I frequently use analogies with cities that stick out in my brain as if they are people to try and make the feeling more relatable to other people who may not understand what I feel when I travel.
Paris was my first love, flawed but beautiful, and I fell fast and hard at the age of 17.
Naples is the rough around the edges, but it’s a gem if you can see beneath the rough exterior. It’s loyal and stubborn and stuck in its ways, but it’s nothing if it isn’t genuine and real.
Sydney was the one that got away. The potential love of my life, whose path did not coincide with mine as we were both destined for other things.
How do you reacquaint yourself with the love of your life after seven years?
When my plane landed, my taxi driver asked if I was from Brisbane.
I told him I lived in Seattle, but I actually used to live in Sydney seven years before.
And just like that, we were neighbors reunited, making small talk about the fact that there was construction on George Street.
He told me where I was staying by Darling Harbour was all built up now and commercialized with restaurants and apartments. It used to be a lot quieter than it was seven years before.
We pulled up at 11pm, and I stared out the car window into the blackness of the harbor. I thanked him, dropped my bags off at the hotel, and peered out the window, body tired but humming with excitement.
I knew I couldn’t sit in a hotel room with Sydney waiting for me outside.
I threw on a jacket and set foot to Darling Harbour–it was a place I knew may have changed but knew would have to have some semblance of familiarity for me. And I remembered how safe I felt walking around late at night in Sydney and knew I’d have nothing to worry about.
I walked through the piers, smelling the familiar smells, watching the boats rock on waves of the blackness of the water in the dark of night.
I watched as two girls came stumbling out of a bar, dressed up and kicking off their heels.
I laughed to myself, wondering if that was me seven years ago, but knowing I’d rather limp away in painful heels than kick shoes off and walk around barefoot.
It felt familiar, but different. I didn’t have the same feeling of, “I’m home” that I had the first day I set foot there. But both sides change after seven years, and it takes a minute to get back on the same page with the love of your life, as you both are guaranteed to have evolved in some way in that span of time.
I woke up the next morning with a strong sense of what I needed to do.
When I first arrived in Sydney, the first thing I did was march the two miles from my hostel to the Opera House. Cliché as it is, that is the place I would return to center myself and remember where I was whenever I had a bad day in Sydney.
I walked the streets that morning, looking around at all the changes, wondering if I’d feel the same level of excitement that I did when I used to go up to Circular Quay and The Rocks.
I have a great aunt who claims to be the source of my travel blood. She once told me the story of how she went to Egypt to see the pyramids and was so overcome with emotion she had to run to them. The awe of it all was overwhelming, and she needed to get to them as fast as she could and was reduced to tears.
I walked through Circular Quay and saw the Harbour Bridge and saw the Opera House peeking out in the sunshine and felt that overwhelming surge of adrenaline. My heart was still here. I did still have a deep-rooted love for this place.
I didn’t run or cry because I don’t run unless I’m being chased, and I cry tears of dust. But the sentiment was the same.
In the course of my time there, I was reacquainted with this city that I loved so much. We’d both changed but it was still as wonderful as I remembered and I felt the warm welcome and sense of belonging that I had in the past.
Most of my friends have moved on. Many were nomads like myself, and my Aussie friends seem to have all relocated to other cities.
My last night I worked late tearing down my booth, while the woman in the booth next to me entertained me with a variety of topics: enrolling her kids as child actors, what she loves about Harry Potter, and why I should move back to Sydney.
I told her it just didn’t seem to be in the cards for me, but I definitely loved it there, and hoped to make it back again sometime.
The guy who ran the convention and taken care of everything I needed while I was there, more so than at any convention I’ve worked in the US, came up and chatted to me while I was inventorying. I told him how helpful he’d been to me, and he laughed and said he was glad to hear it because he wants everything to run as smooth as possible. He said he hoped I worked another con there because Australia seemed to agree with me.
I returned to my room close to midnight and headed straight to the Opera House in the quiet one last time before I left.
There’s something magical about a lot of touristy places in the evening. I love being able to relax and just be there, without people around. And so I found myself at the Opera house at midnight. I took it all in, trying to keep every detail fresh in my mind, hoping it wouldn’t take me so long to get back again.
The love between me and Sydney is one that I don’t think is supposed to work out, but one I’m supposed to learn from. Everyone comments on how wonderful we are together, but yet again, the timing is wrong and there are more things that I need to do. Our paths might cross here and there, but they don’t run together.
And in the blink of an eye, it was time to part ways again. It was too soon for me to leave, and I hated having to go, but it was easier than it had been the first time.
The taxi driver who picked me up started talking to me and asked me why I wasn’t married.
I asked him to find me a man willing to put up with me traveling and wanting to constantly be on the road, and I’d consider settling down.
“An Aussie man would love, respect, and support you for traveling and would find a way to be with you and make it work,” he exclaimed. “We appreciate women like you. Plus you’re the kind of American we need living here. I wish I would have been your ride into the city and I would have found you a husband in a week and you could live here forever.”
“I suppose next time maybe,” I laughed. “It doesn’t seem like it was meant to be. We crossed paths too late.”
“Next time then,” he laughed. “You find me, and I will find you a man that appreciates your lifestyle.”
“Until we meet again,” I said. And walked into the airport, wondering when, not if, I would next be able to make it back to the place where I leave part of myself every time.