Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Right now I'm living in Canberra, where I went to high school. I left six or seven years ago. At the bars I crane my head around, looking for ghosts of people who knew me in high school, or who I used to know, and I often find them. Someone came up to me in the supermarket who used to buy my zines. People ask me when I cut off my dreadlocks (about eight years ago).
One of the questions people ask me is whether it's strange to be back, since so much has changed. The city center of Canberra, which is really the social heart of the city, and the only place that mattered to me as a kid, has changed dramatically. A mall has grown up around the edges of it, where once there were big thirsty parking-lots, and embraced the open square of Garema Place with a stone-face curtain of shops and movie theaters. That has changed, certainly. But the strange thing is more how everything has stayed the same. There still sits the same sleepy Vietnamese restaurant you never saw anyone eat in, that you were sure was about to go out of business, with the same faded plastic sign, the same sun-faded menu. The same streets and trees and the same faces. The same feeling of gentleness.
But for me this place is haunted. And each place has for me a memory. I remember driving by this empty lot nearing to the Braddon Club, heading up towards my home just a couple weeks ago. It was just gone autumn and the gutters were beginning to brim with leaves. And I remembered, so immediate that it hurt, walking down that very street, going home, in the cusp of autumn, with a beloved ex-girlfriend, just as we were beginning to court each other. The memory was so close, it was surprising that it was seven or eight years old. The fact that she wasn't next to me, that I couldn't call her, that our relationship had grown older, more complicated, and adult, just struck me for that brief moment as impossible--how could she not be waiting just outside of my vision, about to take my hand? how could it have changed. And yet I looked around and in the car were strangers, absolute strangers. (I had hitched a ride home with some acquaintances.) She wasn't there. Once I made it home I touched that place with my mind again, hoping to find her, but could taste only a dim memory, half-cold and unappetizing. For the twentieth of thirtieth time that day, I wished to go back in time, and wished at the very same moment to be right exactly where I was.