After college graduation, you move back to Melbourne — the city where you spent a semester abroad — on a working holiday visa. Upon announcing the move via Facebook, your Australian friends comment on the post like rabid animals, frothing at the mouth. They offer housing, refer you to jobs. The cute bearded boy you sat next to in Contemporary Australian Literature two years ago says he’d like to buy you coffee when you return.
You leave New York’s winter behind and fly ten thousand miles across the world to arrive in Australia’s summer. When you gaze at yourself in the airport bathroom, you look immeasurably joyful. On the hot pavement outside the Arrivals terminal, it smells of eucalyptus.
You land a job at a prestigious Australian literary magazine. The friends you reconnect with after your arrival become those you now can’t live without. You take weekend trips with them to vineyards and seaside villages. The cute bearded boy is now a man, a photojournalist. He shoots ugly things, though always finds in them a sort of beauty. You learn to love what he sees.
When promoted to junior editor at work, your friends throw a surprise celebration at your favorite bar. Your boyfriend makes a toast in the sexy Australian drawl that has yet to grow old. You love the way vowels roll strangely off tongues, the way an R disappears entirely.
When you call your parents about a wedding, they sigh because they knew when you left that you wouldn’t be coming back. Your mother says you’ll be more than twenty hours from us in any emergency, so you tell her to stop thinking about emergencies. You promise they’ll love the bearded man as you do. You can’t wait to start your life straddling continents, bouncing between worlds.
You finish your semester in Melbourne by swearing you’ll return after college graduation back in the States, but when graduation comes and goes, you’re fearful and paralyzed and forced to revise — you’ll return in six months, in a year, after this or that. In the interim, you move back home to New York and snag a Cool Job planning events at a bookstore. When you visit bars in various neighborhoods, you learn to pluck an Australian accent out of any crowd and take him home, which most of your friends find hilarious. It becomes a punchline, becomes the thing for which you’re known. You’re soon promoted at Cool Job, but six months later grow bored of Cool Job, so that’s when you decide to move to Melbourne because you’re finally unhappy, finally stagnant and suffering, and it’s all so exciting, to be unhappy, and to know exactly how to make yourself happy again.
You announce the move via Facebook forty-eight hours after quitting your job.
Now you’re doing it, now you’re returning, now you’re returned. Something lifts, a blockage cleared. No one has offered to let you crash on their couch yet, but they surely will. You send a message to the four-girl, three-guy clique that absorbed you three years ago: I’m finally here! Super jet-lagged but would love to grab a drink tomorrow.
You press headphones into your ears, queuing up bands you listened to when last here: St. Lucia, The 1975, Ra Ra Riot.
You were twenty then. You thought you knew yourself so well.
You check to see if anyone has “seen” the Facebook message. Four out of seven have: two guys, two girls. No one replied, so you assume they must be busy, be brimming with some valid excuse.
The shuttle bus drops you off at Southern Cross. You remember the bus station, but not how it connects to streets you once knew by heart. You use limited data to determine which tram will take you to your hostel, then buy a Myki Card at 7/11. The card is sleek, smooth and heavy, unbendable. New York’s Metro Cards are flimsy, too easily damaged.
You sit in the most crowded section of the tram, wanting to be spoken to so badly that you imagine this desire is evident in even the small spaces between your teeth.
At the hostel, you deposit your bag in a locker, change your shoes, and take another tram into the city center. You must cast off this sudden, dizzying loneliness.
Your favorite coffee shops in Brunswick and Carlton are still filled with light. You order a pint in your favorite bar on Smith Street, but right before happy hour, when it’s less conspicuous to sit alone. When Kimberly eventually responds to the Facebook message, you wonder if she’s been elected group spokesperson behind the scenes.
Welcome back! How long will you be here? A few of us are headed to Mornington for the weekend but we’ll organize something soon xx.
You want to type, here for as long as it takes, but instead you return to the hostel and fall asleep and don’t stir, even when five bunkmates slither in from the night.
In the morning, you sling laptop, book, headphones, and sunscreen over your shoulder and drift along the banks of the Yarra. Keep your sunglasses on, despite the cloudy weather, to gaze at people undetected. If eyes flick in your direction, remove your sunglasses and pretend to search for something. It’s possible to make contact this way; the likelihood that something might happen — gesture, spoken word, invitation — will increase. When nothing happens, settle in cafés, eat ten-dollar avocado toast, drink flat whites, and apply for jobs in hospitality or retail. Something will surely stick or land. Afterwards, walk slow and contemplative past paintings and sculptures inside air-conditioned rooms, thinking about nothing, trying to just be —
To be noticed, be happy, be shaken. You want to be all of these things.
Four days pass. The Facebook group message is silent, still. You don’t want to ask for anymore. You want to be asked. You don’t have a job. Your first interview is a week away but hasn’t risk always been your favorite verb?
On New Year’s Eve, you sit amongst groups of picnickers on the beach and eavesdrop on their conversations while drinking boxed wine and contemplating whether you should say something of substance, something to make them laugh and invite you into their circles and squares, but you can’t think of anything. When all the picnickers begin to cheer, you shout a hoarse countdown — six, five, four, three, two ONE — as fireworks explode across the surface of the sky.
When you return to your hostel, five strangers lift heads to meet your gaze. Your chest tightens with wild hope.
Caitlin is a recent graduate of NYU’s MFA program. Her work has appeared in Catapult, Amazon’s Day One, Hobart, Word Riot, Atlas and Alice, ellipsis…literature & art, Pinball, The Knicknackery, and Grasslimb.
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Art modified Poppet with a camera / Tacita Dean CC2.0