7th of February
I am sitting in Guangzhou airport, savouring the taste of peanut m&ms and wearing two jackets because apparently the air-conditioning in this terminal is set at zero degrees (fahrenheit or celsius, it really doesn’t matter once it hits freezing point). I have left Australia, again.
It’s been eleven days since I’ve updated this journal and I’m happy to say this is because my trip has been a flurry of connecting with friends and family, leaving no time for self-musings. In the past two weeks I have met my new nephew, spent Australia day with my family, married off two friends to one another, celebrated my sister’s thirty-third birthday, and even managed to sell two pieces of white-goods that were sitting in my brother’s garage gathering dust. It’s a comfort to know that if the interminable battle for UK nursing registration never culminates, I can make a healthy living flipping second-hand appliances. Really living the dream.
Also during my time in Australia, I have managed to sleep in six different beds, of which I’m weirdly proud. I have assured my girlfriend I was alone during each of these sleeping sessions, excluding the few times Damo crawled in with me for a twin cuddle and conversation. Sharing a womb means you get a free pass. Alex is surprisingly understanding of this.
When I last wrote, I was wallowing in melancholy in my childhood home, indulging in bittersweet reflections on my past. After extracting myself from this swim in the pool of the past, I returned to Melbourne and spent an evening with my parents where we got to sit back and talk, enjoying being in the same room together rather than smiling at each other through computer screens. Even when I lived in Australia, having one-on-one time with my parents was a rare occurrence as the Robbs are of the mindset that more is better, and our gatherings usually consist of a minimum of five to eighty guests, the most recent inclusion in this family circle being Ella and Harry, my niece and nephew. It’s hard to get a grandparent’s attention when there’s an adorable two-year old granddaughter dancing in the centre of the living room. In my parent’s defence, she is one hell of a dancer.
It was reassuring and relaxing to sit with my folks and discuss what had been happening in our concurrent lives, and to talk to them about my plans for the future. I’m twenty-nine now, but I think no matter how old I get, decisions and events won’t feel real until I’ve talked about them with my parents. That casual nod of assent and the comment of “That sounds good” seems to solidify and officialise whatever action I’ve taken or am planning to take. Far from resenting this emotion, I embrace it. There’s something innately comforting about knowing my parents are on board, and I’ll take their advice and understanding for as long as I can get it. Luckily for me, I have the world’s most supporting and encouraging parents, so obtaining their alliance is never a difficult thing.
From their home in Richmond, I spent the next day with my sister, Angela, again relishing some one-on-one time with a family member. She’s recently bought and is renovation a new apartment, and it was very cool to see her future home and her efforts at turning it into the comfortable and warm environment so reflective of her nature. I even moved some furniture both in and out of the apartment, so can later claim credit for helping in the renovations. History is written by the victors.
Next on the agenda was a four-day getaway to Phillip Island, which was the location of the eternal and legal binding of my friends, Erica and Brian. Also known as a wedding. They chose to be married on a cliffside overlooking the sea, and the view was incredible. Erica and Brian decided to forego a lot of the more traditional elements of a wedding ceremony and had no bridal party, and because I had made the effort of coming halfway around the world to attend, I got the honour of sitting next to the bride during the reception. Because of this, I’m claiming the title of man-of-honour. There’s no competition, so it’s mine by default. I even got a shout-out during the speeches, which immediately made the twenty-eight hour journey to Australia worth it. Apparently I can be bought with a self-esteem boost.
The time in Phillip Island was perfect as I stayed with four other friends and past work colleagues in a holiday house by the beach, where we spent most of time eating, drinking, and catching up. They told me about changes within my old workplace and I detailed to them the backwards and archaic nature of the UK health system. Sitting back and debriefing about the idiocies of our employers; it was just like old times.
I then made my way back to Melbourne, spent a night recouping from the three-day party that was Erica and Brian’s wedding, before training it to Hillside where I spent the night enjoying the company of my brother, Matthew, sister-in-law, Rosie, and their aforementioned spawn, Ella and Harry. I loved getting to sit and participate in the microcosm of family and domesticity that they have made, watching on with awe at the way these two people had metamorphosed into parents of two, apparently taking it all in their stride with ease. I got to engulf my new nephew in hugs and kisses, and play with my niece who, in the past six months, had grown into a proper person with words and personality, and the ability to imitate any animal I could put to her, excluding a giraffe. But who the hell knows what sound a giraffe makes anyway? After the exhilarating chaos of bouncing across the globe for half a year, being able to sit back in my brother’s world was a privilege.
The following day was my sister’s birthday, which had the traditional elements of too much food, a table full of lollies and chips, cake, and singing all three versus of happy birthday, with each verse split by a chorus of hip-hip-hooray. For those of you who don’t celebrate birthdays like this, you’re doing it wrong.
And then, after feeling like I had only landed days before, I found myself saying goodbye to my brother and his family, and my sister. Until this point I had been so focused on the hellos I would make, the people I would reconnect with, I hadn’t given much thought to the goodbyes that would inevitably follow. I see now that this was an error on my behalf because those goodbyes kicked my ass. Dropping back into the semblance of my old life had been immediate and effortless, so extracting myself from it once more felt like doing it for the first time all over again. My siblings gave me nothing but love and support, so as sad as the goodbyes were, I waved them off feeling acutely loved and lucky.
My final day, also known as yesterday, although given that I’ve crossed the date-line, technically it’s still today (it’s messy, I know), was spent with my brother and his girlfriend, and getting to see Damo in his role of scientist. He brought a certain casualness to the position, opting for shorts instead of the more tradition white coat. He totally pulled it off.
We grabbed one final Melbourne brunch before heading back to Brunswick where I spent the day in a weird limbo, enjoying the company of two of my best friends whilst the knowledge that I’d be parting from them in a matter of hours lurked at the edges of my consciousness. Holly’s sister, her friend and her adorable niece joined us, followed by mum and dad, and I had a last supper of home-cooked pizza on the lawn. I will miss the Australian summer.
Finally, I was back in the land of airports, hugging my family and preparing to leave the country of my birth once again.
I thought this holiday would let me experience Australia as a tourist, but of course that wasn’t the case. The minute I stepped back onto Australian soil and was enfolded in family and friends I was back, I was accepted, I belonged. I didn’t know I needed it, but it was a relief to see my old life and know the crucial elements were still there, that all the beautiful relationships I’ve been removed from for the past six months were waiting for me, and that distance hadn’t really effected them at all.
Knowing this, really knowing it on a visceral level, meant leaving wasn’t as wrenching. I boarded the plane comfortable in the knowledge that wherever my life takes me, my family and friends will always be willing and waiting to enfold me again when the opportunity presents itself. This is an incredible thing.
I’m on the last leg of the trip now, from China to London, where I’ll see my roommates, Dom and Nikki, and on Thursday, mob my girlfriend in a hug that I have warmed her may take a good forty-five minutes. I literally cannot wait to be back in Alex’s presence — her hello is the balance to all these goodbyes.
To be able to leave one family and fly halfway around the world only to be greeted by another is a damn special thing.