Day 1, Morning

Day 1, 28th July 2005

Goodbyes

My decision to leave was made a year ago, before we met for that first casual catch-up coffee. We were long-time friends, but lapsed for several years. We became lovers, an easy thing when you know that time is short. No ties, just good fun.

And then it was the last night, standing in my parents’ carport, and we were laughing as we were crying, and she grabbed a rip that had opened up in the seat of my pants and store the whole pant leg wide open so that it flapped away like a skirt. Crazy, hilarious, daring, beautiful bitch.

She had changed everything, completely. At the last moment, I cried and cried and cried and held her, and was rendered dumb and stupid by grief.

And then we kissed and she drove away. For a good ten seconds I was trapped in her headlights, laughing and crying, one pant leg flapping in the wind, not knowing where to run, or why.

Packing

I stood in the lounge room at my parents’ house and stared my life in the face. All my worldly possessions, most of them stuffed in black garbage bags, piled against the wall and spilling out across the floor. It had been a rapid-fire move out of the old share-house, just four days before departure. Dad and I half-jogging, grabbing everything, throwing it into the car and trailer. No time to stop and sort through it all; what to take, what to leave, what to throw out.

I’m going away for a long time. Maybe 6 months, maybe a year or more.

Metaphysical conundrums spin and spark in my head – What does any of this stuff mean to me? Do I really need anything beyond the bare necessities? All my old letters, photos, tattered board games, faded shirts, split-soled hiking boots, all the shit that’s been carelessly kicked around on the floors of a dozen dirty apartments for 7 years suddenly is drenched in emotion and memories.

I am not a nostalgic man. I am not, I tell myself, attached to physical objects. How philosophical of me – how transcendent! – to rise above this material world and simply float away overseas with no ties. As if I could.

As if I could throw out the confused and excited hand-written letters from my oldest friends. Those coming-of-age stories that read like the diary of a 19th-century British explorer excavating the mythic world of the Pharaohs, sent instead from interstate as they discover to their delight that interesting people want to fuck them.

Scraps of paper inscribed with the hastily scrawled details of (what turned out to be) fabulous parties. Photos taken at festivals of friends too stoned to be off dancing, slouched in a tent nodding seriously at the sage words of a robotic dog that isn’t there. The 1.2 litre bottle of Stones Green Ginger Wine that I drank the night I lost my virginity. I kept it. And now I’m stuck with it.

All those black plastic bags. What to take?

In the end I take too little, leaving the rest to be piled away in some dusty corner of my parents’ house. Nothing is thrown away but a few receipts and some old pay packets.

The Airport

Dad woke me at 6:15. 3.5 hours’ sleep. I showered on autopilot, grabbed my three half-empty bags and piled into the car within 20 minutes. As we drove we talked about plans, relatives, politics. I was so incredibly tired, I was devastated. My eyes were closed most of the time and I clung to the edge of consciousness by a single ragged nail. This would be our last face-to-face conversation for a long time.

Avalon Airport, home of ultra-budget airline Jetstar, is located inconveniently far from Melbourne, nestled amongst sheep paddocks and abalone farms. The terminal is two-thirds built and the same size and shape as a small bus station. I immediately wish that I had spend $20 more and departed from the grand, well-equipped and half-hour-closer Melbourne Airport. This feels more like a small interstate jaunt than the trip of a lifetime.

As we pull into the airport, Dad sees an advertisement for the airline featuring plus-size comedian Magda Zubanski. “Look, it’s Fatso Skubanski!”, he exclaims, and I laugh my ass off.

As a geek, I have always been prone to being carried away by fantasy and egomania. I am very lucky to have friends whose lives are grounded and realistic, and one of the best came to see me off. Brent – whose wife is expecting their second baby any day now, who has struggled through seemingly enormous odds to create a beautiful young family and a life full of hope and love, who has barely slept for two weeks – came to see me board a plane in the middle of nowhere at some godforsaken hour of the morning.

Some acts of kindness you can never repay. You just have to chalk it up to “I’m very fortunate to be friends with such an amazing guy”. This was one of those times.

We had a coffee. We talked about engineering. I joined the queue. I said goodbye. My last memory is awkwardly hugging my Dad and seeing shimmering almost-tears in his eyes. I try to comprehend how it must feel, as a father, to watch your son leave the country, maybe for good. I cannot.

Brisbane Airport

$15.10 for a tiny-ass tandoori chicken wrap, a bottle of water and a sample-size box of Pringles. I must be in an airport.

Oh, and why do they call the wireless capability of my Apple laptop “Airport” when I can never get it to connect in one? The reception was oscillating all over the place – 100%, then 0%, 20%, 0%. I’m like an alcoholic in Hell, being poured Glenfiddich single-malt for all eternity, only to have every glass snatched from my hands just as I raise it to my trembling lips.

I’m still hungry. I find a place with cheap foccaccias, and get a chicken-and-bacon-and-sauce-the-serving-lady-can’t-remember. It’s disgusting, and I throw it out half-eaten.