloo, and I’d miss it. I fit well here. And my network of friends and colleagues and whatnot (including the invisible internet ones) is infinitely bigger and stronger than it was then. I’m grateful for that, too.
My family, as well, turned into something I never thought I’d be part of. My brother and I are friends. I actually like him. He has kids, and I like them. (My niece was the first kid I found myself deeply interested in and protective of.) When I went to Australia this family I’m part of now was still years away. And we’d have to go through hell to get here. Good thing I didn’t know that then. 🙂
Of course, as I wrote on my Facebook profile, The position of beshert remains unfilled. And yeah, it hurts. I figured by now my brother wouldn’t be the only one growing a family. Single and living alone with a cat and staring down the barrel of my mid-30s? My God. Prolly a good thing I didn’t know that at 23, either. Sometimes we make really dumb mistakes when we panic…
Perhaps tonight I’ll drink a toast to my 23-year-old self. Salute her for what she accomplished, offer my sympathies for what she learned (the hard way, most of the time), and thank her for getting me here. I don’t think I need to apologize for failing her, though. Who the hell knows anything at 23?
And I will ponder the taste of Tropical Fire tea and fruit scones at the cafe at Dymock’s on George Street. And the smell of gum trees on a hot day. And the way storm clouds roll in like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. And the mixed berry frappes at Kitchen Kaos (long closed). And the cockatoos in the Botanical Gardens that would try to bite off your fingers. And Moreton Bay Fig trees. And Circular Quay. And terrace houses. And 20 degree winters. And the weird accent I developed over 12 months. And the way I never failed to gawk like a tourist out the train window every morning when we went over the Harbour Bridge.
Cuz it’s okay if no one else gets it. It’s enough that I do. 🙂