It requires a certain kind of unconditional love to love living here as an expat. But Sydney repays you a million times over if you let it. In his beautiful memoir, Insomniac City – a recount of his time in New York – Bill Hayes wrote that he had to leave the city in order to get a clear perspective on his time there and to write his seminal tale of life in the Big Apple; Insomniac City. I wonder if that too will be the same for me.
Here’s to many more happy memories together. It was something I pondered for most of the day; as I sat in a cafe, basking in the morning sun, and as I swam in the sea with my friend Jordan, and as I got the ferry home; my skin sandy, and sun kissed and buttery from sunblock and salty from the sea. I never found my answer; but I wonder if that is the joy and the magic of life. The not knowing and the uncertainty and the hoping and the longing.
Today marks my five-year Aussie anniversary. It’s a day that I never thought I would make it to; a notion which perhaps makes it all the sweeter. I had planned to watch the sun rise from Bronte beach; but alas the low hanging clouds and the veil of mist that shrouded the sky meant that the spectacular sunrise I had hoped would mark the new dawn of my fifth year in Australia wasn’t to be. It reminded me of that famous line from the beloved poem ‘To a Mouse’ by Robert Burns; ‘the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry’ – a sentiment which sums up the past five years far better than I ever could. So instead, I sat and watched as the inky sky melted into lighter hues of grey and blue; and a stain of pink smudged across the horizon. I watched the early morning swimmers tentatively step into the rock pool; I watched as surfers mounted their boards; as dog walkers started to fill the promenade and realised – that sunrise or no sunrise – how lucky I was to be breathing the sweet salt of the sea water, and in that very moment to just be there, sitting, exactly where I was supposed to be.
There is no doubt that moving to Australia has taught me a great many things. That grief is so often the price we pay for love; that my want of a happy ending runs deep within the fabric of my being; that instead of fearing failure, I have learnt to be terrified of regret. That I am thankful for not knowing better at the time, because if I had done things differently, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. That I am thankful for the trials that have taught and have tested me, just as much as the moments that have brought me joy. That despite all the crashing lows that often are so synonymous with being an expat; the homesickness, the heartache, the longing, and the grief, that I am all the richer for it. That life in Sydney may not always be easy but it always, unequivocally and utterly worth it.
Yesterday I went to Manly for the day: I wanted to get out of the Bondi bubble, I had a book to finish, and one of my favourite people in the world lives over there. I got an early morning ferry from Circular Quay, and as we sailed over the azure blue of the ocean; as the harbour bridge and the opera house and the city’s famous skyline faded into the distance, I wondered what it was about this city that has caused me so much grief and longing and yet, at the same time such pure, unadulterated joy and such endless delight. I wondered why it was a place I couldn’t let go of, why – despite so many obstacles, and so many visa hurdles – I couldn’t seem to cut the cord between me and the city I have loved with such unwavering passion for so long.
And thus. Two broken hearts, 17 visas, 2 deportations, countless flights home, a sea of tears, 8 different apartments, a bank of life-long memories and lessons; an ocean of uncertainty; and yet. There’s not a single thing I would change. Sydney has been my biggest teacher and my longest-standing love affair. ⠀
He also wrote about speaking to his former agent Wendy, who once said of New York that she loved it so much that she couldn’t bear the thought of it going on without her. ‘And yet,’ he wrote, ‘the thought of leaving it, of knowing how much I would miss it, is too painful to contemplate.’ A sentiment so poignant and powerful that I wish I had written it myself.