Looking Back, Looking Forward


Five and a half years ago, I packed up my life and moved to Canberra. It was a new city, away from family and friends, where I didn’t know a soul. Two years ago, I packed up my life once more and moved back home to Brisbane, away from dear friends I’d met and an independent life.

And this week, I sold my apartment in Canberra, the one remaining memento of my life there. It’s strange to call an apartment a memento, but that place was like a jewelry box of my fondest memories. It was also, in an overly emotional sense, a promise to myself that I’d return one day. But circumstances change, and the time came where I simply had to sell it.

So I flew down last weekend to clear out all the remaining items in preparation for the new owners. Luckily, they were willing to buy the existing furniture, so I only had to manage the items in the cupboards. I say “only”, but in truth, when I first looked at everything I’d left behind–in large part because the apartment was being rented out–all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and pretend none of it existed. That wasn’t even taking into account all the junk in my storage area in the basement.

It didn’t help that the sedan I’d rented, with grand hopes of using it to take all the larger items to the tip, had back seats that couldn’t fold down. And did I mention I only had one weekend there?

Going through the items was bittersweet. They all had memories attached to them, however small. I’d empty the half-used cans of insect spray from the laundry shelves, and remember how my dad helped me put those shelves up after I got frustrated with the lack of storage space. The now-empty pole across my bedroom door where I used to hang the noren (Japanese-style curtain) over the entrance. Pots and pans stained from the big breakfast fry-ups with friends, where we’d have sausages and scrambled eggs and mushrooms and sourdough, and perhaps tomato and spinach if we were feeling healthy.

Even the trip to the local grocery store to pick up garbage bags was fraught with memories. The jogging path I took when I was on a fitness kick (that didn’t last long in the freezing Canberra winter). The long stretch of park where I’d go on lazy afternoon walks with my close friend (and later, housemate). Wandering through the supermarket aisles looking for the weekly specials and clearance items, which determined my menu for the week.

Everywhere I went, there was a memory associated with it–driving home from church after music practice, walking along the lake with friends at night while waiting for our burgers, meeting a friend to hunt for second-hand books, driving 30 minutes out of the city to see the Milky Way, jogging by the lake with other friends and trying to identify all the flags outside the state library, going to the annual festival at the Thai embassy.

I found myself rather morose on the Sunday, after I’d finally finished clearing everything out. Somehow I’d managed to keep things to a single trip to the tip, and a second trip to my friend’s place to drop off the items I couldn’t bear to throw out. It felt like I’d finally closed the door on three and a half of the happiest years of my life, and it was painful.

It wasn’t as though simply moving back would solve everything, either. Canberra is a strange city, a good section of its population made up of working transients who do their time then leave again. Many of my friends were long gone, returned to hearth and home in cities far from here.

But as I headed out to meet with one of the few friends who did settle down in Canberra, I realised that I’m actually quite lucky. Though so many of us have moved on, all my friends are still alive. They are still around to make new memories with. I might long for the past, but time never stands still. There’s no point in looking back and wishing, because my current reality will never match the rose-tinted nostalgia of those few years.

Sure, things are different to how they would be if I was still living there. But geography won’t change who any of us are, or our enjoyment of each others’ company when we do manage to catch up. That was then. This is now. And all I can do is take each moment and each day as it comes, and look for opportunities to make more fond memories. Memories that I’ll be able to look back on in another few years, and treasure as deeply as the ones I hold now.


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