I had carefully packed my bags. I had gone to the post office with excess books and clothes and chucked them in two big boxes which I marked with an address I knew by heart but that was miles away and incredibly foreign to me. I had written my goodbyes down on pieces of paper I had ripped out of old notebooks, to prepare myself in case my words failed me later on. I had double-checked my travel documents, made a screenshot of my ticket and placed my jaded passport safely in my carry-on luggage. I had a hearty meal that was going to nourish me through 24 hours of dodgy, vacuum-packed aeroplane food. I had a smoke to calm my nerves. I had my friends come over. I hugged them each for a long time and as tears ran in steady streams down my pale cheeks, I got in the car with the man I love and he drove me to the place that was going to take me away from him. The place that was going to take me away from everything that I’d grown so intensely fond of, attached to and weirdly dependent on. And as I untangled myself from his arms for the very last time and followed the sea of people through customs, with blurry vision and trembling hands, I didn’t feel anticipation, excitement and exhilaration – feelings I normally get at a departure gate. I felt lost, lonely and out of place. And like nothing made any sense at all.
For a long time, I’ve lived by the rule that settling down is for someone else. Maybe for a future me who for some insane reason has grown tired of travelling and exploring new places and people. I’ve shrugged at those who live in the same country all their lives and those without a thirst for the world. I’ve preached the endless perks of travelling to anyone who cares to listen and I regularly use words like boring and uninteresting in the same sentence as settled and comfortable. Airports have always been a happy place, because even though they represent the end of an era, they also represent the start of a new, exciting one. Sure, there have been times when I’ve left with a heavy heart – when the place I’m leaving has touched something within me and I would like just a little more time to explore it. But normally, the thought of what is ahead has washed away any anxiety and after a quick cry and some comfort food I’ve been good to go. But this time, everything was different. There was a nice Irish man behind me in line and as we boarded the plane he touched my shoulder lightly and asked me if I was okay. I said yes and faked a smile because even though it was a lie, I was too scared, confused and perhaps even ashamed by my own overwhelming reluctance to leave.
I guess what happened was that I grew roots in Sydney. I allowed myself to establish relationships with people beyond the casual travel companion that you promise to stay in touch with but normally never hear from again. I got engaged with local issues because I believed that change would benefit the community, but also myself as a part of it. I visited places where I was at peace and where I could see myself stay for a long time. I fell in love and saw it through without the usual caution that a return ticket or visa expiry date implies. I made really good friends that I would like to have for the rest of my life. I settled down, and it didn’t make me feel boring. It made me feel alive.
Too often in my travels, I’ve only touched surface – too scared to dive in deep because if I did, it would be too difficult to leave. Call it a fucked-up defence mechanism, but it has allowed me to visit amazing places and experience things I’d never want to be without. And for what it’s worth, I’m still not convinced that I should abolish this technique completely. My conclusion, however, is that settling down or growing roots isn’t a bad thing that prevents people from living their lives. It’s what allows them to live their life. Because diving in deep, fully consuming myself with the surroundings, the people and the culture, daring to feel attachment and dependence to something, or someone, beyond myself was the only way I could create a life I loved and was in control of. And that was something I hadn’t yet experienced as an adult. Despite all the tears, heartache and loss that I’ve felt in the aftermath, I have no regrets. In fact I would, and probably will soon, do it all again – even the tears, sorrow and anxiety. Because that’s the human experience – at least my human experience.
My honest answer to the nice man behind me in line would be: “I’m not okay. But I will be.” And my smile would be nothing short of genuine.