I think everyone eventually finds where they are meant to be. They might leave that place to see other far away places, monuments, and strangers, but their heart will always return. It harbors memories, smells, sounds, and aches only calmed by revisiting. For some, this place is a time in their lives they will never be able to physically return to, and their solace comes from closing their eyes or looking at photographs. While photographs are stark reminders of my time in my place, I have made it part of my life to return as often as I can. When the hunger grows, I know it’s time to start saving.
It’s time to go back.
I was just a kid when I first passed the study abroad poster in the hallway of the clock tower at my university. Hell, I’m still just a kid, but I was 18, foolish, and probably hung over. I loved being in college, but I knew there was something else out there for me, something far greater than frat parties and scouring the house the next morning for my missing keys. I had no idea then, that I would travel to Australia and tie the strings of my heart to the rocks on the harbor, to the inexplicable silence at Crescent Head, to the very top of the Sydney Bridge, to the accent rolling off tongues the way tides roll onto the sand. I had no idea that Australia would become part of my psyche. Its people, all with their values and conceptions of happiness, work, and quality of life, would all become part of me.
Every relationship I entered from that moment on became an obstacle. I prefaced each and every relationship with a warning—This cannot possibly end well. We will grow close, and off I will go, and you’ll disappear. Far too many times I had those dreaded conversations, muted by the sounds of my own defenseless yearning. Far too many times I let boys fall in love with me, knowing I had already fallen in love with a country for which they could not measure up to. Far too many times before had I let people tell me I was too this or too that, and far too many times had I believed them.
“You’re too independent to be in this relationship.”
“You’re too ambitious for me.”
“You’re too far away.”
This time, their words rang true, and each plane ride out of Sydney felt like 10,000 miles in the wrong direction.
In three weeks, I travel back to a place that has carved mounds of my heart to keep for its own. I will spend days searching for the perfect iced coffee, hopefully with ice cream. I will catch up with familiar friends over mimosas at brunch and laugh as if it’s the first time they’ve charmed me with their dry wit. I will glow as bright as the city lights on memorial drive. I will lather my sunbaked lips with pawpaw and cover my face with zinc. I will make new memories, while savoring those from the time before, and the time before that. I will consume meat pies and sausage rolls gushing with tomato sauce.
I will argue about the correct pronunciation of all things, and accept being wrong.
While others spent three or four months studying abroad, I extended my trips, returned so I could teach, fell in love, fell out of love, fell in love again. I have been inspired by every sunrise and humbled by every sunset. I tattooed myself on the forearm of this nation, and built a life in this place that I knew I could return to any time it called me.
There are no cheap hellos here, only welcome backs.